Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 22, 2005
BASEBALL: Now, Leading Off . . .

After this morning's comment about the Mets not having a leadoff man, I decided to take a look at how many true leadoff hitters are out there, or at least at my general sense that there aren't as many as there used to be. To come up with a profile of a true leadoff man, I decided to look for guys with a good OBP (.375 or better), not so much power they'd be moved to the middle of the order (below .450 slugging), and decent speed (20 steals a year, not a lot but enough to indicate some foot speed), in a decent number of at bats (400 a year). Using Aaron Haspel's search engine - which, if he's not going to update, he should consider selling to Baseball-Reference.com or somebody - and filling out the rest at ESPN.com, I ran a list of players who met that criteria season by season, then - to deal with the fact that there were often as few as 2 or 3 a year and never more than 8 in a season, I grouped them in four-year periods:

Years#
1969-726
1973-768
1977-8021
1981-848
1985-8813
1989-9222
1993-9615
1997-0021
2001-048

.375 on base percentages are much easier to come by in high-offense years, which skews the usefulness of these types of comparisons over time and says a lot about why you see more guys do this in the late 90s than the early 70s. Also, the numbers were depressed for the 1981 and 1994 strike seasons and to a lesser extent the shortened 1995 campaign. Still, you can definitely see a dropoff in the last four years in the number of guys who fit the traditional leadoff profile.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:28 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

This is an interesting study. I'm concerned about limiting the slugging percentage at .450 though since that eliminates Rickey Henderson in many of the years he was considered the ideal leadoff man.

Posted by: Dave at January 24, 2005 11:39 AM

There is a bit of folly to this. Aside from subscribing somewhat arbitrary numbers to leadoff hitters (although perfectly OK benchmarks) it fails to take into account the change in the players (steroid influenced or not) and the game itself. A traditional leadoff guy may in fact not be the best fit for a team. Johnny Damon would be left of this list in 2004 (only 19 SBs and a .473 SLP) and Ricky Henderson would probably have been left off for most seasons of his career. This list only measures whether a guy today fits the mold of a player more suited to the way baseball was rather than the way baseball is. Certainly there are less prototypical leadoff guys nowadays. Players are bigger and stronger throughout lineups and the overrated stat of SBs has even further diminished when there are so many guys who hit .300 with 35+ HRs up and down lineups. Slappy and speedy are pretty much things of the past. A guy like David Eckstein (doesn't qualify for the list but is pretty damn close) is cute but I don't think fans in St. Louis are thrilled with the trade off they got (not that Renteria led off but he could in Boston if Damon weren't already occupying that spot) even if he is closer to being the prototypical guy. The days of Freddy Patek and the like are long since passed.

Posted by: Jim at January 24, 2005 1:39 PM
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