MLB Managerial Tendencies: Leadoff Hitters
Each week, Chris Bouvier provides analysis on the managers around the league. More specifically, he breaks down who they are, how they manage their bullpens, how they make their lineups, and how they handle the run game.
Leadoff hitters set the tone for the rest of the lineup and their main objective is to get on base at the highest rate possible. Whether you play season long or daily fantasy baseball, having a hitter bat at the leadoff spot as opposed to the bottom of the lineup gives you a huge value boost. This gives the hitter an obvious increased chance at more plate appearances thus having the possibility of scoring more points. On base percentage, batting average, BB/K rate and pitches per plate appearance are all statistics that a leadoff hitter should be above average in. Here we’ll take a look at a few managers who have the wrong guy in the leadoff spot based on some of these stats and who the immediate replacement should be.
Aaron Boone, New York Yankees
At some point the new Yankees manager has to abandon using Brett Gardner at leadoff. The Yankees have too much talent coming up in the system and too much young talent already in the big leagues to have Gardner and his .221 average holding back this lineup. Although Gardner has a solid .351 on base percentage with his high walk rate, his lack of pop isn’t scaring any pitchers away with his .645 OPS.
There is one quick and simple resolution to this problem for a Yankees team that is ready to win right now and his name is Gleyber Torres. The 21 year old prospect is quickly proving to be a great young hitter and is out performing the veteran leadoff hitter in nearly every category. Torres has a slightly higher OBP at .360 so far this season but has an ISO exactly 100 points higher and an .853 OPS. He’s also seeing 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, rounding out his resume for the leadoff role. Having spent the majority of this season batting out of the nine hole, it appears as though it’s time for the young skipper to make the move to the future, because the future is ready now. Give me all the Gleyber!
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels started this season with Ian Kinsler in the leadoff role but an early season injury and a .294 OBP led Scioscia to make a change. The long time manager made the decision to put Zack Cozart and his career .305 OBP in the leadoff spot, not a good move. Since acquiring this role, Cozart has produced a .314 OBP and a less than ideal 5.8% walk rate. Zack Cozart is most definitely better suited in a run producing spot somewhere between fifth and seventh in the order and should be removed from leadoff sooner rather than later.
While Cozart and Kinsler have disappointed leading things off, Trout and Ohtani are killing it and they could use a consistent bat ahead of them to maximize their run production numbers. There’s one player that can and would succeed in the leadoff role if given the opportunity and his name is Andrelton Simmons . The 28 year old short stop is technically in the prime of his career and hasn’t had an OBP less than .321 since 2014. In fact, Simmons has increased his OBP, ISO, SLG, wOBA and hard hit percentage every year since 2015. As the owner of a very good career .71 BB/K rate and an excellent 1.56 BB/K rate this season, Simmons is tailor made for this role. Although he’s only seeing 3.23 pitches per plate appearance in 2018, he’s been mainly used in run production spots like fifth and sixth in the order where he’s just looking for a pitch to drive. He saw 3.54 last year so he’s definitely capable of working counts and getting on base. Also, he’s just flat out better than Zack Cozart , so there’s that.
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Adam Frazier has played 22 games as the leadoff hitter batting .244 with a sub .300 OBP. That’s just not going to cut it. Josh Harrison and his .321 career OBP would be more than enough to lock up the role if he weren’t on the disabled list with a hand injury. Even though Harrison could return as early as next week, there’s no guarantee he takes the leadoff role back immediately.
In the mean time Francisco Cervelli is raking and he’s an ideal leadoff hitter as he’s seeing 4.18 pitches per plate appearance. His career .362 OBP is a huge sample size and more than enough evidence that this guy can simply get on base. He’s been lights out this season with a slash line of .307/.415/.574 to go along with a .71 BB/K rate. Cervelli is hitting .286 versus lefties and .310 versus righties so he can handle everyday work in the leadoff spot. An outstanding approach and working counts is what makes the veteran catcher so pesky and such a tough out for pitchers. It’s all about opportunity for all three of the players listed above and if they get the chance to set the tone for their respective teams, the numbers say they won’t give it back anytime soon.