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Power, OBP, or Speed: The Art of Lead-Off Hitting

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For the longest time, lead-off hitters were thought of as speed demons. Players such as Jose Reyes, Dee Strange-Gordon, and Billy Hamilton would occupy the one-spot, with their teams hoping for them to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Over the past few years though, that mindset has seemed to go by the wayside. Now we see more on-base machines and power hitters up top, no matter their speed.

The Instant Power Threats

In June, Kyle Schwarber was struggling mightily when Nationals manager Davey Martinez inserted the slugging lefty into the lead-off spot. Schwarber then proceeded to smack five lead-off homers in his next ten games and powered the Nats to a 15-3 stretch to finish the month of June.

It is becoming more common now to see players like Schwarber batting at the top of the lineup. The Rays have been using their leading home run hitter, Brandon Lowe, as their lead-off batter lately, as have the Angels with Shohei Ohtani. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Semien also fits this archetype, as he has slugged 32 homers while being the team’s primary lead-off man. When the Astros made the World Series in 2019, they excelled thanks to George Springer setting their franchise record for lead-off homers. While some may argue that it is better to have your power hitters in the middle of the order, there is plenty of benefit to having your mashers leading off games.

The On-Base Machines

These players do not necessarily need to have power or speed. They fit the Moneyball method of just getting on base, no matter how they get it done.

The poster boy for this archetype is Brandon Nimmo. The Wyoming-native has not hit for much power, with just four homers and a .394 slugging percentage coming into Sunday’s contest. However, Nimmo has a strong .405 OBP, thanks in part to a 15.6% walk rate. While he has no lead-off homers this year, Nimmo is hitting .340/.468/.480 when he is the first batter of the game.

Jonathan India for the Reds also fits in here, as he has excelled at the top of the lineup. In addition to his strong .272/.383/.457 slash line, India has walked in 11.7% of plate appearances and has been plunked an NL-leading 19 times.

The Power-Speed Threats

This archetype right here should be every manager’s dream lead-off hitter. When healthy, Ronald Acuña Jr. is the poster boy for this type of player. At the time of his injury this year, Acuña had a .283/.394/.596 batting line with 24 homers and 17 steals. In 2019, Acuña just missed becoming a 40-40 player, racking up 41 homers and 37 steals on the season. For his career, Acuña has 23 lead-off homers, including four in 2021. Other players that fit into this category include Fernando Tatis Jr. (though he’s mostly hit second in 2021) and Mookie Betts.

Who Do You Want Leading Off?

The art of being a lead-off hitter has changed so much in the past decade and there’s still a debate as to who is the perfect lead-off hitter. We want to hear from you all –– who do you want leading off games for your transparentpharmacy.net team? Let us know in the comments!


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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.