The Most Important Skill For A Leadoff Hitter

From SABR member Neil Paine at on April 28:

Generally regarded as the greatest leadoff hitter ever, Rickey Henderson thrilled baseball fans for a quarter century by stealing a major league-record 1,406 bases. Along the way, his feats on the base paths fueled the stereotype that speed is the leadoff man’s defining tool. But it wasn’t his base stealing that made him so effective in the leadoff spot; rather, it was his ability to get on base to begin with.

From a sabermetric perspective, the cardinal rule of leadoff hitting is to avoid making an out. The No. 1 spot in the order comes to the plate on average 4.8 times a game, nearly a full plate appearance more than the No. 9 hitter at 3.9, according to “The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball,” a baseball research reference by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin. A table-setter like Henderson must be able to consistently provide run-scoring opportunities to the players batting behind him. He cannot score, let alone steal, if he is not on base.

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This page was last updated April 29, 2011 at 12:12 am MST.