Mike Friere - So, Who Leads Off?


As the title of this article asks, who will be the primary leadoff hitter for the Mets in 2018?

Before attempting to answer that question, it would be fair to define exactly what a “leadoff hitter” is and if the importance of the position in the batting order is as relevant as it used to be due to the declining emphasis on speed and stolen bases.  In other words, another “old school versus new school” type of discussion that will likely have proponents on both sides.  A good old fashioned baseball 
argument, if you will.   

For the purposes of defining what a leadoff hitter is, I am focusing on the start of the game (the top or bottom of the first inning), although there is more to that discussion and I will address the same in a few paragraphs.  Additionally, I would also like to use a former player as my prototype for the assignment to illustrate the importance of a good leadoff hitter.

In my world, a classic leadoff hitter is a player that embodies the following;

1.  GET ON BASE by whatever means necessary.  It may be via a base hit, a  walk, an error or even a hit by pitch scenario meaning that “on base percentage” is a highly sought after criteria.

2.  ABOVE AVERAGE SPEED which translates to stolen bases, moving from first to third on a base hit, scoring runs and in general, being a “pain in the arse” for the opposing pitcher and manager.

3.  AVAILABILITY which is a nice trait for any player, but especially so with the leadoff hitter, since they will usually get more at bats over the course of a season due to the rotational nature of the lineup.

4.  DEFENSIVE PROWESS which may seem odd, at first.   However, most classic leadoff hitters usually come from a position on the diamond that is vital for a team’s defense, like Second Base, Short Stop or Centerfield, so contributing on defense is a valuable skill.

While you don’t necessarily need all four of the listed criteria to be a solid leadoff hitter, having a player that can do all of them really well is a huge advantage.  With that said, my “prototype” leadoff hitter would be the second coming of Rickey Henderson (with a toned down ego), since the original version will be sixty years old this year!  I wouldn’t bet against him as he could probably still contribute today.

For those of you who did not get to see RH play, you really missed out since he was a monster at the top of any lineup that he was a part of, despite only being 5-10 and 180 pounds (the same size as I am, but with otherworldly athletic skills, of course). Granted, he played in left field which is not as demanding of a position defensively as center field, but he checked ALL of the remaining boxes on our list above. 

RH played for quite a few teams over the course of his TWENTY FIVE year career, to include our very own Mets in 1999 and 2000 when he was in his early forties and not quite the same player.  In his career, he compiled a whopping 13,346 plate appearances which boils down to approximately 22 seasons worth of playing time if you use 600 as a full season, so he was pretty durable.

in that time period, he averaged a line of .279/.401/.419 (.820 OPS) and he contributed 110.8 WAR, which works out to a seasonal average of just over 5 WAR per year.  Look at his on base percentage again….for his career, he was on base forty percent of the time. Additionally, he also averaged 64 stolen bases, 102 runs scored and 13 home runs per year, for his entire career!

While he could rub some folks the wrong way with his persona (“I am the greatest”), he was a beast and is a true Hall of Fame player in every sense
of the term. I will end my love affair with RH at this point since he is not the primary focus of the article.  However, he is underrated in my opinion and it is doubtful that we will ever see a player like that again.

I am also pretty sure that we do not have anyone on our current roster that comes even close to approximating those statistics (at least until Luis Guillorme is given his shot).  However, my question has more to do with the criteria that make up a good leadoff hitter.   Do we have anyone on the current roster that can meet MOST of the criteria?   Outside of Jose Reyes in his PRIME (which is no longer the case), I would argue that we do NOT have anyone capable of meeting a majority of our criteria.

Whether we do or do not have a leadoff hitter within our midst, SOMEONE still needs to lead off, right?   

Some may argue that in today’s baseball, speed and stolen bases are not that important anymore, which is debatable.   However, there should still be an emphasis placed on “getting on base”, so do we have anyone on our roster that can at least get on base from the leadoff spot?  And, getting on base is a good quality, but you still need to be able to run in order to score runs.  I don’t want a player who looks like he is running with a piano on his back, clogging up the bases or failing to score from second base on a hit late in a close game.

An additional argument would be that after the first inning, the leadoff hitter isn’t that important because it is likely that a different player will leadoff the remaining innings of a full ballgame. That is also true, but having a weapon at the top of the lineup is still valuable because they will likely make more plate appearances then anyone else by season's end.

With all of this said, am I over emphasizing the importance of a leadoff hitter for 2018?

Who do you think will leadoff from our current crop of starting caliber players?


Tom Brennan said...

Lagares, until Conforto returns, until Rosario is ready to excel in the lead off spot, which may be in 2019.

Ricky was awesome as a Met, if you could overlook what he got criticized for by folks who tend to be critical....great in 1999. How many Mets ever put together a year like that one? Few.

Mack Ade said...

Well... we could be waiting a little for Lagares.

I vote for Nimmo. Nice OBP.

bgreg98180 said...

I am with you Mack
I will take it a step further and say Nimmo should get the lions share of Centerfield starts.

Reese Kaplan said...

Nimmo gets my vote until Conforto is ready. Once he is, then Rosario if he can up his game.

TexasGusCC said...

There’s only one leadoff hitter on this roster, Nimmo. Hard to believe Nimmo can’t put up Bruce’s 2 WAR effort, but add Gonzo to keep Bruce in right, and all chances are out the window.

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