In the past few seasons we have seen more and more leadoff hitters that are slow and walk a lot, like Kyle Schwarber. But is this change for the better, or does it make teams worse?
To answer this question, we first have to define what an “ideal leadoff hitter” is. To me, an ideal leadoff hitter is a guy who can get on base and score a run. To others it’s just being fast, even though they might not be the best hitter.
If somebody thought that an ideal leadoff hitter to them was someone who is fast, then go ahead an leadoff Billy Hamilton. Why not put Byron Buxton or Mallex Smith at leadoff? They’re very fast.
With speed usually comes a lack of on base skills. For example, Adalberto Mondesi is one of the fastest player in the league, yet his OBP was .291. Sure he’s fast, but he has an inability to get on base.
On the other hand, there’s a player like Kyle Schwarber that while not fast, can get on base very well. And generally, these players with higher walk totals also hit a lot of home runs. Schwarber had a .339 OBP in 2019, while also having 38 HR. Yes, he’s not fast be he gets on base. Schwarber’s most common spot in the order was leadoff. At first I didn’t understand, but as I gradually grew to appreciate OBP more and more, I realized that Kyle Schwarber should be leading off.
But then there’s the problem of not being fast. Being fast helps on the base paths if they get on, but they usually don’t. Like I said before, there’s a sacrifice. If a team does decided to bat a fast hitter first, then they will be able to advance from 1st base to 3rd base on a single whereas a slow leadoff man might not.
For me, the ideal leadoff hitter is someone who gets on base and is fast. Some examples are Trea Turner and Whit Merrifield.
But that doesn’t happen very often, so if I had to choose between a speed demon and a guy who gets on base, I’ll take the guy that gets on base every time.