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Do we really need special tools for evaulating career leadoff hitters? In one sense, we do not. Leadoff hitters do the same things that other batters do. They get on base or not. They steal bases or not. They advance from first to third on a single or not. They drive in runners on base or not. The difference is that they have a significantly different ratio of opportunites to do each of these things than hitters in other places in the batting order. That may justify the use of different tools to evaluate them. I will let the reader be the judge of that.

The standard methods of evaluating hitters differ in their weighting of the two major elements of offensive production- getting on base and driving in baserunners (including oneself through the homer). These two elements are represented numerically, of course, by on-base percentage and slugging percentage. OPS and OPS+ treat the two elements as of equal weight. Equivalent Runs (EqR) treats the ability to get on-base as 1 and 1/2 times as important as the ability to drive in runners. Gross Production Average (GPA) weights them at 1.8 to 1. None of the methods, however, attaches different weights to different batting order positions. In general terms, this makes sense. The differences between a #4 hitter and #5 hitter, or a #6 and #8 hitter, are not large, and it is true that batters often bat in different spots in the order over the course of a season.

To evaluate career leadoff hitters though, we must acknowledge that the ability to get on base is much more important than the ability to drive in runners. The technically correct weighting will differ depending on the league due to the DH. In the National League, leadoff hitters lead off an inning grossly disproportionately because of the presence of the pitcher in the 9 slot. Pitchers disproportionately make outs and #8 hitters are consequently commonly pitched around in the National League. In the American League, leadoff hitters lead off innings less often, but still more than any other batting order position.

So, what to do? I have chosen to do a rough weighting of two times on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, but multiplied the result by 2/3 to give a similar scale to OPS. We'll call it LADOPS (Leadoff ADjusted On-Base Plus Slugging). The other aspect of being a leadoff hitter that has additional significance is speed and the ability to steal bases. We will use the very crude measures of SB success rate and SB/game to measure these attributes. We will also compare the players LADOPS with the park-adjusted league LADOPS (courtesy of to generate an index of on-base plus slugging performance for leadoff hitters, adjusted for park and league.

So, what does an excellent season for a leadoff hitter look like by these measures? We'll use Craig Biggio's 1997 season, Lenny Dykstra's 1993 season, and Rickey Henderson's 1990 season, as well as Rickey's 1985 season, Tim Raines' 1985 season and Wade Boggs' 1987 season as markers. Here's the table:

Player PAs LADOPS Lg. LADOPS Index SB success rate SB/G
Biggio 97 744 .887 .727 122 .82 .29
Dykstra 93 773 .881 .721 122 .75 .23
Henderson 90 594 .969 .683 142 .86 .48
Henderson 85 654 .903 .700 129 .88 .56
Raines 85 665 .856 .678 126 .88 .47
Boggs 87 667 1.066 .736 145 .33 .01

Here is how the great lead-off hitters of the post-war era have fared over their careers:

Player PAs LADOPS Lg. LADOPS Index SB Success % SB/game
Bobby Bonds 8090 .784 .696 113 .73 .21
Ashburn 9736 .783 .723 108 .66 .11
Brock 11235 .731 .700 104 .75 .36
Henderson 13346 .814 .703 116 .80 .46
Raines 10389 .797 .707 113 .84 .32
Boggs 10740 .848 .725 117 .41 .01
Molitor 12160 .791 .713 111 .79 .19
Biggio 11948 .780 .725 108 .77 .15

We'll leave Dick McAulliffe and Luis Aparicio for another day.

Next up, I take a closer look at Tim Raines.
Hall Watch 2006-Leadoff Hitters- Standards and Tools for Evaluation | 14 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
AWeb - Friday, October 13 2006 @ 06:34 PM EDT (#156932) #
Toronto leadoff men as a whole this year .305/.378/.478, for a LADOPS of .823. Reed Johnson had the bulk of the ABs, and the overall numbers were dragged down a bit by the occasional Adams as leadoff man attempt. As a bonus, Toronto pitchers held the opponents to a very stingy .673. It might be the best differential of any team; I'm not checking them all.

Best in the majors this year was Washington, at .883, basically all Soriano. Cleveland with Sizemore was at .863.
CaramonLS - Friday, October 13 2006 @ 06:52 PM EDT (#156933) #
Nary a mention of Ichiro?

Interesting to note his career LAD OPS is 793, with his historic season coming in at 855. 
His SB% at a cool .80

james - Saturday, October 14 2006 @ 12:27 AM EDT (#156937) #

Late night musings after the kids are in bedÖ

This raises lots of questions in my mind.

Why are players who actually lead off only considered? Canít we isolate a set of traits that make Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines such good leadoff hitters as opposed to batting cleanup?

For example, Carlos Delgado has a career LADOPS of .892, higher than Ricky Hendersonís .814. Would you bat Carlos cleanup, even if he could steal bases? Of course not, it would be a waste of his power.

The job of a lead-off hitter is to get on base and get into scoring position. And Iíd argue that if he gets lots of extra base hits, he is too valuable to put in the leadoff spot (Though I seem to remember an academic study that suggested Babe Ruth should bat leadoff, but that asideÖ)

Following this logic, how about this as a measure.

Letís start by counting the things we like in leadoff hitters: Singles+BB+HBP+SB.

You want him to do that without getting out, either at the plate or caught stealing. So add up outs (AB+CS). Divide the two to get a ratio.

(Singles+BB+HBP+SB) / (AB + CS)

The perfect leadoff hitter walks or gets a single every at bat, then steals second, third and home without every getting caught. He scores .400.  Extra base hits are irrelevant. If he also has a high slugging percentage, bat him third.

Now we can see the difference between Carlos and Rickey in this leadoff measure:

Delgado: .278

Henderson: .432

Now I think this may actually penalize a player for hitting doubles. But now I need to get to bed. Over to someone else to ponder.


Mike Green - Saturday, October 14 2006 @ 02:01 PM EDT (#156940) #
Soriano and Ichiro?  It is a good question about how they fare compared with the other post-war leadoff hitters.  After Tim Raines gets the Hall Watch treament, Ichiro and Soriano would flow nicely.

6-4-3 - Saturday, October 14 2006 @ 02:13 PM EDT (#156942) #
If I ran the calculations right, Ichiro has a LADOPS+ of 111, tying him with Molitor and putting him above Biggio.  What amazes me is his HOF Monitor score of 144, which has been put up in only 6 years. 
james - Saturday, October 14 2006 @ 05:33 PM EDT (#156947) #

A follow-up to my earlier post...

I think you are in danger of highly rating a good hitter who, perhaps mistakenly, was slotted in the leadoff spot. Iím suggesting Lead Off Index (LOI) = (Singles+BB+HBP+SB) / (AB + CS) as a better way to identify and evaluate true leadoff hitters.

I ran the numbers to see how players rate below.

But first a correction to my note above, the perfect leadoff hitter walks or gets a single every at bat, then steals second, third and home without ever getting caught. He scores 4.000, not .400, just like slugging percentage.

The best seasons measured in LOI since 1960.

Player, LOI
1. Morgan 75, .620
2. Henderson 82, .611
3. Henderson 83, .609
4. Henderson 89, .609
5. Henderson 80, .593
6. Raines 81, .580
7. Henderson 93, .571
8. Henderson 87, .568
9. Henderson 92, .553
10. Mantle 62, .549

This jives with my expectations of seeing Rickey Henderson prominently. In fact, Rickey has 14 of the top 30 LOI seasons since 1960.

1975 was a remarkable year for Joe Morgan and also a bit of an anomaly for him. It was the only year that in his prime that he had fewer than 30 doubles and fewer than 20 home runs. But it was also the year he a career highs in hits (163) and walks (132).

Other names that appear a little further down the leader board: Otis Nixon, Davy Lopes, Barry Bonds (in í96 when he hit ďonlyĒ 42 HRs, but walked 151 times), Luis Castillo, and Vince Coleman.

Ichiro in 2004, when he hit 225 singles? A relatively low LOI of.434 because he only walked 49 times in 754 plate appearances and was caught stealing 11 times in 47 attempts.

Biggio in í97, LOI of .459.

The highest single season, all-time is Ty Cobb in 1915 with .696, when he stole 96 bases to go along with 161 singles.

The highest career LOI, Rickey again at .522. (I need to confirm my calcs here)

Top Blue Jay season ever: Otis Nixon in 1996 with .432

Top 2006 Blue Jay LOI measures:

Johnson, .348
Catalanotto, .325
Hill, .325
Zaun, .315

(Sorry, I canít provide more details without first figuring out how to post html tables.)


zeppelinkm - Sunday, October 15 2006 @ 10:28 AM EDT (#156952) #
I think I like James measuring device a bit better. If you hit that many doubles and home runs, you should be batting 2nd or 3rd... that being said, there should be a way to not penalize somebody for extra base hits. What would happen if you included somebody's hits total, instead of just singles? this way we get around the weighting that slugging provides to singles/doubles/triples/hr's. but also doesn't penalize the speedster who turns singles into doubles. Because a double/triple/HR is still getting on base right..

Mike Green - Sunday, October 15 2006 @ 12:10 PM EDT (#156954) #
As the title of the article suggests, I am attempting to measure how valuable a player used mostly in the leadoff role was, rather than whether he was maximally suited to the role. For this purpose, we need to know about the player's power.

The converse position in the batting order to the leadoff position is the #3 slot.  The #3 hitter's first at-bat is never with no one one or out, and often is with runners on.  Slugging percentage is much more important relative to on-base percentage for the #3 hitter than it is for the #1 hitter in the lineup (whether the number is 1.3 or 1.5 rather than 2, I do not know).  Vernon Wells, Joe Carter and Joe DiMaggio are examples of hitters in the #3 slot with appropriate division of abilities for the slot, at different talent levels (!).  Others, such as Mickey Mantle and Barry Bonds (1990-93 version) have been place in the role and could have been modestly more effective elsewhere.

james - Sunday, October 15 2006 @ 12:27 PM EDT (#156955) #

I think you are right Mike, we are probably measuring different things. I'm just concerned that LADOPS measures the effectiveness of a hitter who happened to bat leadoff. That depends in large part on the strength of the lineup behind him. On a strong lineup, a better hitter will bat leadoff, rather than say second or third. So a powerful leadoff hitter will look disportionally better compared against a bunch of singles hitters that other teams may have to employ. Does he deserve to get into the HOF for that? Rating players based on any batting order position suffers from that problem.

Mike Green - Sunday, October 15 2006 @ 06:28 PM EDT (#156959) #
It could be.  However, the leadoff position in the order is very important (The Game suggests that the most important slots in the batting order are #1, #2 and #4), and the skill set to most effectively fill the spot is uncommon. 

On another and somewhat related note, here is a list of Rickey Henderson's age 40 comparables. The comparison with Joe Morgan is actually remarkably close.  They're the same offensive ballplayer, except that Rickey attempted to steal twice as often.  Their success rate when attempting to steal was near identical.  The major difference between them is that Morgan was a Gold Glove quality second baseman on top of that.  It's a bit funny that Morgan (whether with a mediocre offence in Houston or on the Big Red Machine) always batted second (or third), whereas Henderson batted leadoff.

Mick Doherty - Monday, October 16 2006 @ 02:14 PM EDT (#156968) #

My memories of the BRM only go back to about '74, just before the mid-'70s explosion of greatness, but I don't recall Morgan ever batting anywhere but third for the Reds. It was Rose-Griffey-Morgan at the top of that lineup with Bench/Perez/Foster -- the order there varied based on who was hot -- next, then Concepcion and Geronimo and the pitcher's spot.

When did he hit second? In Houston?

Mike Green - Monday, October 16 2006 @ 02:30 PM EDT (#156969) #
Morgan hit 2nd in Cincinnati from 1972-1974.  Griffey came up in late '74 and batted eighth.  In '75, Sparky moved him to the #2 slot and Morgan down to the #3. 

A side note on the vagaries of memory.  My recollection was that Morgan moved from the 2 to the 3 slot in 1976, but retrosheet had the correct answer.

Mike Green - Monday, October 16 2006 @ 04:09 PM EDT (#156972) #
I am sure this was noticed in Seattle, but I missed that Ichiro went 45-2 in the SB/CS department in 2006.  His GB/FB rate is falling too.  Why would I not be shocked if he hit 25 homers in 2007 and was moved down to the 3 slot?
Hall Watch 2006-Leadoff Hitters- Standards and Tools for Evaluation | 14 comments | Create New Account
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