How To Become The Ideal Leadoff Man
will typically say they prefer certain attributes, but the truth is they
need to possess a little bit of everything. Legendary leadoff man Kenny
Lofton once said, “You can’t put your shoes on without your socks.
Everything works together – shoes, socks, pants and shirts. If one is
missing, you’re in trouble.” This analogy is referring to the varying
skillsets needed to effectively be the man at the top.
High On-Base PercentageFirst and foremost, leadoff men need to be able to get on base. Their
primary responsibility is to give the power bats an opportunity to drive
in some runs, which is what they do best. However, the important thing
to understand here is that there are many ways to get on base. The on-
base percentage statistic shouldn’t be confused with batting average. In
general terms, it is calculated on every time you reach base by way of a
hit, walk or hit by pitch. So, with this being the case, leadoff men need to
be creative in getting on. Some guys possess the speed to bunt
frequently and get on. Another scenario would be ones with a
discerning eye that are tough to strikeout, while others are pure hitters
that can hit to all fields. There are many ways to get on, but coaches are
generally just going to be worried about whether or not you get on.
EnergizedSince leadoff man possess the opportunity to get the entire dugout
amped up right away, they need to be an energizing presence. Often
times, I refer to this as the leadoff man having a certain level of swagger.
I’m not saying they should do something to show the pitcher up, but
rather get the game started in a positive manner. Whether it be working
a 10-pitch walk or beating out an infield single, there are many
possibilities. Hitting is a contagious trait and when you see people
before you having success off a pitcher right off the bat, it can lead to
good fortunes for the rest of the squad. As for the actual characteristic of
being an energetic player, it’s reliant solely on production and
personality. For the personality side, you can’t really teach this, it
mainly comes down to the person. However, production can be
developed through experience in the game.
Fast on the Base PathsOne trait that often comes to people’s mind immediately when thinkingabout leadoff men is their speed. You’re almost never going to seesomeone that’s not fleet-of-foot in the opening spot. There are manysituations where this speed comes in play. First, it allows them to beatout bunts and infield grounders to increase that on-base percentage.Next, they can steal bases more easily to put themselves in scoringposition for the power bats behind them. Finally, they can take extrabases on hits, such as going to first to third. Each of these plays cangreatly affect a game. The offseason is a great time to improve this speedif you believe it is something holding you back from manning the leadoffspot. There are many ways to do so, but I urge practicing 100 metersprints on the track. 100 meters are long enough to ensure you canaccelerate quickly and keep top speed going for longer distances. Inaddition, you should practice you’re reaction time and how you’ll timejumps. This may come from agility exercises or even watching othersappropriately time jumps.
Patient at the DishOne aspect of the on-base percentage discussed above is the ability tosecure walks and work the counts. Unless you’re like the Kansas CityRoyals’ Alcides Escobar, a leadoff man should work the pitcher andmake him throw plenty of pitches. Sometimes, the first pitch might be afastball thrown right down the middle. In these instances, it might bewise to be first-pitch swinging. However, other times, the pitcher willtry to get you to swing at something outside the zone. It is at these timeswhere a leadoff man should possess the ability to utilize a discerningeye and work the count. Another element to keep in mind is the conceptof good outs. Occasionally, these can include outs that move the runnerup a base, while it can also be ones that make the pitcher work and taxhis or her pitch count. Even if you get out, making the pitcher throw 10-plus pitches can get him or her out of the game quicker.Being disciplined at the dish is critical to a leadoff man’s job. This videofrom former Major Leaguer Matt Nokes goes over many of thefundamentals to successful hitting. Don’t ignore the basics; they’re at thecrux of all great hitters!
Occasional PowerWhile I’ve discussed extensively the element of leadoff men getting onbase consistently, it also doesn’t hurt for them to be able to have a littlepop. Even the speedy Juan Pierre, who once stole 68 bases in a season,hit 18 home runs over his MLB career. To back this up, it isn’tuncommon for leadoff men today to hit around 10 homeruns eachseason. This can provide a little more power to the lineup as a whole, aswell as keep the defense honest. They can’t be cheating up whileexpecting a short hit or else they could fall victim to a shot over theirhead. In saying this, leadoff men need to stay focused and rememberthey’re not in the lineup to hit it deep. They’re still considered a tablesetter, but when the opportunity’s right, they can take a big rip.
Positions Played?The last section I’ll discuss is the positions often occupied by leadoff
men. While technically, any player can hold the leadoff position, we
typically see some more than the others. These positions include second
base, shortstop and center field. Part of the reason for this is since these
are usually position that require plus-defenders. In addition, these
positions are filed with players that are pretty good athletes and
possess above-average speed. With this section, I’m not intending that
you have to play these positions to hit leadoff, but rather that the
skillsets between the two roles usually intertwine.
Non-StopWhen describing a leadoff man, I’m usually looking for someone that
can always be counted on and plays with non-stop consistency. Since
they often occupy a defensively difficult position, they need to be on top
of their game every time they’re on the field. This includes always
knowing the situation and when your team is desperate for a base
runner. With this said, in the end, the majority of this role comes down
to the ability to set the table for the power bats!