There are a few different things teams look for in leadoff hitters. The most important thing is getting on base frequently. Teams also look for a hitter than can make the pitcher work. Speed and stolen base ability is also something that is preferred at the top of the lineup. That's not always possible, though. Power isn't something normally associated with a leadoff hitter, but some of them do have some pop in their bat. Today, I'm going to take a look at the best leadoff hitters in the game.
Some of baseball's best hitters have been leadoff hitters. The best ever was Rickey Henderson, who is the all time leader in stolen bases and walks. Henderson also had unusual power for a leadoff hitter. Not all leadoff hitters in the past has amazing speed. Wade Boggs is a prime example of that. Boggs made up for his lack of speed by winning batting titles and getting on base constantly. Tim Raines was overshadowed by Henderson, but was a great leadoff hitter in the 80's and early 90's. Going back further, Lou Brock was the best leadoff hitter the Cardinals ever had. In the past couple of decades, Jeter and Ichiro have been great leadoff hitters.
Last season, rookie phenoms Mike Trout and Bryce Harper both hit out of the leadoff spot. They have been moved down in the order this season. Jeter had a good year at the leadoff spot last year, but is out til after the All Star break and coming off a major injury at a advanced age. Older players like Ichiro Suzuki, Jimmy Rollins, and Juan Pierre are in decline and no longer top leadoff hitters. Nate McLouth has had a resurgence in Baltimore as a leadoff hitter after several unproductive years. Carl Crawford is trying to get his career back on track in LA after two down years in Boston, partly due to injury. Angel Pagan was a sparkplug for the Giants run to the championship last year. In the NL Central, there are some up and comers new to the leadoff spot with the Cardinals Matt Carpenter, Pirates Sterling Marte, and the Brewers Noriochi Aoki. There are also several established leadoff hitters that are having big years this season. I'll rank the best.
Geraldo Parra, Diamondbacks
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Sterling Marte, Pirates
Dexter Fowler, Rockies
Austin Jackson, Tigers
5) Michael Bourn, Indians
Bourn is in his first American League season with the Indians, after previously playing with the Braves, Astros, and Phillies. Bourn set career highs in home runs(9) and RBIs(57) last year. He also led the NL in steals from 2009-11. Bourn is a two time Gold Glove winner and a two time All Star. Signing Bourn was a big move by Cleveland and it's paid off so far, they are in first place right now.
4) Ian Kinsler, Rangers
For a leadoff hitter, Kinsler probably has the most power in the league. Since the beginning of 2011, Kinsler has 58 home runs, the most by a leadoff hitter in that span. Kinsler also steals around 20-30 bases a year. He is a patient hitter and off to a good start in 2013.
3) Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
If it wasn't for Ellsbury's outstanding 2011 season, he probably wouldn't rank as high. He was hurt much of 2010 and missed over half of 2012. When healthy, Ellsbury has a mix of speed and power that's hard to beat. He is currently leading the AL with 13 steals, and led the AL in 2008 and 2009. Ellsbury is off to a slow start this year, but has a .293 career average. He probably will never duplicate his 2011 campaign were he hit 32 home runs, drove in 105, hit .321, and led the league in total bases. However, Ellsbury can still be a force at the leadoff spot.
2) Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
Last season, the Reds had dreadful production out of the leadoff spot with Zack Cozart and Drew Stubbs. In the offseason, they acquired Choo from the Indians. Right now, Choo is second in the NL with a .456 on base percentage and has hit 9 home runs so far. Choo has good power for a leadoff hitter and also has some speed on the basepaths. Choo is miscast as a center fielder, but the Reds have improved their offense with his addition as a tablesetter.
1) Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
Reyes is hurt right now, but when healthy he is the best. He has a mix of getting on base, stealing bases, and has extra base power. He is a explosive player on offense, and also is a good defender. His injury has hurt the Jays real bad, but their pitching has dissapointed them the most. Reyes led the NL in batting average in 2011, and had a terrific second half with Miami last year. He was off to a good start in Toronto. Reyes has also led the league in steals three separate times and has 415 steals in his career.