When you think of traditional leadoff hitters, they are typically players who can and will do anything to get on base. They’re table setters known for their speed and on-base skills and they can wreak havoc on the base paths. The more often they get on base and into scoring position, the more runs they will ultimately score.
While that was all we saw in baseball for years, recently the role of leadoff hitters has changed a bit. Now, the leadoff hitter’s spot is morphing into a place where OPS (on-base plus slugging) is key. By placing players with more power atop the lineup, it’s the extra-base hit and not the single and the steal that gets them into scoring position to be knocked in by the big boppers in the heart of the order.
Whether leadoff hitters are speedsters or power threats, they’re all batting atop their respective team’s batting orders because they get on base. With a surprising number of leadoff hitters available on the waiver wire, these five are worthwhile additions prior to the All-Star break.
Make a Move for Mallex
Saying that June was a really good month for Mallex Smith would be an understatement. The Rays’ leadoff hitter not only has a .470 OBP in 15 games since being called up, he’s also racked up 14 runs and six steals with a .386 batting average. He has seven multi-hit games and has reached base safely in all 15 contests during his current stint with Tampa Bay.
The 24-year-old has always had elite speed, which puts him into the old school mold for a leadoff hitter. With nine steals (in 12 attempts) in 24 games, he’s on pace for close to 40 stolen bases this season. For every 100 at-bats the speedy leadoff hitter gets, he steals close to 10 bases (and he steals them with a career 70-percent success rate). With the possibility for close to 300 ABs the rest of the way, Smith could legitimately end up competing for the American League stolen base title. That’s a player who should be owned in more than the 40 percent of CBSSports and 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Smith won’t/can’t keep up his June pace, especially with a .435 BABIP for the month, but his stolen base potential alone makes him worth a roster spot in AL-only and mixed leagues moving forward.
Joyce Lines Up as New-Look Leadoff Hitter
Matt Joyce isn’t your typical leadoff hitter. He’s batting just .230, but gets on base via the walk (33) nearly as often as he does via the hit (49). This has led to a .332 OBP this year, despite a brutal April and May during which the outfielder’s batting average teetered around the Mendoza Line.
Joyce turned things around in June, during which he’s hitting .306 (22-for-72) with five homers, 16 runs, and 12 RBIs through 22 games. Add another 14 walks, and the A’s leadoff man has a .419 OBP and 1.002 OPS over the past month. Even with these recent numbers, Joyce is owned in just one percent of Yahoo! leagues and three percent of CBSSports leagues. Now, that’s a player going entirely under the radar while on pace to top career highs in home runs (19) and runs scored (69).
The epitome of what a new MLB leadoff hitter looks like, Joyce is an undervalued asset who should be added in deep mixed and AL-only leagues.
Span Should Stay Hot During Summer Months
Denard Span has been on fire recently. With four multi-hit games in his last five starts, the veteran leadoff hitter is now batting .287 with four homers, 17 RBIs, 28 runs scored, and three steals in 223 at-bats.
Following a career-worst start, Span righted the ship in June with a .353 batting average (36-for-102) while scoring 17 runs in 25 games. To put his hot streak in perspective, the outfielder scored 10 of his 28 runs and stole all three bases over the past 14 days. With a career .310 batting average in July and a .294 clip in August, I’d expect this recent run to be the start of a solid summer for the veteran.
Span fits into the old school mold for a leadoff hitter with his career .284 batting average and .349 OBP, two numbers he’s in line with as we hit the midway point of the season. If you need a bump in batting average and runs scored, the outfielder should provide that, and he’s on waivers in more than 90 percent of Fantasy leagues. Strike while the iron is hot and add Span in NL-only and mixed leagues.
Pirela Provides Power/Speed Combo for Padres
In 48 games at Triple-A El Paso, Jose Pirela was batting .331 with 13 homers, eight stolen bases, 37 runs scored, and 42 RBIs. That power/speed combo earned Pirela a promotion earlier this month, when he was immediately thrust into the Padres leadoff spot.
Since then, the 27-year-old has continued to hit, racking up three homers and stolen three bases to go along with a .315 batting average and .923 OPS in 18 games. While his current .385 BABIP is the above league average and likely to drop off a bit, Pirela has the tools to continue producing from atop San Diego’s lineup.
With his ability to play in both the outfield and second base, Pirela should provide Fantasy owners with enough power and speed to merit a pickup in NL-only and deep mixed leagues leading up to and through the All-Star Break.
Bet on Buxton (One Day) Batting Leadoff
It’s hard to write about a player who is currently batting .200, but Byron Buxton is the type of player worth keeping an eye on. I know he isn’t batting leadoff right now. Truth is, he hasn’t batted leadoff in a single game this season. But I think … I hope … I wish that Buxton ends up being the top-of-the-order hitter he was in the Minors.
And I’m clearly not alone in thinking this. That a player with ugly numbers like his — .200 AVG, .273 OBP, .564 OPS — is owned in almost 25 percent of Yahoo! leagues and 35 percent of CBSSports leagues says a lot. It’s all about potential with Buxton. That potential, and his 13 stolen bases, are what keep him Fantasy-relevant.
Is it possible that the former top prospect is just a great defensive outfielder who bats around .220 and steals 20 to 30 bases in a full season? My answer is a definite maybe. Keep Buxton on your watch list or stash him on your bench until further notice. And don’t hesitate to add him, or any of these actual leadoff hitters, as they won’t be in the bargain bin for much longer.