How To Become The Ideal Leadoff Man


Simply put, you can’t describe a leadoff man with just one skill. Analysts

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 Percentage

First 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.

Energized

Since 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 Paths

One trait that often comes to people’s mind immediately when thinking

about leadoff men is their speed. You’re almost never going to see

someone that’s not fleet-of-foot in the opening spot. There are many

situations where this speed comes in play. First, it allows them to beat

out bunts and infield grounders to increase that on-base percentage.

Next, they can steal bases more easily to put themselves in scoring

position for the power bats behind them. Finally, they can take extra

bases on hits, such as going to first to third. Each of these plays can

greatly affect a game. The offseason is a great time to improve this speed

if you believe it is something holding you back from manning the leadoff

spot. There are many ways to do so, but I urge practicing 100 meter

sprints on the track. 100 meters are long enough to ensure you can

accelerate quickly and keep top speed going for longer distances. In

addition, you should practice you’re reaction time and how you’ll time

jumps. This may come from agility exercises or even watching others

appropriately time jumps.

Patient at the Dish

One aspect of the on-base percentage discussed above is the ability to

secure walks and work the counts. Unless you’re like the Kansas City

Royals’ Alcides Escobar, a leadoff man should work the pitcher and

make him throw plenty of pitches. Sometimes, the first pitch might be a

fastball thrown right down the middle. In these instances, it might be

wise to be first-pitch swinging. However, other times, the pitcher will

try to get you to swing at something outside the zone. It is at these times

where a leadoff man should possess the ability to utilize a discerning

eye and work the count. Another element to keep in mind is the concept

of good outs. Occasionally, these can include outs that move the runner

up a base, while it can also be ones that make the pitcher work and tax

his 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 video

from former Major Leaguer Matt Nokes goes over many of the

fundamentals to successful hitting. Don’t ignore the basics; they’re at the

crux of all great hitters!

Occasional Power

While I’ve discussed extensively the element of leadoff men getting on

base consistently, it also doesn’t hurt for them to be able to have a little

pop. 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’t

uncommon for leadoff men today to hit around 10 homeruns each

season. This can provide a little more power to the lineup as a whole, as

well as keep the defense honest. They can’t be cheating up while

expecting a short hit or else they could fall victim to a shot over their

head. In saying this, leadoff men need to stay focused and remember

they’re not in the lineup to hit it deep. They’re still considered a table

setter, 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-Stop

When 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!