Hitting leadoff is one of the most important, yet undervalued jobs in baseball.
It seems lost on some managers in baseball today, that the leadoff spot in a lineup isn't merely where you put a fast guy who can steal a few bases.
Crafting a lineup is really just apportioning playing time among the members of your team. Each lineup spot gets, on average, 20 more plate appearances throughout a season than the spot below it. Ergo, a leadoff hitter should be the man you want at the plate more than anyone else on the team.
The leadoff hitter's job is above all—to get on base. It helps if he's an intimidating force on the basepaths. Affecting a pitcher's concentration as he pitches to the heart of the lineup is always beneficial. But if he's a guy who runs whenever he feels like it, gets caught a lot and kills more rallies than he starts, then you've got a problem.
Some leadoff hitters in baseball today are a break from the traditional mold. And a lot of them are on contending teams. This is more than a coincidence. We're going to soon see a change in the winds regarding what skills are valued in a leadoff hitter, and which are overrated.
I have put together a power ranking of the 30 leadoff hitters in baseball, factoring in the following statistics: on base percentage, slugging percentage, runs created (Bill James' statistic that measures total offensive output), and stolen bases. Some are weighed more heavily than others, and I used my judgment to determine which of them really performed the job of leadoff hitter the best.
Enjoy and please comment with your opinions!