Colorado Rockies and the Leadoff Home Run: Is It the New Trend?
By Kevin Henry
Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon hit 29 home runs from the leadoff position last season. From 2014-2016, Colorado’s dynamic and bearded leadoff man blasted 65 homers. He has two already in the young 2017 season, heading into Wednesday’s matinee against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field.
A recent article on CBSSports.com highlights the trend of today’s MLB leadoff men hitting homers. With Kyle Schwarber moving into the leadoff position for the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs this season, it seems that power from the opening at-bat is the way to go for today’s MLB teams.
But is it really? Alfonso Soriano set the American League mark for homers to lead off a game with 13 in 2003. He also has the National League record in the same category with 12 in 2007. Rickey Henderson holds the Major League career record for homers to lead off a game with 81. He played his last MLB game in 2003.
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For Blackmon, despite the power he shows at times, he still feels his job as a leadoff hitter is to get on base for batters like Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez.
"“I think the job of the leadoff hitter is to be on base when the extra base guys come up,” Blackmon told Rox Pile."
Despite players like non-conventional hitters like Schwarber and Houston’s George Springer topping the lineup, Blackmon believes there is more to hitting leadoff than just swatting home runs.
"“I think it’s convenient that their leadoff hitter hits homers so it’s convenient to talk about,” Blackmon said. “I want my guys hitting all the homers when there are guys on base. That’s when homers become very important.”"
Last season, according to this article, MLB leadoff hitters hit just over 10 percent of all homers and drove in 9.6 percent of runs. Those are the highest numbers since 1920. But does that mean the leadoff hitter position is evolving?
Colorado manager Bud Black isn’t so sure.
"“I don’t know whether the leadoff role has changed. I think it’s just the construction of your roster,” Black said. “You want a guy who gets on base. That’s the number one priority. There are a number of factors on how that guy gets on base. Does he have the ability to work the pitcher or be comfortable hitting with two strikes? Can he see pitches to help the other guys to start the game off?“I think the priority is a good offensive player, high on-base (percentage). If you have power? That’s great. If you have speed? That’s great.”"
Black then went on to rattle off names like Paul Molitor, Brett Butler, Bobby Bonds, Ichiro Suzuki and Willie Wilson. Each had their own strengths but weren’t known as power hitters.
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Many of the great leadoff hitters in MLB history had power but weren’t known as power hitters like Schwarber and Springer. Time will tell if that’s where the makeup of the leadoff position is going, but it’s not heading that direction any time soon at Coors Field.