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Inspired by Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson batting Willie Bloomquist leadoff* in their opener, I did some research on the batters with the lowest OBPs who hit leadoff in 2010.

* By the way, Bloomquist went 3/6 in the Diamondbacks’ 7-6 win over the Rockies and played a part in the winning rally. Squirrel, meet nut.

Overall, nearly 200 hitters started at least one game as the leadoff hitter last year. Six of them–including Bloomquist, our inspiration–led off for two different teams. There are many definitions of “worst leadoff hitter,” but to me, the key component is the ability to get on base. All other factors–including speed, contact, etc.–are secondary. So low-OBP guys are who I’m looking for. There were plenty to choose from, as 52 different players with sub-.300 OBPs batted leadoff at least once last year.

Listed below are my picks for the 10 worst leadoff hitters of 2010, with bonus points for guys with longer track records of OBP futility and those who batted leadoff more often. Younger guys who OBP’d well in the minors mostly get a pass.

Note that the onus for all of this is on the managers who played these guys and not the players themselves. It’s not the players’ fault their managers didn’t know better.

10) Willie Bloomquist, Royals/Reds

Times hitting leadoff: 6 (5 with Royals, 1 with Reds)
2010 OBP: .299 / Career OBP: .317

The inspiration for this list is no stranger to batting leadoff (he’s done it 23 times in all), but he really should be. In 2010, he went 0/5 with a walk leading off the game, and hit .160 / .250 / .160 in the 1st spot in the order.

9) Anderson Hernandez, Indians/Astros

Times hitting leadoff: 2 (1 with Indians, 1 with Astros)
2010 OBP: .286 / Career OBP: .300

Bloomquist batting leadoff for two teams was egregious, but this is even worse. Hernandez is up to over 700 PAs in the big leagues now, so that isn’t a small sample on the .300 career OBP, either. Is it any wonder that the Indians and Astros seem to be going nowhere when they have managers who think this guy can lead off, even once?

8) Alberto Gonzalez, Nationals

Times hitting leadoff: 4
2010 OBP: .277 / Career OBP: .292

He’s very similar to Hernandez, except a little worse.

7) Akinori Iwamura, Pirates / A’s

Times hitting leadoff: 35 (all with Pirates)
2010 OBP: .285 / Career OBP: .345

Iwamura really cratered after a pretty good first three years in MLB with the Rays. He makes this list mostly because of the sheer number of times he led off. He batted first as late as May 28th, at which point he was hitting .170 / .273 / .248 overall. Ouch.

6) Aaron Rowand, Giants

Times hitting leadoff: 39 (!)
2010 OBP: .281 / Career OBP: .335

In his prime, Rowand had a couple pretty good years, but he’s been clearly declining for a while now. The last four years, his OBPs have gone from .372 to .339 to .319 to .281… yet until midway through last season, he was still the regular leadoff guy. And this on a team that won the World Series.

5) Eugenio Velez, Giants

Times hitting leadoff: 8
2010 OBP: .246 / Career OBP: .300

And here’s another terrible repeat leadoff choice from the world champs. Velez had a .299 OBP in 2008, a .308 OBP in 2009… and not only did he make the 2010 Giants opening day roster, but he led off 8 times in April. After April 20th, he reached base twice in 32 PA.

4) Willy Taveras, Nationals

Times hitting leadoff: 1
2010 OBP: .243 / Career OBP: .320

Taveras has always been a good test case for assessing people’s understanding of the game. If you think he makes a good leadoff hitter, then well, you fail the test. Taveras has had one passable year statistically, but that was entirely due to a Coors Field-inflated .320 batting average. He’s never walked much, and his speed isn’t useful when he doesn’t get on base (which is most of the time). Yet, for some reason, the Nats not only acquired him but let him lead off a game. Jim Riggleman: you fail at baseball.

3) Dewayne Wise, Blue Jays

Times hitting leadoff: 17
2010 OBP: .282 / Career OBP: .260

Yeah, that’s right. Wise actually outperformed his career OBP numbers in 2010, and still made this list. Plus, he batted leadoff 17 times!! I don’t care how fast he is, that is just amazingly stupid.

2) Luis Montanez, Orioles

Times hitting leadoff: 3
2010 OBP: .155 / Career OBP: .257 in limited time (.349 in the minors)

The award for the worst hitting line by a leadoff hitter goes to Montanez. Actually, he had the worst hitting line of any non-pitcher with 50+ PA. Montanez came up 58 times in 2010, and reached base 9 times (8 singles and 1 walk). That’s a .140 / .155 / .140 line for those scoring at home. He was nearly as bad in 2009 (.545 OPS in 91 PA), so the Orioles should really have known better.

1) The Hairston Brothers (Jerry, Jr. and Scott), Padres

Times hitting leadoff: 55 (7 for Scott, 48 for Jerry)
2010 OBP: .295 (Scott), .299 (Jerry) / Career OBP: .303 (Scott), .325 (Jerry)

Normally I’m against the whole “tie that makes a top 10 a top 11″ cop-out, but come on. Two brothers, neither of whom is good at getting on base, getting significant leadoff action for the same team. And one of them (Jerry) actually leading the team in leadoff appearances. That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

Jerry Hairston was one of only two players to have the most leadoff appearances on his team while posting a sub-.300 OBP; the other was Michael Brantley of the Indians, but he gets a pass because of stellar OBPs in the minors.

Honorable Mentions

Number of leadoff appearances and 2010 OBP in parentheses:

Blue Jays: Jeremy Reed (2, .217), Nick Green (1, .217), John McDonald (1, .273), and Mike McCoy (9, .267)

Mets: Gary Matthews, Jr. (1, .266), Jesus Feliciano (2, .276), and Alex Cora (2, .266)

Padres: Everth Cabrera (13, .279) and Tony Gwynn, Jr. (28, .304)

Bourgeois Players: Peter Bourjos (10, .237, Angels) and Jason Bourgeois (21, .294, Astros)

As you can probably infer, it is mostly just a few managers who made the worst lineup follies. If I were a fan of the Nationals, Giants, Padres, or Astros, I’d be rooting for a new manager right about now (the Mets, Blue Jays, and Orioles already have them). And if I were a Diamondbacks fan, I’d be really, really worried about Kirk Gibson and his love of Bloomquist.

Hey, Kirk. Did you know that Kelly Johnson is on your team? He makes a pretty darn good leadoff man.

I should point out, in conclusion, that none of these mistakes are, in and of themselves, not that damaging. Assuming these players were going to be in the lineup anyway (which many of them shouldn’t have been, but that’s not the issue here), batting them leadoff for a few games does not make a huge difference.

However, having a leadoff guy with a relatively high OBP is Managing 101. To put any of the players mentioned above in the leadoff hole speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding of how baseball works. And that, much more than the actual on-field effects, is what should be worrisome.

Note: In my original research, I found that Juan Castro (of the .268 career OBP) batted leadoff once for the Phillies, which would have been #1 on the list except that he actually subbed for Jimmy Rollins just before first pitch, when the lineups had already been set. So that wasn’t really a managerial decision.

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One Response to Lineup Follies: The Worst Leadoff Hitters of 2010

  1. The Worst Leadoff Hitters of 2011 | JunkStats
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    [...] year, I named the 10 worst hitters to bat leadoff at some point during the 2010 season. This year, I thought I’d change it up a [...]

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