Who will emerge as Pirates’ leadoff hitter?

One of the biggest challenges the Pirates faced last season was their lack of offense. Although they put up decent power numbers, the club finished 23rd in runs scored, 25th in batting average, and 27th in on-base percentage. Those three statistics are key in determining the success of a leadoff hitter, especially his ability to get on base. The leadoff spot is definitely an area the Pirates need to improve upon in 2013.

Here’s a look at the batting average, OBP, slugging %, and OPS splits for all leadoff hitters across Major League baseball last season:

Batting 1st .261 .324 .391 .715

Now, here’s how the Pirates fared in those five categories:

Batting 1st .246 .291 .386 .677

The disparity between the Bucs’ leadoff men and the entire league is quite obvious in these four areas. The most evident flaw is the OBP –  .324 is pretty average, whereas the Pirates’ .291 is just awful.

The following players were penciled in at the top spot in the batting order last season (number of games at leadoff in parentheses):

1) Alex Presley (57)
2) Jose Tabata (43)
3) Starling Marte (34)
4) Brock Holt (12)
5) Drew Sutton (10)
6) Josh Harrison (4)
7) Nate McLouth (1)
8) Travis Snider (1)

Since Holt, Sutton, and McLouth are long gone, we’ll discuss the remaining five players and their leadoff opportunities in 2013.

Starling Marte

We mention Marte first because he’s the most likely candidate at the moment. He’s a favorite for the role, largely due to his speed. His wheels will help him get on base and also swipe some bags in front of Andrew McCutchen. The problem with Starling, however, is that he’s a free swinger. He’s not going to draw a whole lot of walks, plus he’ll have his share of strikeouts. The leadoff spot may also restrict some of his power, since he’ll be forced to take more pitches and hit out of pitcher’s counts. Marte’s free swinging and raw power would likely be better suited for the middle of the order; he can certainly unleash some bombs:

Regardless of where he hits, we are excited to see a full season of Starling. Hopefully he doesn’t find a sophomore slump (fingers crossed).
Bill James Projections: .297 avg, .336 OBP, 15 HR, 64 RBI
ZiPS Projections: .264 avg, .310 OBP, 11 HR, 68 RBI

Travis Snider

Snider is up next, simply due to the fact that Neal Huntington mentioned he’s lined up for a starting spot:

“Lunchbox” only hit out of the top spot once in 2012, and we don’t expect him to be there much in 2013. He’s intriguing for the role since he seems to have a good sense for the strike zone and can draw a few walks. Snider lacks the speed that is typically an asset for a leadoff hitter and, like Marte, he could see his “raw power” diminish. He only hit one bomb in his 50 Bucco games, which was a big letdown.
Bill James Projections: .278 avg, .345 OBP, 11 HR, 45 RBI
ZiPS Projections: .253 avg, .310 OBP, 13 HR, 54 RBI

Alex Presley

Alex, not Elvis, hit out of the top spot more than any other Pirates last year, even though he spent 40 games in Class AAA Indianapolis. He’s a prototypical leadoff man, even though he did show a bit of pop last season. Trying to be a better leadoff hitter, he attempted to take more pitches. He struggled mightily, however, as he got stuck in far too many pitcher’s counts. When the pitcher was ahead, Presley hit just .178 with a .185 OBP; he hit .253 with a solid .373 OBP when he got ahead in the count. The biggest problem is that Presley doesn’t exactly fit into the Pirates puzzle at the moment. Based on the quote above, he’ll be fighting for a job; he could even start at Indy, since he has an option remaining. If he isn’t starting, then he obviously doesn’t get the leadoff job.
Bill James Projections: .288 avg, .343 OBP, 8 HR, 32 RBI
ZiPS Projections: .260 avg, .308 OBP, 13 HR, 60 RBI

Jose Tabata

Tabata has easily been one of – if not the – most frustrating player of the last few seasons. He was hyped as a prospect and delivered a .299/.346/.400 season that caught the eye of many Bucco fans. But he’s been plagued with various injuries and never developed any power. A major problem with Tabata is that he’s out of options, so the Pirates are essentially stuck with him unless then trade him or designate him for assignment/place him on waivers. Like Presley, it’s hard to see where he fits in since the club has stockpiled so many corner outfielders. If he were penciled in as a starter, he’s a liability at the top and bottom of the order, so it’s difficult to put him in any lineup.
Bill James Projections: .278 avg, .345 OBP, 3 HR, 26 RBI
ZiPS Projections: .262 avg, .329 OBP, 5 HR, 36 RBI

Josh Harrison

We won’t go in-depth on J-Hay because 1) he’s not an everyday player and 2) he’s not a leadoff hitter. Harrison’s debut in the top spot of the order last season was the same night he broke up Justin Verlander‘s no-hitter in the ninth inning. He hit first on just three other occasions after that.
Bill James Projections: N/A
ZiPS Projections: .261 avg, .299 OBP, 5 HR, 40 RBI

As of right now, it looks like Starling Marte will get the leadoff job, but we’ll see how that affects him in the long run. Considering the players that will most likely secure starting spots, the team really does not have an ideal leadoff man. The Bucs will probably mix-and-match hitters at the top of the order in their month of Grapefruit League play. Here’s what Clint Hurdle said about the situation back in December:

[quote_center]“I’m not even going to go there right now because that’ll get printed with here’s who we’re leading off. I don’t know right now. I’ve got some thoughts… you definitely want people up there that can move.”[/quote_center]

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

2 thoughts on “Who will emerge as Pirates’ leadoff hitter?”

    1. Thanks!

      It’ll definitely be interesting to see who they put up there. Only time will tell. 64 days until Opening Day.

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