Matt Carpenter has entered himself into the National League MVP race over the last two months of the 2018 season after many wrote him off, including yours truly. I went so far as to write an article about the Cardinals moving Tommy Pham into the leadoff position was what was best for the St. Louis Cardinals. Just like Carpenter and his salsa I am ready to eat my words. Carpenter has found himself in this situation while being primarily in the lead off role. His potential MVP status has opened my eyes to the evolution of the lead off hitter as a force in MLB lineups.
Traditionalist have a predetermined idea that a leadoff hitter should be someone with speed. A player that can turn a single into a double or even triple by being on the move. But today’s MLB doesn’t work that way anymore. Baseball is a game of statistics as well as ever changing dynamics. Players like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon can change the game with their speed, but they are the leadoff hitters of the past. The new form of leadoff hitters are players that force a pitcher to be on their game right away or be down by one run.
Today’s leadoff hitters focus more about getting on base and provide much more power. Look at the impact that George Springer had for the World Champion Astros during their great 2017 run in the playoffs. Springer was able to jump on get me over fastballs to start the game and put an immediate run on the board. Lead off hitters now rely on patience and launch angles to beat up on the opposition rather than using their speed.
Look at a list of impactful leadoff men in today’s game and see that there is a new trend in the game. Joining George Springer are star caliber players like Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Dickerson, and even Bryce Harper have spent time in the leadoff spot for their respective teams. Managers are beginning to understand that their best hitters will not only be getting more at bats but they will also be in a position to see a few get me over fastballs that can be deposited in the seats. Instead of pitchers trying to pitch around these players they are forced to pitch to them at least once rather than start a game with a runner on base.
Matt Carpenter is currently leading the National League in homeruns. While a large portion of those homeruns are solo shots he is still making an impact from the lead off position. What is overlooked is that he has the protection of the middle of the order forcing pitchers to throw to him. The worst thing a pitcher can do is to put a man on in front of the middle of the order. Carpenter has to see strikes, he has to be challenged and he more you challenge him the better he has been. This is the new idea of lead off hitters. In a way its like a slow pitch softball approach, why not get your best player as many at bats as you possibly can?