Greatest Leadoff Hitters in Baseball History
Where have you gone, "Little Louie" Aparicio?
For the better part of baseball history, the leadoff spot in a batting order was reserved for guys like the White Sox shortstop, spray hitters who were light on their feet, worked the count, put the ball in play (preferably on the ground), could steal a bag and generally served as a pain to opposing pitchers.
Well, those days have gone the way of Slinkies, bell-bottoms and the Macarena.
If you haven’t noticed, it’s all about launch angles and the almighty home run these days. Why bother to get him on, get him over and get him in when some behemoth can do all of that on one swing of the bat? Hello, Kyle Schwarber. One-time staples such as hit-and-runs and stolen bases only get in the way.
What’s more, strategists made a remarkable discovery in recent years. The higher up in the order, the more at-bats a player is likely to get over the course of a game and season. So they began to stack the top of their lineups with the most productive hitters available regardless of ability to handle the bat or run the bases.
Yet purists should be comforted to know that one thing remains the same until further notice. The primary goal is still not to make an out. It’s the one trait that the best leadoff hitters in major league history have in common no matter the philosophical differences elsewhere.
50. Lou Whitaker, Second Base
Career: 1977-95 (19 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Tigers
Leadoff position: 922 G, .284 BA, .358 OBP, .435 SLG, 83 SB
Bottom Line: Lou Whitaker
While more selective in the No. 2 hole, "Sweet Lou" was a tough out, especially against righties at the top of the order.
In his best years there (1983-87), he averaged 163 hits, 94 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.
49. Eddie Yost, Third Base
Career: 1944, 1946-62 (18 seasons)
Teams: Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels
Leadoff position: 1,741 G, .256 BA, .396 OBP, .376 SLG, 65 SB
Bottom Line: Eddie Yost
His 28 home runs in the first inning were the major league record until Bobby Bonds broke it.
The "Walking Man" was best known for his slight crouch and ability to draw walks, a category that he led six times in his American League career.
48. Darin Erstad, Outfield
Career: 1996-2009 (14 seasons)
Teams: Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros
Leadoff position: 592 G, .295 BA, .349 OBP, .442 SLG, 69 SB
Bottom Line: Darin Erstad
In 2000, his only full season in the top spot, he finished eighth in the American League MVP vote on a crazy .354/.409/.541 slash line with 28 stolen bases to boot.
Now get this: The next year, the outfielder moved down a spot because he didn’t take enough pitches and hit too many homers.
Smile, Darrin, you would be worth only, say, $9 million today.
47. Otis Nixon, Center Field
Career: 1983-99 (17 seasons)
Teams: New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Montreal Expos, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins
Leadoff position: 1,134 G, .274 BA, .348 OBP, .316 SLG, 491 SB
Bottom Line: Otis Nixon
Otis Nixon was a crook, and I’ve got proof — he ranked 16th in stolen bases in major league history and made good on 78 percent of his tries.
The switch-hitter consistently put the ball in play and was even better in the postseason.
46. Jimmy Rollins, Shortstop
Career: 2000-16 (17 seasons)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers
Leadoff psoition: 1,512 G, .270 BA, .330 OBP, .442 SLG, 322 SB
Bottom Line: Jimmy Rollins
"J-Roll" brought a combination of speed (82 percent stolen-base rate) and power (181 homers) to the top of the order.
His 2007 National League MVP season was a thing of beauty — 30 homers, 33 stolen bases and a .903 OPS in the No. 1 spot.
45. Mookie Wilson, Center Field
Career: 1980-91 (12 seasons)
Team: New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays
Leadoff position: 760 G, .282 BA, .323 OBP, .398 SLG, 213 SB
Bottom Line: Mookie Wilson
While a bit of a free swinger, Mookie Wilson put up numbers that were as consistent as any leadoff hitter in the modern era.
Whether against lefties or righties, home or away, it didn’t matter. He was pretty much the same player.
44. Dom DiMaggio, Center Field
Career: 1940-42, 1946-53 (11 seasons)
Teams: Boston Red Sox
Leadoff position: 1,038 G, .298 BA, .384 OBP, .422 SLG, 76 SB
Bottom Line: Dom DiMaggio
Here’s the guy who set the table for Ted Williams and their co-conspirators all those years.
The other DiMaggio had nearly 40 percent more walks (585) than strikeouts (423) in the leadoff spot.
Different time, kids.
43. Tony Phillips, Outfield-Second Base-Third Base
Career: 1982-99 (18 seasons)
Teams: Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, California/Anaheim Angels, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets
Leadoff position: 1,390 G, .270 BA, .386 OBP, .400 SLG, 132 SB
Bottom Line: Tony Phillips
"Tony the Tiger" outdid himself in the 1993 season — 174 hits, 131 walks, 16 stolen bases and a .434 on-base percentage, all career highs.
Only a subpar 61 percent stolen-base percentage prevents a higher rank here.
42. Matt Carpenter, Third Base-First Base-Second Base
Career: 2011-present (11 seasons)
Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Leadoff position: 762 G, .279 BA, .382 OBP, .482 SLG, 21 SB
Bottom Line: Matt Carpenter
He’s the modern definition of a leadoff man — a patient power hitter who isn’t much of a threat on the bases.
He has 111 homers at the top of the order.
Downside: Left-handers can give him trouble.
41. Rafael Furcal, Shortstop
Career: 2000-12, 2014 (14 seasons)
Teams: Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins
Leadoff position: 1,390 G, .283 BA, .348 OBP, .410 SLG, 280 SB
Bottom Line: Rafael Furcal
In the double aughts, the three-time All-Star was about as balanced a frontman as there was in either league.
Rafael Furcal hit for average and extra bases, stole bases and walked nearly as much as struck out.
His Dodgers debut (.823 OPS, 37 steals) was particularly impressive.
40. George Burns, Outfield
Career: 1911-25 (15 seasons)
Teams: New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies
Leadoff position: 1,494 G, .288 BA, .365 OBP. .384 SLG, 276 SB
Bottom Line: George Burns
Giants manager John McGraw called George Burns one of the most valuable Giants of them all.
He certainly was among the most unique. The 5-foot-7, 160-pounder was an expert boxer-wrestler and swung a 52-ounce bat.
In seven seasons as a regular leadoff man, his on-base percentage was .365 or better in all except one of them.
39. Marquis Grissom, Center Field
Career: 1989-2005 (17 seasons)
Team: Montreal Expos, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers
Leadoff position: 768 G, .280 BA, .328 OBP, .433 SLG, 195 SB
Bottom Line: Marquis Grissom
This two-time All-Star started at least 100 games at six of the nine spots in the order, but Marquis Grissom's combination of speed and power worked best at the top.
In his only full season there (1996, Braves), he produced a career-best .308/.350/.489 slash line.
38. Don Buford, Left Field-Second Base-Third Base
Career: 1963-72 (10 seasons)
Teams: Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles
Leadoff position: 755 G, .271 BA, .379 OBP, .398 SLG, 112 SB
Bottom Line: Don Buford
This switch-hitter was a catalyst with three consecutive Orioles World Series teams even if he was overshadowed by more familiar names.
In the 1969-71 seasons, Don Buford averaged 96 walks and 16 steals and reached base more than 40 percent of the time.
37. Vince Coleman, Left Field
Career: 1985-97 (13 seasons)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers
Leadoff position: 1,280 G, .265 BA, .325 OBP, .346 SLG, 465 SB
Bottom Line: Vince Coleman
Only the Busch Stadium Killer Tarp could slow down this one-tool player. See the1985 NLCS.
"Vincent Van Go" fun fact: In the 1986 "Superstars" final, he finished a respectable second to sprinter Willie Gault in the 100-yard dash.
36. Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Field
Career: 2007-17 (11 seasons)
Teams: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Leadoff position: 843 G, .282 BA, .337 OBP, .414 SLG, 253 SB
Bottom Line: Jacoby Ellsbury
"Chief" had three stellar performances at the top of the order before health issues put his career on hold.
The best came in the 2011 campaign, when the American League MVP runner-up put up a .936 OPS, 29 homers and 37 stolen bases.
35. Bill North, Center Field
Career: 1971-81 (11 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants
Leadoff position: 757 G, .262 BA, .365 OBP, .327 SLG, 303 SB
Bottom Line: Bill North
Bill North scrapped so often with A's teammates and opponents alike, it was easy to overlook his ability to trigger an offense.
The switch-hitter could work a count, draw a walk and steal a base, all of which made him a worthy successor to Bert Campaneris at the top of the order.
34. Brady Anderson, Outfield
Career: 1988-2002 (15 seasons)
Teams: Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians
Leadoff position: 1,311 G, .260 BA, .367 OBP, .437 SLG, 256 SB
Bottom Line: Brady Anderson
In 1996, when the 32-year veteran hit 50 home runs, more than double his next highest total, a dozen came as the first batter of the game.
Brady Anderson also set a record with leadoff homers in four consecutive games.
File this under Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm.
33. Luis Castillo, Second Base
Career: 1996-2010 (15 seasons)
Teams: Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets
Leadoff position: 893 G, .292 BA, .364 OBP, .354 SLG, 260 SB
Bottom Line: Luis Castillo
This three-time All-Star was a magician with the bat.
The two-time National League stolen base leader also could turn a walk into a double.
In Luis Castillo's four peak seasons (1999-2002), no one was better in the table-setter role.
32. Juan Pierre, Outfield
Career: 2000-13 (14 seasons)
Teams: Colorado Rockies, Florida-Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies,
Leadoff position: 1,280 G, .291 BA, .340 OBP, .358 SLG, 473 SB
Bottom Line: Juan Pierre
This contact hitter walked only once every 17.8 plate appearances, but Juan Pierre hit for average and was a threat on the basepaths.
He led the National League in stolen bases three times and hits on two occasions.
C’mon, you mean this guy never played in an All-Star Game?
31. Willie Wilson, Outfield
Career: 1976-94 (19 seasons)
Teams: Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs
Leadoff position: 1,426 G, .292 BA, .331 OBP, .386 SLG, 540 SB
Bottom Line: Willie Wilson
His 83.3 percent stolen-base success rate is higher than all but 14 retired players.
More discipline at the plate would have put Willie Wilson several spots higher in the order.
30. Alfonso Soriano, Left Field-Second Base
Career: 1999-2014 (16 seasons)
Teams: New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs
Leadoff position: 771 G, .288 BA, .338 OBP, .538 SLG, 161 SB
Bottom Line: Alfonso Soriano
Why did "Fonz" prefer the leadoff position more than any other? Simple — more fastballs.
It was there that Alfonso Soriano posted his highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of any spot in the order.
29. Jose Reyes, Shortstop
Career: 2003-18 (16 seasons)
Teams: New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies
Leadoff position: 1,446 G, .290 BA, .340 OBP, .435 SLG, 455 SB
Bottom Line: Jose Reyes
The switch-hitter drew as many as 50 walks in only three seasons, but an ability to hit for average and steal bases at high rates offset a lack of patience at the plate.
Would a move down in the order have hastened his development? Perhaps. The kid struggled at the top spot in his first three seasons before he morphed into an All-Star player.
28. Davey Lopes, Second Base
Career: 1972-87 (16 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros
Leadoff position: 1,205 G, .265 BA, .352 OBP, .388 SLG, 433 SB
Bottom Line: Davey Lopes
As good as the intense Dodger captain was in the leadoff role (and he was a great base stealer), we probably didn’t see his best. Davey Lopes wasn’t a regular until 28 years old.
But his 1979 season was nothing short of remarkable — .842 OPS, 28 homers, 44 steals in 48 attempts.
At 34 years of age, no less.
27. Ron LeFlore, Center Field
Career: 1974-82 (9 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Tigers, Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox
Leadoff position: 1,047 G, .289 BA, .344 OBP, .393 SLG, 440 SB
Bottom Line: Ron LeFlore
This tough outfielder produced four consecutive seasons (1976-79) with no worse than a .775 OPS and 39 stolen bases. He received Most Valuable Player votes in three of them.
"Who knows?" Ron LeFlore said. "If I had gotten that guidance that I needed, if I had known what was going on in society, I could have had some Hall of Fame stats."
No argument here.
26. Lenny Dykstra, Center Field
Career: 1985-96 (12 seasons)
Teams: New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies
Leadoff spot: 1,105 G, .285 BA, .373 OBP, .418 SLG, 272 SB
Bottom Line: Lenny Dykstra
Whenever his name is mentioned, I immediately think of Game 3 in the 1986 World Series.
"Nails" hammered the third pitch over the right-field wall at Fenway Park in Boston, and on one swing of the bat, the mighty Met effectively turned the momentum of the series. He could have that kind of effect on a game.
Dykstra fun fact: He started 1,095 games in the leadoff spot. And 15 everywhere else.
25. Brian Downing, Designated Hitter-Left Field-Catcher
Career: 1973-92 (20 seasons)
Teams: Chicago White Sox, California Angels, Texas Rangers
Leadoff position: 606 G, .282 BA, .386 OBP, .474 SLG, 12 SB
Bottom Line: Brian Downing
In 1982, Angels manager Gene Manager moved the one-time catcher to the leadoff position against all conventional wisdom. Bingo-bango!
At 31, the Southern California native broke out with 28 homers on a .281/.368/.482 slash line, received some MVP votes and elevated his career to another level.
24. Eddie Stanky, Second Base
Career: 1943-53 (11 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals
Leadoff position: 970 G, .271 BA, .417 OBP, .360 SLG, 42 SB
Bottom Line: Eddie Stanky
Eddie "The Brat" Stanky was more abrasive than a Brillo pad.
From the moment the career overachiever stepped into the batter’s box — he was beaned in his first major league at-bat — he would do anything and everything to unnerve opponents.
His OPS numbers rank second among leadoff men and 35th at any position.
23. Lu Blue, First Base
Career: 1921-33 (13 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers
Leadoff position: 922 G, .282 BA, .399 OBP, .394 SLG, 73 SB
Bottom Line: Lu Blue
Lu Blue who? Back in the day, he was well-known for his pop, speed and discipline at the top of the order.
Six times he produced a .400-plus on-base percentage and .800-plus OPS in a season.
He also had 10-or-more stolen bases in all but three seasons, a rarity at his position.
22. Shin-Soo Choo, Right Field
Career: 2005-20 (16 seasons)
Team: Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers
Leadoff position: 662 G, .276 BA, .382 OBP, .453 SLG, 56 SB
Bottom Line: Shin-Soo Choo
His name doesn’t come up often in this discussion, but it should be mentioned prominently.
The South Korean could work the count as well as hit for average and power.
He also could steal a base before ankle and hamstring issues changed his game.
21. Johnny Damon, Outfield
Career: 1995-2012 (18 seasons)
Teams: Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians
Leadoff position: 1,584 G, .288 BA, .354 OBP, .438 SLG, 307 SB
Bottom Line: Johnny Damon
The two-time All-Star hit 27 leadoff homers and stole bases at an 80 percent clip.
Added bonus: The left-hander was equally adept against southpaws and righties.
"Caveman" fun fact: Only Alex Rodriguez scored more runs in the aughties.
20. Wade Boggs, Third Base
Career: 1982-99 (18 seasons)
Teams: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays
Leadoff position: 931 G, .321 BA, .413 OBP, .428 SLG, 9 SB
Bottom Line: Wade Boggs
The "Chicken Man" ran the bases with a baby grand on his back.
So when the five-time batting champ led off, which he did 46 percent of the time, it was for one reason and one reason only — to get on base.
Few ever did it better than Wade Boggs, a six-time OBP leader who ranks No. 3 in the category among leadoff hitters and 25th overall.
19. Charlie Blackmon, Outfield
Career: 2011-present (11 seasons)
Teams: Colorado Rockies
Leadoff position: 807 G, .306 BA, .363 OBP, .522 SLG, 114 SB
Bottom Line: Charlie Blackmon
The more homers "Chuck Nazty" hits, the fewer bases he steals.
That’s not a bad tradeoff for a guy who doesn’t strike out much by modern standards and hits lefties and righties with comparable effectiveness.
Fine print: Charlie Blackmon's batting average is 89 points higher in the Denver altitude, or else he would rank higher yet.
18. Richie Ashburn, Center Field
Career: 1948-62 (15 seasons)
Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets
Leadoff position: 1,418 G, .303 BA, .399 OBP, .378 SLG, 166 SB
Bottom Line: Richie Ashburn
The two-time batting champion and 1950s hits leader was a terrific athlete who did everything except hit for power.
Richie Ashburn had an uncanny knack to work pitchers deep into counts if not flat-out exhaust them with one foul ball after another.
You want bat control? In the 1957 season, the future Hall of Famer struck a female fan with a foul ball. On the next pitch, he hit the same person with another one. While she was being carted off on a stretcher.
17. Stan Hack, Third Base
Career: 1932-47 (16 seasons)
Team: Chicago Cubs
Leadoff position: 1,367 G, .302 BA, .398 OBP, .399 SLG, 116 SB
Bottom Line: Stan Hack
For the better part of his career, this on-base machine was the motor that drove the Cubs offense.
The four-time All-Star had at least 166 hits in seven consecutive 154-game seasons and averaged 2.3 walks for every strikeout in his career.
16. Maury Wills, Shortstop-Third Base
Career: 1959-72 (14 seasons)
Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos
Leadoff position: 1,504 G, .284 BA, .335 OBP, .336 SLG, 551 SB
Bottom Line: Maury Wills
When 25-year-old Maurice Morning Wills (love the name, doncha?) finally got his chance in the big leagues, he hit the ground running. What else?
In his 1962 Most Valuable Player season, when the switch-hitter stole a record 104 bases, he elevated the speed game to a level not seen since Ty Cobb in the dead ball era.
An earlier start and more plate discipline would put Wills on an even shorter list.
15. Max Bishop, Second Base
Career: 1924-35 (12 seasons)
Teams: Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox
Leadoff position: 1,220 G, .272 BA, .424 OBP, .368 SLG, 41 SB
Bottom Line: Max Bishop
The great Connie Mack A’s averaged 104 victories on 5.9 runs per game in the 1929-31 seasons. Start at the top, where their methodical, low-key table-setter reached base 746 times on hits (367), bases on balls (368) and hit by pitches (11).
Max Bishop owns the highest OPS in the leadoff spot and 15th-best (.423) overall in major league history.
Max fun fact: He and the legendary Ted Williams are the only two players to draw walks in at least 20 percent of their plate appearances.
14. Derek Jeter, Shortstop
Career: 1995-2014 (20 seasons)
Team: New York Yankees
Leadoff position: 981 G, .310 BA, .376 OBP, .441 SLG, 109 SB
Bottom Line: Derek Jeter
"The Captain" spent more time in the second hole, but his numbers were virtually identical in both spots.
The 14-time All-Star was the model of consistency who hit to all fields with deceptive power.
Derek Jeter also was death versus left-handers, against whom his .893 OPS was a full 102 points higher than against righties.
13. Craig Biggio, Second Base-Catcher-Outfield
Career: 1988-2007 (20 seasons)
Team: Houston Astros
Leadoff position: 1,564 G, .284 BA, .370 OBP, .447 SLG, 238 SB
Bottom Line: Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio was one of the first leadoff men to wreak so much havoc that his many strikeouts were acceptable.
The two most dominant seasons (1997-98) of his Hall of Fame career came in the No. 1 spot, where he produced a .400-plus on-base and .500-plus slugging percentage each time.
What’s more, "Bidge" recorded his two best hits, RBI, runs scored and stolen base totals.
12. Earle Combs, Center Field
Career: 1924-35 (12 seasons)
Team: New York Yankees
Leadoff position: 1,072 G, .325 BA, .399 OBP, .464 SLG, 78 SB
Bottom Line: Earle Combs
Who knew "The Kentucky Colonel" would be the prototypical 21st-century leadoff hitter?
From plate discipline (70th-best OBP ever) to extra-base capability (one for every 11.0 at-bats) to consistent contact (31 Ks per 162 games), Earl Combs checked all the boxes.
How many millions would the Yankees pay this guy now?
11. Grady Sizemore, Center Field
Career: 2004-11, 2014-15 (10 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays
Leadoff position: 741 G, .272 BA, .362 OBP, .481 SLG, 125 SB
Bottom Line: Grady Sizemore
The three-time All-Star was among the new wave of free swingers at the leadoff spot, a freakish athlete who whiffed nearly twice as many times as he walked but slugged like a cleanup hitter.
Sizemore would rank higher if not for an on-base percentage that was 175 points lower versus lefties.
10. Brett Butler, Center Field
Career: 1981-97 (17 seasons)
Teams: Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets
Leadoff position: 1,858 G, .288 BA, .374 OBP, .372 SLG, 483 SB
Bottom Line: Brett Butler
Few handled the bat better in the expansion era than Brett Butler.
The center fielder produced a .400-plus OBP in three seasons, all after 33 years of age.
"Bugsy" fun fact: He had a career .489 slugging percentage — on bunts (185 singles, 378 at-bats).
9. Ichiro Suzuki, Right Field
Career: 2001–19 (19 seasons)
Teams: Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Miami Marlins
Leadoff position: 1,827 G, .323 BA, .367 OBP, .418 SLG, 439 SB
Bottom Line: Ichiro Suzuki
The Japanese legend didn’t arrive in the majors until he was 27 years old, so we might not have seen his best.
He was a special player, nonetheless, a pitcher’s nightmare who waved his bat like a magic wand against lefties and righties alike.
No player had more hits (2,030) in the 2000s decade.
8. Pete Rose, Outfield-First Base-Third Base-Second Base
Career: 1963-86 (24 seasons)
Teams: Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos
Leadoff position: 2,313 G, .308 BA. .379 OBP, .419 SLG, 125 SB
Bottom Line: Pete Rose
"Charlie Hustle" didn’t just set the table for the Big Red Machine all those years. The all-time hits leader set the tone with a relentless style that was all his own.
In 10 of his 11 full seasons (1968-78) in the No. 1 spot, Pete Rose hit .300-plus and/or reached base at least 37 percent of the time.
See, the guy didn’t just embrace the role. He tackled it.
7. Paul Molitor, Designated Hitter-Third Base-Second Base
Career: 1978-98 (21 seasons)
Teams: Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins
Leadoff position: 1,573 G, .300 BA, .365 OBP, .439 SLG, 370 SB
Bottom Line: Paul Molitor
"The Ignitor" was an even better hitter in No. 3 hole, the numbers suggest, but not by much.
His 1987 season (1.037 OPS, 43 stolen bases) was off the charts.
Molly fun fact: He hit a ridiculous .777 on bunts (48 of 66).
6. Chuck Knoblauch, Second Base-Left Field
Career: 1991-2002 (12 seasons)
Teams: Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals
Leadoff position: 1,290 G, .287 BA, .378 OBP, .415 SLG, 331 SB
Bottom Line: Chuck Knoblauch
There’s a tendency to forget just how good Chuck Knoblauch was, especially in his Twins days.
His 1995-96 seasons in the top spot were works of art — .336/.436/.503 slash line, 115 extra-base hits and 90 stolen bases.
5. Lou Brock, Left Field
Career: 1961-79 (19 seasons)
Teams: Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals
Leadoff position: 1,901 G, .291 BA, .343 OBP, .406 SLG, 762 SB
Bottom Line: Lou Brock
Was "The Rocket" a victim of an era that overvalued speed at the top of the order? According to the tOPS+ metric, which measures production relative to batting position, the answer is yes.
While only Rickey Henderson stole more bases in the No. 1 spot, Brock's longball ability and relative lack of patience made him more lethal in the second and third positions.
In only two seasons did he produce an .800-plus OPS as a leadoff man.
4. Bobby Bonds, Right Field
Career: 1968-81 (14 seasons)
Teams: San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs
Leadoff position: 950 G, .275 BA, .361 OBP, .480 SLG, 260 SB
Bottom Line: Bobby Bonds
As good as Barry’s old man was at the top of the order, where the free-swinger hit 177 homers and struck out 26 percent of the time, he was out of place there.
According to his tOPS+ metric, Bobby Bonds was better served at the fifth spot in the order, where his slugging percentage was 40 points higher while the other numbers were largely the same.
3. Kenny Lofton, Center Field
Career: 1991-2007 (17 seasons)
Teams: Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers
Leadoff position: 1,711 G, .297 BA, .371 OBP, .423 SLG, 552 SB
Bottom Line: Kenny Lofton
The six-time All-Star was the rare elite base stealer who could hit the ball for distance.
In a dozen seasons of 100-or-more starts in the first spot, he posted a .800-plus OPS and 25-plus stolen bases seven times.
His OPS was noticeably higher against righties (.815) than lefties (.734), or else he would rank higher.
2. Tim Raines, Left Field
Career: 1979-99, 2001-02 (23 seasons)
Teams: Montreal Expos, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins
Leadoff position: 1,415 G, .294 BA, .385 OBP, .427 SLG, 585 SB
Bottom Line: Tim Raines
Because "Rock" played in the Rickey Henderson era and never with a World Series winner, we tended to overlook his abilities as a potent-yet-patient hitter and unparalleled baserunner.
You do know that Tim Raines' career 84.6 percent stolen-base success rate is higher than that of Henderson himself (80.8), right?
Even though 39 percent of Raines' plate appearances came in the Junior Circuit, we have him ahead of Pete Rose by thismuch as the best leadoff hitter in National League history.
1. Rickey Henderson, Left Field
Career: 1979-2003 (25 seasons)
Team: Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers
Leadoff position: 2,886 G, .280 BA, .401 OBP, .420 SLG, 1,384 SB
Bottom Line: Rickey Henderson
There are few absolutes in baseball, but this is one of them: "The Man of Steal" is the greatest leadoff man of all time. Go ahead, just ask him.
But would the 12-time stolen base leader be as great in the current long ball era, when his most dominant attribute is widely perceived to be a potential rally-killer? Just asking.
Rickey fun fact: If his net 1,071 stolen bases (steals minus times caught) are counted as total bases, his slugging percentage zooms 96 points (.516).