The Astros have been on the cutting-edge of baseball since their introduction of advanced statistics and drastic rebuild years ago. But could they have made another stride in changing the game?
After multiple 100-loss seasons, Astros fans are finally reaping the rewards of a patient rebuild. The same could be in store for the Chicago White Sox, as they have had a massive fire sale of major league talent. But they’re not the only team trying to replicate the Astros’ success.
When George Springer was moved to the leadoff spot last season, many questioned the move. Those questions are no longer asked, with Springer answering them long ago. His blend of power and ability to get on base has been a spark plug for the Astros’ offense and has allowed Jose Altuve the opportunity to hit in the middle of the order.
The rest of the league is starting to catch on to the Astros. Powerful leadoff hitters have begun to pop-up across the league. Don’t believe me? Just look at the World Series Champions.
George Springer is a trendsetter
Many thought Springer would develop into a five-tool player, but few predicted him being a prolific lead-off man. But that is what exactly Springer has turned into, slashing .304/.383/.597 while hitting 27 home runs and driving in 65 RBIs this season.
He hasn’t brought the base stealing one would expect from a lead-off hitter (three this season), but his ability to hit for average and get on base has more than made up for it.
And managers around the league have certainly taken notice. Just take for example the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Skipper Joe Maddon started the season with Kyle Schwarber as his leadoff hitter, but that experiment soon failed. Schwarber struggled and eventually was demoted to AAA for a portion of the season.
But Maddon caught lightning in a bottle when later on this season he put Anthony Rizzo in the top spot. Rizzo proceeded to hit multiple home runs as the leadoff hitter, making Maddon look like a genius. But that may have never happened without Springer’s lead-off success.
Springer’s influence around the league
The Cubs aren’t the only team to try and replicate Springer’s success. Just take such as some lead-off hitters on July 18th. Five teams used a lead-off hitter that was over six feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. That is a large man in baseball, and they bring large power to boot.
Combined, they averaged more than 16 home runs on the season and put up a .376 on base percentage. Those five players were Domingo Santana of the Brewers, Michael Conforto of the Mets, Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Steven Souza Jr. of the Rays. None of these players would ever be put in the leadoff spot five years ago, but Springer’s success has changed that.
Managers around the league are now seeing the benefit of a powerful leadoff hitter. Not only do they have the ability to drive the ball out of the park, but they will be pitched to more carefully than a traditional lead-off hitter.
The need for speed?
Speedsters like Dee Gordon are almost no threat to go deep, relying on their speed to impact the game. But why put a guy who can only hit singles at the top of the order when you could have a player like Springer who can go deep any time?
That is the question managers around the league are asking themselves. And with stolen bases becoming less and less common and home runs increasing around the league, guys like Bautista and Carpenter are finding themselves at the top of the order.
But while they may be Springer-like, there is only one Springer. He and the Astros are again changing the game, providing answers to questions no one even knew needed asking.
*** Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***