The leadoff hitter has many important roles in a lineup. As the team’s primary table setter, he or she helps set the tone for the offense.
Of course, their primary goal is to get on base, whether from a hit, walk, or maybe even being hit by a pitch.
But is being able to reach base the only quality coaches seek in a leadoff hitter? Not exactly.
“Well, typically we’ve done it two ways,” Ricky Griffin, head baseball coach at Arygle (Texas) High School, said. “One, we’ve also used that type of hitter in the nine hole that gives us a kid who can extend the strike zone, can extend the at-bat, just a kid that can handle the bat.”
However, when Griffin had players like Austin Aune, a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2012, he would often put his best hitter atop the order.
“We put our best hitter to lead off because throughout the year, that guy has the most at-bats. So we wanted our best hitter to have the most at-bats,” Griffin said. “Now we’ve improved as a baseball program and we’re a lot deeper in talent. The last two years, we’ve just looked for that guy that can work the count.”
Some coaches have the approach of switching leadoff hitters according to whether the opposition is starting a righty or a lefty, but Griffin instead chooses to stick with the same leadoff hitter all season.
One strategy he employs is that if his leadoff man is struggling, he will occasionally flip him in the order with his nine-hole hitter because those two players usually possess a lot of the same attributes in terms of being able to get on base and work the count.
And Griffin also isn’t hesitant to ask his leadoff man to bunt or hit-and-run to advance a runner, while other coaches may choose not to take the bat out of their leadoff man’s hand, even if they come up with the eight or nine-hole hitter already on base.
“No, that guy has to be really unselfish because we do a ton with our leadoff hitter as far as that goes,” Griffin said. “We situational hit in practice every day. If it’s a high-RBI guy (coming up), we probably are not going to move the guy from second to third or first to second, but we will ask that hitter to let the ball get deep and try to hit behind the runner. It all depends on the situation in the game.”
“That guy has to be very unselfish. We’re going to ask him to bunt and hit behind runners. He obviously has to be a guy who can handle that.”
But no matter his approach, Griffin has noticed that for the most part, his leadoff hitters have predominantly played three positions: centerfield, second base, or shortstop, which he feels is also for good reason.
“Obviously, those positions are kids with a lot of speed and good hands,” Griffin said.