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John Jaso, Russell Martin, and Catchers Batting Leadoff

Posted by Andy on August 29, 2010

This season, two different catchers have started a significant number of games in the leadoff spot. Here are all the seasons since 1901 in which a catcher batted leadoff in at least 10 games:

Rk Player Year #Matching PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jason Kendall 2004 119 Ind. Games 543 475 155 27 0 3 37 49 34 .326 .404 .402 .806
2 Jason Kendall 2006 90 Ind. Games 428 379 114 16 0 0 31 39 39 .301 .373 .343 .716
3 Jason Kendall 2005 75 Ind. Games 354 311 85 14 1 0 26 28 17 .273 .347 .325 .672
4 Jason Kendall 2001 52 Ind. Games 236 212 57 10 2 2 15 19 20 .269 .343 .363 .706
5 Jason Kendall 2002 51 Ind. Games 232 206 56 7 2 2 12 19 10 .272 .349 .354 .704
6 Rollie Hemsley 1939 43 Ind. Games 198 177 48 10 1 0 7 14 10 .271 .325 .339 .664
7 Paul Lo Duca 2001 32 Ind. Games 150 137 52 8 0 11 27 9 7 .380 .420 .679 1.099
8 Butch Wynegar 1980 29 Ind. Games 132 116 36 10 0 1 12 14 5 .310 .385 .422 .807
9 Kurt Suzuki 2008 24 Ind. Games 117 109 22 1 0 1 9 8 20 .202 .256 .239 .495
10 John Jaso 2010 23 Ind. Games 104 86 23 6 0 1 9 16 9 .267 .379 .372 .751
11 Frankie Pytlak 1939 19 Ind. Games 89 80 19 0 1 0 3 8 1 .238 .307 .263 .569
12 Russell Martin 2008 19 Ind. Games 92 72 15 3 0 0 10 19 7 .208 .370 .250 .620
13 Jason Kendall 2003 19 Ind. Games 88 71 22 4 0 0 6 9 2 .310 .432 .366 .798
14 Russell Martin 2010 18 Ind. Games 80 69 18 3 0 3 8 9 7 .261 .363 .435 .797
15 Johnny Oates 1973 17 Ind. Games 79 75 18 2 0 2 10 4 9 .240 .278 .347 .625
16 Jason Kendall 2000 17 Ind. Games 82 68 23 4 0 0 4 11 7 .338 .439 .397 .836
17 Craig Biggio 1989 17 Ind. Games 84 71 17 3 0 3 10 10 9 .239 .333 .408 .742
18 Jason Kendall 1999 15 Ind. Games 71 62 17 3 0 0 1 8 8 .274 .366 .323 .689
19 Craig Biggio 1991 14 Ind. Games 68 57 16 1 1 1 8 10 5 .281 .382 .386 .768
20 Butch Wynegar 1979 13 Ind. Games 61 50 18 1 0 2 5 10 4 .360 .467 .500 .967
21 Mickey Cochrane 1925 13 Ind. Games 60 53 22 2 2 0 7 7 2 .415 .483 .528 1.012
22 Ivan Rodriguez 2007 12 Ind. Games 60 60 17 8 0 1 3 0 15 .283 .283 .467 .750
23 Charlie Moore 1980 10 Ind. Games 49 46 13 1 0 0 4 1 4 .283 .292 .304 .596
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/29/2010.

Officially, this search looked for games where the batter played C as defensive position, batted leadoff, and had at least two plate appearances. This weeds out many other games where a catcher is moved to the #1 spot in the order late in a game as part of a double switch. It does not, however, rule out games where a catcher moves to the #1 as part of a double switch and then gets two plate appearances from that spot (as might happen in an extra-inning game.) It also does not rules out cases of a leadoff batter from another position moving to catcher late in a game (which I think Biggio did a couple of times in his career.)

Anyway, the last time two different catchers did it was 2008 with Martin and Kurt Suzuki. It also happened in 2001 (Paul LoDuca and Jason Kendall), 1980 (Charlie Moore and Butch Wynegar) and 1939 (Rollie Hemsley and Frankie Pytlak).

30 Responses to “John Jaso, Russell Martin, and Catchers Batting Leadoff”

  1. Neil Says:

    The one that stands out to me on the list is Ivan Rodriguez because of the strikeout/walk ratio. Can't remember the Tigers circumstances early that year but with that kind of impatience what was he doing leading off?

  2. jason Says:

    how about jason kendall aka juan pierre and paul lo duca aka albert pujols lol

  3. Jason W Says:

    The batting orders page for that year shows Pudge, and his .294 OBP, actually hitting leadoff 13 times (maybe he got injured/pulled before his 2 PA in one game):

  4. Jason W Says:

    Oops, looks like one of the starts was as a DH, which is why it didn't count.

  5. Malcolm Says:

    Many people seem to forget that when he was younger Jason Kendall was actually an ideal top of the order hitter. His batting average and OBP were consistently high and he could steal bases to boot. He was actually one of the top offensive catchers in the NL for awhile, and not for any reason you would typically think of when you think of catchers.

  6. DoubleDiamond Says:

    I read a book by Tim McCarver in which he said that at some point in his career, he happened to bat in each of the nine positions in the batting order, presumably as a starter. He had some games batting #9 during his time in the AL with the Red Sox. And he said that he would sometimes bat leadoff for the Cardinals on rare occasions when Lou Brock was given a day off because, supposedly, he was fairly speedy for a catcher. For instance, he once led the league in triples, with 13 in 1966. (Brock was second, with 12.)

  7. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I was sort of surprised not to see Johnny Kling on this list. I am also trying to recall the catcher, whom I believe played in the 1970s or 1980s, who stole a lot of bases for the Royals. John Wathan, perhaps?

  8. oosches Says:

    I don't think it includes pre-1920 lineups.

  9. Blair Says:

    If you're going to list leadoff hitters, you need to show how many runs each scored, since a full time leadoff hitter needs to average `0.67/runs per game to be delivering above average offence, and the whole goal of a leadoff hitter is to score runs.

  10. groundball Says:

    Without checking, I imagine Wathan didnt leadoff much, because they had Willie Wilson for a lot of that time. THough I wouldnt be surprised if he leadoff 2-3 times a year though.

  11. Neil Says:

    Blair, what is the ideal stat or combination of stats to measure the effectiveness of a leadoff hitter? Is it OBP alone, SB, SB%, runs scored? What stat is an isolated measure for a leadoff hitter and which ones depend on people behind him in the lineup? If it is SB, then Jason Kendall has no business leading off!

  12. Blair Says:

    According to Bill James, getting on base is the most important part of an offence. Pete Rose and Wade Boggs, for example, were very effective leadoff man, despite neither ever stealing more than 20 bases in a season. If my memory is accurate, a player who steals 80 bases and gets caught 20 times is only getting a net benefit of about ~9 runs per season. A more typical success rate for SB is 70%. A player who steals 70 bases and gets caught 30 times is creating four net runs.

  13. Neil Says:

    Blair, I know I'm rehashing an age-old debate here, one that can never be proven or disproven by sabremetrics, but what good is OBP if you don't score runs? Look at who Rose and Boggs had behind them in their lineups in their best years at leadoff.

  14. Thomas Says:

    But you can't score runs without being on base... (excepting of course the home run)

    It's a chicken and the egg debate...

  15. Andy Says:

    Another way of looking at it is a team vs individual debate. The only thing that matters, really, are team statistics, but those stats are generated by individual players who can be moved in the lineup, or onto the bench, or onto another team.

  16. Neil Says:

    True, Andy. And, by the way, thank you for the study on catchers and leading off. However, isn't that the whole seduction of this area of baseball endeavor.... the ability to somehow isolate an individual's performance from that of his team and yet to relate that to wins and losses?

  17. Richard Says:

    Pudge inspired me to search out the "least patient" seasons of all time. I used his season as a criteria: 9 walks or fewer but 500+ PA. There's only six seasons like that in modern history (12 if you include the dead-ball era, I threw out the 1800s entirely since the number of pitches to walk back then was often more than 4).

    I was slightly more curious and decided to up the walks to 10:

    Shawon Dunston did it twice! I have a feeling if he was on my team now, he would be my least favorite player to watch. In 1995, he walked just 10 times and in 1997, 8! In '95, he also stole 10 bases and was caught 5 times.

  18. Richard Says:

    Also just noticed that 3 of the walks in 1995 were intentional too

  19. Stu Baron Says:

    @Jason: "jason kendall aka juan pierre and paul lo duca aka albert pujols" Huh? What do you mean by this?

  20. Neil Says:

    Richard, your list is thought-provoking. I had forgotton about Dunston's legendary lack of patience and how much he was touted by the Cubs as a rookie. Given the IBB, his '95 season makes Pudge's '97 pale by comparison. The difference is, I assume, that Dunsten didn't lead off very much. Probably he hit in front of the pitcher a lot of times which meant he knew he'd have to expand his strike zone.

    Your study raises the question of what keeps impatient, low-power hitters (realize Pudge had power) in the lineup for a long career like Shawon Dunsten's. It presumably doesn't hurt to play a key defensive position like shortstop or catcher.

  21. jeff Says:

    What would the statistical profile of a good leadoff hitter be? I hear a lot about the search for a "protypical leadoff hitter". Who would that be? Sometimes memory doesn't match the facts. It seems like if I guy is fast with no power, some guys think he should bat leadoff even if he can't get on base very often (Juan Pierre, e.g.) Bob Dernier had been mentioned in a lot of Cubs broadcasts (he is the new 1B coach) but 1984 was far and away his best season, and he still had an OPS+ under 100 (97). I used to hate Brett Butler because he was so good.

  22. jeff Says:

    A lot of BB's, and a high OBP would be desirable for leadoff hitter. Are there other indicators? I don't know that a low strike out total coupled with a low BB total would always be good, especially with low power numbers. That indicates the batter doesn't make the pitcher pitch. Is there any way of measuring how well a guy runs the bases besides steals (takes extra bases, scores on sacrifices, breaks up DP's, etc.)?

  23. Neil Says:

    I think a stat needed to measure effectiveness of leadoff batters is something like "advanced on outs" as well as OBP. How often does a runner turn a routine fly ball into a sacrifice fly or not become the front end of a double play because he was fast or was running on the pitch?

    Jeff, I'm not close to the Cubs market so I'm not sure why Dernier sticks in Chicago media memories as an ideal leadoff hitter, but checking his '84 season he had 63 BB and 60 SO. Both Sarge and Sandberg had more runs scored than Dernier. And to top it all off he only had 8 more runs scored than Leon Durham that year! Are we manipulated by the (unsubstantiated) opinions of influential broadcasters and journalists in our markets?

  24. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    John Stearns stole 91 bases playing all but a few of his games behind the plate. He never started a game batting leadoff, however.

  25. Neil Says:

    Tuna, you have posted a career stat.... ? With apologies, not a relevant stat to the current discussion about leadoff hitters.

  26. Johnny Twisto Says:

    An ideal leadoff hitter is someone who is one of your best hitters, but has less power than your other best hitters.

    Is there any way of measuring how well a guy runs the bases besides steals (takes extra bases, scores on sacrifices, breaks up DP's, etc.)?

    You could check the "RBaser" component of WAR on this site. You could check Baseball Prospectus for their measure of baserunning runs added as well.

  27. Neil Says:

    So, Johnny, based on your ideal leadoff criteria, who fits better, Rickey Henderson or Brett Butler?? Point being, that it's very elusive to define a perfect leadoff hitter.

    As for the "RBaser" component of WAR, although it is a good start, it can't track the kind of event that both Jeff and I have referred to in our posts, unless I'm out to lunch on my understanding of it.

  28. Johnny Twisto Says:

    It depends on the rest of my team. If Henderson and Butler were my two best hitters, I'd have Butler lead off, because Henderson has power to drive him in. If I have a couple good power hitters for the middle of the lineup, I'd bat Henderson leadoff because he's a better hitter than Butler.

    Why do you say RBaser can't track those baserunning events? I believe that's exactly what it does.

  29. Neil Says:

    Johnny, it may be my ignorance of the formula for RBaser. When I put my cursor on the column heading for the explanation, it appears to only include SB, CS, PB, WP and defensive indifference. When I go the baseball projection home page and browse around I can't find any links to the formula.

    What about events like going 1st to 3rd on an outfield single, scoring via sacrifice flies etc? Are these included in Rbaser and if so how?

    And where does the discussion leave Brady Anderson as a leadoff hitter?

  30. Johnny Twisto Says:

    You're right Neil, the description does seem incomplete. In the blog post introducing WAR on the site, the stat is described as follows: "Rbsr, Baserunning events like stolen bases, advancing on passed balls, going first to third on a single." I am quite sure that it does account for all baserunning events (at least since 1950), but it would be nice if we had a better description of it somewhere.