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Friday, December 9, 2022

P2Daily: Oneil Cruz Continues To Excel In The Leadoff Spot

As the years go on, teams continue to try and find the next thing that will give them a competitive advantage. Whether it be the shift, left-handed specialist, or any number other things, teams will do whatever they can to get the win.

That even falls into how the manager constructs their lineup. Traditionally, the leadoff hitter is one of the faster player on the team, capable of getting on-base and being a threat to run. As the game has evolved, and people started to look at the game more analytically, they realized it was better to prioritize the player with the best on-base skills, even if he wasn’t the fastest of players.

Even if he was a more traditional clean-up type hitter. Kyle Schwarber may be the best example of this, as he is second in the majors in home runs, but has played 115 games (450 at-bats) in the lead-off spot. Aaron Judge, who has 61-home runs right now, has played 27 games at the top of the lineup, 101 at-bats overall.

That’s where Oneil Cruz comes in. He’s more like Mookie Betts in a sense — a player who can hit for power and is a threat on the base paths.

Cruz himself is no stranger to success in the leadoff spot, even if he fits more the traditional middle-of-the-order profile with his amazing power.

Combining 2018, 2021, and his time in Indianapolis in 2022 (his splits for 2019 are incomplete on MiLB.com), Cruz has hit a collective 157-for-493, good for a .318 average batting leadoff. His 62 extra-base hits give him a .554 slugging percentage.

Those are way above his minor league career average of .275 and .458 slugging. That’s carried over to the majors as well, with him batting over 40 points higher in the lead-off spot, with an overall slash of .265/.306/.547 (compared to his season slash of .228/.283/.456).

He has seven of his 17 home runs on the season batting first, in just a third of his overall at-bats.

Of course, unlike Schwarber and Judge, Cruz also is a threat once he makes it on base, totaling nine stolen bases in the majors this season.

Another wrinkle the Pirates can add to their lineup is something they have tried twice already in the majors, and have done before in the minors — having the more traditional leadoff hitter in Ji-Hwan Bae bat ninth, as a “second” leadoff hitter.

That allows Cruz to continue to hit out of the spot he obviously feels more comfortable in, and it puts a great contact hitter in front of him, technically, to give him more opportunities to create extra runs for the team.

Bae has gone 3-for-6 in the two games where he has batted ninth before the lineup turned over to Cruz, who is 2-for-9 himself.

It does limit the amount of at-bats that Bae would get over the course of an entire season, but it is a strategy they have tried before, and are toying with right now.

Having a more balanced lineup too, where Bae isn’t left alone at the bottom of  the order would be more ideal, so this is something that they can really explore as the team continues to have their prospects come up and/or they get more competitive.

Cruz is one of the team’s best hitters, and you are going to want to put him in the best position to succeed, and have things kind of mold around him. This way the Pirates could at least have a legitimate contact hitter that can get on base coming back around to Cruz at the top of the order.

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Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.


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The lead off spot gives Cruz 3 at bats before the other team is likely to put in the lefty specialists.
If he bats down in the lineup then he is likely to only get 2 at bats until the specialists comes in. I think this more than anything helps cruz and is why I would leave him in the lead off spot until he figures out lefty pitching much better than he currently is.


I was also liking the idea of bae 9 and cruz 1 as trying to have guys on base when cruz is up


This is new to the NL in the first year of the DH. Prior to 2022, the #9 spot was almost always reserved for the pitcher. Smart Baseball having a nice contact hitter with speed as the #9 before a guy like Cruz at leadoff. Bae just turned 23 and will be in 2023 with 0 yrs of MLB Service, and in his age 24 season. Same in 2023 for Cruz and Castro. Add those 3 to Reynolds and Hayes, and this becomes a solid core of skilled players, with more on the near horizon.

If they hold true to that direction, I think they can be very competitive in 2023 in the NL Central. And that mid-season trade that brought Johan Oviedo and Malcom Nunez could pay good dividends for the Pirates in 2023.


Bae at 9th looks okay if instead of Collins at 7th we have, say, Nunez or Davis, and if instead of Delay at 8th, we have Endy. Actually, those specific players would likely bat much higher but the point is that it makes little sense that you’d take the risk of Bae getting one less AB than Collins or Delay unless you have a deep enough bench that you’d pinch hit for those guys anyway if we needed runs in the late innings. So in the future I can see Bae batting 9th making sense, but with this lineup it seems you’d want him batting much higher.


Will the Pirates move Endy Rodriguez up early in 2023? Jason Delay would be a nice backup, excellent receiver, very little bat. Sort of like Stewart was to Cervelli.

Endy was on a run after moving to AA and I wish they would have given him some reps in MLB in preparation for 2023. And, can Davis stay healthy long enough to get to MLB?

Wilbur Miller

Everybody everywhere looks better if Collins and Delay aren’t in there.


Gamel and Godoy (when I hear his name I always think of an Australian telling me to have a nice day) are so much better. It doesn’t take much to be better than Collins but none of those four should still be on this team.


Interesting ideas, I’m sure someone has done a million simulations with different lineups to see if this would really be impactful. I thought I remembered an old article that said despite that despite this being an ever present pain point between fans and managers, the lineup shifting didn’t ultimately have a significant impact on the success of the team.

Also, Judge is still at 60 homers, not yet 61. Apparently had 4 walks last night. Getting the Bonds treatment. Except Bonds could see one pitch in the zone all game and hit it in the river.

Last edited 2 months ago by clemo83
Wilbur Miller

Simulations with batting orders are hard, though, because you’re taking a guy’s overall performance and projecting it into one lineup spot, when it may or may not actually work like that. There may be differences between batting first or fifth, or whatever, like seeing more strikes, more fastballs, etc. The simulation can’t take that into account (or at least I don’t think so–teams have all sorts of proprietary data and programs, so who knows what’s out there). I’d want to see data showing what pitches a guy is facing if he bats leadoff, or third, or wherever else. Maybe there’s no real difference.

It’s an interesting topic, but I don’t think you’re going to get any FO employees to talk about it, so it’s going to be super-hard to examine it.

Of course, if Cruz hits leadoff all year instead of fifth, that’s like 70-odd extra PAs. For Cruz, that’s 3-4 more dingerz, however many doubles, etc. Without a P batting ninth, that can produce some runs, which is why the Pirates need to get rid of all these .040 hitters.


“The simulation can’t take that into account (or at least I don’t think so–teams have all sorts of proprietary data and programs, so who knows what’s out there). ”

I’m not in those rooms but that’s 101 or 102-level stuff. That’s what simulations are good for …


I’m willing to reconsider my position on Cruz batting lead-off only for 7 more games. It’s an offensively flawed lineup (27th in runs scored) and BC is responsible for the personnel and youth that Shelton has to work with. I’m reconsidering because it seems to be helping Cruz become a better overall hitter, using the whole field, and realizing he doesn’t have to hit everything 110+ EV.

But long-term, would like to see him in more traditional spot where he can get the RBI’s we desperately need. Throwing that chance away 20% of his AB’s (first inning no runners on) isn’t worth it to me. The Phillies and Yankees can get away with it……..the Pirates must maximize every nook and cranny of metrics/run-scoring opportunities.

Wilbur Miller

Personally, I like Cruz 2nd long-term. Just don’t like fooling with something that’s working right now.


I’m all for having the best hitters on the team getting the most AB’s. Over the course of a season, this tactic will produce more runs. Starting next year w Bae in 9-hole is fine, but if he shows he’s one of the top 3 hitters in WRC+ after a month or so, he will need to be moved to one of the top 3 positions in the batting order.

Will this happen? I’m not holding my breath.


Cruz at the top is okay. Whether or not Bae is 9th (or perhaps 2nd?) isn’t the main issue. The main issue is giving up 2 or 3 outs with dead weight somewhere in the lineup. Collins/VanMeter/Tstutsogo is inexcusable. The whole 1st base thing this year has been a total disaster and management should not even get an F- on this. A defensive wreck who could hit .250 would be better than these .040 – .170 types. How embarrassing!


Cruz is more likely to see more fastballs (and maybe more “get it over the plate” lower velocity fastballs) in that first inning as many starting pitchers take a few batters to settle in and get a feel for their stuff that day.

Also, pitchers don’t want to risk walking the leadoff batter, especially if he has speed,

I like the “second leadoff hitter” batting 9th as well. However, not at the risk of costing a good hitter lots of ABs. The jury is out on Bae’s hitting. If he is very good, he should hit first or second but just okay with speed is a solid 9th place hitter. Better than a slow catcher clogging the bases in front of Cruz.

Ideally the guy behind Cruz should be a solid righty to make the opponent pay for bringing in lefties to get Cruz out. If Hayes could improve and drive the ball better, he would be perfect.

Wilbur Miller

Bobby Bragan advocating putting your best hitter leadoff. One of his main reasons was that starters often can be a little shaky for the first few hitters, so you want your big threat jumping on them right away.

Wilbur Miller

I’m in favor of whatever gets Cruz more pitches to hit. Maybe leadoff helps. Beyond that, I’d just stick with anything that’s working.

I don’t like Bae ninth, although I guess it’s better to have him hitting in front of Cruz than Delay or .040 Collins. I’d like to see Cruz, Bae and Reynolds batting 1-2-3 in some order or other. Batting Bae ninth undersells him, imo. This isn’t Tucupita. The guy can hit, and he and Cruz can create a lot of disruption on the bases, which is an edge the Pirates haven’t had in ages.


Oddly enough, Judge has 16 steals this season. I did a double take when I saw that. So I guess he is a threat on the bases.


The leadoff guys gets more at bats over the season, which for Cruz is a good thing.

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