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.