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    ANALYSIS — Leadoff Hitters

    © Tom M. Tango

    Tim Raines is regarded first and foremost as a leadoff hitter. But is being considered one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all-time enough to warrant being in the Hall of Fame?

    In order to answer that question, we need to know what is a Hall of Fame lead-off hitter. Thanks to Retrosheet.org, we have play-by-play statistics going back to 1957, through to 2006 (except 1999). What if we grabbed all the Hall of Fame players, who batted leadoff, for the Retrosheet years? (I put in a minimum of 300 career PA as the #1 hitter, to exclude part-timers, pinch hitters, and pitchers.) There are actually 17 Hall of Famers who batted leadoff, with a total of 41,181 PA, led by Lou Brock's 8,644, Paul Molitor's 7,291, Luis Aparicio's 5,740, and Wade Boggs' 4,360. These four Hall of Famers account for 63% of the totals. Included in the 17 are such stars as George Brett (614 PA) and Willie Mays (307 PA). Remember, we are only looking at performances while as a leadoff hitter.

    Some may not be happy with that kind of definition. Notably absent are Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose. I created a second group of Hall Of Fame type players. The criteria was: (a) at least 2000 PA in the leadoff slot, (b) in the Hall of Fame or likely to be in the Hall of Fame, (c) excluding shortstops and Richie Ashburn. This last requirement is because shortstops are voted in large part for their fielding, and a large portion of Ashburn's career took place prior to the Retrosheet years. Here are the ten best players to satisfy this Hall-worthy list:

    Leadoff PA
    12,605	Rickey Henderson (21% of the total)
    10,686	Pete Rose
    8,644	Lou Brock
    7,291	Paul Molitor
    6,111	Craig Biggio
    4,367	Ichiro Suzuki
    4,360	Wade Boggs
    2,117	Joe Morgan
    2,084	Derek Jeter
    2,068	Barry Bonds (3% of the total)
    
    Henderson will be voted in easily when eligible. Rose would have been so, if eligible. Biggio's milestones should eventually place him in the Hall. Ichiro's career, if given some allowance for his Japan days, would have otherwise enshrined him. Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter. And Barry Bonds, while not quite the star as a leadoff hitter, is Barry Bonds.

    After these players, we have some solid players, like Brett Butler, Kenny Lofton, Willie Wilson, and Johnny Damon. Therefore, I think it's fair to say that these 10 players are the best leadoff hitters of the Retrosheet years. Note that even if you quibble with some of the players lower down for whatever reason, they comprise a small total (3% for Bonds). The bulk of the leadoff PA from this group was by Rickey Henderson (21%).

    How does Raines compare to the Hall group and the Hall-worthy group?

     Batting Average
     .296 Hall-worthy
     .295 Raines
     .289 Hall
    
    Raines holds his own with the Hall-worthy leadoff hitters of the Retrosheet years. And Raines' batting average wasn't an empty .295 either:
     Slugging Percentage
     .428 Hall-worthy
     .428 Raines
     .400 Hall
    
    What pushes Raines above the Hall-worthy hitters are his walks:
    On Base Percentage
     .386 Raines
     .378 Hall-worthy
     .355 Hall
    
    Leadoff hitters are at a disadvantage with RBIs, because they come up so often with no men on base. However, since we are only looking at performances of leadoff hitters, we can now make a fairer comparison. Tim Raines had 5620 at bats plus sacrifice flies. If we prorate our two comparison groups to that number, here's what we get:
    RBIs (prorated)
    531 Hall-worthy
    523 Raines
    469 Hall
    
    Raines is also a fantastic baserunner. Here is how often Raines scored, along with his comparison groups (prorated to Raines' 6500 PA):
    Runs (prorated)
    1010 Raines
     997 Hall-worthy
     894 Hall
    
    Raines scored 13 more runs than the Hall-worthy group, and drove in 8 less runs. That's about as dead-even as you'll find. Tim Raines performed above the level of Hall of Famers, and at a similar level to Hall-worthy players. Take a big part of Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose, add a good size part of Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, and Craig Biggio, and stir in some Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, and Barry Bonds, and you get a composite that is a shade inferior to Tim Raines.

    If you have a group of players worthy of the Hall, and an individual player compares very favorably to that group, you have a Hall-worthy player by definition. That is what Tim Raines is: the definition of a Hall of Famer.