In looking at the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers‘ roster, it appears no player fits the mold of the ideal leadoff man, boasting a high on-base percentage, a patient and disciplined approach, and speed that kills.
Nothing has been determined yet, but shortstop Jean Segura will be a solid, reliable hitter and is the best overall option to bat first.
Segura’s .329 OBP in 2013 is little lower than you’d like to see in that top spot, but men batting first in the NL owned a collective .333 OBP, so he’s right in line. Don’t forget his production completely fell off at the end of the season, a byproduct of playing the most games of his career at a grueling position.
In the other areas of his game, Segura outperformed the league’s average leadoff man. The soon-to-be 24-year-old had a batting average (.294) that was 27 points better than the league’s mean, a .423 to .388 edge in slugging, and a 30-point advantage in OPS.
Of course, Segura flashed terrific speed and base-running skills that gives him a major leg up. He finished second in the NL in swiping 44 bags, compared to the average of 23 for the league’s leadoff men. Segura’s wheels are a huge asset no matter where he hits.
Interestingly, and it’s a small sample size, Segura actually hit .337 with a .372 OBP and a .957 OPS when he led off an inning. I’m pretty sure the leadoff hitter starts the first inning of every game.
The two aspects of his game that give fans and analysts pause when thinking about his fit for the leadoff job are his lack of walks and his seemingly-aggressive approach at the plate. Drawing free passes certainly isn’t a strength as he picked up only 25 of them in more than 600 plate appearances.
However, to characterize him as a total free-swinger isn’t entirely accurate.
It’s true Segura will jump on pitches in the strike zone, but he only swung at 25.1 percent of first pitches he saw last season. That was 45th among qualified batters. Norichika Aoki, who many lauded for working the count in Milwaukee, swung at the first pitch slightly more often than Segura, hacking 25.5 percent of the time. I bet you wouldn’t have thought that.
Segura and Aoki also saw the exact same amount of pitches per plate appearance (3.62), but Aoki took 30 more walks than Segura. Part of that is Aoki’s experience, as he has seven years on the youngster.
I have no doubt Segura will mature as a hitter and continue to take more walks as time goes on, starting in 2014. That will naturally raise his OBP, and he proved he could reach base at a higher clip in the minors. Keep in mind he’s still a few years from the traditional peak ages in MLB.
While it’s highly doubtful he’ll ever be the phenomenal hitter Paul Molitor was, they do share some similarities. Molitor didn’t draw a ton of walks early in his career at the top of the order. He was aggressive, collected many hits, and used great speed to steal 35-45 bases per season to rack up plenty of runs for the Crew.
Segura can be that type of leadoff man and be perfect for this particular team. The Brewers simply need Segura to be himself and the runs (and wins) will follow.