George Springer Is Transforming What It Means to Be a Leadoff Hitter
The Colorado Rockies are doing it with Charlie Blackmon. The Chicago Cubs tried it with Kyle Schwarber. The Tampa Bay Rays and Corey Dickerson as well as the New York Mets and Michael Conforto are working it, too.
Houston's talented young outfielder is in the midst of a ridiculous hot streak, although who on the Astros isn't right now? Springer recently had a 10-game hitting streak in which he batted .447/.480/.915 with 7 home runs, 14 RBI and 14 runs scored, all out of the leadoff spot.
Overall this season, Springer is batting .275/.346/.528 with 16 homers, 38 RBI, 45 runs scored, and is on pace for career highs in wOBA (.371) and wRC+( 137). He's tied for the 6th-highest fWAR among AL outfielders (2.0), and no leadoff hitter in baseball has more than his 16 dingers.
The power is real, and it's spectacular.
George Springer with a 473' 💣 2nd HOME RUN OF THE DAY 🔥🔥🔥🔥#Astros
— Around The Bases POD (@AroundBasesPOD) May 31, 2017
But it's not just that he's hitting taters left and right, it's just how thoroughly he's destroying them.
George Springer today...
112.6 MPH HR, 473ft!
114.2 MPH HR, 433ft
Man, talking about crushing baseballs.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 31, 2017
Yes, everyone in the lineup seems to be mashing for the best team in baseball, but Springer's ascension to the top of the order -- which came last season -- has been the catalyst for Houston's offense to kick it into higher gear.
Astros 108-66 since A.J. Hinch moved George Springer into leadoff spot. I used to say it was my idea. Then A.J. said he'd never heard of me.
— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) June 5, 2017
Springer has already led off a game with a home run six times this season, by far the most in baseball. As noted by Jayson Stark, not even Rickey Henderson had six leadoff bombs at this stage of a season during his Hall of Fame career.
What's interesting is that most of Springer's peripheral numbers in 2017 look a lot like what he has done throughout his brief Major League career. However, there are a couple areas of note.
First, his walk percentage is down, from 11.8% last year to 8.2% this year. Happily, he has not coupled that with an increase in strikeout percentage, which has remained at 23.9%. He's chasing fewer balls out of the strike zone (23.4%) compared to last year (26.1%), and he's making more contact with pitches that are in the zone (83.0% in '17, 79.7% in '16).
Most importantly, his home-run-to-fly-ball rate has skyrocketed, from 19.7% last year to 30.8% in 2017. That 30.8% is tied for fourth-highest in baseball, and it's clear what's happening.
The dude is swinging out of his cleats, all while not chasing balls out of the zone and making more contact with the pitches that are over the plate. Look how hard he swings at this baseball.
Springer is selling out on his swing, all while improving his plate discipline. This helps explain why the ball is leaving the yard with greater regularity when he gets it up in the air.
Baseball is all about the power game right now. Power pitching and dingers, that's what baseball does. No leadoff hitter better exemplifies the trend away from speedy slap hitters and toward power-hitting sluggers better than George Springer.