July 9, 2017

Mookie Betts And Leadoff Home Runs

This afternoon's Red Sox game in Tampa Bay began with Mookie Betts at the plate. He hit Chris Archer's third pitch for a home run. According to several news reports, it was Betts's 11th "leadoff" home run, which gave him the most such home runs in Red Sox history. (Not bad for a guy in only his third full season.)


There are, among those 11 leadoff homers, a few dongs that Betts hit at Fenway Park. Meaning: In the bottom of the first inning. After the game had already been started. Yes, Betts was Boston's leadoff batter in those games, but he was obviously not the game's leadoff batter. And I think that is a crucial difference that is being ignored. Any home run referred to as a "leadoff" home run should begin the game. Therefore, a true leadoff home run can be hit only on the road, only in the top of the first inning. Likewise, a player can get credit for a walkoff hit only in his own park.

I looked at the home run logs of both Betts and Ellsbury at Baseball Reference.

Betts hit his first leadoff home run on September 21, 2014, off Miguel Gonzalez in Baltimore. He then hit one in 2015, six in 2016, and (so far) three in 2017. But three of Betts's home runs were hit at Fenway Park - after the opposing team had already had a turn at bat, and Betts had spent some time in the outfield.

Ellsbury's leadoff home runs for the Red Sox cover a period of six seasons (three in 2008, four in 2011, and three in 2013). I was surprised to discover that only three of his 10 leadoff home runs actually led off a game. In fact, six of his first seven leadoff home runs came in the bottom of the first inning.

For example, on July 27, 2011, the Royals scored three runs in the top of the first inning. Ellsbury began the bottom half by homering off Bruce Chen. How can someone come to the plate trailing by three runs and still hit a "leadoff" home run? (While all of Betts's 11 leadoff home runs came with the score 0-0, four of Ellsbury's homers came after the visiting team had scored in the top of the first.)

If we are counting "true" leadoff home runs - a home run that begins the game - Betts tops Ellsbury 8-3.

Random Stuff:

Of the 21 so-called leadoff home runs hit by Betts and Ellsbury, only one was hit on the first pitch: Betts's shot in the bottom of the first against Tyler Duffey of the Twins on July 21, 2016. (Both Betts and Ellsbury have hit three leadoff homers on the second pitch, however.)

I wondered if there was a pitcher that gave up a leadoff home run to both hitters. There is not. (But Ellsbury has hit two off Jered Weaver: April 22, 2008 (Red Sox, bottom of first) and August 19, 2016 (Yankees, top of first).)

Rickey Henderson is the King of Leadoff Home Runs, with 81! But only 38 of those home runs (47%) were hit in the top of the first inning.


Jere said...

If my mem. is correct, Rickey's 80th leadoff HR was in the Derek Lowe no-hitter. (At home, though.)

allan said...

Damn! You're good! #80, it was.

Jere said...

Nice. They must have put that up on the scoreboard that day--still the only no-hitter I've seen in person. (Not including Brendan Kennedy in Ridgefield Little League circa '86. I'm still pissed, because I pitched a 1-hitter on the same field earlier that day, and my performance wasn't even the top story!)