Who Should Bat Lead Off For The Pittsburgh Pirates In 2017?


In 2016 the primary lead off hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates was John Jaso, but who should handle that role for the 2017 season?

The Pittsburgh Pirates should have a strong offense in 2017. Their starters are set at each position around the diamond, and, minus second base and shortstop, each of their starting eight are above league average hitters. However, one question remains. That question is: who should bat lead off in 2017?

When you take a look at the projected starting eight for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates there are only two players I see as candidates to bat lead off. These two players are catcher Francisco Cervelli and first baseman Josh Bell. So, who should be leading off?

While Francisco Cervelli has never hit for much power, he has always been a player with the ability to get on base. His career 9.8 percent walk rate and .361 on-base percentage are both above league average. They are also both plenty good enough to bat lead off.

Since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2015, his on-base ability has only improved. Francisco Cervelli has 903 plate appearances as a Pittsburgh Pirate. In these 903 plate appearances he owns an 11.3 percent walk rate and a .373 on-base percentage.

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In 2016 Cervelli owned a 14.2 percent walk rate and a .377 on-base percentage. Both of these numbers led all Major League catchers. If Cervelli had enough at bats to qualify his walk rate would have ranked 12th best in Major League Baseball last year, while his on-base percentage would have ranked 18th.

Josh Bell made his Major League debut last July. He then became an everyday player in August. Offensively, Bell did a lot of things well after debuting in the Major Leagues and this included his ability to get on base.

In 152 plate appearances Bell owned a 13.8 percent walk rate. This resulted in Josh Bell posting a .368 on-base percentage in his rookie campaign. At no point did Bell ever look over-matched at the plate. He consistently demonstrated great patience and an even better eye for the ball. Honestly, he looked much more mature than most 23-year old hitters.

One of the reasons Josh Bell was such a highly touted prospect throughout his Minor League career was his incredible eye and patience at the plate. These two skills led to Bell always having great on base prowess in the Minors. And this is a skill we saw quickly translate to the Major Leagues in 2016.

In the Minor Leagues Josh Bell accumulated 2,105 plate appearances. During his time in the Minor Leagues he owned a .373 on-base percentage. His 10.1 percent walk rate in the Minor Leagues was also extremely impressive.

So the question becomes, Francisco Cervelli or Josh Bell? Personally, I would have Francisco Cervelli bat lead off in 2017. And there are a few different reasons why.

Jul 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Josh Bell (55) reacts after hitting a grand slam home run against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Josh Bell (55) reacts after hitting a grand slam home run against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

First off, Josh Bell has a lot of run production potential in his bat. The switch-hitting Bell possesses some great power potential. He posted a .157 ISO at Triple-A in 2015 and then his ISO at Triple-A jumped to .173 in 2016.

During his time in the Major Leagues last season Josh Bell posted an above league average .133 ISO. Additionally, his numbers put him on pace for 54 extra base hits over the course of a 162 game season’s worth of at bats. When player has this type of run producing potential, you would hate to waste it in the lead off spot.

Secondly, other than lead off, I am not sure where else you would bat Francisco Cervelli at. I absolutely love Cervelli and am one of his biggest fans. He is a fantastic defensive catcher, one of the game’s best pitch framers, and does a great job of getting on-base. However, he hits for essentially no power.

A player like Cervelli who has fantastic on-base prowess but lacks power really only has two spots in a Major League lineup. Either the lead off spot or batting ninth. And since, unfortunately, the National League does not have the designated hitter having Cervelli hit ninth is not feasible.

Additionally, if you would hit Cervelli ninth, with the pitcher eighth, Josh Bell would then have to lead off. And that is not something I want to see happen. Due to all of these reasons, I would bat Francisco Cervelli lead off in 2017.

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In my opinion, Francisco Cervelli is the best lead off option for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017. Cervelli does a great job of getting on base, and really does not fit at any other spot in the lineup. Hopefully, Clint Hurdle agrees with me on this one.