Who Should Bat Lead Off For The Pittsburgh Pirates?

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates need a shakeup at the top of their lineup

Coming off a career season in 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the starting second base job and the lead off spot in the lineup to Adam Frazier. This was a risky move to make. On top of Frazier having always been a poor defender at second base, there were a lot of questions surrounding his ability to hit if playing on a daily basis.

Frazier has appeared in 47 games for the Pirates this season. Overall, he is slashing .255/.309/.359 with a 5.8% walk rate, a .108 ISO, and a 81 wRC+. All of these numbers are career worsts.

Frazier has hit lead off in 43 of the Pirates first 53 games. As the lead off man, things have not gone well. In fact, his numbers in the lead off spot are slightly worse than his overall results.

In 201 plate appearances batting first Frazier owns a .253/.305/.355 with a 5.4% walk rate and a 79 wRC+. This simply is not going to cut it as a team’s lead off man. These results are not those of a hitter setting the table for the rest of the lineup, which is what a lead off hitter’s primary job is.

This season Frazier owns an average exit velocity of 87.1 MPH, which is below the MLB average. His 41.8% groundball rate is higher than you would like to see as well. Players can get away with hitting groundballs if the ball is hit well. With Frazier, this is not the case.

So, who other than Frazier?

Well, manager Clint Hurdle could have a few options. The two primary ones that come to mind are a pair of rookies in Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman.

113 plate appearances into his MLB career Reynolds is looking like a NL Rookie of the Year candidate. He is slashing .327/.381/.577 with a 8.0% walk rate and a 153 wRC+. While he has quickly become one of the team’s best hitters, he is not the man that they should try at the lead off spot. Instead, he should be in a position to drive in runs.

This leaves Newman.

Before the season started it was tough to envision a scenario where Newman would look like the team’s best option to bat lead off. However, to his credit, Newman has grown leaps and bounds as a hitter this season and currently appears to be the best table setting option.

After hitting his first career grand slam on Tuesday night, Newman is slashing .333/.400/.486 with a 137 wRC+ this season. You would like to see his walk rate of 8.8% be a little higher, but that will play at the top of the lineup. While this is not necessarily important for a lead off man, Newman also brings a speed element to the top of the lineup which can help rattle opposing pitchers.

Newman can play third base, shortstop, and second base. Three positions the Pirates are struggling to get offensive production from right now. So, finding him a position to play should not be difficult.

As the season progresses, Newman’s bat may slow down. His .411 batting average on balls in play indicates that it will. However, his 28.7% hard contact rate and 18.8% strikeout rate both indicate that, even with some regression, he should continue to hit well. But until he slows down, Newman should be batting lead off.

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Due to the struggles of Adam Frazier, the Pirates need a new lead off hitter. At least for now, it should be rookie infielder Kevin Newman. The team should put Newman in the lead off spot, and leave him there until he gives them a reason not to.