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Black Knights: Astros’ George Springer And The Evolution Of The Leadoff Hitter

Springer is a game-changing baller on a championship contender, hunting for his first MVP Award.

The Houston Astros possess baseball’s best record at 29-15 and carry an eight-game winning streak into an American League Championship Series rematch at Fenway Park this weekend.

Since winning the World Series in 2017, Black Knight George Springer has gone from a very good player to a Top 5 player in the game.

Entering the weekend, Springer leads MLB in runs (39), hits (55), Homers (16), RBI (40), OPS + (178) and he’s slugging a career-high .651, which is well above the traditional power output of a traditional leadoff hitter.

Baseball Lifestyle™ on Twitter

George Springer with an inside-the-park home run ⚾️🔥 https://t.co/qKZs2nrPLJ

Back in 2014, Sports Illustrated  – known for being terribly wrong for forecasting champions in sports – claimed the Houston Astros, winners of nothing in their existence, would win the 2017 World Series.

Most chuckled. Many chalked it up to SI reaching, at best.

Not only that, but SI also had the relatively unknown Springer on the cover, which was another stretch. The Astros rookie was considered an unsung prospect in comparison to the many young superstars that transformed the Astros from cellar dwellers to a potential dynasty.

Youthful studs such as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa where the ballers who were credited as being the faces of the franchise.

Mike Acosta on Twitter

10/25/17 The Astros power themselves past the Dodgers with a 7-6, 11-inning win in Game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium. Marwin Gonzalez tied the game with a homer in the ninth and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa hit back-to-back homers in the 10th.

That was until Springer, the poster boy from that pie-in-the-sky prediction of three years earlier, snagged World Series MVP shines.  It marked the birth of George Springer as a bonafide superstar and one of the coveted Black Knights in MLB.

“I remember swinging and hearing the sound of the bat, Springer said about the two-run blast. And I knew it was a good sound. It’s a very surreal feeling because this is Game 7. This is what you dream about as a kid. And for that to happen is indescribable.”

Springer’s Game 7 two-run homer gave Houston a 5-0 lead, locking up the franchise’s first World Series in its 55-year history. That homer tied him with Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the most in World Series action.

George Springer | 2017 “WS MVP” Highlights ᴴᴰ

George Springer 2017 Houston Highlights 2017 Stats AVG: 0.283 OBP: 0.367 HR: 34 RBI: 85 Games: 140 WAR: 5.0 ———————————————————————– Music: Swishin’ – Young n Fly ———————————————————————– Please like, comment, and share! Subscribe for More!

Springer batted .379 with five homers and seven RBI. His eight extra-base hits were the most in a World Series. Also, according to ESPN stats, he was the first player to homer in four straight games in a single World Series.

With his performance, Springer began elevating himself to superstar status. He’s a five-tool player with scary ability setting the table in a lineup with 20-something-year-old killers. His success in the World Series finally put an elite African-American baseball player on the world stage again.   

Connecticut Come Up

Springer, 27, was selected in 2011 by the Houston Astros in the first round, with the 11th overall selection, becoming the highest MLB Draft pick in Connecticut baseball history.

The tiny kid with the stutter who refused to lose in sibling competition grew into a 6-foot-3, 221-pound terror at the plate. Springer slammed 20 homers in just 78 games as a rookie and then broke out with 29 dingers while playing 162 games in 2016.

Springer’s coveted slugging abilities make him a special leadoff hitter. When comparing him to the other elite outfielders in baseball. From Bryce Harper to Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz, and the list goes on, Springer’s durability and his defensive prowess actually give him an edge over some established names. He’s a deft center fielder and his evolution continues to move on an upward trajectory.

The New Age Leadoff Machine 

The Astros didn’t repeat as champs in 2018, but Springer’s continued to mash out, elevate his game, while his multifaceted skill set is changing the way that MLB views leadoff hitters.

He’s become Rickey Henderson 2.0. Just without the speed. With 21 leadoff home runs in 509 career games entering this monster season,  Springer has the highest rate among all players on the active and all-time leaderboard.

There was a time when Barry Bonds, who has 20 career leadoff homers, hit first in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Once he started hitting homers at a Ruthian rate, however, he was moved down in the order.

Henderson holds the all-time leadoff homer title with 81 long balls. However, not only was his career rate behind Springer’s, but it took him 977 games to hit his 21st leadoff homers.

It would take Springer another decade to reach Henderson’s numbers, but baseball teams are no longer so resistant to keeping power hitters atop the lineup. In fact, the last two years saw leadoff homers absolutely skyrocket, with 156 and 159 hit, respectively. The record before then was 119 set in 2006. So it’s possible that Springer could catch “The Sultan of Swipe” if he remains a leadoff batter. 

In his book A Game of Inches, baseball historian Peter Morris cites an 1898 Sporting Life article that explained, “It is customary to have a small, active fellow who can hit, run and steal bases, and also worry a pitcher into a preliminary base on balls, as a leader in the list.”

Richard Justice on Twitter

Astros have MLB’s best record (298-185) since AJ Hinch made an unconventional choice to be his leadoff hitter on May 24, 2016: George Springer. Twenty-nine HR and a World Series MVP later, Springer is the new prototype for what teams want in a leadoff hitter. ⁦@Astros

 

Via The Ringer, “Speed was once the connective tissue between generations of leadoff men: Of the 20 players with the most stolen bases since lineup data has been recorded (since 1913), 15 spent the majority of their careers in the leadoff spot. But as sabermetric analyses revealed about a decade ago, on-base skill, not speed, is the most vital asset for a no. 1 hitter, for a pair of self-affirming reasons.”

First, it’s less important that a leadoff man be able to steal a base than that he be able to reach base at all. Springer is not only a power hitter, but he is 11th in MLB with a .400 On Base Percentage.

“Some of the stereotypes that come with ‘Is the leadoff hitter a small, scrappy, on-base machine?’ versus me sending up a 6-foot-3, 225-pound George Springer, it might look different,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says. “But what we’re after is scoring the most runs and putting your most dangerous hitters to get the most at-bats is an effective way to do that.”

“The more you look at it,” says Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who batted 29-homer man Adam Jones first for most of 2016, “the more you realize that the conventional way of looking at leadoff hitters may not be the right way.”

Then unconventionality of Springer appears to be his best asset. His game has progressed and coincides with the changing landscape of baseball. His rise to transformative Black Knight has been as remarkable as his recent play on the field.

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