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Top-notch (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2006 11:12AM; Updated: Tuesday June 20, 2006 12:06PM
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Jose Reyes leads the majors with 30 stolen bases and is a threat to score every time he gets on.
Jose Reyes leads the majors with 30 stolen bases and is a threat to score every time he gets on.
Chuck Solomon/SI

To test Minaya's alternate perspective on leadoff hitters, I checked total bases from the leadoff spot. Here Reyes (129) jumps up to second, barely behind Soriano (131).

But wait. What about all those steals Reyes gets? When he turns a single into a "double," should he get credit for that base in his total, too? (Oakland manager Ken Macha believes so. He thinks steals could be folded into slugging percentage.) If you take total bases and add stolen bases and subtract caught stealings, Reyes churns up the most bases by far. The base gobblers are, in order, Reyes (152), Soriano (138) and Jimmy Rollins (132). And what about Eckstein, the guy with the better OBP? He is credited with only 103 bases under such a formula.

Eckstein happens to have the most times on base as a leadoff hitter (114), followed by Reyes (108), Rollins and Rafael Furcal (99 each). But Reyes is far more likely to score than Eckstein. Why? Sure, scoring runs is very dependent on the performance of teammates. But Reyes' ability to hit for extra bases, to steal bases and to take chances on the bases with his speed clearly compensates for the fewer times he reaches base.

To test that kind of thinking, check out this list of the highest likelihood a leadoff hitter will score a run when he gets on base: 1. Hanley Ramirez (54.4 percent), 2. Reyes (52.8), 3. Rollins (52.5), 4. Furcal (51.5). They are the only leadoff hitters who are more likely to score a run than not when they get on base. Eckstein? He's at 37.7 percent -- only the Cubs' Juan Pierre is worse -- in part because he rarely steals bases (five) and is last among leadoff hitters in extra-base hits (12).

By way of comparison, slow-footed Jason Giambi of the Yankees, an OBP machine, scores only 37.1 percent of the time he's on base.

Maybe Reyes is a fast-moving example of why OBP alone is not the be-all barometer of leadoff hitters. As Minaya said, "He's one of those guys who you really have to watch play over and over to appreciate what he does as a leadoff hitter and the disruption that he causes."

For now, I'm not ready to concede that Reyes is better as a leadoff hitter than a red-hot Soriano (another mold-breaking No. 1 guy). No one in the league is having a better season from there, even if Reyes is doing so in a most unconventional manner. Reyes is on pace to score 139 runs with an overall .338 OBP. The last player to score that many runs with an OBP that low was Tom Poorman in 1887. So maybe we're looking at a once-every-119-years exception. In any case, Minaya and the rest of Mets country ought not be too worried about Reyes' OBP.