Who do you think of when consider the best leadoff hitter in San Francisco Giants history? I firmly admit my answer is, “Uhhhh, I don’t know.” Brett Butler became a Dodger, so it can’t be him. Marvin Benard was once the leadoff hitter, so, is it really a question we should be considering? And then there’s the beautiful Andres Torres. I think it’s a question with good but not great answers.
This was going to be a post about how the San Francisco Giants have found a rare gem of a leadoff hitter in LaMonte Wade Jr., but he’s not that rare. Yandy Diaz of the Tampa Bay Rays is as interesting as Wade: a first baseman batting leadoff with a .425 OBP.
But that doesn’t negate the value. They’re both having remarkable seasons.
LaMonte Wade Jr.: (47 G) .265/.425/.463 (.889) | 176 PA 7 HR 15 RBI 34 BB 31 K 63 TB
Yandy Diaz: (42 G) .322/.425/.599 (1.024) | 181 PA 11 HR 27 RBI 24 BB 27 K 91 TB
Of course, given that everything the Rays do is better than what the Giants could ever hope to do, Diaz’s is slightly better. He’s also hit in 100% of his games from the leadoff spot while Wade has hit from there 80% of the time. Spinning out Wade’s leadoff line is fun, though:
LaMonte Wade Jr.: (33 G) .282/.440/.482 (.922) | 141 PA 6 HR 11 RBI 27 BB 23 K 53 TB
And it’s in doing this and playing around with Stathead’s Play Index that I’ve been able to find this list of just 78 baseball seasons featuring a leadoff hitter with a .440 OBP through their first 33 games at the lineup spot. Subtract all the players with multiple seasons on the list (Rickey Henderson appears four times, for example), and you get 63 players in Major League Baseball history to do what LaMonte Wade Jr. has done from the leadoff spot so far this season.
And he’s the only starting first baseman to do it.
His on base actually measures 77th out of 78th on this list just ahead of Dave Martinez in 1987 and just behind Davy Jones from the
Pirates of the Caribbean movie 1914 Pittsburgh Rebels. He’s one of just 11 players this century (Shin-Soo Choo is on there twice — 2013 & 2014) to hit this modest threshold (100 leadoff PAs, .440 OBP through first 30 games).
Wade is also the only San Francisco Giant on the list. The other two are New York Giants: Eddie Stanky (1950) and George Burns (1917). So, he’s at least doing something that’s never been done in the San Francisco era. Now just honing in on the Giants aspect of this is really interesting. Wade’s 2023 season is one of only 24 Giants seasons where a first baseman has had a .400+ on base percentage while qualifying for the batting title. The rest of this list (click the image to enlarge):
So, some of the greats, though, none of them leadoff hitters. That has everything to do with first base being a traditional power position, of course, but it’s worth pointing out that when it comes to not making outs, the 2023 version of LaMonte Wade Jr. has been one of the best San Francisco Giants to ever do it (through his first 47 games of the season).
And, yes, I took the next step and looked at what would happen if you got rid of the position filter and wondered how many Giants finished a season with an OBP of .400 or better. The list goes 85 deep. Thanks to Barry Bonds 2000-2004, the ten most recent are all from the turn of the century. Bonds also occupies spots 11-16 on the list (1993-1998). I still think this puts LaMonte Wade Jr. in extremely rare company.
Wade’s 34 walks are top five in MLB, behind Juan Soto (44), Adley Rutschman (40), Ian Happ (35) and Matt Olson (35); and, again, he’s leading off when the rest of this list isn’t. The next five in the top 10 feature just one other leadoff hitter: Mookie Betts (31 BB; .255/.364/.522). I’m not going to sit here and say that LaMonte Wade Jr. is better than Mookie Betts or anyone else in this top 10, but let’s all admit that LaMonte Wade Jr. has had an impressive start to the season that compares favorably to the best in the game.
Still, there’s the Yandy Diaz component. LaMonte Wade Jr. has bounced around in the lineup and even positionally — he has games in all three outfield spots as well as first base. Because this is a San Francisco Giants site, I don’t think it’s necessary to penalize him for the Giants moving him around the lineup or platooning him (143 PA vs. RHP compared to 33 PA vs LHP) as they see fit — the Rays are optimizing their lineup just as much as the Giants and the latter’s optimization has led to an historic performance from Wade.
That shifting around screws up the Play Index searching, though, because the subtle changes to the inputs necessarily bump Wade off certain lists; so, in order to see how Wade’s incredible .425 on base percentage stacked up against major league history, I wound up adjusting the search to batting first with a minimum of 135 PA, and a .420 or better OBP in a span of 32 games (the total number of times that Wade started a game batting first in the lineup).
LaMonte Wade Jr.’s .434 OBP in that filter wound up being 85th out of 157 total Major League seasons. Yandy Diaz’s .435 OBP is 79th. The only OBP in the 21st century to crack the top 10 was Florida Marlins’ Luis Castillo’s .486 in 2000 (8th-best). For fun, I filtered this list some more just to see what the 21st century has looked like (click to enlarge):
But since the leadoff thing kept screwing up the results, I just punched in 47 games, min. 175 PA and min .400 OBP since 2000, just to see where LaMonte Wade Jr. fell. Far less impressive, since he’s been thrown on the list with a bunch of middle of the order guys, but still pretty wild. The list goes 187 deep and Wade’s season OBP of .425 OBP tied with 2010 Logan Morrison, 2000 Jeff Bagwell & Jay Bell, 2005 Craig Counsell, 2007 Derrek Lee, and 2001 Albert Pujols.
So, just consider Wade’s performance overall. How his skill set has helped the Giants from the leadoff spot. Sure, he’s not matching Mookie Betts’ 2018 with 142 total bases and a 1.162 OPS, and he has fewest hits since Max Bishop in 1930, but he’s the first first baseman since Lu Blue in 1929 to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He’s still just one of just 104 players in Major League History to be this good from the leadoff spot to start a season.
A lot of words and a lot of numbers to say that yes, LaMonte Wade Jr. is having a superb start to the season as the Giants’ leadoff hitter. Please note that I’m focusing on the leadoff hitter part. The ability to start the game off without an out being made is extremely valuable, even as the Giants have failed to capitalize at a more efficient clip. This isn’t the best leadoff season in baseball history, but it is shaping up to be the best by a Giant.