Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now: Rickey Henderson is not the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Thing is, neither is Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs’ curse-breaking first baseman is, however, among the GOATs when it comes to batting at the top of the order.
People scoffed when Joe Maddon inserted Rizzo in the leadoff spot last year at a time when the Cubs were struggling. All Big Tony did was slap a dinger in his first trip to the plate on June 13 against the Mets in Queens. He did the same thing the following night and would go on to light the lamp a total of five times over a two-week stretch.
Rizzo’s slash line over 64 plate appearances — which includes one as a pinch hitter and five as the No. 2 hitter* — was .296/.375/.648 with a .410 wOBA and 153 wRC+, all of which are significantly better than his career numbers. Add in his leadoff bomb in Monday’s game and you’ve got a line that’s good enough to elevate him to (arguably) the penultimate spot on the list of all-time great leadoff hitters (min 50 PAs).
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alum’s .691 slugging and .400 ISO are higher than anyone else, his 1.050 OPS ranks second, and his 159 wRC+ is seventh. And when you consider that his BABIP is an anemic .238 — largely a product of that handful of dingers — you figure that the numbers could be even higher when extrapolated further.
They’d need to be in order to overtake the man at the top spot on the list, a legend whose 1.090 OPS is 40 points higher than Rizzo’s and whose .462 OBP edges out the inimitable Jeff Baker (.458) for the top spot. His .629 slugging is second only to our pinstriped hero and his 186 wRC+ lies a mere three points behind Bryce Harper’s.
It’s clear from the numbers that the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of forever is [drumroll]…Wilson Betemit. Don’t @ me.
*Albert Almora Jr. batted leadoff in that one and drew three walks, which is probably more incredible that Rizzo blasting all those homers