Now that Dexter Fowler has traipsed down I-55 so the Cardinals can pay for his decline, one question the Cubs will face when they reconvene in February is who is going to lead off. Luckily, they have several solutions and it will just involve shuffling the lineup more day to day than they did last year. Not like Joe Maddon is a rigid manager or anything.
While the Cubs did shuffle the bottom of their lineup a lot depending on who was in and who was out, the top remained pretty rigid. Fowler-Bryant-Rizzo-Zobrist was what you got. Russell shifted up to the five-hole for a while, then back down, Heyward was a bit all over, Contreras got a run at 5 and other spots. In 2017, Maddon is probably going to have to play around with the one-hole more. I think we can safely say that Bryant and Rizzo will stay where they are.
And basically, it should come down to what side of the rubber the opposing pitcher throws from.
Most days, it’ll be a righty. And the options there are aplenty. One that some are clamoring for, and I would certainly like to give it a go, is putting Kyle Schwarber up there. While we still really only have a half season of sample to look at with War Bear, against righties he’s hit .272 with a .392 OBP. The concern, I guess, is that you wouldn’t get the same speed from Schwarbs that you would with Fowler. While Fowler’s 13 steals aren’t exactly something you pine for, I suppose the ability to go from first to third and second to home is worth worrying about a bit. But if he returns close to full health, Schwarber wasn’t carrying a piano out there.
However, Schwarber playing means that Zobrist or Baez is not. So your lineup would probably look something like:
- Jay or Almora
Another option, if mobility is something Maddon values there, would be Jason Heyward. One has to expect an improvement from Heyward, because quite simply there’s nowhere to go. While last year was a disaster, Heyward has a lifetime OBP of .362. And we know his base running is as good as it gets. Then you could have Schwarber either batting second or fourth or fifth.
Jay is of course another option, with a career .352 OBP against righties. So basically if one doesn’t work, the Cubs won’t be resigned to a hole up top because they can keep trying shit.
Against lefties, there are options as well. You wouldn’t put Schwarber there or Heyward for that, but Zobrist could do it as he had a .401 OBP against lefties last year. Again, not fast but smart so the base-running is there. At least early in the season that shoudln’t be a lineup headache as I’m just going to guess Schwarbs would be protected against most lefties. We’d see Russell slide up to four or five and Baez probably behind him.
However, if speed were really something you’d want at the top against southpaws, there’s an out-of-the-box solution. It sounds ridiculous at first, and is going to take some improvement from him in the spring, but Javy Baez would actually not be the worst idea. Again, it sounds silly, but last year Baez had just north of a league-average walk-rate against lefties, struck out less than 20% of the time against them, and had a .375 OBP. It was only 136 PA, and we know how bad it can look. But if those numbers can be matched by him in 2017, then you get a plus base-runner who can swipe bags (before he breaks a finger again) at the top of the lineup. It would keep Zobrist lower and protecting Rizzo if that’s a thing that matters to you.
Almora would be in the lineup but he hasn’t proven it yet and was actually terrible against lefties in Iowa last year. So that’s not an option.
But every day, Maddon has two or three choice at the top of his lineup. It’s going to be more than ok.