Given all that they’ve accomplished the last three seasons, it’s hard to argue that the Chicago Cubs won’t be in contention by the end of the 2018 MLB season. Three straight NLCS appearances and one World Series title after over a century of futility will do that for an organization.
However, one big question going into the season is who will bat leaoff? There are many options on the team but this has been a consistent issue ever since Dexter Fowler left in free agency over a year ago.
The mantra of “You Go, We Go” did not work out so well last year Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay and Ben Zobrist first in the roder. Oddly enough the only leadoff hitter that really experienced any success was Anthony Rizzo.
Chicago Cubs Batters Batting First (min. 10 games) in 2017
As you can see things did not go very well but Joe Maddon never seemed worried about who was batting leadoff. Nevertheless, it was noticeable last year that it affected the lineup. Even though the Cubs scored the fourth most runs in all of baseball (822 Runs) that total was inflated by the 18 times that the team scored 10 or more runs last season.
In fact, roughly 29% of their runs scored last year were in those 18 games (238 out of 822). If you break down the other 584 runs scored in the remaining 144 games that comes out to roughly four runs scored per game which isn’t terrible. But the Cubs were also held to two or fewer runs a whopping 47 games.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were certainly concerned enough with the offensive production to make the hitting coach change from John Mallee to Chili Davis. And helping find somebody who can set the table effectively from the leadoff spot is going to be one of the first challenges for Davis.
With Spring Training almost in the books, it seems that the sexy pick for leadoff is Ian Happ. Happ is arguably the fastest player on the team he also has a Zobrist-like ability to play multiple positions. He played all three outfielder positions as well as second and third base in 115 games last season.
Happ started off red hot in 2017 hitting a home run in his first game and hitting around .300 for half the month of May. However, by the end of May, his average was only .214 and you began to see flailing strikeouts at off-speed pitches in the dirt.
He did turn it around and was able to bring his average up to a respectable .253 by year’s end and also managed to slug 24 home runs and drive in 68 runs which is respectable for a utility rookie.
This brings us to spring training where Happ has continued his Arizona dominance. In 17 games this year, he’s clubbed seven home runs to go with a .333 batting average and .418 on-base percentage. Most of this damage coming from the leadoff spot in the order.
A leadoff hitter should be someone who can get on base (hits or walks), take pitches, limits strikeouts and sets the stage for the rest of the lineup. Old-timey leadoff hitters used to have to steal bases but that’s not necessarily a necessity anymore.
Happ seems to have this down and we should give him a shot based on his spring training. Case closed and call it a day right?
Kris Bryant should be your leadoff hitter in 2018 because it would lengthen an already dangerous lineup.
When Kris Bryant comes to mind it’s always that one thing: those dreamy blue eyes. Okay maybe not everyone. The casual fan thinks of Kris Bryant and immediately thinks “Pure Power Hitter”. And his numbers back that up with 65 home runs in his first two seasons.
However, last year Bryant seemed to change his approach. Each year he has been in the big leagues he has raised his batting average and on-base percentage while simultaneously lowering his strikeout totals.
In fact, he only struck out 128 times in 2017. And while some analysts thought Bryant had a bad 2017 one could argue that he was a more complete hitter.
But the reason why he’d be even more valuable in the leadoff role than in the middle of the order is that Bryant is an on-base machine. While being able to hit for power he can also hit to all fields and he’s remarkably patient at the plate.
Last year his OBP was .409 (7th in MLB) and has gone up each year he’s been in the bigs. He walked 95 times (5th in MLB) in 2017 and averaged roughly 4 pitches per at bat (20th in MLB).
Not to mention, Joe Maddon routinely refers to him as the best baserunner on the team.
All of this adds up to the perfect specimen for a leadoff hitter and when you add the power aspect to it, it’s downright scary. Would you rather have Kris Bryant or Billy Hamilton as your lead-off hitter? Yeah, Hamilton steals over 50 bases every year… but his career OBP is under .300 which is abysmal. Bryant batting leadoff would make a dangerous lineup even scarier.
Here is a sample lineup with Bryant leading off and you can determine if this would be deadly:
- Bryant – R
- Happ – S
- Rizzo – L
- Contreras – R
- Schwarber – L
- Russell – R
- Heyward – L
- Baez – R
- Pitcher’s spot
Imagine you’re a starting pitcher and you know that right off the bat you have Kris Bryant to deal with. Well crap. Better be careful. Oh looks like Bryant walked. Wait… next is a switch hitter who hit 24 home runs? Well shit. But at least after him… wait, Rizzo? Willson Contreras? Schwarber?! Ahh fuck that noise.
A lineup like this would also provide great balance as Maddon loves to mix righties and lefties throughout the batting order. Putting Happ in the two spot between Bryant and Rizzo would give him better pitches to hit and set up a bunch of RBI opportunities for the Cubs’ best clutch hitters Rizzo and Contreras.
Many worry about Bryant not being in a position to drive in runs because he really doesn’t need to in a lineup like this. He only drove in 73 runs last year primarily in the two spot and if he batted leadoff you would see Rizzo and Contreras with well over 100 RBIs this year.
Luckily for the Cubs all of this leadoff business is honestly “first world problems” for them. All things considered, Ian Happ will most likely be the leadoff hitter come opening day. Still, with stats and analytics as our friends, Kris Bryant should be heavily considered as the Chicago Cubs’ 2018 leadoff hitter.