I don’t usually get into lineup construction discussions, but I thought this tweet was worth elaborating on:
Joe Maddon's Jan. 11 lineup against a righty: Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist, Russell, Heyward, Wilson, Jay.... https://t.co/NqgCfGRyDb— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) January 11, 2017
“Wilson” is obviously Willson Contreras, though everyone else got last-name treatment.
The Cubs seek a new leadoff man after Dexter Fowler’s departure. Fowler, dubbed the “You Go, We Go” guy by Joe Maddon, posted a .367 OBP in his two years as a Cub, mostly hitting leadoff.
So where’s that kind of production going to come from? Kyle Schwarber is not anyone’s traditional view of a leadoff hitter. On the other hand, that “speedy leadoff guy” thing doesn’t work if the leadoff guy can’t get on base.
Which is something that Schwarber, in somewhat of a small sample size, has been able to do. He posted a .355 OBP in 273 plate appearances in 2015, had a .448 OBP in 29 plate appearances in the 2015 postseason, and reached base in half of his 20 PA in the 2016 World Series (seven hits, three walks).
In 621 plate appearances over two minor-league seasons, Schwarber had a .429 OBP, and in his college career at Indiana University had a .437 OBP in 831 plate appearances.
So the on-base skills are clearly there. For people who like to see stolen bases from the leadoff hitter, if you’re being followed by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the lineup, why bother? (Schwarber did steal a base in the World Series, with a not-100-percent knee, no less, but I wouldn’t expect too much of that.)
I like this idea a lot. The Cleveland Indians had good success in 2016 leading off Carlos Santana, a power hitter who hit 34 home runs. They did it 85 times and Santana’s OBP hitting leadoff in 2016 was .385. That helped the Tribe finish second in the A.L. in runs (777).
The rest of Rogers’ tweet, which was a bit too long for Twitter’s traditional length, says:
With the possibility of the pitcher batting 8th.
Which Maddon has done before, with (usually) good results. If he does that with the lineup posted above, that would mean Jon Jay hitting ninth, and Jay has good on-base skills as well. He has a career .352 OBP, even including his last two years which weren’t as good due to injury. Prior to 2015 Jay’s career OBP was .359 in 2,424 plate appearances.
With Jay hitting ninth, that would give Schwarber some RBI opportunities in at-bats after the first inning.
I would guess we’d wind up seeing Ben Zobrist leading off against lefties, and Zobs would also probably play a fair amount of left field when Schwarber isn’t out there. Zobrist has a career .372 on-base percentage against lefthanders (1,715 PA).
Jesse Rogers elaborated further on Maddon’s idea in this article, which included this quote from Joe:
"There is the consideration with Schwarber hitting first you want to hit the pitcher eighth again," Maddon said. "There is that kind of consideration. I'll give that to the geeks (team analytics) to look at. You want to feed Schwarber as much as you can."
I like Maddon’s idea here. It’s outside-the-box thinking, which is something Joe usually does well. The Cubs will need to replace Fowler’s leadoff production and this, in my view, would be an excellent way to do it.