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Who should be the Cubs’ leadoff hitter?

It might have to be a non-traditional choice.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Meeting with reporters on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked about the leadoff spot in the lineup, where the team doesn’t have an obvious choice for 2018:

Manager Joe Maddon plans to look at several candidates for the leadoff spot in the Cubs lineup, describing the situation as still “rotational.”

Those candidates could include Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr., although Maddon only disclosed that he would hold auditions based on opposing pitchers. Maddon even used slugger Anthony Rizzo for 14 games at the leadoff spot last year, and he batted .300 with a .373 on-base percentage from the spot.

“The last 10 days (of spring training) I like to ramp it up,’ Maddon said. “You’ll start seeing more of a test situation as to what we may look like breaking out of camp. We have some ideas, but nothing concrete right now.”

It would be nice if the Cubs could clone the 2016 version of Dexter Fowler (“You go, we go”) to hit at the top of the lineup, but that ship sailed to St. Louis a year ago. The Cubs used 11 different players leading off in 2017, as opposed to seven in 2016. Fowler led off 118 times in 2016; Jon Jay got the most games in the leadoff spot last year, just 51 games. Zobrist was second, with 40, and Kyle Schwarber had 36.

Obviously, Jay is gone and Zobrist is not likely to be an everyday player this year. So where should the Cubs go for a leadoff hitter, especially with Maddon saying it could be “rotational”?

Here are some candidates, in no particular order.

Anthony Rizzo

Well, Rizzo did have those 14 games in 2017, in which he hit .300/.373/.680 with five home runs. That’s really good, and Rizzo’s 2017 OBP of .392 would look really good in the leadoff spot. Remember these homers leading off the game on back-to-back nights in New York?

On the other hand, Rizzo hit 32 home runs last year and is good for about that number every year. His .507 SLG and .487 career SLG look much better in the middle of the order. Leading off Rizzo on a regular basis wouldn’t be a good idea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe did it occasionally based on matchups.

Kris Bryant

KB would be another unconventional choice. Bryant led the Cubs (and was third in the N.L.) with 95 walks, and his OBP of .409 was fourth in the league. Again, Bryant’s bat plays better hitting second or third. If Joe did decide to hit Bryant leadoff, that would almost certainly result in the pitcher batting eighth so that someone like Albert Almora Jr. or Ian Happ could bat ninth.

Jason Heyward

Hear me out, please. Heyward had a horrific 2016 at the plate, but was much better in 2017 despite missing 36 games with various injuries. He managed a .326 OBP, which isn’t great, but it’s also not bad with a .259 BA. In his career, Heyward has led off in 132 games, and has hit .269/.348/.410 in about one full season’s worth of PA out of the No. 1 spot (604 PA). He has 16 leadoff home runs. If the work Heyward has done with Chili Davis has paid off, this might be worth a try.

Ben Zobrist

Zobrist has a career OBP of .355 and even in his bad, injury-plagued 2017, he drew 54 walks for an OBP of .318 on a BA of just .236. He is just one year removed from a .386 OBP, which would look really good in the leadoff spot. In his career Zobrist has led off in 189 games, hitting .241/.330/.389 in 887 PA out of the No. 1 spot. As you can see, Heyward’s leadoff numbers are better. Zobrist could possibly work out of the No. 1 spot against lefthanders; in his career he has a .364 OBP vs. LHP (1,836 PA).

Willson Contreras

Contreras has a .356 career OBP, and that’s been consistent over his two big-league seasons (.357 in 2016, .356 in 2017). His OBP is much higher vs. LHP (.379) than against RHP (.347), although the vs. LHP numbers are a fairly small sample size (212 PA). Personally, I think Willson’s bat works better in the middle of the order. He’s hit .298/.390/.536 batting fourth, and that’s by far his best numbers in any lineup spot where he’s spent significant time. I wouldn’t move him out of the No. 4 spot.

Albert Almora Jr.

Almora posted a .338 OBP in 2017, which is good. But most of that comes from his batting average (.298). His .331 OBP after the All-Star break in 2017 was almost entirely from BA, as he walked just twice in 135 PA after the ASB. He did post 2017 numbers of .342/.411/.486 against lefthanded pitching in 125 PA, so leading him off occasionally against lefthanders might work.

Kyle Schwarber

I can hear you shouting, “Not this again!”, but hear me out. Schwarber didn’t take well to the leadoff spot before he was sent to Triple-A Iowa last June. There could have been many reasons for this, including the fact that it was really the first time he’d played regularly in the major leagues. He might have put too much pressure on himself. He did draw 59 walks, third-most on the team behind Bryant and Rizzo, and after his return from Iowa he hit .255/.338/.565. That’s a good OBP, not really a leadoff OBP, though. Except in an emergency, I wouldn’t lead off Kyle.

That’s pretty much all the regular players on the team except for Addison Russell, Ian Happ and Javier Baez, and I wouldn’t lead off with any of those men. Joe Maddon might have to play mix-and-match with the leadoff spot, and he’s usually very good about juggling lineups.

Who would you put in the leadoff spot for the Cubs this year?


The Cubs’ leadoff hitter should be...

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Albert Almora Jr.
    (526 votes)
  • 5%
    Kris Bryant
    (85 votes)
  • 1%
    Willson Contreras
    (22 votes)
  • 20%
    Jason Heyward
    (318 votes)
  • 2%
    Anthony Rizzo
    (43 votes)
  • 3%
    Kyle Schwarber
    (49 votes)
  • 5%
    Ben Zobrist
    (94 votes)
  • 25%
    No one on a regular basis; do it based on matchups
    (397 votes)
  • 3%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (48 votes)
1582 votes total Vote Now