This isn’t news, but the Cubs have struggled to find a consistent leadoff hitter ever since Dexter Fowler departed via free agency after the 2016 season.
Fowler led off in 146 games in 2015 and provided a .350 OBP. In 2016, he led off in a few less games (118) due to injury, but posted an even better OBP from that spot, .393.
That’s gone seriously downhill over the last two-plus seasons. In 2017 Cubs leadoff hitters posted a .324 OBP. In 2018, a bit better, .366, but so far in 2019 that number has been pretty bad at .306. The overall N.L. leadoff OBP is .327 and the .306 ranks tied for 24th in the major leagues (oddly enough, with the Brewers).
So there has to be some improvement, obviously. I’d think one of the things the Cubs are targeting for a potential trade is someone who can fill this role (I’m looking at you, Whit Merrifield). But until and unless that happens, what should the Cubs do?
The very first thing they ought to do is get Kyle Schwarber out of that spot. I was one of those who thought Schwarber might make a good leadoff hitter due to his excellent eye for the strike zone. I thought he might draw lots of leadoff walks to get the offense going.
This has not happened. In 47 games (212 PA) leading off for the Cubs, Schwarber has posted a .311 OBP. That’s just not going to cut it. Sure, he’s hit 13 home runs since he was given the leadoff spot on May 16 for a .500 SLG, but the Cubs are 21-26 since he became the fulltime leadoff hitter. Note that I’m not suggesting Schwarber leading off is the only cause of that bad record in games he’s led off, but it certainly has not helped.
Through May 15, the Cubs had scored 214 runs, or 5.35 per game. Since that date: 241 runs, or 4.82 per game. Again, this is not all Schwarber’s fault. But the Cubs have to get someone at the top of the order who can jumpstart the offense.
I’m here to tell you that until and unless they deal for someone, the Cubs ought to put Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot. Not forever, but certainly for now. He appears to enjoy doing it, and he hits tremendously well leading off: .320/.416/.586 in 47 games (46 starts) in the No. 1 spot in the batting order, with 11 home runs in 202 plate appearances.
They don’t really have anyone else who could do well in this spot on the current active roster, with the possible exception of Kris Bryant, who has the same on-base skills that Rizzo does. Bryant (.403) and Rizzo (.384) have the top OBPs on the current Cubs roster — why not use those skills to get them on base and jump-start the offense?
At one point in 2017, Rizzo hit three leadoff home runs in a seven-game span.
One thing Joe Maddon should do, if he does go with Rizzo or Bryant at leadoff, is hit someone like Addison Russell or David Bote ninth. That would potentially give Rizzo or Bryant more RBI opportunities after their first at-bat.
But please, get Schwarber out of the leadoff spot and hit him fifth or sixth, where he can do more damage with home runs. He’s not cut out for it. Rizzo or Bryant might be, and for now, I’d choose Rizzo.
Who should lead off for the Cubs when play resumes after the break?
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Someone else (leave in comments)