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For Pete’s sake, Joe, put Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot and leave him there

The Cubs have a leadoff problem. They also have a solution. Why not use it?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs leadoff hitters are batting .210/.287/.390 this season.

In a word, that’s BAD. The .287 OBP is dead last in the major leagues this year, and only the woeful Tigers (.293) are close.

Compare that to the .381 leadoff OBP the Cubs had in the World Series championship season, the season of “you go, we go” of Dexter Fowler, and you’ll see one of the biggest reasons the Cubs offense is having trouble scoring runs this year.

Now, I’m not suggesting the Cubs go out and reacquire Fowler. It’s three years later, that ship has sailed, and Fowler wouldn’t be the solution (though his .349 OBP would certainly be more than adequate leading off).

The Cubs have employed 10 (!) different players in the leadoff spot this year. Here they are, with the number of games they have been a starter in the leadoff spot, and their OBP in that spot. (Note: I have eliminated games in which these hitters were inserted into the No. 1 spot in the batting order after the game started, thus they were not the “leadoff hitter” for that game. That accounts for fewer than five plate appearances.)

Cubs leadoff hitters, 2019

Name Games started at leadoff OBP
Name Games started at leadoff OBP
Kyle Schwarber 56 .304
Jason Heyward 27 .279
Ben Zobrist 14 .302
Albert Almora Jr. 14 .231
Daniel Descalso 11 .320
Robel Garcia 3 .067
Anthony Rizzo 2 .556
Javier Baez 1 .200
Tony Kemp 1 .000
Willson Contreras 1 .000

Well, that’s just... bad. Granted that some of those are very small sample sizes, it’s still bad. Not one of these hitters has done well leading off games in 2019. Ben Zobrist has had some success there career-wise (.338 career in the leadoff spot), but not this year.

What number sticks out to you there? Why, it’s the .556 OBP posted by Anthony Rizzo leading off games this season.

Yes, I know. It’s two games. Rizzo went 1-for-2 with two walks in this game, which the Cubs won, and 2-for-5 with a home run in this game, which the Cubs would have won if not for some sketchy bullpen work.

But I have a bit larger sample size for you — Rizzo’s career numbers batting leadoff. He’s started at the leadoff spot in 47 games in his career and hit .341/.417/.601 (56-for-173) with 12 home runs. Of those 12, four of them led off the game. Here is the Cubs’ record with Rizzo leading off:

2017: 6-8
2018: 18-13
2019: 1-1
TOTAL: 25-22 (.532)

And, as noted, that loss this year should really have been a win.

This is what happened [VIDEO] the very first time Rizzo ever led off a game.

And this is what happened [VIDEO] the very next day — on the first pitch of the game, no less.

I mean, look at the smile on Rizzo’s face! He seems to embrace the leadoff spot and does well there, and in general, the team tends to win when he’s in that spot in the batting order. If Joe Maddon does go ahead and do this, the best additional move would be to move the pitcher to the eighth spot, so that when Rizzo comes to the plate in subsequent at-bats, there would be a position player hitting ahead of him.

Some of you might say, “Rizzo’s too slow for the leadoff spot.” I’ll counter that with: The “speedy leadoff guy” thing is best left in the 1970s, when it might have mattered. What matters now is having a guy there who can work a count and get on base. How often have we seen the Cubs’ first hitter in the first inning swing at the first pitch and ground out? Rizzo won’t do that.

The Cubs have struggled to score runs all year, even though they still rank sixth in the National League in runs (638, on pace for 795, which would be 34 more runs than the 2018 Cubs scored). Putting Rizzo in the leadoff spot, a very non-traditional choice, could energize the team at the very time they need that.

C’mon, Joe. Do it, for the balance of this season at least. How much worse could the results be?


Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot...

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