Assuming Dexter Fowler doesn’t return, it will be interesting to see who leads off for the Cubs in 2016. As unpredictable as Joe Maddon’s lineups can be, we haven’t really seen him mix and match at the top of the order, mainly because he didn’t have to last year. Now without a true lead-off man, will he add that spot into the “wait and see each day” category or will he try to find a player to solidify it?
By the way, one of my pet peeves is when someone says: “The lead-off hitter only leads off once per game.” Yes, but he’s still “leading off” the rest of the lineup every time he steps up to the plate. You can’t tell me it’s only an important at-bat in the 1st inning. Okay, mini-rant over.
Let’s take a look at the realistic options for the lead-off spot:
Pros – Decent on-base percentage, can take a walk, high contact rate, switch-hitter.
Cons – His career-low OBP (.329) has come from the lead-off spot (minimum 100 AB’s) The Cubs might also want his good contact rate in a different spot, sandwiched between two high K-rate hitters.
Pros – Young, athletic, though not much evidence based on last year’s numbers. Could grow into a lead-off hitter in the future. More likely to hit 7th-9th again this year, but Maddon could roll the dice and try it.
Cons – Low OBP in rookie season, including just .275 when leading off an inning.
Pros – Works deep counts, decent OBP and K-rate, typically a tough out.
Cons – Doesn’t play against lefties, won’t be a starter to begin the season, but could become an everyday guy if and when someone hits the DL.
Pros – Solid everything (average, OBP, contact), stole 23 bases last year and will be the main stolen-base threat for the Cubs. Also has solid numbers in lead-off spot in over 500 career at-bats (.280/.354/.782).
Cons – The Cubs may see him fitting better in a different spot, perhaps the two or three-hole.
All things considered, Jason Heyward would be my pick for Cubs lead-off man. He’s easily the best “replacement” for Fowler’s 2015 production, but should be even better in terms of offensive output. Adam Wainwright may not think Heyward wants to be “the man” for this spot, but Joe Maddon might. Sorry, Waino.
Kyle Schwarber’s name has also been mentioned by some, but I don’t see that happening. He hasn’t hit lefties yet, and rather than chasing waterfalls, he’ll stick to launching balls into the rivers and the streets that he’s used to (If you get the reference, I won’t feel so old.)
If I were guessing, I would say Joe Maddon will want an everyday lead-off guy, but predicting Joe Maddon isn’t an easy thing to do. The Cubs’ skipper will have a lot of options with this lineup and it will be fun to watch him work his magic.
How about you, Cubs fans? Who would you like to see leading off in 2016?