Here we are at the end of January, trying to avoid work while awaiting the coming of Spring Training. We’ve talked at length about the tall mountain the Cubs must climb to not just be plucky underdogs but actually get into the postseason, and a lot of that is because of the barely above average offense they have constructed. There are likely ways to upgrade the roster come midseason, whether a call up or a trade, and there have been attempts to cobble together an “optimal” lineup from what we have to work with. I guess with what is available, with the expectation to just try to get better next year somehow while treading water this year, the lineup from the previous post is likely the best we can do for now.
I have seen a number of different lineup projections from various outlets and everyone seems to have their own idea of who might work best as a leadoff hitter, or they just decide to throw a guy there and hope it works. This is also motivated by the announcement that Dexter Fowler is retiring, and not so coincidentally, aside from Anthony Rizzo, Fowler was arguably the best leadoff hitter the Cubs have had in recent memory. Theoretically, it shouldn’t really matter who leads off because the lineup is a continuum that will continue to cycle throughout the game, but practically, a guy who can get on base, take the extra base, and generally set the table from that first plate appearance on is critical to an offense. I don’t think that type of player exists on this iteration of the Cubs roster, but someone has to bat first, so here we go.
For this exercise, I’m going to assume that the Cubs aren’t stupid enough to lead off with a pitcher now that Jon Lester is done (and you know, they have the designated hitter) nor any of the catchers because they’re not Jason Kendall (or even Willson Contreras) and you want those guys to have as few opportunities as possible to kill the rally (and I don’t mean with a homer). We can do this in sorta alphabetical order amongst the guys I think are most likely to make the team…
Ian Happ – Aside from the one season where he led off the entire regular season with a homer, I can’t recall a good memory of Happ as the leadoff option. I think he’s improved a bunch from both sides of the plate as a capable switch-hitter and not just a guy who bats righty every now and then, and has reduced his whiff rate significantly, but I think he should stay in the middle of the lineup (ditto Seiya Suzuki so let’s remove that possibility for now too). I wouldn’t rule it out, and Michael at BN has suggested Happ as the leadoff guy against righties while the other guy coming up does it against lefties…
Nico Hoerner – This is probably the best option now that I think about it. Nico has barely ever led off in his brief career, but he has good bat-on-ball skills, he seems to use all fields very well, he is pretty speedy when he’s healthy, and by default, there doesn’t appear to be any better options.
Eric Hosmer – one of the Marquee guys suggested it and I’m just going to say no, although as Berselius said on the Dreamcast one time, at least he can’t ground into a double play leading off. I’m just listing him here because someone who gets paid to do this stuff suggested it and I feel like it’s a bad idea.
Nick Madrigal – I desperately want to believe in Madrigal’s bat, but he is just such a limited player if the bat doesn’t play since he can barely play second base and a move to third base would expose the noodle arm. He also apparently increases his risk of injury because he runs like Barney from the Flintstones, and probably slower than they animated Barney on the old cartoons. *IF* the bat does play, at least he can get on base, but that might be a station-to-station strategy because I doubt he can be relied on to take that extra base consistently.
Dansby Swanson – Per his splits, Dansby has led off at times, more so than Bellinger, but his career stats at leadoff as well as last year’s stats suggest he doesn’t thrive in that role, so batting Dansby second as in most of the proposed lineups I’ve seen is probably the best.
Everyone else – Unless they have an insane Spring Training, I don’t think any of the other guys on the roster should bat leadoff, and arguably should be in Iowa. But the Cubs have to carry at least 13 position players so someone has to warm the bench, and we should reduce the chances that they’ll make an out. Of these guys, though, if he could ever stop striking out so much, Christopher Morel is probably the best option due to his positional flexibility, while the two lefties in Miles Mastrobuoni and Zach McKinstry would be the other options if they can reward the front office’s faith in their bats (at least until they’re optioned to Iowa or something).
So yeah, it’s probably Nico Hoerner ¯\_(ツ)_/¯