In recent years, Chicago Cubs fans have come to dwell on “the lineup” much more than most. Geovany Soto is hitting WHERE? Aramis Ramirez is still batting WHERE?!
It is entirely possible that this kind of hate-hate relationship begins at the top. The subject of the Cubs’ leadoff hitter has been a particularly sore one for fans in recent years. Whether it was Lou Piniella’s miscasting Alfonso Soriano or mis-evaluating Ryan Theriot, or Dusty Baker’s belief that “walks clog up the bases,” the leadoff spot has been a black-hole that sucks in all things you’d want to see in a leadoff hitter, and spits them out in another dimension. For this reason, every lineup decision, I suspect, was magnified.
So why not keep that tradition alive, eh?
New manager Mike Quade seems to be a straight shooter, and he’s already suggested a couple things about the leadoff spot: he doesn’t envision one particular leadoff hitter, and he really likes Jeff Baker batting leadoff against lefties (as he should). But what about the other 80% of the time?
The leading candidate, according to Quade, is Kosuke Fukudome.
“Of all the guys on the roster, if (Kosuke) Fukudome is in the lineup, he makes the most sense,” Quade said last week, as transcribed by George Castle. “I’m looking for someone to get on base,” said Quade, ranking OBP as his primary yardstick, void of the other Lofton-esque leadoff prerequisites. “He can run a bit. He sees a lot of pitches. He finished pretty darn good. When Kosuke’s playing, he figures to be a guy very comfortable at leadoff.”
Those reasons for choosing Fukudome, I reckon, are music to Cubs fans’ ears. Gets on base? Holla. Sees a lot of pitches? Holla. Can run, but that’s clearly not the primary decider? HOLLA.
And, of course, Quade is right. Fukudome, for all his flaws, is a good bet to lead the team in OBP – he’s got a stellar .368 OBP for his career, and was at .371 last year. When he’s facing a righty, his OBP shoots up to .374; so, once again, Quade’s apparent thoughts on the subject – Fukudome leads off against righties, Baker leads off against lefties – are spot on in my book. Quade is poised to make the right (on paper) decision.
But the unstated issue in the plan? If Kosuke Fukudome is starting against all righties, when does Tyler Colvin – the nominal starter – get his playing time? Settling that issue will be a tricky one for Quade, and will probably take some balls – because the answer is that Colvin and Fukudome *both* need to be in the lineup against the majority of right-handers. That means one of veterans Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd will have to sit on a semi-regular basis. As I said, it will take balls – but it’s the right decision. Now Quade just has to make it.