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.┬áThe 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.

  • wax_eagle

    The order doesn’t matter if these guys hit, bat them in alphabetical order for all I care, just get them hitting and runs will take care of themselves.

  • Hogan

    Spot on eval Ace, I am not expecting much offensive production from Byrd (love the guy, plays the game right imo, but with his build he you would think he would be more of a slugger). Defense aside, an outfield of Soriano, Colvin and Fukudome would be the most productive, at least until Fukudome hits his typical slide a month or to in.

    • coolness

      If Byrd is going to be reduced to the role of 4th OF while picking up starts against lefties, would it not been better to have traded him in the offseason? I highly doubt Byrd will be modest about his reduction in playing time, especially since he was our best OF’er last season.

      Furthermore, if Jackson has a Colvin-esque spring training this year (which the Cubs seem to hope and expect to happen), you are telling Byrd he is no longer needed on this team.

      I would rather bat Castro leadoff against righties, Byrd and Colvin in center and right, and keep Fukudome on the bench for the later innings.

      We have tried Fukudome for three years now, if he was such a good leadoff hitter, we wouldn’t have to have discussions as to who will be giving that spot.

      • wax_eagle

        In a word Yes. We should have traded Byrd this off season. He is projected to regress pretty significantly and he was really good last season so his value is probably as high as its going to get. Having not traded him at this point all we can hope for is a good first half so we can get some value for him at the deadline (with another year on his deal we should be able to get some decent return).

        But keeping him does provide some insurance if Jackson isn’t ready and if Dome has his typical post April collapse.

      • terry

        I totally agree.We need someone like Casto or Jackson leading off that can actually steal bases.Casto only stoled ten last year but with his speed I think he could at least double that leading off.

        • KB

          Castro leading off would make sense. I suspect that Quade is worried about his youth and the pressure of being the lead-off man, and thus pinning his hopes on Fuk.

          Jackson will probably never have a good enough OBP to be a true leadoff hitter. We can hope.

          Fuk is the best we’ve got. Lofton-esque qualities are much more rare than you’d think…Lofton himself was a a HOF talent, and I will bet that he starts to get a considerable push from stat-heads once Raines finally gets in. Go look up Lofton’s career WAR sometime.

          GO FUK!!!!!!

        • Dennis

          I think Terry has excellent insight as to why Starlin Castro would make a good lead-off man. Hey Terry, have you ever thought about managing? Obviously you think you could do a better job than Quade!

  • jim

    So what if Kosuke slumps in June, and the whole line-up/gameplan has to get shifted? I agree with you Ace this whole outfield situation is going to take some stones. Who knows, some competition may be a good thing…

    • Philoe Beddoe

      This article gives me some hope that Quade may actually have it right…in one of my earlier posts I showed just how poor(statistically) Soriano and to some extent Byrd are against RHP’s. Soriano can not hit an average MLB slider from a righty…and a good righty will just eat him up. Platoon..Platoon…Platoon..Baker/DeWitt, Soriano ONLY against lefites and soft(real soft) tossing Righties…probably same with Byrd…if Perez shows anything in the spring..playing Perez, Colvin and Fuku in the OF wouldn’t be bad…..contracts and their “feelings” shouldn’t matter…Soriano is done and Byrd was only good by comparison last year…he was sort of like a “king of the dipshits”

      • coolness

        Byrd was 4th among all CF’s with 39 doubles and 170 hits, I dont know if you can say he was only good “by comparison” last season when was one of the more productive CF’ers last season.

        • wax_eagle

          Byrd’s numbers last season were good (like top 40 position players in baseball good). However, this is not typical for Byrd. It was a career year and he is projected to regress sharply this year. Honestly I’d like to have seen the Cubs trade him and get some value to clear up the logjam in the outfield and let some younger guys play, but regardless I don’t anticipate Byrd being as good as we he was last year.

          • Ace

            Byrd also regressed badly as the season wore on.

            For my part, if there are 1600 or so plate appearances to go around in the outfield this year (should be slightly more), I’d like to see something like 450 going to Soriano, 425 going to Colvin, 425 going to Fukudome, and 300 going to Byrd.

  • Bric

    I’ve always thought Fuk belongs in the one spot more than anywhere he’s batted. He’s got a great eye, as most players coming from the Asian leagues do. The only concern I’ve always has is his reluctance to try to bunt his way on. He’ll square up occasionally as if he wants to but ralely actually puts the ball down. I’ve always thought it was more of a coaching decision to try to scare the defense (but not actually commit to it). In any case it rarely raised eybrows for more than a second or two and would eventually lead to him being behind in the count and striking out looking on a borderline strike. If he is going to lead off, I say let him lay one down a couple of times just to see what would happen. If he can’t do it due to execution we’ll know immediately. Then he can stop trying to rattle the defense, because it isn’t working anyway.