I can’t help myself but state, at the outset – and the closure – of these types of discussions, that the Cubs have played seven games this year. Seven. That’s 4.3% of the season. That’s like, less than 3/4 of one football game in an NFL season.
At ESPNChicago, Jesse Rogers writes that 24-year-old outfielder Junior Lake “sounds frustrated” by a lack of playing time this year thanks to Renteria’s platoon system. Lake tells Rogers that he wants to play every day (or close to it), and that he feels he can hit lefties and righties equally well. Lake also mentioned that it can be hard to make adjustments if you’re not seeing a lot of pitches each day.
That’s all fair stuff, and the kind of thing I’d expect a young, talented player to say. I’m not sure I’d characterize any of that as “frustration,” but I wasn’t there. You can read Rogers’ piece for more on Lake and platooning.
For my part, I just wanted to address Lake, specifically, since the Olt/Lake platoon discussion has tended to skew Olt-heavy over this first week.
After tonight’s game, Lake will have started in half of the Cubs’ games. With a deep bench and an outfield full of match-up types (including three lefties, plus Emilio Bonifacio), starts were always going to be tough to get in the early going this year, until some things sorted themselves out. Lake is an extremely talented young player with tons of upside, but he’s also got a ton of refinement needed in his game. When the Cardinals ease a kid in like that with favorable match-ups, they’re lauded for “doing things the right way.” When the Cubs do it, they’re railed on for not playing the youngsters (nevermind that Ryan Kalish, one of the primary guys who’s been starting against righties, is just two years older than Lake, and is about the same age in terms of playing age).
So far, in seven games, Junior Lake has appeared in … seven games. That’s right, he’s played in every single game this season. That’s true of only four other Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Emilio Bonifacio, and (get this) Mike Olt. No, pinch hitting appearances are not the same thing as a full-on start, but it’s game action. It’s time at the plate. It’s a chance to look good executing an approach, even if it doesn’t result in a hit.
And, so far, things have been working fairly well for Lake. He’s hitting .278/.350/.389 (104 OPS+), although, admittedly, most of that damage has come off of righties (sample sizes, and all that). That is to say, so far, in this tiny stretch of games to start the year (during which Lake has sat primarily against heavy-sinker guys who are brutal on right-handers), there’s very little to be upset about.
If Lake is still showing well in the field when he plays, and still has that OPS+ over 100 come mid-May (far from a lock, given the downside risk), and at that point he’s not starting three out of four games? Then we can talk about a need to rethink the Lake approach.
Seven games. Tonight is eight.