Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

rizzo bryantBruce Bochy is no stranger to making the right call on tough decisions.

He has juggled bullpens, lineups, high-priced veterans, hungry rookies and matched wits with the best of them over the course of his 21-year managerial career that has yielded more than 1,600 wins. Bochy, the 1996 National League Manager of the Year award winner, has managed four pennant winners and three World Series champions. Clearly, he knows what he is doing.

His next challenge will be putting together a lineup good enough to clinch home field advantage for the NL in the World Series. Fan voting sets most of the line-up for the early part of the game, but leaves on question to be asked.

Who will Bochy choose to play the role of designated hitter?

Naturally, that spawns more questions.

Could Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant or two-time All-Star Anthony Rizzo be Bochy’s choice? Is either the ideal candidate for that job?

Bochy will have his pick of the litter when it comes time to make a decision. There are 13 reserve hitters on the National League’s bench, nine of whom rank in the top 20 in weighted on-base average among qualifying batters. Of course, Rizzo (3rd) and Bryant (12th) rank highly on that list of leaders.

Yasmani Grandal, whose .397 wOBA would rank fifth among all NL hitters, would make a tenth if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboard. But since he is one of three catchers on the roster, it is unlikely Bochy would burn one as a designated hitter. That likely removes Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina from consideration, as well.

Of the 11 non-catchers at Bochy’s disposal off the bench are six players who rank in the top-20 in Defensive Runs Saved.

Neither Bryant, nor Rizzo made this list.

Bryant is the more versatile of the two, having played third base, left field and center field this season. But his -1 DRS could be enough to sway Bochy away from putting Bryant in the field, even if  his 4.2 UZR ranks third among NL third basemen and seventh among all major leaguers at the position.

Rizzo is a bit more limited defensively than Bryant, as he is a true first baseman. But with Paul Goldschmidt starting and Adrian Gonzalez owning a higher DRS  and UZR, maybe Rizzo is better slotted as a designated hitter.

Still, if the game is pitched to the public as one that matters, shouldn’t defense matter here? If it does, the NL is in good hands and could allow one of the Cubs’ most popular players get four at-bats without having to take the field.

Nolan Arenado (15) is the best of the bunch and his defensive prowess at the hot corner could come in handy in the later innings.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford (11) and center fielder A.J. Pollock (10) each play premier defensive spots in the middle of the diamond. Further, left fielder Justin Upton (8) and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (6) have the best DRS numbers among the All-Stars at their positions.

And while Joe Panik’s DRS number (2) isn’t impressive, his Ultimate Zone rating of 3.4 is the fourth best among his NL peers at second base. Joc Pederson also checks in with a UZR that ranks among the five best NL center fielders.

Surely, Bochy would prefer to lean on their defense late in a close ball game.

Andrew McCutchen isn’t having a great year defensively, by statistical standards. The Pirates center fielder currently sits with a -0.1 dWAR, -2 DRS and -2.4 UZR. However, he is only three years removed from a Gold Glove season and two years removed from posting a 1.0 dWAR. So, it is not as if he has a history of being a butcher in the field.

By this process of elimination, Rizzo and Bryant are left as the two most ideal candidates in a pool full of elite hitters.

And because of Rizzo’s defensive limitations, he might be the man for the job.

Offensively, Rizzo has been one of baseball’s best hitters in high leverage situations, where he was slashing a robust .467/.564/.767/1.331 entering the weekend. His .542 wOBA and 254 wRC+ in high-leverage spots are the best in the National League.

The American League has five left-handed pitchers on their roster, including ace closers Zach Britton and Glen Perkins. Rizzo has shown the ability to handle left-handers, owning a .951 OPS and a .421 wOBA against fellow southpaws before the beginning of Friday’s series against the White Sox.

That innate ability could make him the best candidate to receive four at-bats in a game full of players worthy of getting that honor.

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