Oh this is gonna be fun.
Today, we have some actual, real life, 2017 baseball stuff to discuss: The Lineup!
And considering that constructing one’s own lineup is everyone’s favorite offseason, message board activity – after proposing theoretical trades for Mike Trout, that is – this should be good.
Back on the December 7, we learned that Kyle Schwarber may be set to take over Dexter Fowler’s spot a top of the Cubs batting order in 2017.
And not a week later, Jed Hoyer indicated his support for that plan, suggesting that Schwarber’s professional approach at the plate – and the added bonus of starting every game off with Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo – may be too attractive to pass up.
And then just after that, we really landed on something good when Brett proposed a flexible top four in the order, wherein Ben Zobrist would lead off against left-handed pitchers, and Kyle Schwarber would lead off against righties. It’s a good plan and the reasoning stretches beyond having the platoon advantage (you should check that out).
But the preferences of me, Brett, and even Jed Hoyer (to some extent) are all less important than the ideas of one, sometimes unpredictable, man and manager, Joe Maddon. Recently, Maddon shared his vision for the Cubs lineup against right-handed pitchers at ESPN and Cubs.com, at least as it exists today:
- Kyle Schwarber, LF (L)
- Kris Bryant, 3B (R)
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B (L)
- Ben Zobrist, 2B (S)
- Addison Russell, SS (R)
- Jason Heyward, RF (L)
- Wilson Contreras, C (R)
- Jon Jay, CF (L)
First, let’s tackle some of the more obvious items. Schwarber is leading off, as rumored, and Bryant/Rizzo stay fixed in the two and three spots of the order. Zobrist and Russell are in the same spots they were for most of last season, but Jason Heyward is hitting a bit higher than he did by the end of last year.
Which brings me to my first point, the balance of the lineup.
Maddon has never hidden his preference to alternate lefties and righties in the order, and with two switch-hitters last season (Zobrist and Dexter Fowler), it was never much of a challenge, either. This year, of course, Fowler is in St. Louis, BUT he’s being replaced by a platoon of Albert Almora and Jon Jay (and sometimes Jason Heyward). That means that although neither one is a switch hitter, the Cubs should still get the platoon advantage against starting pitchers, and can alternate handedness nearly as often as they did last season.
However, neither Almora nor Jay, as we pointed out, will be leading off like Fowler did. Instead, Maddon may elect to move the pitcher back into the eighth spot of the order, and plop his center fielders down in the nine-hole – like he did (with various players) for much of 2015. Maddon’s reasoning, however, has more to do with his new leadoff hitter, Kyle Schwarber, than anything else.
With Jay and his .352 career on base percentage in the ninth spot of the order, Kyle Schwarber should get a few more chances with at least one runner on base than he would otherwise. By that logic, however, why not do this last year? Well, Schwarber is a lot more of a slugger than Dexter Fowler is/was, so hitting with runners already on base could be potentially much more important for the former than the latter.
But if you’re more of a traditionalist, fear not: Maddon hasn’t quite committed to this structure just yet. Instead, he suggested that he’ll allow “the geeks” take look at it first, before making any decisions.
And that likely goes for the entire lineup.
Consider that, while balancing lefties and righties is important, the overall performance of each player will dictate where and often they bat, as well. I’m tentatively expecting a nice bounce back year at the plate for Jason Heyward, but if his bat doesn’t come all the way back around and Willson Contreras continues to obliterate baseballs … well, then maybe the lefty/righty thing goes out the window after the front four. In addition, this lineup is obviously missing Javy Baez, but Maddon is well aware of his young second baseman, and implied to ESPN and Cubs.com that Baez will get plenty of starts and will always be kept in mind.
But as far as January lineups go … I have to admit it: I like this one quite a bit.
If everyone simply played to their career norms – which is not really that bold of a presumption, given the youth in the lineup (i.e. no one should be past their peak, besides maybe Zobrist (and I won’t bet against that guy anytime soon)) – then the first seven spots of the lineup are basically occupied by All-Stars. After that you have the pitcher, which every NL team deals with, and a nice center field platoon with a mix of on-base skills (Jay) and contact skills (Albert Almora).
It’s like I’ve somehow forgotten that this team was the best team in baseball last year, and projects to be about the same once again. Come on, spring.