Despite their overwhelmingly impressive collection of position players, the Chicago Cubs are going to use platoons a lot in 2017.
Heck. They may be using them precisely because of that impressive collection of hitters.
To be sure, none of the proposed platoons (which we’ll get to in a minute) are going to be of the strict variety – nothing about Joe Maddon screams strict – but they will be used more often than you might’ve otherwise expected from a team filled with All-Stars.
And one of the main reasons for those platoons is the switch-hitting and multi-positional, Ben Zobrist.
By most accounts, Zobrist will split time between left field (sharing with Kyle Schwarber against tough lefties) and second base (sharing with Javy Baez against tough righties). And if all three stay healthy and in these roles throughout the 2017, they may live up to MLB.com’s preseason ranking as two of the top five platoons in all of baseball.
At MLB.com, Mike Petriello ran through the top five expected MLB platoons for 2017 and the Cubs second base and left field, three-way platoon accounted 40% of the list.
- Cubs LF: Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist
- Dodgers RF: Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier
- Yankees 1B: Greg Bird and Tyler Austin
- Orioles RF: Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo
- Cubs 2B: Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez
The rankings above, however, are not subjective.
In fact, Petriello used the Steamer platoon split projections to spit out an expected, combined wOBA value for each duo (and threw in a 2016 equivalent for reference). The order you see above, then, was ranked according to those results (for the full set of wOBA numbers, 2016 player equivalents, and more analysis, head over to MLB.com).
The Cubs two platoons looked like this:
Left Field: .362 wOBA (2016 equivalent: Jonathan Lucroy)
Second Base: .344 wOBA (2016 equivalent: Adam Eaton)
In 2016, Jonathan Lucroy finished with a 123 wRC+, meaning that his bat was roughly 23% better than average, and Adam Eaton wasn’t too far behind him (115 wRC+). So, in short, the Cubs project to be well above average offensively in at least these two positions in 2016.
Because these two platoons share a player, Ben Zobrist, and will be led by a manager that loves to mix and match, this is actually a pretty important topic. Petriello does a nice job of explaining how playing time might work, and digs a little deeper into the numbers, so you should really take a look at his piece for more.
I imagine the Cubs will benefit greatly from such a combination of platoons, though it’s important to keep in mind, as I said up front, these will hardly be strict platoons. For today, it’s just fun to consider how very productive they would be. (Well, and how productive the trio of players will be, even if they are deployed in many other ways.)