Even as we’re a couple days out from Opening Day, we could probably take a pretty accurate stab at the Cubs’ lineup against the Marlins:
- Ian Happ, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Addison Russell, SS
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javy Baez, 2B
- Jon Lester, P
The top five there are a relative lock, and although I suppose there is some play in the next three, I think that’s how it’ll go. And Joe Maddon told the Tribune that he does like to have Baez in that 8th spot, offering up a slightly different rationale that we usually think of: “The pitcher is behind you. Until he develops the eye you’re looking for, it’s not a bad spot where you can turn him loose. And the ball may end up in the seats, as opposed to trying to get on base for the pitcher. It’s really not a bad spot.”
Interesting. Typically we think of a guy like Baez – an aggressive swinger who rarely takes a walk – batting 8th because he’s likely to see slightly more balls than a typical hitter. The opposing pitcher would be loathe to give in to the 8th place hitter, knowing that he’d be better off – in some situations – walking that guy and taking his chances with the opposing pitcher. And moreover, when a pinch hitter lurks, that 8th hitter might actually see better pitches than you’d otherwise expect.
In other words, we think about Baez batting 8th in terms of the impact it has on Baez, himself. Force a little more discipline on him, and then give him chances later on in the game. And although I think those considerations are not altogether absent, Maddon offers a totally different take: you might be OK with that guy expanding his zone a little bit for one last chance to drive in runners before the pitcher comes up to the plate. Accept your walks? Well, that’s fine, but if you can take a hack at a borderline pitch instead, maybe you’d prefer that. And Baez, with his free-swinging ways, is arguably the very best bad-ball hitter (when he makes contact) on the team.
It’s kind of like a second clean-up hitter. A different kind of clean-up hitter.
So, then, expect to see Baez batting 8th frequently to start the season, until and unless he shows he’s functionally a different hitter, and a guy who needs to be bumped up as high as that 6th spot.