Even as the game was rained out, we can still glean a little something from yesterday’s Cubs performance. No, I am not making a “they didn’t strike out even once!” joke. I’m talking about the fact that Ben Zobrist, and not Albert Almora, was slated to lead off against a lefty.
Given Almora’s already-demonstrated ability against lefties, and given Zobrist’s massive struggles against them last year, it’s fair to say that Joe Maddon electing to put Zobrist up there says a whole lot about where Maddon believes Zobrist is right now.
To be sure, Zobrist has hit well so far this year in a nothing sample (.364/.500/.455 in 14 plate appearances), but what matters more is how he’s looked at the plate. Not only does he look as comfortable as ever, but he’s really squared the ball up so far, including deep, hard drives from the right side of the plate – something he was simply not able to do last year because of an early wrist injury.
You don’t see too many soon-to-be 37-year-old hitters regain power after a wrist injury (especially guys whose power largely comes from those wrists), but maybe Zobrist is going to pull it off. Of his 10 balls in play this year, just one was “soft,” while six were “hard.” Maybe Zobrist gets back to the guy he was for so many years before last season (120-ish wRC+), and becomes a key bat in the lineup going forward. But that’s a conversation for several weeks from now, right?
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
Joe Maddon already likes what he sees, feeling Zobrist is healthy, and tells the Tribune that he believes in the “hot hand,” suggesting that Zobrist getting a look at leadoff was partly about just carrying forward what he’s been doing in this young season. You may well see him up there again this weekend, then, against the Brewers. And you may see him starting more regularly overall.
It will be very interesting to see how the various position player rotations play out if Zobrist is hitting too well to sit too frequently. We could see Happ sit a little bit more (with Jason Heyward sliding over the center, and opening up right field for Zobrist), and Javy Baez may sit a bit more, too, coming into games later on for defense. It’s great to have options, but, as always, this early part of the season will see a lot of fluctuation as guys settle into roles (even as the Cubs recognize they also have to consider young player development).