Welcome to the Lead-Off Debate, Redux

For three years, the Chicago Cubs batting order has been a particularly contentious source of debate, with the placement of outfielder Alfonso Soriano dominating the discussion. He came to the team as a leadoff hitter – in name, anyway – but his performance has dictated that it simply isn’t for him anymore (if it ever was). Last year, the team turned to a variety of players to lead off, but predominantly it was Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome.

This year, the duo will once again be at the top of the order, but manager Lou Piniella has said only that they will be one and two. Which one actually leads off remains to be decided.

Although he only had 161 at-bats in the leadoff spot last, Fukudome led all National League leadoff men with a .404 on-base percentage. He hit only .269 there, but still drew 30 walks. Theriot hit .283 in 173 at-bats in the leadoff spot, with a .354 on-base percentage and 27 strikeouts with 18 walks.

But the Cubs’ lack of balance may force Piniella to bat Theriot first no matter what the numbers suggest. Batting one of only two left-handed hitting starters in the leadoff spot would give Piniella no balance whatsoever. Mike Fontenot would bat seventh if he starts at second, and if Jeff Baker plays second against some right-handers, Fukudome could be their only left-handed hitting position player.

“What are you gonna do?” Piniella said. “We tried to get left-handed. It didn’t (work). We’re just getting the best players we can, and that’s it.” Chicago Breaking Sports.

To me, the answer is so painfully obvious that it wouldn’t even bear discussion if it weren’t for Piniella’s tendencies to refuse to do the painfully obvious. When Fukudome is in the lineup, it is because there’s a righty on the mound. Fukudome sports a career .372 OBP against righties. Theriot’s career OBP against righties? .347. When Fukudome is out of the lineup, it is because there’s a lefty on the mound. Theriot’s career OBP against lefties? .386.

Does this really need more discussion? The answer as to which one leads off is: both of them.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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