The Winter Meetings aren’t just a time for rumors and transactions. They’re also a time for managers and executives to say completely peaceable and vanilla things that definitely won’t make people freak out and …
Maddon says Schwarber is “arguably in the best shape of his life.” Didn’t rule him out as a lead off guy, if he’s “hitting like he can.” Wants to see all available candidates.
— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) December 12, 2017
BREATHE! BREATHE MY FRIENDS!
In all seriousness, there’s very little else for Maddon say as we sit here in mid-December. Unless the organization is categorically going to say Schwarber absolutely cannot possibly hit leadoff again after last season, then the best course is to kinda just say that everything is on the table.
For those who forgot or managed to erase it from their memories using strategically-placed Q-tips, last year’s controversial decision to go with Schwarber as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter did not go well. The offense didn’t quite click in Schwarber’s time at the top, and he himself struggled enough to get himself briefly demoted to AAA Iowa.
In games in which Schwarber led off, his numbers were definitely mixed. The slash line and wRC+ were ugly (.185/.304/.356, 75), but the walk rate (13.5%), strikeout rate (28.1%), and groundball rate (44.3%) weren’t abysmal.
Schwarber was hurt most by a .228 BABIP, which was in turn hurt by an unusually high infield fly ball rate (12.5%). Is that because he was getting outside of himself? More like a slugger than a hitter, as Theo Epstein would later suggest? And if he was getting outside of himself, how much of that had to do with being tasked with leading things off? It’s easy enough to tell a guy to not let it affect his approach and just be himself up there, but it’s quite another thing to pull it off when you’re used to being a hulking middle-of-the-order run-producer.
It is for that collection of reasons (not any traditional notion of having to utilize a “true” leadoff hitter) that I’d be a little queasy about the Cubs going with Schwarber in the leadoff role again. Just let the guy get stabilized after an up and down year in 2017, which ended on a very high note.
When rubber meets the road, I’d be very surprised if Kyle Schwarber is batting leadoff in Miami for the Cubs on Opening Day.
Who actually will lead off? Eh, I tend to think it’ll depend on which players are going that day, who’s on the mound, etc. That is to say, as I sit here today, I’m not so sure the Cubs will have a “set” leadoff hitter. And I’m fine with that if the roster looks pretty much like it does now.