The Cubs have had an issue at the top of their lineup for the last several years and a former MVP wants to be that solution. Word started to circulate from the Cubs reporters Wednesday morning that Kris Bryant told new manager David Ross he'd be willing to lead off and. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bryant "expects" to land that job.
I like this. In fact,.
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 with a traditional leadoff man in Dexter Fowler. Once he signed elsewhere in free agency, the roster was left without a good option at the top. Manager Joe Maddon tried to go with Kyle Schwarber to start the 2017 season and that temporarily ruined him. Since then it's been a revolving door and nothing has really stuck.
The most important thing from the leadoff spot is obviously on-base percentage. Here are the Cubs' OBPs from the top spot the last four seasons. Note that 2016 was predominantly Fowler and then the drop off without him.
2016: .381 (Fowler himself was .393)
Yes, last season was particularly pathetic from Cubs' leadoff hitters. The .212/.294/.383 slash should only be acceptable somewhere toward the bottom of the order. Not at the top spot for a contender. The league average line from the leadoff spot was .265/.335/.445 for what it's worth.
Now, some might be averse to such a move due to Bryant's power, but the Cubs have thump. Kyle Schwarber hit 38 home runs with a .531 slugging last year. Javier Baez hit 29 homers (in 138 games) with a .531 SLG. Anthony Rizzo was 27 and .520. Willson Contreras hit 24 long balls and .533 in just 105 games. After his extended minor-league stint, Ian Happ had 11 homers and a .564 slugging in 156 plate appearances.
Meantime, Bryant got on base at a .382 clip and has a career .385 OBP. He's widely known as one of the best baserunners in baseball, in terms of approach (taking the extra base and finding ways to score). Also, his speed is underrated. Per Statcast, Bryant was in the 78th percentile of sprint speed last season among all MLB runners (Fun fact: Fowler was in the 70th percentile and is actually slower). He led the NL with 121 runs scored in 2016. He scored 111 runs the following season and crossed the plate 108 times last year (he only played in 102 games in 2018).
The lineup construction with Bryant at the top looks pretty damn good, too.
- Kris Bryant, 3B (R)
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B (L)
- Javier Baez, SS (R)
- Kyle Schwarber, LF (L)
- Willson Contreras, C (R)
- Ian Happ, CF (S)
- Jason Heyward, RF (L)
- Second baseman (Nico Hoerner, David Bote, Jason Kipnis)
There's also the option of batting the second baseman ninth and giving Bryant someone to possibly drive in. That is especially enticing to me if it's Hoerner.
Of course, it's Feb. 19 and much can and will change. The point is simply that Bryant at the top with this lineup makes a lot of sense. It appears he could be the first Cub to step into the batter's box in the 2020 season.