There isn’t a lot that this Chicago Cubs roster doesn’t have. The team might not have a seasoned closer, they are missing a clear-cut ace, and they don’t have a clear leadoff hitter. We’ve seen quite a bit of people asking, who will be the Cubs leadoff hitter? Well, the name might surprise you.
Cubs leadoff hitter
Leadoff hitters have traditionally been high contact, patient, and speedy guys. They set the table, see a lot of pitches, and get on base at a rather high pace. There has been a sense that these hitters set the tone for the offense, “you go, we go,” was coined by Joe Maddon (maybe) when speaking of Dexter Fowler when he was in Chicago. As the leadoff man performs, the team performs.
We saw this in Dexter’s two seasons in Chicago. There seemed to be a certain flow to the Cubs offense that allowed the team to constantly pressure the opposing team’s pitcher.
The current Cubs roster doesn’t really have any players that fit this mold. In fact, they haven’t had that type of player since Fowler left following the 2016 World Series team. That is why Maddon attempted the Kyle Schwarber experiment and then moved to a platoon of Jon Jay, Ben Zobrist, and even Anthony Rizzo. While they sufficed, the offense didn’t exactly have the same flow as it did in 2016, even though they scored more runs in 2017.
2018 Cubs leadoff hitter
Joe will likely need to go an unorthodox route again in 2018. This roster doesn’t have a guy that you would scream, “he’s definitely a Cubs leadoff hitter!” There have been arguments all over social media on who the Cubs should bat leadoff. Some are in the Albert Almora camp, some are in the Ben Zobrist camp, some are still latching on to the pipe dream that they’ll acquire someone. It seems the only player fans don’t support as the Cubs leadoff hitter is Kyle Schwarber (however I would still give him a shot).
What if I told you the best option for the Cubs leadoff hitter is someone you probably don’t trust? What if I told you the 2018 Cubs leadoff hitter should be Jason Heyward?
Are you done laughing yet? Ok, cool.
There are a couple of reasons I suggest Heyward as a potential Cubs leadoff hitter. The first is, Heyward was extremely good in the first inning in 2017. His .292/.393/.542 slash line in the first was his best inning totals of the season. Leading off an inning Jason held a .292/.344/.371 slash line in 2017. The first inning was his second best inning in 2016 as well, getting on base at a higher clip than all but two other innings. Over the course of his career, he has hit more homers in the first inning and a .770 OPS which includes a .342 OBP.
If he were to reciprocate his 2017 first inning or leading off an inning performance, he will be more than fine as the Cubs leadoff hitter.
The other reason I suggest Jason Heyward as the 2018 Cubs leadoff hitter – PECOTA.
What is PECOTA you ask? Well, it is yet another prediction platform which has been a fairly trusted system on Baseball Prospectus. While PECOTA isn’t projecting an incredible season or a breakout year, they are projecting Heyward to return to career norms. Suggesting that Heyward will slash .258/.341/.400, he will certainly be just fine in the top spot in the Cubs lineup.
Another trusted prediction platform, ZiPS, suggests Heyward will hit .262/.335/.393 on the season. Again this is just fine for someone at the top of the lineup.
You don’t think that’s enough for a Cubs leadoff hitter?
Well, the Boston Red Sox leadoff hitter Mookie Betts finished 2017 with a .264 AVG and .344 OBP and they did just fine. Betts hits more homers that Heyward does, but the biggest thing the Cubs need is someone consistently getting on base. If Heyward hits the predictions he will do just fine.
The last factor is Chili Davis and the influence he will bring to Jason Heyward. He has already been working closely with Jason, they have reviewed the tape, and have spoken about mentality. One area that Chili can help is bringing Jason’s OBP closer to Davis’ career .360 mark. But another area that John Mallee attempted to tap into was Heyward’s power. That same power which allowed him to hit 27 home runs in 2012.
‘‘We’re trying to bring him back a little closer to that,’’ Davis said. ‘‘But I’m a hitting coach. I don’t see fastballs and sliders and all that anymore. It’s going to be up to him.
‘‘One thing we stress a lot every day with him is working with a purpose and working with focus and maintaining both of those two things. I like what I see right now.”
While power isn’t an essential part of a leadoff hitters repertoire, it certainly can help relieve some stress on other players in the lineup. If Jason can even bring his doubles total back up to career norms (averaged 26 a year before the 2017 season) that will certainly help. A Heyward that can get on base, drive a ball to the gap, and maintain a steady mentality at the plate will prove valuable in 2018.
Let’s hope that value begins to make that huge contract a little more tolerable.