Cubs

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

MESA, Ariz. – The analytical and emotional sides of the brain – the Big Data influence and obvious intimidation factor – are leading Joe Maddon to this conclusion: Kyle Schwarber should be the leadoff guy for a thumping Cubs lineup.  
 
"Schwarber is the frontrunner," Maddon said Thursday at the Sloan Park complex. "You could always consider (Ben) Zobrist if you wanted to. You could talk about Jon Jay. I'd say they're the leaders in the clubhouse right now. But primarily I like the idea of 'Schwarbs.'"
 
Because that would fit the Bill Jamesian ideal of lineup construction – put your best hitters at the top to get them more at-bats – as well as force the opposing pitcher to worry about Schwarber, reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant and Silver Slugger Anthony Rizzo in the first inning.     
 
"None of it's attractive," Maddon said. "There's pause involved there, because if you don't want to pitch to him, then the guys coming up behind are really pretty interesting. It's formidable, so it's uncomfortable from the other side."
 
That left-right-left balance would set up the switch-hitting Zobrist, a World Series MVP known more for his patience, clutch-time nerves and contact skills than brute force.
 
"When people say cleanup hitter or third-place hitter, everybody's applying conventional means from several years ago," Maddon said. "My thinking is more: Better hitter, get on base and then who can actually protect Rizzo. Who's going to make them pitch to Rizzo as often as possible?" 
 
The conditionals: The Cubs are a deep team built around versatile players with a seven-month marathon in mind. Schwarber is coming off a traumatic knee injury that limited him to two regular-season games and designated-hitter duties during the World Series. Daily matchups and inevitable injuries will shape the lineup.   
 
Still, Maddon said 140 games "sounds like a nice number" for Schwarber, who has five homers and a 1.178 OPS in 51 career postseason plate appearances. 
 
"He's everyday, but you have to do that with some kind of foresight," Maddon said. "You don't want to beat him up and have that knee bark on him. You give him his day off probably against a tough left-hander you just don't want him to see. And then you just do something differently. But otherwise you'll see him up there." 
 
The Geek Department still needs to send more information to Maddon, but the Cubs are toying with the idea of again hitting the pitcher eighth, in front of the Jay/Albert Almora Jr. platoon. 
 
"I'm just waiting to hear back from the boys if there's a significant bump or difference in that or not projection-wise," Maddon said. "This would be theoretically perfect, in a sense, where either like Almora or Jon to Schwarber to KB. That's kind of nice. 
 
"The only concern I have there is who's hitting seventh. We have a nice lineup, so the seven-hole hitter then would lose some benefit by having the pitcher hitting eighth. So that's the give-and-take with something like that. And it has nothing to do with the eight-hole and hitting sooner and all that. My concern is who's hitting seventh and what that's going to do to that."

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."