Cubs

Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

Here's a hot take for you: Kris Bryant should be the Cubs' everyday leadoff man.

It might seem too "out there," even for Joe Maddon. And it certainly wouldn't be a conventional choice.

But maybe — just maybe — it would be the best thing for this Cubs roster. 

Since Dexter Fowler left, the Cubs have had a revolving door atop their batting order — ranging from Kyle Schwarber to Jon Jay to Ian Happ to Ben Zobrist to Albert Almora Jr. to Daniel Murphy. And we can't forget the Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time: Anthony Rizzo.

After tabbing Schwarber and Happ as "the guy" the last two springs, respectively, Maddon and the Cubs have decided not to name anybody the main leadoff hitter for 2019 and instead plan to play matchups, with Zobrist seeing a lot of time against right-handed pitchers and Almora in there against lefties.

That approach is totally fine — the Cubs did the same thing last year and wound up leading the National League in average, on-base percentage and wRC (weighted runs created) out of the leadoff spot. 

But Cubs players have also been vocal about the desire for a bit more stable lineups and in order for that to happen, it has to start at the top.

Maddon and Co. are going the way of a platoon at leadoff because they have nobody on the roster they feel can fill the role every day, setting the table for the heart of the order (Bryant, Rizzo and Javy Baez) consistently.

 

But what if they simply move that heart of the order up a spot?

Hitting Bryant-Rizzo-Baez 1-2-3 would ensure the Cubs' three best hitters would bat in the first inning of every game and come up to the plate more times than any other hitter in the Cubs lineup. Imagine being an opposing starting pitcher and you're just trying to get a feel for what's working on a given day, trying to get settled in and instead you have to go up against the 2016 NL MVP, a perennial MVP candidate and the 2018 NL MVP runner-up back-to-back-to-back.

Plus, hitting Bryant first forces the opposition to either give him a good pitch to hit or risk walking him and putting a runner on base with nobody out in front of the Cubs top two RBI guys. Bryant has a career .542 slugging percentage with the bases empty, which can help stake the Cubs to an early lead in games either via homer or an extra-base hit that immediately puts a runner in scoring position with nobody out. 

All told, Bryant is the Cubs' top on-base guy and also one of the team's best baserunners — two hugely important skills to capably fill the leadoff role. 

Now, the leadoff guy doesn't only come to the plate with nobody out and nobody on. They're really only "leading off" once a game. 

So beyond the first inning, there are ways the Cubs can take advantage of this lineup maneuvering. 

For starters, they can hit the pitcher eighth, as Maddon is prone to doing anyways. The 9-hole could be a great spot for guys like Almora or Bote or Descalso, depending on the matchup. That would place an extra hitter in front of Bryant so he's not always immediately following the pitcher's spot.

Bryant is the Cubs' best all-around hitter, but he actually struggles with runners in scoring position.

During his rookie season of 2015, he hit .292 with a .906 OPS with runners in scoring position.

From the start of 2016 on, Bryant has hit only .257 with a .455 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, never posting a season batting average higher than .273 in such situations (2018). Compare that to Rizzo and Baez, who hit .297 and .278, respectively, with runners in scoring position a year ago.

This isn't a huge deal, obviously, as Bryant still puts up amazing numbers (when he's not hurt). 

It also wouldn't be a huge jump for Bryant to move from the No. 2 spot (where he normally hits) to leadoff because it'd only be a slight drop-off in RBI opportunities. Last season, the Cubs leadoff hitters came up to the plate 151 times with runners in scoring position compared to 162 such instances for the No. 2 hitters. (Incidentally, both ranked at the bottom in the 2018 Cubs lineup in terms of sheer RBI opportunities.)

 

Would Bryant be OK moving up to the leadoff spot? It probably wouldn't be a tough sell, as he led off some in college and has always been fine with moving around the diamond defensively. 

He also thrives with a "pass the baton" mentality at the plate and has talked about how he feels best when he's simply trying to not make outs and keep the line moving for the next guy. That's the exact mindset a leadoff hitter should have.

So why not Rizzo as the full-time leadoff guy? He checks a lot of the same boxes we rattled off here for Bryant.

The simple answer to that is the handedness of the Cubs' top hitters. Going Bryant-Rizzo-Baez means righty-lefty-righty — which Maddon and Co. like, as it makes it harder to match up against (especially in the latter innings). 

A healthy Bryant returning to the Cubs lineup is going to be a huge boost no matter where he hits. But maybe he could help the team most hitting leadoff.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.