Getting a healthy Kris Bryant back in the lineup bodes well for the Chicago Cubs. Now, they have to figure out where he’ll hit on a daily basis moving forward.
It’s no secret Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant is yet to put it all together this season with the bat. That is, as long as you’re using a special set of standards for the 2016 National League MVP. And, to be honest, that seems to be the case. By standards we’d apply to average big league players, Bryant is doing just fine. Sure, his power numbers aren’t there, but he’s far from a bust this year.
That lack of power can likely be explained by the shoulder injury that shelved Bryant of late. In 66 games prior to hitting the disabled list, the former first-rounder slashed .280/.383/.481 with an above-average 128 OPS+. Like I said, not really anything to complain about (although that doesn’t stop people who evaluate hitters solely on home runs and runs batted in).
In his absence All-Star utilityman Javier Baez filled in at the hot corner and hit third in the order on a near-daily basis. Jason Heyward occupies the number two hole in Joe Maddon‘s lineup more often than not. Why does this matter? Because in his career, Bryant has overwhelmingly hit in those two spots in the order.
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Now, issuing a binding resolution on where Bryant should hit in the lineup is near-impossible. Maddon makes it so with his constant defensive shuffling and re-ordering of the lineup on a daily basis. But, for argument’s sake, we’ll take a stab at figuring out where Bryant makes the most sense.
Let’s assume the top three spots in the order are locked up. Albert Almora, who has put up All-Star caliber numbers despite not even being on the ballot, leads off the majority of the time. Heyward and Baez follow in the two and three holes.
Protection in the heart of the order
For anyone saying Baez can and should move to another spot in the order, I have to stop you right there. This season, the Puerto Rican native has performed better out of the three-spot than any other place in the order, with a 1.036 OPS. In short, he’s not going anywhere while he’s hitting like that.
Bryant can, and likely will, slide into either the cleanup or five-hole spot. The oft-documented struggles of Anthony Rizzo make this even more likely, as it would offer the first baseman some further protection in the batting order.
In his career, KB has never hit a homer out of the cleanup spot. That’s not to say he’s struggling, as he carries a .912 OPS in 83 career plate appearances. Out of the fifth hole, the power is the main difference en route to a .969 OPS. Really, it doesn’t seem like you can go wrong putting Bryant in either slot.
At the end of the day, we’ll see all kinds of combinations with Kris Bryant in this batting order. But what matters most is, hopefully, he comes back with a bit more ‘oomph’ in his swing and add some more pop to an already-powerful Chicago Cubs lineup.