As the Chicago Cubs look to address both offensive and defensive shortcomings, international free agent Shogo Akiyama could be an answer to some of both.
As the game of baseball evolved to a more analytically-driven art, the value placed on the leadoff hitter has seemingly decreased. Jon Sciambi and the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew regularly discuss this on their broadcasts. Many people believe since the game has changed, getting on base has been devalued and the focus is shifting to hitting home runs, making the leadoff position not what it once was. Being a Chicago Cubs fan, we know this to be far from true.
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Dexter Fowler, the lynchpin and leadoff hitter for the 2016 World Series champion offense has been missed greatly since his departure.
The “you go, we go” phrase was very popular back in the day. On days Fowler was on, the Cubs offense was on. The outfielder has played for the St. Louis Cardinals since departing from Chicago and left the Cubs feeling his absence at the top of the lineup.
We have all heard Theo Epstein express the need for change in creative ways and that change may come in an international free agent center fielder named Shogo Akiyama. Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (sub required) has reported Akiyama to be on the Cubs’ radar to fill the void we see in the leadoff spot.
Akiyama is a six-foot Japanese-born baseball player that hits left and throws right. Since 2011, the 31-year-old played for the Saitama Seibu Lions and has developed quite the resume. In his last five seasons, Akiyama has finished the year with a batting average over .300 four times. the one time he didn’t, he hit .296. Sounds like a step up from Albert Almora, doesn’t it?
In those same seasons, Akiyama has produced an OPS of .941, .807, .933, .937 and .864. A guy that hits for average and power will always be valuable to a baseball team, no matter what metric is used to evaluate talent or what league he plays in.
Akiyama would be an ideal addition for Chicago. He is an above-average outfielder with a great bat and has been rather consistent playing in Japan. Akiyama also gives outfielder Jason Heyward the ability to play his more natural position of right field while also giving the club a great reason to send Almora packing.