Despite a disastrous stretch as the Chicago Cubs leadoff hitter in 2019, outfielder Jason Heyward may very well provide an offensive spark this season.
For obvious reasons, Joe Maddon will always hold a special place in my heart. First and foremost, he ended the Cubs‘ century-plus long title drought. But he’s also revolutionized managing the game of baseball – bringing quirky, off-the-wall tactics to the clubhouse with the team’s he’s managed.
That being said, especially near the end of his tenure, some of his lineup management and in-game choices stood out as somewhat questionable. Now, maybe that’s because the Cubs weren’t winning like they were and expectations have drastically shifted since 2016. Or maybe it’s because Maddon simply wasn’t making the right choices, regardless of the shortcomings of the roster handed to him.
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One of those decisions that didn’t work out? Leaving Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot for an extended period of time during the 2019 season.
Granted, without Ben Zobrist, the team lacked a clear answer atop the order. We know that – and have known that – since Dexter Fowler left following the 2016 campaign. Regardless, relying on Heyward as the leadoff hitter was an egregious error on the part of Maddon.
Atop the Chicago order, Heyward managed a measly .147/.252/.302 line last season. In 147 plate appearances, he tallied just 19 base hits. But when used correctly, the five-time Gold Glove winner looked like a completely different player.
Per The Athletic (subscription required), Heyward posted a 137 wRC+ when hitting anywhere besides the leadoff spot against right-handed pitching. What does this mean? You have to hope that first-year manager David Ross takes such evidence to heart and builds his lineup accordingly.
When southpaws are on the mound, Heyward shouldn’t be starting – period. I don’t care about his contract or his defense, as eye-popping as both are. Chicago could instead rely on someone like Kris Bryant (a career .994 OPS against southpaws) in right field and going with David Bote at third.
Now while this may sound outlandish, it makes sense. Heyward has steadily improved offensively with each passing season on the North Side. If Ross can employ him effectively and put him in a position to succeed, there’s no reason that trend can’t continue in a big way in 2020.
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The Cubs have plenty of questions with less than two months until they head to Mesa for camp. But Heyward shouldn’t be lumped in with said uncertainties. He’s shown he’s got the right makeup for this team and he’ll undoubtedly be a huge part of Ross’ new team culture moving forward. Let the man go to work and he’ll show you what he can do.