Cubs News: Top 3 candidates to replace Kris Bryant as the leadoff hitter
If the Cubs plan on being a World Series contender, they need a leadoff man.
1,386 days–that’s how long it’s been since the Chicago Cubs used a traditional leadoff hitter. That player was Dexter Fowler, and those days trace back to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series where the former Cub led off the game with a solo home run. The rest, as they say, is history.
One can argue Fowler was one of, if not the best leadoff man the franchise has ever seen. Even though it was only two seasons, he brought an energy and excitement to the ballclub and it showed, especially in the 2016 season. Aside from winning it all, the Cubs finished third in MLB in runs scored and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant put up the best offensive numbers of their careers.
Now Fowler’s personal statistics from his two years on the North Side aren’t Hall of Fame-worthy by any means: .261/.367 OBP/.427 with a .794 OPS. But it goes without saying, his play at the top of the lineup elevated everyone else’s game, which might be the most important characteristic of a leadoff hitter.
Sure things change over time, these days we’ve seen players swing for the fences and if they strike out it’s no big deal, but there’s an art to the leadoff role that can’t be found in analytics. I don’t care what kind of new statistics are put in front of me, there is one thing that will never change, the structure of a successful baseball lineup. You can look at past World Series winners and they all had a leadoff man who set the table for the rest of the lineup.
Joe Maddon had his experiments like batting Kyle Schwarber first and we all know how that worked out. We’re seeing the same thing this season with David Ross putting Kris Bryant in the leadoff spot. Aside from failing to set the table for the rest of the lineup, Bryant has personally suffered at the plate: .177/.271/.323 with a .594 OPS.
You simply cannot re-invent this part of baseball, which is why it blows my mind how someone as smart as Theo Epstein would not fix this glaring issue for the past four seasons. Sure the Cubs might continue to win some games, but things will slow down come postseason time, and when this happens they’re going to need a leadoff man to get the rest of the lineup going.
There’s a few options they could use for now, but Theo Epstein may need to get his answer around the upcoming trade deadline.