(CBS) While emphasizing that it’s January and that spring training doesn’t start for another month, Cubs manager Joe Maddon acknowledged Wednesday that he likes the idea of slugging outfielder and lefty-swinging Kyle Schwarber leading off against right-handed pitchers.
In such a hypothetical lineup, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist would follow, Maddon said while taking questions at a community event.
“I do like Schwarbs batting lead-off right now,” Maddon said, according to the Tribune.
The question as to who will lead off for the defending champion Cubs has been front and center since outfielder Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals in December. Fowler had a .393 on-base percentage last season.
Maddon’s idea of using Schwarber at lead-off is one that’s supported by his bosses, as general manager Jed Hoyer vouched for that in an interview on 670 The Score last month. Schwarber has a .352 on-base percentage in two MLB seasons.
“I will tell you this: When we talk about it internally and kind of kick things around, I love that idea,” Hoyer said. “There’s only a handful of guys — maybe more than a handful, maybe a dozen guys in the big leagues — that really make sense as a true lead-off guy. You know, guys that if you get on base can really run the bases and they’re obviously guys that you pencil in at No. 1 every day. I think if you don’t have that kind of player, forcing someone into that role can be really dangerous.
“To me, what I was always taught in baseball was when we started working with Bill James with the Red Sox, the most important part of a lineup is making sure your best hitters hit the most often. You’re only guaranteed to lead off once a game, and the most important thing is having the right guys at the plate the most often. To me, it’s pretty terrifying to think of Schwarber, (Kris Bryant), (Anthony) Rizzo to start the game. That pitcher’s coming out for that first inning, and he knows he’s in trouble right away. And I love that idea, I think it’s intimidating, and I think getting your best hitters up there the most often is the most important part of our strategy.”
Chicago has a couple options outside of Schwarber. A more conventional route would be to use Zobrist or outfielder Jon Jay to lead off. Zobrist has a .358 on-base percentage for his career, while Jay checks in at .352.