New Chicago Cubs manager David Ross announced on February 19 that Kris Bryant will be in the leadoff spot when the team begins Cactus League play against the Oakland A’s. The question is now this: Does this make sense for the Cubs in 2020?
Kris Bryant’s career as a leadoff hitter
It’s no secret that the Chicago Cubs have struggled in finding a true leadoff hitter since Dexter Fowler left for the St. Louis Cardinals ahead of the 2017 season. Kyle Schwarber has been in that spot. Anthony Rizzo has been in that spot. Seemingly everyone on the Cubs roster has been in that spot at least a few times in the last three years, including 10 different players last season alone (those players hit a combined .212). And nothing quite stuck for Joe Maddon.
With Maddon out, Ross is looking to shake things up. Following a meeting with Bryant, he seems to have found his new man at the top of the order.
“My goal is to put the best players and the best at-bats in the top of the order. Kris Bryant is a really good at-bat, gets on base, probably one of our best baserunners. His baseball IQ is extremely high. So when you talk about putting the best players in baseball at the top of the order, that’s our best player, and I want to put him at the top.”David Ross
Bryant has led off just seven times in his five-year career with the Cubs. In those games, the 2016 National League MVP has gone 9-for-28 (.321) with a .387 on-base percentage. The OBP is obviously the biggest factor from the leadoff spot and an area where the Cubs desperately need improvement. The North Siders finished dead last in 2019 in OBP from the leadoff spot at .294.
Does Kris Bryant want to hit leadoff?
After hitting from the two or three spot for the majority of his big-league career, Kris Bryant seems to be thrilled with the idea of moving to the top of the Cubs lineup.
“I think the past three years, we haven’t really had someone that was stuck in the leadoff hole and stayed there. I think we totally took Dexter (Fowler) for granted while he was here — I certainly did. Because he was up there working great at-bats. He was always on base, a high on-base percentage. I think that showed in the numbers of the people who hit after him. But I think when you have so much turnover and just trying certain guys out, you don’t get that consistency. If I need to be the guy that’s up there that is going to be consistent and get on base, I’ll be that guy.”Kris Bryant
During his junior year at the University of San Diego, he led off the entire season and won just about every major award there is to win. That season, the summer before he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Cubs, he hit .329 with 13 doubles, three triples, 31 home runs, and drove in 62 runs. His on-base percentage? A whopping .493.
During his five years with the Cubs, Bryant’s on-base percentage is .385. Dexter Fowler peaked at .393 from the leadoff spot in the World Series-winning season of 2016. With plenty of power still in the lineup with Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, it might make pitchers quite nervous to simply pitch around Bryant, which they might be more likely to do with him in the middle of the lineup.
Kris Bryant is also widely considered to be one of the best baserunners in the game. He’s scored more than 100 runs in three of his first five years in the league and that’s with missing 60 games in 2018.
What could the Cubs lineup look like with Bryant at the top?
There’s certainly the chance that this could just be an experiment during spring training. However, David Ross has said that if things don’t go well at the start, he’s going to stick with this to see what happens.
With Bryant at the top of the order, he’ll get more at-bats and perhaps give the guys behind him more chances as well. Ross is also considering Bryant’s Bryzzo buddy, Anthony Rizzo, in the number two spot.
What could the Cubs lineup look like in 2020?
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Javier Baez, SS
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Willson Contreras, C
- Ian Happ, CF
- Jason Heyward, RF
- 2B spot (Jason Kipnis, Nico Hoerner, David Bote)
- Pitcher’s spot
As always, things are going to be interesting at Wrigley Field.