CHICAGO — If you’re waiting for Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon to finally settle on a leadoff hitter, you may have to wait until 2018, because he’s just fine with using as many players as he wants at the top of his lineup. Maddon has been asked repeatedly about the leadoff position, so he came up with a pitching analogy to illustrate his thinking.
“You would like to have a closer, because it sets up your bullpen,” Maddon explained Tuesday morning. “You would like to have a leadoff hitter you can rely on, on a daily basis, that sets up the rest of your lineup. Sometimes you have closer by committee, sometimes you have leadoff hitter by committee. I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, especially because we have been pretty successful there. The variety of guys we’ve used there have done a really good job.”
Variety is the key word, as the Cubs have employed nine different leadoff hitters this season, tied for most in the majors, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Maddon isn’t necessarily wrong about their production, especially if it’s possible to eliminate some statistics compiled while Kyle Schwarber hit first in the order.
The Cubs rank last in the National League among No. 1 hitters, going into Saturday’s game, with a .227 batting average. But since June 13 — the first time Anthony Rizzo led off — the Cubs are hitting .258 at the top of the lineup. Overall, their OPS is pretty good, as it ranks fifth with a .760 mark; since June 13, it’s .813.
“We don’t have that prototypical speedy guy,” Maddon said. “Let’s make the best of it we can, but I’ve liked the way it’s worked.”
At the moment, Maddon has landed on Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist as two of his go-to guys for batting first. Heyward didn’t mentally take to it in previous stints, but his .348 career on-base percentage batting leadoff was worth a look — if he was up for it.
“We talked a little bit before the break about the possibility of doing this, so I know that he’s in,” Maddon stated. “His on-base is higher than these other guys. The fact that he’s into it matters.”
In the past, Heyward thought that batting first may have taken away his aggressiveness as a hitter, but he seems to be keeping to his season-long style of avoiding being passive. He swung at the first pitch he saw last Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals when leading off for the first time this season.
“Yeah, just going up there looking for good pitches to hit and not miss them,” Heyward repeated several times.
Heyward didn’t want to dwell on his past struggles batting first, and Maddon thinks he has the right mindset to take on the challenge, at least at the moment.
“That he’s amenable matters a lot,” Maddon said. “He’s even high-fiving bat boys. You need that unifying force. He’s a force multiplier. … He looks like he wants to grab it by the horns here and steer it a little bit.”
Maddon could change his mind and revert back to any of the other eight leadoff hitters he’s used, including Zobrist, who was on base three times Monday. Who knows? The manager hasn’t ruled out putting Schwarber back in the leadoff role.
Bottom line: Maddon doesn’t sound like he’s too concerned with the whole topic anyway.
“It’s worked pretty well for us,” Maddon said. “I have no issues with it at all.”