The Rundown: Maddon Talks Top and Bottom of Lineup, Youth Movement Still Moving, Cubs Tix on Sale

With a team golf outing in the afternoon taking precedence, action was light at Sloan Park Thursday morning. Joe Maddon did provide a little grist for the debate mill, however, proclaiming Kyle Schwarber the “frontrunner” to bat at the front of the order. He also discussed batting a Jon Jay/Albert Almora platoon in the nine-hole while moving the pitcher’s spot back up to eight like we saw so often in 2015.

“When people say cleanup hitter or third-place hitter, everybody’s applying conventional means from several years ago,” Maddon said of putting War Bear at the top. “My thinking is more: Better hitter, get on base and then who can actually protect Rizzo. Who’s going to make them pitch to Rizzo as often as possible?”

While most of the folks I’ve talked with and surveyed like the idea of putting the thumper out front, others are concerned with his lack of top-end speed and ability to hit against early shifts. Valid points. I don’t necessarily agree, but I can understand the criticism. As for the bottom of the order, that’s perhaps less controversial.

“I’m just waiting to hear back from the boys, if there’s a significant bump or difference in (hitting Jay/Almora eight) or not, projection-wise,” Maddon explained Thursday. “This could be, like, theoretically perfect in a sense, where either Almora or Jon to Schwarber to KB. That’s kinda nice.”

The only real concern Maddon expressed was for the seventh hitter, who would get very little protection from the pitcher following him in the order. Of course, that would naturally apply to the guy in the eight-hole in a standard configuration. So why mess with it?

Well, moving the pitcher up a spot in the order does provide a statistical advantage. I suppose the numbers could have changed a bit since his piece originally ran, but Sky Kalkman looked at just how big a difference this little tweak makes.

The Cardinals and Brewers have hit the pitcher eighth in the past, and it’s actually a smart, albeit insignificant, strategy. Yes, giving an awful hitter more plate appearances by hitting him higher in the lineup is costly, but the benefit of having a better number nine hitter interacting with the top of the lineup is worth the trade-off, by about two runs per season. By putting a decent hitter at the bottom of the order, the top spots in the lineup will have more runners on base to advance with walks and hits and drive in with hits.

So let’s see, two runs over 162 games gets us to a whopping…0.123456 runs per game. In the interest of full disclosure, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about said topic. In a longer piece nearly two years ago, I came to the same conclusion I will here. It’s a long season and if you can do anything to create even the slightest bit of leverage, you do it.

The final thing to remember here is that the Cubs are, by and large, more knowledgeable than we are and are possessed of slightly more proprietary data. So this isn’t about some weird twinge in Maddon’s gut that turned out to be nothing more than gas. It’s not being wacky for the sake of being wacky. If the Cubs do this, it’s because they think it’s what’s best for the team. And if it’s not, they’ll change it.

The future is now…and in the future

Last year’s title and the chance for a repeat this season were precipitated by the unprecedented — at least by Cubs standards — rapid-fire success of several young stars. From precocious rookies to sophomores who avoided that mythical slump, a focus on seeking out and fostering makeup as well as talent has set the Cubs up for a long run.

It’s not over, either, this parade of minor leaguers clambering up through the ranks to make an impact in Chicago.

“Everyone thinks our future is here,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “It’s really important to never get caught in that. You always want to have guys in the minor leagues ready to come up. Having organizational depth is really important. (Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez) are good players and they’re going to help us at some point.”

That some point probably won’t come next year for Jimenez, who is only 20 years old and will start the season at advanced-A Myrtle Beach. If he’s able to excel there, a move to AA Tennessee could come as soon as mid-season. That’s where the wheat and chaff are torn asunder and his performance with the Smokies should give us a better idea of his projection.

Happ may need a little more seasoning at AA before moving on, but his biggest issue at this point is his upward mobility beyond Iowa. We’re already having conversations about how Ben Zobrist will find time moving between second base and the outfield, so it’s doubtful Happ sees much time as anything other than an injury replacement in the near future. Count this among the Cubs’ 1,331 other good problems to have.

More news and notes

  • Former Cub Steve Clevenger tries to rehab image
    • Known mostly as part of the Jake Arrieta trade, Clevenger pressed send on a pair of tweets that could be be described as “racially insensitive” or “dumb as hell”
    • The 30-year-old free agent expressed regret when he spoke with Yahoo’s Jeff Passan
    • Oddly enough, Clevenger’s having a hard time getting work
  • Cubs single-game tickets go on sale Friday at 10am CT, sans the 20% presale surcharge
    • I assume they held some back for the first two home games, but the opener was sold out on the presale and the second game was pretty much gone too
    • If you can get tickets at face value and absolutely must attend either the banner or ring ceremonies, you can get a discount at TicketLodge by using CUBSINSIDER
Back to top button