A statistical projection of the Cubs’ optimal batting order
Following the unexpected success of the 2015 season and a productive offseason, the Chicago Cubs are preparing for a season in which they are the favorites to win the World Series.
Despite the long-term misery that has faced the franchise, it’s easy to see why the Cubs would be favorites to win it all this year, the biggest reason why being their powerful, dominant contingent of batters. Much of the offseason discussion about the Cubs has been over how manager Joe Maddon will arrange his batting order.
Maddon is known for mixing things up frequently, but when a lineup works well, he’s likely to stick with it.
The question is: what is that perfect lineup?
The following hypothetical batting order was created based on the career OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) splits by place in the batting order of each projected Cubs starting batter.
The main limit placed on this experiment is that each player must have played at least 10 percent of their games at any given spot in the batting order to be qualified for that spot (for example, Dexter Fowler has a career OPS of 1.667 in the fifth spot in the batting order, but has only been slotted their eight times in his 939 game career, well below the 10 percent threshold and thus disqualifying him from that spot).
Also, the place that each player is slotted may not directly correspond with their best single OPS, but it does work in tandem with the overall needs/strengths of the rest of the team.
1 – Dexter Fowler (.790 OPS)
One of just two projected starters who qualifies for this spot based on our system, it’s a perfect fit for Fowler. In his first season with the Cubs, Fowler was the team’s leadoff hitter in 146 of his 156 games played, and he effectively set the pace for the rest of the team.
When Joe Maddon tells Fowler “You go, we go,” he means it; Fowler had an OBP of over .400 throughout July and August last season, when the Cubs went 34-21.
2 – Kyle Schwarber (.874 OPS)
Schwarber only qualified for the second and eighth spots in the lineup, and his second-spot numbers were markedly better. After hitting 15 of his 16 home runs in this spot, Schwarber will look to repeat his rookie success in his sophomore season.
3 – Ben Zobrist (.759 OPS)
Coming to the North Side from the World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals, Zobrist is likely going to be the Cubs’ everyday second baseman. His .759 OPS in the three-hole is actually just his third-best OPS by batting order position, but he fits best here based on the qualifications of the next two batters.
Zobrist has been a consistent hitter throughout his career and will likely be providing RBI opportunities all season long for the team’s biggest weapons.
4 – Anthony Rizzo (.860 OPS)
Rizzo only qualified for the third and fourth spots in the batting order, with his cleanup spot numbers looking the best of the two. With a faster home run-hitting clip than his third-position numbers, as well as a better batting average and slugging percentage, this is the perfect fit for the Cubs’ first baseman.
5 – Kris Bryant (.993 OPS)
It’s a small sample size, but Bryant’s numbers hitting from the fifth spot in the order are impressive to say the least. In 2015 Bryant averaged nearly 32 home runs per 650 plate appearances, besting his 26 HR average in the fourth position (where he also put up fantastic numbers, including an .891 OPS).
The five-hole is a great spot with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs for the Cubs’ slugging third baseman.
6 – Jason Heyward (.982 OPS)
The biggest free agent bat signed this offseason, Heyward brings his phenomenal skill set to the Cubs and fits best in the sixth spot in the lineup. While his career OPS in spots 1-5 are all solid, he has been most productive in the sixth spot, compiling his best batting average, slugging percentage and qualifying on-base percentage from that position.
7 – Miguel Montero (.832 OPS)
The Cubs’ regular catcher has not spent the majority of his career in the seventh spot, but he has been the most productive from there. It’s convenient then that he’s the only Cub who qualified for this spot based on our system.
8 – Pitcher’s Spot
It’s wholly unsurprising that the pitcher’s spot ends up eighth in the projection, considering the way Maddon arranged the bottom of his batting orders in 2015.
9 – Addison Russell (.719 OPS)
It’s unsurprising, giving that Russell played 117 of his 142 games in 2015 from the last spot in the order, that he is the only Cubs player to qualify for it. Only time will tell if Russell will be moved up in the order after his first year of big league experience, but Maddon obviously liked his work at the bottom of the order, and it’s hard to argue that the young middle infielder has had plenty of success there.
This projection is certainly not scientific, but it gives you a glimpse into what the optimal Cubs batting order could look like this coming season based on the past successes of the projected starters. Whatever the lineup happens to look like though, it’s clear that there are very few, if any, holes in terms of batting when it comes to this group.