Bernstein: Kris Bryant At Leadoff Has Multiple Layers

The Cubs have made Bryant even more important as trade speculation swirls.

Dan Bernstein
February 20, 2020 - 2:12 pm
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(670 The Score) Just the simple baseball rationale of placing Kris Bryant in the leadoff spot makes all the sense in the world for the Cubs. There's plenty more to the move, but that's where to start.

Bryant has a career .385 on-base percentage, a more-than-adequate number for what's expected from a prototypical table setter. He's a plus player once he reaches too, worth 22 baserunning runs above average in his five-year MLB career. A commitment to him there means more total plate appearances over the course of the full season, maximizing the opportunities for a productive hitter to affect games. Having Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit first and second regularly allows more time for their best hitters to be hitting.

"My goal is to put the best players and the best at-bats in the top of the order," manager David Ross said. "That's our best player, and I want to put him at the top."

Related: Cubs' lineup projects to go Bryant-Rizzo-Baez at the top

Let's also understand what Bryant isn't and why that's OK. Don't expect him to change an approach that has produced a career wRC+ of 139 just to retrofit himself to an outdated job description. He's still trying to hit the bottom third of the baseball as hard as he can, in an effort to launch it up and over the fence. Bryant has never cut down his swing with two strikes just to make contact and will make about 23 percent of his outs via strikeout, which is fine. He will hit his usual 30 home runs, and an even distribution would mean that about a quarter of them will come to lead off the game with the bases empty.

The symbolic value of Bryant hitting leadoff has significance too, this public reaffirmation of his significance to the 2020 Cubs. If there's one thing we know about Ross and the current nature of the job that he was hired to do for this upper management team, it's that the Cubs are functioning with a unified mindset more than they ever have and that neither a decision as significant as this nor the words used to explain it are anything other than planned and discussed before being rolled out.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein is cool with this, in other words, and it would seem enough to quiet short-term trade speculation, barring an unforeseen significant injury that might force a team with whom the Cubs have been negotiating to suddenly meet what has been reported to be a high price. Bryant came striding into camp with the confidence of an empowered and mature star, using his opening remarks Saturday to shoot down reports that he turned down an extension offer, emphasize his strong and positive relationship with the Cubs and lay waste to the Astros' cheating scheme and how it was handled by MLB.

As ready to rock as Bryant is, his team just responded by making him more important.

Bryant now can act even more forcefully on his future -- and in the plain sight of that showcase first appearance each game and an extra one often afforded later and with higher leverage. The next defining point for him becomes the trade deadline and just how good the Cubs are when they get there. Here's holding out some hope that quality of his play and its ensuing effect on their fortunes may still be able to change the conversation.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.