Cubs' Platoon System A Challenge For Some Hitters

Only four Cubs hitters will be considered everyday players.

Bruce Levine
March 13, 2019 - 2:00 pm
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MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) -- With just 15 days left until the season opener, most Cubs hitters are continuing to fight for playing time. 

Only first baseman Anthony Rizzo, infielder Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are penciled in as everyday players. Beyond that, manager Joe Maddon plans to use a platoon system, which of course is nothing new in baseball. Casey Stengel used a platoon philosophy soon after he began managing the Yankees in 1949.

That approach nonetheless creates some challenges for players in finding a rhythm at the plate. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber, outfielder Albert Almora, outfielder Jason Heyward, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ and second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist will be the Cubs who are vying for at-bats and playing time across four different positions to start the season. To a lesser extent, infielders Daniel Descalso and David Bote will be doing the same.

Many of them boast versatility, and Maddon's lineup decisions will formulated by balancing the daily matchup at hand and the big picture.

"For any player coming up from high school, college or even in the minor leagues, you play every day," said Schwarber, who played primarily against right-handers in 2018. "It did not matter who was on the mound, right or left-hander. Once you get to the big leagues, it's obviously different. You must learn to be selfless with it and try to get better against all pitching."

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Happ and Zobrist are switch-hitters, which gives them a slight advantage when Maddon writes his lineups, but their are still splits to come in mind. Happ had an .816 OPS against righties and a .608 OPS against lefties in 2018. Zobrist had a more balanced line, with an .828 OPS against righties and a .787 OPS against lefties. That makes Zobrist the more flexible option for Maddon, but the Cubs also will be cognizant of his workload given that he's entering his age-38 season.

The lefty-swinging Schwarber had an .859 OPS against righties and a .654 OPS against lefties in 2018. He knows he has work to do against lefties, but the challenge is improving against them when he doesn't receive many at-bats in such situations. Schwarber had 91 plate appearances against lefties last season.

"You want to take advantage of the opportunities you get and go from there," Schwarber said. "When you are a younger guy, playing on a winning team that is your focus. The goal is to win baseball games and not concentrating on individual goals. You don't want to hear any talk, so you try and take advantage of the chances when they come up."

The righty-swinging Almora, who turns 25 in April, has been frustrated at times with the platoon system since debuting in the big leagues in 2016. He had a .742 OPS against lefties and a .684 OPS against righties in 2018.

With a deep roster of capable, talented players, Maddon admits it's hard to utilize any approach besides a platoon system. He did acknowledge a player who shows consistency can ascend from a platoon split to a near everyday role.

"When you leave camp, you expect it to go that way (platoon) based on how you put the roster together in the offseason," Maddon said. "I think right now you stay with that plan early. Then I think people are able to break through due to injury or performance, possibly can knock that door down. I like what we are doing and how we do it. I have been around where you thought a guy was a platoon player and all of a sudden he wasn't. But generally, you stick to your plan and then you make adjustments as you go forward."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.