Epstein 'Embarrassed' By Cubs' Leadoff Numbers

Cubs leadoff hitters have produced a .283 on-base percentage this season.

Mully & Haugh Show
September 12, 2019 - 4:03 pm
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(670 The Score) Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his front office don't have to do a deep dive to discover a primary factor that's plagued an inconsistent offense.

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It simply starts at the top, where the Cubs have produced a .283 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, much to the chagrin and perplexion of Epstein.

"It’s been, honestly, a worse-case scenario this year out of the leadoff spot in that everyone we throw up there goes through their period of not getting on base at all," Epstein said on the Mully & Haugh Show on Thursday morning. "So the numbers that we’ve had, it’s shocking to me. I feel really honestly embarrassed by the on-base numbers that we’ve had out of the leadoff spot. That’s not the way at all to build an offense to the point where you roll it back again, you might just want to consider taking any one of your best hitters and just throwing them up in the leadoff spot. The No. 1 rule of lineup construction is just get your best hitters up top, bunch them together, get them up top in the lineup and let them do some damage. With the on-base production we’ve been getting out of the leadoff spot this year, it’s been certainly a detriment to our lineup. So no, I don’t begrudge people making a big deal about it. It certainly is."

The Cubs have used 10 players in the leadoff spot this season in their never-ending quest to find a replacement for the long-gone Dexter Fowler, who had two splendid years in Chicago and left in free agency after the 2016 championship season. Kyle Schwarber has manned the leadoff spot a team-high 56 times but hasn't done so regularly since July. He has a .304 on-base percentage there. Jason Heyward filled the role often throughout August to poor returns, as he as a .252 on-base percentage in the top slot.

Ben Zobrist has taken over the leadoff spot since returning to the team on Sept. 1 after a long personal leave of absence. With Zobrist sitting Thursday, Anthony Rizzo batted lead off.

Related: Bernstein: Cubs' front office trying to keep up

In 2017 and 2018, Epstein thought the outcry about not having a primary leadoff man was misplaced, as the Cubs' mix-and-match system still produced respectable results. That hasn't been the case this season, and Epstein knows how much it has hurt the Cubs.

"In the past, maybe too much has been made of it when looking at our club because we — there was this sort of fondness, appropriately, for what Dexter Fowler did here, especially in 2016 and his ability to get on base," Epstein said. "And then there wasn’t that one guy atop the lineup, but I thought for a short period of time there was some undue criticism, because I think we actually, we were getting on base at a really high level at a leadoff clip just through a combination of players because we had a team full of guys who got on base. And right now, I think the struggles that you’re seeing in the leadoff are also just because we’re struggling to get on base as a team. If we had a lot of different options on guys who were having good years, who had the ability to get on base, you just throw one of them up in the leadoff spot without having to take away from your guys who can drive in runs, your two-three-four hitters.

"The struggles we’ve had at leadoff are reflective of the fact that we’re struggling to get on base this year as a whole. So it’s awesome to have that prototypical leadoff guy. It is an important part of building an effective offense. But if you have a deep roster of guys who are all getting on base at high clip, it’s easy. You just mix and match and plays matchups up there. Yeah, in what you lack in the one tone-setter at the top of the lineup, I think you make up for just by having good on-base guys get on base. That’s the single most important job of the leadoff hitter — just get on base. And so we don’t have that."