The Cubs have been busy this offseason improving the team for 2011, but there is still one piece that has yet to be addressed to elevate them to the next level – a legitimate lead off hitter.
In 2010, the Cubs lacked one crucial element which failed to spark the offense. All season long, the offense struggled to score runs. There was nobody at the top of the batting order to ignite the spark and put pressure on the defense. Lou Piniella and Mike Quade exhausted every option at their disposal to find somebody that could fill the role. Ryan Theriot was traded to the Dodgers and consequently left a huge hole to fill. Many attempts to try different players were unsuccessful. As a result, the offense struggled to offer much run support. Too much reliance on the long ball resulted in a lack of run support for a pitching staff that deserved better.
During an interview, Mike Quade was asked who would be the Cubs’ lead off hitter in 2011.
His response was disturbing. He admitted that the Cubs did not have such a player that he would consider a true lead off candidate. He acknowledged that the Cubs simply lacked what was needed. At least he was honest. Given the fact, his response was that the lead off role would be by committee. In other words, he would be forced to pencil in anybody and everybody to fill the slot. A repeat of last season apparently. This disturbs me because last season was a disappointment due to the lack of run production. There was no spark to ignite the offense. So is 2011 doomed to failure?
What exactly is the role of a legitimate lead off hitter? A lead off hitter, first and foremost, must be able to get on base. He should be able to draw walks, bunt for a base hit, and hit for average. In other words, he must have a high on-base percentage. Secondly, he must have speed. Once on base, he must apply pressure to the opposing pitcher and defense. He must be a base stealing threat. He must cause the pitcher to be nervous and disrupt his concentration. He must draw the defense out of position and wreck havoc. Not only should he have the abilty to steal bases, but have the abilty to reach third base on a hit and run. He must be able to get himself in scoring position, somehow. He must be fast enough to score runs and make things happen. Such a player causes the opposition to make mistakes and opens the door for the offense to score runs.
The Cubs have made some improvements this offseason, but still lack the necessary spark to ignite the offense. With all due respect to Mike Quade and the current roster, the Cubs will be in for another long season if this isn’t addressed.
The Cubs’ General Manager, Jim Hendry, needs to find a way to fill this hole. It is too important not to. I was reading another Cubs’ blog, Strictly Cubs Baseball, http://strictlycubsbaseball.mlblogs.com/, I began thinking about this problem and reached the conclusion that this IS a HUGE problem. The lack of offense last year is directly attributable to the lack of a legitimate lead off hitter. There simply was no run support. Opposing pitchers were entirely too relaxed while facing the Cubs. Jim Hendry still has work to do. I hope and pray that he does something to address this glaring hole or 2011 could be disastrous. The Cubs are on the right track, but to be truly competitive, we need a solid lead off hitter. Only then, will we be in good shape to reach the playoffs.
This week, the GM Meetings are under way in Orlando. Now is the time to start entertaing trade possibilities. Will Jim Hendry make a move to acquire a legitimate lead-off hitter? With an offense that has struggled to score runs, the Cubs could use a “spark” at the top of the order.
In 2010, the Cubs juggled the batting order relentlessly in pursuit of somebody to fill the lead-off spot. Ryan Theriot began the year leading off, but was traded to the Dodgers. Kosuke Fukudome took his turn, but stuggled with his bat. Alfonso Soriano was moved down in the order and his days of leading off are over. Other players were given the opportunity to ignite the offense, but nobody fit the role.
Starlin Castro was the best available option, but hasn’t developed much in the stolen base department. Hopefully, he can work on it and find success. For the time being, he really isn’t ready for that responsibility. The Art of Stealing bases requires an astute student of the game. It requires a player to read the pitcher, the catcher, and the defense. There is more to it, then just taking off for second base. It is an art, to be sure. Tyler Colvin, Blake DeWitt, and Jeff Baker, have all led off for the Cubs, none could pull it off. A lead-off hitter requires the ability to get on base and put pressure on the defense. It requires the ability to steal bases. It is a huge responsibility that requires knowledge, talent, and skill. Not just anyone can be inserted at the top of the order. It requires a special player, a player with athletic prowess and brains.
Ricky Henderson was probably the best lead-off hitter ever. He knew how to get on base, then once there, he knew how to rattle the pitcher and defense.
Ricky Henderson got on base and made things happen. He didn’t wait to be bunted over. He didn’t wait for somebody to get a hit. He didn’t wait for anything. He was off to the races. He set his goal and went after it. He would steal second, but Henderson didn’t stop there. Very often, he would steal third base as well. The defense was in disarray and the pitcher lost concentration. Ricky Henderson was a very effective lead-off hitter. He set a record for walks drawn. He set a record for stolen bases. Ricky exemplified what a lead-off hitter should be. That is why he is in the Hall of Fame today. The Cubs need such a lead-off hitter. The Cubs need a spark to ignite a sleeping offense.
With Brett Jackson and Brandon Guyer still developing, Starlin Castro is the closest thing to a lead-off hitter that the Cubs have. However, it appears that Castro is better suited for the #2 hole, which brings us back to the question of WHO will lead off next season? If Jim Hendry is to acquire a true lead-off hitter, then he will most likely need to trade for one. But who?
I have compiled a short list of candidates that Jim Hendry may be interested in trading for.
Rajai Davis, of the Oakland A’s, an outfielder that swiped 50 bases last season. His OBP was .320 and his batting AVG was .284. Oakland is in search of power hitters.
Brett Gardner, of the New York Yankees, another outfielder, stole 47 bases. He had an OBP of .383 and a .277 batting AVG. He was the spark that ignited the Yankees’ offense time and time again.
Gardner gives 150% all the time. The Yankees are in need of a solid, left-hander to anchor their bullpen.
Chone Figgins, of the Seattle Mariners, had 42 stolen bases, a .340 OBP, and a .259 batting AVG.
Figgins is a third baseman, but played second base last season, and has played in left field as well. The Mariners are searching for power hitters.
Will Venable, of the San Diego Padres, another outfielder, had 29 steals, .324 OBP, and a .245 AVG. He appears to have more potential than his numbers reflect.
The Padres are looking for more power, not to mention, prospects.
Michael BournE, of the Houston Astros, recently won a gold glove and led the NL in stolen bases with 52.
He batted .265 with a .341 OBP. Houston needs pitching and power.
The 5 players listed are my personal favorites to lead-off. The Cubs need a spark at the top of the order and will need to make a trade to make it a reality. Who will lead-off in 2011? Will Jim Hendry make a move to improve the top of the batting order? Will Starlin Castro learn the Art of Stealing bases? What do you think the Cubs should do about the lead-off situation?