Pic: Chicago Tribune
We heard yesterday that Kris Bryant, during a long meeting Cubs Manager David Ross, volunteered to bat lead off this season if the team needs him there. Bryant has hit lead off before in college, and had some strong thoughts on the need for a consistent batter in the slot:
Later in the day, Manager David sounded awfully committed to the idea:
But... is it really a good idea? Let's take a gander. The first thing we think of when we talk about lead off hitters is on-base potential. OBP is always the first thing anyone talks about when they figure whether to slot someone in at the top of a lineup, and with good reason--you want that man on base so the guys behind him can drive him in. Duh. Rickey Henderson, considered by many to be the quintessential lead off man, had a .401 lifetime OBP. Dexter Fowler had a .393 OBP during the Cubs 2016 championship season. Tainted as his stats may be, George Springer's career OBP is .361. Mookie Betts, considered one of the sport's premier lead off hitters and one of the best players in the game currently, has a .374 career OBP.
But what of Kris Bryant? Well, as of right now, Sparkles is sitting on a sparkly .385 career OBP. If you just look at his OBP for innings where he led off, it plummets to... .380. What I'm saying is that Bryant is a fantastic on-base candidate, approaching what we consider the elite lead off men in the sport.
Wait... let me finish!
Now, KB's K% could stand to drop a bit--he's currently sitting at 23.6%, but that's also lower than the 25.9% that Braves leadoff man Ronald Acuña Jr. sports. Bryant also has a higher BB% than Acuña (11.9% vs. 10.1%) AND Mookie Betts, who sits at a 10.2% BB% for his career. And while Springer's BB% is comparable to Bryant's, so is his K% (well, except for that noticeable drop in 2017*****), so as long as Kris doesn't change his approach it shouldn't matter one bit. And as for the question of it impacting his production, he's only guaranteed to lead off an inning once a game, and who doesn't love a lead off dinger?
Since we already know what KB's hitting approach looks like, I'm not going to get into that. The final thing I do want to discuss is base running. That's important for your lead off man, yeah? Watching Kris Bryant run the bases is honestly one of my favorite things about his game--not because he's fast, but because he's so smart.
You'll notice at the 2:00 mark in that video by our friends at Cubs Insider a very heads up base running play in Game 7 of the World Series that helped the Cubs go on to win their piece of metal. Without it, they may very well have continued their drought. Sparkles isn't the fastest guy on the team, but he's a very skilled base runner, and the BsR stats at FanGraphs bear this out.
Yes, from 2015-2019, Kris has been one of the top 12 base runners in all of MLB. Surprised? Pleased? Already knew it but happy to be validated in your correctness? Fantastic! Because what all of this tells us is that Kris Bryant is probably a great lead off candidate, and if he's up for the job, then this could be the solution the Cubs have been looking for all along. And we'll all be wondering why the Cubs didn't try it sooner.