Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Cubs News

Breaking down the Cubs' options at DH

@MLBastian
June 24, 2020

CHICAGO -- Cole Hamels chopped a pitch from Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright back to the mound on Sept. 28 of last season. Wainwright reached for the grounder, but the ball nicked his glove and rolled into no-man's-land on the left side of the Busch Stadium infield grass. It is possible

CHICAGO -- Cole Hamels chopped a pitch from Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright back to the mound on Sept. 28 of last season. Wainwright reached for the grounder, but the ball nicked his glove and rolled into no-man's-land on the left side of the Busch Stadium infield grass.

It is possible Hamels' single will go down as the final base hit by a Cubs pitcher. The universal designated hitter is coming -- at least for the 60-game 2020 regular season. The age-old National League style of play could return in ’21, but for now, fans can examine their favorite team's roster and devise strategies for how to handle the DH role.

MLB announces 2020 regular season | Cubs FAQ

Here is a look at three scenarios new Cubs manager Davis Ross will consider:

Scenario 1: Schwarber as full-time DH
This is probably the default position fans will take when initially scanning the Cubs' roster for the best DH solution. Kyle Schwarber came up as a catcher and has worked hard in recent years to turn himself into a league-average defender in left field with a plus arm. Still, the criticisms are there, and plenty of evaluators have predicted that being a DH was always going to be in Schwarber's future.

Back in 2017, Schwarber turned in minus-seven defensive runs saved in left, but he rebounded in a big way in '18 by posting three DRS with a 14.0 UZR/150. Last season, Schwarber had minus-three DRS with a minus-0.9 UZR/150. Defensive metrics can be flawed even in a full-season sample, so Schwarber can be called an average defender at this point. He's certainly not a liability.

That said, it's Schwarber's bat that makes the biggest impact and he's coming off a career year. In 2019, he hit .250/.339/.531 with career highs in homers (38), doubles (29), runs (82) and RBIs (92). Schwarber hit .280 (.997 OPS) in the second half of the season. From Aug. 25 through the end of the season, he had a .348 average and 1.145 OPS.

Scenario 2: Outfielders rotating in the DH slot
The Cubs have an interesting collection of outfielders, and the DH slot could be used to better distribute plate appearances. It could also be a way to keep the best defensive group on the field and help keep their legs fresh.

Steven Souza Jr. is in the fold this year after missing all of 2019 following a horrific left knee injury. While Souza was healthy during Spring Training, Ross made it clear that he wanted to keep that injury history in mind. The DH would allow the manager to give Souza's legs a break, if necessary, while keeping his bat in the lineup.

The Cubs also were entering the 2020 season with a center field combo of Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ. While Happ is also an option for left field, if needed, he could also slot in as a DH to keep Almora's glove up the middle. So, that DH slot could see Happ, Schwarber and Souza rotating in and out, depending on the situation.

Scenario 3: Mixing and matching at DH
In reality, the Cubs' options for the DH role extend beyond the outfield. This is the most likely way Ross will use the position, too. Whether it's drawing from some of the scenarios above or reaching into the rest of the position players, the manager could go in a variety of directions with the DH in order to create platoon advantages or get certain players more at-bats.

There could be days when Ross wants both of his catchers, Willson Contreras (.272/.355/.533 slash in 2019) and Victor Caratini (.266/.348/.447), in the lineup. Caratini, for example, caught most of Yu Darvish's innings in '19, so the DH could allow Ross to keep Contreras' bat in the mix.

The Cubs also enter 2020 with a group of options for second base (David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Nico Hoerner and Jason Kipnis). The DH could give Chicago a way to go with the best defensive option while keeping another player in the order. Ross could also use the DH slot to give stars like Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo a day off their feet.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.