Inbox: How will Maddon construct batting order?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans

January 18th, 2019

Do you foresee the Cubs going with more of a set batting order this season? Do you think that plays into any slumps, hot streaks, etc.?
-- Ryan

Over the years, I have heard from plenty of players that there is some mental comfort in knowing where their name will be on the lineup card. Then again, there are many hitters whose numbers look a lot better when a team is mixing and matching to maximize the offensive production. That approach tends to lead to a lineup taking on a different look on a game-by-game basis.
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Trying to gain a platoon advantage to generate more offense has been a constant in Cubs manager Joe Maddon's approach, and I don't see that changing in 2019. Now, there will be everyday players, and in an ideal world they will find a home in a batting order. As other players are slotted in and out, though, the order might be tweaked here and there.
One thing you can bank on is that the Cubs' best hitters will be in a position to garner the most at-bats. So, while Maddon flipped through 152 different lineups last season, you consistently saw , , and within the first three or four spots. That won't change, even if the exact order does from time to time.
I get the desire by many fans to see their team run with the same lineup game in and game out, but it's not always the best approach. When someone like posts a 121 wRC+ against righties vs. an 85 wRC+ against lefties -- like he did last season -- it only makes sense to limit his exposure to left-handed pitching. That is where versatile players like , , and Zobrist can come in handy.
As for how lineup position can impact hot or cold spells, I think you can find evidence to support both sides of the argument.
The best hitters don't alter their approach much based on where they are in the lineup. Just like you can find examples of slumping hitters, there are plenty of batters who have bounced around a lineup and been just fine. There are also plenty of hitters who learn to embrace being a platoon-style player and thrive, especially when their stats get a boost. It's not for everyone, though. First and foremost, a manager needs buy-in from his players and I think Maddon has done well in that regard.

First, they need to get healthy and back as soon as possible in the first half. Then, the Cubs need to avoid overusing (who logged 80 appearances in 2018) and , especially early on. I do think Chicago needs to add some more experienced depth to the relief corps, but it helps (in theory) that the rotation is built to log a lot of innings.
The bullpen, even with an assortment of issues last season, finished with the National League's best ERA (3.35), opponents' average (.223) and home run rate (0.78 per nine innings). Concern about sustainability creeps in when looking at the strikeout rate (22.6 percent), walk rate (11.0 percent) and workload (588 1/3 innings). The good news is that the Cubs are built to contend for a championship due to a lot more than their bullpen situation.
If the Cubs do eventually get , where would they put him? The starting lineup is filled with great players.
-- Bryan D., Chicago

I mean, it's obligatory to include a Harper-related question until he signs elsewhere, right? Winter Storm Harper came to Chicago, but it sure doesn't seem like the superstar outfielder will be going to the Cubs. At a charity event in Chicago this week, Maddon was asked about the possibility of adding Harper and the manager replied bluntly with, "Not going to happen." That said, no matter what a team's roster looks like, you make room for a player of Harper's ability. He'd look very good in right field for the Cubs, but that appears more like a dream than reality.
Who will be the non-roster invitees this spring?
-- Tim C., Beardstown, Ill.

As of now, the Cubs have not officially announced a list of non-roster spring invites. I'd expect something to arrive on that front later this month. Three that have come out via various reports are catcher , outfielder and infielder .
The Cubs built their core through the Draft and have paid a hefty sum to acquire pitching. With two aging starters and a constant search for a closer, are there any pitching prospects in the Cubs Minor League system for us to get excited about in the next few years?
-- Steve K., Warsaw, Ill.

On the starting pitching front, right-hander (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) and lefty Justin Steele (No. 8) are two to keep an eye on this season. Alzolay might've worked his way onto the MLB radar last season had a right lat injury not sidelined him in May. Steele was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. On the relief side of things, righty (No. 28) is certainly intriguing. He had a taste of the big leagues last year, and posted 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings (75 in 38 2/3 frames) at Triple-A. Another lefty to monitor is Conor Lillis-White, who came from the Angels in the trade. Lillis-White had 98 strikeouts vs. 32 walks in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year.
In how many years do you see Nico Hoerner on the big league squad?
-- James L., Chicago

That's always difficult to predict, but Hoerner (No. 6 on the Cubs' Top 30) is 21 years old and topped out at Class A South Bend last season. That probably puts him at least two years away from the Majors. The young shortstop certainly turned some heads with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League earlier this offseason. In 21 games, Hoerner hit .337 with nine extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and an .867 OPS.