After the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, the different lineup combinations Joe Maddon could use next season made the way around the Internet from various media outlets. And most of the lineups had Heyward hitting leadoff for the Cubs.
Patrick Mooney talked to Maddon about what his lineup could look like next year. Maddon said the first thing he had to do was to talk to Heyward.
“Lineup-wise, of course, having a conversation with Jason is going to be really important. His comfort level regarding hitting leadoff would be an example. I’m not saying he’s going to hit leadoff. I want to know his comfort level before I make up my mind.”
Maddon admitted he had jotted down a couple of possible batting orders with “primarily right-left, right-left, right-left kind of stuff.” Maddon stressed the importance of talking to Heyward because for some guys “it matters a lot” where they hit in the lineup. And Maddon really wants “to know how people feel.”
As a leadoff hitter, Heyward owns a .280/.354/.427 slash line with a .782 OPS in 126 games, 508 at bats, over the course of his six-year career. Last year, he batted at the top of the Cardinals lineup in just one game. Heyward went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Heyward hit leadoff only one time last season because he doesn’t like hitting at the top of a lineup. At least that’s what he said in February.
During the 2014 season, his last in Atlanta, Heyward batted leadoff 94 times and hit .270/.343/.393 with a .736 OPS. Heyward told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he felt stymied “at times batting leadoff” for the Braves. Derrick Goold reported, “Jason Heyward borrowed an analogy from the field. It’s playing long toss and really wanting to cut loose with a full strength throw but having to hit a target from 90 feet away.”
“You feel like there’s a governor on you and you’re not letting it ride,” Heyward told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You have to think of other ways.”
After a discussion with Heyward, Mike Matheny told the Cardinals beat writers Heyward would not bat leadoff. Heyward made it clear “he wasn’t comfortable there.”
Heyward was rather candid, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “about how he felt batting first for the Braves last season … while necessary … limited his approach and contributed to a decline in slugging even as it increased his walk-rate.”
During Heyward’s introductory press conference, Theo Epstein said he could hit second or sixth and “could move around frequently.”
With the way the Cubs’ roster is currently constructed, Heyward and Ben Zobrist would figure to hit in front of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Maddon said he knows Zobrist does not have a preference on where he bats. Zobrist has mainly hit in the two-hole during his career with only 134 games at the top of the lineup, and the least amount of success (.241/.329/.372/.702) compared to his production out of other spots in the batting order.
Jason Heyward could still bat leadoff for the Cubs more often than not next season. But to think it’s a foregone conclusion that he will bat at the top of Maddon’s order is simply not the case based on his comments from less than a calendar year ago.