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Cubs Fri Mar 16 2012

Predecessors Set Low Bar for New Cubs Leadoff Man

The prototypical leadoff hitter for a Major League team has a pretty standard definition. He gets on-base at a reasonable clip, takes plenty of pitches, and steals a few bases while receiving a modest salary. Yet somehow, the Cubs have been in search of such a player for nearly as long as the Bears searched for a quarterback before Jay Cutler.

Henry Burris is to Neifi Perez as Craig Krenzel is to Corey Patterson. Ugh. Let's not go there.

In the past ten years, the Cubs have had exactly one guy reach 600 plate appearances in a single season while batting leadoff (Juan Pierre in 2006). Other than Pierre, who was averse to taking a pitch and was brutal defensively, the first name written on the lineup card during that period was either a plodder (Mark Bellhorn and Todd Walker), a hacker (Patterson and Perez), or grossly overpaid (Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano).

With manager Dale Sveum announcing offseason acquisition David DeJesus will take the reins at leadoff, one can only hope the newcomer can outperform the recent array of table-setters.

Here's a rundown of the opening day leadoff hitter on the North Side over the past five seasons (AVG/OBP/SLG):

2011 - Fukudome - .251/.352/.351 399 PA (3 SB)
2010 - Theriot - .279/.313/.324 289 PA (13 SB)
2009 - Soriano - .228/.295/.421 332 PA (7 SB)
2008 - Soriano - .287/.350/.544 492 PA (19 SB)
2007 - Soriano - .308/.345/.579 577 PA (18 SB)

Soriano put up some decent numbers, but his time leading off the game was marred by injuries, unwatchable defense, little plate discipline, and constant calls to move his 40-ounce bat down into an RBI spot. Not exactly the definition shown above.

The Cubs signed the 32-year-old DeJesus to a two-year, $10 million deal (with a club option for 2014 worth $6.5 million) with the goal of finding their first consistent top-of-the-order bat since Eric Young in 2000-01. He's a career .284/.356/.421 hitter who is coming off a down year, finishing with an OBP below .347 for the first time in his nine years in the bigs.

You may be thinking the Cubs landed a steal when factoring in his above-average defense, but there's a catch. DeJesus has logged 140+ games just twice in his career. It's a Soriano-esque injury problem the Cubs hope to avoid, but not something you can count on with a player approaching his mid-30s.

If DeJesus can hit his career averages for the next couple of years while playing at least 140 games, Jed Hoyer would tell you he got a good deal. If he doesn't, his contract isn't an albatross preventing a prospect from getting a shot.

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Brian / March 31, 2012 11:26 AM

I know it's a reach for leadoff hitter considering he spent less than a full season with the team, but Kenny Lofton has been the best lead off hitter the Cubs have had in the last decade.

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