How the Cubs could deploy DH in 2020
today at 7:25 am
The 2020 season will see several new rules implemented, including the three batter minimum, but it is an old rule from the junior circuit which will take the most getting used to for many Cubs fans. The DH has been used in the American League for almost 50 years, but this year will mark its debut in the National League. For now the DH is being labelled as a temporary change to NL rules for just the 2020 and 2021 seasons, but I think we all know the writing has been on the wall here for a while. It has never made sense for the two leagues to play by different rules, and now that the rules will be aligned I can’t imagine it will go back.
What makes this season novel however, is that none of the NL teams had time to plan for the rule to be implemented this year. With the shortened schedule, and with the imbalance of teams between the two leagues forcing interleague games to be played on a daily basis, it was in the best interest of teams and schedule makers to put it into effect now, even if it will leave some teams scrambling for a solution.
While it would have been to he Cubs benefit had the DH come to the NL a few years ago when they were overflowing with young hitters, they still have plenty of options available to fill the role, and could see more benefit than most teams. The Cubs have plenty of power in their lineup and on their bench, as well as a couple of borderline defenders and vets recovering from injuries that should allow them to regularly field a nice balance between offense and defense.
Don’t worry so much about the specific 1-9 order of the lineups below. There will be plenty of variation throughout the season, even in its shortened form, and even with Ross pushing for a more “everyday” lineup than his predecessor.
- 3B Bryant
- 1B Rizzo
- SS Baez
- LF Schwarber
- C Contreras
- DH Caratini (when he isn’t resting) or Bote/Souza Jr.
- CF Happ
- RF Heyward
- 2B Kipnis (if he hits) or Hoerner/Bote
I like the idea of back-to-back switch hitters after the big five. Caratini provides a good contact hitter behind the big bats, similar to how Maddon would deploy Zobrist in that role in previous seasons. Not only does he help maintain L/R balance, but he breaks up the swing-and-miss tendencies of the other middle-of-the-order hitters.
There will be times, for instance whenever Yu Darvish pitches, where Caratini will be catching and Contreras is deployed at DH. But there will also be times when one of the catchers needs a full day off, or a different starters requires a breather. That is when we will see the Cubs rotate others through the DH spot. Ross has already stated there will be no “regular” DH. The Cubs are going to try to utilize matchups and keep players fresh. I’ll try to run through a couple of the likely scenarios below.
The Cubs will undoubtedly want to deploy Schwarber as a DH against some RHP. In that event, Souza is the logical player to insert into LF, which would push one of Caratini or Contreras out of the lineup.
When everyday starters like Rizzo (one of Caratini or Happ will sub) or Baez (Hoerner or Bote) need a day off the team is more likely just going to do a straight substitution rather than utilize the DH. When those players rest, you want them to have the entire day off.
I’m up in the air when it comes to resting Kris Bryant. He isn’t the defensive player Rizzo or Baez are where you need to keep his glove in the lineup as frequently as possible, but he isn’t the liability that Schwarber (sometimes) is in the field. He falls somewhere in between and has also been subject to some nagging injuries the last couple of years. I can see scenarios where the Cubs want to give KB a breather but still keep his bat in the lineup. On those days look for Bote to play 3B, and once again push one of Caratini/Contreras out.
It is also possible that one of Souza Jr. or Bote simply out hits Caratini and the team will look for ways to keep their bat in the lineup as often as possible. More likely, there will be times when one of those two (or another bench player) are swinging a hot bat or provides a favorable matchup against a specific starting pitcher and the team will look to insert them into the lineup.
The CF, RF and 2B positions are likely going to fall into regular time shares if not straight platoons, so each of the players involved at those positions are unlikely to require maintenance days, nor need to rotate through DH to keep them fresh or sharp. Second base in particular seems like a situation where Hoerner and Bote could provide superior matchups against some righties than Kipnis. This would also allow the Cubs to utilize Kipnis as a pinch hitter later in games. If the Cubs insert all of their lefties into the lineup on a regular basis, their bench will end up entirely right-handed.
- LF Bryant
- 1B Rizzo
- SS Baez
- C Contreras
- RF Souza Jr.
- DH Schwarber (if he hits LHP) or Caratini/Happ
- 3B Bote
- CF Almora Jr. (if he hits) or Happ
- 2B Hoerner
All indications are that Jason Heyward will sit against lefties. It is long overdue, and now the Cubs have a legitimate right-handed power threat to replace him. I’m not certain the playing time split in CF or at 2B are going to be quite as strict. Albert Almora Jr. looks to have his focus back after admitting there were times last season where he wasn’t ready to play. Whether it was the foul ball incident that injured a young fan (his numbers dove after that date) or something else, it is clear he wasn’t himself as the year went along. If his head is right, his combo of superior defense and ability to hit lefties should get him into the lineup against them to open the season, and assuming he hits he should continue to get those opportunities.
I don’t expect Nico Hoerner to only start againt lefties. He’ll start over Kipnis against some righties as well, but there is no reason for Kipnis to ever start over him (or Bote) against a lefty. Kipnis hasn’t performed well against same side pitchers in years. Like Heyward he should be considered a straight platoon player at this point in his career. Unless there is some left-handed starter who Kipnis or Heyward has owned throughout their career I will be very upset to see them in the lineup against a lefty all season. The one exception would be a bad weather day, in which case the club may want to prioritize Heyward’s glove.
Happ is a switch hitter, so he remains an option in CF (or elsewhere) if needed, but his numbers from the right side are historically lower so when he needs rest it makes sense to make use of the days when a lefty is on the mound.
The different scenarios are not as clear cut against left-handed starters. There is more room for chasing matchups as the team has more options from the right side of the plate. While Happ doesn’t traditionally rake against lefties he still provides a better options than Heyward of Kipnis.
Much could depend on Schwarber. Prior to last season his platoon splits were pronounced, but as 2019 progressed not only did he become a better hitter overall, but he began making an impact against lefties. That is no guarantee it will continue this season, but he should be given the opportunity early on. If he struggles it will open more opportunities for Happ.
The Cubs may also choose not to play Bryant in the outfield much this year. They haven’t had a right-handed corner outfield bat like Souza Jr. on their bench in years (since Soler maybe) and it may be best for Bryant’s sake to have him focus on one position only. In that case you may see more of Happ in left or Bote at DH against lefties.