Commentary: Ian goes, we go
Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports

Commentary: Ian goes, we go


by - Staff Writer -

The Cubs open the 2024 season on Thursday against the reigning champion Texas Rangers and seem to have a pretty good idea of who their leadoff hitter will be to begin Craig Counsell’s first season on the top step. Ian Happ has been pegged as the leadoff man.

For those following the Cubs for a long time, looking for a leadoff hitter has been a struggle since Dexter Fowler was on top of the Cubs’ lineup and went on to win the World Series. The last nearly decade has been filled with a massive trial and error that has included Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Jon Jay, Albert Almora, Daniel Descalso, Rafael Ortega, Nick Madrigal, Jason Heyward, Christopher Morel, Willson Contreras, Mike Tauchman and even Ian Happ, among others.

In his career, Happ has led off 91 times with a slash line is .236/.337/.442, which is a touch below his career numbers of .249/.344/.454. Happ also has 17 home runs out of the leadoff spot of the batting order, which is his most at any place besides the third hitter where he has spent 258 career games.

Mike Tauchman was easily the Cubs’ most productive leadoff hitter in 2023, tallied 52 runs and 36 RBI in 63 games. While the numbers don’t jump off the page, the Cubs simply won games when Tauchman led off.

However, Tauchman is not expected to be an everyday starter, so it appeared Counsell was trying to decide between Nico Hoerner and Happ. Hoerner was pretty efficient out of the leadoff spot, where he spent 74 of his contests in 2023. His batting average was a solid .282, but his on-base percentage was 40 points higher at other spots in the batting order.

It seemed Counsell’s decision to start the season with Happ had a lot to do with his on-base skills in his career. Cubs fans and the media alike tend to agree that your team is not at its best with Happ in the No. 3 hole in the lineup — and it feels pretty apparent that the Cubs have this desire for 2-3-4-5

Seiya Suzuki

Cody Bellinger

Christopher Morel

Dansby Swanson

So, either Happ or Hoerner will fall into that six-hole when the other leads off. Perhaps it will change against a lefty and give Hoerner some early at-bats, but Counsell is a big fan of Happ setting the table for Suzuki and Bellinger out of the gate.

“He’s gonna hit at the top of the lineup. His skillset and the people around him, I think it’s a good spot for him,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell told Marquee. “This is a guy that walked 99 times last year, which in today’s game, is a really, really impressive number.”

Counsell’s philosophy has always been straightforward when it comes to lineup construction: Get your best players the most at-bats so you can score the most runs.

“So getting on base for guys like Seiya and Cody [Bellinger] is a great recipe for scoring runs for us.”

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