Why Javy Baez, Not Albert Almora, Is Starting Opening Night for Cubs
First and foremost, we have ourselves a true first-world problem with Javy Baez and Albert Almora. The former top prospects are still on the upswing in terms of their development and both draw the praise of scouts for their defensive prowess and offensive potential.
The question for the last year has been about how to get Baez into the lineup more frequently, but he’s not the only one who needs a spot. Since Almora started hitting the ball with more pop, trying to find adequate playing time for everyone has become even more challenging. As Joe Maddon said, both hitters can thrive against particular right-handed pitchers. Tonight’s lineup, featuring Baez batting ninth and playing second base, is a prime example.
The defending World Champion Chicago Cubs face Carlos Martinez in the first of their 162 games. The St. Louis Cardinals ace excels by using a sinker/changeup combination, throwing at least one of those pitches 50% of the time. Baez, not Almora, is better suited to attack that particular package.
Below are a pair of runs above average heat maps, very similar to the hot zones you might see in a video game or television broadcast. The first map illustrates how Baez performs against sinkers and changeups, while the second represents Almora’s production.
Pay close attention to the number of blue zones in Almora’s profile. Not only are there a lot of them, but the numbers in the cool areas are extremely low. On the contrary, Baez has more red zones, and his blue zones don’t contain such dramatic negative numbers. All of this suggests that Baez is most likely to perform well against Martinez.
“We’ll look at the matchups and see when are the right times to play Albert,” Maddon said to the media recently. “There are certain things that Albert [Almora] does against certain types of righties that are really attractive.”
Thing is, handling changeups and sinkers in combination is not one of those certain things and Martinez is not that certain type of righty. Almora’s going to be fine — maybe even better than you think — and his exclusion from the starting lineup Sunday night is actually an example of that.
Maddon’s going to deploy his embarrassing wealth of talent in such a way as to take advantage of every possible nuance of every matchup. First-world problems? Those are the best problems to have.