Quite often, a team coming off a big World Series win tries hard to not rock the boat much. After all, as the thinking goes, why mess with success? But when it comes to their leadoff hitter, the Chicago Cubs are apparently not content to think inside the box by putting slugger Kyle Schwarber at the top of the order in 2017.
Suffice it to say, Schwarber is not your prototypical leadoff hitter. He's not going to challenge for any stolen base crowns. This year's MLB stolen base leader likely will have more stolen bases in 2017 than Schwarber will have in his entire career. He's not a legendary contact hitter either, or likely to put up some crazy good .420 on-base percentage.
No, Schwarber's best feature is the ability to hit baseballs a very, very long way. While that's quite valuable, you don't see many leadoff hitters have that as the highlight of their résumé. There have been leadoff hitters who have hit home runs before. For example, Brady Anderson hit 50 homers as the Baltimore Orioles' primary leadoff hitter in 1996, and other leadoff men who slugged a lot of homers include Alfonso Soriano (46, 2006), Brian Dozier (42, 2016) and Bobby Bonds (39, 1973). But none of these players were considered the prototypical middle-of-the-order, corner-outfield-slugger type that Schwarber is.
Just how unusual is it for a player like Schwarber to lead off regularly? To see how rare, I collected batting order data going back to the end of the dead-ball era (to get something at least approximating modern baseball), and I developed a statistical model of the ideal archetype of a leadoff hitter in baseball. That's not necessarily the best type of player to hit first, just the players who most approximate the characteristics of MLB leadoff men.