Fantasy Update, July 11, 2018
Leadoff and top of the Cubs order:
The Cubs offense has been great thus far in 2018 and with the number of productive players, the DFA of Chris Gimenez giving a signal that Victor Caratini should be the backup catcher in the 2nd half. The top of the Cubs order is still rather unsettled, however some trends are certainly emerging.
Albert Almora & Ben Zobrist seem to have settled in as the top player in the Cubs order and for DFS fantasy players, this is a great sign because both players are typically priced very moderately to downright low compared to other leadoff hitters. Don't expect a lot of power from either one of them, but they get on base (Almora has a .381 OBP with just a 5.6% walk rate). Zobrist has great command of the strike zone, rarely swings at bad pitches. He has a solid 12.5% walk rate and a .375 OBP. The rest of the Cubs top of the order has been changing on a day to day basis.
Another very under the radar Cubs hitter for DFS fantasy players is Jason Heyward. Heyward has been very bad offensively his first two seasons with the Cubs after signing a big contract, however Heyward has been working hard on his swing with Chili Davis and it seems to finally be paying off. He has now found a regular spot in the Cubs order batting 2nd. His 113 WRC+ in 135 at bats suggest he'll stay there as long as that production continues. If it doesn't, there are other options that the Cubs have.
Javier Baez has really emerged this season and was voted to his first NL All-Star game. He has seen at bats at the top of the Cubs batting order, however his walk rate is one of the worst in the major leagues so no batter has bounced around the Cubs lineup more than Baez. When he is hitting, he may bat near the top and when he's not, you may see him in the 8th spot in the order. For DFS fantasy players, it is strongly recommended that you look at his recent hitting stats and check to see where he is at in the batting order. He is now rather expensive in DFS so check closely to see if he has a prime place in the Cubs order. These still aren't the only Cubs options.
Addison Russell recently was put in the 2nd spot in the order since his bat has come alive recently. Russell is great defensively so if the offensive consistency continues, he could see a lot of time in a prime spot in the Cubs order. Ian Happ had most of his top of the order opportunities early in the year and his bat has come back around. He could see some time near the top of the order. Kyle Schwarber has had a great season, but has settled in around the 5th or 6th in the Cubs order. it may be because last year's experiment leading off for Schwarber can't be described any other way than a disaster (he went to AAA for a little while when his average was well below .200). I'd say it's unlikely you'll see him near the top 3 spots in the Cubs order unless some of the injuries to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo continue. The opportunities for these players have come in part because of Bryant/Rizzo being out of the lineup a lot. They are nearly guaranteed the 2, 3 or 4 spots in the order when healthy.
Cubs Fantasy Update, 2018
Cubs 2017 Stats:
The easy part of this discussion, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are the best fantasy players on the Cubs. I'll likely pick one or both of them on days when the Cubs are facing below average pitchers. If you read my strategy on daily fantasy, I also like to stick to guys at the top of the batting order. Bryant & Rizzo bat 2nd, 3rd or 4th most of the time. Keep an eye out on Cubs lineup early in the season, the lead-off spot seems to be wide open after the Kyle Schwarber lead-off experiment from last year was an utter disaster.
I was a little amazed when I saw 7 Cubs hitters with a slugging percentage of .500 or better in the 2nd half. It's not a surprise that Bryant, Rizzo and Willson Contreras (my 3rd favorite Cubs DFS option, by the way) and Javier Baez met a .500 slug %, but Schwarber's .559 and Albert Almora & Addison Russell plus .500 slug is a very nice outlook for 2018.
The sneakiest pick here is Anthony Rizzo, as a lefty himself, many DFS players don't like to choose lefty hitters vs lefty pitchers, however Rizzo has a long track record of batting well against both RH and LH pitchers. In 2017, Rizzo's 128 WRC+ is probably one of the best in all of MLB for LH vs lefty pitcher.
The under the radar Cubs to pick against lefties are Albert Almora (137 WRC+), Baez (132 WRC+) & Addison Russell (111 WRC+).
Stay Away (lefty pitchers):
Schwarber had a 74 WRC+, if this continues, he may have a hard time continuing to get playing time against LH pitchers.
Jason Heyward had a .292 OBP and 71 WRC+ vs lefties.
Ben Zobrist struggled vs lefties last year, however he was struggling with injuries and in the past has hit well against lefties. Check back for updates, he may be a viable option against lefties, especially if Zobrist can break the top of the order for the Cubs in 2018.
The best options (vs lefy pitchers):
Bryant, Contreras & Baez (watch the line-up, he often bats very low in the order)
The Best Options (vs righty pitchers)
Home splits seem to be one that doesn't stay constant year over year so I don't get as much weight to this as the righty/lefty splits or who played better in 2nd half of 2017.
Who will bat leadoff for Cubs in 2018?
The 3 guys that you can count on to be in the top 5 of the batting order are Bryant, Rizzo & Contreras. For me, this makes these 3 the best Cubs DFS options. Kyle Schwarber is likely to bat in the top 5 because he does have a very good walk rate. The Cubs did put Almora near the top of the order a few times last year, but his walk rate is very low so I wouldn't expect him to stay near the top of the order for a long period of time. Addison Russell has always seemed like a good candidate, however he just doesn't bat near the top much at all. Ben Zobrist has batted near the top often in the past 2 years, but last year was not a good year for him so if his bat is not above league average, he will likely have a difficult time getting starts for the Cubs. Javier Baez has a poor walk rate and a high strikeout rate. He seems to be years away from the top of the Cubs batting order. Ian Happ may be the early favorite as he has hit 3 spring training home runs batting lead-off as of early March in 2018. Definitely check back here for top of the batting order updates. It may be a year that it's a carousel of guys batting lead-off. Even Anthony Rizzo batted lead-off for about a two week period last year. Could Kris Bryant even be a candidate? It seems like both guys are a little too valuable to the middle of the order to do this, but it may be the best overall option.
I'm leaning towards Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish being my favorite Cubs pitchers to select for DFS. Quintana showed a much higher strikeout rate moving to the Cubs and the National League last year. He's a solid but not spectacular starter so his cost should be lower than other top of the rotation pitchers. I really like him for 50/50 games (for his consistency) and even the b $1 and $2 DFS games that have large payouts.
Darvish should see the same benefit as Quintana with his move to the NL. Most batters in the NL Central have not seen him or only have a few at bats against Darvish. He should have an advantage in the early part of the season especially. I anticipate using him for both 50/50 games and high paying $1 and $2 DFS games.
Jon Lester really struggled in the 2nd half of 2017. I have to see better performance and metrics that show he has improved to choose him. I play DFS to win so am I open to betting against the Cubs in certain situations, yes, I am. I'm probably more likely to choose opposing hitters against Lester at this point since most DFS players still see Lester as a top of the rotation type pitcher. As a fan, I hope to see him return to form, but until than, I would be more inclined to remain neutral or bet against Lester.
Kyle Hendricks-Hendricks has a decent but not great strikeout rate. I like him a lot for 50/50 games, but stay away from him for the high risk/high reward games. His price is relatively high compared to other pitchers.
Tyler Chatwood-I don't anticipate using Chatwood that often. He doesn't have a high strikeout rate and doesn't go long enough in games to make him a great choice for 50/50 or high risk games. I guess I may be more inclined to try him in high risk games since his cost should be relatively low to allow you to select a high priced, high power lineup to place in the big money games.