One of the major deficiencies the Cubs had in 2017 was the lack of timely hitting.
In the playoffs, the Cubs could only score runs on homers.
The front office stats department has been keen on signing OBP hitters. On base percentage was more important than batting average. This led to a line up devoid of any .300 hitters.
On base is great if you actually get on base. In the playoffs, the Cubs batters looked at less than the league average in pitches per at bat. The Dodgers threw more than 200 less pitches to the Cubs during the NLCS. You cannot walk on less than 4 pitches per at bat.
The other problem with the Cubs line up was that it really could not manufacture runs.
Joe Maddon has an issue in "giving up outs" to sacrifice a hitter to move up a runner (the exception is the pitcher's spot.) But in close games, one cannot count on .250 hitters coming through to drive in runners in scoring position.
The way to manufacture runs is through the lead off hitter. Traditionally, the lead off hitter has been a high average, speedy base stealer. Once on base, the lead off man has many options to put pressure on the pitcher/defense: steal a base; hit and run; move from first to third on a single; move to second on sac bunt.
The Cubs have used many unconventional lead off hitters: Schwarber, Rizzo, Bryant, Zobrist.
One of the glaring needs is a solid, consistent lead off hitter to create a stable line up.
Players are creatures of habit. They like to know their role. They like to know where they will be batting in the lineup because their approach may differ.
A good lead off man will come up three times in a game with the opportunity to be the engine to manufacture a run. After reaching first, a steal and a sacrifice to third puts a runner 90 feet away with less than two outs. The odds are more than 50 percent that the runner will score. That is much greater than waiting for a hitter to hit a home run. The Cubs home run/at bat percentage was just three percent.
Unless the Cubs are going to try out Almora as the new lead off man (and that is a big "if" since Maddon refused to start him against right handers on a regular basis), the 2018 lead off man is not currently on the Cubs active roster.
Without runners on base, the meat of the order has less chance of driving in runs.
The Cubs need to refine their line up decisions to create a dynamic options for the offense.
The order needs to look like this:
1. A new lead off hitter who can get on and steal bases.
2. A new protection hitter who can get the lead off hitter into scoring position.
3. Traditionally, the team's best hitter for average.
4. Traditionally, the team's best power hitter.
5. The team's second best hitter for average and power.
Barring a day off, these top five hitters should remain in their slots for the entire season.
But Maddon likes "match ups" more than players "adjusting" to pitchers. Maddon will like to platoon two outfield positions with righty-lefty matches than try to get a consistent chemistry in a batting order.
A side note on the start of the off-season. The front office purged the coaching staff. Theo and Jed have added more ex-Boston coaches, including new hitting coach Chili Davis. It would appear that management is looking for more production from the players they currently have on the roster.