The Cubs as a team hold a quite impressive .284 batting average, good for 4th in the league. They are hitting the ball well, but if you get a queasy feeling every time the Cubs get guys past first base with less than two outs, you have good reason. Their .221 RISP average is near the bottom of the league. Dating back over the last decade, this is much worse, even, than their .241 RISP clips in 2009 and 2002 - last year they were actually .262.
On the pitching side of things, their ERA with RISP of around 10.00 is also in the cellar, and while it's on par with their pitching overall, it's still at historically bad levels. The pitching is a different problem, because unlike the offense, our pitchers are struggling across the board, rather than specifically when we have runners in scoring position.
Given all of this, it's actually amazing that the Cubs are at .500 so far.. When I looked more about what was going wrong, and why it wasn't going much, much worse, I found out that it largely depends on what Cub you're talking about:
Here's the dirty little secret on how each individual Cub is batting with RISP: Sorted by overall number of AB's, here's how it looks:
This speaks for itself. You can see very clearly that Byrd, Colvin, Soto, and Pena have come up 73 times of the 161 plate appearances where Cubs have had RISP opportunities, and have used those opportunities to drive in 12 runs on 8 hits, 11 walks, and 12 strikeouts. (I can’t figure out GIDP’s or sacrifices from this dataset – sorry about that). Some would argue that Soriano is part of the problem with his .235 average, but I disagree here, as his 7 RBI’s ties Castro for the team high with RISP.
It’s early, and I disagree with rash decisions at this point in the season, but some things bear watching. The most important is that 3 hole. Simply put, we’re losing a ton of runs out of that spot in the batting order, especially with the revelation that has been the Castro/Barney duo. I hope Byrd is on the shortest leash right now for beginning to produce out of that spot, and if he doesn’t – we should do one of two things given our current roster. 1) Move ARam to third, and bat either Soriano or Soto or Pena behind him if they get their act together, or, if ARam really must bat fourth, 2). move Castro to third, and bat Byrd at 1/2 if he can continue to get on base. If Byrd doesn’t improve and is still hitting 3rd on May 1st, that’s a mistake by Quade.
Also, Soto, Colvin, and Pena are slumping right now, so an additional thing to watch is if they can work and adjust their way out of their slump, or at what point a more permanent move is needed to avoid hurting the team. I’d give Colvin until June 1st and Soto and Pena until July 1st, and don’t think it’s going to be a long-term issue for Soto. Yes, I’d be that patient.
I’m less worried about this from a situational pitching standpoint. As you can see 33 of the 60 runs scored against the cubs in RISP situations have come against our top three starters (Z, Demp, and Garza), but they’ve been just as shaky outside of these situations. If our top three pitchers can’t get it together, it doesn’t matter how many runs we score – it’s going to be a long year. However, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. Garza’s a little bit of a mystery, but Zambrano and Dempster being this bad for too much longer would be shocking.
Overall, I'm actually very hopeful still. It appears that the RISP problems are fixable and due for a correction to the mean, especially if someone else bats third.
UPDATE: Looks like Quade is really locked in on Aram as cleanup.
So you've got a cleanup hitter (Aramis Ramirez) who you want right there. And I think the people around him, for the most part everybody, would be flexible in whatever we come up with as far as being productive. When you're mixing and matching with players, I think you have to be flexible.
Why do you want him right there Mike? I sure don't, unless the Cubs trade for an elite hitter in the three hole. I want to like Quade.. I really do, but this one is a head-scratcher. Aram's 4th, huh? No Matter what? OK.. Then bat Castro 3rd, or trade for someone who can bat in runs. Looks like they're thinking about it..:
With Marlon Byrd entering Monday's game with four RBIs and a .150 average (3-for-20) with runners in scoring position, the Cubs eventually may have to move Castro into the No. 3 hole to get more run production out of that spot.
"Castro is a good enough offensive player that he can hit anywhere down in the lineup," general manager Jim Hendry said.
"Right now, I like what (Castro and Barney) are doing at the top," manager Mike Quade said. "But I still think it's a work in progress, and we'll see."
Change is hard, Mike, but sometimes change can be good.