Editor's note: Naveen has had a busy work month, so the July recap was delayed. It's still valuable and useful to have a look back at the month with many roster changes. -- Al
July saw many players leave, some join, and several change roles within the organization. The Cubs, once again, made a present for future trade, likely shaving a couple of wins off this year's team, but hopefully adding many to future teams. The team went 10-16 in July, and found itself fourteen games back of the division-leading Brewers.
Runs Scored: 107 | Runs Scored per Game: 4.12 | Runs Allowed: 141 | Runs Allowed per Game: 5.42
Competition Adjusted Runs Scored: 1.01 | Competition Adjusted Runs Allowed: 1.38
The Cubs' staff struggled in July, allowing 38% more runs than the average staff would have allowed against the competition the Cubs faced. This bucked the trend that I mentioned last month, and is at least partially a result of the trades in July.
That said, the position players fared much better in July as the offense posted the 8th best wRC+ (105) in July, which is well above their season average (87).
The Three Most Important Plays
7/10 Top 12, men on 1st and 2nd with two outs, 4-4 Tie: Luis Valbuena triples off J.J. Hoover to give the Cubs a 6-4 lead, resulting in a .441 WPA. The Cubs had a 48.3% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 92.4% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/25 Bot 7, man on 1st with one out, 6-5 Cardinals: Luis Valbuena homers off Kevin Siegrist to give the Cubs a 7-6 lead, resulting in a .417 WPA. The Cubs had a 35.9% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 77.6% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/30 Bot 8, man on 2nd with two outs, 4-2 Rockies: Luis Valbuena homers off Tommy Kahnle to tie the game, resulting in a .404 WPA. The Cubs had a 12.1% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 52.5% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub
Anthony Rizzo: As of this writing, Rizzo is tied with Miguel Cabrera with 3.9 WAR this season, and is only four tenths away from the major league lead among first basemen (Jose Abreu sits on top with 4.3 WAR).
While a couple of Rizzo's main peripherals mirror those of his 2013 season -- BB% at 11.7% vs. 11.0% last year and K% at 18.7% vs. 18.4% last year -- we can point to a few figures behind his breakout season: ISO, BABIP, and P/PA.
Rizzo's Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) is at a career-high .232, 25% greater than his ISO last year. Part of this can be attributed to his batted ball profile: his GB% is at a career-low 36.8% and his LD% + FB% is at a career-high 63.2% (21.6 LD%, 41.6 FB%). Rizzo's hitting the ball in the air more frequently than he has in the past, which naturally helps his power numbers (SLG% on ground balls is lower than on fly balls).
After suffering from a low BABIP last year (.258), Rizzo's BABIP has rebounded to a relatively normal .295 this year (league average is .300). This in a year in which he's hitting more fly balls than in the past (fly balls have a lower BABIP than ground balls).
Finally, while a seven tenths increase in BB% doesn't seem like much, combine that with his P/PA figures -- 3.64 in 2012, 3.79 (+4.1%) in 2013, 4.03 (+6.3%) in 2014 -- and it points to a more patient Rizzo.
Least Valuable Cub
Travis Wood: Though Wood's raw July numbers look atrocious, some of the poor performance can be chalked up to bad luck (.402 BABIP). In fact, July -- during which he posted his second highest K% and second lowest FIP -- was arguably his second best month of the year.
That said, after a constructive 2013, 2014 has been a disappointing season for Wood. I discussed Wood's struggles in last month's recap (they have, unfortunately, continued), to which Poloplaya14 responded with the following:
Wood's problem actually isn't that he's not commanding his pitches. It's that batters are laying off his stuff more. His Zone% is only a hair worse than it was last year (51.8 vs. 53.0). But batters are only swinging at 43.7% of his pitches this year, instead of 48% last year. The junk pitches just outside of the zone that guys were swinging at last year are now getting called balls. He needs to adjust and start pounding the strike zone more.
I'd agree that batters aren't swinging at pitches outside the zone as frequently (24.2% O-Swing% this year versus 27.5% last year), and that's a very good point, but that could be a result of command issues as the pitches out of the zone could be landing a few more inches outside the zone than they were last year, which would lead to batters taking more pitches out of the zone. Unfortunately, Command F/X -- SportVision's technology that tracks the catcher's glove -- data is not publicly available.
Let's look at three reasons why a pitcher could be struggling: velocity, control, and command. Wood's velocity is a touch, but not significantly, lower than it was last year. His control is a little worse, as well, as Wood has thrown 62.8% of his pitches for strikes this year versus 64.7% last year, but again, it isn't significantly worse (3% decline). Thus, command likely plays a significant role in Wood's struggles.
Finally, let's dive in to what was Wood's best pitch in 2013: his cutter. His cutter has suffered the worst velocity drop (86.7 to 85.5 mph) among his pitches, and has been thrown for strikes significantly less frequently that it was last year (68.3% vs. 62.1%). After serving as his best pitch in 2013 it's now rated below average. The change in his approach may have something to do with it: as we can see below, he's no longer throwing as many cutters over the plate. I don't know whether that's by design or as a result of command issues. Regardless, it's an important storyline moving forward.
Up and Comers