Last year after 18 games, the Cubs were 13-5 and had scored 110 runs.
This year’s version is 10-8 and has scored 89 runs, fifth in the N.L. (though just four runs behind the Nationals in second place.)
This is a completely unfair comparison. The 2016 Cubs did things no Cubs team had done in a century, or more.
There’s nothing wrong with what’s happening this season. A better comparison might be to the 2015 season, where the Cubs were 11-7 after 18 games and had scored 83 runs. That year worked out all right.
I thought I’d take a look at Cubs hitters so far this year, how they’re doing, and how that matches expectations.
Willson Contreras: .269/.321/.462, four doubles, two home runs, 113 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR. This is a good start for Willson, although I’d like to see him cut down his K rate (18 strikeouts in 52 at-bats, a 34.6 K rate).
Anthony Rizzo: .296/.412/.535, five doubles, four home runs, 157 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR. Rizzo usually has a hot streak or two during the season. It’s just that it usually comes a bit later (example, June 2016: .378/.467/.744). Getting off to a good start like this is a good sign for Rizzo having a big year, I think.
Javier Baez: .213/.288/.362, four doubles, one home run, 57 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR. Javy has to stop swinging at pitches out of the zone. His K rate has increased quite a bit from last year, when it was 25.7 percent. 17 K’s in 47 at-bats is 36.2 percent. Small sample size, obviously, but this is a bit concerning.
Addison Russell: .257/.316/.443, five doubles, one triple, two home runs, 106 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR. Russell seems to have a knack of getting a big hit in a key situation, whether you believe in clutch hitting or not (example: his walkoff homer last Wednesday). His numbers so far are very close to his career norms.
Kris Bryant: .230/.326/.392, two doubles, two home runs, 98 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR. KB has been trying to hit more to the opposite field this year, with some success. A couple of big games and his numbers will look back to normal.
Kyle Schwarber: .221/.361/.412, four doubles, three home runs, 114 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR. Schwarber has been doing just fine in the leadoff spot with that OBP. His 13 walks rank fifth in the N.L. While you’d like to see the BA a bit higher, it is still early.
Albert Almora Jr.: .281/.361/.438, two doubles, one home run, 120 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR. AA’s OBP is higher than I would have expected, given his propensity to not draw walks. That seems to be changing, as he’s become more selective. This is a very good start.
Jason Heyward: .297/.348/.422, one triple, two home runs, 112 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR. As I noted the other day, it took until June 2, 2016 for Heyward to hit two homers in his first Cubs season. The hard work he put in on revamping his swing seems to be paying off. These numbers are similar to what he put up in his year in St. Louis, and we’d surely take something like this for a full season.
Ben Zobrist: .212/.339/.346, one double, two home runs, 95 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR. Zobrist has been slowed a bit by a back problem that kept him out for a couple of days. These numbers are lower than we’d like to see from Zobs, but Joe Maddon will get him whatever rest he needs to bump them up.
Miguel Montero: .333/.360/.458, one home run, 124 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR. Montero has hit well in limited play. He’ll likely get more playing time than the traditional “backup” catcher, and again, if Maddon can spot him in the lineup where he can do the most good, he can be productive.
Jon Jay: .333/.419/.407, one triple, 132 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR. Jay has not gotten as much playing time as might have been expected, largely due to the good play of Almora. Still, he has produced when asked to and has been especially good pinch-hitting (3-for-6).
Obviously, all of these are fairly small sample sizes. (I’ve left off Matt Szczur as he’s 1-for-8, too small a sample to have any meaningful judgment.) As a team, the 89 runs in 18 games would project to 801 for a full season, not too far off the 808 they scored last year. Keep that up and there should be no problem with the Cubs winning the N.L. Central again in 2017.