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The Cubs’ offense was resurgent in May

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Can they sustain it? A look at wRC+ and BABIP

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Anthony Rizzo hits a solo home run against the Pirates
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

By quite a few measures the Cubs have had the best offense in the National League in 2018. Don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the National League team batting leaderboard as of June 1:

National League Team Batting Leaders: 2018

Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Cubs 788 2145 9.8% 20.3% .173 .310 .262 .345 .435 .336 110 13.5
Braves 818 2208 9.2% 19.7% .165 .306 .264 .336 .428 .329 107 10.9
Pirates 798 2152 8.5% 19.4% .167 .296 .258 .327 .425 .324 104 9.0
Giants 833 2151 7.8% 24.5% .150 .327 .260 .321 .410 .317 102 7.0
Mets 815 2063 9.3% 22.1% .152 .289 .242 .318 .393 .310 98 7.3
Nationals 799 2125 10.0% 20.8% .172 .276 .240 .322 .412 .317 97 7.7
Brewers 831 2141 8.8% 23.3% .160 .299 .248 .318 .408 .315 95 8.1
Cardinals 812 2083 8.9% 23.1% .151 .291 .242 .318 .394 .311 95 6.8
Dodgers 872 2159 9.4% 22.0% .156 .283 .236 .315 .393 .307 95 6.6
Phillies 782 2041 10.3% 25.6% .157 .298 .236 .320 .393 .311 94 5.9
Reds 842 2204 9.1% 21.5% .134 .296 .245 .322 .380 .308 91 5.0
Padres 828 2134 8.0% 26.1% .139 .293 .229 .295 .368 .289 84 2.2
Diamondbacks 803 2027 9.4% 25.6% .156 .267 .215 .291 .371 .289 79 4.2
Marlins 835 2106 7.5% 23.2% .113 .291 .233 .301 .346 .285 79 1.6
Rockies 794 2102 8.9% 23.6% .163 .289 .240 .312 .403 .310 78 1.7
Selected batting stats by team for 2018 Fangraphs

This was built on the team really taking it up to another level in May as you can see below. I cross-referenced these offensive numbers with BABIP (batting average on balls in play) to see if they are the result of luck. A BABIP substantially over .300 would indicate an outlier, while BABIPs closer to .300 would be closer to average. While the team BABIP of .312 indicates the Cubs may be getting a bit lucky, that .312 BABIP is more sustainable than the .321 the Brewers are sporting and substantially less lucky than the .357 the Giants put up in May.

National League Team Batting Leaders: May 2018

Team BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Team BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Cubs 11.0% 19.1% .185 .312 .272 .355 .456 .348 120 8.3
Giants 7.9% 24.5% .160 .357 .281 .340 .442 .337 116 5.3
Brewers 9.0% 23.8% .181 .321 .265 .333 .446 .336 109 5.7
Pirates 8.1% 19.5% .184 .294 .258 .326 .441 .330 109 4.9
Braves 9.3% 19.2% .158 .296 .259 .331 .417 .323 103 4.5
Nationals 8.6% 20.0% .198 .265 .241 .312 .439 .322 101 3.9
Mets 7.7% 21.3% .158 .286 .245 .306 .403 .308 97 3.4
Phillies 8.7% 25.1% .172 .296 .241 .313 .413 .315 97 3.3
Cardinals 7.9% 23.2% .149 .300 .249 .317 .398 .311 96 3.4
Reds 8.5% 21.0% .151 .292 .249 .320 .400 .314 95 3.1
Dodgers 9.3% 22.2% .161 .265 .225 .305 .386 .300 90 2.5
Rockies 8.5% 21.9% .174 .304 .258 .324 .432 .326 89 2.2
Marlins 6.8% 22.3% .125 .293 .239 .300 .364 .290 82 1.3
Padres 7.8% 24.9% .139 .286 .227 .288 .366 .284 80 0.7
Diamondbacks 8.3% 26.4% .123 .245 .193 .264 .316 .257 57 -0.9
Selected batting stats by team May 2018 Fangraphs

As you can see the Cubs are putting up impressive numbers across the board. They accumulated 2.6 more fWAR than the second best team (the Brewers) in May. They are back to leading the NL in BB% (despite Javier Baez’s insistence on swinging “as long as the pitcher is throwing.”) They are also at the top of the leaderboard in OBP, SLG, and wOBA. For the purpose of today’s article, however. I wanted to take a look at one particular stat: weighted runs created plus (wRC+) where the Cubs are dominating the team and individual leaderboards.

What is wRC+?

First a reminder of what wRC+ is and why it’s helpful. wRC+ uses wOBA (weighted on base average) to look at the runs created by a player or team. It’s adjusted for park effects. One of the things that is nice about wRC+ is that 100 is set as the average and any point above or below 100 indicates that a player is 1 percent above or below league average. In other words, the Cubs’ team wRC+ of 120 in May is 20 percent better than a team composed of league average players. It’s also an 18 percent improvement over the wRC+ of 102 they put up in March and April.

That’s a big jump in the month of May and as you can imagine the Cubs needed quite a few of their players to step up in order to make that happen. Let’s take a look at who led the way for the Cubs in wRC+ in May.

Individual players

The Cubs have four of the top 30 qualified National League players by wRC+ in May. That is tied with the Giants for the most representatives of any individual team. Let’s take a look at the National League wRC+ leaderboard:

Top 30 NL Batters by wRC+ in May (Qualified)

Name Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Name Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Scooter Gennett Reds 26 99 3.0% 22.2% .323 .453 .398 .418 .720 .479 208 1.5
Brandon Crawford Giants 27 112 6.3% 16.1% .206 .463 .412 .446 .618 .449 192 1.7
Brandon Nimmo Mets 27 101 14.9% 21.8% .301 .321 .277 .406 .578 .418 172 1.3
Nolan Arenado Rockies 26 117 13.7% 20.5% .297 .371 .327 .419 .624 .439 166 1.4
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 25 103 10.7% 25.2% .286 .367 .297 .379 .582 .405 160 1.1
Gorkys Hernandez Giants 22 84 7.1% 25.0% .260 .385 .325 .369 .584 .402 160 0.6
Freddie Freeman Braves 29 127 12.6% 15.0% .164 .391 .355 .433 .518 .405 159 1.2
Carlos Santana Phillies 26 110 12.7% 10.9% .313 .260 .281 .373 .594 .406 159 0.9
Eugenio Suarez Reds 27 116 11.2% 16.4% .316 .280 .296 .371 .612 .404 157 1.2
Matt Adams Nationals 26 92 9.8% 15.2% .361 .217 .265 .337 .627 .404 157 0.7
Matt Kemp Dodgers 28 103 3.9% 18.4% .196 .416 .361 .379 .557 .396 156 0.9
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 26 120 15.0% 8.3% .273 .262 .293 .400 .566 .402 155 1.1
Brandon Belt Giants 27 121 10.7% 23.1% .210 .384 .314 .397 .524 .393 154 1.2
Nick Markakis Braves 29 126 6.3% 10.3% .172 .382 .362 .397 .534 .395 152 1.1
Christian Yelich Brewers 27 119 7.6% 20.2% .211 .388 .330 .387 .541 .398 151 1.2
Travis Shaw Brewers 26 103 10.7% 15.5% .326 .235 .261 .340 .587 .391 147 1.1
Jesus Aguilar Brewers 25 107 11.2% 29.0% .293 .309 .272 .355 .565 .387 144 0.7
Kris Bryant Cubs 26 125 10.4% 20.0% .255 .316 .282 .368 .536 .382 142 1.2
Chris Taylor Dodgers 27 112 14.3% 25.9% .198 .339 .253 .393 .451 .372 140 0.9
Buster Posey Giants 20 89 9.0% 12.4% .127 .368 .329 .393 .456 .369 138 0.7
Anthony Rendon Nationals 22 93 12.9% 15.1% .288 .258 .263 .355 .550 .376 137 0.9
Willson Contreras Cubs 23 103 11.7% 16.5% .227 .304 .273 .369 .500 .372 135 0.9
Joey Votto Reds 28 115 12.2% 15.7% .130 .375 .320 .409 .450 .373 135 0.8
Justin Bour Marlins 28 111 20.7% 25.2% .250 .259 .227 .387 .477 .363 132 0.2
Josh Bell Pirates 27 108 12.0% 17.6% .204 .315 .280 .361 .484 .361 130 0.5
J.T. Realmuto Marlins 25 108 7.4% 19.4% .182 .355 .293 .352 .475 .356 128 1.0
Odubel Herrera Phillies 26 110 8.2% 19.1% .182 .324 .283 .355 .465 .356 125 0.8
Bryce Harper Nationals 26 114 7.9% 23.7% .340 .194 .223 .289 .563 .357 125 0.5
Ben Zobrist Cubs 24 98 13.3% 12.2% .165 .286 .271 .367 .435 .353 122 0.9
Eric Hosmer Padres 28 118 10.2% 18.6% .198 .313 .274 .347 .472 .345 122 0.3
Selected stats for the top qualified batters in the NL in May sorted by wRC+ Fangraphs

The Cubs are well represented in the above group. Anthony Rizzo is riding a hot streak and led the Cubs offense in May with a 155 wRC+. He’s followed by Kris Bryant at 142, Willson Contreras at 135 and Ben Zobrist at 122. However, as I was looking at these numbers it seemed like someone was missing, after all, Albert Almora Jr. has been excellent all month and it was odd that he’s not on this list.

Well, it turned out both Almora and Ian Happ just missed the qualified mark, so I ran the numbers again with a minimum of 80 plate appearances.

Top 30 NL batters by wRC+ in May (min. 80 PA)

Name Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Name Team G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Scooter Gennett Reds 26 99 3.0% 22.2% .323 .453 .398 .418 .720 .479 208 1.5
Brandon Crawford Giants 27 112 6.3% 16.1% .206 .463 .412 .446 .618 .449 192 1.7
Brandon Nimmo Mets 27 101 14.9% 21.8% .301 .321 .277 .406 .578 .418 172 1.3
Nolan Arenado Rockies 26 117 13.7% 20.5% .297 .371 .327 .419 .624 .439 166 1.4
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 25 103 10.7% 25.2% .286 .367 .297 .379 .582 .405 160 1.1
Gorkys Hernandez Giants 22 84 7.1% 25.0% .260 .385 .325 .369 .584 .402 160 0.6
Freddie Freeman Braves 29 127 12.6% 15.0% .164 .391 .355 .433 .518 .405 159 1.2
Carlos Santana Phillies 26 110 12.7% 10.9% .313 .260 .281 .373 .594 .406 159 0.9
Daniel Descalso Diamondbacks 25 80 11.3% 28.8% .275 .395 .290 .388 .565 .405 158 0.7
Eugenio Suarez Reds 27 116 11.2% 16.4% .316 .280 .296 .371 .612 .404 157 1.2
Matt Adams Nationals 26 92 9.8% 15.2% .361 .217 .265 .337 .627 .404 157 0.7
Matt Kemp Dodgers 28 103 3.9% 18.4% .196 .416 .361 .379 .557 .396 156 0.9
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 26 120 15.0% 8.3% .273 .262 .293 .400 .566 .402 155 1.1
Brandon Belt Giants 27 121 10.7% 23.1% .210 .384 .314 .397 .524 .393 154 1.2
Nick Markakis Braves 29 126 6.3% 10.3% .172 .382 .362 .397 .534 .395 152 1.1
Ian Happ Cubs 24 80 21.3% 35.0% .355 .310 .226 .400 .581 .396 152 0.8
Derek Dietrich Marlins 24 81 6.2% 21.0% .222 .365 .306 .383 .528 .393 152 0.5
Christian Yelich Brewers 27 119 7.6% 20.2% .211 .388 .330 .387 .541 .398 151 1.2
Max Muncy Dodgers 25 84 15.5% 22.6% .290 .283 .261 .381 .551 .388 151 0.9
Travis Shaw Brewers 26 103 10.7% 15.5% .326 .235 .261 .340 .587 .391 147 1.1
Jesus Aguilar Brewers 25 107 11.2% 29.0% .293 .309 .272 .355 .565 .387 144 0.7
Kris Bryant Cubs 26 125 10.4% 20.0% .255 .316 .282 .368 .536 .382 142 1.2
Chris Taylor Dodgers 27 112 14.3% 25.9% .198 .339 .253 .393 .451 .372 140 0.9
Buster Posey Giants 20 89 9.0% 12.4% .127 .368 .329 .393 .456 .369 138 0.7
Anthony Rendon Nationals 22 93 12.9% 15.1% .288 .258 .263 .355 .550 .376 137 0.9
Willson Contreras Cubs 23 103 11.7% 16.5% .227 .304 .273 .369 .500 .372 135 0.9
Joey Votto Reds 28 115 12.2% 15.7% .130 .375 .320 .409 .450 .373 135 0.8
Albert Almora Jr. Cubs 25 82 8.5% 12.2% .122 .375 .338 .390 .459 .369 133 0.9
Justin Bour Marlins 28 111 20.7% 25.2% .250 .259 .227 .387 .477 .363 132 0.2
Josh Bell Pirates 27 108 12.0% 17.6% .204 .315 .280 .361 .484 .361 130 0.5
National League batting leaders by wRC+ min 80 PA Fangraphs

While this run of the data bumps Zobrist out of the top 30 (he’s 34th), both Happ and Almora make the cut and the Cubs are the only team with five players in the top 30. Interestingly, Happ has the second highest wRC+ on the team in May at 152, just behind Rizzo. Almora is 28th with a wRC+ of 133.

How much of this is luck?

Having five players with a wRC+ over 130 is outstanding. No other team in MLB had five players over 130. The Yankees and Indians were the next closest with four a piece. The potent Red Sox offense had three. So I had to take a look and see how much of what the Cubs accomplished in May was luck.

To do this I ran Cubs batting statistics for players with at last 80 plate appearances and looked at their numbers and their BABIP.

Cubs select batting stats by wRC+ (min. 80 PA)

Name G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Name G PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Anthony Rizzo 26 120 15.0% 8.3% .273 .262 .293 .400 .566 .402 155 1.1
Ian Happ 24 80 21.3% 35.0% .355 .310 .226 .400 .581 .396 152 0.8
Kris Bryant 26 125 10.4% 20.0% .255 .316 .282 .368 .536 .382 142 1.2
Willson Contreras 23 103 11.7% 16.5% .227 .304 .273 .369 .500 .372 135 0.9
Albert Almora Jr. 25 82 8.5% 12.2% .122 .375 .338 .390 .459 .369 133 0.9
Ben Zobrist 24 98 13.3% 12.2% .165 .286 .271 .367 .435 .353 122 0.9
Kyle Schwarber 22 94 18.1% 24.5% .195 .294 .234 .372 .429 .343 115 0.6
Addison Russell 23 94 10.6% 29.8% .133 .396 .277 .355 .410 .337 111 0.8
Javier Baez 25 106 0.9% 23.6% .233 .288 .262 .274 .495 .324 103 0.4
Select batting stats for Cubs (min. 80 PA) Fangraphs

So how much of this was luck? Well, the answer is, not much. Almora’s .375 BABIP indicates he’s due for a regression. The same is likely true for Addison Russell’s who rode a .396 BABIP to a 111 wRC+ in May. Everyone else looks remarkably sustainable, although it wouldn’t shock me if Bryant or Happ cooled off a bit.

Two final takeaways from this data. First, Anthony Rizzo somehow built a 155 wRC+ on a .262 BABIP, which indicates he’s due for an improvement going forward, which would be incredible news for the Cubs in June.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Cubs don’t have a single player with at least 80 plate appearances in May who had a wRC+ under 100. Every regular batter was above average in May.*

This bodes well for the Cubs offense as they enter June. The weather continues to get warmer in Chicago and I think there are good reasons to believe the Cubs bats aren’t cooling off any time soon.

* Since someone will ask: Jason Heyward didn’t quite make the cut for this table (he only had 58 plate appearances in May). However, it’s worth noting that his wRC+ of 90 in May is an improvement over each of his previous season marks with the Cubs. He’s also slashing .364/.405/.515 with a wRC+ of 147 since returning from the disabled list.