Now that the Midsummer Classic is over there is no baseball for two full days. I’m already going through withdrawals, but it does provide an ideal time to look back at the Cubs‘ first 90 games to identify areas that are going well and areas that can improve.
I am mostly an optimist, so today’s post will look at the offense for the first 56 percent of the season to see what we can learn. Tomorrow I’ll put on a slightly more
pessimistic realist hat and talk about the pitching staff.
There has been a lot of angst about situational hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) and consistency for the Cubs’s bats so far this season. I’m certainly not here to tell you that hitting .249 with RISP is sufficient (it’s not, it puts the Cubs 24th in MLB). But the offense overall has been better than that, and with any luck the Cubs will see a positive regression on hitting with RISP. Below you can see select offensive categories for all of the teams in the National League:
NL Teams by WAR
The Cubs are solidly third in most categories on this table including WAR, wRC+, wOBA, OBP and SLG. They are first in walk rate and while the Dodgers are the clear frontrunners offensively in the division the Cubs are so close to the Braves on a few of these other categories they are functional ties. The only category where the Cubs really lag behind the rest of the league is stolen bases. Honestly, after a few too many errors on the base paths in the first half I think we’re all okay with them being more cautious trying to swipe bags. Importantly, the Cubs lead the National League Central in just about every offensive category. They will need to keep that up and improve on it to hold on to first place in the second half.
There is also a lot to be happy about looking at individual players on the Cubs. I ran the same numbers for every player with over 90 plate appearances. Why 90, you ask? It ensures that Victor Caratini is included despite missing a substantial amount of time to injury. You can see each player’s first half-ish performance below:
Cubs players w/ at least 90 PA by WAR
|Albert Almora Jr.||266||8||29||25||2||4.5%||14.3%||.149||.266||.250||.286||.399||.287||75||0.5|
Kris Bryant is basically duplicating the season that won him the Most Valuable Player award in 2016. He’s not getting that type of credit at the moment because Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are both having historically good seasons, but I think we can all agree 2016 Bryant is more than good enough. For reference at the All Star Break in 2016 Bryant was slashing .286/.384/.578 with 25 home runs and a wRC+ of 153 through 385 plate appearances.
Interestingly, Javier Báez is also duplicating his 2018 campaign that had him right in the middle of the MVP conversation. At this point last season he was slashing .292/.326/.566 with 19 HR and a wRC+ of 133 through 365 plate appearances.
Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras are both in the middle of seasons that look like their best version of themselves. 2018 was a down year for Rizzo who put up only 2.9 WAR over the entire season. So far in 2019 he’s almost surpassed that with 2.1 WAR. Willson Contreras’ best season by WAR was the 2.5 he put up in 2016 over only 283 plate appearances. He’s only slightly behind that pace at 2.4 WAR over 302 plate appearances in 2019... with 72 games ahead of him.
Jason Heyward is having his best season as a member of the Chicago Cubs by just about every metric. While he’s still quite a bit shy of the 5.6 WAR season he had with the Cardinals in 2015 he’s finally having an above average offensive season at the plate in Chicago.
There is still plenty of room for improvement. The Cubs have four player with a wRC+ under 90 over at least 90 PA including: Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr., Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist (who is notably still on extended leave from the team). While some of these players provide value in the field I have to imagine the Cubs are looking for another bat off the bench.
Overall this is a Cubs offense that has performed well over the first 90 games, but there is still work to be done. The Cubs have been a second-half team in the Joe Maddon era. You can see their records after the All Star Break below:
Cubs record post All Star Break 2015-2018
Here’s hoping they can continue this trend and kick it into another gear for the last 72 games of 2019. If they can, and the pitching improves, they should be able to hold onto the top spot in the N.L. Central in the second half.