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A look at the Cubs’ second-half offense

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... as we head into the final 23 games of the season.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Chicago Cubs
Nicholas Castellanos celebrates a 3-run home run at Wrigley Field
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This post started as a single thought: Where would this team be without Nicholas Castellanos?

But as I started looking at the numbers I realized that while the Nicholas Castellanos trade jumpstarted the Cubs offense at the trade deadline, the picture is a lot murkier than a hot take. After all, this is a team that scores 10 runs one day and follows it up with a 24-inning scoreless streak all of us would like to forget. So I wanted to do a bit of a deep dive on the Cubs offense what’s clicking, what isn’t and who’s contributing.

The league

I started by looking around the entire league to see how the Cubs offense stacked up in 2019 and since August 1. Here’s the good news, it’s actually better than you think. Across MLB in 2019 the Cubs have had the ninth-best offense among all teams (by fWAR). Additionally, a lot of that offensive might lives in the A.L. with the designated hitter, so I looked at just the N.L. and found the following:

2019 NL offense ranked by WAR

Team G HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Team G HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Dodgers 2054 250 783 9.9% 21.2% .219 .291 .260 .341 .479 .341 112 31.6
Braves 2070 219 758 9.6% 22.9% .196 .305 .260 .337 .456 .333 102 23.6
Diamondbacks 2049 203 725 8.3% 21.1% .190 .297 .258 .327 .448 .325 97 22.5
Cubs 2022 219 685 9.5% 23.6% .199 .297 .252 .332 .451 .329 100 21.3
Nationals 1987 200 749 9.1% 20.9% .190 .305 .264 .340 .454 .334 101 20.7
Brewers 2103 217 649 9.8% 24.5% .192 .297 .248 .328 .440 .323 95 19.1
Mets 2069 201 678 8.1% 22.0% .181 .302 .258 .328 .439 .324 102 18.3
Phillies 2053 179 678 9.3% 22.9% .179 .296 .248 .324 .427 .316 91 17.9
Cardinals 2048 174 653 8.8% 22.4% .165 .294 .248 .321 .413 .312 92 17.0
Padres 2030 200 608 8.0% 25.9% .180 .296 .243 .309 .423 .309 89 13.4
Pirates 2083 156 671 7.0% 19.5% .164 .310 .267 .325 .431 .318 94 10.6
Reds 2133 203 633 7.7% 23.3% .182 .291 .247 .316 .429 .314 88 10.3
Giants 2107 154 609 7.7% 22.7% .162 .289 .241 .304 .403 .299 85 10.2
Rockies 2066 187 736 7.6% 23.7% .189 .324 .267 .326 .456 .328 85 7.4
Marlins 2022 123 522 6.5% 24.7% .131 .301 .240 .298 .371 .286 77 2.0
Select offensive stats by team 2019 Fangraphs

Not only are the Cubs fourth in fWAR despite having played one fewer game than the Diamondbacks and two fewer games than the Braves, they are fifth in wRC+, fifth in OPS, and fourth in wOBA. Additionally, all of the offenses at the top of the NL aside from the Dodgers are clustered really close to each other over the course of the season.

That said, the season is long, and recency matters. So I wanted to look at what the Cubs have accomplished since the trade deadline.

The league since August 1

The Cubs overall numbers are actually better since August 1 than their season long numbers, but they have been overtaken by other teams who have been much hotter in the same time period, as you can see here:

NL Offenses since August 1

Team G HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Team G HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Dodgers 476 67 188 9.7% 22.1% .259 .286 .260 .339 .519 .353 120 8.1
Nationals 441 54 209 9.3% 19.0% .222 .319 .285 .362 .508 .362 120 7.9
Mets 472 48 175 7.4% 19.4% .191 .317 .279 .343 .470 .341 114 6.2
Cardinals 474 37 170 9.6% 21.9% .164 .315 .262 .339 .427 .327 102 5.9
Cubs 481 53 152 9.0% 22.3% .208 .291 .255 .334 .463 .335 105 5.7
Phillies 497 43 170 9.4% 22.8% .194 .306 .256 .331 .450 .327 99 5.5
Braves 463 50 173 10.9% 23.8% .200 .293 .247 .337 .447 .332 101 5.4
Diamondbacks 476 52 167 8.8% 20.3% .202 .288 .259 .330 .460 .331 101 5.2
Pirates 479 41 167 7.3% 17.1% .172 .300 .270 .334 .442 .327 100 3.7
Brewers 474 39 121 9.7% 25.3% .167 .313 .251 .330 .418 .318 92 3.6
Giants 502 40 139 6.3% 21.3% .168 .299 .257 .309 .424 .309 92 3.5
Reds 520 58 156 7.6% 23.7% .197 .290 .250 .317 .447 .320 92 3.3
Rockies 467 50 154 7.4% 21.7% .196 .319 .276 .334 .472 .337 92 3.0
Padres 472 36 135 8.1% 25.6% .157 .301 .240 .307 .397 .301 84 2.2
Marlins 487 35 139 7.3% 25.4% .154 .313 .249 .312 .403 .304 88 2.0
Select offensive stats 2019 Fangraphs

The Cubs’ wRC+ of 105 since August 1 is better than their league average 100 across the whole season. It also indicates they are still the fourth best offense in the league across that time. However, whereas before they found themselves sitting at 100 with their nearest competitors at 102, now there are multiple teams ahead of them over 110. So the Cubs got better, and stayed in the same spot... while other teams got better and moved around them.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that the Braves really tapered off from their hot start and have been passed by a surging Cardinals team, which echoes a lot of what we’ve seen in the standings.

Individual players since August 1

I also wanted to take a look at who might be responsible for some of this movement on the team, sort of a who’s hot on the Cubs right now. So I ran the numbers again since August 1, but this time looked at individual Cubs players with at least 30 plate appearances:

Cubs players offensive stats since August 1

Name G PA HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Name G PA HR R BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Nicholas Castellanos 32 141 12 26 4.3% 22.0% .346 .363 .338 .369 .684 .427 165 1.4
Kyle Schwarber 31 106 10 15 13.2% 20.8% .422 .293 .300 .406 .722 .450 180 1.2
Anthony Rizzo 27 105 4 14 14.3% 9.5% .185 .338 .333 .476 .519 .427 165 1.1
David Bote 17 35 1 7 20.0% 5.7% .231 .478 .462 .600 .692 .537 236 0.7
Javier Baez 28 110 4 15 6.4% 23.6% .235 .315 .265 .309 .500 .333 104 0.7
Victor Caratini 26 82 4 9 11.0% 22.0% .192 .314 .274 .354 .466 .348 113 0.5
Ian Happ 31 81 5 13 7.4% 24.7% .267 .260 .240 .296 .507 .331 102 0.5
Kris Bryant 30 124 5 17 9.7% 28.2% .173 .314 .245 .331 .418 .322 96 0.4
Addison Russell 18 53 2 3 3.8% 28.3% .140 .212 .180 .226 .320 .234 39 -0.1
Albert Almora Jr. 16 33 1 5 6.1% 21.2% .103 .273 .241 .281 .345 .253 51 -0.1
Jonathan Lucroy 14 43 0 1 7.0% 20.9% .051 .300 .231 .302 .282 .253 51 -0.1
Tony Kemp 25 55 0 2 3.6% 21.8% .060 .200 .160 .200 .220 .183 6 -0.5
Jason Heyward 29 121 3 16 11.6% 19.8% .135 .156 .144 .264 .279 .246 47 -0.5
Select offensive stats Fangraphs

The first thing that jumped out at me on this chart was that it’s interesting who is contributing to the Cubs offensively right now - and who is not. It will not shock Cubs fans who have been paying attention that Nicholas Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo top this list. Although it may come as a bit of a surprise just how good they have been. Castellanos has been worth 1.4 fWAR in a little over a month. Schwarber seems to be delivering on all of the promise of an offensive juggernaut with a monster slashline of .300/.406/.722 and 10 HR. Despite only four HR and an injured list stint, Anthony Rizzo is putting up great numbers in the heart of the order with a .333/.476/.517 slashline.

After that it gets a bit more interesting. David Bote has been absolutely crushing the ball in limited plate appearances. Victor Caratini stepped up in the absence of Willson Contreras. Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ have been just about league average. While that is an improvement for Happ, it indicates that Javy and KB could be on the verge of breakouts of their own. Addison Russell, Jonathan Lucroy, Albert Almora Jr., Tony Kemp and Jason Heyward have really struggled, with negative fWAR during this time and wRC+ at about 50 or lower.

Takeaways

The Cubs have managed to stay in the heart of the playoff race while getting some unlikely contributions, but they are going to need to maintain and improve their offense if they want to stave off surging teams or have any hope of retaking the division lead from the Cardinals. The good news is that if you’ve been watching this team for the last few seasons you know they have a really hot streak in them and could put up numbers to rival any team in the league in these final 23 games. The offense looks positively reborn with the return of Contreras and Ben Zobrist. Let’s hope that’s the start of a streak that carries well into October.