It’s not hard to find yourself a little disappointed for Nico Hoerner. If you’ve followed sports very much in your life (and if you’re here you certainly have), you eventually become aware that some guys get injured more than others. I’m sincerely hoping that Nico isn’t one of those guys. Following him so far in his time with the Cubs, the myriad of injuries Nico has experienced seem fluky and certainly nothing that would involve conditioning or whatever. But whatever the cause and whatever that will look like going forward, Nico has been pretty productive when he was able to play. Certainly, it was disappointing for him to experience these injuries in a season where the team is almost certainly going to lose 90 games and you’d have loved to have seen him get a ton of reps without the added stress of being on a competitive team.
It’s easy to see the things the Cubs saw that led them to make Nico a first-round pick in 2018. And, it’s not hard to understand why the Cubs were willing to promote him straight to the majors in 2019 despite never spending time in Triple-A (at that time). Certainly, they had a distinct lack of options, but we’ve all seen a team that just won’t go there and would promote some organizational guy or find a guy of the straight or whatever. Nico didn’t embarrass himself in 2019, particularly showing that his glove would play (particularly when it plays at second).
Then the pandemic happened and rather than the sensible thing happening and Nico going back to Iowa to start the 2020 season to develop further, there was no Iowa season. That left the Cubs in a bit of a jam as to what to do with Nico. He was clearly talented enough to be on the roster or more importantly, too important of a piece to completely sit out the 2020 season. You need a guy like that to play and you need coaches a chance to see him get his reps and be able to work with him both at the plate and in the field.
So when 2021 rolled around, the Cubs did send Nico to Iowa and let him polish some of the rough edges. He came out of the gate playing really well in Iowa and it wasn’t long before the temptation proved too great and he was back with the big club. Still, in the early going there were Javier Báez, Matt Duffy, David Bote, and Eric Sogard who could all play up the middle. But injuries, ineffectiveness and then trades moved everyone out of Hoerner’s way. That seems to be the theme of his young career. Circumstances keep compounding and putting him in a position to play.
But again, his own injuries kept him from getting a 600 plate appearance season under his belt. Because of his own injuries, he’s likely going to finish with right around 200 plate appearances. Right now he sits at 165 with a line of .310/.388/.379 for an OPS+ of 109. It’s a small sample size, but the bat plays. Certainly, we’d love to see a bit more power. That slugging percentage is a bit less than you’d love to have. Hopefully, he can keep the bat skills that are driving his performance and his decent speed can pair with some improving power and that number can raise. It’s easier said than done, but you just need a few singles to become doubles and a few doubles to become homers.
Because of the limited playing time, all of Nico’s splits are very small samples and you can’t read much into them. But one thing I noted earlier in the year that I really like is that Nico has a .405 on base percentage when batting eighth. That is driven by eight walks in 79 plate appearances. Obviously, in the National League the pitcher is batting ninth more days than not. Batting in front of the pitcher, they are going to pitch around you more times than average. Nico showed a lot of patience in that spot and took his walks. He also has a .429 on base when batting seventh. There he has seven walks in only 49 plate appearances. Again, you can’t “book” any of these stats.
There can be any number of things going on in those spots. But, many times the biggest value guys batting down in the order can have is just getting on base. It helps to flip the lineup. It’s another one of those things that is easier said than done, but the strategy of baseball isn’t all that hard offensively. You usually have two or three really potent hitters in your lineup and some complimentary parts. Your job is to get those two or three guys to the plate as many times as possible in a game. If you can get them to the plate with men on base, all the better.
If Nico can be a guy who can post an on base percentage near .400 and be a decent defensive player, he’s going to provide this organization value. Next season should see the debut of Nick Madrigal for the Cubs. That’s going to pose new challenges as there are still a lot of questions about Hoerner as a shortstop. I suspect at least in the short term, he’s going to play there. Remember that the Cubs have looked at Nico a bit in the outfield. Certainly, in an ideal world, you’d like quite a bit more power out of your outfielders. One things I’ve certainly learned over years and years following sports and particularly baseball, you never fret too much about having depth. You can’t have too many productive players. Things work themselves out. Particularly in the marathon baseball season, there are opportunities to move players around and get them playing time.
Let’s get to the numbers from last night’s game. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high-leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 152, September 22: Twins 5 at Cubs 4 (67-85)
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.167). 2-4, 2RBI, SB, K
- Hero: Matt Duffy (.146). 1-3, BB, 2B, R, SB, 2K
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.111). 1-3, BB, 2R, RBI, SB, K
- Billy Goat: Trayce Thompson (-.368). 0-4, 3K
- Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.170). 5⅔ IP, 23 batters faced, 5H, 4R (3ER), 3K (L 14-7)
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.148). 0-1, RBI
WPA Play of the Game: With runners on second and third and two outs in the ninth inning, Trayce Thompson faced Alex Colome with the Cubs trailing by one. He struck out, ending the game. (.246)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With one out and runners at second and third, Nico Hoerner batted in the second inning. The Cubs were down two, but not for long. Hoerner singled and two runs scored. (.118)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Frank Schwindel +30
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom +23
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Rafael Ortega +15
- Nico Hoerner +15 (+3)
- *PJ Higgins -9.5
- Rex Brothers -11.5
- David Bote -15
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -22
Up Next: The Cubs are off Thursday, then play two games Friday in a day/night doubleheader at Wrigley Field. Game one is slated to feature Justin Steele (3-3, 4.20) against J.A. Happ (9-8, 6.02). Game two, as of now, will be Zach Davies (6-11, 5.49) against Jack Flaherty (9-2, 3.08).