No matter how bad a team is, you can’t assume that you can sweep them, particularly on the road (even when your team is playing very well on the road). So it isn’t monumentally shocking that the Cubs lost on Wednesday night. With the loss, the Cubs have now played 13 straight games and they are 7-6 over that series of games. Certainly, that’s not a bad performance, particularly for a team that was (well) under .500
So I’m not going to sweat last night’s performance too much. I do want to talk a bit about Kyle Hendricks. Certainly, the Reds and Great American Ball Park in particular have been hard on Kyle even when he’s good. My concern is that by and large Kyle hasn’t been good. Without question, he’s had good performances. Pretty unquestionably he’s had the best start this year by a Cub. With the rarity of complete games these days, 8⅔ innings of scoreless work is probably a top 1 percent or so start across baseball this year. At least if you value longevity above more dominance over a shorter volume of work.
At some point we can’t ignore what statistics are telling. Obviously there is the dual caution of statistical oddities related to life in a pandemic, especially the 2020 season, and that 2022 is very young. But, if the early season numbers hold, then Kyle has seen his strikeout percentage drop for a third consecutive season. His walk percentage has raised for two consecutive seasons. His home run percentage is increasing for the third year in a row. Those numbers are all moving in the wrong direction. It doesn’t matter where you are on the stuff/crafty spectrum. If you are striking out fewer hitters, walking more hitters and allowing more home runs, your results are going to head in the wrong direction.
Anyone who is good with statistics is always going to give you caveats. And I do think it’s important to double back on them. His walk rate has gone up twice because in the oddity of the 2020 season, he set a career low. So his increase in 2021 wasn’t too far above his career average (though it was above 2.19 to 2.02 as of last night). That other caveat is that the season is young. The cake isn’t baked. We did have that excellent start. And, Kyle tends to be worst in April, improve in May and then more or less improves as the season goes on.
When I was playing a lot of fantasy baseball, some of the benchmark peripherals I was taught to eyeball were seven strikeouts per nine innings, a two to one strikeout to walk ration and less than one homer per nine innings. I’m sure those numbers may have evolved some as those days are many years behind me. But, using those benchmarks, Kyle is almost a full strikeout below that, just barely hits the two to one ratio and is almost a full homer per game too high. Too many balls in play, too many walks and too many homers will doom a pitcher.
I love Kyle. He seems like a fun guy and a good teammate. He’s been a part of some of the most significant games in Cubs history. My last really specific game memory was being at the game he shut out the Cardinals with only 81 pitches. Nostalgia aside, if you handed me the keys to an organization and then the Cubs called me about a trade for him, I’d pass. I hope I’m wrong and I hope he comes back with a vengeance. But I’m concerned he’s slowly declining from the point where he was one of the better pitchers in baseball.
Enough of the negative. Let’s try to find three positives from last night’s game.
- Daniel Norris. Two innings, six batters, four strikeouts. On May 8 Norris was used in relief the day after being used as an opener. From that game forward, Norris has appeared in eight games, pitched 7⅔ innings, faced 29 batters, allowed two hits, five walks, struck out 11 and surrendered a single run (on a homer).
- Nico Hoerner. First appearance off of the injured list and he gets a pinch hit at bat and delivers an RBI single. Welcome back. Hopefully, a bat that delivered a number of key hits early in the season can remain productive.
- Christopher Morel. He just keeps producing. A double and a walk in five plate appearances. He scored the first run of the game after that walk and helped get the game off to a good start. Hoerner was the first of several players looking to return from the injured list. Morel is fighting to stay as long as possible before getting caught in a numbers game.
With that, we can turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from last night’s loss.
Game 43, May 25: Reds 4, Cubs 3 (18-25)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.086). 1-1, RBI
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.070). 1-3, R, BB, K
- Sidekick: Daniel Norris (.068). 2IP (6 batters), 4K
- Billy Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.234). 4IP (18 batters), 5H, BB, 4R, K (L 2-5)
- Goat: Christopher Morel (-.150). 1-4, 2B, BB, R, 2K
- Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.137). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: Joey Votto wears out Kyle Hendricks. Period. End of story. But for Votto, the Cubs probably win last night’s game. Votto had a two-run triple with two outs in the third inning. Those were the decisive runs in the game. (.195)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ had a two-run double with one out and runners on first and third in the first inning. (.131)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Willson Contreras +12.5
- Ian Happ/Scott Effross +10
- Yan Gomes/Kyle Hendricks -6
- Patrick Wisdom -9
- Jason Heyward -11.5
Up Next: A quick turnaround for an early Eastern time zone game (11:35 a.m. CT) as the teams conclude their first series of the year. The Cubs will look to win the series while the Reds look to salvage a split. Justin Steele (1-4, 3.82) starts for the Cubs. To my eye, he’s had his two best starts of the year back-to-back and will look to keep that going. Hunter Greene (1-6, 5.49) has had a rough go of it. However, Greene got blown up by the Brewers on May 5 allowing eight runs and only recording eight outs. That was another one of those magic occurrences where he got crushed in Milwaukee and then did quite a bit better the next start when the game was in Cincinnati. I’m not at all skeptical of that oddity. Anyway, Greene has been better since that May 5 start, allowing four runs on eight hits in 18⅔ innings of work, including the 7⅓ hitless innings in Pittsburgh that he lost after allowing five walks. This is not a gimme.