The Chicago Cubs set a Major League record in 2021 with 1,595 strikeouts by batters. That included four hitters who struck out 130 or more times, including one (Javier Báez) who didn’t even finish the year with the team.
So management set out to correct that by acquiring players who didn’t strike out as much, or at least would try to put the ball in play more often.
For a time this season, that appeared to work. Through games of April 17 — the first nine games of the season — the Cubs struck out more than nine times just once (13 in a 5-4 loss to the Brewers April 10). They posted a record of 5-4 in those nine games.
Since then, the Cubs have struck out 10 or more times in nine of 14 games. It should not be a surprise that the team record in those 14 games is 4-10.
The importance of the Cubs not striking out and making more contact is because of their relative lack of power. While the team stands in the middle of the pack (15th in MLB) entering Wednesday’s action in slugging percentage at .375 (league average is .370), they have hit just 17 home runs, which is tied for 22nd in MLB. Whatever power this team has, it’s coming in the form of doubles, 44 so far, tied for third in MLB.
What’s going on here? Let’s take a look at the 10 games in which the Cubs have struck out 10 or more times so far this year (team record 3-7).
April 10, 13 strikeouts against Brewers, 5-4 loss
Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta struck out six in four innings and Devin Williams and Josh Hader struck out two each. Cubs hitters looked bad against those two relievers.
April 18, 12 strikeouts against Rays, 4-2 win
Nine of these K’s came against Tampa Bay starter Shane McClanahan, who currently leads the AL with 42 strikeouts (14 K’s per nine innings).
April 21, 12 strikeouts against Pirates, 4-3 loss
Pirates reliever Wil Crowe faced eight Cubs and struck out five of them.
April 22, 10 strikeouts against Pirates, 4-2 loss
This was spread out against five Pirates pitchers. Six of the last 17 Cubs to come to bat from the sixth inning on struck out.
April 24, 11 strikeouts against Pirates, 4-3 loss
In the ninth, David Bednar allowed two doubles, one a pop fly which prevented Rafael Ortega from scoring from second. He struck out the side to end the game.
April 27, 10 strikeouts against Braves, 6-3 win
Probably an exception here, as two of the K’s came in the 10th inning.
April 28, 10 strikeouts against Braves, 5-1 loss
Braves starter Kyle Wright, who is off to a great start, struck out eight in seven innings.
April 30, 15 strikeouts against Brewers, 9-1 loss
Another starter off to a great start, Eric Lauer, struck out 11 Cubs in seven innings. Jake Cousins struck out three in the ninth.
May 1, 12 strikeouts against Brewers, 2-0 win
Another Brewers starter who strikes out a lot of guys in general, Corbin Burnes, struck out 10 Cubs in seven innings. Interestingly, none of those were with RISP.
May 3, 12 strikeouts against White Sox, 3-1 loss
This was spread out among six Sox pitchers. One of them, Yan Gomes in the sixth, happened with runners on second and third.
Overall, the Cubs were outscored 46-20 in those 10 games. In the 13 other games this season, the Cubs have outscored their opponents 77-53. That is skewed, yes, I realize, by the 21-0 win over the Pirates — in which the Cubs struck out a season-low three times and scored all those runs with just one home run.
Looking over those games, there are several in which starters (and entire pitching staffs) who tend to strike out a lot of guys did their thing. The Brewers rank second, the Braves third, the White Sox fourth and the Rays sixth in overall K’s, so the Cubs have been running into pitching staffs who strike out a lot of hitters.
On the other hand, the Cubs have played six games against the Pirates and struck out 54 times, an average of nine K’s per game. That seems like a lot — but that’s basically the Pirates’ average per game for the season, and Pittsburgh ranks just 26th in pitcher strikeouts. So the Pirates are the outlier here.
Cubs batters enter tonight’s game with 202 strikeouts, which ranks 15th in MLB, just a bit above the league average of 199. It seems clear from the above results, though, that this Cubs team is not going to win if they keep striking out as much as they have recently, with 68 strikeouts over their last 11 games, an average of 11.33 per game, and four of those six have been losses. They’ve got to put the ball in play, since they’re not hitting a lot of home runs.
Let’s hope that begins tonight against the White Sox.