Cubs offensive strategy: Get on base and keep things moving

The Cubs don't have a lineup that's going to generate runs easily.   Forget having a 30/30 player.  It's likely the Cubs won't have a player who hits 30 HRs or steal 30 bases, much less both.

It's early in the spring, but for anyone who's watching (or listening) closely, the Cubs have a plan to score runs.  Get on base however you can and take an extra base whenever possible.

Yesterday the Cubs had 9 hits and 7 walks and while it' s still early in the spring, they already seem more willing to grind out at-bats.  It isn't always going to be successful, as on Sunday when the Cubs worked counts and walked 5 times but failed to score, but if they do it enough it does pay off eventually.  Good things will happen when you take as many pitches as possible.  You get ahead on counts and see better pitches to hit.  You see more of the pitchers repertoire and approach.  You get to their pitch limits earlier and get the team's middle relievers in the game.

And, of course, you walk and get more people on base.

But it doesn't stop there.

The Cubs have been far more aggressive on the bases this spring.  We've been used to seeing a team that moves from station to station.  When you have a team that doesn't draw walks (like most Cubs teams in recent history), it puts pressure on the lineup to string multiple hits together in order to score.

So far this spring, the Cubs have been looking for opportunities to take extra bases -- or get thrown out trying.  Instead of putting pressure on their own hitters, they're trying to force the opponents defense into making mistakes.

We've seen the Cubs try and get better reads on pitches that get away from the catchers, although that seems like a work in progress right now.  On at least two occasions, we've seen base runners aggressively break up double plays, once by David DeJesus and the second time it was Brett Jackson, who did it with such zeal that he got the Cubs players and manager Dale Sveum off of their seats in the dugout.  The next game we saw Jackson take an opportunity to stretch a single into a double.  He got thrown out, but it took a hustling play by the outfielder followed by a perfect throw.  He forced the defense to execute a good play.  He lost this time, but I'm willing to bet he wins that gamble more often than he loses over the course of a season.

Under the instruction of ex-Cardinals coach Dave McKay, the Cubs have gone so far as to try and perfect the little things, such as cutting corners on bases.  They have estimated that cutting the corner at 2B instead of stepping directly on top of the base saves about 15 feet.  That can easily mean the difference between an out (or a runner being held at 3B) and a run.  Without heavy hitters, the Cubs are trying to win at the margins.  Extra feet lead to extra bases which lead to extra runs.

Then, of course, there's the stolen base.  The Cubs don't have Lou Brock on their team but it doesn't mean you can't pick and choose spots.  The number of stolen bases is not as important as your success rate.  If you're stealing bases at a 75% clip or better, you're increasing the odds that you're going to score runs.  As of this weekend, the Cubs were leading the Cactus League in stolen bases despite not having a single player that projects to steal 30 bases this season.  As of Sunday, they had stolen 13 bases in 17 attempts, a 76% success rate.

The Cubs no longer have an Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, or a Carlos Pena to provide instant runs with the long ball, so they can't afford to stand around and wait for something to happen.  They have used that opportunity to acquire faster, more athletic players who can keep things moving on the bases.  What's more, the Cubs will get faster as they continue to get younger.  It's not just guys like Jackson who will add speed.  The hope is that the Cubs will continue to bring in more athletic, speedy players from within their organization. Speedster Matt Szczur, for example, has already scored from 2B on a flyball to RF this spring.

Eventually, the team would undoubtedly like to have more hitters who can hit for power to go along with the smarter, more aggressive baserunning, but for right now it seems the Cubs will keep trying to take those extra bases.


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    I like the new emphasis put on fundamentals and a small ball approach. Wrigley isnt built for power hitters most of the year so an extra base or two plus making a hitter work the count should add up. The best part tho so far is it seems to be a total team approach. Finally nice to see players playing hard consistently.

  • In reply to Rich Cap:

    It's a more fun brand of baseball and I'm looking forward to it. So far they've made a few mistakes (I think they've been picked off 4 times so far), but it's part of the process. Once it starts clicking the Cubs may able to steal a few runs here and there.

    I'm not sure it's a strict small ball approach so much as just trying to create more value on the bases. Curiously, despite the contest, one thing they haven't done much of is bunt this spring. I, for one, am good with that. I've never been fond of creating outs on purpose except for specific scenarios and situations.

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    I guess by small ball i'm meaning this isn't the American league where teams sit back and wait for the three run homerun to win games. so far this spring I have seen the cubs do things I haven't seen in a while and I like it. Players are taking walks, which is not only getting pitch counts up but allows average base runners to pick the best opportunity to steal a base. sound baseball and good pitching could surprise people this season and 75-78 wins isn't so out of the question if they stay the course.

  • In reply to Rich Cap:

    I think you're right. It might be optimistic, but if the pitching is good and the Cubs can steal a run here and there, they might win more games than people think.

  • It's spring training John, your supposed to be optimistic. This is what Theo wanted, to get people who get on base and score runs. The Cubs will not be dull this season, whether that means more wins we'll see.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Very true! I like the creativity here of what I've seen so far. Get people on and if you see a good chance to get an extra base whether it's by stretching a hit, stealing, or just getting good jumps out there, then do it. Cubs probably won't bash teams a whole lot, but they'll make them throw strikes and play good defense. I like it.

  • A walk is as good as a hit. If you make them throw the ball bad
    thing might happen (for them)

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Absolutely. Lots of things can happen when you're keeping the pressure on the other teams.

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    I love what the Cubs are doing now. I don't ever remember the Cubs being a great baserunning team. It's about time they work hard on the basics. Things are looking up for the Cubs, granted it's only spring training, but if I was a betting man, I would bet my money on the Cubs getting more wins then expected.

  • In reply to Danny Guerra:

    Me neither. They've always seemed to be really bad (i.e. Ryan Theriot) or just really slow and conservative -- and lately it seems like they've been both.

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    There have been teams that powered their way to a World Series, and there have been teams that stole their way to a World Series, but the truly great World Series teams, the ones we remember the most, were well balanced between power and speed.

    I believe this team has been cursed. It has been cursed by incompetent owners followed by owners who saw it as nothing more than a cash cow. It's been cursed by incompetent front offices who totally misread the ballpark and how it affects play.

    It's been well documented and discussed that the wind blows in at Wrigley more often than it blows out, but with the exception of Dallas Green, every Cubs GM I can remember has bought into the fallacy that Wrigley is a hitters park. They have built teams for power at the expense of speed, and they have done so to their own detriment.

    I don't think this ownership or this front office will repeat those mistakes. The Cubs may never lead the league in stolen bases under this regime, but they will be able to run the bases.

    I mentioned this in another thread, but I was on my phone when I typed it, and I didn't really get to expand on it. I think this team could be a pleasant surprise a lot like the 2001 team was. Like that team, this team is going to be built around pitching and defense, but unlike that team, there is no Sammy Sosa. So they're going to have to manufacture runs.

    Anyways, 2001 is where I see this team's ceiling if the pitching and the defense come through. Could this team find itself 4.5 up on July 1 like that team did? It's possible, but a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Cubs, and a lot things are going to have to go wrong for the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Pirates for it to happen. However, if that team finished over .500 and in third place like that team did, I'd think we'd all be ecstatic.

    A bigger question, and I posed it in the other thread, is how will this front office and ownership react if, on July 1, this team were either in first place or within reasonable striking distance of a playoff spot?

    I think they might tinker around the edges to make this team better for the stretch run, but I don't see them going all out and doing anything that would hurt the team long term. They will stay the course. Besides, the best moves this team might make in such an instance might come from within the organization.

    Imagine, if you will, this Cubs team finding itself 5 games back on July 1, and Jackson, Rizzo and maybe even Josh Vitters are all tearing the cover off the ball in Iowa. Stranger things have happened.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    It almost reminds me of the '89 team (a Dallas Green built team even thought Frey was the GM at the time) that didn't have a ton of talent but those guys were always forcing the issue. I've never been able to find the stat but I saw something wehre Shawon Dunston ranked 1st in terms of taking the most extra bases (i.e. 1st to home on a double, 2nd to home on a single, etc.) along with the highest success rate. Fun team and they wound up winning more than expected. Not saying Cubs will win division, but could see them surprising and winning more games than people think.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's kind of where I am at in my thinking John, I don't know what to really expect from this team, but I think it's going to be better than most people think.

    1989 is a good comparison, and maybe even a better comparison. I could think of worse pitchers than Garza and Dempster to build a rotation around, and if Woods, Volstad and Samardziga were to step up and prove capable, Maholm could find himself as trade bait by mid-season, and the Cubs could find themselves with a playoff caliber rotation already in hand. Combine that with a much improved defense and you're over halfway there.

    I don't really think that this team will be quite as good as either of those two teams, but again, I think that could be their ceiling. A lot of things would have to fall in favor of the Cubs and against the Cards, Reds, Brewers and Pirates for this team to make the playoffs, but I don't think third place and a winning record in unrealistic, and I think fourth place and around .500 is very doable.

    I expect this team to play hard and smartly, and I think, if you are a team fighting for a playoff spot in September, the Cubs are not going to be a team you want to play.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    That's what I want to see from the Cubs this year. They may or may not win a lot, but either way, you'll know you've been in a fight. You're going to have to show up and be ready to play.

  • For perspective, the Cubs stole the second fewest bases in the NL last season, so we're talking about a really slow team. I'm not sure, but I don't believe any of the new starting position players are considered to be faster than average. We're looking at another really slow team here for 2012. The lack of speed to go with the lack of power is a bad mix, so lets hope that more aggressive and fundamentally sound baserunning pays off.
    Can someone rank the starting players in terms of their potential to steal bases? I'm not sure who's faster/slower than average; I'm also curious what kind of stolen base numbers we can hope for.
    I did check Joe Mather on Fangraphs (It's spring, what if he's flowering before our eyes?) and he's never stolen many bases, so lets hope he continues to slug. I think if he hits one more homer over the next two games then he will have earned a special Mather-focused post on Cubs Den, as we all will be in a lather over Mather (start printing the shirts).

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Oh. I agree. They have mostly average runners, but past teams have been well below average. So it's an upgrade. They'll be a team that picks and chooses spots but they won't have a ton of steals, in my opinion.

    Castro may steal the most bases (or Campana off the bench if he makes the team) and you might see a few guys steal between 8-12 bases like DeJesus, Byrd, Stewart, Barney, and even Soriano. It will add up a little but the main goal is timeliness and making sure you steal at a good percentage.

    Mather has played well, but I agree he's more of a power guy than speed -- though he's athletic and does have both. I did write-up Mather, by the way, as a spring training surprise candidate about a week ago. Here's the link...

    I think you're right that I may have to write a more thorough piece if this keeps up!

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    The best thing that could happen to this team is for Soriano to be playing so well that he is considered on July 1 to be a lock for NL Comeback POY. If that were to happen, a contending team, one that he might actually waive his NTC for, could have some interest.

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