There continues to be only crumbs for fans to digest in offseason news. The latest tidbit is that the Milwaukee Brewers have made an offer to Yu Darvish. There is no word about the size of the offer, and so it seems like the news only clouds the end date surrounding the top free agent starting pitcher. 148 players are still looking for jobs at this moment, and so it seems likely that the Cubs incomplete offseason won't receive its final pieces until well after pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. One definitive piece of news was that the Cardinals completed yet another trade involving an outfielder. Randal Grichuk headed north of the border and the Cardinals received two young pitchers that throw hard.
The player that was drafted immediately ahead of Mike Trout has struggled to find success in the big leagues. That is except when facing the team from the Northside of Chicago. His career slash line is a paltry .249/.297/.488 that has been marred by large consistency issues. Grichuk has spent time in the minor leagues trying to find to the form he displays against the Cubs on a permanent basis. If he hit closer to the .296/.335/.638 slugger the Cubs faced in nearly 50 games, then it is unlikely that he would have been frustrated being forced into a fourth outfielder role in St. Louis. Thankfully for all parties involved the Cardinals found a willing taker in a team that the Cubs do not face this year.
The Cubs will not have to think about Randal Grichuk in 2018, unless an improbable Toronto-Chicago World Series match up occurs. Oh great now I can only picture Randal Grichuk getting to play the role of Joe Carter. Alright going to try to block out that mental image, and instead talk about Grichuk's uncanny ability to deliver against the Chicago Cubs. The title of Cubs Killer is one frequently bestowed by fans, and it may just be a figment of our collective imaginations to a degree. Now it is undisputable that Grichuk plays at an all-star level facing Cubbie blue, and is a guy struggling to hold a job in the big leagues versus everyone else. But is that a skill or just random luck of the baseball sequencing gods?
The few paragraphs more I am going to write is not going to be able to definitively answer that question. There is always danger in slicing data up into chunks that you will draw the wrong conclusions. Grichuk faced the Cubs a lot as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals for four years, but we are still talking about just 161 plate appearances. On the other hand just because the statistics aren't large enough to conclusive prove whether something is a skill or not does not definitively mean that it is entirely random occurrence either. Logically speaking the ballpark and the pitching staff faced has a great deal of effect on a hitter's performance. Edgardo Alfonzo hated playing at Wrigley, and it certainly wasn't the 90s Cubs pitching staffs that kept his numbers low in the ballpark. The opposite is certainly possible. Also while pitching staffs change over time every organization has its own philosophies. The Cardinals are only interested in an arm if it is capable of throwing triple digits it seems. The Cubs focus on athleticism and clean, repeatable deliveries certainly has led to the Cubs staff looking a certain way. It doesn't seem impossible to suggest that there was some reason for the success Grichuk enjoyed facing the Cubs that isn't just explained by luck.
Kirk Niuwenhuis provides a solid example of what just random sequencing looks like. The Cubs could not retire Niuwenhuis in 2016 as he posted a .333/.472/.762(!) slash line against. However, those numbers drop considerable in any other year. Hence, why his career slash line is merely a .243/.378/.572 with nearly half of his plate appearances coming from 2016 with a Bonds like slash line. Niuwenhuis has shown no ability to duplicate the success he had against the Cubs in the way that Randal Grichuk, Billy Hamilton or Paul Goldschmidt have had.
This is the career leader board in wRC+ against the Cubs since 1998. I selected the arbitrary and round number of 100 plate appearances as the minimum. The statistic wRC+ is used because it is a total measure of offensive production that is era neutral. A player over 100 was better than league average in that year and each point over represents the percent better than the rest of the league the player was. Paul Goldschmidt has posted a Ruthian 214 wRC+, but that isn't terrible surprising that a great hitter has teams that he has dominated like this. The entire top 10 is filled with quality hitters. It isn't until Gordon Beckham popping up at 13 that you have the first surprise, and at number 16 is Randal Grichuk.
The definition of Cubs Killer is nebulous. Mike Schmidt is often cited as a historical example and his numbers are indeed spectacular against the Cubs. However, does a Hall of Famer level player like Mike Schmidt or Paul Goldschmidt (if not a future Hall of Famer is perennial All-Star) having slightly better numbers against the Cubs really count? Or rather is it more a player like Billy Hamilton that goes from being a below average to well above average hitter against the Cubs. Here is the top 20 batters from the same list measured by the difference between their wRC+ against the Cubs and their career wRC+
Gordon Beckham shoots the top of the list by this measure and I am surprised I don't have strong feelings about the former White Sox looking at these numbers. Randall Grichuk moves up to 13 by using this metric, and so again highlights just how relatively strong his Cubs killing credentials truly are. Billy Hamilton, by the way, just misses the cut at number 23 with a 37.6 difference.
Grichuk undeniably feasted against Cubs pitchers. Grichuk certainly should be in that category of Cubs Killer. The fact that not having to face Grichuk ranks highly in the list of things that've improved the Cubs win total this season reflects just how slow the offseason has been.