The Next Five Years: Fixing The Offense

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Fact: The Cubs won a World Series with lots of free swingers in their lineup.

Also a fact: The Cubs won a World Series with more than just free swingers in their lineup.

The Cubs had 6 hitters qualify for the batting title in 2016. Three of them (Bryant, Russell, Fowler) struck out between 22-23% of the time. The other three (Rizzo, Zobrist, Heyward) struck out less than 16% of the time. All six walked at least 9% of the time. You could argue they were the true "core" of the Cubs lineup in 2016, but by the end of the season and into the playoffs free swingers Javier Baez and to a lesser extent Willson Contreras were also full-time players.

Again, the Cubs won a World Series featuring both types of hitters.

Now, the game has changed, even since 2016. Strikeouts have skyrocketed, thanks to the use of Rapsodo and other technology helping pitchers rework their deliveries to maximize velocity and design all of their pitches to maximize spin efficiency. On top of that, Major League Baseball's lax enforcement of the rules governing a pitcher's use of foreign substances on the ball has allowed pitchers to maximize their spin.

You could say we've reached the nadir of the steroid era, when hitters got smarter and the popular form of cheating (which the league also turned a blind eye toward) helped them more so than pitchers.

Guys susceptible to strikeouts at 22% rate in 2016 are likely to have seen their K rates rise toward 25% and beyond in the years since. There are still contact hitters in the league though, just not on the Cubs.

In 2020, the team had 5 hitters qualify for the batting title. All but Rizzo (15.6%) punched out at a rate exceeding 25% (Happ, Contreras, Schwarber, Baez). There isn't a problem with any particular player from the latter group. You can form a functioning and consistent offense with players like this involved, the Cubs have proven that, other teams as well. The current proportions for the Cubs are simply out of whack.

The Cubs still get people on base. They still hit home runs (although even that slipped in 2020 thanks to the lack of production from Bryant and Baez). But without a Ben Zobrist to compliment Rizzo as a second contact hitter in the middle of the order, the team is letting opportunities for rallies pass right by them (through the strike zone).

Besides Rizzo, the only players on the 2020 Cubs to strike out at a clip below 20% were a rookie (Nico Hoerner) who wasn't quite ready for primetime, and a third string catcher (Josh Phegley) who accounted for a grand total of 18 plate appearances. That is not a formula for success. It is more like a witch's brew designed to make the eyes of unsuspecting fans bleed.

The Cubs don't need to blow up the core and start from scratch, but they do need to reconfigure it. They need to replace one of them with a Zobrist-type. If they can make an additional swap and truly create a nice balance like they achieved in 2016, they'd be all the better for it.

Until they do, the offense will remain inconsistent. It will remain broken.

 

A core isn't the whole ball

Good teams require depth. They need secondary pieces which compliment the center to create a structurally sound whole.

Even though Jason Heyward still makes contact at a decent rate and has improved overall as a hitter since 2016, he's also slid out of a full-time role, and into more of a platoon player, which would be fine, except the team has failed to find a competent right-handed compliment for him. They need to find that player soon.

They also no longer have a Chris Coghlan to help Heyward extend and diversify the lineup, or a Tommy La Stella and an actually contributing Albert Almora to come off the bench and put the ball in play against a tough reliever. David Bote is a fine bench bat, but he offers the same offensive profile as the free swingers in the everyday lineup. They don't need to replace him, but they do need to have options besides him. Otherwise when an opposing team sends out a pitcher who poses a bad matchup for one of the Cubs starters, they'll have nothing but Bote, who presents the same bad matchup.

Almora was supposed to fill one of holes over the last few years, but not only did he fail to grasp a bigger role since 2016, he failed to maintain his production in even the more limited role he once held. That has proven costly for the Cubs, especially since they were so committed to making it work with him that they failed to develop a Plan B. Nico Hoerner has a chance to grow into his replacement as a key bench piece with the opportunity to become a full-time contributor down the road, and the Cubs should prioritize helping him achieve it. But that isn't enough. They need a Cogs. They need a TLS. And they need to remain flexible in case Hoerner doesn't make strides.

 

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup

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  • I like your thinking. The offense has never been the same without Fowler, a healthy Zo, and TLS to a lesser extent. It explains the unsuccessful fringe moves the boys have made trying to fix that balance.

  • You're absolutely correct, Michael. The current bad mix not only leads to spotty offense, it is also incredibly boring. In order to stay awake, I found myself resorting to counting the blades of grass that were trampled by the parade to and from the dugout.

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    44Slug I agree with your comment , Especially The Fowler part , The lack of a "REEAL" Lead off man , Speedy Centerfielder has more effect on the Cubs winning and losing than they know , or are unwilling to admit . Face it Rizzo-Bryant-Schwarbs are not lead off men .

  • Management, also talked a lot about locker room makeup. Descalso influence was suppose to go far beyond his stat sheet.

    After 2018 Rizzo, and Bryant were leading the charge to get Chili Davis fired? I absolutely remember reading Chili Davis was hired after the 2017 season to limit the roller coaster nature of the Cubs lineup. Chili was Theo's pick to be the hitting coach.

    Cubs lineup is not only very similar, I think the hitters got superstar treatment since the 2016 World Series. Russell, Almora, and Schwarber really never even became regulars, but still seemed to get star treatment.

    I think it was hard for the front office to move on from those guys, because payroll was tight, & players still had a lot of potential when compared to what they could afford on the open market- IE Descalso's of the MLB.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    It's difficult for player to be a leader in the clubhouse if they do not contribute on the field. With Chile, I think some players didn't listen to the hitting coaches enough and others listened too much. It's a melding of what a hitter knows that works for them and bits gleaned from the experts. Guys like Almora and Schwarber listened too much and (JHey too, for awhile), and others (maybe Javy) could allow more derference to the coaches. And the front office might have given some playerrs too much input. Anyway,I it's all history now.

  • Thank you, Michael. I think what you’ve written here is a very good perspective on the situation the Cubs find themselves knee-deep, in.
    And Happy Thanksgiving to all. Sure hope 2021 returns us all, to normalcy.

  • Good analysis, although I think you’d need to replace more than just one of the core (a Zobrist type), you need two players to fill the roles played by Fowler and Zobrist. And the best offensive player on the 2016 was Bryant, and most indications are that he’s going to be traded. So that’s three players that need replacing, and finding an MVP-caliber player strikes me as nearly impossible. And you are totally right about the lack of depth. For large parts of 2016 Soler was a backup and Baez was a utility player.

  • Solid analysis. It's hard to believe the Cubs have made no progress in this area even though this issue has been obvious for at least the last 2 seasons. It's more than just payroll restrictions. It's as if they're tone deaf.

  • In reply to Ronson54:

    The fact they seem to have been tone deaf to this matter, is a reason that I question, if Jed is the right man for the job.

  • In reply to cubbustible:

    That could very well be the case. Or maybe the leash is off Jed now? It's gonna be interesting to watch.

  • In reply to Ronson54:

    Agree, as far as the public knows Theo and Jed were always on the same page, but they are two different people and I suspect they disagreed plenty. Jed will be the decider now.

  • One thing you didn't mention with regard to opposing pitchers is that they figured out that how to make launch angle batters (such as Bryant) swing and miss is to pitch them high and inside. The Cubs batters don't seem to have adjusted.

    Speaking of high and inside, the announcers seem to say that pitches outside the box that replaced PitchCast "clipped the corner." But I'm not sure how accurate that box is, since the box on TV seems from the navel to the knees, while MLB says it is supposed to be half way between the shoulders and belt, and have an illustration of the box just below the letters.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes, the high fastball kills the lunch angle swing. Hitters can't catch up to it and when they do the ball doesn't go far. This three outcome approach to hitting needs to be scratched. It's beyond boring. There isn't enough action. Fans are leaving in droves. It did not get that way over night and it won't change quickly, but it will need to change. Home runs are fun, but not the only thing.

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    44slug ! I agree with you home runs of fun but far and few in between. The GAME BASEBALL like we ole guys love is baserunning and advancing the runners, and scoring runs . the contact hitters . When the Cubs release and trade the "DOUBLES" type hitters we shed a tear .

  • In reply to Ronald Dietzler:

    Of course, it's not just the Cubs, but I have noticed that things are starting to move more in a contact philosophy in the mlb, with some teams anyway. Today fewer hitters are good a going the other way and teams stack all the infielders on one side of the field now. Pitching has evolved differently as well. Starters are pulled early even when they have a one or two hitter going, if it is the third time pitching through the order. Too much managing the game plan, instead of the game. I could go on but maybe this discussion for another day.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I’m not so sure teams are moving to more contact hitters. There is definitely an emphasis on strike out to walk ratio, but teams are willing to accept strike outs if the player gets on base at a high clip. So although its true Fowler struck out at a fairly high clip in 2016, he also had a good BA (.276) and robust OBP (.393). Schwarber, in contrast, strikes out a ton, has a low BA, and a poor OBP for a left fielder. I’d even go as far as saying that most teams still teach players to look for a ball to punish, even with two strikes, instead of “contact.” They just want them to not swing at pitches outside the strike zone and accepts walks.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    I would like to see Schwarber more aggressive in the strike zone early in the at bat. He walks enough, but not a real good two strike hitter. I think he should be more Aramis. A middle of order guy looking to do damage.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I’d like to see him released.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    I don't, and I don't think I that will happen. KB either. If Jed doesn't find a trade that makes sense, both will be back.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    You might be right. I guess we’ll find out in a few days when the tender deadline hits. If Schwarber isn’t traded beforehand, I would cut him loose. To me, he’s not worth the $7-9m he’d get through arbitration.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    I on the fence with Schwarber non-tender. I guess it depends on how creative, and aggressive the Cubs are going to get this off-season.

    I assume Cubs are doing everything they can to trade K. Bryant salary. I hope the Cubs are also looking to deal some of the players with higher trade values-like Contreras.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    Well,
    You just got your wish ! With Theo gone, the Schwarbs meal
    ticket vanished. Good luck to the Schwarb. It was a big mistake drafting him to a National league team. There was no room to break him in at first or catcher and in left field he was sub par.
    I hope the Cubs next move would be to trade Kris Bryant. Maybe he will bounce back but I doubt it. This looks like the Cubs are finally moving in the right direction.

  • In addition to being susceptible to the high fastball, low and outside is an Achilles heal for way too many in the lineup. They commit way too early.

  • I’ve written this before here, and I’ll say it again.
    I really think that when the strike zone is automated, the balls in play and the OBP’s will increase. Because when robo ump is here, the pitchers will not be nibbling at the corners as much, looking for the ‘charity strike’ call. Pitchers will need to ‘get’ a corner of the plate - not just come close.
    I can’t wait.

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    cubbustible ! I am way far back on that . and probably with the group that can't see baseball as the game we grew up to know and play . For me getting rid of the ump calling balls and strikes would be changing the game as much as our Cubs playing in a new " COOKIE CUTTER BALL PARK . " What you say is true but we might as well just play a video game .

  • In reply to Ronald Dietzler:

    Lol. I’m not afraid of change. I’m for whatever produces a true outcome.
    The ‘human element’ wasn’t meant to be the ‘strike zone according to Joe West’s’ interpretation of what the zone should be.
    I pay to watch the players, not an umpire trying to perform an impossible job.

  • This morning I found myself thinking about Theo. He deserves due credit for resigning. He wasn't going be here after another year anyway, so getting out of the way was a classy move. Overall, he was savior to the organization. Looking back at that game seven, the Cubs blew a big lead on the road and managed to come back and win in extra innings. Baseball history will never forget that feat. Theo was the axle.

    Anyway, the Cubs could be in a lot worse position heading into 2021. It's still a good era to be a Cub fan.

  • Bad news for the once destined mlb star Addison Russell. Addison has been released by by the Hero's in the Korean League. He just is not that good at baseball since folks insisted that stop beating his wife.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That's too bad I was hoping he would stay there and play. Now he could end up playing some where here in the US

  • In reply to HJW49:

    I was going for a little sarcasm with my comment. Actually, I wish Addi well with his baseball, and personal recovery with domestic violence. I'd be ok with him playing in the US in that vain.

  • Cub news this morning reported by Jon Heymond is that the Cubs will tender Bryant. No surprise. He will be playing for his next contract. The message is, If a team wants him, they will have to give up something meaningful. That will go for Schwarber as well, who dialed in 38 fingers a year ago.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Screw Jon Heyman, he's dumber than a bucket of bricks. Its time to move Kris Bryant . And please Cub brass, no more retreads at second base.

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