It’s been over a decade since Moneyball was published, so I don’t think I need to educate anyone here on the importance of on-base percentage (unless any Votto-hating Reds fans are here, in which case, I’m kinda surprised you’ve figured out how to use a computer – welcome!). Teams that put players on base for their middle-of-the-order mashers score more runs. Otherwise, your sluggers finish with end-of-season numbers like Giancarlo Stanton in 2012 – 37 (enormous) home runs and only 86 RBIs.
(Yes, RBI totals quoted seriously on the internet in 2014. Crazy!)
The teams Theo Epstein put together in Boston all got on base, a lot, so it must be killing him and the rest of the Brain Trust that under their leadership the Cubs have managed an OBP of just .301 (.309 excluding pitchers).
With most quality OBP guys locked up by teams into the distant future, the Cubs are going to need to develop their own table-setters.
It’s no secret that the Cubs have as impressive a set of hitting prospects as anyone in baseball, but few profile as top-of-the-order hitters, not in the traditional or sabermetric sense anyway. Is there anyone in the system currently who projects to get on base at a well-above-average clip?
(Also, to be clear: I’m not saying that having sluggers with low-ish OBPs (Rizzo, Baez, Bryant probably all fall into this category) is a bad thing. Rather, I’m saying that they’ll need people on base ahead of them in order to do the most damage; balance is key.)
In the upper levels of the system, Arismendy Alcantara looks like the best bet for a high-OBP player atop the future Cubs lineup. Alcantara walked at a 10.9% clip and posted a .352 OBP in AA last season, a huge improvement over past seasons. As a speedy hitter who could potentially walk at an above-average rate, Alcantara could be the prototypical leadoff hitter that the Cubs have been searching for for ages.
Further down in the system, the Cubs’ Kane County affiliate showcased numerous hitters with good approaches at the plate. A player with excellent feel for contact and the strike zone, Albert Almora could settle in as a traditional #2 hitter down the road. He doesn’t walk much yet, but from what I’ve seen that’s only because no pitcher in the MWL could throw a pitch he couldn’t hit.
Though he’s not very fast, Jeimer Candelario has an excellent approach at the plate. Despite being just 19, Candelario still managed to post an OBP of .346. He’s got the potential to post a decent average in the future, and with it, a very strong OBP.
There are other players in the system who have had posted strong OBPs (John Andreoli, Dustin Geiger, Matt Szczur), but none profile as starters on a good MLB team. Which we all think the Cubs will be...eventually.
The Cubs appear to be relying on Alcantara and Almora to fill out the top of their order once they’re good, and while I love both of them as prospects, it’s a little concerning how few players in the system project to hit at the top of the order. And with Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury getting as much as they did in free agency, it’s difficult to see the team going outside the organization to bring in a leadoff hitter any time soon.
How big a deal is this? Probably not a huge one, and the Cubs still have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. I guess it’s nice that this is one of the biggest knocks on the system that I can think of.
We should probably root a little harder for Arismendy Alcantara to figure it out than we would have normally, though.
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