Cubs Leveraging the Incredible Disappearing Act of MLB Offense

Cubs Leveraging the Incredible Disappearing Act of MLB Offense

While I studied microeconomics and researched for this post, it seems the rest of you were watching the the Home Run Derby. Based on the reaction on my Twitter timeline, I'd guess it was a pitcher's duel, at least during the 1-0 Scott Frazier win over Giancarlo Stanton.

Not only did the Derby take like 14 hours, but it was too boring to even keep up with. Jose Bautista hit 10 HRs in the first round, but outside of that and a few other good showings, it was pretty lame. A lot of guys hit 2 or 3 homers in a round (except Puig, who hit zero!). It makes me yearn for the days of Sosa, Bonds, and McGwire.

Which brings me to the greater point: offense in baseball. Where did it go? It all changed so quickly. I'm only 28 years old, and I can actually remember a time when people discussed a need to raise the mound to help the pitchers. It wasn't all that long ago.

My personal opinion (which no one asked for) is that I don't care if players use PED's. It's on them if they get caught, and they know the repercussions. Cheating in one form or another has been a part of the game since the beginning, so why get upset about it?

No, this is just about the disappearing act of offense and how it changes the landscape of Major League Baseball. People used to talk about starting pitching like it was nearly impossible to find. A staff like the Cubs had in 2003 was a freaking unicorn.

At a time when the league-average ERA was 4.28, those 2003 Cubs starters put up a combined 3.69. But now in 2014, the current average ERA for the NL is 3.69. That's a big change in the landscape of baseball in a relatively short amount of time. Check out these yearly average hitting numbers from baseball-reference.

Year Tms #Bat BatAge R/G G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2014 15 571 28.5 3.99 1428 37.89 34.02 3.99 8.46 1.70 0.19 0.85 3.80 0.59 0.22 2.90 7.91 .249 .312 .385 .697 13.09 0.71 0.33 0.37 0.25 0.22
2013 15 675 28.3 4.00 2430 37.91 34.03 4.00 8.55 1.66 0.17 0.89 3.80 0.52 0.20 2.92 7.56 .251 .315 .389 .703 13.22 0.77 0.34 0.38 0.23 0.24
2012 16 724 28.4 4.22 2592 37.84 33.88 4.22 8.60 1.72 0.22 0.94 4.00 0.67 0.24 3.01 7.64 .254 .318 .400 .718 13.56 0.71 0.30 0.40 0.24 0.24
2011 16 718 28.8 4.13 2590 38.13 34.02 4.13 8.60 1.70 0.19 0.88 3.92 0.65 0.25 3.10 7.30 .253 .319 .391 .710 13.31 0.70 0.32 0.44 0.25 0.29
2010 16 695 28.8 4.33 2592 38.12 33.91 4.33 8.65 1.72 0.19 0.93 4.12 0.56 0.23 3.24 7.37 .255 .324 .399 .723 13.54 0.74 0.32 0.39 0.26 0.29
2009 16 710 28.7 4.43 2590 38.43 33.93 4.43 8.78 1.78 0.22 0.96 4.22 0.55 0.23 3.45 7.06 .259 .331 .409 .739 13.87 0.76 0.33 0.44 0.28 0.30
2008 16 720 28.7 4.54 2588 38.64 34.23 4.54 8.91 1.83 0.18 1.01 4.33 0.57 0.21 3.41 6.97 .260 .331 .413 .744 14.13 0.77 0.33 0.41 0.26 0.30
2007 16 714 29.0 4.71 2594 38.86 34.50 4.71 9.17 1.89 0.19 1.04 4.50 0.60 0.20 3.31 6.73 .266 .334 .423 .757 14.58 0.80 0.36 0.40 0.29 0.30
2006 16 699 29.2 4.76 2590 38.76 34.30 4.76 9.07 1.87 0.22 1.10 4.54 0.58 0.24 3.32 6.73 .265 .334 .427 .761 14.66 0.79 0.40 0.46 0.28 0.34
2005 16 683 29.4 4.45 2594 38.29 33.97 4.45 8.89 1.83 0.18 0.99 4.23 0.52 0.22 3.24 6.51 .262 .330 .414 .744 14.07 0.79 0.38 0.44 0.26 0.30
2004 16 668 29.4 4.64 2590 38.69 34.22 4.64 8.98 1.81 0.19 1.10 4.41 0.52 0.20 3.37 6.68 .263 .333 .423 .756 14.47 0.78 0.36 0.46 0.27 0.34
2003 16 679 29.5 4.61 2590 38.54 34.14 4.61 8.93 1.80 0.19 1.05 4.39 0.50 0.23 3.35 6.56 .262 .332 .417 .749 14.24 0.80 0.37 0.42 0.25 0.30
2002 16 650 29.5 4.45 2588 38.42 33.92 4.45 8.79 1.73 0.19 1.00 4.24 0.59 0.27 3.45 6.63 .259 .331 .410 .741 13.91 0.81 0.35 0.44 0.27 0.37
2001 16 688 29.3 4.70 2592 38.37 33.99 4.70 8.88 1.78 0.19 1.14 4.47 0.56 0.28 3.31 6.91 .261 .331 .425 .756 14.46 0.74 0.37 0.41 0.29 0.33
2000 16 699 29.1 5.00 2593 39.05 34.22 5.00 9.10 1.79 0.21 1.16 4.75 0.63 0.28 3.75 6.69 .266 .342 .432 .773 14.77 0.76 0.35 0.41 0.31 0.29
1999 16 647 28.9 5.00 2591 39.08 34.35 5.00 9.22 1.78 0.20 1.12 4.76 0.76 0.32 3.71 6.62 .268 .342 .429 .771 14.74 0.74 0.31 0.42 0.29 0.26
1998 16 651 28.5 4.60 2596 38.56 34.17 4.60 8.94 1.73 0.19 0.99 4.36 0.62 0.29 3.36 6.72 .262 .331 .410 .741 14.02 0.74 0.32 0.45 0.27 0.25
1997 14 588 28.7 4.60 2268 38.52 34.04 4.60 8.95 1.72 0.21 0.95 4.35 0.80 0.37 3.40 6.75 .263 .333 .410 .744 13.96 0.73 0.34 0.45 0.28 0.28
1996 14 587 28.7 4.68 2268 38.59 34.26 4.68 8.99 1.67 0.19 0.98 4.40 0.79 0.31 3.31 6.72 .262 .330 .408 .738 13.98 0.75 0.30 0.43 0.29 0.32
1995 14 588 28.2 4.63 2014 38.64 34.28 4.63 9.03 1.67 0.21 0.95 4.34 0.80 0.33 3.31 6.61 .263 .331 .408 .739 13.97 0.73 0.31 0.47 0.26 0.30
1994 14 497 28.3 4.62 1606 38.56 34.29 4.62 9.15 1.73 0.23 0.95 4.34 0.71 0.33 3.23 6.32 .267 .333 .415 .747 14.21 0.75 0.28 0.47 0.28 0.35
1993 14 565 28.0 4.49 2270 38.32 34.14 4.49 9.00 1.58 0.23 0.86 4.20 0.76 0.35 3.13 5.88 .264 .327 .399 .726 13.62 0.72 0.25 0.49 0.31 0.33
1992 12 485 28.2 3.88 1944 37.89 33.82 3.88 8.51 1.53 0.24 0.65 3.63 0.80 0.38 3.08 5.83 .252 .315 .368 .684 12.45 0.67 0.20 0.51 0.28 0.35
1991 12 477 28.4 4.10 1940 37.86 33.69 4.10 8.43 1.45 0.23 0.74 3.83 0.85 0.42 3.22 5.90 .250 .317 .373 .689 12.55 0.62 0.19 0.46 0.29 0.32
1990 12 491 28.3 4.20 1944 38.06 33.93 4.20 8.70 1.53 0.21 0.78 3.94 0.92 0.37 3.20 5.74 .256 .321 .383 .704 12.99 0.63 0.18 0.45 0.29 0.41
Year Tms #Bat BatAge R/G G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2014.

The shift began in 1993, when runs per game (RPG) goes from 3.88 to 4.49 in just one season. After that point, it was a gradual rise to 5.00 RPG in 2000, and a league-average OPS of .773. All that is in a league where the pitcher bats, by the way.

Compare that to 2014, when the RPG is 3.99 (more than one whole run lower) and the average OPS is .697, a drop of 76 points. The difference in those numbers is hard to grasp, so I'll try to bring some more shocking stats.

Chicks dig the long ball, right? In the year 2000, forty-five players hit 30 or more home runs (and fourteen hit 40 or more). In 2013, just fourteen hit 30 or more home runs (and only two hit 40 or more). Everyone wanted to see dingers in the early 2000's, and no one cared what was behind it.

And of course, this all applies to the current state of the Cubs. Doesn't it always? Back in the day, teams used to try to stockpile pitching in the minors. After all, it was so hard to find. And it's been the major criticism of the Cubs front office so far; they really don't have many top pitching prospects.

But the Cubs (and most teams, really) haven't had trouble finding decent-to-good starting pitching. Take into consideration that 28 qualified starters in MLB this year have an ERA under 3.00, and 55 have an ERA under 3.50. In 2000, only 4 starters had an ERA under 3.00, and 9 were under 3.50.

Only 25 starters in 2000 had an ERA under 4.00. By current standards, there weren't even enough number 3 starters to cover the top of every rotation. If the trends in baseball continue, all things being equal, teams should be more worried about the availability of good hitters and less worried about finding quality starting pitching.

Not only is there nearly six times the amount of good starters in the majors now, but long term investments in pitchers are riskier than ever (thanks to the elbow injury epidemic). The Cubs have done very well with short-term deals that they have typically attempted to flip to other teams for prospects. Going forward, maybe they continue signing those guys but not to flip.

If they could build a core of three starting pitchers, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that they go into every off-season looking for two starters on short term deals. The risk is extremely minimal, and the reward is very high.

The Cubs have cornered the market on hitting in a way that smart teams used to do with pitching. They have a stockpile of young, talented hitters on the verge of the major leagues. It's been well documented; they have 4 hitting prospects (Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, and Russell) in the top 20 in all of baseball.

Of course, this doesn't even include Soler, Almora, and Schwarber, all of which have a ceiling of “potential All-Star.” This puts the Cubs in a tremendous position as they decide how to build their Major League roster. They could sign free agent pitchers (like Hammel, Feldman, and Maholm) to maximize value, trade prospects for an ace, or something in between.

The more the Cubs build a massive amount of depth in quality hitters, the more teams will come calling to pry them away. Guys with power potential like Bryant, Baez, and Soler are few and far between these days. If only half of the Cubs top 10 hitting prospects pan out, they will have a modern day murderers row within a few seasons.

When fans complain about the way that the Cubs front office does their business, the biggest reason is that its members don't fully understand what is happening. Theo and Jed don't just do business the way it's been done in the past. They find the market inequalities and exploit them.

The Cubs front office has noticed the big trend in baseball and they've molded their plan around it. Hoarding a large portion of the next generation of hitters puts them in the driver's seat. And it may pay off in a really big way.

@NotTheCubsWay

Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others.  And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

And be sure to like Cubs Insider on Facebook. You can also submit to reddit

Filed under: Uncategorized

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I wonder what the effects of (a) PitchTrax showing that strikes are being called outside the zone (unless Kerry Wood was pitching) and (b) batters swinging at what looks on TV like bad pitches. Are the sinkers really sinking that much right over the plate? I also noted that the view on Fox during the All Star Game of such things as late swings or Jeter making solid contact were much better than what we see on local TV.

Leave a comment