Fun(?) With Numbers: Just How Bad is the Cubs Offense?

The Cubs offense is terrible.  I’m fairly sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

Yet, if you look at runs scored, they appear bad, but not terrible.  Their 194 runs scored ranks them well ahead of the Padres (175), Reds (177), and Braves (178).  Moreover, all of those teams have played more games than the Cubs.

Unfotunately, those numbers appear to be indicative of good luck.  When you go a bit deeper, the picture starts to come apart.  The biggest part of the problem is their on base percentage.  Their .298 OBP is ahead of only the Mariners (.296) and the Padres (.280).  That’s being caused, in part, by the league’s second highest strikeout rate, 23.2%.  And despite the performance of Mike Olt, that isn’t being compensated for with power as the Cubs are a bottom third team in ISO  (21st with a .130 ISO).  All of that adds up to a Team OPS of just .659.

So what’s the problem?  All these numbers suggest something your eyes can tell you: Ricky Renteria is forced to play people who have no business in a major league starting lineup.  Take the lineup that was almost no-hit against the Giants.  The four guys at the bottom of the lineup (Olt, Coughlan, Baker, and Jackson) have OBPs under .250.  Schierholtz, in the 5 slot, was just slighly better at .268.  A simple way of thinking about this: 3 guys with an OBP of .250 have a 42% chance of having a 1-2-3 inning.  There’s another 42% chance that one — and only one of them — gets on base.  So, over 80% of the time, those 3 guys will need a home run to score.  Figure in a pitcher, with similar numbers, after them, and the situation gets worse.  Numbers that bad mean the team is extremely unlikely to string together rallies and is not going to score.

If you really want to dig for a positive, though, you can find it.  The new front office’s desire to get more patient hitters in the lineup is starting to bear fruit.  The team is currently 14th in the league — right in the middle — with an 8% walk rate and actually 6th in the NL — which has lower walk rates without the DH.

The other positives are currently working their way through the minors.  Javy Baez remains a bit of an enigma but Kris Bryant looks more and more like the impact player the Cubs were hoping for at #2 last year.  Slot him into the lineup and the numbers above start to turn around.  With him, the solid walk rates the team is putting up becomes even more important because it will lead to more guys on base when he crushes his home runs.  Alcantara is another guy who looks on the cusp of the majors.   He’s not a one man wrecking crew like Bryant, but he is certainly better than the players currently in the offense.

Looking beyond the big names, the upper minors also has Steven Bruno (2B) who has hit everywhere he’s been.  Lefty Catcher Rafael Lopez could even turn into a reasonable backup — something the Cubs have struggled to find this year.

So, as bad as this year has been, the Cubs have exactly what they need to turn this thing around on the horizon.


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  • Isn't it something, sabermetrics tells us what we already knew without sabermetrics. But it's fun to play with numbers.

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    In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Except, of course, that statistical analysis lets you figure out exactly why the offense isn't working and what specific characteristics are necessary in replacement players as opposed to a vague, "the offense sucks." But it's fun to be vague.

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    A couple of weeks ago I started wondering how the Cubs' 2014 offense compared to other poor offenses the Cubs have had since I started following them in '69. I decided to not depress myself any further.

  • Am I imaging things, or has Milwaukee suddenly become a pretty good team? Second best in the NL.

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    Their run differential suggests that they are one of the better teams in the NL. My guess is Ryan Braun playing like Ryan Braun helps as well as the development of their CarGo. I haven't really dug into it. Might be interesting.

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    So, a very quick analysis suggests they're a combination of smart FA signings and internal development. The key offensive pieces are Braun, CarGo II, Lucroy, Khris Davis, and the Gennett/Weeks 2B platoon. Braun, Lucroy, Davis, and Gennett are players they developed. (Weeks, too, but he's been around long enough I'll leave him out). CarGo was a young player they picked up for JJ Hardy in a deal similar to the ones Theo is making. In the rotation, free agent Lohse has been a great addition to their rotation along with WIly Peralta, another guy they developed.

    What that team really goes to show is that prospect rankings can be wrong. Gennett, Davis, and Peralta all came recently out of one of the worst systems in the majors.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    While looking up numbers for my post below, I couldn't help noticing that the A's have an almost obscene +104 run differential! Nobody else is even close - SF is second with 53. Now there's another team to write home about!

  • Anyone know what happened to Bruno? He hasn't played in a few days.

  • In reply to TD40:

    Someone posted that Bruno had tweaked something on a pop up last week. He was in the dugout when the Smokies came to Huntsville last week but only got 1 AB the whole series.

    Even though I got to see Kris Bryant play off the charts, it was still disappointing to miss Soler, Bruno, and CJ Edwards. Hopefully, they'll all be healthy when Tenn. returns in July, but I'll be shocked if Bryant is still in AA by then.

  • The wheels really started coming off last July 26 when we gave away Alfonso Soriano. (As I sadly recall, we made the "trade" to open up playing time for Lake, Sweeney, Schierholtz, Bogusevic, ...)

    On July 26, we were 45-55. Since then, we've gone 40-74 - a .352 clip. Over a full season, that's a 57-105 record. Not quite '62 Mets territory (40-120) but bad enough to keep inspiring Mike to write columns like this one.

    And Yeah, I know - that trade gave us the number 4 pick this year and will give us number 1 next year. But, damn, this ledge has been getting awful crowded since last July 26.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    This further proves my point of how important veteran clubhouse presence is earlier today on another thread. It's really not hard to imagine how much young players struggle without the Sorianos and Dejesuses of the world showing them the ropes. I don't want Bryant, Baez, or Alcantara up without some veterans there.

  • Saber metrics are fine, but superfluous. The entire outfield must rank among the all-time bottom in terms of production, at least in the NL. Not one of the OF could start for any other team.

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    In reply to IVYADDICT:

    Surprisingly, not true. Junior Lake is putting up numbers that make him an average player. If he played center every day and started to pick up on the routes required of him, he could be an above average player.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I was looking forward to his development working with Dave McKay. Oh well. But as for current production, who would he replace in an NL OF? And he is our best OFer!

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    In reply to IVYADDICT:

    Some big names he is doing better than:
    B.J. Upton
    Curtis Granderson
    Jason Heyward
    Denard Span
    Domonic Brown

    Also, and this will surprise folks, his numbers are quite similar to CarGo.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Now, your larger point that the outfield as a group of 3 guys is the worst in baseball, that's hard to argue with. It desperately needs help. Alcantara will be a bit step forward. It doesn't look like he's going to be a big OBP guy, but if he can keep it around .300 and slug around .450-.480 (possible), he can still help generate a lot of runs.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    Well, at .260/295/450 he would replace

    Cody Ross in Arizona (.190/.230/.240)
    BJ Upton in Atl (.210/290/.340)
    Curtis Granderson in NY (.200/.320/.350)
    Chris Young in NY (.200/.290/.360)
    Dom Brown in Philly (.200/.260/.315)
    Will Venable in SD (.195/.270/.260)
    Peter Bourjos in St.L (.205/.275/.310)
    Nate McLouth in Was (.195/.325/.270)

    Not bad actually for a player in his first full year in the bigs.

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    In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    BJ Upton might go down as one of the worst FA signings in history. Brutal two years in a row.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    No kidding. Talk about p*ssing away 75 million dollars.

  • f'n Barney

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    That last inning is an excellent example of what I'm talking about. With Coghlan, Baker, and Barney coming up the odds were 47% we'd have a 1-2-3 inning.

    Just can't win with them in the lineup.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    When Renteria puts Barney and Baker in the order on the same day it makes me day-drink

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    Rizzo X 2

  • Oh my god Baker just got a hit! I think I might go buy a lottery ticket.

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    This article clearly pissed off Coglan, Baker, and Barney. Maybe I should write more.

    If anyone is wondering, the odds of the 3 of them getting back-to-back-to-back hits was 1-in-350.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Definitely, and the end of each one write "Prove me wrong, guys. Prove me wrong."

  • Thanks for the comps of players actually doing worse. I was being skittle hyperbolic to
    Make a point, but even at that, as lousy an OF I can recall. I am impressed you guys can find players doing even worse. Can't wait to retire.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    I got what you meant, I was being a bit of a smart ass because some of those guys are going to put up a lot better numbers in the second half. But your point about the outfield as a whole is spot on. There hasn't been an outfield, as a whole, this bad in my life anywhere in the league.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    When Lake is in LF and Bonifacio in CF that's not too bad, at 2 of 3 positions.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    It's still replacement level at best, because Boni's numbers (270/320/350) are pretty middling and they're also being held up by that blistering start. Take away the first three weeks of the season and his numbers get ugly. Real ugly.

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    While you are absolutely correct, take away the hot streaks from any player and they look worse. Profound, I know but slash lines are averages and very few players are preform and a completely consistent average. Only the very best.

  • In reply to JohnCC:

    Exactly, you take away the best 3 weeks of most average hitters and their stats would be much worse.

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    fangraphs has what is basically a power ranking, way too mathematical for my little brain, that puts the Cubs about in the middle of the pack. Shows the disconnect between sabrmetrics and the old fashioned eye test. This team is unwatchable, life is too short. Until I saw felzz's recap I didn't even know they'd played today.

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