Much has been made of the Cubs’ struggles with runners in scoring position. And rightfully so, to an extent.
But if we’re going to freak out over small sample size on one end, it’s only fair to examine how we’re getting to that point.
You can’t win if you don’t score. And if you’re not knocking in runners in scoring position, it makes that task that much more difficult – you won’t always get three homers like the Cubs did last night. The Cubs entered Sunday 5-for-38 with runners in scoring position, their .132 average is the second worst in baseball and their five hits is surpassed in sadness only by the Angels (4) and Astros (3).
And yet, their 38 at bats with runners in scoring position are tied for the 11th most in baseball (despite the Cubs having played one fewer game than most teams). At this pace, the Cubs are averaging 9.5 at bats per game with runners in scoring position. If they could keep it up over the course of the remainder of the season, they would project to have 1,539 at bats with RISP. That would represent 302 more chances than the 2014 Cubs and 70 more than the Dodgers, whose 1,469 at bats with RISP were the most in baseball last year.
Of course, the Cubs could do an even better job at getting runners on. The team’s on-base percentage ranks 16th in baseball, and, while that would represent a climb in the rankings as last year’s team ranked 29th, the 2015 Cubs have a mere .289 OBP in four games.
Further, the Cubs could also do a better job with runners on, altogether. The team is batting .140 (7-for-50) with men on base, with the 50 at bats the third fewest, with the Mariners and White Sox as the two teams below the Cubs in that category. Shortstop Starlin Castro is 3-for-7 (.429 average) in those situations, meaning the rest of the team (excluding pitchers) are 2-for-36 (.055).
That said, the Cubs are doing a good job at getting guys on base – at least relative to their struggles knocking those guys in. That’s a start.
Another positive one could take from this struggle is that the Cubs are getting guys on base for the hitters who you want to see with men on base.
For example, 7 of Castro’s 16 plate appearances, and 6 of Anthony Rizzo’s 16 plate appearances, have come in RISP situations. If that trend continued over an entire season, it would mean the Cubs are doing something right and, even if the team hit .223 in those situations as they did last year, they could show a marked improvement in runs scored based on volume.
History suggests the Cubs will get better with men in scoring position. Though, to be fair, their OBP, and thus their total chances with men on base, are at risk of taking a dip, too.