Addison Russell has gone 5-for-12 with three runs scored during the first three games of the Cubs series against the Giants. The five hits helped Russell raise his season slash line to .241/.305/.370/.675 and his post-All-Star break slash to .289/.333/.421/.754.
Maybe this is what Joe Maddon had envisioned when he made the decision to hit his pitchers eighth and a position player ninth prior to this season.
To Maddon’s credit, he has stuck with that lineup throughout the entirety of the season. The results have been mixed.
The Cubs offense entered Sunday ranking 22nd in runs scored (430) and OPS (.695), but 28th in batting average and 26th in slugging percentage (.377). And yet, despite the team’s on-base percentage (.318) ranks 14th in baseball despite its poor batting average.
At minimum, Maddon’s pitchers hit eighth experiment hasn’t been completely detrimental.
On Friday, pitcher Jon Lester ended the fourth with a swinging strikeout, keeping the game tied at 1-1, all while stranding Jorge Soler at first after he drew a one-out walk.
Sometimes the pitcher batting eighth comes to the plate with runners on base or in scoring position. It happens, but not as often as one might think.
Check out how many at-bats Cubs batters have had with runners on and/or in scoring position and what percentage of those have been taken by pitchers (which will be in parentheses):
- Runners on: 1558 (106 pitcher ABs, 6.8%)
- Scoring position: 886 (71, 8.0%)
- RISP, 2 outs: 428 (38, 8.9%)
- Runner at third, less than 2 outs: 152 (6, 3.95%)
Cubs pitchers are 6-for-71 (.084 avg.) with runners in scoring position. So, while they haven’t helped their own causes, their minimal chances with ducks on the pond hasn’t been a primary factor on why the Cubs offense has sputtered at times.
Comparatively speaking, Starlin Castro has had the highest percentage of at bats with runners on (45.7%), runners in scoring position (28.7%) and runners at third with less than two outs (28.7%). Those numbers represent a significant amount of missed chances and are probably primary reasons why Castro has been benched.
Meanwhile, Cubs No. 9 hitters are slashing .235/.291/.350/.640 this season. That slash line is better than what American League ninth-place hitters average (.224/.274/.326/.600) and is easily significantly better than what with the average NL nine-hitter is working with (.181/.225/.250/.475).
Interesting to note that the .640 OPS posted by Cubs ninth-place hitters is better than 12 of 15 American League teams. The 43 runs scored by Cubs No. 9 hitters is seventh most in baseball and more than 9 of 15 AL teams.
So, while the Cubs’ attempt to build an AL-style line-up with the kind of depth that could provide offensive firepower in each third of the line-up has come with mixed results, there have been glimpses of an offense that can break out with crooked numbers.
Surely, the Cubs are thankful that batting the pitcher eighth hasn’t hurt them too often this season.