It’s a familiar tale, but no less concerning this year: the Cubs simply aren’t hitting with runners in scoring position, and it’s crushing the offense.
The Cubs’ RISP woes reared their head again yesterday, as they have throughout this four-game losing streak. Despite a fairly middle-of-the-road overall .238/.327/.410 batting line (94 wRC+), the Cubs are hitting an abysmal .215/.331/.370 (81 wRC+) with runners in scoring position.
Given that a baseball team’s stats are simply the collection of stats by individual players, I wondered: who is actually driving the terrible RISP numbers?
Well, for the Cubs, the short answer is “pretty much everyone.”
By wRC+ (an overall measure of offensive performance), just three Cubs hitters are performing better with runners in scoring position than they are overall: Willson Contreras (146 wRC+ with runners in scoring position, 87 overall), Jason Heyward (135, 97), and Kyle Schwarber (105, 71)*. Literally every other Cub who sees regular plate appearances has performed no better this season with runners in scoring position than they have overall. Yikes.
*(You could include Ian Happ in there, too, but his RISP sample is just 13 PAs.)
In some cases, the differences are modest – Anthony Rizzo is at 119 overall and 106 with RISP, Addison Russell is all square at 74 in both cases – but many are dramatic and nightmarish. You can see the full slate of performances here, but among those that jump out:
- Kris Bryant – 145 wRC+ overall, 86 with RISP
- Ben Zobrist – 117 wRC+ overall, 66 with RISP
- Javy Baez – 92 wRC+ overall, 52 with RISP
- Jon Jay – 104 wRC+ overall, 31 with RISP
- Albert Almora – 83 wRC+ overall, 14 with RISP
- Miguel Montero – 117 wRC+ overall, -8 with RISP
(Note: I did check the top three guys there against their career numbers, out of curiosity, and each of Bryant, Baez, and Zobrist has performed worse with runners in scoring position than they have overall. I don’t know that it proves there’s any kind of “it’s just in their DNA” issue with these guys, but I knew you would ask, so I checked. Yes, their numbers have generally been worse with runners in scoring position. Do with that what you will. Me? Bryant and Baez are so young that I’m not sure we have enough to really know anything, and as for Zobrist, it’s a ton of data, but the spread between his career numbers and RISP numbers was small enough (119 to 110) that I feel comfortable ignoring.)
So, in the end, what can we glean from this information? Honestly, probably not much. You have to keep in mind that we’re still talking about samples of 30 to 40 plate appearances this year, where a single ball dropping instead of being caught can swing numbers in a huge way. And, generally speaking, guys tend to perform as well or better with runners on base as they do with the bases empty.
Is there pressing? Could that partly explain why the team’s BABIP overall is .280 but just .235 with RISP? Sure. But if it were ALL about pressing, you wouldn’t expect the Cubs’ strikeout rate to go down from 21.9% in all situations to just 18.4% with RISP. Some of this is just plain bad luck, folks.
This should not be a sustainable, season-long thing. And as the numbers even out – in theory! – it should suddenly seem, as if by magic, that the Cubs are scoring in bursts and everyone has “figured it out.”