In 2016, the Chicago Cubs finished first overall with a 69.0 defensive rating. That number was a full 15.3 points higher than the second place San Francisco Giants and nearly 23 points higher than the third place Royals. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the 2016 club was one of the best defensive teams in baseball history.
In 2017, however, the Chicago Cubs have just a 12.8 Def rating. And while that mark is still among the top ten in MLB this season (and will probably go up before the season is over), it’s clearly WELL off pace from last year’s mark, and that could be a problem.
Or, at least the manager thinks so.
“We’re playing like that .500 team that we were in the first half, and I don’t like it,” Maddon said about his teams’ recent and poor defensive play. “We got to get sharper.”
On Tuesday night, one of the Cubs’ brightest defenders, Javy Baez, fumbled a Hunter Pence grounder, which was followed by an ultimately crucial three-run home run from Buster Posey. Then, in the eighth, second baseman Ian Happ allowed a Brandon Crawford grounder to go under his glove (ruled a single, to be fair), which sent Posey in to score an additional insurance run late.
Those are obviously just a couple small examples in a whole season’s worth of data, but they point to a larger problem: sloppiness.
With a smattering of new, more sophisticated advanced defensive metrics, we all know that tallying errors is far from definitive. But the Cubs already have 75 miscues this season, which is seventh worst in all of baseball. Moreover, the Cubs are among the league leaders in wild pitches, and they can add a fair mount of passed balls to this list, too.
Maddon spoke about the Cubs’ recent and prior defensive miscues after the game – you can see his comments in full at the Chicago Tribune and CSN Chicago – but the message was clear: The defense doesn’t have to be quite as good as 2016, but it sure as hell has to get better.
Maddon is pretty straightforward: the play has been sloppy, and he thinks it can be the difference between the playoffs and an early offseason. “I’ve talked about it from day one of Spring Training. To get to the promised land, we got to catch the ball.”
Perhaps the Cubs’ defense will turn things around, but given the inconsistencies in the rotation, bullpen, and overall offense this year, they’d be wise to do it sooner rather than later.