By now, we all know that Spring Training stats don’t matter, right? The samples are too small, the caveats too big, and the goals of each individual player vary wildly.
For example, while some established veteran pitcher may be working on pumping fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone, a young, roster-bubble outfielder who loves high fastballs on a different team might be trying to impress his manager/front office to win a shot on the Opening Day roster. If that type of player gets paired up with that pitcher, he may look like an offensive wizard, when, in reality, he’s still the same player he always has been.
WITH THAT SAID, it’s not a bad thing to perform well in Spring Training – after all, hitting a 90 MPH fastball ball 350+ feet is still challenging – it’s just that performance is not really all that predictive of how a player is going to perform during the season.
Last year, for one popular example, Wade Davis carried a 14.40 ERA with a .409 batting average against during Spring Training … before going on to become the Cubs’ lone All-Star, and didn’t blow a save until the end of September.
So, against that backdrop, let’s dive into some of the Cubs’ best and worst Spring Training performances this season. For funsies!
For the hitters, we’ll cut the line at 20 at-bats, which includes 25 players and all of the Cubs nominal regulars. Can you guess who’s leading the way, in terms of OPS?
I’m sure you got it right: Ian Happ.
As the favorite for the Cubs’ leadoff role this year, Ian Happ has slashed .342/.432/.868 (1.300 OPS) over 38 at-bats this spring, with 5 BBs, 12 Ks, and 2 stolen bases. He’s also got a team-leading five home runs, which is tied for third most in all of baseball.
I don’t want to take anything away from what Happ’s done, but I’m willing to bet that he might be more in the “trying to produce results in every at-bat” camp than the “I’m gonna experiment and work on things” camp. Still: mission accomplished.
In addition to the results, of the few plate appearances (of Happ) I’ve seen this spring, I’ve really liked what he’s been doing. Happ knows full-well he’s trying out for the leadoff job (and potentially some extra playing time), but instead of changing who he is at the plate to fit the role, he’s stayed aggressive. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen him attack early in the count, which, traditionally, is not something you expect from a leadoff guy, but that’s sort of the point. GM Jed Hoyer said he wants the Cubs leadoff hitter, whomever he is, to change nothing about his approach just because he’s hitting first. Happ, so far has done that.
The second best offensive performer on the Cubs this spring? Kyle Schwarber. Over 39 at-bats, Schwarber has slashed .385/.489/.744 (1.233 OPS) with three homers, eight BBs, and 13Ks. He’s also stolen four bases (lulz).
Ryan Court (1.190 OPS) has quietly killed it this spring, but he’s not a threat to make the Opening Day roster unless Joe Maddon decides to go with an extra position player and surprises us by not taking Peter Bourjos.
Here’s how the positional side has shaken out:
- Ian Happ (38 ABs): 1.300 OPS
- Kyle Schwarber (39 ABs): 1.233 OPS
- Ryan Court (41 ABs): 1.190 OPS
- Willson Contreras (28 ABs): 1.166 OPS
- Mike Freeman (44 ABs): 1.116 OPS
- Addison Russell (33 ABs): .970 OPS
- Kris Bryant (27 ABs): .893 OPS
- Anthony Rizzo (34 ABs): .879 OPS
- Javy Baez (22 ABs): .848 OPS
- Mark Zagunis (34 ABs): .841 OPS
Okay, I know I told you that these things are not supposed to matter, but that’s a lot of good, young players absolutely killing it at the plate. The fact that Javy Baez’s .848 OPS is among the lowest of the bunch – and that Bryant/Rizzo are not even among the top five – is a pretty great sign.
Obviously, one big name missing from this list is Jason Heyward, who’s had a rough spring: .206/.289/.353 (.642 OPS). I’m not going to say “oh, don’t worry about him because he’s a veteran” – we’re long past that – but I will say that he does have a new hitting coach working on very specific things that could take adjusting. That leaves little room for optimism, but we already had very little. So, hooray, nothing changes!
Albert Almora is the other notable struggler of the spring. Through 44 at-bats, he’s hit even worse than Heyward: .182/.217/.386 (.604 OPS). I still think Almora is due for a fine season, though.
From the pitching side, Alec Mills has actually been the surprise standout of the spring (though many guys are doing well). Through 10.1 innings, Mills has earned a 1.74 ERA with eight strike outs against just three walks. Mills has a chance to be the first man up this year (well, after Mike Montgomery, but, as we learned, if it’s just a spot start, Montgomery might not take it), and does have some remaining upside, so his success is good to see.
Before we get to the “regulars,” I would like to point out that each of Oscar De La Cruz and Duane Underwood – two of the Cubs’ more promising, but roller coaster pitching prospects – has yet to allow an earned run. They have just a combined 8.1 IP between them, but it’s still pretty cool.
As for the rotation (in rotation order):
- Jon Lester (16.0 IP): 2.81 ERA, 15Ks, 3BBs,
- Kyle Hendricks (15.0 IP): 3.00 ERA, 21Ks, 0BBs
- Yu Darvish (10.1 IP): 3.48 ERA, 13Ks, 3BBs
- Jose Quintana (9.1 IP): 1.93 ERA, 9Ks, 2BBs
- Tyler Chatwood (16.0 IP): 2.81 ERA, 18Ks, 8BBs
Okay, so there is a lot of awesome to un-pack here – including the fact that four of the Cubs five starters have an ERA of 3.00 or lower, and the other guy is Yu freakin’ Darvish – but did you inspect Kyle Hendricks’ line close enough?!
So this is fun: Through 15.0 Cactus League innings this spring, Kyle Hendricks has 21 Ks and 0 walks. pic.twitter.com/hTxRHhwywW
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) March 20, 2018
That’s just silly. He’s going to be very, very good again this season.
Among the expected bullpen regulars, Steve Cishek is having the best spring, results-wise, with a 2.70 ERA and a .130 avg against, but he has allowed more walks (4) than strikeouts (3). In that respect, Carl Edwards (8Ks, 0BBs) might be the real standout, especially with the questions that linger about his command. If Edwards can limit the walks this season the way he has in the Cactus League, then he’ll probably be one of the best relievers in baseball before the season is done.
Among the weaker performances, you’ll find Mike Montgomery, who’s earned a 5.91 ERA over 10.2 innings, Brian Duensing (6.75 ERA in 6.2 IP), and Justin Wilson (7.50 ERA in 6.0 IP). But, hey, Wade Davis was twice as bad last season … so, we good?
You can check out the rest of the Cubs Spring Training stats right here at Cubs.com. And be sure to drop a comment if something stands out that I missed.