I still can’t get over the fact that the Chicago Cubs homered five times yesterday, and none of those homers came from a guy who started the day before.
We knew that the Cubs had an incredible bench, but even that’s become an amorphous description, because who’s really on the “bench” at this point anyway? Willson Contreras really isn’t a bench guy, even if he rotates in and out. Ditto Javy Baez. Ditto Jorge Soler. Maybe you could say Matt Szczur is a clear bench guy on this team, but dang if he hasn’t played like a starter this year.
And those are the four guys who combined yesterday for five homers against the Cardinals (the Cubs’ most against the Cardinals since their wonderful six in Game 3 of the NLDS last year).
Let’s discuss the homers and the players’ performances this year, but first, of course, let’s watch the dingers:
Starting with Matt Szczur, who went deep twice on the day, giving him five on the year in just 126 at bats. He is so very strong, and it’s pretty amazing how some swing changes have finally allowed him to start taking advantage of that strength the last two years. Szczur, 27, has had his starts chosen carefully, which probably helps boost his offensive production some, but he’s up to .317/.368/.508 (131 wRC+) on the year, with positive contributions on defense and on the bases, too. He’s been worth 1.0 WAR in about 1/5th of a full year’s contributions from a regular. How he’ll figure into the Cubs’ outfield in 2017 and beyond remains a very open question, but it says a lot about his breakout this year that we’re having that conversation.
Speaking of outfielders whose role going forward is still somewhat subject to debate, Jorge Soler was on fire before his hamstring injury and has been on fire since returning from it. Do you remember how bad his numbers were to start the year? Would you believe me if I told you he’s now up to a .252/.339/.450 line on the year, which is good for a 111 wRC+. On May 14, he was hitting just .174/.263/.267 (44 wRC+) through 99 plate appearances. He hasn’t even doubled that total of plate appearances yet, and he’s still been able to increase his line that much. That’s how scorching he’s been.
Recent struggles for Javy Baez have gone mostly unnoticed, because he’s been so stellar in the field, but he’s still hovering right at a league-average wRC+ of 100 (.275/.311/.447). His peripherals all look entirely sustainable, and at a 3.5% BB rate and a .173 ISO, it’s really easy to see where the improvements can come. Heck, he can probably keep shrinking the 25.0% K rate, too.
Willson Contreras’s 7th homer of the year helped push his line back up to an impressive .275/.356/.463 (121 wRC+) in his rookie campaign. Like Baez, he’d been in a bit of a down stretch, but he’s heated right back up in August (.345/.406/.586). He’s just really good.
The final tallies on the homers, per the Home Run Tracker:
- Matt Szczur’s first homer was the deepest of the day for the Cubs, at 417 feet. At 372 feet, his second homer was actually the shortest of the five. Willson Contreras’s blast was just one foot shy of Szczur’s – they wound up in the same area, too.
- Jorge Soler’s and Javy Baez’s were exactly the same distance, at 386 feet. Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that by watching the two, as Baez’s looked like a bomb off the bat, and Soler’s barely made it out. In fact, thanks to Wrigley Field’s uniquely shallow power alleys, the Home Run Tracker estimates it is the only ballpark where Soler’s ball would have left the yard. Soler’s went out at 97.7 mph – not crushed for him, but crushed for most players – but it didn’t have a whole lot of loft, as Soler’s rockets often do not.
- Contreras’s, Baez’s, and Szczur’s first shot all cleared the 100mph exit velocity mark, with Contreras’s taking the prize at 107.9mph.
- Contreras’s homer was the true rocket of the day, peaking at just 68 feet, despite going nearly the furthest. Szczur’s first homer was the highest of the day, going 20 feet higher than Contreras’s.
- Contreras’s blast would have left every park in baseball, and ditto for Baez’s yanked shot. Szczur’s second homer would have left 13 parks, and, as mentioned, Soler’s would have stayed in every park but Wrigley. Interestingly, Szczur’s first homer would have left all but one park in baseball, and I can’t immediately think of which park it would be. PNC in Pittsburgh stands out in my mind as having the deepest (stupidly deep, in fact) power alley to left center, but it’s 410 feet, and Szczur went 417. I guess it could have perfectly fallen in the deep little corner jut-out at Coors Field, which would have been a bummer. Amazing that a ball that goes 20 rows up at Wrigley might’ve hit the warning track at another park.