In their last five games, the Chicago Cubs are a jaw-dropping 5 for 40 with runners in scoring position. Not, it hasn’t just been your sense of things – they really have failed to come through that often.
But as is always the case with runners-in-scoring-position discussions, the old standby is pretty always true: absent having an entire team of guys who tense up and cannot be themselves with runners on base, these small sample struggles even out over time. It sucks while it’s happening – and the losses certainly count – but it doesn’t necessarily predict what’s going to happen next month or next week or even tomorrow.
With this in mind, I wanted to take a quick peek back at how the Cubs did last year with runners in scoring position by the end of the season (you’ll recall, this same drama was prominent for stretches last year, too).
For the year in 2016, the Cubs hit .256/.343/.429 overall, with a 106 wRC+. They struck out 21.1% of the time, and walked 10.4% of the time. That’s a solid, above-average offensive club right there.
When runners were in scoring position, the Cubs of 2016 did perform slightly worse: .252/.351/.420, 101 wRC+, 21.3% K rate, 12.5% BB rate.
Contrast that with overall league numbers, which improved slightly when runners reached scoring position, from .255/.322/.417 overall to .258/.339/.416. It makes intuitive sense, as runners on base open up BABIP opportunities, pitchers are going from the stretch, they’re possibly laboring, etc.
I checked 2015, and the Cubs had a similar 5ish percent drop-off with runners in scoring position. So maybe you could craft an argument that this group of Cubs, for whatever reason, doesn’t perform as well with runners in scoring position … but I’d tell you that it’s not like strikeout rates increased, so don’t blame it on that. In fact, really all that changed at an underlying level is that the two teams’ BABIP and ISO went down by a handful of points with runners in scoring position. Not making as hard of contact in those situations? Statistical fluke? I don’t think you’re going to find enough signal there to come to a hard conclusion. And the difference between the overall numbers and the RISP numbers is so small that it’s not as if your brain is noticing that 5% difference over the course of an entire season. Instead, you’re noticing it when the Cubs have a crummy RISP stretch, and then you kinda forget about it for a while after that. (Well, if you’re like me, anyway.)
Even this year, despite that dreadful 5 for 40 stretch, the Cubs’ overall numbers in April with runners in scoring position weren’t bad, though they’re tracking in a similar way.
Overall, the team is hitting .255/.339/.416, with a 101 wRC+, a 22.9% K rate, and a 10.0% BB rate. When runners are in scoring position, the Cubs are hitting .240/.350/.418, with a 97 wRC+, a 19.1% K rate, and a 12.7% BB rate. (I know what you’re wondering: if the OBP and SLG are higher, how is the wRC+ lower? Well, because of the way wRC is calculated, and then is park and league-adjusted for wRC+, it is possible.)
So, then, what we’re looking at right now is a five-game stretch where the Cubs have been brutally, brutally bad with runners in scoring position, and it’s very fresh on our angry minds. But it wasn’t this way for the entire month of April, and it wasn’t really this way for all of 2015 or 2016, either. All logic tells me this will smooth out over time. Maybe not tonight against the Phillies, and maybe not for this entire series. But eventually.
I just hope I don’t pop while waiting.