Among the many “feels like” things from this weekend’s disappointing opening series for the Cubs: feels like the starting pitchers couldn’t put anyone away.
Specifically, it feels like there were surprisingly few Marlins strikeouts, given the pitchers they were facing and the constitution of their lineup, and it feels like the Cubs’ starters simply couldn’t miss bats. How many times did it feel like you were seeing a guy foul a ton of pitches off, work a deep count, and then take a walk or put a ball in play?
Firstly, was the feeling accurate?
Mostly yeah. It’s just one start for these guys, and most of the differences are not enormous, but it was sufficiently noticeable over the course of the series that your “feels like” is on the mark.
- Jon Lester got 7 whiffs over 71 pitches, which is a 9.9% swinging strike rate (SwStr). Last year, he was at 10.9%. He struck out just 10.0% of the batters he faced, whereas last year he was 23.6%.
- Kyle Hendricks got 7 whiffs over 88 pitches, which is an 8.0% SwStr. Last year, he was at 8.3%. He struck out 20.0% of the batters he faced, whereas last year he was at 21.6%.
- Yu Darvish got 9 whiffs over 102 pitches, which is an 8.8% SwStr. Last year, he was at 12.3%. He struck out 19.1% of the batters he faced, whereas last year he was at 27.3%.
- Jose Quintana got 5 whiffs over 104 pitches, which is a 4.8% SwStr. Last year, he was at 8.4%. He struck out 7.4% of the batters he faced, whereas last year he was at 26.2%.
So, every single pitcher had a lower SwStr and a lower strikeout rate in his start against the Marlins than he had last year. It may or may not matter going forward, but dang if that doesn’t stick out. And in the cases of the last two starters, the difference were really stark.
What do we make of it? I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, some fluky, some hopefully fluky, and some worth keeping a longer-term eye on:
- Well, certainly the starters across the board did not have their best command in the series. Given the talent of the pitchers we’re talking about, I think that’s your primary explanation here. When you can’t hit your spots with all of your pitches, your best game plan for various hitters goes out the window, and your elite swing-and-miss results won’t be there.
- I wonder if Darvish and Quintana, pitching after extra-innings games in front of a worn-out bullpen, were trying – without tremendous success – to be more efficient and pitch to contact a bit more than usual. Darvish relied heavily on his fastball without getting any whiffs on the four-seamer, so it makes you wonder.
- The starters weren’t helped by the strike zone at times, though I don’t think that was a primary culprit. Moreover, some of the “bad” calls at the edges of the strike zone were not helped by the Cubs’ catchers, each of whom is still developing and is not a strong framer. (Given that framing was a problem last year and likely contributed at least some to the starting pitching drop-off from the year before, I’d say that’s definitely still something to watch at the margins.)
- For all the inexperience in their lineup, the Marlins didn’t really trot out any high strikeout guys, and much of their lineup is actually pretty contact oriented. I’m not saying they’re sneaky good, mind you – the Marlins scored 18 runs in 45 innings, or 3.6 runs per 9 (despite not striking out!). I’m saying they might not strike out much, even if they also don’t walk/slug/hit much.