When the Cubs opened the season in Miami last Thursday, they came out bats first, putting up eight runs on Opening Day. They lost a 17-inning battle the following night, but started swinging it again on Saturday, with their first double-digit score of the season. And then the bats went silent.
Over the next two games, the Cubs were shut out and tensions rose among fans. After all, this lineup is LOADED with offensive capability and versatility. Getting blanked once happens, but getting blanked twice against two inexperienced arms on teams with mediocre (at best) bullpens? That’s gonna be frustrating.
But there are a few things to point out.
First, despite being shutout on back-to-back days, the Cubs’ run differential remains an even 0, which is, well, actually right in the middle of the pack. And while their 3.80 runs scored per game isn’t anything to write home about, it does escape the bottom ten of the league. (Yes, yes, I know – “inconsistency.”)
Second, the Cubs’ 18.6% soft-hit rate is 12th best in baseball and their 36.4% hard-hit rate is seventh best. Meanwhile, their 40.1% ground ball rate is really quite excellent and helps support an above-average 36.5% fly ball rate and 23.4% line-drive rate. That sort of strong contact is going to balance out and turn into runs if it continues over a long enough stretch. It just will.
And finally, the Cubs are currently walking over 10% of the time this season. They’re striking out a ton, too, but overall … the peripherals just aren’t really that bad. Indeed, their .277 xwOBA is in the front half of the league. All of which is to say, I’m *extremely* not concerned yet, and neither are they.
“There really isn’t” any frustration, said Anthony Rizzo to The Athletic after Monday’s loss. “We got a fun group, a good group. We’re not going to ride the roller coaster as hard as everyone else outside will. We’ll just be fun.”
Joe Maddon immediately echoed that sentiment with a sarcastic “Yeah, I’m really upset.” And the new Cubs hitting coach, Chili Davis, followed suit: “I’m not frustrated at all. I’ve got a good offense. It’s early. We’ve played five games. If I panic now, then something’s wrong. I’ve been around this game too long. I think guys are gonna break out. And when they do, we’ll be fine.”
Even if the Cubs peripherals were terrible, I’d not expect any freakouts just yet, but as we’ve pointed out … they’re not. In fact, they’re perfectly fine, average even. Just because they haven’t been able to push runs across the plate just yet doesn’t mean they’ll continue struggling as the season goes on. And this lineup is not likely to remain “average” either.
As far as Davis goes, he doesn’t want the Cubs to start changing who they are just to make more contact (ESPN): “I don’t want them to lose their aggressiveness at the plate. We have too good of hitters for me to panic at all.” Davis went on to explain that he also hasn’t started “preaching” or “stressing” anything to the Cubs hitters. In his estimation, it’s still too early and they know what they need to do. Over-preaching, as it were, might only hurt.
If the goal was to simply stop striking out, I think the Cubs could do it pretty easily … but it would come at the expense of better overall production. For all the handwringing about the team’s strikeout rate last season, the Cubs scored the fourth most runs in baseball and were second only to the Rockies in the National League (who get the benefit of playing 80 games at Coors Field). Again, I understand folks can always lob the “inconsistent” criticism, but at least they were scoring a lot of runs (often translating to wins!).
Relatedly, sometimes the Cubs’ selective aggression can lead to deep counts and, ultimately, lofty strikeout totals, but the end product will be better. With enough time.