On Tuesday, the Cubs scored 10 runs against the Indians. On Monday, they put up nine against the Rockies. On Friday, the Cubs scored 16. And last Thursday, the Cubs put up eight runs on the Cardinals. And a couple games before that, the Cubs scored 14 against the Braves. Put differently, the Cubs have averaged nearly nine runs per game over their past seven games and continue to smoke the ball at every turn.
Of course, thanks to a weak start from the rotation, the Cubs +31 run differential is only tied for fourth best in baseball, but their 6.00 runs scored/game is second best in MLB and tops in the National League.
MLB Runs/Game Leaderboard
- Yankees: 6.14 runs/game
- Cubs: 6.00
- Red Sox: 5.77
- Braves: 5.55
- Blue Jays: 5.45
- Athletics: 5.25
- Angels: 5.13
- Phillies: 5.00
- Astros: 4.88
- Mets: 4.86
Given that the Yankees have the daily benefit of a designated hitter, two of the three top bats (Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius) in baseball, and just a 0.14 run/game advantage, I think it’s fair to say the Cubs are doing just fine – early season inconsistencies included.
I mean, seriously, only three NL teams (including the Cubs) made it into the top ten at all, and the second best Braves are trailing the Cubs by nearly half a run.
More impressively, the production isn’t tied up in just one or two bats. Heck, Anthony Rizzo, arguably the Cubs second best offensive performer coming into the season, has been the worst offensive contributor among the regulars (and that’s not likely to continue). In fact, the Cubs have *NINE* above average offensive contributors this season, and not just by a hair:
Chicago Cubs Offensive Leaders*
- Javier Baez: 187 wRC+
- Kyle Schwarber: 183 wRC+
- Kris Bryant: 176 wRC+
- **Ben Zobrist: 145 wRC+
- **Albert Almora: 132 wRC+
- Willson Contreras: 121 wRC+
- Jason Heyward: 120 wRC+
- Ian Happ: 107 wRC+
- **Tommy La Stella: 106 wRC+
*Minimum 30 PAs
** Note: only Ben Zobrist, Albert Almora, and Tommy La Stella are currently under the number of PAs necessary to qualify for league standings.
*** There actually isn’t a third footnote, but I did want to say that Steve Cishek would also be on the list of the PA requirement was dropped to 2.
So, wow. Not only do the Cubs have nine total players hitting at an above average clip, three of them (Baez, Schwarber, and Bryant) are hitting at MVP levels, and four more of them are hitting at All-Star-type levels (Zobrist, Almora, Contreras, and Heyward).
Let’s take a little closer look at each of the qualified hitters, individually.
Javier Baez is currently slashing .299/.365/.740 with seven home runs, the highest walk rate of his career (7.1%) and the lowest strikeout rate of his career (21.2%). In fact, Baez isn’t just striking out less often than usual, he’s actually striking out LESS THAN THE AVERAGE MLB HITTER. Anyone who’s been following him over the years knows that’s an unbelievable accomplishment.
In addition, Baez is recording more hard contact (39.0%) than he ever has, and is rarely hitting the ball on the ground (33.3%). Basically, he’s got the production and the peripherals to prove it. He’s a beast and has earned his second spot in the batting order so far.
Meanwhile, he’s overshadowing Kyle Schwarber, who’s slashing .302/.413/.635 with six home runs of his own and a 16.0% walk rate. Although Javy is on fire, I might be most excited about Schwarber’s production, because he’s doing everything the Cubs hoped he would: hit for average, walk like crazy, and slug like Hulk.
There was always a slight chance Schwarber could become the best overall hitter on this team (yes, including Kris Bryant) and this is what it would look like if it happened.
Kris Bryant is on freakin’ auto-pilot, man. After performing at MVP levels for the first three seasons of his career, Bryant is off to the races again, only this time he’s EVEN BETTER. Aside from the highest batting average (.319) and on base percentage (.467) of his career, Bryant is walking more than he ever has (14.4%) and striking out at a tiny 13.3% clip. That’s right, he’s walking more than he’s striking out, hitting over .300, and slugging as much as ever. What’s there to discuss? The guy is amazing.
Although Contreras got off to a good start at the plate, his slugging was lacking a bit early on. And although it’s still not quite at the levels he flashed after the All-Star break last season, he’s turned it up a bit lately. In fact, in the last four games alone, Contreras has two doubles and a homer, and he’s now slashing .274/.361/.438 (121 wRC+) for the season.
If he were to keep up that sort of production throughout the course of the regular season, he might just wind up as the best overall catcher in baseball (depending on where Gary Sanchez and Buster Posey wind up). But that’s the thing … I expect him to get much better. He’ll slug more, he’ll walk more, and he’ll do it all while being one of the strongest defensive catchers in baseball. Gotta work on that framing, still, but hey, this is a positive post.
We discussed Heyward’s performance earlier this morning, so I won’t retread that ground. But make no mistake: he’s not just getting the results, his entire performance has been (relatively) phenomenal this season. Even his outs are loud:
In the air/on a line, and not exclusively to his pull side.
For the season, Jason Heyward is now slashing .277/.360/.431 (120 wRC+), with matching 10.5% walk and strikeout rates.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) April 25, 2018
And by the way, during the 2015 season (when he was with the Cardinals), Heyward had an almost identical 121 wRC+ and wound up as a 5.6 WAR player (who finished 15th in NL MVP voting). I am in NO WAY saying he’ll definitely keep this up, but I want it to be clear: *if* this was his production all season long, he’s a down-the-ballot MVP candidate. In other words, he doesn’t need to be any better than he has been.
Why hello, Ian.
Remember when Ian Happ couldn’t do anything at the plate to start the season? Yeah, well, in his last ten games (32 plate appearances), he’s hitting .333/.375/.600 (167 wRC+), with a strikeout rate at just 28.1%. That’s still high, but at a level that could be sustained alongside success (with his power, anything under 30% is serviceable).
And the broader point is that even with the early season struggles, Happ’s .259/.306/.448 slash line is seven percent better than the league average hitter. Given that he’s a plus on the bases and is a capable outfielder who can also move into the infield if necessary? Hey, it’s not bad, folks.
Ben Zobrist was off to a rocket start before getting hurt and sent to the disabled list, Albert Almora Jr. is making the most of his chances against lefties and reverse-split righties, and Tommy La Stella continues to be a uniquely valuable bat off the bench.
Anthony Rizzo will turn it around, and even Addison Russell is walking more than he ever has (11.4%), striking out (13.9%) about ten percentage points less often than his best mark, and is avoiding putting the ball on the ground (36.2 GB%).
Not all of these guys will be as good as they have been so far throughout the entire season, but right now, the Cubs offense is absolutely roaring and it is VERY fun to watch.