More coming on some of the specifics of last night’s loss, but I want to focus on the *extreme* inability to score a dang runner when he got on base with zero or one outs (the Cubs put such a runner on in EVERY SINGLE INNING 1 through 8). It didn’t just feel like the Cubs kept failing to do anything with a runner on base last night; save for one Kris Bryant single, it actually happened. It was brutal, and it got me thinking.
We always talk about runners in scoring position as a stat we track – how are the Cubs doing with RISP?!?!? – but what about just runners on base? Sure, runners in scoring position are better, since a single, alone, can score them, but it’s not like a guy on first base – especially early in an inning – isn’t also very much a threat to score.
Moreover, teams are supposed to hit a little better with runners on base because (1) the pitcher is out of the stretch (he wouldn’t use the windup if he didn’t prefer it), (2) shifts are more complicated to pull off, and (3) some holes open up as runners are held. The questions I have: is that actually true this year, and, if so, are the Cubs laggards?
I wondered these things without checking first, so here goes … the overall baseball slash line right now with bases empty is .239/.309/.400, with a .311 wOBA and a .290 BABIP. With men on base, that slash line is .255/.331/.416, with a .321 wOBA and a .301 BABIP. That story very much checks out.
For the Cubs, with bases empty, they’re hitting .245/.328/.435, with a .333 wOBA and .289 BABIP. They strike out at a 21.3% clip, since I know you’re wondering about that. But when there are men on base, the Cubs hit .263/.337/.413 with a .323 wOBA despite a .315 BABIP. And their strikeout rate actually drops to 20.8%!
So, in contrast to the league overall, the Cubs’ production with men on base is slightly worse than with the bases empty … which is not at all what should be happening.
So, why is it happening? I mean, the Cubs are striking out less in those situations, they’re seeing more of their balls in play land for hits in those situations. What’s going on?
The problem? The Cubs’ power disappears with runners on base – and when it comes to scoring runs, that’s a huge problem. The team’s .190 ISO with bases empty plummets to just .150 with runners on base. Their hard contact rate – 36.5% with the bases empty – similarly plummets to just 28.3%. Their soft contact increases from 19.8% to 21.1%. Their groundball rate increases from 41.1% to 43.4%.
Just based on these numbers, it sure looks like the Cubs’ offensive problem in these runners-on-base situations is that they are sacrificing too much power in favor of contact.
I know we all like to preach about “situational hitting” and “making contact to move runners along,” but a lot of that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when up against the first rule of hitting: just hit the damn ball hard. With runners on base, the Cubs need to worry a little less about making *any* kind of contact, and go back to trying to make hard contact. Like in any other plate appearance. Just hit it hard. And if you swing and miss a little bit more, that’s OK. The current approach is making the Cubs *worse* with runners on base, and the rest of the league is much *better* with runners on base. Shouldn’t that tell you something?