Although the Cubs have scored the third most runs per game of any team in baseball this season (and the most in the National League), there’s no doubt in my mind that their total should be higher.
Runs Scored/Game Leaderboard
- New York Yankees: 5.64
- Boston Red Sox: 5.38
- Chicago Cubs: 5.23
- Atlanta Braves: 5.05
- Cleveland Indians: 5.04
They’ve been called inconsistent at times – and that’s true – but the more granular problem is much more frustrating (and a lot more familiar) than that: The Cubs offense turns to mush when there’s runners on base and especially when those runners are on second or third.
Overall this season, the Cubs .262 batting average and .434 SLG percentage both rank fourth best in baseball, while their .344 OBP is tops in the league. And that’s why it’s no surprise to see that their overall production (110 wRC+), like their runs scored per game, is the third best in baseball and behind only teams with designated hitters. But when you separate out their performance with no one on, runners on base, and with runners in scoring position, some alarming, unusual, and hopefully soon-to-be-ending trends begin to emerge. Let’s take a closer look.
You won’t be surprised to see that with no ducks on the pond, the Chicago Cubs offense is producing a league-leading 116 wRC+ (1st in MLB). That’s a .257/.339/.450 slash line, equating to production that is 16% better than the league average.
There’s not really much more to say other than that – when no one is on, the Cubs are absolutely brilliant.
When there are runners on base, but not necessarily in scoring position, the Cubs offense is still performing well (104 wRC+, 9th in MLB) and their batting average and on-base percentage even increase to .267 and .350 respectively, but their slugging percentage shrinks from .450 to .417 and that’s a serious problem. If many of those batters aren’t in scoring position, then walks and singles aren’t going to help push runs across the plate.
Of course, higher batting averages and OBPs should help push runners into scoring position, which, for most teams would be wonderful. Except when it comes to the Cubs, that’s when things get even uglier.
Runners In Scoring Position
When guys are in a position to score, the Cubs offense absolutely implodes down to a 79 wRC+ (26th in MLB). That means that the Cubs offense is 21% worse than the LEAGUE AVERAGE in the moments that matter most, and help explain so much of the frustration we experience with this team.
Perhaps even worse than that is the fact that when there are runners in scoring position, the Cubs ground ball rate balloons up to 48.5% (sixth highest in MLB), which makes double plays more likely and extra base hits (or even sac flys) less likely/impossible.
Indeed, if you’re hoping for extra bases when the Cubs have runners in scoring position, I have some bad news: the Cubs 26.3% hard-hit is the lowest in baseball, their line drive rate is the second lowest, and their fly ball rate is the 10th lowest during those moments. In other words, it ain’t happening. Or at least … it hasn’t yet this season.
Just because the Cubs have struggled with runners on base and in scoring position so far this year doesn’t mean that’ll necessarily continue. USUALLY teams and individual players play to their overall averages given enough time, so there’s always hope the Cubs can enjoy some natural, positive regression. With that said, it is entirely possible that the Cubs change up their approach in these scenarios and that could be a legitimate driver of the discrepancy between their production when there’s opportunities to score. But you just have to hope the front office and coaching staff is smart enough to ditch something like that if it wasn’t working this badly/was this obvious.
So, uh, yeah, I don’t have much of an optimistic conclusion or piece of advice for the team following this information, but I did think it was something you’d all want to see (even if, deep down, I think we all knew the numbers were going to look exactly like this all along).
Is it Friday yet?
Javier Baez might feel like an unfair image to use for this post, given his NL-leading 43 RBI, but with runners in scoring position, he’s actually slashing just .210/.275/.419, which is just a 68 wRC+. He’s not the only one and he’s certainly not the worst, but even he should probably have a lot more RBI than he does.