At his wide-ranging, brutally-honest end-of-season press conference last year, Cubs President Theo Epstein said plainly what was obvious to anyone who’d been following the team over the preceding two months: in short, sh*t was busted.
“I mean this with no disrespect to any of our players and coaches and front office and everyone involved: part of getting better is facing the problem. Our offense broke somewhere along the line …. We hit more ground balls in the second half than any other team by a huge margin. The goal is line drives and fly balls. Bottom line: we stopped walking and stopped hitting the ball out of the ballpark.”
It was almost universal up and down the lineup, and Epstein really hit on the things that crushed the Cubs in the second half last year: too many ground balls, too few walks, and too little hard contact in the air.
After an offseason of getting to work internally, but not externally, the Cubs come into this season with a whole lot of circumspect eyes on their offensive performance. No one with a baseball brain would question whether the talent is there. But that talent, to paraphrase Epstein himself, has to actually show up with kinds of plate appearances that create production.
How are things looking?
Well, one game into the season, I’m happy to report: ALL OF THE PROBLEMS ARE TOTALLY FIXED! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
… OK, that would be insane, but it’s fun to say in any case. And it certainly is true that, for one game, the Cubs did the things they needed to do to create much more production.
As a team yesterday, the Cubs not only scored their most Opening Day runs (12) since 2006, they also did the following:
- Batted .351/.478/.676
- Hit three home runs
- Drew eight walks
- Posted a 33.3% fly ball rate (slightly higher than last year)
- Posted a whopping 50.0% hard contact rate
Take your walks and hit the ball hard in the air? Check and check.
After the game, Kris Bryant dropped what may or may not have been a tongue-in-cheek line about the game, but, regardless, he was probably right:
Kris Bryant: "I think that was, offensively, better than any game we had last year."
The Cubs had not had a game with 8+ walks, 12+ runs and 25+ total bases since Sept. 13, 2017.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 29, 2019
So, did the Cubs really fix what broke in the second half? For a day, sure. There are more days to come, and I’m excited to see them play out. After all, the Cubs did still hit a lot of ground balls yesterday (53.3%).
Even after a 12-run game, there’s always room for improvement.