It’s been a minute since we last checked in on the Chicago Cubs’ uniquely fatuous efforts with the bases loaded, and in the intervening weeks, they actually hit a ball hard! Kyle Schwarber crushed a grand slam against the Reds last weekend. It was so nice.
Unfortunately, it was also so unique.
The Cubs are now up to 50 plate appearances in baseball with the bases loaded, second most in baseball. And when you include yesterday’s impotence, their egregiously bad slash line is down to .186/.220/.256 with a 32.0% strikeout rate. Their 26 wRC+ as a team means, in a situation when they are *supposed* to *overperform* their typical numbers, the Cubs have actually been 74% worse than the league average hitter in an average situation.
Although the Royals have somehow managed an even more abysmal .087/.120/.087 slash line, they’ve done it in half the plate appearances. That means the Cubs have actually done more damage to themselves than the Royals: the Cubs’ negative 4.9 weighted runs above average with the bases loaded is the worst in baseball.
It doesn’t help when the Cubs eschew a good match-up, either. With the bases loaded and one out in the 6th yesterday, David Ross stuck with Jason Kipnis against a lefty, despite the fact that David Bote and Nico Hoerner were both available. Kipnis hasn’t really managed lefties well in four years.
Here was the explanation on the decision, for what it’s worth (The Athletic):
“We like [Kipnis’s] ability to get on base right there,” Ross said. “He’s faced lefties plenty of times, we liked the matchup, the card liked the matchup. I liked the matchup.”
It’s a small sample size this season, but despite Kipnis’ .091 batting average against lefties, he has a crazy .412 on-base percentage against them, buoyed by a 35.3 percent walk rate. But in this instance, Kipnis struck out and Cameron Maybin flew out to end the threat.
For his career, Kipnis has a walk rate of 7.4 percent against lefties, but the southpaw he was facing, Sam Howard, walks lefties at a 14.3 percent rate. You can see Ross’ thinking here in the sense that if Kipnis draws a walk, it forces in a run and gives Maybin a chance to face a lefty where a flyball can tack on another.
I guess. But again, Kipnis has struggled against lefties for four years, so why would you put much stock in him having a big walk rate this year in a tiny sample? And if you forced the Pirates to bring in a righty to face, for example, Bote, then you’re getting a righty against Bote and Maybin, each of whom actually have slightly reverse splits. And heck, even if the Pirates stuck with the lefty against Bote, he’s still better in that spot than Kipnis.