I’m not here to try to convince you David Bote has actually been good this year, or that he has fulfilled the promise of the job he won in Spring Training. I am certainly not here to tell you that the Cubs should do anything but keep on starting Nico Hoerner at second base most days. Right now, with apologies to Bote for the wonky way things played out, you simply have to keep Hoerner most days at second base. (And you need to keep Matt Duffy in there at third base, too.)
But what I did want to share is some context for Bote’s rough season numbers, even after last night’s big homer. And I want to reiterate that I still think there’s a very good bat in there, with the versatility to contribute at multiple positions, and the Cubs were right to want to find out what he would look like as a starter. Again, things kinda played out in a way that messed that up a bit, but the decision as of March whatever was the right decision at the time.
To support that decision – even if not enough to reinstate him a starter, so to speak – you really don’t have to look any further than Bote’s contact quality this year, which, together with a reduced strikeout rate and passable walk rate, tell you he should have much better results than he actually does. Bote is hitting a dreadful .193/.262/.316 this year through 127 plate appearances, with a 62 wRC+. It’s not a big sample, and there is obvious noise in there, but it’s also not tiny.
Still, it seems to me that the right question about a player’s performance in a situation like this – i.e., a situation where you’re trying to decide whether you were right to give him the look – is whether he is doing a decent job with the stuff that is within his control. And for Bote, the answer is … yeah, kinda? His contact quality has actually been slightly better than past years, and his xwOBA would have him quite a bit better than the average hitter.
In fact, according to Statcast, Bote has been the second unluckiest hitter in all of baseball this year:
In past experiences, people HATE when you mention stuff like what I'm about to mention. But the data exist to help us quantify things we might not otherwise see or feel. So I'm sharing it.
By contact quality, BBs, and Ks, David Bote has been the second unluckiest hitter in MLB. pic.twitter.com/ez9tWnOH4J
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) May 19, 2021
So there’s that. To date this year, Bote has hit the ball much better than his results indicate. That, in turn, suggests that – going forward – he’s a better bet to be a 120 wRC+ (from here on out) than a 62 wRC+ guy.
Again, to me, that’s enough to justify the Cubs’ decision on wanting to give Bote the look they did. And it’s certainly enough to justify still working Bote in as Hoerner’s and Matt Duffy’s playing time permits, or other injuries require. Does it mean I’m out here arguing that the Cubs should make an affirmative switch? No. The results do still matter, and I want to concede that just because one (pretty good) metric indicates that Bote doesn’t deserve his terrible results, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in there that is legit that is hurting his results. I don’t want to just totally pray at the altar of xwOBA.
The conclusion here? I don’t have a firm one. It’s a topic that I knew was lurking and his homer last night got me to dig in a little bit, which in turn got me to want to say something. I think Bote has been massively unlucky this year, and while that doesn’t change for me – right now – what I think the Cubs should be doing with their positional group, it does confirm that he deserved the shot he got. And he should probably keep getting shots when the circumstances afford.