An Uncomfortable Thing We Shouldn't Ignore About Schwindel, Wisdom, and Ortega

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An Uncomfortable Thing We Shouldn’t Ignore About Schwindel, Wisdom, and Ortega

Chicago Cubs

I feel duty bound to mention something I noticed, but I hate it. Don’t really want to mention it. So maybe you should just ignore everything that follows and stay happy.

Expected statistics – stats that try to capture results a guy SHOULD have gotten based on things like exit velo, launch angle, walks, strikeouts – are not perfect, of course. We learn more about how best to use them (and not) every year, including this very offseason. But they can be a valuable short-hand for teeing up situations where a guy’s smaller sample productivity either was or was not actually supported by the quality of his contact. They can give you informed hope for a turnaround.

Or reasonable concern about looming regression.

Last year, among the few bright stories for the Cubs was a trio of 30-ish-year-old position players who’d never really had a real shot to play regularly in the big leagues all putting together pretty great years when given that chance with the Cubs: Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, and Frank Schwindel. It was fun, they were great, and nothing we discuss today will take away from those stories.

By and large, we’ve already discussed each player extensively, and just how much we can or cannot buy into their level of productivity in 2021 and translate it to 2022. We know that there are plenty of reasons to be cautious about thinking each of the three will be a stud for the Cubs in 2022, or even necessarily a decent regular. I’m not breaking new ground there.

But something that I did only just notice for the first time is that all three show up really high on the list of players whose production in 2021 vastly outpaced the production you would have expected given the underlying quality of the contact.

At Statcast, among qualified hitters, Frank Schwindel had *by far* the largest disparity in baseball between his actual wOBA (.403) and his expected wOBA (.329). Rafael Ortega was 4th (.355, .310). Patrick Wisdom was 28th (.345, .320). That’s the top guy, the 4th guy, and the 28th guy out of 319(!) qualifying hitters. And they’re the same three guys who were such nice stories last year. All three of them way up there. Not just a little high on the list. Really high on the list. With huge disparities in the data. That’s jarring. Really, really jarring.

Again, that isn’t to say we didn’t already know there were questions about the results last year, nor is it to say there aren’t imperfections in expected stats. None of this should be treated as gospel. But it should be a reminder – a cold and stark reminder – that expecting any of these three guys to be well-above-average bats in 2022 is probably going to lead to disappointment. Instead, the hope is simply that Schwindel can be enough above-average at the plate that it justifies a spot at first base. And Ortega can hit righties well enough to justify platoon starts. And Wisdom can cut down on the whiffs enough to stay slightly above-average at the plate, and great a third base.

Oh, I mean, I guess we hope there is additional development/improvement from these guys, so their results remain strong by virtue of vastly improved underlying contact metrics! It’s just that, again, it’s really, really rare to see that at the big league level for guys of this age. So I try to keep the “hopes” in a realistic range.

Questions for which I do not have an answer: was there something flukey about the way Wrigley Field played last year – or the way the data was tracked – that is skewing the numbers for Cubs hitters? Did the Cubs figure out some way to get more productivity out of hitters, in some way that isn’t captured in contact data? And for some reason that just magically applied to these three hitters?

I ask that stuff only because it’s kinda wild that all three of these guys are so high on this list of disparities. Then again, they stood out in 2021 for a reason: they got results that no one expected them to get. So maybe those expectations were closer to correct – 30-ish-year-old hitters generally do not break out for the first time in the big leagues – and the underlying contact data is simply confirming it. And the fact that all three were on the Cubs is the kind of statistical fluke that does happen sometimes, but it’s so rare that we assume there has to be an explanation. Sometimes the explanation is simply: across a large enough sample, really weird stuff happens occasionally.

I love the story for each guy last year. I’m good with hoping they can contribute in some way in 2022. But if the Cubs want to compete, they need another sure-fire bat somewhere. That’s just the most likely reality, and they shouldn’t ignore the statistical red flags when constructing the roster.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.