A week’s worth of games might include a whole lot of plate appearances at a team level, but that still doesn’t make it a large enough sample on which to draw conclusions – you’re talking about two series and just two opposing pitching staffs. That can skew a lot of things. We’re just having a conversation here, not throwing down any gauntlets.
So it is with that caution in mind that I raise something I noticed over the course of the past week – again, in Atlanta and in Milwaukee, against very, very good pitching staffs – and then confirmed in the data: the Cubs have struck out a WHOLLLLLE lot the past week.
Ever since that 21-0 drubbing of the Pirates (so I’m actually including the finale from that series), the Cubs have posted a 28.7% strikeout rate as a team, the worst mark in baseball. It would be one thing to note that the overall offense has been atrocious in that stretch – .186/.272/.305, 70 wRC+ (lowest in baseball) – but contact was supposed to be the thing with this new look Cubs group. Even in times when the hits weren’t falling in, the bat was still supposed to be meeting the ball. (It’s Different Here?)
Who has driven the spike in strikeouts these last seven games? Sure, there have been some guys around where you’d expect (Patrick Wisdom was back over 40% this past week), and there have been part-time contributors who’ve really struggled (Michael Hermosillo was at 60%), but mostly it’s been spikes where you would not expect it, or to a degree you would not expect:
Jason Heyward – 28.6%
Seiya Suzuki – 30.0%
Frank Schwindel – 41.7%
Nick Madrigal – 42.1% (wut?!?!)
Jonathan Villar 46.2%
With the exception of Suzuki – whose baseline is still being established – these are truly aberrational numbers. Of course, the plus side is that a lot of the key names on the offense are not there because their strikeout rates are solidly below the team’s average for the week.
I offer this only as something to watch in the coming weeks, when it’s not like the opposing pitching staffs will get any easier. But again, this group is supposed to be making more contact, even against those very good pitchers. Is it a match-up issue? A playing time issue? The league finding holes? Or is it nothing at all, and we’ll see it resolve organically in the weeks ahead?
I tend to think, with respect to the strikeout rate, specifically, it’s most likely to be that last one. I doubt we will be back here next week with the Cubs at the very bottom in strikeout rate once again. But I will definitely be tracking this with increasing attention.