Nico Hoerner is Developing into *THE* Cubs Starting Shortstop Right Before Our Eyes

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Nico Hoerner is Developing into *THE* Cubs Starting Shortstop Right Before Our Eyes

Chicago Cubs

If you look at the standings, the 2022 Chicago Cubs season is going … well, exactly as you would’ve predicted in the offseason. Which is to say not well (… they’ve now lost 11 of their last 14 games).

But wins are only one way to measure the success *of a season like this.*

(I know that’s gross to say out loud. I’m not letting the Cubs off the hook for being bad, I’m just trying to be realistic about the most useful type of evaluation available to us at the moment).

Frustrating as it may be, internal development is probably a better backdrop for 2022. And by that measure, the Cubs have gotten off to a pretty solid start. We can say nice things about Ian Happ, Patrick Wisdom, Keegan Thompson, and about a half-dozen other relievers who could figure into the Cubs future one way or another. And despite some early-season struggles, it’s probably unfair to exclude flashes of productivity from Seiya Suzuki, Justin Steele, and Marcus Stroman, all of whom will factor prominently into the Cubs future.

But no one player’s start gets me more amped up than that of Nico Hoerner, who hit his second homer of the season last night, a two-run blast that left his bat at 106.3 MPH.

That homer was the third hardest hit ball of Nico’s season. But including launch angle and distance, it was easily his most well-struck overall. In fact, I went through all of his top contact at Statcast this morning, and I think it’s fair to say that homer was the best batted ball event of his entire career (there were some grounders and line drives with a little more exit velocity, but he’s never barreled up a ball quite like that one).

And after his performance last night, Hoerner’s season slash line is up to .276/.304/.421 (108 wRC+), which is above average overall and especially for a shortstop performing as well defensively as he has so far this season.

But we can do better than that. Because outside of the Opening Day home run, Hoerner got off to a pretty slow start offensively, at least relative to these last few weeks, as David Ross has moved him up and up in the batting order.

Since April 17 (his last 54 PAs), Hoerner has slashed .314/.352/.471 (137 wRC+), with three doubles, a triple, and last night’s homer. And during that stretch, he’s also stolen a base, knocked in nine runs (at the bottom of a struggling batting order), and struck out only seven times.

Hoerner is also rocking his best average exit velocity, launch angle, and barrel rate this season, leading to an expected batting average (.303) and SLG (.441) that far exceed his actual numbers (.276 AVG, .421 SLG) for the season. He could certainly stand to walk more, but at this point, we’re just looking for something to pick apart.

So what exactly is working for him? Well, a quick tour of his plate discipline data doesn’t reveal a ton. He’s swinging at pitches in and out of the zone about as much as always, and he’s actually starting behind in the count more than ever. However, Hoerner is making contact with a staggering 96.5% of pitches in the zone this year … which LEADS all of MLB (average is 84.8%). And yet for some reason, he’s seeing more pitches in the zone than ever before. Works for me.

But mostly, I think he’s just finally getting his shot. Hoerner has been hurt or blocked or buried for most of his young career. But this season? Thanks to whiffing on Carlos Correa and the injury to Andrelton Simmons, he is THE Cubs starting shortstop. And he’s doing a fantastic job. Setting aside all the numbers and data – on both offense and defense – Hoerner just looks the part this year. And that could be a huge, meaningful development for the Chicago Cubs.

*We could have gone just as deep on his impressive defense at shortstop this year, but we’ll save that for another day. For now, the short version: He’s looked better than expected at short. 

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami