I have exactly one item on the agenda today: To alert you to/or remind you of the fact that Nico Hoerner has been downright excellent for the Cubs this season. On both sides of the baseball.
Offensively, the Cubs 25-year-old homegrown shortstop is slashing .295/.330/.415 (105 wRC+) with the lowest strikeout rate among all NL hitters (min. 200 PAs). And defensively, he’s proven beyond a doubt that he’s capable of being an above-average shortstop, with elite defensive upside at second base, if that’s where he ends up.
There are far too many plays I can use to illustrate the latter, so let’s just go with one of the most recent, a play that didn’t get nearly as much love as it deserved.
In the bottom of the 10th inning on Sunday afternoon, Hoerner made a fantastic stop on a 100.3 MPH Paul Goldschmidt grounder up the middle, before spinning and making a perfect throw to first to (1) save a run, (2) secure the second out of the inning, and (3) set up the Nolan Arenado K and save for David Robertson.
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The stop, itself, is impressive, as is the footwork, but I’m most happy to see another excellent throw from a guy whose arm used to generate questions about the long-term ability at shortstop. No more.
But if the eye test isn’t enough for you, I’m happy to throw some numbers your way.
- 9 Defensive Runs Saved (3rd among shortstops, 7th highest in MLB)
- 9.7 DEF Rating (1st among shortstops, 3rd highest in MLB)
- 10 Outs Above Average (1st among shortstops, 3rd highest in MLB)
- 8 Runs Prevented (t-2nd in MLB)
The advanced metrics don’t just like Nico Hoerner, they love him. In fact, they basically agree that he’s among the top 3-5 defenders in all of baseball. We’ll see if they stay at this level all year (advanced defensive metrics are slow to stabilize), but so far, the numbers we’re seeing are *elite.*
“I think he’s one of the best-rated shortstops in the league right now,” said Cubs Manager David Ross.
Andrelton Simmons was equally impressed: “I see him when he’s working, his focus is completely there. He has a lot of upside. I think he can only get better. I don’t think he’s taking anything for granted. He looks like he’s a guy that’s going to keep working and is going to maintain this level and try to get even better at short.”
And Hoerner does credit him for some of his defensive success.
But now let’s get to the fun part, the offense. As I mentioned above, Hoerner’s been swinging a good bat all year, particularly given his glove work. A 105 wRC+ overall, with fantastic defense at short is an extremely valuable player. In fact, he’s already got 2.1 total WAR this season, and 3.5 in his 102 games between 2021-2022. That’s an All-Star+ caliber player right there. But I think he’s only getting better.
He certainly has lately:
This season, Hoerner is posting his highest average exit velocity (88.6 MPH), his highest average launch angle (9.1 degrees), his highest overall barrel rate (3.9%), and his highest hard% (36.5%). His groundball rate is still a little high, but it’s the lowest of his career and he’s using all three fields well.
All of this combined helps explain why Statcast says he has an expected batting average of .316 (top 3% of the league!) and an expected slugging percentage of .455, both of which are MUCH higher than his .295 AVG and .415 SLG.
I guess we can complain about the lack of walks, but in a league that’s probably about to ban the shift, I think all these balls in play are going to elevate his on base percentage naturally. And, of course, as he continues to hit for more power, pitchers will start staying clear of the strikezone which could help him achieve a higher BB% and OBP.
I’m still hoping the Cubs go out and sign one of the big four free agent shortstops this winter, because they can use the help offensively, but even if they whiff on the market, we can all rest assured that Nico Hoerner is more than capable of locking down the position for the foreseeable future.