If the Cubs Want to Elevate More, Which of the Four Free Agent Shortstops Would Help the Most?

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If the Cubs Want to Elevate More, Which of the Four Free Agent Shortstops Would Help the Most?

Chicago Cubs

Yesterday morning, Ken Rosenthal joined the chorus of reporters connecting the Chicago Cubs to one of the big four free agent shortstops available this offseason – Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson. So naturally, we dove into the rumor and likelihood, landing somewhere around “Uh, yeah, let’s make it happen.” As we discussed, Nico Hoerner is a MORE than capable shortstop, but the Cubs have flexibility around the infield, money to spend, and the need for another big bat. It’s really that simple.

Well, Rosenthal followed up those comments with a similar sentiment on Marquee later in the evening, which feels worth sharing, as well:

But I’m not here today to pick apart his comments on Marquee. Instead, I’d like to turn your attention to something Cubs President Jed Hoyer said recently on Marquee, to see if we might glean some useful information vis à vis the “four big free agent shortstop” conversation.

First, here’s the entire 10-minute conversation …

… but here’s the money quote that caught my attention.

Cole Wright: When it comes to some of those holes that need to be plugged, I know you’re not going to go into specifics with certain players, but are there any needs in particular when it comes to position places, is it a shortstop, is it a second baseman, center field, catcher for that matter?

Jed Hoyer: Yeah, it’s hard to say that because we’re still playing games and we got guys on the field. You know, certainly we know what things we need to address. I think this year, we’ve put the ball on the ground way too often. We’ve gotten on base, we’ve done a good job grinding at-bats, but like finishing off rallies with too many double plays, not enough power, in some ways, so those are some things we need to address.

So here’s the gist of what happened in that exchange — Wright wanted Hoyer to give up as much as possible about the Cubs plans for this offseason. Understandably, Wright avoided pressing Hoyer on individual free agents, which he NEVER would’ve addressed, but tried to get him to say someone on the positions he might target. Hoyer side-stepped that question, however, electing instead to identify the SKILLS they were lacking/hoping to address this offseason. And that’s what caught my ear.

According to Hoyer, the Cubs put the ball on the ground too much and had too many double plays. Instinctively, having watched the Cubs all season, that feels right. And checking FanGraphs … yup:

  • 46.1 GB% (highest in MLB)
  • 10.6 degree average launch angle (5th lowest in MLB)
  • 95 ground into double-plays (3rd highest in MLB)

So we know that’s something the Cubs want to address this offseason. Cool.

But we also know (more or less) the Cubs are likely to target one of the big four free agent shortstops. So I thought, hey, let’s take a look at the batted ball tendencies of those four players to see if there’s an obvious target among the bunch.*

*The reality is that SO MUCH more is going to go into this free agent chase than “Does Player X hit too many ground balls,” but I do think Hoyer was being honest in what they hoped to address and it certainly is a non-zero consideration. But make no mistake, there are other considerations like age, contract demands, the fielding ability at short, possibly the willingness to play third or second, etc.

2022 GB% Rankings (League Average: 42.8%)

1. Dansby Swanson: 37.2%
2. Trea Turner: 42.6%
3. Xander Bogaerts: 43.7%
4. Carlos Correa: 45.7%

These are the numbers for this current season. All four players are a little bit higher if you stretch back through their entire career, but the relative order is close – Swanson is always – by far – the lowest and Correa is always the highest with Turner and Bogerts close in the middle.

2022 Launch Angle Rankings (League Average: 11.9)

1. Dansby Swanson: 16.1 degrees
2. Xander Bogaerts: 11.0 degrees
3. Carlos Correa: 10.3 degrees
4. Trea Turner: 10.1 degrees

But as you can see, it’s not all about groundball rate. In terms of launch angle, Swanson separates himself even more this season, with a 16.1 degree launch angle, fourth highest among all 2022 shortstops, 61st highest overall. Bogaerts (175th), Correa (184th), and Turner (190th) are all much more closely clustered.

2022 Barrel% (League Average: 9.3)

1. Carlos Correa: 11.3 degrees
2. Dansby Swanson: 11.2 degrees
3. Trea Turner: 8.9 degrees
4. Xander Bogaerts: 6.3 degrees

But Hoyer also mentioned hitting for more power. And although launch angle is a big part of that, hitting the ball in the air is not really the goal if you’re not squaring it up. Barrel rate is a stat that quantifies the percentage of time a player hits the ball (a) in the air at an optimum launch angle *and* (b) with a high exit velocity.

And by this measure, Carlos Correa actually zooms way ahead, relative to his own rankings in launch angle and and groundball%. That’s because he also has the highest overall exit velocity this season, with the other three almost exactly equal.

So while I’m not going to conclude this post with some version of “Oh, well, clearly this player is the obvious target,” I will say that Dansby Swanson does stand out a bit more than I expected. Before today, I would’ve guessed that he’d be the Cubs last choice of the four free agent shortstops, but maybe we should re-think that, given what Jed Hoyer is evidently targeting (and the fact that Swanson should probably be the most affordable of the bunch).

However, I stand by my belief that given his youth, relative upside, the lack of a qualifying offer (no draft pick compensation), and the previously reported interest, Carlos Correa will be the Cubs primary target this offseason. Frankly, I’d be happy with any of the above.

Author: Michael Cerami

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