The Impact of Cubs Rookies, the Shift's Impact on Second Base, Swanson Talk, and Other Cubs Bullets

Social Navigation

The Impact of Cubs Rookies, the Shift’s Impact on Second Base, Swanson Talk, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Yesterday, The Littlest Girl accidentally dumped a healthy portion of her apple juice cup on my keyboard. I figured it was toast. After the cleanup, I haven’t noticed any issues yet, other than residual stickiness. Fingers crossed …

  • This year, the Chicago Cubs saw a whopping 27 rookies take the field at some point. Quick, name them all!
  • In all seriousness, I’d like to think I could’ve gotten about 25 of ’em right off the cuff in quick succession, but I’m virtually certain I would’ve forgotten about Conner Menez, and I think I also would’ve forgotten that Alfonso Rivas still had rookie eligibility.
  • Which Cubs rookies contributed the most for the Cubs? Well, Seiya Suzuki (2.0 WAR) and Christopher Morel (1.6) were obviously the big ones, though P.J. Higgins and Nelson Velazquez each had over 200 PAs of above-replacement performance. So that’s never bad to get from rookie back-ups. Scott Effross was the big one on the pitching side (1.2 WAR, even before he was traded), with Hayden Wesneski netting 0.7 WAR in his brief big league debut.
  • In total, Cubs pitching rookies were worth -0.6 WAR on the season, while the positional prospects were at 3.9 WAR. Bet you wouldn’t have pegged that huge disparity! The main reason is that the Cubs got slightly negative value from virtually all the young fill-in guys who made an appearance or two, and also Anderson Espinoza and Matt Swarmer together combined for a -1.3 WAR. Each was recently made a free agent, by the way. (On the flip side of that, you have to be a little careful on how you use fWAR for pitchers, since it’s FIP-based – we know that some pitchers do have the skill to beat their FIP. Brandon Hughes might be such a guy, because his FIP was terrible this year, and thus he was worth -0.3 WAR as a rookie … pretty sure he was quite a bit better than that.)
  • I had the rookie stuff on the brain because FanGraphs wrote up the 2022 rookie class overall in baseball, and it was one of the most impactful rookie classes in recent memory. The total 54.9 WAR for rookies was the highest since 2015, the year that saw Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Joc Pederson, and Corey Seager, among others, make huge debuts. At 3.3 WAR, Cubs rookies accounted for about 6% of the league total.
  • Speaking of exceptional Cubs rookies:
  • Stray thought: Dansby Swanson is my least-preferred of the four free agent shortstops, but the backlash against him has become so strong that I think people are kinda losing the thread. He’s still good and could dramatically improve the Cubs. He’s just not 1A, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, and I’m definitely not interested in getting in a Swanson-led fight. I’m just saying if the other three didn’t work out, I’d still gladly take Swanson on a five-year deal.
  • Speaking of the Cubs adding an impact defender at shortstop, which would allow them to move an elite defender in Nico Hoerner over to second base … here’s a quote from now-former Astros GM James Click on how he thinks the shift limits will most affect the infield, via David Laurila’s column:

“My gut reaction would be second base,” replied Click. “You could make a credible case for any of the four infield positions, but I also don’t know how much it’s going to really change the game. We’ll still see teams shift as much as they can within the rules. We’ll see shortstops almost directly behind second base, or second basemen directly behind the bag. So the question becomes: ‘How much do those few feet really change the batter’s approach, and the result?’ That said, I do think we’re going to need more athleticism at all positions. Any time you’re not able to position a guy exactly where the ball is most likely to go, you’re going to have to be able to move a little more to get to those balls ….

“(Second base) can’t play that shallow right field anymore, and in some ways they won’t have to make all the different throws from different angles, so we can cut down on some of our infield work in spring training. We don’t have to run drills where the second baseman is in shallow right field.”

  • A side point on that? Back when Nico Hoerner was an elite defensive second baseman, and also in some of his best defensive moments playing in the shift out of shortstop, he was making incredible plays from short right field. That is no more. Doesn’t mean his ability won’t still translate; but if he was, in some way, particularly good at that play, I guess that is no longer a benefit of moving him over.
  • For the fellow Ohioans among you who plan to get into sports betting, make sure you check out the BetMGM registration bonus before the January 1 launch. It’s $200 in free bets just for signing up.

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.