I began paying attention to the Cubs and Major League Baseball in the 1970’s. Consequently I guess you could call me an “old-school” baseball fan. I grew up playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, a game ahead of its time in valuing righty/lefty match-ups and Sabermetrics. Like most kids of the 70’s, I paid attention to batting average, homeruns, wins/losses and ERA. Even though Strat-o-Matic valued guys who could walk…I gave little thought to On-Base-Percentage. I gave even less thought to Slugging Percentage. These two percentages never enter my vocabulary when discussing my favorite team.
The 1977 Cubs’ would be the first team I followed on a daily basis. The late Bobby Murcer was my favorite player…for two primary reasons; he wore number 7, Rick Monday’s old number (I was only 8 at the time) and Murcer clubbed 27 homers during the 1977 season. I had no idea that Murcer was second on the team with a respectable .810 OPS. (How could I, there was no such stat!) I did realize that Bobby’s (I can call him Bobby, I was bat boy for a whole day) batting average was a pedestrian .265, yet I didn’t appreciate that Bobby’s On-Base Percentage was .355. So using old stats or new, Bobby was a good choice to be favorite player.
Sabermetrics are now a widely accepted form of baseball analysis in all of the Major Leagues…outside of the Chicago White Sox TV booth. As a former high school coach, I can honesty state I embraced OPS and other new metrics, yet I still think “old stats” can be useful and even fun! Example:
Mike Olt currently has a batting average of .153. If Olt were to get 20 hits in his next 20 at bats (not bloody likely, in fact there is probably a greater chance of Elvis returning to Earth in a ship full of Aliens who know who really killed JFK) Olt’s average would rise to .261! .261 after going 20-20! (Once again…never happen) That is both extremely funny to me, and a bit sad about the prospects of Olt becoming a Major League hitter.
Therefore old stats can still be useful…or at least fun…but any serious baseball fan knows Sabermetrics are where it’s at. Cubs’ fans following the 2014 season don’t need sabermetrics to quantify the fact that the team’s offense is bad…but sabermetrics can clarify the picture, and even provide a few rays of hope. I will now examine the Cubs position by position OPS rankings in the National League. ***Warning…pregnant women or those with serious heart conditions should not read ALL of these rankings.
CATCHER- CUBS .575 13of 15 NL AVG .712 1ST-BREWERS .908
Hmmm…I would wager if they had to do it over again the Cubs might re-think keeping John Baker over George Kattarras coming out of Spring Training. Prior to his injury, Wellington Castillo was at .672…close to the league average…but Bakers’ .396 and Whiteside’s .000 have sent Cubs backstops plummeting to the bottom.
1st BASE- CUBS .876 2of 15 NL AVG .789 1ST-DIAMONDBACKS .913
Did you watch Anthony Rizzo’s at-bats during the last home stand? Rizzo appears confident, aggressive yet patient…and he looks like an absolute beast at the plate. Imagine if/when we get some other actual Major League hitters around him? Acquiring Rizzo for the oft-injured Andrew Cashner… well done, Theo and Jed…well done.
2nd BASE- CUBS .651 11of 15 NL AVG .679 1ST-PHILLIES .854
Take out Luis Valbuena’s (.808) in 12 games at this position and the numbers would be more dreadful. Darwin Barney is a wonderful defensive player, but his .557 OPS is over 100 points below the league average and almost 300 below the leader. Translated…he cannot hit in the Major Leagues. If I had my druthers, Arismendy Alcantara would be manning this position right now and batting 1st or 2nd.
SHORTSTOP- CUBS .775 4 of 15 NL AVG .708 1ST-ROCKIES 1.069
Starlin Castro has had a nice bounce back season…and when the “Where does Javy Baez play?” question finally has to be answered…Starlin’s OPS plays even better in the non-PED world of second-basemen. Assuming Baez can cut it, the Cubs’ should be good OPS wise at both positions (no matter who plays where)…and don’t forget about Alcantara.
3rd BASE- CUBS .720 9 of 15 NL AVG .718 1ST-REDS .818
Luis Valbuena is one of the rare Cubs other than Rizzo and Castro who the more I watch…I actually kind of like. I would like him best as a back-up/spot starter/pinch hitter…not as an everyday player. Mike Olt’s .609 OPS, even with his .153 average, is a testament to his power and walk rates. We can only speculate/drool whether Kris Bryants’ AA numbers will be replicated at the MLB level someday.
LEFTFIELD- CUBS .796 3 of 15 NL AVG .723 1ST-BRAVES .895
Upon first glance, you might say… “Wow, I didn’t realize Junior Lake was having such a good year”. Actually, this is a bit of a statistical anomaly as Lake sits at .709. The only explanation is that players with bad overall OPS numbers (Ryan Kalish and Chris Coghlan) performed much better in left than in center or right. That being said, I still think Lake gets dismissed as a non-prospect too quickly…he is only 24 and you can’t teach his size and raw ability.
CENTERFIELD- CUBS .605 14of 15 NL AVG .740 1ST-ROCKIES .919
Ugh. Maybe this is why the afore mentioned Alcantara has been playing some center down in Iowa. (Yes…I like Arismendy as a prospect) This is putrid production from a Major League outfielder, and should only be accepted on a team with a Gold Glove defender and 7 other really good hitters…neither of which the Cubs’ have.
RIGHTFIELD- CUBS .593 15 of 15 NL AVG .766 1ST-DODGERS .999
If I used “ugh” for center, then this warrants “I just threw up in my mouth a little.” At the slugging position of right field the Cubs have a cumulative OPS of a weak hitting middle-infielder.
DESIGNATED HITTER- CUBS .610 7 of 15 NL AVG .606 1ST-DODGERS 1.115
With the incredibly silly (in my opinion) way that the inter-league schedule works today, NL teams technically have DH’s. In a small sample size the Cubs’ are barely above the league average…yawn.
PINCH- HITTER- CUBS .440 15 of 15 NL AVG .597 1ST-ROCKIES .800
Yikes! What’s more impressive/revolting…the Rockies’ .800 or the Cubs’ .440? Remember this example of Cubs’ ineptness the next time Ricky Renteria makes a late inning move.
PITCHER- CUBS .416 1 of 15 NL AVG .314 1ST-CUBS .416
Thank you Travis Wood! (Who should be one of the Cubs’ first pinch-hitting options late in games) Seriously, how Cubs-like is it that the only position they lead is Pitcher OPS…not exactly what great teams are built on.
So what does this position by position comparison tell us? Some things we already knew, and some we can now quantify:
- Anthony Rizzo is developing into one of the game’s best.
- Starlin Castro is closer to the player he was in 2010-2012, than the 2013 version.
- Darwin Barney flat-out s#cks as a Major League hitter.
- The Cubs outfielders hit like back-up infielders.
- Travis Wood is one of the Cubs’ better hitters.
These numbers paint a deeply disturbing portrait of what is supposed to be a major league offense. Obviously the plan is that Bryant, Baez and (don’t foget!) Alcantara will soon arrive and fill these gaping line-up holes.
If not Theo, Jed and company will have to turn to Plan B…if there is one.