The Cubs as a team are hitting a league low in batting average after ten games into the season. The Cubs are last in batting average (.164), on-base percentage (.264), slugging (.321) on-base plus slugging (.585), and runs per game (2.9).
Of the teams who have played a minimum of 9 games, the Cubs are also last in hits, doubles, and RBIs.
They are also 3rd in the league in strikeouts percentage (28.8%), last in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), and last in contact percentage
You get the idea; it’s either last in important categories, or it’s close to last. You might have some questions about how it got this bad. Is it being unlucky? Is it going to get better? Are the Cubs playoff dreams doomed?
Let’s take a look.
First of all, not all stats tell the whole story. You can look at batting average and runs per game and think they are going to be the worst offense in the entire MLB. That has been true, so far…
There are areas where the Cubs will get better as the season goes on, naturally. But there are also areas that appear to be a common thread within recent years with the Cubs.
When looking at a team offensively, you need to look at if it is a stat that has to do with luck or skill.
For example, BABIP means batting average on balls in play. This is one of those luck-based statistics that you can look at and determine if a team or a hitter has been lucky, unlucky, or right where they should be.
The Cubs as a team are dead last in BABIP (.194). The normal BABIP is around .300, so about an 11% difference. This means that the Cubs should be getting more hits than they are and, throughout the year, they will. We will start to see the Cubs get more hits naturally and their team batting average will start creeping upwards.
The next thing you can take a look at is plate discipline. In order to be a better hitting team, you can’t swing at everything. Two statistics that take plate discipline into consideration is O-swing percentage and Z-swing percentage.
O-swing percentage is the percentage of swings at pitches outside the zone. The higher your O-swing percentage is, the worse you are going to be at hitting. You will strike out more, won’t be able to hit the ball with quality contact, take less walks, and most importantly, fail to generate runs.
Z-swing percentage is the opposite. It is the percentage of swings at pitches inside the zone. This isn’t an end-all-be-all statistic because you don’t have to swing at every pitch in the zone in order to be effective. For example, you can take strikes that you don’t want to swing at simply because they are borderline pitches or bad calls by the umpire. And you can also take strikes because you don’t think you can put a quality swing on it.
Basically, looking at these two statistics, you can find out if a hitter is making good decisions at the plate.
The Cubs as a team are actually pretty good in the O-swing percentage department at 28.5%, which is tied for 6th best in the league with the SF Giants. This means that the Cubs aren’t chasing a ton of pitches outside of the zone and they will be able to put the ball in play more.
The Z-swing percentage for the Cubs sits at 65.3%, which is 23rd in the league. Again, this isn’t a strong indicator of good plate discipline, because you can sacrifice Z-swings for quality hits such as barrels or a good hard hit percentage.
Looking at (arguably) the best player in the history of baseball, Mike Trout is a tremendous decision maker at the plate. His O-swing percentage this year is 4th best in the league at 15.2%, but his Z-swing percentage is 61.3% which sits at 152nd in the league. Trout is the perfect example of someone who doesn’t swing at bad pitches, and sacrifices his z-swing percentage for the ability to hit the way that he does. And he is, again, arguably the best player of all time.
A big red flag that Javier Baez has is his O-swing percentage. Baez is the 14th worst hitter (min 30 plate appearances) when it comes to O-swings so far this year. His O-swing percentage is a whopping 41.7%, this means that all of those negative things that come with a bad O-swing percentage, will happen to him specifically. Baez will not be able to get a good batting average without getting a lucky BABIP, or he will not be able to get a good on-base percentage. He will continue to make a lot of outs at the plate and hurt the Cubs the more he swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. Baez is simply a hitter who will just swing for the fences and hope for big hits. In the MLB, you need to be more than that as a hitter.
Since 2019, other Cubs that need to improve in this area are Joc Pederson (33.7% o-swing) and David Bote (31.6%).
The other Cubs players in the lineup are very good at not swinging at pitches outside the zone. Their O-swing percentages are:
Ian Happ – 22.2 %
Eric Sogard – 23.1%
Jason Heyward – 24.3%
Willson Contreras – 26.3%
Kris Bryant – 27%
Anthony Rizzo – 27%
Jake Marisnick – 28.1%
With the plate discipline addressed, the next thing you need to look at is the quality of contact. How is the Hard Hit percentage? How is the Swing per Strike percentage? Barrels/Batted Ball Event? Exit velocity? These statistics indicate how hitters are making contact and how well they are making contact.
Let’s look at Swing per strike percentage, or SwStr%, first. This statistic is the amount of Swings per Strike or basically how often they swing and miss. The higher your SwStr%, the worse you are doing.
The Cubs as a team are 5th worst this year at 13.8%. The worst player in the league at SwStr%? is Javier Baez at 28.9%.
Other Cubs are at the middle of the pack here:
Kris Bryant – 13.3%
Ian Happ – 13%
David Bote – 12.9%
Joc Pederson – 12.8%
Willson Contreras – 11.8%
The best players on the Cubs in this category are:
Jason Heyward – 9.7%
Anthony Rizzo – 8.1%
Eric Sogard (best on Cubs, 64th in the league) – 7.1%
The final stat we are going to look at today is Barrels/BBE%. The Barrel classification is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.
The Cubs sit at 19th in the league in this category, so their quality of batted balls has not been great. This is an area of concern and needs to improve if the Cubs want to get into the winning column consistently.
Going forward the Cubs should improve. They shouldn’t end as the worst hitting team in baseball, but they also don’t look like they are going to be the best hitting team in baseball.
After doing a deep dive into the Cubs offense, it is not the greatest feeling going forward, but it also shouldn’t be as bad as it’s been.