Rizzo, Anthony 1502 (Mitchell)

A Look at the Cubs Early Season Plate Approach


The season is still young, very young. We’re only 10 games into the season, and only two games into the Kris Bryant era. However, something has stood out in the early portion of the season. The Cubs are striking out a lot. In fact, they’re striking out in 23 percent of their plate appearances, which is the fifth-highest rate in baseball. However, they’re also walking quite a bit. They’re sporting 10.6 percent walk rate, which is fourth best in baseball. With these numbers, they have a 0.46 BB/K rate which is eighth best in baseball. So they’re striking out a lot, which isn’t a good thing obviously, but they’re also being extremely patient at the plate, which reflects in their high walk rate. As a team, they are seeing 3.95 pitches per plate appearance, which is the fourth highest in baseball, and well above the league average of 3.81 pitches per plate appearance.

PITCHf/x is an excellent tool that tells us a lot about individual players as well as a whole team. Looking through the data, something stood out. The Cubs have a team plate discipline that is at the high and low end in every category. Let’s dig into the data to see the reason behind these extremes.

Team PA O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Cubs 387 28.3% 60.4% 42.6% 55.3% 85.8% 74.6% 44.7%

The Cubs are currently swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone 28.3 percent of the time, which is the tenth best in baseball—league average O-swing% is 30.2 percent. Swinging at pitches outside of the zone isn’t recommended, but it isn’t always a bad thing if you’re able to make solid contact. The Cubs are laying off pitches outside the zone, which correlates with them seeing more pitches per plate appearance. Rizzo and Fowler are doing excellent jobs at laying off these pitches as they hold a 20.8 percent and 21.8 percent rate respectively. Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, aka Jorge Soler, has actually been chasing quite a bit with an O-swing% of 34.9 percent.

Z-Swing% and Swing%
The Cubs are swinging at pitches in the strike zone 60.4 percent of the time so far this season, which is the sixth lowest in baseball and is also below the league average of 63.0 percent. Their overall swing percentage of 42.6 percent is the fourth lowest in baseball, and well below league average of 46.1 percent. They’re not swinging a lot, which strongly correlates to them seeing more pitches per plate appearance and a high walk rate. Once again, Rizzo stands out here. He’s not chasing pitches outside of the zone, but is zoning in on pitches in the zone well. He currently holds a Z-swing% of 65.6 percent, an O-swing% of 20.8 percent, and an overall swing rate of 36.4 percent. It’s been impressive at how well he’s honed his plate approach.

They’re not swinging at pitches outside of the zone often, which is likely a good thing considering their struggles with making contact on these pitches. Their O-contact% of 55.3 percent is the second lowest in baseball behind only the Orioles.

Z-Contact% and Contact%
Their Z-contact% of 85.8 percent is below the league average of 87.2% and the eight lowest in baseball. Their overall contact rate of 74.6 percent is the lowest in baseball and rather concerning. There’s no doubt you’re going to strike out a lot when you fail to make contact so often. The most concerning is Soler. He only holds a contact% of 62.7 percent. Granted, when he makes contact he does serious damage, but he is failing to make contact at an increasingly concerning rate.

As a team, they’re only seeing pitches in the zone 44.7 percent of the time. For a team that doesn’t chase a lot, this actually plays in their favor and is a huge reason for their high walk rate. A lineup that features Soler, Rizzo, Bryant, and Starlin Castro, it’s understandable that pitchers are not giving this team a lot of pitches in the zone. Here’s a list of the Cubs 1-5 with their zone percentages. Bryant only has 10 plate appearances with this sample, so take it as you may.

Player Zone%
Fowler 41.8%
Soler 42.4%
Rizzo 34.8%
Castro 42.8%
Bryant 29.6%
League Average 48.3%

Striking out a lot is not a good thing, and this is a team built around guys who have documented contact issues. However, this team has a patient approach and are working the count at a very impressive rate. As the season continues, I’m interested in seeing if teams attack the zone more often against them. It’s a high risk, high reward thing to do against this lineup. They struggle to make contact at a high rate, but when they do, they do some serious damage.

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2 comments on “A Look at the Cubs Early Season Plate Approach”


Please let criticizing Soler be the new “cold Valbuena”.

Last season, whenever people would talk about Valbuena being in a bad stretch, he would go on a ridiculous hot streak and just crush the ball.

Now, this piece mentions Soler’s contact issues, and he collects his first four-hit game.

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