Photo courtesy of Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
It’s no secret, the Cub shave been collecting power hitters over the past three-plus years like it’s going out of style. Well, to be fair, it kinda has been going out of style. We know slugging, and power in general, has been slowly, but surely dropping around the league since it reached peak craziness back in 2000. The Cubs brass noticed that as well, and did their best to accumulate as much of the highly desirable commodity as possible. Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Kris Byrant, Kyle Schwarber, Dan Vogelbach, Eloy Jimenez, all these players were acquired for numerous reasons, but the power in particular stands out.
With the Cubs off to their best start in over a half decade, it stands to reason that their plan to gather all the home runs and place them squarely in Wrigley is beginning to pay off. Well, except for one thing: This team isn’t hitting for very much power. The Cubs are slugging .380 on the year, which is a respectable sixth in the NL and just a tick below the league average of .385. They’re tied for eighth with 16 home runs and alone in ninth with a .129 ISO.
When looking at the current roster, there are three names that jump out who should be leading the slugging parade: Rizzo, Bryant, and Soler. However, the three have combined for just four home runs in the first month of the season, with Bryant still searching for his first and Soler and Rizzo both at two apiece—and both of Soler’s came in one game early in the season*. Soler’s been in a bit of a slump, leading to his slugging percentage to drop below .400 at .395. Rizzo and Bryant have both been wildly productive, but neither is providing the pop most expected, with Bryant in particular sporting an eye-popping .091 ISO.
*As a commenter astutely pointed out, Soler’s two-homer game came on April 13, the warmest (and only 60-plus degree) day at Wrigley this season. It certainly may just be a coincidence, but it’s a slightly interesting coincidence, and something—how he adjusts to cold weather—that I’ll be monitoring throughout Soler’s career. Nothing is set in stone and the adjustment period could turn out to be quite quick, but it’s worth watching.
Rizzo had just two home runs in his first 20 games last year and ended the season with 32, good for 10th in all of baseball. So I doubt there’s much to worry about there. The man is quickly establishing himself as one of the brightest offensive forces in the game; he’ll drive the ball once he starts consistently getting actual pitches to drive.
Soler is suffering through his first extended, extreme cold-weather stretch of his career. Of course, he never experience 40-degree and below weather in Cuba, and his time in Peoria in 2012 was late in the season. He spent 2013 in Daytona and the first part of 2014 injured and in Tennessee, before heading to Iowa in the summer months. It’s easy to explain his power drought, and general struggles, away with the brisk Chicago weather we’ve experienced this April. It’s something Joe Maddon certainly believes is a factor, commenting on how Soler looks a little comfortable out there and is bundled up with a facemask on.
For Bryant, it may be a little more complicated. Pitchers are attacking him inside and at the moment, while he’s doing quite well with those pitches, he hasn’t shown the ability to turn on the pitch just yet (read this fascinating twitter thread between our Matt Trueblood and two members of the BP Prospect Staff, Colin Young and Ryan Parker, for more in-depth talk about Bryant and how he could attack inside pitches better).
So all these power issues for the middle three bats in the lineup could be explained quite simply, if we choose to go that route; a slugger waiting for his pitch, a Cuban adjusting to the cold, and a rookie adjusting to how major-league pitchers are attacking him. But let’s focus on that weather a bit more, in particular, Wrigley in April.
In general, there has been no trend towards ISO being lower in April around the league than what the league ISO ended up at years end. In fact, from 2010-2014, the league-average ISO in April was actually higher than what the league-average ISO ended up being come the end of the season three times. So there’s nothing to April weather in general possibly tempering power over the years.
How about the Cubs, in particular?
|Year||Season ISO (Cubs)||April ISO (Cubs)|
Huh, no real trend there either. Except for the fact that by year’s end the Cubs have been a pretty solid power-hitting team over the last five seasons.
How about ISO for all teams at Wrigley in April compared to the rest of the season?
|Year||Season ISO (Wrigley)||April ISO (Wrigley)|
No trend here, either, though the 2012 April does jump out as being significantly lower than how things ended up as September wrapped. So perhaps there’s no consistency to it, but Wrigley can be a beast when it comes to sapping power in April. This season, the Cubs are sporting an ISO of .157 on the road and .104 at home. Well, that’s certainly something…
|4/5/2015||44°||In from CF (7 mph)|
|4/8/2015||46°||In from CF (6 mph)|
|4/13/2015||62°||Left to Right (17 mph)|
|4/14/2015||51°||In from CF (2 mph)|
|4/15/2015||49°||In from RF (18 mph)|
|4/17/2015||55°||Left to Right (9 mph)|
|4/18/2015||43°||In from LF (19 mph)|
|4/19/2015||53°||Left to Right (15 mph)|
|4/27/2015||43°||Left to Right (10 mph)|
|4/28/2015||44°||In from CF (6 mph)|
|4/29/2015||39°||In from LF (12 mph)|
That’s every home date in April for the Cubs this season, along with the temperature and the direction and speed at which the wind was blowing. A few things jump out. There’s only one day where the game-time temperature began at 60-degrees or above. (Eh, not that crazy if you know Chicago weather. We typically get teased with a couple 60 to 70 degree days, then some random snow hits, and then we have an amazing summer and remember why we live in this city. It’s just how it works. Shut up and suck it up, you’re a Chicagoan.) There’s also just one game where the wind is less than five mph and zero with the wind blowing out.
Wait a minute, that last one stands out quite a bit: zero days with the wind blowing out this April at Wrigley. Joe Maddon certainly noticed, pointing it out when asked if he’s learned anything new about Wrigley in his first month as manager of the Cubs.
“It’s been reaffirmed how big it is,” Maddon said. “It doesn’t look big with the numbers on the wall, but it plays really, really big. I’ve never been here with the wind really just blowing out, yet. So I’ve just witnessed a big ballpark. I know once (the wind) turns around a bit, I’m going to see it an entirely different way. But I haven’t seen it that way just yet, so all I know is one way to play Wrigley right now.”
The way the Cubs have been playing thus far at Wrigley has been just fine, with a respectable 6-5 record. They’ve played solid defense—if a little below average—they’ve gotten on base regularly, taking their walks, been aggressive on the basebaths, the rotation and bullpen has done their job for the most part, and the bats have scored enough to stack some wins. But the power hasn’t been there as expected, and zero days of the wind blowing out likely has had an effect on that.
For anyone who spends time at Wrigley, you see how often home runs or extra-base hits are taken away with the wind blowing in, or even a cross wind (which was the case this past Monday, and I saw Chris Coghlan robbed of at least extra bases on three separate occasions due to that cross wind). On Opening Night the wind was howling out, it looked like it was going to be a slugfest. But as tends to happen at Wrigley and Chicago, in general, the wind shifted dramatically and we saw a solid gust straight in from center by game time.
How often does the wind never blow out in a single game at Wrigley in April? Not counting this season, going back to 2000, it’s happened a grand total of zero times. I could have kept searching box scores into the 90s, but suffice to say, as far as wind direction goes, this was a pretty rare April at Wrigley.
We all know we’ll see our fair share of 80-plus degree days with the wind howling out at Wrigley. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see the Cubs as a team quickly climb up the rankings in home runs, slugging, and ISO, as they attempt to march towards October for the first time since 2008. Wrigley Field can play like two different ballparks, and Maddon has only seen one thus far in his Cubs career. You can be sure that he’ll get his opportunity to see the other Wrigley soon enough.
Thanks to Rob McQuown for assistance with research on this piece.