As of Monday, the Cubs had given 2,345 plate appearances to players in their age-25 season or younger. In those trips to the plate, that subset of the team drew 207 walks. Both figures are the highest in the league for that age group, which should surprise no one at this point. The Cubs are unusually young, and for a contending team, they’re astoundingly young.
For being so young, they’re also astoundingly patient.
Chicago Cubs, Batters Ages 25 and Younger, 2015
|Player||Plate Appearances||Walks||BB %|
That 8.8-percent walk rate by young players is the fourth-best in baseball this year, and the three teams with higher rates for that age group (the Pirates, Nationals, and Dodgers) have combined for one fewer plate appearance than the Cubs alone have.
In fact, given the volume of playing time we’re talking about, the Cubs’ young hitters are drawing walks at an historic rate. Since 1969, 356 teams have allotted at least 2,000 plate appearances to players in that age bracket. These Cubs rank 95th in walk rate among those teams, putting them in the 73rd percentile. That’s impressive, but it doesn’t begin to really tell the story here.
As others have noted, the global walk rate of 2015 is almost unprecedentedly low.
Walk Rate By Season, MLB, 1969-2015
The effect is even more drastic when one isolates young hitters, though.
Walk Rate By Season, Batters Ages 25 and Younger, 1969-2015
So let’s put each of those 356 teams who heaped playing time on young players into their league context. A leaderboard:
Walk Rate Relative to Global League Average, Players 25 and Younger, Min. 2,000 PA, 1969-2015
Admittedly, this is a homemade, rough-hewn stat. I’m just dividing the team’s walk rate from young hitters by the league’s overall walk rate. Still, it’s better than ranking the clubs by raw walk rate and ignoring the run environments, strike-zone shifts, and batter-pitcher dynamics that can change so significantly from year to year.
Since we know that young hitters are having an especially hard time drawing free passes this season, though, let’s compare the same set of 356 teams to their leagues in terms of walk rate by young players, specifically.
Walk Rate Relative to Lg. Average Within Split, Players 25 and Younger, Min. 2,000 PA, 1969-2015
|Team||Year||BB%||25 – BB%+|
Again, the caveat: I’ve simply taken each team’s walk rate for the age bracket under study and divided it by the league’s rate for the same set of players. It’s an imperfect way of doing things that doesn’t account for differences in opponents, park factors or anything else. Still, one adjustment brought the Cubs within the top 25 most patient groups of young hitters in recent history, and this second one has placed them within the top 20.
Okay, last adjustment to the original data. The Cubs have 2,345 PA by guys 25 or younger this year, so I started by filtering for any team with at least 2,000 PA in that split. That number for the Cubs is through only two-thirds of the season, though, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll stop playing these critical young players anytime soon. So what if we filter for teams with at least 3,000 PA by young guys, a number the Cubs are almost sure to surpass?
Walk Rate Relative to Global League Average, Players 25 and Younger, Min. 3,000 PA, 1969-2015
Walk Rate Relative to Lg. Average Within Split, Players 25 and Younger, Min. 3,000 PA, 1969-2015
|Team||Year||25 – BB%+|
And there it is. The Cubs’ prolific, selective youngsters are in rare company. They’re surpassed, in essence, only by one random Giants team from the mid-1970s and the early Alan Trammell-Lou Whitaker-Lance Parrish Tigers. Only time will tell whether this young core, with Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Soler, and Castro, is the one with two future Hall of Fame snubs, or the one with Steve Ontiveros, Gary Matthews, Chris Speier, and Gary Thomasson. For now, if you’re looking for a reason to believe that the Cubs are unique enough to do what no team this young has done since, at least, the 1975 Red Sox, this is a pretty good one. When you play this many young guys, getting this many of them to diligently work counts and get on base is exceptionally rare—and valuable.
Lead photo courtesy of Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports