So, last night’s results aside, the Cubs offense has finally struggled. I say finally because we all knew the blistering pace they were on was going to come to an end at some point—no team can keep up that kind of production over 162 games, and this team is no different.
Their recent struggles are a reminder of one of the things that makes this sport so unique: the long season makes for some dramatic highs and depressing lows. And then you’re still only a quarter of the way through the season. But fans are human and people will be people, which has led to some borderline hysteria about how terrible some players are (Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler) and how amazing others have been (Dexter Fowler, anyone?).
Today I’d like to set some expectations for what we might see the rest of the way in 2016. Please do not take the numbers I’m about to show you as a “this is what will happen the rest of the way” type of deal. That’s not the intention at all. Don’t forget—I’m the guy that said Junior Lake was going to make it.
The table below shows the slash line that each player would have to post the rest of the way (the data below includes performance through Monday night’s game) in order to hit their pre-season PECOTA projection and their overall career averages. Then I’ve averaged those numbers out in a third column, aptly labeled “Average.”
My goal in running these numbers is twofold: first off, I was just curious and wanted to see what kinds of numbers players would need to post to hit either of these benchmarks. And second, I wanted to temper some of the pessimism that’s out there right now about players like Heyward and Soler. Yes, I know that Soler doesn’t have much of a track record to go by, but still. The season is a marathon and some of the criticism I’ve heard lately around these two at this point of the season inspired me to take a look at things from a slightly different angle.
OK, enough qualifiers, here’s the data:
|Tommy La Stella||0.258||0.331||0.334||0.245||0.317||0.297||0.251||0.324||0.316|
At first blush, things don’t look real good. It certainly doesn’t look like a team that’s going to cruise into the playoffs. Again, these numbers are based on projections and career averages, so let’s not get all hot and bothered about them. Besides, I’m an optimist and the way I read the numbers above is as follows: different players get hot at different times and the Cubs players that have already gotten hot and others that will probably get hot moving forward.
Fowler has had an amazing start to the season, slashing .314/.435/.526. These numbers are so far outside the norm for him that even my eternal optimism can’t hide the simple truth: he is going to come back down to earth and it’s not going to be pretty. PECOTA is pretty down on what Fowler will do this year, so that’s why that column has him sporting a puny .317 OBP the rest of the way. As a Major Leaguer with a proven track record, I’m more apt to rely on his career OBP of .366 and that puts him on base at a .341 the rest of the way, which isn’t amazing but is acceptable for someone that has already accumulated 2.5 WARP. As for an evaluation on the Fowler signing this offseason, it’s pretty clear this was a brilliant move regardless of what happens the rest of the way. Once Kyle Schwarber went down, the Fowler signing became all that more important.
If Fowler is on one end of the spectrum, the Cubs’ newest free-agent signing is on the other. Heyward has been bad at the plate. There’s just no sugarcoating it. While his defense has helped fans swallow the bitter pill that is his offense, the data above is a sign of encouragement. Heyward has always gotten off to terrible starts, so that’s yet another reason to be bullish on him. Both PECOTA and his career averages have him doing very well the rest of the way, and either one of those slash lines is something Cubs fans would gladly take. PECOTA has him hitting for more power, and if the Cubs could add another slugger to the mix with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, this offense could be clicking on all cylinders. Shoot, at that rate he might even be “the guy” that Adam Wainright was talking about during the preseason.
Addison Russell is another guy worth talking about. He seems to have figured some things out at the plate, and his breakthrough walk rate so far (12.7 percent) reflects that. PECOTA has no idea about that specific change he’s made, and the numbers above hint at a player that’s not yet ready to make the jump from young rookie to productive Major Leaguer. This is one case where fundamental changes that a player seems to have made to his game so far in the season make the projections and the career averages (which for Russell, are a nonstarter anyway) a moot point. If Russell can maintain some of that positive approach at the plate throughout the season, look for him to clear the numbers above and then some.
Then you have Rizzo and Bryant, or Bryzzo if you will. These guys are the closest thing to consistency you’ll find in a lineup filled with players at the edges of the performance spectrum. While Rizzo has been struggling as of late, he’s still walking more than he’s striking out and leading the team in homeruns and RBIs. These two players are the foundation of the team, and it should give fans the warm fuzzies to see the numbers reflect that. Rizzo’s career numbers take a bit of a hit due to his awful debut season and his 2013, which was a major slump compared to the numbers he’s used to putting up.
I want to close with a player that has fans and analysts divided, and that’s Jorge Soler. Some think he needs more at bats to work out of the funk he’s in. Others think he should be down in Triple-A getting those at bats to work himself back to a capable hitter. Then there’s the group that thinks he should be traded away already before he hurts the team any further. That last group seems to have forgotten the brief glimpse of greatness Soler showed in the last season’s posteason. Besides, trading a guy when he’s that low makes no sense—have we not learned anything from the way the Cubs handled the Starlin Castro situation last season?
The numbers above expect Soler to contribute positively to the team (and the PECOTA column is especially optimistic) if he can find the at bats. With Heyward’s health not at 100 percent and Schwarber gone for the entire season, I would expect him to get the at bats he needs to produce. If last night’s 2 for 3 night with two walks, a home run, and three RBIs is any indicator of things to come, then his performance should quiet the skeptics as his numbers creep up higher and higher.
I know the baseball season is like a roller coaster, and the highs and lows can be invigorating and equally depressing. But sometimes it’s good to take a step back and assess where we are in the context of what’s left to do. I hope the numbers above have helped you do that. Now back to our regularly-scheduled living and dying with every win and loss.
Special thanks to Rob McQuown for help pulling the data.
Lead photo courtesy Jasen Vinlove—USA Today Sports.