There’s certainly a lot that’s unique about the Cubs. For three years now, we’ve wondered how the Cubs will cram in ABs for all the players they have. And generally, it’s worked itself out. While we complain about teams having three- or four-man benches these days thanks to bloated bullpens and injuries and a terror of ever using your backup catcher, in reality, the Cubs only have one true bench player. That’s Tommy La Stella, as he’s the only one who doesn’t routinely get a start. And even he gets one here and there to keep him sharp, but he’s what you think of when you think of a traditional bench player. He’s a dying breed, at least in these parts.
What I didn’t realize is just how unique the Cubs are in their depth and their willing rotation of it. The Cubs currently have 10 players on pace for 400 PAs. this year. In order: Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Rizzo, Russell, Schwarber, Almora, Happ, Zobrist, Heyward. Last year they had nine and Russell only missed by 15 PAs thanks to injury, though his injury certainly boosted the total of others. Almora logged another 323. So that’s 11 over 300 PAs. This year, only Bryant has missed a huge chunk of time, along with a DL stint for Rizzo. But nothing like the months that Russell missed last year, so this has just been a strict rotation.
What makes it something of a unicorn is that there have only been 10 teams in history that have had 10 players make 400 PAs in a season. They are:
What you’ll notice is that these are all American League teams, meaning you basically have a set lineup of nine every day instead of eight, so getting one more guy to that plateau wouldn’t be all that hard. No NL team appears on this list.
They had varying ranges of success. The ’80 Royals won the division, the ’03 version won 83 games. The ’11 Rangers went to the World Series where Nelson Cruz couldn’t manage to catch a simple line-drive that would have ended things and Neftali Feliz was suddenly throwing 88 MPH and NO I’M NOT STILL BITTER ABOUT IT OR ANYTHING. The ’09 Angels won their division. The two Blue Jays teams on this list were nothing to write home about, the ’17 Twins made a wild card appearance, the ’91 Brewers won 83 games, and the ’85 Angels won 90 games. It doesn’t necessarily portend to success, and obviously if you have a lot of good players you want to use more of them more often and hence you’re probably going to win. We’ve never seen it with an NL team, so the Cubs are something of a canary.
And this is where the debate of “rest” will come in. Only four Cubs right now are on pace for 600 PAs, which is generally the mark of a full-time starter. They are Rizzo, Baez, Contreras, and Bryant. We know Bryant and Rizzo will eclipse that, if health remains. We’ll see on the other two. As for the others, do you get more out of their better spaced out 400-500 PAs than you would out of some worn out 600? Does feeling fresh more often help or are you missing out on production and screwing with feel and timing for a player?
As far as how these teams did over the season’s final two months:
|Teams||August W||August L||September W||September L|
|1983 Blue Jays||15||19||17||11|
|2005 Blue Jays||13||15||14||16|
Note: Some seasons stretched into October and were added to the September totals
So usually, these teams lasted ok through the season, though only a couple really roared through the season’s last gauntlet, and really only the ’11 Rangers and ’91 Brewers crushed September. So it’s inconclusive. But it’s worth watching further as the Cubs move into the summer.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports