Spreading The Love: The Cubs and Plate Appearances

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:

Season Team 400+ PAs
1980 Royals 10
2011 Rangers 10
2003 Royals 10
2009 Angels 10
1983 Blue Jays 10
1991 Brewers 10
2017 Twins 10
1985 Angels 10
2005 Blue Jays 11
1989 Royals 10

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 Royals 23 7 8 18
2003 Royals 13 15 13 15
2011 Rangers 16 12 19 6
2009 Angels 17 12 19 13
1983 Blue Jays 15 19 17 11
2005 Blue Jays 13 15 14 16
1991 Brewers 19 10 21 12
2017 Twins 20 10 15 14
1985 Angels 16 13 17 16
1989 Royals 21 8 14 15
Averages 17.3 12.1 15.7 13.6

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

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1 comment on “Spreading The Love: The Cubs and Plate Appearances”


600 PA from a catcher? That’s darn near a unicorn.

Yadi Molina? Never did it.
Sal Perez? Once, 606 when he was 24 (and with 4 games DHing).
Johnny Bench did 607 as a catcher when he was 20, otherwise in a catcher/utility role.
Buster Posey has never been exclusively a catcher.

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