As with most Cubs fans, I have found myself puzzled as to what could be contributing to our lack of offense in big moments since 2017. In 2018, the Cubs were held to one run in the N.L. Central tie-breaker game against the Milwaukee Brewers, and then held to one run again in the N.L. Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies. In 2019, the Cubs went on a nine-game losing streak in September in which they averaged 3.1 runs/game in that stretch. Furthermore in 2020, the Cubs lost to the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Round after posting one run in the first game, and then were shutout in the series finale.
Clearly there is an issue. For a team that was once in the conversation as a potential “dynasty” making it to three straight trips to the NLCS (2015-2017), the last three seasons have proven the Cubs are far from said “dynasty”. Despite winning the division three of the last five seasons, I am sure most fans can agree that the end results have been pretty underwhelming. Sure, Cubs baseball has been nothing short of exciting during the months of April-August; but we all know that means nothing if you can’t carry that over into September and October.
Well, being the numbers guy that I am, I wanted to do some digging to see if there were any major factors that could help solve the issue at hand. Listed below is a table showing some basic offensive stats for the Cubs as a whole from the years 2016-2020.
Chicago Cubs Team Hitting Statistics – Regular Season
Not too bad right. I mean, one could argue that by looking at the stats listed above the Cubs have been relatively consistent in almost all of these categories besides the 2020 season (in which they still won the division that year). No one could argue, however, that the Cubs haven’t been good on offense during the regular season – postseason on the other hand, way different story.
Chicago Cubs Team Hitting Statistics – Postseason
Ouch. Since 2016, the Cubs’ bats have just seemingly vanished. Obviously the sample sizes in 2018 and 2020 are relatively small, but they still portray a very accurate representation of the Cubs’ hitting as a whole. The competition during playoff baseball compared to the regular season is a tick higher given you face the opposition’s best arms, but the decline in the Cubs’ offensive stats are noticeably disturbing. So what does this mean? Are the Cubs not clutch? Do opposing pitchers just step up in the moment? Or is there something everyone, including myself, is missing?
Looking at the advanced metrics for team hitting, the Cubs have also kept their numbers constant in the following statistical categories – home runs per game, walks per game, runners left in scoring position per game, and left on base per game – all during the regular seasons between 2016-2020. What really stuck out to me was strikeouts per game, and this is where in my eyes things get very interesting.
|Year||Team Strikeouts Per Game|
Obviously 2016 was the best year for Cubs baseball, but as mentioned earlier, we still made it to the NLCS in 2017. In 2018, the Cubs hired Chili Davis to be their hitting coach, which at the time seemed perfect. He had just helped transform a Boston Red Sox offense that went from bottom of the division (2014) to the top (2016, 2017) during his tenure before coming to Chicago. I mean, what could go wrong?
Apparently, a lot. Chili Davis changed the Cubs’ hitters approach at the plate. That whole offseason before the 2018 season, every reporter, analyst, coach, and player talked about “approach this” and “approach that”. While he may have helped the team lower their strikeouts per game, I believe he did more damage than good. Now you might think that is counterintuitive, but in 2018, the Chicago Cubs scored one run or less in 40 of the 162 games that year….. FORTY!!! Obviously I know a hitter’s approach at the plate is one of the most important factors to succeed in this game, but I just don’t think the approach Chili was giving our guys truly helped. I will admit, I think it helped players like Jason Heyward and maybe some of the others that are “swing-happy” – like Javier Baez and Willson Contreras – but I think it took a deep cut into the career trajectory of players like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Speaking of Kris Bryant, I have been meaning to dive into the advanced metrics of KB’s game to see what factors are contributing to his “decline.” While everyone else in Chicago has given up on him, I have not and will not. The 3x all-star, former ROTY, MVP, and World Series champion, was once considered an elite ballplayer and in the discussion of best 3B’s in the game along with stars Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Turner. His past success, however, is far from his current as he finished last in fielding percentage in 2019 (.947) and his offensive stats in 2020 were abysmal slashing .206/.293/.351. But before we all jump on the “Kris Bryant’s career is over” train, let’s remember he’s only 29 years old and 2020 was… well it was 2020. So, while fans, baseball Twitter, and maybe even the Cubs’ front office sees that selling and restarting may be the right idea, I find it hard to believe why everyone is so quick to want to trade a guy like Kris.
Kris Bryant Statcast Batting Statistics:
|Year||Games Played||Exit Velo||Launch Angle||XSLG||WOBA||Hard Hit %||Barrels|
Looking at the stats above, you can see Kris Bryant started to decrease in some metrics in 2017, but to be fair, he was coming off an MVP season. Looking at 2018, we are seeing easily some of the worst numbers in his career to this point. I am not saying Chili is to blame; there really isn’t a blame to be had. Another possible option for KB’s struggles may have started early on April 22, 2018 in a game against the Colorado Rockies. Bryant took a 96 mph fastball to the head from German Marquez, and there are plenty of theories from fans saying this could have contributed to his recent struggles. Along with minor injuries and trying to change his approach back in 2018, I believe Bryant is just in the backend of a slump (a long one at that but just bear with me). Bryant himself has come out and said he has been dealing with “timing issues,” but as I have said over and over, you cannot just give up on a guy with the ceiling he has.
At the end of the day, I think Cubs fans like myself have truly under-appreciated the play of the team the last couple of years. I won’t be that fan that holds onto the 2016 team, but I do think that the Cubs are in better shape going forward than people are making it out to be. Considering teams like the Braves, Mets, Padres, and Dodgers are powerhouses at the moment, what would dealing a guy like Bryant right now really accomplish? He’s 29, has the least value he’s ever had in his career, and seems like a player who would love to stay in Chicago. If I were in Jed Hoyer’s shoes, his best bet is to hold onto Bryant. If KB has a resurgence of a season, Hoyer could extend him for the long-term. On the other hand, if KB has a poor season, Hoyer could re-sign him to a friendly contract or let him walk and replace him with David Bote.