With a young offense, two things are for certain. The Chicago Cubs are going to have ups and down at the dish and will strike out a great deal.
Just two weeks into the regular season, the Chicago Cubs’ offense has already racked up 101 strikeouts – the sixth-worst mark in the National League.
To be fair, the offense has also racked up 44 base-on-balls, the third-best mark in the league. It’s a trend similar to what we saw last season. The Cubs post a high on-base percentage, but are prone to the swing-and-miss, at times.
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Last season, at the top of the lineup, Chicago featured one of the top on-base threats in all of Major League Baseball in Dexter Fowler. After losing the outfielder to the rival Cardinals in free agency, Joe Maddon went with a different approach to the top of the lineup card in 2017.
Postseason hero Kyle Schwarber got the nod to lead off for Chicago this year and the results have been mixed.
To a degree, he’s accomplished what Maddon envisioned with the move. Pitchers are unlikely to float a pitch down the middle to a hitter like Schwarber. The young slugger has a pair of home runs already this year.
On the other hand, he’s struck out – a lot. Entering play Sunday, Schwarber has 19 strikeouts in 42 at-bats. That equates to a 45 percent strikeout rate – far above the league average. When you consider that he sets the tone for the entire lineup, that figure looms even larger.
Despite batting .214, Schwarber has solid on-base numbers. With a .365 OBP, he ranks in the top five among Cubs’ hitters. It’s still far too small a sample size to draw meaningful conclusions, but it stands to reason if he can cut down his strikeouts, the Cubs will have more scoring opportunities.
But the strikeout trend goes farther than just Kyle Schwarber.
It’s all about balance for this team
Kris Bryant has struck out 13 times in his 44 at-bats (30 percent). The reigning National League MVP has shown a lot of promise lately, though, namely his two-home run performance on Saturday at Wrigley.
In his rookie season, Bryant struck out in just under 36 percent of his at-bats. Last year, a big part of his offensive outburst was hit ability to limit Ks.
The 2017 campaign saw him cut that number down to 25.5 percent. Lo and behold, he led the league in runs scored and saw his OPS climb by nearly 50 points.
Willson Contreras ranks third on the team in terms of punch-outs, at 34 percent. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise – at least to me. He’s carrying a big load this year after taking over the starting catcher role.
Trends will continue, but clutch ABs must improve
When the dust settled on the 2016 regular season, the Chicago Cubs struck out 1,339 – the fifth-highest total in the National League. Still, Chicago scored more runs than every team in the league outside of Colorado.
Their saving grace?
Apart from the sheer depth the offense featured (and still features), the team showed a consistent ability to get on base. Granted, the strikeouts came – with a team this young, they always do.
But as long as the Cubs keep working counts and seeing pitches, this offense is going to succeed in the long run. There will be ebbs and flows, so expect that now. But with the sheer talent on this roster, don’t expect prolonged cold spells from the bats.