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Chicago Cubs: High ground ball tendencies a cause for team’s poor performance

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Apr 26, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs players (L to R) Jon Jay (30) and Jason Hayward (22) and Kyle Schwarber (12) and Addison Russell (27) and Albert Almora Jr. (5) look on before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 26, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs players (L to R) Jon Jay (30) and Jason Hayward (22) and Kyle Schwarber (12) and Addison Russell (27) and Albert Almora Jr. (5) look on before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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There is more than one cause of the Chicago Cubs’ slow start. The largest may very well be the team is hitting too many ground balls.

The reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs are in a funk. The team is 4-6 in the month of May and 1-5 in their last six games. For a team hoping to repeat atop the baseball world, this is obviously not ideal.

Joe Maddon recently said that fatigue due to lack of sleep was the biggest reason to the team’s .500 start. While that certainly may be a big factor into the sluggish opening month, it’s not the chief culprit, which comes down to this: ground balls.

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The Cubs are currently 10th in the league in ground ball percentage, at 45.8 percent. After 34 games last year, the team was second-to-last in the league at 39 percent, and it doesn’t stop there.

Since May 1 the Cubs are first in the league in GB% at a whopping 52.4 percent. Not only that, but the team ranks last in that same time period in fly ball rate at 29.9 percent.

If you’re wondering why these two stats are indicative of team success, consider this. Two of the hottest teams in baseball currently, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, are both near the bottom and top in GB% and FB% (respectively) since May 1.

Additionally, they’re also strong in line-drive percent, with the Mets sitting atop the league at 24.1 percent. Meanwhile the Cubs are tied for sixth-worst at 17.7 percent.

The Cubs’ strikeout percent since May 1 is a respectable 20.1. Hence, Chicago can trace its struggles back to the balls put in-play. With Kyle Schwarber (50%), Anthony Rizzo (51.7%), Javy Báez (53.1%) and Willson Contreras (68.2%) hitting the ball on the ground this much, it’s not hard to figure out why the offense is struggling.

Driving the ball key for any offense – especially the Cubs

Ground balls aren’t necessarily bad, but they do limit the amount of extra-base hits… or do they? Amazingly, since May 1 the team still has the 7th most extra-base hits with 31, or just over three a game, which says more about how good the team still is when they’re struggling than anything.

If the Cubs want to get back to mashing the ball then it starts with getting it in the air at a higher rate. That will lead to more doubles, triples and home runs, which leads to more runs, which leads to more wins.

Ground balls are often the result of topping the ball and not squaring it up so perhaps it’s mechanical reasons why this is happening. In any case, this must be addressed or the slide will surely continue.

Maybe Maddon is right and a good night’s sleep is all that it’ll take to wake the bats up. But if rest doesn’t do the trick, what next? Adjustments must be made if the Cubs are to build a record worthy of an NL Central crown.

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