Chicago Cubs: Mike Freeman one of many with skewed numbers

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

At first glance, the performance of Mike Freeman might make Chicago Cubs fans believe he’s a real up-and-comer. It’s time to get past that illusion.

Spring Training always brings out the worst in a lot of people. I’ve seen too many people clamoring for someone like Mike Freeman to get a roster spot with the Chicago Cubs – based on two weeks of very solid hitting.

Those same people are the ones losing their minds over how well Ian Happ performed thus far. He ranks near the top of the Cactus League in home runs (as well as several other offensive categories) and could provide a leadoff answer in 2018 for the Cubs. But there’s a bitter pill we all need to swallow.

Here it comes.

More from Cubbies Crib

Baseball Reference breaks down the pitcher quality batters face in Spring Training. And, as hard as it might be to believe, Cubs hitters aren’t exactly facing Clayton Kershaw every time they take the field. To be blunt, most of the arms trotted out in the first two weeks aren’t even Major League quality – let alone an ace.

Pay attention. This is important.

The ranking system runs from 1 to 10, with the latter being MLB-quality. It then progresses as follows:

  • 10 – MLB
  • 8 – Triple-A
  • 7 – Double-A
  • 5 – High-A (California/Carolina)
  • 4 – Full-Season A (SALLY/Midwest)
  • 1.5 to 3 – Rookie and Short-Season
  • 1 – Opposing Batter is a Pitcher

So, while Freeman boasts a staggering 1.277 OPS this season in 11 games, his Opponent Quality ranking is a mere 7.2. In other words, he can absolutely rake … against Double-A pitchers. As a guy with over 3,000 Minor League plate appearances under his belt, I would sure hope so.

That’s not to take anything away from what the Chicago middle infielder has done. You still have to go out there and execute on a daily basis to put up those kinds of numbers. But it’s not reason enough to flip the roster upside down to make room for an unproven backup (at best) guy.

As for Happ, the same story. His Opponent Quality ranking is 7.1 – almost the same as Freeman. After putting up a very respectable .253/.328/.514 slash line in 413 big league plate appearances last season, I expect someone like Happ to perform against low-level Minors arms. As we’ve learned, though, that’s not always the case.

More of the same – unfortunately

The conundrum known as Jason Heyward, against an 8.3 Opponent Quality rating, carries a horrendous .477 OPS this spring. Again, it’s not promising – but it’s too early to throw the book at the Cubs’ $184 million man.

Anthony Rizzo, though, has faced about the same quality of arms – with very different results. By the time the scrubs take the hill, he’s usually back in the clubhouse for the day. Against opponents ranked at an 8.5 (Triple-A), the Cubs first baseman carries a 1.075 OPS into action Tuesday. Kyle Schwarber, looking to rebound in a big way, clocks in with a 1.178 OPS against arms ranked as a collective 8.2.

Next: An in-depth check-in from Sloan Park in Mesa

So do what you will with spring numbers. But be wary of drawing hard conclusions from them – especially after just the first two-plus weeks of action.