Chicago Cubs: Offensive inconsistency proving to be a tall mountain to climb

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

Throughout the season, the Chicago Cubs have endured some lengthy offensive dry spells and struggles with runners on. Wasn’t Chili Davis supposed to fix this?

In 159 games this season, the Chicago Cubs carry a .259 team batting average to go along with a .334 OBP and .411 slugging percentage. If you’re doing the math, that works out to a .745 OPS. That ranks fifth among all National League teams. But if you think it’s all sunshine and roses, you’re sadly mistaken.

Chicago’s OPS+ of 95 ranks below league average. That’s not to mention a precipitous drop in numbers from the first half to the second. Their batting average has dropped from .265 to .250. The Cubs’ on-base percentage (which is supposed to be the strength of this group) fell from .345 to .317. And, to make matters worse, the power has evaporated, as well – evidenced by a slugging percentage that’s fallen to .391 from .426.

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With runners in scoring position, they are batting .245, which ranks as the eighth-worth mark in baseball. In two-out, potential run-scoring opportunities, things get even worse: .218 average, .352 slugging and a .690 OPS.

How does this compare to recent years?

Last season, they hit .255 on the season with a .338 on-base percentage and .437 slugging  for a .775 OPS.  Their 99 OPS+ was good for 12th-best in MLB.

With runners in scoring position, they clocked in at a .253 mark with a .435 slugging percentage and .787 OPS. With two away and runners at either second or third? .239 with a .428 slugging and .779 OPS.

Jumping back to their World Series championship, 103-win 2016 campaign, the Cubs slashed .256/.343/.429. Their 104 OPS+ ranked fourth-highest in all of Major League Baseball.

They were also better in the clutch compared to 2018, hitting .252 with runners in scoring position with a .771 OPS. But, as is the case this season, they struggled with men on and two away – batting just .219 and slugging .383 with a .717 OPS. Still, though, those numbers are better than what we’ve seen this year.

Too early to lay the blame on Chili Davis?

No two seasons are alike, and other factors like schedule difficulty, injuries (especially in 2018) and an over-reliance on younger players such David Bote and Ian Happ, could explain a decline in the Cubs’ offensive numbers.

Nonetheless, what we seem to have seen every day on the field, offensive inconsistency and long droughts of low run production, are supported by the numbers.  Of the last three seasons, this one ranks as the worst by most measures.

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It is perhaps too early to judge Chilli Davis’ effectiveness but it does seem that either the message isn’t sinking in, the players are unable to make the adjustment or the mantra being preached is just plain and simple the wrong one.

Perhaps the kids are alright

There is one other factor we might consider.  Players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber, and to a lesser degree Ian Happ and David Bote, were known for their prodigious slugging and home runs when they were drafted.  They proved this in the minors and in their early MLB years.

Certainly, there is value in players like Ben Zobrist and Daniel Murphy who are known for working counts and contact hitting.  But are the Cubs perhaps trying to pound round pegs into square holes by trying to make a Baez or a Schwarber more like a Zobrist or a Murphy?  Difficult to say.

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I do believe that our sluggers are better off left to do that which they do best–smash the ball.  And perhaps if Theo and the front office want hitters more like Zobrist and Murphy they should draft that way moving forward.