A pleasant surprise to most fans, Nico Hoerner arrived in San Diego earlier this week ready to help the big league Cubs in a push for the playoffs. So far, he hasn’t just helped to fill in. He’s been the spark plug the team needs.
Let’s say it: Chicago Cubs Nico Hoerner is a spectacular baseball player. A lot of people knew it. Cubs’ fans hoped he would be, and even naysayers admitted he at least looked the part of a big-league ballplayer way back in spring training. At just 21 years of age, and with many big-league infielders seemingly blocking his ascendance earlier this year, few thought we would see him up with the Cubs in 2019.
Fewer still thought he would get regular starts or be thrust into a starting role down the stretch in a pennant race.
Here we are on September 15th, and Hoerner is the Chicago Cubs’ starting shortstop. Not only that, he’s hitting .417, slugging .750, and has 11 RBI in just six games. Small sample size and all, but for a guy who played only 89 professional games before being called up, it’s unfathomable.
Hoerner is the first player selected in the 2018 Draft to see playing time in the Major Leagues and has fans of the Cubs and baseball-alike wondering one thing: why the heck did it take so long. Not just that, many are wondering why the Cubs kept Addison Russell at all if this is what they knew they had sitting in the cedar chest.
Despite the hot start and all the feels that have come with it for the team, front office, and fans, the real question is this: Is Nico Hoerner this good? Is what he’s doing against two terrible teams legitimate and real, or is he getting lucky with matchups and due for a bit of a plummet?
While there’s little hope of Hoerner continuing with a .417 average for the rest of his career (given that it would be more than 55 points higher than Ty Cobb‘s record for batting average), would you doubt him at this moment?
Hoerner has walked three times so far with the Cubs and struck-out just twice. In his 89 games MiLB games, Hoerner walked 31 times and struck out at an almost perfect 1:1 ratio– only 36 strikeouts. This struck me as something positive because anytime a guy is willing to work the zone and take his walks while making contact and lowering strikeouts, it can’t be a bad thing.
Another positive is the kind of contact Hoerner is making when he does swing. Out of 18 difference chances with data, Hoerner hit 11 balls at least 90 mph. However, perhaps the most important exit velocity numbers are the balls he makes contact with and puts in play at 61 or 74 mph. The ball hit 61 mph- guess which one that was? If you guessed his first at-bat where he faced an 0-2 hole and popped one into right field, you’re right.
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While his bat has played the part of the sparkly red Ferrari in the garage, Hoerner’s defense has been the pickup truck, and his overall affect the family minivan. Jon Lester is calling him the spark plug the team needed, and Maddon also gushed about his instincts and Javy-like abilities. Hoerner can seemingly do it all in a sport that doesn’t usually see guys come up and play this well when thrown into the middle of a pennant race at 22.
To answer the question that’s at the crux of this article “Is Nico Hoerner this good?” one must look only as far as his teammates and manager’s early reactions and takes. He’s special, he belongs, and he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity he’s been given. Let’s hope he helps the Cubs take advantage of theirs… so far, so good.
With all of the hubbub surrounding the rookie, his performance, and his place in the lineup once Russell is healthy, Hoerner very well could be auditioning for a full-time gig at second base and atop the Cubs’ lineup next season.