Chicago Cubs: Returning to defensive form is essential in 2020

Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs: It felt like 2019 saw more misplays than great plays.

While defensive metrics are not perfect, they can give one a good idea of how effective a player and/or team is playing in the field. Metrics try to go beyond fielding the ball and making an out or not; they attempt to measure defense based on averages and more about their ability to make plays that others can or cannot.

One stat that stands out, in particular, was the Cubs -13 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2019. That was good for 21st in baseball. Long story short, the Cubs overall defense was below average in preventing runs being scored. This is a core of players that sported an insanely good 107 DRS in 2016, which was the highest in baseball by 26. Of course, that kind of number is hard to sustain, but over the next several seasons, they still had overall above-average DRS numbers.

2017: 38 (7th best)

2018: 43 (9th best)

Last year was such a dip in that number, with still having mostly the same defense out there. One can look at the regression in UZR (ultimate zone rating), which mostly looks at how a player/team fields a ball and how it compares to data collected similar batted balls and whether they are above or below average. Again, pretty identical to DRS. In 2019 the Cubs team UZR, while above overall average at 11.9, was well below the previous year in 2018 (23.4) and VERY different than the 47.1 they posted 2016.

Overall their FanGraphs DEF (defensive runs above average) in 2019 was 8.9 (12th best), which is the top-half and above zero. But this is compared to a defense that averaged a DEF of 32 between 2016 and 2018. The difference between 2019 and 2018 is a 20.5 dip.

If there is ONE thing to take away from this… it is that this Cubs team is better than what they did in the field last year. That was not who they are.