Cubs: Nico Hoerner is proving he’s here to stay for good

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

If you were like me when initial rosters were set at the beginning of the season, you may have raised an eyebrow or two at the decision to leave Nico Hoerner off the Opening Day roster. You may have even scoffed or been a tad bit irate when David Ross said that Hoerner wasn’t one of the 26 best players the Cubs would be carrying.

I’d like to think Ross was between a rock and a hard place and wasn’t making the decision on his own, but the decision is looking more and more laughable as each day passes. Called up when Joc Pederson went on the IL on April 22, all Hoerner has done so far is post a ludicrous .375/.487/.531 slash line heading into action on Sunday, smacking balls all over the yard while playing four different positions defensively.

Hoerner not only belongs on the Cubs roster; he might just be turning into a star.

A finalist for NL Gold Glove at second base a season ago, Hoerner struggled statistically on offense despite hitting a ton of line drives and hard ground balls (0.8 Launch Angle vs. 5 this year so far). Over the winter, Hoerner decided to pack on noticeable muscle, showing up for Spring Training in the ostensible “best shape of his life.” Then, he went out and hit .364 in Arizona, ripping balls in much the same way he’s done since being called up. Unfortunately, for whatever unknown reasons, the team decided to leave their best overall second baseman off the Opening Day roster.

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Hoerner has certainly proven everyone in the front office and on the coaching staff dead wrong in the past week, prompting many fans to question if Hoerner would have made a difference in some of the Cubs early season losses. In only a week, Hoerner has been the second (0.7 bWAR) or fourth (0.5 fWAR) most valuable Cub so far this season. That’s right, not only is he one of the 26 best players on the roster, he may very well be one of the most invaluable Cubs.

Going forward, he might be the most important Cub on the roster, no offense to Adbert Alzolay or the scuffling Ian Happ. Hoerner has proven his added strength and athleticism have made him even more versatile and effective, and it’s hard to see him coming out of the lineup in the foreseeable future. In fact, it may be hard for Cubs fans to envision a future where Hoerner isn’t playing somewhere on the diamond for the Northsiders.

Digging into the metrics on Hoerner, he’s increased his average exit velocity since bursting onto the scene at the end of 2019 from 85.6 to 87.5 to this year’s 90.9 MPH so far. In addition, his hard hit percentage has also blown up, doubling since 2019. At 46.2 percent, he’s making hard contact 9 percent more than last year, and it’s noticeable using the eye test as well. He’s also maintained his elite sprint speed with the added bulk, sitting in the 93rd percentile in all of MLB.

Next. Kyle Hendricks is broken. dark

Granted, it will be difficult to keep up his current level of production for the entire season, but if what we’ve seen so far from Hoerner in 2021 continues to be real and lasting improvement, the Cubs may have their best regular second baseman since Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg manned the keystone for over a decade.