Young Cubs hitters are driving improvements in the power department
Perhaps most notably, the youngest Cubs are punishing the ball. Nelson Velazquez has a stellar .250 ISO since the break, though he’s been mired in a slump recently. Christopher Morel’s post-break ISO sits at .194 (the MLB average is .153), off a little from his first half mark of .210, but still very solid for a rookie who wasn’t expected to make much of a mark at this season’s outset.
Nico Hoerner has boosted his ISO from .117 before the break to .144 after. He’s probably never going to have a lot over-the-fence power, but he doesn’t need that to be an effective all-round contributor. Patrick Wisdom, who does like to decorate Waveland, jumped his pre-break ISO from .220 to .238.
Circling back to the rookies for a moment, while they’ve had their ups and downs this year, both have hit much better than projection systems would have had you believe. Morel actually has a better major league OPS than he had in the minors, and Velazquez’s major league OPS isn’t far off his numbers in the bushes. The projected performance falloff hasn’t happened.
Powering up: Current ISO vs. projected ISO
In each case, I used the highest ISO of the various projections listed in Fangraphs to do the comparison. So what’s happening here? Is it just luck?
Maybe, but maybe not. As recently reported in the Athletic (subscription required), while the Cubs don’t have a Hit Lab in the same sense they have a Pitch Lab, Hoyer & Co. are working diligently to improve the organization’s hitting development capabilities. As is true with the Pitch Lab, the approach focuses on highly developed individual instruction. And that’s possible in part because the organization has a lot more data to work with than in years past.
In a recent Marquee broadcast, Joe Girardi (don’t know about you, but I’m sure glad he’s back) noted that in his day, the scouting report for every rookie hitter was the same: pitch him down and away early in the count and up and in late. Now teams have much more information on a players’ minor league performance that allows them to move away from the generic scouting report.
The same is true, of course, for scouting the franchise’s own players. Morel and Velazquez were not mysteries to the major league coaching and player development staff. No longer do coaches have to waste a player’s time having him work on stuff he’s already very good at, or working on stuff he will never be very good at. That detailed knowledge should facilitate the hitter’s faster and more effective development at the major league level even as he confronts the buzz saw of major league stuff.