Cubs: What’s behind Nico Hoerner’s second-half cooldown?

(Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images) /

Given the fact the Cubs are believed to be right in the thick of things when it comes to the crop of free agent shortstops this winter, it’s important to understand what they already have when it comes to Nico Hoerner.

Through the first half of the year, it looked like they had a Gold Glove shortstop with a real shot at hitting .300 – a combination that doesn’t come along every day. But since the All-Star Break, Hoerner hasn’t been quite as potent offensively, which will only fuel speculation the team will add a major free agent to handle short, potentially moving Hoerner back over to second, where he was a Gold Glove finalist back in 2020.

Of course, then you’re left figuring out what role Nick Madrigal has moving forward, but that’s a discussion for another time. Suffice to say if you’re choosing between the two, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Hoerner doesn’t come out on top.

Since Ian Happ and Willson Contreras represented Chicago in Los Angeles at the Midsummer Classic, Hoerner has scuffled a bit at the plate, slashing just .248/.316/.385 – good for a .702 OPS, which checks in just below the league average this year of .707. Now, he’s still passing every test when it comes to his work defensively, but it would certainly be nice to see him heat up here in the season’s final weeks.

Cubs: Hard contact needs to be a focus for Nico Hoerner this offseason

Over his last 50 or so plate appearances, Hoerner has gone from a roughly league average rolling average exit velocity on batted balls (88 MPH or so) to a mark that has fallen to just above the 80 MPH mark – a telling sign for a guy looking to get things going at the dish.

Even if you look at the big picture, his Baseball Savant page tells a similar story: Hoerner ranks in the bottom 14 percent of the league in hard hit rate, the bottom four in barrel percentage and the bottom 17 in average exit velocity. The long and short of it is this guy needs to make harder contact.

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He’s made his living to this point due largely to a 10.2 percent strikeout rate that ranks among the best in all Major League Baseball (99th percentile) and a similarly elite whiff rate. But when you pair the fact he’s not barreling balls up regularly with the fact he doesn’t walk a lot, his second-half regression makes a lot of sense.