This may come as a surprise if you’ve been chilling under a rock or maybe finding new and interesting ways to redirect hackneyed narratives (fair warning: link presented for informational purposes only and may result in you getting mad online), but the Cubs are really good. I mean, really good. Like, historically good, and not just in terms of the Epstein Era. The Cubs have put together a lineup that can beat you like a drum or an egg or even a rented mule. In other words, they can beat you in a variety of ways. Huh, I guess the NFL isn’t the only professional sport that’s okay with that sort of thing.
We are a mere eight games into the season, so you can be forgiven for wanting to set the cruise at a lower speed than what those around you are driving. At least one local scribe is already pulling hard on the E-brake, though, so even the most trepidatious among you are going to have to get into the passing lane for a little bit. That’s exactly what the Cubs are doing at this early juncture, and it’s being powered largely by a walk rate that is expected to lead the Majors.
August Fagerstrom has an excellent article in FanGraphs that you should go read if you haven’t already. For those who want to stay put, though, here’s a snippet:
Which brings us to this year’s Chicago Cubs, who aren’t playing by those rules. They’re off to a ridiculous start, with a 6-1 record and a league-best +29 run differential. Their pitchers have struck out 56 batters and walked just nine. Thus far, they’ve looked every bit the powerhouse folks envisioned in the offseason. And there’s another part of this Cubs team that’s staying true to preseason expectations, an important part of the team’s DNA that hasn’t been given much publicity. It’s not a sexy characteristic, which would explain the lack of fanfare surrounding this trait, but it’s an important one. The 2016 Cubs have a very real chance to be the most disciplined lineup we’ve ever seen [emphasis mine].
Mmmmm, I like that. Thing is, this isn’t just a bunch of Punch-and-Judy hitters just hoping to earn a free pass so as to avoid the embarrassment of swinging the bat. These guys can hit just a little bit, by which I mean they can knock the hell out of the ball. To wit, take a look at this graph illustrating projected walk rate vs. isolated power.
For those of you lacking in the graph-reading department, bigger numbers are the best numbers. So the higher up and farther to the right you are, the better. That said, the Cubs are about as high and right as a conservative pothead. That little green dot out there is what we like to call an outlier and it is the truth.
But these are all just projections, Evan. Yeah, that’s true. Still, small sample size and all, it’s hard to argue with what is already showing itself to be a pretty consistent trend. We saw these guys displaying a lot of patience last season and now you’re talking about an extra year of experience and confidence, not to mention the additions of professional hitters like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.
Okay, that’s all well and good, but you’ve still got all the strikeouts. They drew 10 walks in the game against the Reds Wednesday, but they also went down on strikes nine times. And they swing and miss A LOT in general. Yeah, you’re right, Mr. Nagging Voice Inside My Head Who Sounds Very Similar To A Beat Writer Who Shall Not Be Named. However, I’ll see your complaint about strikeouts and raise you a little logic. The Cubs saw 188 pitches in the game. One hundred eighty-eight.
Ah, what the heck, let’s go all in.
The Cubs are going to strike out. They might strike out more than anyone. But team strikeout rate has almost no correlation with underperformance. As long a lineup gets on base and hits for power, they can lead the league in strikeouts and be just fine. The Cubs plan to do just that [emphasis mine, though did the emphasis really matter when I bolded the whole thing? Maybe I should have put it in all caps too].
My buddy Augie (he’s neither my buddy nor do I know whether he answers to Augie) pretty much dropped the mic on all the haterz in the house on that one. So if the Cubs walk more than anyone else and hit for more power than anyone else and strikeouts don’t matter…I think they might be onto something here. The moral of the story is that opposing bullpens and AAA starters had better have their phones handy when the Cubs are in town.
As hard as this may be to believe, I actually try not to be a total Pollyanna when it comes to stuff like this. I don’t hesitate to let my fan out, but I want to be as measured as possible. That’s becoming increasingly difficult when you combine projected metrics like those above with the on-field production we’ve borne witness to thus far. So I’ll leave you with the words of the inimitable Miggy Montero, who claims to have coined this season’s hashtagable slogan.