The power's back at Wrigley
...and not just because of the boys at SquareD.
It has become popular wisdom around the Cub community that home runs=bad. After all, the Cubs hit many homers last year but scored not so many runs. Or rather, they would score 12 runs one night and 1 the next. I have to admit, it was certainly a source of much consternation for yours truly. But this year is a different story. The Cubs' little power surge last night (4 homers, none touching the bleachers) made me wonder about the Cubs run scoring prowess this year. Less homers and more runs scored via a non-homer source - but more runs total? Are the Cubs scoring more runs, and if so, why?
The Cubs have scored 103 runs (2nd in the NL) through 20 games (source: espn.com). That projects to 834 runs. They have, however, only hit 25 homer runs which, should the Cubs continue at this pace, would leave them with 203 homers on the year (still first in the NL). What about last year? The Cubs only scored 789 runs despite hitting a whopping 235 homers (source: baseball-reference.com). The Cubs were 1st in homers in the NL but only 7th in runs scored. What gives? What is the difference so far this year? Because, despite their high ranking in the NL, their overall slugging is down.
Obviously the first possibility is luck, but there is only so much one can do to analyze luck. And I would hardly call the Cubs lucky this year (see: injuries, Cubs'). So what's next? Well, we are all SABR babies, so the obvious answer is OBP. Last year, the Cubs reached base at a paltry .328 clip. That's sad, my friends, and good for an 11th ranking in the NL. Just to be clear, there are only 16 teams in the NL. This year the Cubs are getting on base at a .335 rate (9th), or about 7 points higher. HOLY CRAP-MONKIES!! The Cubs are more patient.
Oh, but not so fast, my young friends. The Cubs are also hitting .274 this year, where they only hit .268 last year. That would be a 6 point swing in batting average, which means that they are walking almost the exact same amount as last year. Hmmm...batting average is a notoriously fickle mistress, so can the Cubs maintain this batting average increase?
Well, let's be scientists (poor scientists, naturally) and investigate. What is different from last year? The obvious is Sammy and Moises have flown the coop and taken with them a .253 and .293 batting average respectively. They combined for a .275 average, so they were better than the Cubs average. And who has replaced them? DuBois (of summer), Burnitz, and Holly who are sporting averages of .292, .282, and .214 (parenthetically, lets all just note the superiority of Doobie over Holly. Gee, who among us predicted that? (you can all put your hands down now)). Those averages combine to give a .259 average, so the increase is not there.
For all of you that are wetting yourselves waiting for me to get to the obvious, I am there already. And yes, Neifi! is half the answer. Derrek Lee is the other half. Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn all wrapped up in one half of our infield. Lee is checking in at .400 while Neifi! has dropped to .393. Neither one of those is a bad batting average and if you compare them to Lee's .278 BA last year and Cub shortstops' BA of pile-'o-poo last year, this is a pretty huge jump.
Now, I know I am in the minority here, but I don't really see Neifi! continuing his torrid pace (and for that matter, Lee won't either). So if the Cubs want to keep up their solid BA, they need to get some increases to offset the inevitable decline. I'm not going to crunch all the numbers (that's not really what I do. I'm more into making stupid comments), but we can expect an improvement from Hollandsworth(.214), Barrett(.226), and Aramis (.243). Hopefully this will compensate for the decline of the April Elite.
One last piece of anecdotal evidence. The Cubs have been running the bases much better this year than last. It is hard to pin-point the exact reason for this (Moises), but for whatever reason (Alou), they have at least looked more competent on the basepaths.
Since this post was long, rambling, and poorly worded, I will sum up. The Cubs power -> down. The Cubs OBP -> up. Why? Batting Average. Will the Cubs maintain this Batting Average surge? Possibly/probably. Would that be sweet? yes.
Oh, and Free Jason Dubois.