2013 Midseason Evaluation of Cubs Hitters

The Cubs have scored a surprising 384 runs in the first half of the season, good for sixth-best in the NL.

It has been another tough summer for baseball fans on the north side of Chicago. Save for Travis Wood’s fantastic first half, the front office making serious moves in the international market by signing Baseball America’s top two international prospects (Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres), and the recent signing of second overall draft pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs have done nothing to make headlines or tickle anyone’s fancy. Fortunately, no one in their right mind came into the 2013 season with any expectations after the embarrassing 61-win performance we witnessed last year. However, it has been hard for Cubs fans to feel anything but discouraged as we approach the dog days of summer with no hope and minimal interest in the actual product on the field.

Amidst all the trade talk over the past few weeks and negativity coming from talking heads, the Cubs have surprisingly played borderline watchable baseball. The Pythagorean Theorem suggests they should actually be three games better than they are now (45-48 compared to 42-51), which would put them only two games out of the fifth and final wild card spot instead of the five games that currently separate them. That theorem, which takes into account runs scored (384) and runs given up (394), indicates that, if the Cubs can minimize the unfortunate late game collapses that have haunted them all season, they should be able to finish the season with 79 wins, a major improvement from last year and an encouraging progression going forward. Their starting rotation, no thanks to the overpaid Edwin Jackson, has been great, ranking seventh in the National League in ERA (3.76), second in opponent batting average (.238), third in WHIP (1.21) and third in quality starts (57).

On the contrary, their bullpen has been absolutely abysmal, ranking second to last in the NL in ERA (4.35), and their hitting has been sub-par. The Cubs rank 11th in the NL and 25th in the Majors in team batting average (.243), yet they have somehow scored a pleasantly surprising 384 runs – good for sixth best in their league. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that they lead the NL with 28 home runs hit with runners in scoring position. Individually, though, which hitters have specifically helped transform the Cubs from one of the three worst run-scoring teams in all of baseball to middle of the pack?

**For all of you who happened to read my posts from last summer evaluating Cubs and White Sox hitters, the next few paragraphs will sound identical in order to explain the math behind everything (since it has been over a year), so feel free to skip to the chart.**

If you can recall from last summer, I wrote a post titled “By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters,” in which I used Bill James’ Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). Simply put, if a team consisted of nine of the same player, such as nine Starlin Castros, approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score for their team per game? Instead of using sabermetric measurements that most casual fans don’t understand, such as wins above replacement (WAR), the runs created formula gives us the ability to evaluate the true value that each hitter has brought to his respective lineup so far. Like last time, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created and game outs used for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

As pointed out last year, according to Mathletics, “approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Hence why we must take .982 of every at-bat instead of 1. Game outs used must then be divided by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game) in order to determine the number of games’ worth of outs used by each hitter. That, ultimately, leaves the most important equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Obviously, runs created per game tells you more about a hitter’s value than total runs created because the latter does not differentiate between bad hitters with a lot of plate appearances and great hitters with less plate appearances. That being said, take a look at the numbers below:

Capture

Overall, the Cubs have gotten a lot more production at the plate out of the catcher, third base and right field positions. Cody Ransom may be leading the way with 8.45 runs created/game, but his 97 at-bats is nowhere near enough to justify his true worth to the lineup, so it’d be best to look past him. This year’s version of Luis Valbuena, though, has been much better at the plate than last year’s version, and he has been a saint compared to the atrocious excuse for a Major League third baseman that was Ian Stewart. He’s fifth on the team in homers (8), fourth in RBI’s (29), and first in on-base percentage (.345) amongst all Cubs hitters with more than 125 at-bats.

The backstop combination of Dioner Navarro and Welington Castillo has been serviceable, which is an enormous upgrade from Geovany Soto and his .199 batting average. At the All-Star break last year (right before he was traded to Texas), Soto was sporting a measly 2.80 runs created/game. Through this season’s first half, the switch-hitting Navarro and right-handed Castillo are creating a combined 4.99 runs per game, almost twice the value of Soto. Navarro is hitting an incredible .536 (15-for-28) against lefties, while Castillo is hitting .290 (51-for-136) against righties, making them a very formidable duo at the plate. Neither of them remind anyone of Yadier Molina when it comes to defense and calling games (Castillo leads NL catchers in errors with eight), but given how few hitting catchers there are in the league these days, both men have ultimately made the Cubs a better hitting team.

Nate Schierholtz has become a legit trade piece for the Cubs.

Nate Schierholtz, whom the Cubs signed in the offseason to platoon in right field, has been one of the better players on the team from the start. His positive play has helped him gain the trust of Dale Sveum, who continuously slots him into the lineup whenever the Cubs face a right-handed pitcher (holds a superb .862 OPS against right-handers this season). Although he’s not an every day player (he rarely plays against lefties), Schierholtz ranks third on the team with 34 RBI’s and holds the highest batting average (.269) of any Cub with over 200 at-bats. He has already hit a career-high 11 home runs and is on pace for 483 at-bats, which is nearly one and a half times his current career-high at-bat total of 335. It’s nice to see a player of Schierholtz’ caliber having this kind of success for such a young team lacking talent and plate discipline, and he has turned himself into a legitimate trade chip for contending teams, such as the Pirates, looking for a left-handed bat. Whether the Cubs pull the trigger and trade him for a piece or two at the deadline remains to be seen.

Outside of a solid six-week span from the middle of April through the end of May, Anthony Rizzo has been somewhat of a disappointment with a 17.9% strikeout rate and lowly .241 batting average. However, he leads the team in RBI’s (54), extra-base hits (42), and walks (41), so we can’t sit here and nit-pick.  He’s also creating over five runs per game, which should increase significantly over the next couple of years as the Cubs begin to surround Rizzo with the influx of talent that’s currently dominating in the minors. It shouldn’t shock anyone to see Rizzo improve upon his .267 BABIP (it was .310 last season) in the second half and boost his average to around .260-.270 by season’s end.

Starlin Castro has been a massive disappointment this season.

Starlin Castro has been absolutely brutal in all aspects of the game this year. Not only are his numbers laughable, but his fielding has not improved a damn lick as he, once again, ranks second in the Majors in errors (14). There’s really no explanation for Castro’s regression as he gets older and approaches his prime (ages 27-29), but his lack of focus, immaturity and mediocre work ethic sure as hell aren’t helping. At the dish, he has been arguably the least valuable Cub to date with his 3.43 runs created/game, .243 batting average (compared to his career .287 BA), and nearly 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (72 K’s, 15 BB’s). Just two years ago, during his 21-year-old season, Castro created a solid 5.47 runs per game, which puts into perspective how far he and his bat have plummeted since then. With this being the first full season of Castro’s 7-year, $60 million contract, Cubs fans can only pray that what they’re witnessing is nothing more than a three and a half month-long slump. Look for him to pick up his game over the next few months. If he doesn’t, those “trade Castro” rumors may quickly turn into something of a reality.

There’s a lot to look forward to as the trade deadline nears, with the usual suspects, namely Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, back on the market. The Cubs lineup has been much more productive than anyone expected this season, giving them more intriguing bats to trade than they had at this point last season. Over the past year, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have proven that no veteran with a team-friendly contract is safe. Players such as Schierholtz, David Dejesus, Valbuena and Soriano (he certainly doesn’t have a team-friendly contract, but he’s still on the trade block) have all had relatively good seasons and can bring something positive to the table for a contender looking for an extra bat. As the month winds down, the professional fate of these men will be decided, and Cubs fans can gear up for yet another meaningless October.

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About Adam Levy

Adam Levy is a diehard sports fan and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. After graduating with a Master's Degree from Indiana University, he began working at a consulting firm in the loop. In his spare time, he watches sports, re-watches Seinfeld episodes for the 23rd time, plays pickup basketball, competes in sports leagues during the summer, and overvalues all of the players on his fantasy teams. He is extremely passionate about his teams and will likely be found curled up in the fetal position on his bed, crying and cursing after significant losses. If you like his insight, feel free to comment, follow him on Twitter @ChiCityBS, or email him at aplevy1@gmail.com.

Posted on July 16, 2013, in Cubs, Statistical Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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