Despite a few stumbles here and there, the Cubs have used a second-half surge to jump to the top of the NL Central. Yes, Facebook commenters, I realize that the Brewers and Cardinals haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire. Whether it’s on their own merits or the failings of other teams, the fact remains that the Cubs are in first and they’re actually starting to more closely resemble the team we saw last year.
As I sat there in the wake of Sunday’s walk-off, precipitated as it was by a series of fluke events, I couldn’t help but think that it was the kind of win that you see more often from good teams. The skeptics among you might prefer to call it luck, but there’s more to it than that. When the Cubs were really rolling last year, there was this sense that anything could happen and that anyone on the roster could be the hero on a given day.
Several players had a hand in Sunday’s win, though Javy Baez and Alex Avila have certainly gotten the most credit. That pair has been playing quite well in general, which got me to thinking about which Cubs have been shouldering the load since the All-Star break.
Below is a chart that displays every Cubs position player not named Rene Rivera, along with his second-half plate appearances and WAR (I used Fangraphs’ calculation). And because not everyone has the same number of PA’s, I multiplied by 150 (at 151, Rizzo is the only player who’d accumulated that many yet) to normalize everything. Check out the results and we’ll meet back up on the other side to discuss.
It’s probably no surprise that Willson Contreras sits atop the list by a wide margin, but seeing Tommy La Stella right behind him isn’t something I had expected. And given how well El Mago has been playing overall, I had though he’d be a little higher up. Then you’ve got Avila and Kyle Schwarber tied there in the middle of the pack.
We must acknowledge, of course, the inherent danger in extrapolating small samples like those of TLS and Avila, Addison Russell as well, but it’s really the only way to level the field. Where I think this becomes more illuminating is for the guys like Jon Jay and Ben Zobrist, who we can count on at this point to be who they are. And with some of the worst results of the bunch, who they are isn’t really encouraging.
While it may be disheartening to see to convalescents in Contreras and Russell up at the top, the flip side of that is that they’re going to return before too long. When added to the resurgence of Schwarber and Avila (who had been pretty awful over the last couple months or so in Detroit), there’s reason to feel pretty darn good about what the Cubs have in store for the remainder of the season.
It’ll be really interesting to see how everything shakes out down the stretch with playing time, particularly with the veterans who find themselves near the bottom of the pile. Russell’s return puts a crunch on the middle infield, and you know Javy needs as much time as possible. That means less time at second base for Zobrist and Ian Happ. Zobrist could spell Jason Heyward on occasion, but Schwarber coming around means less room in the mix in left.
Then you’ve got Jay, who will have to cede more time to both Happ and Almora in center if current trends continue. Again, these things need to be taken with a grain of salt since they’re absent context and also zoomed in quite a bit in some circumstances. There’s no accounting for matchups or usage or anything else. For instance, La Stella’s relative value is better as a pinch hitter and spot starter than it would be were he in the lineup every day (or that’s what I tell myself).
At the end of the day, this was more about me wanting to confirm some of what I’d been thinking and to then turn around and share it with both of you. You’re welcome.