The Cubs’ incompetence with runners in scoring position has been a consistent theme dating back to 2017. The issue prompted the team to dump John Malle in favor of Chili Davis, a hitting coach known for a philosophy perceived as contrarian to today’s popular exit velocity and launch angle trends. Davis was ultimately fired a year later and the Cubs continue to search for answers.
Even the most productive Cubs hitters of this era have fallen short over the last couple of years with runners in scoring position. Expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) — a number that reflects the degree of quality contact — validates most of our frustrations with runners in scoring position (RISP).
Here are the main hitters’ xwOBA since the start of 2018, when the Cubs made an obvious commitment towards improving situational hitting. The numbers are, uh, underwhelmingly average.
|Tommy La Stella||0.304|
|Albert Almora Jr.||0.264|
Anthony Rizzo (.334) and Kris Bryant (.325), the Cubs’ typical second and third hitters in the lineup, have performed close to the league-average mark (.318). Willson Contreras, who typically bats fifth in the order, has a well below-average .288 xwOBA since last season. Heck, even Javy Báez’s .342 xwOBA is less than his overall wOBA of .360.
It should be noted, however, that Javy might be the only Cubs hitter to have recently made successful changes with situational hitting, as Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation pointed out.
The problem isn’t just that the top of the order hasn’t come through with RISP, but it’s that no one other than part-time utility player David Bote has a noticeably good xwOBA with RISP over the last 240 games. And these hitters’ actual wOBAs aren’t much different than their expected results.
“I would like to see us go out there and kinda let it fly a little bit — not worry so much,” Joe Maddon recently said about the Cubs situational-hitting woes. “In some ways, our guys are maybe proverbially trying too hard to be perfect. I don’t want that. We have such wonderful talent — I never want to inhibit that.”
Seriously, what is going on here? It seems as if no one knows the answers, not even Maddon or the front office. Three hitting coaches later and we’re still having the same discussion, which seems very much like Einstein’s definition of insanity. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here beating my head against the wall as Bote gets one start a week.