It’s only been a little over a week, but the 2022 Chicago Cubs are off to quite a start at the plate. Following Monday night’s win, the team ranks second in batting average (.277) and on-base percentage (.357), and third in slugging (.446). Does playing in Colorado help? Absolutely! But this is quite a start for a group that many thought would struggle at the plate.
So while there’s still plenty of time for that to happen, it’s hard to be anything other than happy with how things have kicked off. This week’s Tuesday Trends, the first of the season, will dig into some of the guys that have made the offense click so far before taking a quick look at some struggles out of the bullpen.
Patrick Wisdom’s bat: It was a rough start to the season for last year’s fourth-place finisher in the NL Rookie of the Year race. From Opening Day through last Wednesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, Wisdom was batting a ghastly .048/.087/.048 and striking out in nearly 50% of his plate appearances. That’s good for a wRC+ of -64.
Remember, a wRC+ of 100 represents league average offensive production, so a total of negative 64 is quite poor.
Things turned around significantly over the weekend in Denver and in the opener against Tampa Bay, in which he hit his first home run of the season. After Monday’s action, Wisdom has brought his wRC+ above 100. Most encouraging of all is that he cut down on the Ks significantly, striking out in less than 15% of his plate appearances since Thursday.
While that rate is not going to be sustainable for Wisdom, it represents a giant step forward for someone who desperately needed to take one.
Seiya Suzuki’s Rookie of the Year odds: Speaking of the Rookie of the Year award, it’s hard not to peg the Cubs’ right fielder as the early favorite. Just about everything Suzuki is doing is elite at the moment.
Take a look at Suzuki’s Statcast snapshot page on Baseball Savant.
These statistics represent a look “under the hood” at a player’s performance. They tell us not just what a player has done, but what they should be expected to do based on underlying metrics such as how hard they are hitting the ball, how often they are swinging and missing through pitches, etc.
For Suzuki, the results have been phenomenal and do not appear to be the byproduct of a fluke.
To do this well means that many things are going right, but one thing that Suzuki is doing consistently well is judging the strike zone and laying off off pitches that are offered only to tempt him to swing at a ball in an un-hittable location.
Opposing batteries have clearly already taken note and teams are not even trying to pitch around him anymore. He is already drawing intentional walks with a base open because his early performance gives opponents no confidence that they can get him to swing at borderline pitches outside of the zone.
That he’s getting this kind of treatment as a rookie is not an everyday thing and helps underscore just how dangerous a hitter he is already. And he’s just getting started.
Ian Happ’s pace from the end of 2021: Happ is hitting .345/.424/.414 through his first nine games, including a big RBI knock as a right-handed hitter Monday night. Those strong numbers represent a continuation of an excellent second half in 2021. including this year, Happ is batting .276/.358/.525 with a 135 wRC+ since last year’s All-Star Break.
Needless to say, those numbers are excellent. Even with Happ’s position on the defensive spectrum shifted from center field to left, that kind of production is more than the Cubs could hope for. At 27, the former ninth overall pick simply hasn’t yet lived up to his pedigree on a consistent basis. However, he also hasn’t had a stretch with this much success for this long before.
Because he is under team control through 2024, it would represent a giant win for the Cubs if this represents a genuine turning point.
Use cases for Jesse Chavez: In what is a continuation of an unfortunate trend from spring training, the veteran reliever has not looked good in the early part of this season.
Chavez has induced swings and misses on only 4.8% of his pitches so far in 2022, with precisely zero of those whiffs coming on offspeed pitches. Compare that to 2021, in which he induced whiffs on 30% of his offspeed pitches. It’s early, but it’s a noticeable change – he’s just not fooling opponents.
Because of that, opposing hitters are barreling the ball with great regularity against the reliever – 14.3% of contact against Chavez is barreled compared to 7% over his last three full seasons (COVID shortened 2020 excluded).
It’s early, but Chavez is getting pummeled and it’s not just a product of bad luck. With a number of relief options scattered throughout the upper minors, Jesse may have to turn things around sooner than later to maintain his spot on the roster.