It hasn’t been a pretty stretch for the Chicago Cubs to start the 2022 season. At 9-13, they’re still clinging to a tie for third place and find themselves failing to have won a series since the season’s opening weekend against Milwaukee. That opening series was originally scheduled for four games, one of which was postponed.
Injuries certainly haven’t helped. Wade Miley and Albert Alzolay have yet to throw a pitch, but that doesn’t quite explain all that’s gone wrong with this group so far. The new-look offense is generating old familiar results, and the only consistency from starting rotation is watching them hand the ball off to the bullpen to pitch the majority of innings in a given game.
Things haven’t been pretty, but it’s still early – which can be good or bad. Let’s dig into some of the players that have stood out, for better or worse, this week.
Ian Happ: Like many Cubs fans, I have a bit of trepidation around really, meaningfully, actually buying into Ian Happ. We’ve seen this up-and-down movie before, as Happ has been one of the team’s streakier hitters since joining the big league club in 2017.
Something just feels different with Happ this season. Things aren’t so dramatically different that you’d shout on the social media megaphones for a contract extension, but it’s different enough to pay attention to.
What’s accounted for Happ’s success so far? Well, there’s a couple things. For one thing, he’s walking a lot – his BB% is in the 95th percentile among all big leaguers. Second, Happ has cut down fairly significantly on swing-and-misses in the strike one.
Whiffs in the zone have been a significant problem for the Cubs and Happ for a long time. That rate has dropped significantly across all pitch types – nearly 10% overall. This change is a major contributing factor toward Happ’s success and is one the team surely hopes to see more of as the season continues.
Keegan Thompson’s role in the Cubs’ bullpen: For so many years it seems the Cubs’ bullpen lacked someone in the role that Keegan Thompson is currently filling – young, able to pitch multiple innings, and, most importantly, able to get outs in bunches.
I like to think ofJosh Hader, circa 2018. That was a guy the Brewers could count on bridging the gap from the starter to the closer, even if that bridge had to be suspended over two or even three innings. For a contending team in today’s game, that’s an invaluable weapon.
For the 2022 Cubs? It’s perhaps less valuable, but Keegan has shown himself to be someone that could have a place on the Next Great Cubs Team and who, at the very least, has saved the team’s bullpen from burning itself out after any number of weak performances from the starting rotation.
Nick Madrigal’s odds of reaching 3,000 hits: Second baseman Nick Madrigal, quite famously, said that getting 3,000 hits in his career would be “very reachable.” Far be it from me to cast doubt on a former first-round draft pick who the Cubs felt was worth parting with all-star closer Craig Kimbrel for, but with just 13 hits so far this year, Madrigal isn’t exactly keeping up the pace.
Those 13 hits have resulted in a .210 batting average in the early going and for a contact-oriented guy like Madrigal, that simply isn’t going to cut it. Even in the most generous projections, Nick has always been expected to generate nearly all of his value by getting on base at a decent clip via a ton of hits resulting from his elite contact tool. For the young second baseman, there simply aren’t other offensive skills to fall back on. He doesn’t draw walks and he doesn’t hit for power, so there’s nothing to buoy him up when the one tool he has in his toolbelt has a dull edge.
With all that in mind, Madrigal is currently slashing .210/.269/.258, good for a wRC+ of 56. With an expected batting average of .268, he’s getting a bit unlucky, but he is simply not someone who can be successful batting .268. The Cubs will need far more than they’ve gotten so far to be able to consider him a viable part of the future.