How bad ARE these Cubs?
Is it just me, or does it feel like we've reached our 'breaking point' much earlier than we had anticipated? We've even had some 'cookies!' to satiate our appetite, so why does it feel so bleak? Yes, there have been a bunch of injuries, and some key signings have underperformed up to this point, but are things really as dire as it feels? In an effort to try and answer that question, I compared the 2021 team and looked into the 2014 team and found some pretty interesting data. Let's dig in.
Thru 61 games, the 2022 Cubs are 23-38 and percentage points out of last place, but last year they were 34-27 and in second place. So, it has to be the loss of Bryzzo and Baez, right? Well, not so much. We all saw how the 2nd half Cubs of 2021 outperformed the 'stars,' but how would 2022 look? Despite all the struggles from Schwindel, Madrigal, and Heyward, the 2022 lineup is arguably better in most areas. It's crazy but true! The 2022 Cubs are walking more and striking out less (in more plate appearances) than 2021. They hit for a higher average and get on-base better, too, but there is one glaring deficiency. Slugging. They're not hitting home runs, and with 62 HR thus far they're just 9th in the league. If we're already in 'Next Year' mode (which, yeah) then this is a fairly easy solution **IF** they open up the coffers. The caveat is that we've said for years that the lineup has needed help. Seiya was a nice start, but it needs more love.
Getting this guy healthy would help the slugging, too.
The elephant in the room and a long-standing conversation about the Cubs is that the pitching is the biggest reason for the doom and gloom. When you compare the pitching for the first 61 games, the 2021 squad is the clear leader and that's scary. The 2021 first-half starters included Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, and Trevor Williams and they were slightly better than the 2022 starters, thus far. Now, there is a reason for optimism going forward: Stroman is not this bad, Steele looks to be developing into a big-league SP, Kilian is on his way, etc. But the starters need to do better than the 4 2/3IP they're averaging right now. That'll kill any bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen, they've been bad. Wick, Givens, Norris, Rucker, Martin, and Gsellman have thrown a bunch of forgettable innings. Yet, with the volatility of RP from year to year, live arms on the farm, AND their ability to find gems each year (Robertson, Chafin, Tepera, and Brothers (jk, seeing if you're paying attention)) I'm not as worried about the BP. They always throw a solid BP together, but they absolutely NEED Starting Pitching.
So, where does that leave us? Is 2023 doomed to be another failed season? I don't think so. When you look back at 2014, Rizzo and Castro were the only foundational pieces in the lineup. Even if you assume that Contreras is being traded, I think the 2022 Cubs currently have more foundational pieces in Happ, Hoerner, and Suzuki. Wisdom isn't a star and Morel *could* be a guy, but if the lineup has guys to push them down to the lower 3rd of a lineup (or to a platoon) then they both have roles. To move forward the Cubs really need to focus on pitching. Surprised? The 2014 team has Arrieta, Hammel, Samardzija, and Hendricks already penciled in when they added Lester in Free Agency. Even if Steele continues to grow, Kilian comes up and shoves, and Stro is back to Stro that's *STILL* a big hole to fill.
If this Cubs team follows the offseason model of the 2014 team, I think brighter days are closer than they appear. That team traded for Montero, La Stella, and Fowler and then signed Lester, Jason Hammel, Gramps, and Jason Motte. That's two starting bats, two starting pitchers, and some solid role players. Add Musgrove, Manaea, Bogaerts, and Bell and I think they're on the path back to saying 'We Are Good.' Will they make that investment is another question altogether?
*Note* - I'm not suggesting they hit FA exclusively, just doing the alliteration thing and the FA list was handy.