Break Observations

Even though the Cubs needed it, even though we definitely needed it, I still hate the All-Star break. Four days without baseball and I have no center. Even when I’m actively not watching baseball at night, it’s still what I’m actively not doing. I’ve made plans to not do that. So now I have to piece it all together.

So a couple observations on what’s gone wrong, what might be the fixes and whatever else I have rolling around in this bald dome of mine.

-Looking at Jake Arrieta’s 2017, in some ways it’s basically the same as he had last year. His strikeouts per nine are a tick up, and his walks per nine are a tick down. As far as percentages he’s basically got the same K%, and the BB% is more than a tick down. But it doesn’t feel that way, does it?

It looks to be that Arrieta is having serious problems out of the stretch. When the bases are empty, Arrieta has a 5-1 K/BB rate, his overall K% is over 25%, and his walk percentage is 5%. These are really good.

But put anyone on, and it gets ugly. Arrieta walks 12% when there are runners on, and 15% with runners in scoring position. So runner-on-2nd is turning into runners-on-first-and-second way too often, and he’s adding to his problems. His strikeout rate also drops heavily when there’s traffic.

Strangely, his contact-against numbers get better when there’s runners on base, but that might have to do with hitters not trusting he can throw anything near the plate in that situation, which he can’t, that they can’t square anything up. With no one on the line-drive rate is 25.1%. That goes to 19.8% with runners on. Similarly, his ground-ball rate goes up with runners on, from 42.9% to 50.%. And yet with runners in scoring position, his BABIP goes to .328 from .310 with no one on. So he’s walking more hitters, has worse control, but gets worse contact against as well.

And this is where the Cubs defensive slump/correction might be hurting him, because Arrieta’s LOB% has cratered to 67%. Some of that is walks moving guys up a base where they can score more easily, and some of it is balls in play just not being sucked up the way they were. Overall, Arrieta has seen a 60 point jump in his BABIP, which can’t all be on him. Some of that is the Titleist he’s throwing along with every other pitcher.

Still, there’s something going on when he pitches out of the stretch. His walk-rate shouldn’t double. Last year his walk-rate held steady pretty much when runners got on, though it was at 9% for basically both which is higher than it is now when there’s no one on. In his 2015 season from Mars his walk-rate did double with runners on, but that was only a normal 8.1% then.

Because it does feel like there are a lot of inning where Jake cruises for two outs, looks great, then a guys gets on and we’re out there for another 15 minutes. I don’t know if it’s mechanical, or he’s just nibbling too much when runners are on, but it’s clearly got to be corrected.

-Yesterday I noted that the Cubs are actually 4th in defensive efficiency this year, which seems ridiculous considering the heights of last year and the fall this one. But it’s true, but even with that the Cubs have seen a drop of turning 74.5% of balls in play into outs 71.3% this year. As Joe Sheehan noted in his newsletter today, that’s 75 more hits. That’s basically one a game, and we can see what that one per game is doing, combined with the greater walks that the whole staff seems to be giving up.

Breaking it down more, last year the Cubs turned 80% of grounders into outs. This year it’s 78.1%. Not the same difference as overall, but a difference.

It’s fly balls that there’s a really problem. Get ready for this. Last year the Cubs turned 94.1% of fly balls into outs. This year it’s 86.6%. That’s fifth-worst in baseball. And you would probably guess that after watching Schwarber thrash about in left and Happ thrash about in center and Heyward having two DL stints and Almora not being quite as good as advertised.

That probably won’t get better because Happ’s bat is going to keep forcing himself into the lineup SOMEWHERE. They’re going to give Schwarber every chance. Although to me when Happ and Heyward are in the lineup Heyward should be in center but I don’t know if that makes a huge difference.

-I’ve also been thinking a lot about the rotation of players in the field. When you’re winning most of the time, it feels like it works. No one is going to complain because they know they’re going to get a chance to contribute to a win soon and chances are they’re hitting and playing well.

But this year, with so many people struggling, it’s hard to get out of a slump from the bench. Russell can’t find his stroke anywhere but in the box. Same goes for Almora and Baez and Jay and all the others who rotate in and out of the lineup. When they do get in, and things aren’t going well, I wonder if that doesn’t cause them to really press so they might get to play the next day. When you’re winning and hitting well, maybe you take the next day’s assignment to the bench easier.

But we can’t prove that.

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