Only so much can be extrapolated from 11 games-worth of statistics. But Cubs manager David Ross sees the Cubs’ contact numbers as reflective of the team’s new offensive makeup.
“On paper, that’s the personnel we have, right?” Ross said before the Cubs faced the Rays Wednesday. “[Nick] Magical is going to make a lot of contact. Nico [Hoerner] is going to make a lot of contact. Frank Schwindel is going to make a lot of contact. Seiya [Suzuki] seems to be a guy that’s going to control the strike zone and not punch out a whole lot. We have that profile up and down our lineup.”
Entering play Wednesday, the Cubs had the fifth highest contact rate in the National League (78.0), according to FanGraphs. They’d finished 2021 last in that category (73.6 percent).
“Certainly there’s been a lot of contact,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said this week. “I think, certainly, that’s a little bit of a change from the past. We’re definitely way less explosive than we were. But we also, I feel like we’ve faced some pretty good pitchers so far, and we’ve been able to limit the strikeout numbers, for the most part, and put the ball in play.
“We’ve got to get the ball in the air more. That’s obvious. And then double play numbers have to normalize at some point a little bit. They’re exceptionally high right now.”
Entering play Wednesday, the Cubs had grounded into 15 double plays, leading Major League Baseball. Some of that reflected how often they were getting on base. Some of it was their ground ball rate (44.4 percent).
“On the positive side, the contact,” Hoyer continued. “On the negative side, the ball’s on the ground too much. That’s what we have to address. There’s always something you’re addressing, and that’s certainly one thing right now.”
The Cubs also had the lowest launch angle in the major leagues (6 degrees) entering Wednesday, per Statcast. But the offense has been effective over the first 11 games of the season, ranked fifth in the NL in runs scored entering Wednesday, with 53.
After the Cubs’ 4-2 win against the Rays on Monday, Cubs outfielder Ian Happ wore an Obvious Shirts t-shirt that read, “Launch angle is overrated.”
Asked if that was true, he said, “Today it was, yeah.”
Happ’s go-ahead RBI single that game had a launch angle of 6 degrees. Point taken. Happ also expects those team numbers to normalize as the season continues.
“There will be more damage by this group, as guys get into a rhythm,” Happ said in a conversation with the Sun-Times last week. “I haven’t produced much damage yet. There’s other guys that you’re used to hitting the ball out of the ballpark that just some of those things here happened yet. But I think it’s coming. I think that the plate discipline, and just the hits in general, is pretty impressive.”