By Don Zminda/Vice-President & Director of Research
In a long season for the Chicago Cubs, one of the many areas where the club has been lacking is one of the most basic: team speed. Just to set the stage, here is how the Cubs rank in various speed-related categories thus far in 2013:
2013 Cubs – Speed-Related Categories (with MLB Ranks)
Triples 18 (t-16th in MLB)
Stolen Bases 56 (22nd in MLB)
Stolen-Base Pct 66.7% (t-25th in MLB)
Bunt Hits 11 (t-21st in MLB)
Infield Hits 89 (26th in MLB)
Pretty dismal rankings overall – and that 66.7 percent stolen-base success rate is right around what studies show is the break-even point for balancing bases gained on steals versus outs lost on caught stealings. With that sort of payoff, the Cubs would be about as well off not attempting any steals at all!
Another speed-related number worth looking at is the number of times the team has gone from first to third on a single. This is a stat where both speed and aggressiveness are important, and it’s another one where the Cubs fare very badly. Only the New York Yankees, who might be too distracted these days to pay much attention to running the bases, have gone from first to third on a single fewer times in 2013 than the North Siders:
Fewest Times Going from 1st to 3rd on a Single – 2013
New York Yankees 46
Chicago Cubs 49
Pittsburgh Pirates 49
Washington Nationals 51
Chicago White Sox 51
By contrast the fundamentally-sound St. Louis Cardinals have gone from first to third on singles an MLB-high 87 times in 2013, nearly twice as often as the Cubs. The MLB individual leaders in this category, Mike Trout of the Angels and Dexter Fowler of the Rockies, have gone from first to third on singles 19 and 18 times, respectively, thus far in 2013 (yet another example of Mike Trout’s all-around brilliance). The Cub co-leaders in going from first to third? First, that well-known speed demon Wellington Castillo, who has taken third on singles seven times. Castillo has been matched by Junior Lake, who debuted on July 19 and has played just 35 games. Meanwhile the Cardinals have six players who have gone from first to third on singles more than seven times (Matt Carpenter 14, Allen Craig 14, Jon Jay 11, David Freese 10, Matt Holliday 9, Yadier Molina 8).
Those advancements from first to third pay off in runs. Our Run Expectancy chart for 2013 shows how the chance of scoring increases with runners on first and third, versus having runners on first and second, for both the Cubs and MLB as a whole, based on the number of outs:
Run Expectancy w/ Runners on 1st & 3rd vs. 1st & 2nd – 2013
Situation # Outs Cubs MLB
|Runners on 1st & 3rd||0 Outs||
|Runners on 1st & 2nd||0 Outs||
|Runners on 1st & 3rd||1 Outs||
|Runners on 1st & 2nd||1 Outs||
|Runners on 1st & 3rd||2 Outs||
|Runners on 1st & 2nd||2 Outs||
Those are some pretty significant differences.
For the Cubs, the low number of advancements from first to third on singles isn’t just due to a lack of speed or aggressiveness: it’s also a matter of lack of opportunities:
- the Cubs rank 28th in the majors in on-base percentage (.302), meaning that they’re not getting many runners on first to begin with
- the Cubs are dead last in the majors in batting average with runners on base (.231)
What happens when you have a team that struggles to get on base, and then has problems getting around the bases when they do? You get a team very dependent on the home run. The Cubs do hit homers – they rank seventh in MLB in four-baggers with 142 – but 44.2 percent of their runs this year have scored on home runs, the third-highest percentage in the majors. And in games in which they fail to homer this season, the Cubs are 11-32 (.256) – the worst record in homerless games among National League teams, and the fourth-worst record in MLB.
Given the Cubs’ other offensive limitations, waiting for a home run is a tough way to try to win (even tougher now that Alfonso Soriano is no longer with the club). Developing a faster team with a more balanced attack is something that the Cubs’ brass will undoubtedly be addressing this offseason.