As the Cubs prepared to face Gio Gonzalez for the fifth time this season Saturday night, I was reminded of this quote from a recent piece by Jesse Rogers at ESPN:
Chicago’s hitters don’t hit the poorer starters in the league much better than they do top arms. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cubs have a .261 batting average and .814 OPS against starting pitchers who entered the game against them with a 4.00 ERA or higher. Against sub-4.00 ERA hurlers? It’s not that different: .258 batting average and .794 OPS.
Obviously, this statistic can be misleading. Poor performances against bad pitchers will stick out more in a fan’s mind than when the offense is stifled by someone like Max Scherzer, and ERA isn’t a perfect measure of a pitcher’s true talent, particularly early in the season. However, the Cubs only having a .020 higher OPS against bad pitchers lines up with the confusing nature of the team’s offense, and Saturday’s matchup was a prime example.
Gonzalez has faced the Cubs five times this season, including Saturday night’s game. He has a 3.98 ERA on the season, but only a 1.48 ERA against the Cubs compared to a 5.25 ERA against everyone else. Gio shut down the Cubs yet again last night.
This is the same offense that put up 18 runs against Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom just days after getting one hit against Anibal Sanchez. It’s not like the Cubs are just better against power pitchers, though. According to Baseball Reference, the 2019 team has been 14% worse than the rest of the league against power pitchers, and 6% better against finesse pitchers.
I’m not sure what the solution is to this issue. It could be chalked up to a small sample, or it could be a problem with the way the team plans their approach against a certain subgroup of pitchers, or maybe they get too confident and expand their strike zone. Regardless, it’s nice to have confirmation that we haven’t been imagining things when it feels like the quality of the opposite team’s starter has little effect on the Cubs' offensive output in a game.
Hey, look at this reliever
I can’t resist highlighting Brad Wieck here this week. If you’re a Cubs fan, you’ve probably seen this GIF:
Brad Wieck, Soul Stealing 74mph Curveball. 😱👻— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 2, 2019
[H/T pretty much every cubs fan] pic.twitter.com/Sb0agGivOQ
But Wieck has more to give this Cubs team than pitching GIFs.
Just a month after coming over in the Carl Edwards Jr. trade, the large lefty seems to have already taken up residence in Joe Maddon’s circle of trust. He joins fellow former Padre and last-name-soundalike Rowan Wick in the Cubs bullpen. Both pitchers changed their curveballs in the Cubs' pitch lab, though Wieck throws his fastball a bit slower than Wick, and as a 6'9" lefty provides a much different look to the hitter than the 6'3" righty.
Wieck throws his new curveball, which Statcast classifies as a knuckle curve, about half a mile-per-hour faster than his old one, but where it really differentiates itself is its spin rate, which is 215 RPM higher. You can see that the Cubs version of the pitch has more depth to it:
The pitch lab’s newest project still has some kinks to work out over the offseason, but the early returns on the spiked curveball are very intriguing.
This Anthony Rendon fellow is pretty good, isn’t he?
As Devan Fink wrote at Fangraphs this week, Rendon has pushed himself into the MVP conversation. You don’t have to look much further than second-half wRC+:
Cody Bellinger: 135
Christian Yelich: 156
Anthony Rendon: 181
Ketel Marte: 186 (!)
All four are currently the top four in the National League in wRC+ for the whole season. After years of being one of the most underrated players in baseball, Rendon may finally get recognized for his tremendous production.