The 2018 Chicago Cubs were the most frustrating and perplexing group that we’ve seen during the Cubs’ current run of contention. They won more games than their counterparts from last year, but managed to underwhelm relative to that team, which was itself underwhelming in some ways compared to the unexpected and uncomplicated excitement of the 2015 team and the ultimate success of the 2016 group.
This year’s Cubs never really clicked in the way one would expect given the success of the same young core just 2 years earlier. Theo has said often that development is not linear, but it also must be said that the expectation for players who have significant success at 22-24 years old is that they will build on that success in the years to come. For many of the young Cubs, that has happened and for others it has not.
In the coming weeks, I’ll go into some depth about the status of young players that have been at part of the Cubs core and where they stand at this point. Some players immediately stand out as areas for varying levels of concern in regards to their ability to meet projections based on their performance this year. It can’t be emphasized enough that there is a pretty different range of concerns for the players in this group as the Cubs certainly feel wildly different about Kyle Schwarber’s season compared to say, Addison Russell’s season.
- Addison Russell (.250/.317/.340, .290 .wOBA, 80 wRC+)
- Albert Almora (.286/.323/.378, .305 wOBA, 89 wRC+)
- Ian Happ (.233/.353/.408), .329 wOBA, 106 wRC+)
- Willson Contreras (.249/.349/.390, .321 wOBA, 100 wRC+)
- Kyle Schwarber (.238/.356/.467, .343 wOBA, 115 wRC+)
Kris Bryant is excluded from the list due to the fairly obvious reasons for his down year, but he also hit for the worst numbers of his career to this point.
With the exception of Kyle Schwarber, every single player on the list had a significant decline in slugging percentage. Even Anthony Rizzo, who had a solidish season but struggled at times by his standards saw a steep decline in slugging percentage. The power outage was real and it was more or less team wide as the Cubs finished 22nd in both home runs and isolated power as they continued to ground out weakly throughout much of the second half of the season.
It’s easy to look at Chili Davis as a contributing factor towards this problem – the 2018 Red Sox improved their power numbers and run scoring quite significantly with little change other than Davis’ dismissal. It’s difficult to quantify the impact of a coach on individual players, but I’m certainly interested to see how Theo handles the coaching staff this offseason given how aggressive he was in dismissing coaches from last year’s 92 win team that advanced to the NLCS.
With that said, Theo noted in his press conference that the team has to start focusing on “results over talent” and that is a pretty clear message that the personnel on the field also represents a problem for the team. The Cubs have a core around which to build in at least Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. I’d also include Willson Contreras in that list.
This year, I suspect the Cubs hoped that at least one of Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Addison Russell, and Ian Happ would solidify their spot in that group. None did for reasons ranging from an inability to hit left handed pitching to violent and criminal off the field behavior. To make up for some of that loss from expected production, the Cubs will likely have to look outside the organization in what I expect will be the most interesting and aggressive offseason since Theo and Jed took over the team.
When a team loses a division by one game, it’s hard to point to just one thing that caused it. The Cubs bullpen struggled down the stretch with injuries and fatigue. The starting rotation was a significant weakness in the early part of the season before coming into form. You can’t point to individual games that they could’ve or should’ve won because there are also many individual games that they could’ve or should’ve lost.
The main factor you can consistently point to is the complete disappearance of line drives, extra base hits, and the runs that result from those events. That power outage coupled with a seeming complete halt in the development of several players the Cubs were counting on is the main storyline of a season in which the Cubs won 95 games, largely got effective pitching, and still fell far short of their goals.