The high contact rate of Cubs has positive and negative aspects

CHICAGO — Seiya Suzuki stood in the circle on deck, bat in hand, waiting for another chance Tuesday night. The roster’s move to second place was to maximize his opportunities, given his incredible performance out of the chute.

“I thought it was a good time to take a little different look at the top,” Cubs manager David Ross explained ahead of Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Rays at Wrigley Field.

The construction of the Cubs’ 2022 roster dates back to last season. The first part of the current campaign gave Ross a chance to test out different batting orders to see how this new mix of offensive traits plays together.

Chicago’s last performance — albeit lost to Tampa Bay — had some of the positive and negative attributes that came to the surface. The group fought back with their ball-in-play style, but also continued to hammer grounds into the ground.

“There’s been a lot of contact,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “Certainly it’s a bit of a change from the past. We’re certainly a lot less explosive than we were, but I feel like we’ve faced some really good pitchers so far and we’ve been able to limit strikeouts for the most part and put the ball in play.”

At the July 30 trade deadline of last year, the Cubs solved the roster’s contact issues in a big way by bringing in an elite bat-to-ball hitter in Nick Madrigal of the White Sox. . He was injured in the second half last year, but Frank Schwindel showed a solid combination of contact and power down the stretch when he received the keys to first base.

Those two, combined with Nico Hoerner, as well as the offseason additions of Suzuki and Jonathan Villar, gave the Cubs a solid base of contact ability. Entering Tuesday, Chicago ranked fifth in the National League in contact rate (77.5%) and tied for fourth in swing strike rate (9.9%).

There are positives to all contacts, but this is a trait that can also cause problems.

“We have to get the ball higher in the air. It’s obvious,” Hoyer said. “And the double game numbers have to normalize at some point, a bit. They’re exceptionally high at the moment.”

At Hoyer’s point, the Cubs headed into Tuesday’s game with an NL-leading 52.5 rushing percentage and 15 double-play takeouts (no other NL club had more than that). nine). According to Statcast, the Cubs’ 6.1-degree launch angle was also the Majors’ lowest rating.

In Tuesday’s loss, Chicago’s hardest-hit ball (108.1 mph) was a Villar groundout. The North Siders had 13 strikeouts as a team in the loss to the Rays. One of them was a 101.7 mph grounder from Ian Happ who was sucked up by second baseman Taylor Walls in a shift to end the seventh inning.

“It’s the type of game where you hit the ball hard,” Happ said, “and they moved just before the pitch. They weren’t in it the whole game. That’s what they do, however. They are very good at it.”

Still, the Cubs left Tuesday’s performance with a slash line of .266/.349/.437 as a team. There were also a lot of positives to take from the evening.

Schwindel (double RBI) and Patrick Wisdom (two-run pinch homer) delivered in fourth. Hoerner added a scoring triple in the seventh. Suzuki saw his nine-game hitting streak come to an end, but all he did was see 24 pitches in four trips to the plate, drawing three walks in the process.

Four of Chicago’s batters (Suzuki, Wisdom, Villar and Happ) are above the MLB average in shots per plate appearance. Overall, the Cubs improved their walk rate (9.8% through Monday, from 8.7% before the 21 trade deadline) and reduced strikeouts.

“We have a fun lineup,” Wisdom said. “Everyone has a unique skill set and everyone brings something to the table. It makes us dangerous. I love it. You see it night after night. Either we hit home runs or we get a lot of hits.

“Seiya walks a ton. Just having guys on base and creating stressful at-bats for opposing pitchers. That’s what we want to do.”

So far, the Cubs have given Ross a preview of what he needs to work with this year. The manager will continue to test different line-up configurations in search of the right formula.

“We have to create our own offense,” Hoyer said, “between contact and probably getting the guys moving a bit and just taking the bats out. I think so far this year we’ve done a good job. “

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