Take a look at what Theo Epstein terms the Cubs’ institutional problem with plate discipline and on-base percentage.
As a quick reference point, the Cubs led the National League in walks in 2008. So it’s easy to see how drastically the number of walks have fallen in just four years.
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ .302 on-base percentage last season was the worst mark in all of baseball, and the fourth consecutive year it dropped from the previous season.
Epstein is trying to right the ship by instilling an organizational-wide focus on ‘grinding-out at-bats’ and developing the bulldog mentality the Red Sox’s lineup became noted for during his reign in Boston.
The headline move with correcting the problem thus far was Epstein’s decision to replace highly respected hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo with James Rowson midway through last season. Additionally, a newly created position of assistant hitting coach was filled by Rob Deer at the Winter Meetings.
Like most things with the Cubs these days, the turnaround won’t happen in one season. Certainly the club can show improvement in the next couple of years, but reaching the goal will take improved performance from the Cubs’ lowest level minor leagues all the way up through the major leagues.
Epstein is sure to keep a more focused plate approach as a pressing issue throughout the entire organization. It appears to be one of his most strongly held beliefs in creating and maintaining a championship caliber team.
Even the slightest improvement in this area next season could be a keg factor in avoiding consecutive 100-loss seasons, and that’s definitely worth taking a few extra pitches.
–For a closer year-to-year look at the graph see the bullet points below.
- A lot was made of Kosuke Fukudome’s patient plate approach upon his arrival in 2008. His keen eye for the strike zone appeared to rub off on his teammates, at least for one year. Four Cubs drew 70 or more walks that season (Fukudome 81, Aramis 74, Theriot 73, D-Lee 71) and Mark DeRosa just missed with 69 free passes.
- In 2009 only two Cubs topped 70 or more walks: Fukudome 93 and D-Lee 76. Knucklehead Milton Bradley (66) likely would’ve topped the mark had he not been suspended for the final two weeks of the season for acting like a disgruntled clown…reads: conduct detrimental to the team.
- The real drop off happened the following season when the team’s total plummeted by 113 walks. Fukudome led the team for the third straight season despite playing in 16 fewer games than the season prior. However, not a single Cub eclipsed 70 or more walks. ‘The Fuk’ ended with 64. Geovany Soto was second with 62 and D-Lee’s register just 52 walks while missing significant time due to injuries (109-games).
- The 2011 season walk totals are somewhat skewed thanks to Carlos Pena. When he wasn’t busy striking out Pena was making headway in setting a new club record for first basemen with 101 walks. But after Pena it was basically hopeless for the rest of the Cubs. Fukudome finished second on the club with 46…and that’s despite playing just 87 games with Chicago before being traded to the Indians on July 28. Soto 45, Aramis 43, and Starlin Castro 35, rounded out the top 5.
- Although there was a slight uptick in walks last season, the Cubs had but one player reach more than 50 walks–David DeJesus with 61. Now the kicker…Soriano was second with 44 and LaHair third with 39. No wonder the Cubs had the worst on-base percentage in baseball (.302).