The Cubs are not a good offensive team, and that is one of many challenges facing the current regime. The focus, rightfully so, has been on the approach of the Cubs at the plate. The Cubs have been a free swinging ball club under Jim Hendry’s watch, and fixing the low OBP of the team for the majority of the past decade, 2008 a notable exception, would go a long way to changing the fortunes of the franchise. The Cubs are still working towards fixing this problem right now, but there is another change in offensive philosophy that has gone somewhat unnoticed.
The Cubs are becoming a running team. With a lineup consisting, at the beginning of the year, with virtually the same players as the year before the Cubs attempted 56 more steals last year. The change is dramatic if you compare their numbers over the past decade and to the league average.
The Cubs finished with more attempted steals than the NL average only once since 2002, and that can be attributed solely to Juan Pierre‘s 78 attempted steals in 2006. In the young seasons the Cubs are above average again and broke even last year. The early results seem to indicate that a philosophical shift is happening. Nate Schierholtz is a prime example of this change as he already has two steals to add to his career total coming into the season of 20.
This is also one of the reasons why I have faith in this front office and coaching staff compared to the previous regime. Early in spring training in Mike Quade‘s only season as manager he tried to run a lot. After results were poor he kind of threw up his hands and said that he wasn’t going to try to force them into something they weren’t good at. Dale Sveum and his staff on the other hand make these weaknesses a point of emphasis and work to make them better, e.g. Alfonso Soriano‘s marked improvement on defense.
The tiny elephant in the room
If the Cubs are placing such an emphasis on running, why did they trade away their best base stealer? The reason is that while the importance of stolen bases are increasing with declining power throughout the game, stolen bases remain the least valuable offensive attribute of a player. Hitting, and walking, still comes first in terms of offensive value, and that the front office is putting the correct emphasis on hitting first.
Running is not going to fix the woes of the Cubs this season. It isn’t going to change a bad offense to even average offense. But the Cubs are maximizing the talent available to them at this moment but running more in this new run environment.