The thought behind this post all started with a rather innocuous tweet from Dan Kirby last night about some college baseball:
Notice the hashtag? Down with OBP? Seemed like a perfect title for a post about the tweaks the Cubs made during the offseason to a roster that was mostly deficient in OBP in 2014 (28th in all of baseball with a team OBP of .300). Let’s take a look at how the Cubs improved greatly in this area in one winter.
Anthony Rizzo was 7th overall last year with a .386 OBP and just look at some of the names ahead of him: Andrew McCutchen, V-Mart, Jose Bautista, Giancarlo Stanton, to name a few. Quite impressive company to keep.
The next Cub on the list of qualified hitters (not including Luis Valbuena) was Starlin Castro with a .339 OBP; he ranked 54th. Not bad, but after him there was not another Cubs hitter that qualified (around 500 plate appearances). Chris Coghlan and his .352 total would have been 36th, but his 432 PA’s left him short of the required number.
Dexter Fowler and his advanced on-base skills was one of the biggest additions to the roster this offseason. Last season, Fowler was 15th in all of baseball with a .375 OBP. He brings his 13.1% BB-rate to the leadoff spot and will hopefully score a ton of runs via Rizzo, Soler, Bryant or Baez blasts this season.
Tommy La Stella was an under-the-radar pickup by the Cubs; he has an amazing knack for making contact (only a 11.1% K-rate) and can take a walk with a 10% BB-rate. While the average (.251) was down, he still had a .328 OBP in 360 PA’s. One thing to keep in mind though is that La Stella has a .407 career OBP in almost 1200 Minor League plate appearances (136 BB vs. 102 Ks).
Miguel Montero brings his career .342 OBP and 10% walk rate to a team that saw its starting catcher (Beef) post only .296 and 6.2% in those same categories in 2014. Last year, Montero’s OBP was .329, but two years ago it was .391. The Cubs should be happy even if he settles below the middle point, as most teams would be pleased with a catcher that has an OBP north of .340.
Chris Denorfia was signed as a possible platoon partner for Chris Coghlan in LF. Last season was his worst as a pro, but, at 34 years old, he was due for a little bit of a decline anyway. He does bring a career .331 OBP with an 8% BB-rate. A platoon situation may be the best bet for him because he has a career OBP of .358 against lefties, so that is a big plus in his favor.
What about the prospects?
Jorge Soler looked super impressive in his short stint in the Bigs (just 24 games); he had a 6% BB-rate which translated to a .330 OBP. It was such a small sample size, but the skill set is there for him to get an even higher BB-rate moving forward. In 163 games in the minors, Soler has a career OBP of .384 (just over 13% BB-rate).
Kris Bryant brings prodigious power but he also has a great idea of what he wants to do up at the dish. He had a 14.5% BB-rate last year in the minors with an OBP of .438 between AA and AAA. Do I think he will be able to maintain that .400+ number this year? No, I don’t. But I do think north of .345 is possible, which would be pretty big for the team.
Javier Baez (.227) and Arismendy Alcantara (.255) were two prospects that were not down with OBP last season. Both walked around 6% of the time and carried on-base percentages below an acceptable level.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these two will improve on those numbers this season after an offseason of adjustments. Will they be among the leaders on the team? Most definitely not, but they don’t really need to be; just an improvement would be nice.
The Cubs were aggressive in addressing a glaring need on their roster. They added some pieces from outside the organization that will undoubtedly help in the OBP area. Then they have a couple prospects that are going to be around league average or better in OBP and that too will be a huge help.
I will risk making another prediction in closing: the Cubs will get on base at a .320 clip for the season, which will put them inside the top 12 instead of the bottom 3. All because the front office asked who’s down with OBP. “Every last homie” on this team, that’s who.