Albert Almora Jr. has played in 11 of the Cubs’ 12 games so far in September, which seems like a solid total until you realize that he’s only made three starts and has gotten 22 plate appearances in that stretch. All he’s done in that time is post a 1.000 OPS with a .409 wOBA on the strength of two homers and a triple. To be fair, his most recent performance skewed the results pretty heavily, but the fact that he’s played so little is a real head-scratcher.
Were we to subscribe to the long-running narrative that says Almora can’t hit righties, his lack of exposure might make sense. The Cubs faced only two southpaws (Pittsburgh’s Steven Brault and Atlanta’s Max Fried) in that stretch and Almora predictably started both of those games. He also saw his name in the lineup when reverse-splitster Chase Anderson took the bump for Milwaukee.
But here’s the thing about the idea that the young centerfielder can’t hit righties: It’s not true. Well, not completely. Almora struggled mightily against right-handed pitching early in the season, particularly on the road. His .370 OPS and -6 wRC+ in a not-entirely-too-small sample of 76 first-half plate appearances didn’t necessarily engender a great deal of confidence in his ability to be an everyday player.
At the same time, though, Almora posted a .959 OPS with a 154 wRC+ in 47 plate appearances against righties at home through mid-July. That has more or less continued in the time since, as he’s had a .940 OPS and a 126 wRC+ in his last 29 plate appearances (basically the equivalent of seven starts) against righties at Wrigley.
And while the road numbers aren’t great by any stretch, a .640 OPS and wRC+ of 60 represent a monumental improvement over those first-half numbers. Again, this is only in 26 plate appearances as Almora has been (perhaps erroneously) limited to platoon duty for the most part.
It’s understandable that someone would feel the crunch from a stacked roster that dictates Joe Maddon frequently sit more than one player who would be getting everyday at-bats elsewhere. What I struggle with, though, is how it seems that the outfield rotation isn’t necessarily based on who’s actually performing better.
I understand that Maddon uses proprietary data that we don’t have access to, but I wanted to put together a brief exercise to see if we can figure out the ideal outfield configurations based on the limited information available to us. Again, this is super basic and I’m using second-half stats in order to better judge current performance, so take it with a grain of salt.
Check it out and see who you’d want in there against righty and lefty pitchers.
vs RHP: .709 OPS, .309 wOBA, 87 wRC+
vs LHP: .679 OPS, .295 wOBA, 77 wRC+
vs. All: .700 OPS, .305 wOBA, 84 wRC+
vs RHP: .672 OPS, .297 wOBA, 79 wRC+
vs LHP: .715 OPS, 339 wOBA, 106 wRC+
vs. All: .684 OPS, .308 wOBA, 86 wRC+
vs RHP: .835 OPS, .350 wOBA, 113 wRC+
vs LHP: .769 OPS, .313 wOBA, 89 wRC+
vs. All: .810 OPS, .337 wOBA, 105 wRC+
vs RHP: .874 OPS, .367 wOBA, 125 wRC+
vs LHP: .940 OPS, .389 wOBA, 140 wRC+
vs. All: .885 OPS, .371 wOBA, 127 wRC+
vs RHP: .797 OPS, .323 wOBA, 96 wRC+
vs LHP: .825 OPS, .356 wOBA, 117 wRC+
vs. All: .811 OPS, .339 wOBA, 106 wRC+
vs RHP: C, D, E
vs LHP: B, D, E
vs All: C, D, E
Well, there you have it — the ideal outfield for the Cubs. Oh, I suppose I should probably reveal the identities of these players for those who haven’t already figured it out. A is Jason Heyward, B is Jon Jay, C is Ian Happ, D is Kyle Schwarber (weird that he’s got the best numbers of the group despite all these folks telling me he’s bad), and E is Almora.
Huh, which two players showed up every time? And which one didn’t show up at all?
We have obviously left out any mention of defensive prowess, which obviously plays a role in all of this, but putting Almora and Happ in center and right with Schwarber in left would give the Cubs the best chance at actually creating runs. That is particularly true when facing right-handed pitchers, against whom Almora has fared far better than either Jay or Heyward in the second half.
So whaddya say, Joe, maybe give the kid a shot with righties on the mound? Or, you know, at least sit Heyward once in a while.