Chicago Cubs: Statcast shows Rizzo and Happ are due

Ten games is not a lot over the course of a 162-game season but it’s been enough for a lot of fans to already throw in the towel on the 2021 Chicago Cubs team. It’s not hard to see why because the same offensive problems that have stunted the team over the past few years have been even more pronounced this April.

No matter how you look at it, the Cubs have been awful at the plate this year.

As a team, the Cubs are hitting .164/.264/.321. In each of those triple-slash batting statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, the Cubs rank dead last as a team.

Turning to more modern metrics, the Cubs’ futility continues. Collectively, Cubs’ hitters have produced a 66 wRC+ which means the team has produced runs at a rate 34 percent below league average. Not surprisingly, that also ranks the team dead-last.

The Cubs aren’t even getting good results on fastballs thrown right down the middle of the plate.

While a lot of the awful results are simply due to the team playing incredibly poorly, some of it can be explained a bit by bad luck. Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ in particular have been two of the most unlucky hitters in the league according to Statcast data.

If you’re not familiar with it, Statcast’s Expected Statistics look at how a batter is hitting through the exit velocity and launch angle of each batted ball. It then compares each batted ball to historically similar batted balls to see how often those fall in for hits, go for home runs, etc.

Statistics through Monday’s game in Milwaukee show that Rizzo has the thirteenth lowest BA and xBA in the game, meaning his actual batting average is .101 lower than his expected batting average. Happ’s .076 gap is the 28th lowest.

Through ten games, Rizzo and Happ have a .133 and .160 batting average, respectively. They each have a .219 expected batting average. That’s still not great but it’s a lot closer to average than you’d think as the league-average batting average (try saying that three times fast) is just .233 so far this year. Rizzo and Happ’s struggles don’t stop there.

Statcast’s Expected Statistics also estimate slugging percentage and weighted on-base average (wOBA). In slugging percentage, Rizzo’s is .126 lower than Statcast estimates it should be and Happ’s is .179 lower which is good for the 48th and 24th worst marks among all big league hitters. Looking at wOBA, Rizzo’s is .082 lower than Statcast estimates it should be and Happ’s is .080 lower, 30th and 32nd worst in the league.

The Cubs’ 28.8 percent strikeout rate is the third-worst among all teams. Clearly, the early season troubles go past just swinging and missing. Even when they make contact, some Cubs hitters just can’t catch a break.

These Statcast Expected Statistics are meant much more as a descriptive statistic of past performance than they are predictive of future performance. Nonetheless, Rizzo and Happ (and the entire Cubs offense) should be in store for much better days ahead.