Chicago Cubs: Do They Have Their Worst Offense in a Decade?
Money talks and, well, that other thing tends to walk. Right now, the Cubs are in year one of a rebuilding process that could be alleviated as early as 2013 and as extended as the kind-of-distant future. It's one thing to cut and run on the previous general manager's mistakes and begin the process in theory, but boy, has it been hard to watch this current Cubs roster when the rubber hits the road.
Shoddy defense. A downgraded and terrible bullpen. A mediocre rotation with more unknown commodities than you can shake a cane at.
When it comes to the offense, however, it may take the proverbial garbage-cake. An absolute abandonment of power and patience, the two categories that every effective lineup needs to even pretend to contend. A lack of speed or fundamental base-running skills hurt the team further, but a lack of a true lead-off hitter, third or fourth hitter has spelled death for the team before they even got a chance to play a game.
Marlon Byrd has descended in production for four straight seasons. Alfonso Soriano is a walking injury who has also descended in production for the better part of four seasons. Ian Stewart is a complete unknown who also dabbles in the whole "I can't stay healthy if my life depended on it" variety.
If Stewart is an unknown, then Bryan LaHair is living directly on Mysterious Island. That's a Jules Verne reference; not that unwatchable kids' movie sequel.
Soto is consistently inconsistent. Barney would have to make gigantic improvements to get from quite bad to mediocre.
Castro is what the team has, and at this point in his very young career, he is a complementary player and not a centerpiece. Soon enough, he can and should be that guy, but he hardly has the ability to carry a team with this many flaws.
Pound-for-pound, it's getting as ugly as it can. This is not based on the limited time of this season, but staked in what we can all expect for the year. Does anyone see a 30-home run hitter on the team? Does anyone see a guy who can take 80 or more walks? Will anyone crack even a meager .800 OPS?
The franchise should be going extremely young by the trade deadline or earlier, with star prospects like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson getting the Cubbie faithful all in an uproar. Yet July is quite a bit away for the already 1-4 Chicago franchise.
The question is, how truly bad is this offense? Let's look back at the past 10 Cubs teams to see if it truly is the worst in a decade of under-performance.
As much as it was a rough go to watch the 2011 Cubs team struggle to win 71 games, their offense is unquestionably better than this current one.
Aramis Ramirez led the team with a stellar season, posting an .871 OPS with 26 home runs. Carlos Pena, while struggling in the early going of the year, wound his way hitting 28 home runs with over 100 walks on the season. Both of these guys happen to be off the team, and for good measure, it being a rebuilding club.
But it goes without saying that virtually no one on the roster will come close to Ramirez's 2011 production, and it's possible that no one even does as well as Pena.
Will a single current Cub top an .800 OPS this season? Castro has a shot, and LaHair or Soriano if they stay healthy and play as some suspect, but the question is far from certain.
While Castro's 2011 season saw him lead the league in hits, many Cubs fans are hoping for major steps forward again this season. Whether or not he will remains to be seen, but it's hard to bet on him being a lot better than the quality production he nestled into.
I didn't think this year would be so easy, but the 2011 team handily beats the 2012 version. Not a good start, is it?
This forgettable 2010 roster of players was headlined by their sole All-Star, Marlon Byrd. That says about all you need to know. Despite the unimpressive nature of Byrd, he did have his best season as a Cub that year. He hit .293 with a .775 OPS and 54 extra-base hits. They are hardly world-beating numbers, but it's the type of year that might be better than any single 2012 Cub currently in place.
Other players of note were Soriano and Geovany Soto. While Alfonso was hardly his star-self of yesteryear, he did post 64 extra-base hits with an .818 OPS, numbers I doubt he'll near in 2012. Geovany Soto happened to only 400 plate appearances, but was unbelievably good in them, hitting 17 homers with a sparkling .890 OPS.
This happened to be Tyler Colvin's cup of coffee as a Cub, where he hit 20 home runs in limited time, leading many a Cub fan to drastically overrate his real abilities. While he never panned out, it was still quality production in his time played.
This was also Castro's rookie season, which was solid, but will be slightly to noticeably improved upon for the 2012 incarnation.
Though, while Castro will be an upgrade from himself, it's hard to see the rest of the team improving upon the year Soriano, Byrd and Soto had. All three of the current versions should undoubtedly be much worse. Also, I don't believe anyone on this team will post better sum-seasons than the 2010 club's best three players, though this is arguable.
Either way, I believe you have to give the slight edge to the 2010 team, but this one is a manageable win if the team in place can keep their heads above water.
This may be the closest race of the group. That is not good news.
This one is too easy, and I already know that 2008 gets even easier, but let's start with 2009.
Derrek Lee was simply monumental, hitting .306 with a .393 on-base percentage. Lest we forget his 35 home runs and MVP-caliber .972 OPS.
Yeah, kind of makes this a landslide from the get-go. Yeesh.
Aramis only played a half-season, but hit identical to his fantastic career numbers in his at-bats. Numbers no one on the 2012 team should get anywhere near.
Jeff Baker and Jake Fox made up a quality bench that shouldn't be fought with by the likes of the scrubs currently occupying the day-to-day roster of now.
It remains to be seen if anyone on the 2012 team will even do as well as Fukudome did in 2009. DeJesus would be lucky to do so.
So this year was a no-brainer due to D-Lee, but 2008 makes for quite a large amount of fish to shoot in a barrel...
What a mind-blowing offense the 2008 club turned out to be.
If a position didn't have a career year, it was at the very least amazing production.
At catcher, we have Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto playing at his very best.
At first base, Derrek Lee, putting up 20 home runs, 90 RBI and an .823 OPS.
At second base, we have a career-year hoisting Mark DeRosa, who actually outproduced Derrek Lee while hitting 21 home runs and owning an .857 OPS.
At shortstop, we have a career year from Ryan Theriot, which saw him have an OBP of .387. Now that's just ridiculous!
At third, just the usual amazing season from Aramis.
In left field we see the last star-quality year from Alfonso Soriano.
In center field, we have a great platoon of Reed Johnson against lefties and Jim Edmonds against righties. They absolutely crushed their respective pitchers and were a blessing for such a tremendous value.
Lastly, we get Fukudome's rookie season in right field, which was memorably full of ups and downs.
It was the greatest offense in recent memory. Yes, we can all laugh at the comparison to the current players on the Cubs right now. No contest; that's putting it lightly.
Going to try and simplify this up.
Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez all getting full seasons of an OPS higher than .900. Lee hit 22 home runs, Soriano the owner of 33, Ramirez nabbing 26 for himself.
Isn't that enough said right away? If two Cubs hit 20 home runs this year, they might be in for a major treat.
If two Cubs have an OPS over .800 or better, they might be counting their lucky stars.
No comparison again. The 2007 team wins out easy.
A season instantly worth forgetting, the only real comparison between today's team and this one may be the eventual record, with the 2006 squad nearly netting 100 losses.
For as bad as they were, they actually were the beneficiaries of Aramis Ramirez's career year on the team. How many current Cubs will it take to combine for Aramis' 115 RBI and 36 home runs?
Who would believe that Jacque Jones was as good as he was? I didn't believe it when I found out he actually hit 27 home runs with an .833 OPS. It's not a good sign when a team prays for players on your team to be as good as Jacque Jones was.
Again, the top two players of an absolutely dreadful team are both better than anything we can realistically expect from the 2012 team. As the team descends, the 2006 has the advantage with guys like Matt Murton and Michael Barrett. Both of these guys have ominous careers in the MLB ahead of them, but at the time, both were guys who produced quite well in the year.
This isn't about what they became, but how good the team's offense was that year. Without question, the 2006 team still wins. What a frightening thing to say.
First and really only thing needed to win the case: Derrek Lee's near-MVP season.
A rundown, shall we?
.335 avg, .418 on-base percentage with an OPS of 1.080. That's not some mis-type; that is his legitimate OPS on the full season. They are video-game numbers, as the saying goes. They simply don't make sense.
From here on out, there's little left to say. The team also had an amazing and standard Aramis Ramirez season, so the two really end the argument by themselves if Lee didn't do it single-handedly.
Michael Barrett was good; Todd Walker the same. Possibly better than any current Cub, and they aren't even in the top three of the team.
Discussion done. Victory 2005.
Delving into such painful history is made worse knowing that as bad as it was, it was still so much better than the present.
Looking at quality seasons from guys like Corey Patterson really spell out the failures of yesteryear. The former super-star prospect famously fizzled, but in 2005, the future still looked extremely bright. The young center fielder hit 24 home runs while swiping 32 bases, looking like the star of tomorrow. How fast dreams fade.
Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Moises Alou were absolutely great.
Lest we forget the trials of Sammy Sosa, who was still producing at a good clip in 2005.
The top four home-run producers (Alou, Ramirez, Lee and Sosa) combined to average 35 per player. That's 35 home runs for each of their top four power-hitters, not even mentioning Patterson and Barrett's added power.
It's ugly. As bad as the competition was between the 2008 team, the 2004 version may have dominated in equal fashion.
The all-out murder goes to 2004.
I'd say we're getting somewhere with the 2003 team, but then I happened to spy Sammy Sosa at the top of the board with 40 home runs and 103 RBI.
This was also Moises Alou's second year on the North side in which he hit .280 and smacked 22 home runs.
Mark Grudzielanek put up a season that, minus the lack of stolen bases, even Starlin Castro would like to emulate. Hitting .314 while clocking 40 doubles, Grudz was a fan favorite and quiet producer.
Corey Patterson, Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez were all above average in their part-time playing, all better than we can say about any Cubs currently in place.
While the secondary players could all duke it out, the 2003 team really wins by a solid margin due to Sosa's contributions.
Unless LaHair or Stewart come out of the blue and hit 30 home runs, there's just no way the 2012 team will be able to compete with more former teams. Otherwise, the power outage we'll be seeing these days is only going to get more severe until the young guns are brought up from the minor leagues.
Finally, will we have a real competition? Please?
Sadly, to disappoint the positive-thinkers, this one just ain't even a ballgame.
Remember, the further back we go, the better Sosa keeps getting. He hit 49 home runs, a number that may outdo the Cubs top three home-run hitters in 2012! It's quite staggering to see home run totals like that.
Oh, how I miss the days of yester-steroid era at times...
Who would believe that 2002 version Fred McGriff would have put up a year that anyone on the 2012 team would kill to have?
The big surprise was Mark Bellhorn. I truly barely remember him as a Cub, yet he seriously hit 27 home runs with a star-quality .887 OPS. While he did fizzle out shortly after, he did play an interesting role in the 2004 Red Sox story during the season.
Either way, Sosa alone wins this sucker. Bellhorn and McGriff are icing on the cake. The three of them have numbers arguably untouchable by anyone on the team today.
What the 2012 team needs is someone to over-reach their abilities and at least hit like McGriff or Bellhorn did, but that is a mile-wide stretch.
I hate for this to all be so negative, as I truly did this to find out if it was or wasn't true. Yet research has led to only one real debate between the current team's offense being the very worst in a decade.
While I don't think the record will be the worst of the decade, I do now fully believe this team to be the owner of the worst Cubs offense in 10 seasons of play. When the young guys make it to the majors and start changing the ways of the team, I'll feel a bit more content.
Yet when old guys like Byrd, Soriano and DeJesus occupy the outfield, we have little upside to hope for. One or more will soon be dealt, but it may not even help the 2012 team in the now.
I remain fully onboard for the Epstein rebuilding process, and he has leeway with me for quite a few years, as he should with all Cubs fans. We just have to understand that 2012 won't just be problematic, but it could be one of the uglier seasons in extended memory.
Let's get through it. Not a great creed to start a major league season, but there will be plenty of youth and upside to watch sooner or later. I just wish "sooner" would get here a whole lot faster.