Cubs offense as bad as we thought despite Albert Pujols leading off every inning

Through 11 games the Cubs have scored 45 runs. It should be understood that this is a small sample size. That being said, the Cubs have played eight games against pretty bad teams and only three games against a team anyone thinks will come close to finishing at .500 or above. Nearly five of those games have come against the two teams expected to finish at the very bottom of the NL Central and the Diamondbacks are thought to be bad enough to finish in last in the NL West. The Cubs have had a very easy schedule so far.

The talent the Cubs have faced on the mound has been anything other than impressive. Shown below are the starters who have faced the Cubs this season and their CAIRO projected FIP for 2011.

Starters FIP
Kevin Correia 4.53
Paul Maholm 4.14
Ross Ohlendorf 4.51
Joe Saunders 4.80
Barry Enright 5.05
Randy Wolf 4.42
Chris Narveson 4.62
Yovani Gallardo 3.37
Nelson Figueroa 4.31
Brett Myers 4.07

The Cubs have faced only one very good starting pitcher. Tonight’s starter for the Astros is the next best pitcher they’ve faced. Myers is good, but he’s more similar to Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Well above average, but not great by any means. Correia, Ohlendorf, Saunders, Enright, and Narveson are all below average. Wolf and Figueroa are league average.

Most of the games the Cubs have played have been against bad teams as you know. Bad teams are generally bad at pitching, defense, baserunning and hitting. The Cubs have been the benefit of some of that less than impressive starting pitching and despite that, they’ve managed to score just 44 runs nearly 11 games into the season.

It’s only going to get tougher from this point forward. As I mentioned, it’s just 11 games so if we knew nothing about the Cubs offense we couldn’t look at this sample and reach any conclusions. We do know something about this offense though. We know they are going to struggle against righties. We know they aren’t an especially good offense. We probably would expect even the Cubs offense to fare better against the quality of pitching they’ve faced so far, but they haven’t yet.

What makes these numbers even worse is that the Cubs have done a spectacular job at getting the leadoff man on base. Cubs batters leading off an inning have hit .382/.427/.607. The career batting line for Albert Pujols is .333/.425/.622. The Cubs have essentially led off every inning with the best player in all of baseball and they’ve averaged all of 4.1 runs per game (4.3 is the NL average).

The leadoff batter for the Cubs has hit .467/.538/.644. You may have heard of a guy who had a career 1.164 OPS. The Cubs leadoff batters have a higher OPS than the greatest player who ever played the game of baseball. They’ve still scored .35 runs below the league average. I’m pretty sure the leadoff batter won’t continue to get on base 54% of the time. I’m also certain the Cubs will not have the leadoff man get on base 43% of the time each inning.

Interestingly, the number 3 and number 5 batters have hit very well for the Cubs. Those are two spots you expect big numbers from. If I told you the Cubs were going to have Babe Ruth leading off each game while the number 3 batter hit .396/.420/.542 you’d think te Cubs were scoring a lot of runs. If I then told you the number 5 batter was hitting .286/.444/.543 you’d think the Cubs led the NL in runs scored.

Some of that is just bad luck. If the Cubs somehow managed to put up those numbers in those spots, they will lead the league in runs scored, but there’s absolutely no way they will hit that well in those spots. The Cubs leadoff batters aren’t Babe Ruth. They don’t have A-Rod hitting 3rd. They don’t have Mickey Mantle hitting 5th. This ain’t the dream team. This is a mediocre Chicago Cubs team that has actually hit the ball fairly well to start the season with nothing to show for it. The offense isn’t getting any better. It’s going to get worse because the Cubs don’t have 3 of the top 15 greatest hitters in the history of the game in the every day lineup.

So far this season the Cubs offense has faced bad starting pitching, hit the ball fairly well, ridiculously well out of three spots you need production from and they’ve scored .35 runs below the National League average. Baseball is such a funny game that things will actually get better in terms of runs scored, but as far as hitting goes, things will get worse. In the end expect to see this offense score about 4.1 runs per game or a bit less.