Over the last two seasons Koyie Hill has posted a 51 wRC+ (weighted runs created, adjusted so that 100 is average like ERA+ and OPS+). wRC+, you may remember, uses wOBA. Oddly enough, it’s only 11th worst over those two seasons among players with 200 or more PA. It’s bad. It’s downright terrible, but he is a catcher so he’s actually been a replacement level player during this time.
The thing that stuck out at me as I was looking at this was how many PA he has during this stretch (515). Among the 17 worst, only Dioner Navarro has more PA than Hill (552). Of the 35 worst, only Cesar Izturis, Josh Wilson and Dioner Navarro have had more PA than Hill. The average PA of the top 20 is 354. Hill has stepped to the plate 161 times more than the average number of times these terrible hitters. That’s spread out over two seasons, but that production at the plate isn’t even that much better than a pitcher. The Cubs have basically had two pitchers in ther lineup for at least parts of 160 games.
I knew that Hill was going to make the roster. You don’t offer him the arbitration contract the Cubs did if you don’t have every intention of using him as the back-up. Plus, he played so horribly this spring and I don’t remember a single comment from Hendry, Quade or any of the coaches about his job being in jeopardy. It never was.
The question has to be asked though. Why is on the roster? To be fair to Hill for a moment, he’s basically a replacement level player. Perhaps a bit worse. I think his awfulness is overstated, but as long as you have one better option than Hill, there’s no reason not to use that option. The Cubs have at least one. Welington Castillo is easily the better player. Chris Robinson is probably better. Steve Clevenger might be as well.
To be fair to Hill yet again, it’s not like he’s making much money. He’s making a little more than league minimum, which is what all the others would make. Clevenger and Robinson are probably replacement level players unless their defense is well above average. It’s even possible that all Castillo is is a replacement level catcher. I’d actually lean toward that being true.
Castillo’s average projection is a .306 wOBA so yeah, he’s about replacement level and that depends on the defense. He’s probably a little better than replacement level, but not all that much. The improvement isn’t significant and neither is the money. The Cubs can tell us that and they’d be 100% right. What the Cubs can’t tell us is that Koyie Hill is their best option. That’s not true. They don’t have a great option either way.
As good a hitter as Geovany Soto is, Cubs fans should be expecting the position overall to be a little better than mediocre. That’s because Koyie Hill is such a terrible hitter and it’s unlikely he’ll be replaced. Even if he is, whoever is back there probably isn’t all that much better.
Take 2010 as an example for how much a terrible hitter can affect the overall performance from a single position. Geovany Soto‘s .385 wOBA a year ago led all MLB catchers with 300 or more PA. By more than 10 points. The Cubs as a team had a .335 wOBA from their catchers, which was actually 7th best, but the wRC+ was exactly league average (100).
We’re all talking about how Soto is the team’s best hitter, and he is, but what’s been left out is that the team’s production as a whole from that position isn’t going to stand out. The same can also be said for the Cubs next best hitter, Carlos Pena. Who is going to back him up? Tyler Colvin? I’m much more optimistic about him than a lot of people are and I think he’ll be about league average. I know some have suggested he’ll hit below replacement level and that’s certainly possible.
Back-ups play. At some positions they’re going to play a lot for one reason or another. At other positions the starter will stay relatively healthy. Behind the plate you know Koyie Hill is getting 150 or more plate appearances at the very least. It’s really too bad the Cubs have such an awful hitting back-up because it takes what should be a position of strength for the team and just makes slightly better than average. That’s difficult to do, but that’s how bad a hitter Koyie Hill is.
The sad thing is that the other options probably aren’t a lot better. Here’s to hoping that Geovany Soto gets moved up in the order, stays healthy, performs well, and plays in about 140 games. That’s a lot ot ask for any catcher.
I’ve been saying for awhile that it’s going to be difficult for this team to be above average on offense. Part of that is that the Cubs have had only one season where they were average or above on offense since the end of the WWII. The offense has shown remarkable consistency over the last 65+ years. That year the Cubs offense was average or above? 2008. They had a 103 wRC+ that season. Below is a rather revealing image of just how not good the Cubs offense has been for a very long time.
As you can clearly see, the Cubs offense hasn’t been consistently good since the 1930s. Even then it’s hard to say it was consistently good. People have often explained the Cubs failures because of their pitching at Wrigley Field, but it’s the exacty opposite. That’s where the 2011 season is made even more difficult.
Not only do the Cubs have a well below average back-up catcher that brings down the overall average of the position, their current back-up at 2nd base is Darwin Barney. As much fun as it is to root for someone like Barney, his best skill is his defense. As a batter, he’s projected to have a wOBA of just .293. It’s going to be impossible for Jeff Baker to provide enough offense at 2nd base to make up for the offensive liability that Darwin Barney likely is. Barney is also the back-up at SS. You’ve got a combination of Blake DeWitt, possible Jeff Baker and maybe even Darwin Barney backing up Ramirez.
The Cubs offense could be decent next season, but it’s going to require that nearly every starter play up to his potential or above and that he stays healthy for the majority of the season. If that can happen the Cubs are probably looking at running out a slightly below average offense, but not that bad. A few injuries here or there and the Cubs are going to struggle a lot to score runs in 2011.
As bad as the offense may be, the pitching is quite good. Good enough to carry the team? Probably not, but stranger things have surely happened.