One Number that Signals Cubs’ Imminent Breakout

Given their remarkable height, the Cubs more closely resemble a basketball team out there on the field. But a look at the numbers — just one number, really — quickly contradicts those appearances. Well, that, and the fact that they’re wearing baseball uniforms and, you know, playing baseball.

If there’s one complaint the old timers have about the college and NBA game these days, it’s that there’s too much iso. And if there’s one thing we can complain about with the Cubs offense, is that there’s virtually no ISO.

I’m not talking about a guy pounding the hell out of the ball until there’s no time left on the clock and then heaving up some kind of awful running floater. No, baseball’s version of ISO stands for “isolated power,” a measure of raw power that tells you how often a batter or team hits for extra bases. Even without looking up the stats, you can probably guess that the Cubs’ ISO number isn’t very sexy.

Maybe it’d look better if they could get Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo to stop laying down bunts.

Those two instances of strategic small-ball certainly didn’t drive the ISO mark north, but they’re hardly primary culprits when it comes to a number that currently sits more than 50 points below the one the Cubs put up last year. With a .173 ISO in 2016, they sat behind only the Cardinals (.187) and the Rockies (.182) in the NL. This year, a .119 mark has them dead last in the league and 37 points off the MLB average.

Small sample size is no doubt to blame for the exceedingly low number thus far, which is precisely why I feel so good about it. Lamenting the dearth of power at Wrigley to this point is certainly understandable, but if you are one of the millions of subscribers to the Newsletter of Averages, you know the laws that govern the content therein signal a big turnaround in the near future.

League-average ISO last year was .162, a mere six points higher than what we’ve seen through the first couple weeks of the season. Yet we’ve got some teams over .200 and a handful under .120, at least the upper end of which is pretty much unsustainable. And while several teams have finished with an aggregate ISO of well under .120, none of those teams boasted the kind of lineup we see in Chicago.

So fear not, my power-starved friends, the Positive Regression Fairy is about to pay the Cubs a visit. Unless you keep complaining about the lack of home runs, in which case she won’t come at all. And don’t say anything about that mole on her forehead, she’s really self-conscious about it.

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