Where’s the discipline?
The Cubs are currently walking in only 6.8% of their plate appearances which ranks 30th in the majors. This is a big reason why the Cubs just aren’t winning, they have no plate discipline as a team. The team really only has three players with any sort of plate discipline in Geovany Soto, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena. Without those two this team would probably be walking around only 5% of the time.
In 2008 the Cubs walked 10.0% of the time, and were second in the majors. Since then the walk rate has gone, and along with it the Cubs win totals. This isn’t to say that walk rate is the sole reason the Cubs offense has been getting worse and worse but its a fairly big reason.
On the season the Cubs as a whole are swinging at 31.8% of pitches outside the zone. No surprise that, that is worst in the league. That wouldn’t be so bad if the Cubs actually made contact on those pitches. Unfortunately the Cubs rank 26th in the majors in contact of pitches outside the zone. So not only are the Cubs swinging at bad pitches but they aren’t making contact with them either.
The biggest culprit of this is Alfonso Soriano. Soriano is currently swinging at an astonishingly high 49.2% of pitches outside the zone. That’s nearly half! It’s also nearly 4% higher than second place who is a notoriously free swinger in Vladamir Guerrero. When you look at their other plate discipline stats you can see why one hitter is considered much better than the other. You can first look at their inside the zone swing stats. Vlad takes the title of swinging at the most pitches in the zone in the league at 83.0% of pitches in the zone. You would think Soriano would be right there with him, but he ranks 30th of the 193 qualifying hitters in the league. 30th! How can a player rank 1st in swinging outside the zone yet 30th inside the zone. It boggles the mind.
That’s just swinging at the ball what about making contact? Soriano connects on only 57.8% of those pitches that he swings at outside the zone, which ranks him 31st worst of qualifying batters. Inside the zone he makes contact a little better ranking right about average at 88.4%. Vlad on the other hand does a little better than average on contact inside the zone at 89.2%, Vlad also does a little better on making contact outside of the zone at 70.7% ranking him 76th in the majors.
Before Soriano got to Chicago he never swung at more than 36% of pitches outside of the zone, since coming to Chicago he’s never swung at less than 37% and 3 of the 5 have been above 40% including this year 49.2%. The three years before Soriano came here he swung at only 26.1%-28.8%-33.6% outside of the zone. I think this is a big reason why Soriano has been going down in offensive production the last few years.
Swinging at balls outside of the zone isn’t completely bad, but if you are going to be swinging you should be able to make contact with the ball. Something the Cubs and Soriano in particular haven’t been able to do.