Baseball

It is likely that the Cubs may trot out a three-headed monster at second, either until Nico Hoerner is ready or all year if he isn’t. As neither Daniel Descalso nor Jason Kipnis deserve their own entries, given the struggle to maintain oxygen intake both of them have, we’ll smash them together.

Daniel Descalso 2019

82 games, 194 PA

.173/.271/.250 

.238 wOBA, 42 wRC+

11.9 BB%  29.4 K%

0.9 Defensive Runs

-0.8 fWAR

(If you’re a woman and read that you’ll now never be able to become pregnant. If you’re a man…you might be able to become pregnant)

Jason Kipnis 2019

121 games, 511 PA

.245/.304/.410

.301 wOBA, 82 wRC+

7.8 BB%  17.2 K%

4.8 Defensive Runs

1.1 fWAR

What I’m supposed to say is that Descalso’s 2019 was ruined by an ankle injury he tried to play through–a continuing theme for the ’19 Cubs–and made everything worse. Which I guess works if you consider the 101 wRC+, meaning exactly average, Descalso put up in the season’s first month as something worth celebrating. He was woeful throughout the rest of the season when he could even take the field, which wasn’t all that much. Seeing as how Descalso has only had one plus-season offensively, he’s probably closer to this disaster overall than he is a promising bench bat.

Unlike Descalso, there was a time when Kipnis was really good. He has three 4.0+ WAR seasons to his name. They’re just not recently. His offense fell off a cliff three seasons ago when he only played 90 games, and he’s never regained any power since. But he can still play the field well and he makes contact, and the Cubs are seemingly enamored with anyone who can do that at the moment if only to get people to shut up about how they don’t have anyone who makes consistent contact. Maybe the Cubs saw something in his last August when he slugged .525, though he appears to sold out his approach to do that as his walks dipped and his Ks spiked to 22%. On that pace, he’ll fit right in.

YES! YES! YES!: Probably the best case scenario is that neither of them play much. As far as bench players, Descalso is more accustomed to that role, and performed admirably in Arizona as something of a bench player. Kipnis must know that his regular starting days are over, and he does provide the far superior glove to either Descalso or Bote. But it’s hard to imagine, especially when Hoerner is around, that you’d keep a guy around just for his glove and only at second. Descalso can at least claim to be able to stand at first or third, whereas Kipnis has never played anywhere else except for a brief stint in the outfield in Cleveland that they don’t let you talk about within 50 miles of Jacobs Field.

They’re also in the strange position of both hitting left-handed, but a platoon with David Bote is a strange proposition at the moment as it was left-handers that Bote couldn’t hit last year. Maybe that’s a one year blip, but still throws a wrench into any plans.

YOU’RE A B+ PLAYER: Basically if either of them have to play regularly. And that could happen with an injury to any outfielder, forcing Bryant out there more often and Bote to third and these two into the lineup before Hoerner’s time. Or Hoerner falls on his face that already kind of looks like he fell on it. At 33, it’s unlikely Kipnis is going to learn a new trick with is bat slowing down, and basically has to rely on taking a lot of walks to be effective. Descalso is forced into a more regular role than spot-hitter and his high-strikeout ways only add to a lineup that has too many of those anyway. Basically, the Cubs can’t have anyone get hurt at all.

Dragon Or Fickle?: I would imagine it’s neither. Hoerner doesn’t feel or sound like he’ll be in Iowa that long, and unless he starts ingesting whatever Carl Edwards Jr. did he’ll be back quickly. Which means that the Cubs are only trying to get through a month or six weeks without him, which is probably gobbled up mostly by Bote. It’s hard to see where both of these guys are on the team, but at least Descalso has seen success as a pinch-hitter. Kipnis might take to it given the right spots, but you’d lose any value he has by not playing him in the field. Again, if the rest of the lineup clicks you can carry a glove-only guy for a while, but that might end up being what Hoerner is.

The less you see them, it’s the former. The more, the latter.

 

Baseball

While the Cubs have trucked along pretty much in May, some of the things that were going well in April have not gone so well in May. Specifically, there are players who helped carry the offense while Kris Bryant and maybe one or two others were still trying to get the spark plugs to fire that are no definitely making weird noises and spitting up oil and smoke. So let’s go through and see what’s going on with a couple of them.

The first that pops up is Jason Heyward. There can’t be much of a stark contrast between April and May for a player than what Heyward has gone through. Here’s April slash lines: .309/.426/.509, and you can see why everyone was so excited and felt like they’d just come upon an undiscovered warehouse of peanut butter cups. Here’s May: .169/.234/.238. And that is fucking gross. Like, going to pick up your dog’s shit and realizing there’s a hole in the bag and you’re blocks from home gross (and yes, I know those of you with kids have had this feeling every day, but I didn’t make you have kids).

I think it’s important to remember than when you combine the two, currently Heyward has a 100 wRC+, .158 ISO, and a .401 slugging, all marks that are actually the best he’s had here in Chicago (sad, I know). The reason that Heyward has only been worth 0.1 fWAR is that his defense hasn’t been the usual stellar kind, at least metrically, as it usually is. However, an exactly average offensive season and return to his usual defensive prowess for the rest of the season still makes him a valuable player. But let’s get deeper than that because we’ve got nothing else.

For one, luck is playing a huge part. In April, Heyward’s BABIP was .313, which is a touch above average. In May it’s .208, which is beyond the sewers and getting to the Earth’s core. Whatever kind of contact Heyward is making, .208 is ridiculous. That’s not going to continue.

The thing is, the contact between the two months isn’t really all that different. In April, Heyward had 17.4% line-drives, 46.4% grounders, 36.2 fly balls. May it’s been 18.5%/42.6%/38.9%. Almost exactly the same. Considering the lack of line drives and hard contact, maybe Heyward was really lucky to get what he did in April with that mere .313 BABIP.

One big difference is that the hard-contact has dropped off. Heyward had 30.5% hard contact rate in April, which isn’t even that good, but that’s dropped to 25% in May. And if you go by Statcast, Heyward is right where he should be overall. His expected batting average is .252, he’s hitting .243. His expected weighted-on base is .323. His actual is .322. This is probably what he is, and I think it’s probably fine? And if he improves from this May, not even close to what he was in April but then improves, you’ll have a decent season.

Going deeper, in the season’s opening month Heyward was crushing fastballs and curves. He’s still hitting curves well, but he can’t get anything done on fastballs. Has there been a difference where he’s getting them? A touch. Here’s where he was getting fastballs in April and then May:

It’s not a huge difference, but he’s seeing more fastballs up and in than he did, and if you remember him driving outside fastballs to left you can see why that might be a problem. And J-Hey has always had a problem with high and tight fastballs. It’s just something he’s going to have to get to.

Another is Daniel Descalso. Now, counting on Descalso for much was always folly, because it’s just not what he’s been. He has one above-average offensive season to his name, and that was the last one. Now is he .216 bad? No, he isn’t, but outside of Colorado he’s always been around a .240 hitter. What we are missing is the walks. Descalso’s BB% is down 6% from last year, which is part of the problem. And he was walking in April, around 12%. But that’s sunk to 5% in May. And the Ks are up. It ain’t pretty.

The big problem is that in April, Descalso hit a ton of shit hard, to 41.8%. In May it’s 20%, so even if that .171 BABIP feels like it’s the work of a demon, you’re not going very far when only a fifth of your contact is loud.

Descalso’s success in April was basically only what he did on fastballs. He hit .440 on them, slugged .680, and his numbers on sinkers were just about the same. So he’s not seeing them nearly as often this year. He saw 171 fastballs or sinkers in April, and only 57 of them so far in May. People catch on. And he’s getting difference in location too:

What’s weird is that Descalso hasn’t been all that good high in the zone in his career, but they’re certainly more careful about pumping shit right down the middle on him. And Descalso is helpless on anything that breaks. And until that changes, this might be what you get.