Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Manufacture, Schmanufacture
2004-10-12 07:03
by alex ciepley

The Associated Press's story of the Cubs' firing of third base coach Wendell Kim contains the following nugget:

The Cubs scored most of their runs on homers, and often struggled to manufacture runs in close games.

This is likely to be the refrain this offseason when discussing the Cubs' offense. The Cubs don't manufacture enough runs. The Cubs don't have enough speed guys. The Cubs don't move runners along enough. You win one-run games by playing small ball. I'm even fully prepared to hear the following ludicrous statement: The Cubs hit too many home runs.

It's all hogwash, and don't you believe it for a second. The Cubs' offense was too one-sided, relying primarily on the home run as its offensive weapon. The home runs themselves were not the problem, however. The Cubs hit 235 home runs this year, a monster number, and fans could only wish they'd hit this many every year. The home run is the most devastating play in a batter's repertoire: one swing, one run.

The problem isn't the Cubs' small ball skills. Stolen bases are fine if done at a good success rate, but they're vastly overrated. Bunting runners over often reduces your chances of scoring a run, not the other way around. No, the problem facing the Cubs this offseason is a simple one: they don't get on base.

This isn't news, by the way. Good teams have known the value of getting on base for decades and decades. Branch Rickey, 50 years ago, said in a Life Magazine article, "Batting average is only a partial means of determining a man's effectiveness on offense. It neglects a major factor, the base on balls... Actually, walks are extremely important." Earl Weaver would have liked the Cubs' power, but would have been irritated that more guys weren't getting on in front of the boppers. Whitey Herzog has been horribly miscast as a speed-first guy, when he cared just as much about getting guys on the bases -- he spent virtually his entire tenure in St. Louis trying to get Vince Coleman to take a walk.

If you want to see how good offenses work, you're going to have three mighty good examples in the Championship Series this week. St. Louis and especially Boston and New York score runs in bunches in large part because they're always putting guys on base (Houston isn't bad either -- especially the first half of the lineup, and most especially Lance Berkman). Watch how virtually every Boston batter works the count to their favor, fouling off tough pitches, taking bad ones, creaming mistakes. And yeah, if they don't see something they like, they're fine taking that free pass from the pitcher.

It can make for slowly paced--almost boring--innings, but it is also a lethal attack. The top eight team OBPs this year were, in order: Red Sox, Giants, Yankees, Indians, Phils, Rockies, Orioles, and Cardinals. Six of those eight teams were also in the top eight in runs scored (the Phils and Rockies were 9th and 11th, respectively). You want to score runs, you get on base. Writing that a team needs to manufacture more runs just means you're not paying attention.

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