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Cubbies On My Mind: Positional WAR and El Mago’s Elite Company

In this week's edition of "Cubbies On My Mind," Christopher O'Neil dives into the Cubs' positional WAR tallies and Javy's elite company. Check it out here.

WAR: What is it Good For?

(For this article, Baseball-Reference.com‘s “bWAR” will be used as “WAR”)

Coming into the 2018 season, most people thought the two positions the Chicago Cubs were most set at were first base and third base. I mean, Anthony Rizzo is one of the most consistently productive all-around first basemen in the game, with four straight seasons of 31-plus home runs and three straight years of over 100 RBI. He’s also in the running for a Gold Glove seemingly every year.

Of course, the former Rookie of the Year and league MVP Kris Bryant plays third base for the Cubs. In his first three seasons as a major-leaguer, Bryant has posted yearly WARs of 6.1, 7.4 and 6.2, which put him among the league leaders each season.

We are now entering the second “half” of the season (most teams have played 95-plus games already) and if we look at the team WAR rankings by position, there are some interesting findings:

Position Total WAR MLB Ranking
C 1.3 T-2nd
1B -0.9 20th
2B 1.9 3rd
3B 0.9 9th
SS 2.0 3rd
LF 1.3 T-3rd
CF 1.1 5th
RF 0.7 T-6th

That’s right, the Cubs two WORST positions by WAR ranking are first base and third base.

Rizzo’s struggles this season are discussed seemingly weekly, and ninth is far from terrible for Bryant (and the fill-ins during his DL stint), but the success of the other positions for the Cubs this season is a huge part of the team’s success.

Willson Contreras and Javier Baez‘s success helped earn them All-Star spots, but Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist have clearly performed at a high level as well, as the 2B/LF/CF/RF rankings show.

If Rizzo and Bryant are able to straighten out their seasons and join their teammates in their successes, the Cubs will be downright dangerous in October.

Javy’s Elite Company

They say you can back up any argument with the right stats. There’s some combination of analytics out there that can make Tyler Chatwood look like a better pitcher than Chris Sale.

That being said, Javier Baez’s first half statistics put him alongside some elite company. His first half totals of 25 doubles, six triples, 19 home runs and 18 stolen bases are impressive. But the knowledge that Baez is one of just TWO players to rack up 18-plus doubles, 5-plus triples, 18-plus home runs, and 18-plus stolen bases before the All-Star break is hard to fathom. Oh, by the way, the other player to do it is Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays.

There are a lot of games left this year and Baez still has holes in his game he is working to improve upon, but the 25-year-old Puerto Rican infielder is growing into the player the Cubs always imagined he was. Beyond the power and defensive wizardry, Baez has become the most entertaining player in baseball on the base paths.

“El Mago” gets the biggest cheers of any Cubs player nowadays, both at home and on the road, and looks to still be improving. If he continues the path he’s on this season, we could be looking at an all-time elite all-around season.

Stats of the Week

Runs scored in the seventh inning or later – 180 (1st in MLB) – Late game situations are important. Duh. The ability to score runs against teams that are normally trying to get platoon advantages and against pitchers whose job it is to come in and just get a few outs is not easy. But the Cubs have made it look easy this season. Whether it has been scoring from behind, taking the lead, or getting insurance runs, the late innings have been a strength for the team.

Runs allowed in the seventh inning or later – 104 (3rd least in MLB) – Scoring late in games wouldn’t be as great if the team was also giving up runs late in the game. Fortunately for the Cubs, the pitching staff has held up their end of the deal as well. With 20 different pitchers contributing to these late game situations, the team hasn’t just relied on a handful of elite pitchers. The plus-76 run differential in just the seventh inning or later is better than all but five team’s overall run differential.

Follow Christopher O’Neil on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Bleed Cubbie Blue

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