Yes, we’re only nine or ten games into the 2022 season, so everyone can get carried away with such a small sample. But when Cubs fans woke up on Monday, April 18, did they expect to see their team atop the On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) Percentage team standings?
Rest assured, they do indeed lead baseball with a .811 OPS team. The Cubs are the only team with an OPS north of .800 so far. They also lead baseball with a .281 batting average, slightly ahead of the Colorado Rockies. Playing four games on the air for Colorado probably helped the Cubs maintain their early-season offensive success, so we have to point that out, but still.
For a team without former stars Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the Cubs wouldn’t be considered an offensive leader in a stat like batting average or OPS. Although it’s early days, it’s also worth noting that the Cubs are currently No. 1 in on-base percentage (OBP) on the team, with a .364 rating.
The Cubs are ranked tenth in bases on walks with 36 and are third in baseball with 85 hits.
Welcome to the show, Seiya Suzuki
The key to those inflated offensive ratings is likely rookie outfielder Seiya Suzuki. The former Japanese star has had no problems adapting to major league throwing so far and is posting fantastic numbers.
Suzuki is third in baseball with an OPS of 1.503 and already has four home runs and 11 RBIs. He’s tied for fourth among all batters with nine walks and also struck out an equal number with nine. He was named National League Player of the Week and is already earning the respect of opposing pitchers, having been intentionally walked twice over the weekend in Colorado against the Rockies.
Although Suzuki has undoubtedly been the best player on the team so far, the Cubs are also getting boosts from other key players.
Veterans are also mobilizing
Two-time All-Star Willson Contreras is off to a strong start, with a .286/.375/.607 triple-slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) and veteran Ian Happ is hitting .346 with a 0.433 base percentage. Pretty much the only thing missing from Happ’s resume so far in 2022 is his power, with zero home runs so far.
Along with Contreras and Happ, Jonathan Villar got off to a flying start, hitting .474 with an .OPS over 1,000. Those numbers will start to drop as he racks up more at-bats, as will all Major League Baseball players, but the hot start is exciting to see nonetheless.
Can the Cubs continue like this?
This is the ultimate question.
It’s so early and you almost can’t even pay attention to baseball stats until early May, after a player saw about 70-100 at-bats and a pitcher pitched about 25 innings. With such a long season, baseball stats can fluctuate and player counts can drop quickly.
The Cubs will need Suzuki, Happ and Contreras to stay warm, obviously, but to continue this early-season success, they’ll need other players to step up.
The Cubs seem to have a new offensive philosophy in the first week and a half of the season and are focused on getting the ball in play and reducing their strikeouts. They have the sixth-fewest strikeouts among all major league teams with just 68 total, while teams like the Baltimore Orioles (100) and San Diego Padres (104) have already reached century milestones and eight additional teams already have more than 90 strikeouts.
A season ago, the Cubs set the single-season team strikeout record with 1,596 strikeouts per team. yuck.
Any chance of a playoff run in 2022 will come down to better plate discipline and fewer strikeouts. Acquiring players like Suzuki and Nick Madrigal, while seeing more batsmen from Nico Hoerner and Rafael Ortega, should balance out team compositions and place contact-oriented hitters on base paths.
So far, so good. But there are still more than 150 games to play.
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