Why the Cubs' defense is off to a slow start

  • Cubs shortstop Javier Baez has 9 errors this season, 1 more than he had all of last season.

    Cubs shortstop Javier Baez has 9 errors this season, 1 more than he had all of last season. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/12/2021 11:35 AM

Cubs fielding has been a mixed bag so far this season.

They're doing OK as far as errors made; their 19 errors are on the lower half of MLB. But in some of the advanced measurements, the Cubs rank low in defensive efficiency and they have a negative defensive runs saved over average, according to baseball-reference.com.

 

Before Wednesday's game in Cleveland, manager David Ross mentioned a variety of factors, from guys playing out of position at times to maybe the scouting reports on opposing hitters not taking into account the low velocity of the Cubs' starting pitchers.

"We've talked about that at length. I think there's a lot of factors early, a lot of guys moving around," Ross said. "I think Javy (Baez) hasn't been Javy quite yet, right? Who we expect him to be? I really feel like we've been on our feet on defense a lot, a lot more than we were probably expecting; some long innings early on in the season that may have contributed to that.

"I think we're leading all of baseball in exit velocity. The harder they're going to hit it, it's going to be harder to defend. And then just positioning-wise, we've seen uncharacteristically guys hitting the ball to different sides of the field they don't normally hit it to."

According to baseballsavant.com, Cubs pitchers are tied for 8th in the majors in average exit velocity at 89.3 mph.

At the same time, a lot of this does fall on Baez. He already has more errors this season (9) than he did in all of 2020's 60-game season (8). The only other Cubs player with more than one right now is Kris Bryant with 2 errors.

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Baez has made some spectacular defensive plays, but muffed several easy ones lately. He's also sat out twice due to back pain or stiffness.

"He's been dealing with a lot of stuff, right?" Ross said. "It's just now rearing its head for you guys, but there's stuff he's been dealing with all year that have just slowed him a little bit. I think he'll get back to being the version of himself we're used to.

"Hopefully the warmer weather will help out a little bit. Being on your feet fro so long and some of that colder weather we've dealt with early on hasn't helped things either."

The Cubs' starting rotation is obviously built for contact, with relative low-velocity pitchers like Zach Davies and Kyle Hendricks. Cubs starters rank 26th in MLB in strikeouts and are tied for last with Colorado in ERA.

"We're on top of that," Ross said. "I still think we have a quality defensive group and we're going to need to play quality defense with our starters and that group and the guys are working really hard. We're definitely on top of that trying to find a solution to be better."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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