David Bote fielding a ball for the Chicago Cubs.

North Side Second Baggery

Coming into the season the Chicago Cubs believed they had a second base problem. The problem, you see, was that they simply had too many quality second baseman and not enough playing time to go around. Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, David Bote, and Daniel Descalso were all big league second baseman who would be breaking camp with the team. 53 games into the season the Cubs still have a second base problem, only now that problem is that they haven’t been able to get the quality playing time they were expecting from any of the aforementioned players. How in the heck did the Cubs get to this point?

Ben Zobrist is the easiest place to start. Prior to him leaving the team to go on the restricted list for personal reasons he had been a below average hitter. His slash line of .241/.343/.253 tells a woeful tale. Zobrist was taking his walks as usual, but his power had completely evaporated. In 99 plate appearances, he had a total of 1 extra base hit. His DRC+ dropped from 118 in 2018 to 88 this year. The only area where Zobrist was playing up to form was in the field where his DRS was a respectable 1. Regardless, Zobrist isn’t with the team now, and there is a rather large chance he never returns so at this point it’s best to consider him a closed book.

Ian Happ didn’t break camp with the big league club, rather he has spent his entire 2019 in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. His statistics in Iowa truly don’t matter, because Happ wasn’t sent to Iowa to mash. The former first-round pick was sent to Iowa to work on specific aspects of his game and that is where his focus has been the entire time. He’s not quite there yet in terms of limiting his strikeouts and shortening his swing. Happ is trying to make big changes to his game to be a better player and while I think he would possibly work out offensively at second base at the present time I’d much rather he continue working to refine his game in the minors leagues.

David Bote has become like the new Zobrist on the Cubs. His positional flexibility has been a boon to the team. Already this year he has seen action in right field, shortstop, third base, and second base. The key difference between Bote and Zobrist is that the younger Swiss army knife is nowhere near the disciplined hitter that Zo was in his prime. Bote is slashing .278/.362/.481 with a DRC+ of 92. He’s been on the upward trend lately thanks to a week-long hot streak, but streakiness has been Bote’s main problem. He is prone to periods where he strikes out at too high of a rate, he currently has 39 strikeouts in 152 plate appearances. Bote does bring a solid glove to second, his DRS sits at 2 as I type. Right now Bote is worth continued looks at second base, because at least with him there is the room for a hot streak or a more sustained breakout.

I felt sorry for Daniel Descalso this offseason. He signed a deal that was good for him, but he was saddled with the albatross of being the only “big” free agent signing in a year where the Ricketts could have gone after big fish but chose instead to stuff their already overflowing piggy banks. That being said, Descalso should have been a positive addition to the club, seeing as how a swing change had led to a career year for the former Arizona Diamondback. Things started off great for Descalso, he was hitting the ball well and coming through in clutch situations. Then Zobrist left the team and Bote continued to struggle and Descalso began seeing far more playing time than recommended. The result has been a slash line of .194/.276/.295. That’s only good for a DRC+ of 68, a career-worst for Descalso. His fielding has been a truly abysmal -4 DRS at second base. However, if Descalso were hitting for power and taking his walks the fielding could be justified. He’s not, and he is quickly becoming a liability to the 2019 teams success.

There has been someone else seeing playing time at second base, but, his name isn’t worth typing out. I’m also not going to use his success over a small sample size to argue that because it’s clear the Cubs are going to keep him on the roster he should be getting playing time. No, the trash bag human should not be getting playing time, it literally does not matter how good he is in a small sample or how below average he has been throughout the rest of his career. He is a trash bag human and he shouldn’t be playing for the Cubs period.

I’m sure the Cubs would love to see Zo return to the team and to the quality of play he has brought to the table for the majority of his career. It’s also likely they wish Happ could move his progression along a little quicker, or that Nico Hoerner hadn’t suffered a hairline fracture to his wrist that has put the kibosh on any chances of him getting a mid-season call up. The Cubs still have a number of second basemen, it’s just none of them are healthy, ready for big league action, or able to provide consistency. For now, the answer at second has to be David Bote, but hoping for him to break out is well removed from the glut of quality second baseman the North Side thought they had to start the year.

Lead photo courtesy of Jon Durr – Getty Images

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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