The Cubs: Out of Position, Out of the Playoffs

A crucial mistake in defensive positioning in last nights game was the catalyst for the Rockies late inning win over the Cubs.

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What happened

The Cubs “No doubles” defense shifted the 3rd baseman toward the 3rd baseline and the shortstop shifted back and up the middle. The Cubs positioning left open a very high probability event, a ground ball in the “6 hole” between SS and 3rd base.


This was a terrible mistake in every sense of the game since Hendricks vs Right handed hitters and Story vs Right handed pitchers have high tendencies to produce ground balls in the “6 hole”.

Sure enough…

Story puts the first ball he sees in play for a ground ball single, that would have otherwise been the 3rd out of the inning.

The chart below describes just how insanely poor the positioning was for the matchup. Stats and figures represent each scenario for the 2018 regular season. 

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The decision to move the 3rd baseman toward the line was simply irrational, Heat Maps by Baseball Savant truly visualizes the data.

 Trevor Story - All Balls In Play vs. Right Handed Pitchers

Trevor Story - All Balls In Play vs. Right Handed Pitchers

 Kyle Hendricks - All Balls Put In Play vs Right Handed Hitters

Kyle Hendricks - All Balls Put In Play vs Right Handed Hitters

The argument to play traditional no doubles defense is to make it more difficult for the opposing team to score, by forcing 3 hits rather than 2 (double and a single).


Here are 3 Reasons why that should not matter…

  1. Extremely low probability that the 3rd baseman protects against the extra base hit threat.

  2. Hendrick’s doesn’t hold runners well, and was 1.6 seconds to the plate last night out of the stretch. Single + SB = Double. Story was 27 for 6 on SB attempts.

    • There was a high probability that the “no doubles” defense will be protected by the outfield shift.

    • Average launch angle for XBH were between 14-18 degrees, well out of reach by an infielder. 

  3. In a winner take all game, the opposing manager has every incentive to pinch hit to increase the team’s probability of getting a hitter on base…The next two hitters Parra and Wolters, are both Left Handed Hitters vs the Right Handed Hendricks.

Maddon’s Mulligan

If Maddon had the opportunity to take a mulligan I’m sure he would like to see the outfield make a shift to cover the extra base hit threat and the infield to take care of the high probability out revealed in Story’s Heat Maps.

 Trever Story XBH vs RHP Heat map by Baseball Savant

Trever Story XBH vs RHP Heat map by Baseball Savant

 Trevor Story Ground Outs vs Right Handed Pitching Heat Map by Baseball Savant

Trevor Story Ground Outs vs Right Handed Pitching Heat Map by Baseball Savant

As a player or fan I can’t think of a time when a 3rd baseman hugging the line was the difference maker. Most of the time I can recall it serving as the manager’s security blanket in pressure situations.

In today’s world of big data and predictive analytics, the margin between winning and losing is so slim. In the NL Wild Card game, it was faulty defensive coverage in a good matchup scenario that started a season ending rally for Chicago.