One of the moments from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that never made much sense to me — besides the crazy dances that some of the kids do at one point — is when Lucy clears away the snow from her psychiatric help stand. There’s a sign that says “The Doctor is in” but she changes it to read “The Doctor is real in,” instead. The use of “real” as an intensifier was apparently a ’60s thing. I was born in the ’60s but watched the show in the ’70s, by which time its use had fallen out of fashion. But I’ve going to revive it here to describe how far the Cubs have fallen this year.
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Lucy van Pelt might say that strikeouts for the Cubs are real up. How far up are they? The team record — if that’s the best word to use — for strikeouts in a single season was 1,269 before the 2014 season began. That record fell a few days ago, and the Cubs have now flown past 1,300 for the season, sitting at 1,341 strikeouts with 13 games remaining. Each additional strikeout adds to the total, and 1,500 is within the realm of possibility.
Much of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of Javier Baez, who strikes out at a rate approaching twice per game. It may not sound like much, but the all-time strikeout king, Reggie Jackson, struck out an average of 0.92 times per game during his career. Javier Baez is doubling that pace. The modern gold standard for whiffing is Adam Dunn, who strikes out an average of 1.2 times each game over his career. Javier Baez’ rate is 50 percent higher than this abominable number, and suggests that he needs to get something figured out at the plate, and soon.
So this team strikes out a lot. Many teams have done that through the years. But where does the history come in? The Cubs franchise started the National League in early 1876, when it raided away the best talent from Boston’s team in the National Association. So it’s fitting whenever the Cubs make any history in the league they created. But this is history of a less-than-desirable sort.
Not only are strikeouts real up this year, but walks are down. Maybe they aren’t real down, but it’s still a noticeable drop. Swinging for the fences has its price, and the Cubs are surely paying that price right now. With 30 strikeouts in the weekend series with Pittsburgh, against only one walk on the other side of the ledger, the Cubs’ ever-widening disparity between the two statistics is reaching historic proportions.
In the 139-year history of the National League, no team has ever struck out a thousand more times than it has drawn a walk. Some teams never reach a thousand strikeouts in the first place, such as the Kansas City Royals, who have just 886 strikeouts so far this season. But big league teams typically draw 400 or more walks in a season, which lessens the disparity between the two numbers. With only 394 walks on the season thus far, the Cubs are sitting at +947 strikeouts with 13 games left to play. They probably have at least 100 strikeouts left in them, and perhaps 25 walks. This means that at some point — probably the last week of the season — the Cubs will hit the 1,000 differential, for the first time in the National League’s long history.
Why is this limited to the National League? Two reasons. The first is that it goes back farther than the American League’s history does. MLB, which is the combination of the National and American Leagues, dates back to 1901. Reaching all the way back to 1876 gives these numbers added historical punch. But secondly, the 2013 Houston Astros celebrated their move to the American League last year by setting the all-time strikeout record at 1,535 for the season, and having a strikeout-to-walk differential of a staggering 1,109. As bad as the Cubs have been this year, they won’t approach that number this year. But who knows what will happen in the future?