Cubs, White Sox must get their offenses off the ground

Baseball by the Numbers: Teams have to do a better job of putting more balls in the air.

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White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hit 54.9% of his batted balls on the ground last season.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hit 54.9% of his batted balls on the ground last season.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

The Cubs and White Sox were among the most grounder-prone teams in baseball last season.

That’s something to keep in mind as you watch new Cubs Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger and Sox newcomer Andrew Benintendi. All hit a lower percentage of grounders last season than key departures Willson Contreras of the Cubs and Jose Abreu of the Sox.

Both teams are trying to boost offenses that were below average in 2022. Major-league teams averaged 4.28 runs per game last season. The Sox ranked 19th at 4.23 and the Cubs 22nd at 4.06.

The batting average on ground balls last season was .236 with a .259 slugging percentage, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Balls hit in the air yielded a .389 batting average and a .733 slugging percentage. That can be broken down into .631/.877 on line drives and .211/.638 on fly balls.

Batting averages were higher on grounders than on flies, but the slugging percentage on flies made any comparison of productivity no contest.

Major-leaguers averaged .76 grounders per ball in the air last season. The Cubs had the third-highest proportion of grounders at 0.86 per fly, with the Sox fifth at 0.84.

Among batting-title qualifiers with at least 502 plate appearances, Fangraphs.com data showed the Brewers’ Christian Yelich topping the ground-ball brigade with 58.8% of balls in play on the ground. Dropping to 200 plate appearances, the Cubs’ Nick Madrigal was even more grounder-prone at 60.3%, behind only the A’s Sheldon Neuse at 63.9%.

Contreras hit it on the ground 51.4% of the time in 487 plate appearances, and Abreu was 22nd among qualifiers at 47.9%. Both were productive, with higher OPSes than the newcomers, but they did their damage in the air. Contreras’ .815 OPS was made up of .404 on the ground, 1.323 on flies and 1.766 on liners. Abreu had a .824 OPS, broken into .576 on grounders, .788 on flies and 1.702 on liners.

Bellinger’s 35.6% on the ground was well below the major-league average of 43.6%, and Swanson was at 38.6%. Benintendi hit grounders less often than Abreu but was closer to average at 43.4%.

Breaking down OPS into grounders/flies/liners, Swanson’s .776 overall was .627/1.073/1.472; Bellinger’s .654 was .445/.721/1.754; and Benintendi’s .772 was .685/.552/1.434 — a rare case of higher on grounders than on flies.

Selected 2022 ground-ball percentages for other White Sox include Tim Anderson, 54.9%; Eloy Jimenez, 50.4%; Andrew Vaughn, 47.7%; Luis Robert, 45.1%; and Yoan Moncada, 39.2%.

Other Cubs include Ian Happ, 46.4%; Nico Hoerner, 46.1%; Seiya Suzuki, 40.0%; Patrick Wisdom, 34.1%; and two newcomers at opposite ends of the ground-ball spectrum, with Trey Mancini at 39.8% and Eric Hosmer at 56.8%.

Sox OPSes were .532 on grounders, .768 on flies and 1.463 on liners. The Cubs delivered .487 on the ground, .870 on flies and 1.532 on liners.

Rules changes, especially restrictions on infield shifts, might raise averages on grounders a tad, but they can’t dent the slugging gap. Near the top of the charts in grounder percentage is no comfort zone.

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