I was checking out Starlin Castro's disappointing offensive season on Fangraphs and thought I'd check to see where the Cubs rank offensively as a team. I didn't realize it had gotten so ugly. Their 77 wRC+ is dead last behind the Mariners at 81. The two offense's may actually be equal if we eliminated the pitcher in the NL, but that's too much work and I don't really care that much about being that precise.
At this point I started to wonder when the last the Cubs offense was this bad. As I started looking back at each year for the Cubs using wRC+ I remembered I had already looked at the Cubs historical wRC+'s. On the now retired Another Cubs Blog I had taken a look back to see how many times the Cubs were above 100 (average). It was correctly pointed out in the comments (no longer there) by commenter AB that league average wRC+ in the NL is not 100 due to the pitcher batting. While the article I wrote talked about league average as if it was 100 and therefore incorrect, it still shows how not good the Cubs offense has been. They've never had a stretch where it was clearly above average. They had never been a dominating offensive team.
If you look through the wRC+ for each season you'd notice the last time the Cubs offense has as low a wRC+ as the 2012 bunch was in the strike shortened 1981 season (106 games played). That team managed a 75 wRC+. The 64-98 Cubs the year before had a wRC+ of 77. That is the last full season in which the Cubs have had as bad a wRC+ as this season.
You can look back as far as you want and you won't find a Cubs offense who had a worse wRC+ than the 1980 team. The 2012 team is currently tied with that team. If the Cubs offense continues to hit as it has, it will become tied with arguably the worst offensive team they've ever had. Even if we include the 1981 season, it would still be the 2nd worst and the Cubs still have 54 games to beat the 75 wRC+.
What's even more interesting to me is that 1980 and 1981 are the only seasons in which the Cubs have managed a wRC+ lower than 80. There are a few seasons in which they had an 80 and a handful more at 82, but never this low.
While the 2012 Cubs are probably not the worst offensive Cubs team in history, they are certainly one of the worst. An 80 wRC+ like they had in 1951 and 1956 is quite possibly worse than a 77 these days. At that time the Cubs were 20% below the league average and all teams used a pitcher. Since 1973 an 80 is equal to 20% below league average, which includes the DH in nearly half of MLB. Being precise here isn't of that much importance to me. The offense this year is bad. Terrible. And they do have at this time the lowest wRC+ they've ever had (excluding the strike shortened 1981 season).
I thought it might be fun to compare the teams.
The 1980 Cubs catcher was primarily 27 year old Tim Blackwell. His wRC+ was 98. Geovany Soto has done the bulk of the catching for the Cubs to this point and his was 67. Steve Clevenger's is 49. Only Welington Castillo and his 53 PA have a decent wRC+ (100). The 1980 team has 67 wRC (weighted Runs Created) from the catchers and this year's team has only 33. Granted, there's still 54 games remaining, but to this point in the season the 1980 team was much better behind the plate.
Bill Buckner had a very good season at 1st base in 1980. He had a 113 wRC+. The 2012 Cubs have also been very good at 1st. Anthony Rizzo had a 120 wRC+ while Bryan LaHair had a 112 wRC+ (most of those PA at 1st anyway) and Jeff Baker at 98.
Darwin Barney edges out Steve Dillard and Mike Tyson though it's not like Barney's 85 wRC+ is all that impressive. Tyson has to feel like shit these days knowing there's a raging fucking lunatic with the same name.
Ivan DeJesus and Starlin Castro have had almost identical seasons offensively. Castro's unimpressive 83 wRC+ barely edges DeJesus's 81. By the way, whoever had Darwin Barney having a better offensive season than Castro through 108 games wins a gallon of Cookie's BBQ.
We're just going to call 3rd base the clusterfuck of suck because that's what it's been so far this year. It's with great sadness that I have to report that Luis Valbuena has the highest wRC+ among Cubs clusterfucks of suckers. His 61 eges out Ian Stewart's 58. Len Randle had a 92 wRC+ in 1980 in 549 PA.
Tallying up the infield for good measure we have the 1980 Cubs beating the 2012 version out at catcher, but the current team's infielders are just no match for the 1980 Cubs.
Dave Kingman had a great season in LF, but he only batted 280 times. While his 123 wRC+ beats Alfonso Soriano's 112, we have to give the edge to this team because of playing time. Jim Tracy pitched in a 92 wRC+ for the 1980 Cubs.
Other than Reed Johnson the rest of the Cubs CF have sucked this year.
Mike Vail's 98 wRC+ tops David DeJesus's 94.
Remember when the Cubs had Aramis Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Derrek Lee and Nomar Garciaparra? Or when they had Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Andre Dawson? Miss those days too. Shit, I miss the days when they had good Geovany Soto and Marlon Byrd.
I guess the only good news about this is that the offense will be better in the future, but that's not even saying it's going to be good. It just can't get worse.