A common Spring refrain around these parts when discussing the 2012 season went something like, “we hope for a surprise, hope for good individual performances, but this team is probably going to struggle.”
Well, the Cubs went just 8-15 in April, and there are few positive surprises or good individual performances to take away. The month ended better than it started, but it started so, so badly.
Among the pleasant surprises were back-up catcher Steve Clevenger, who hit .500/.522/.727 in infrequent action before an oblique strain sat him down, as well as Joe Mather and Tony Campana, who’ve solidly contributed in limited duty.
There was also Jeff Samardzija, whom many doubted could successfully transition back into a starting role. He made four starts in the month, two of which were dominant, and currently sports a 2.41 FIP (2.95 xFIP). In other words, he’s been excellent. Also excellent (but expectedly so)? Matt Garza, who’s got a 2.95 FIP (3.01 xFIP) of his own. (If “FIP” and “xFIP” mean nothing to you, head over to FanGraphs.)
And, of course, there was Bryan LaHair, who leads all first basemen in a variety of offensive categories, including a 1.251 OPS (and, yeah, yeah, a cool .600 BABIP). He’s already accumulated a 1.2 WAR!
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, as is often the case with teams seven games under .500 through the end of April. Geovany Soto has been brutally bad (.127/.226/.236), and Marlon Byrd was a black hole until he was traded last weekend. Ian Stewart’s been stung by a bad line (.169/.247/.26o), as well as bad luck (.207 BABIP). I guess if we’re defending guys’ luck, I should also point out Soto’s comically low .146 BABIP (his is as unsustainably low as LaHair’s is high).
Somehow Alfonso Soriano has avoided the usual chorus of boos, despite going just .237/.250/.263. Did you really need another reminder that, especially for established vets, Spring stats are meaningless?
On the pitching side, Chris Volstad can’t keep his ERA under 6.00, though his FIP and xFIP look pretty good (3.20 and 3.68, respectively). Paul Maholm has had two good starts after two terrible ones, and Ryan Dempster spent the second half of the month on the shelf.
The bullpen has been a nightmare outside of James Russell and (surprise) Shawn Camp. The former hasn’t yet given up a run, and the latter has somehow put up a 3.95 ERA in a bullpen high 13.2 innings (tied with Rafael Dolis, who sports an identical 3.95 ERA – I’d say they were the same guy if Camps peripherals weren’t slapping Dolis’ around (which probably surprises you)).
As a team, the Cubs have had a bit of bad luck – so say the stats. While the team’s ERA is a mediocre 4.21, the FIP looks much better at 3.81. Although maybe that’s not luck so much as an indictment of the Cubs’ defense.
On the batting side, it’s ugly. Just ugly. The team line is a pathetic .237/.294/.339, and they hit just nine homers – the lowest monthly total in, like, 30 years. At least they stole 20 bases, which is near the top of the league.
Still, based on the balance of stats, the Cubs are a game worse than they are “expected” to be at this point in the year. In other words, on average, teams that score as many runs as the Cubs (82), while giving up as many as the Cubs (103), through 23 games, should expect to be 9-14, not 8-15.
The Cubs played a brutally tough schedule in April, though, so some of the struggles should be excused, right? Well, that’s what we heard. While the Cubs exclusively played “contenders” in April, their opponents’ combined records stand at an even .500. That means, so far, their opponents have been no better than average. And the Cubs’ performance against those average teams has been decidedly below average. Those runs scored and runs allowed figures, by the way, are good for 8th worst in baseball on both accounts.
Overall, the Cubs’ 8-15 record is good for last in the NL Central (6.5 games back), second-to-worst in the NL (Padres are 7-17), and tied for fourth-to-worst in baseball (Twins are 6-16, Royals are 6-15, and Angels are, like the Cubs, 8-15).
Like I said: it was a rough month for the Cubs.