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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.

Individual Performances

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)).

Team Performance

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.

  • RoughRiider

    13 & 15 in May

    • SirCub

      I’d take it.

    • hansman1982

      NONSENSE!!! WE HAVE TONY CAMAPANA – 28-0!!!!

  • butlerdawgs

    8 and 15…how did we ever win 8?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You givz a sad.

    • Peter O

      It’s a miracle!

      • hansman1982

        A FESTIVUS miracle!

  • Andy

    But they had two walk off hits against the Cardinals. That was awesome.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Very fair.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    I think that the “unsustainable” stats are important to look at here: Stewart and Geo cannot keep lining out forever, Volstad’s grounders won’t keep finding holes, etc.

    On the flip-side, Campana isn’t going to keep getting on base at this clip and LaHair’s BABiP is borderline obscene.  (LaHair’s HR and walk rates are extremely impressive and likely “real;” moreover, take away his “lucky” singles and he’s still productive.)  And, yeah, Marmol’s inability to throw strikes should really trouble us all.

    Finally, the Cubs have yet to play a team that was not considered to be a playoff contender by a lot of people.  As Brett notes, they are not all off to great starts, but that has had to do (in part) with guys missing series with injuries, and (in many cases) other series!  That will not continue, either.

  • Deer

    We’re only 6.5 back of the Redbirds! Just takes 2 good series and we’re back in it!!

    • The Dude Abides

      as in “in the headlights” Deer? This team will lose 90 for sure and probably 100+. Even if they come together as a team :) Theo is getting rid of anyone he can at whatever is offered with the exception of Dempster and Garza who he will hold out to get a decent return. Of course Castro is untouchable. This season was a lost cause from the beginning I am curious what the exit strategy is for who and when they will be held accountable for putting a productive team on the field. Obviously not this year and hard to believe next year. We shall see…

  • THEOlogical

    Here’s to hoping April’s gloom brings May’s BOOM! We should be facing a more mediocre challenge of tough competition. I really believe our bats will heat up and you will see thrice the amount of homeruns. I’m really hoping April was a month for Sveum to evaluate his team on a top tier competitive stage, and now he can make the necessary changes to the lineup that will produce better outcomes. Campana seems to work in the 2 hole, and I’d like to see LaHair and DeJesus get more ab’s against RHP. Let’s hope he will rotate that horrendous bullpen, and becomes the manager we had hoped he would be.

    • Peter O

      I dig your enthusiasm, no doubt about that, and I reeeaally don’t want to put a pin in it… but.

      Campana is going to hit about .279/.313/.330 (that’s WITH a .350 BABIP) the rest of the way, and I don’t think he’s going to have a 100% success rate on SB attempts forever.

      I do agree that Stewart and Soto should be hitting much better than they are. Soriano, though, appears to be swinging a telephone pole, and I don’t see that getting any better.

      Castro and LaHair and playing about as well as they can play already. DeJesus and Barney have been about as good as you could hope too.

      All this while scoring thing 11th most runs in the NL. Reality is a b****.

  • Peter O

    So far they’ve played to a .347 winning %. To not lose 100 games they’re going to have to play .388 ball the rest of the season. To not lose 90 games, they’re going to have to play at a .460 clip the rest of the way, which would be 64 – 75 in the remaining 139 games.

    Anyone think they might play .460 ball after the past month of playing .347 ball and avoid losing 90 games? Anyone? You sir in the back! Please pass this way whatever it is you are smoking.

  • Fishin Phil

    Cat is sad because he haz no pajamas.

  • ytowncubsfan

    What would be really nice is .500 baseball in May, but I doubt it is possible with the run production & defense. What I would give to watch meaningful Cubs baseball after Memorial Day…

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

    I have a feeling about midway through the season we’ll improve. We’ve already seen it since the Byrd trade. All we have left to do is get rid of Soto. The guy can’t hit this year, he’s inconsistent every year and he can’t call a game to save his life. “When Clevenger starts, our pitchers have an ERA of 1.88, but when Soto starts, it jumps to 5.29″. Freaking disgusting. I’d rather have Koyie Hill (106-78 (.576) record. From 2007-2011) catching and sadly, he’d probably be more productive so far this year too (for serious). Are they not looking at this aspect of the game? If not, just look at his batting average. It’s lower than Campanas weight(127/165). Hoping Clevenger is back soon and Castillo can switch off with him and we get rid of Soto. I like what he’s capable of offensively at times, but if he calls a 5.29 ERA for a season compared to a 1.88 ERA and bats .280, 20HR, 75 RBI, it’s still not worth it. Taking into consideration that in 162 games, he’d be calling over 800 runs in comparison to around 300, that’s an easy choice to make.

    • Peter O

      Catcher ERA (CERA) is not a very good way of evaluating catchers. See the article below.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=432

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

        Does a win/loss record signify anything when they start? I would think that it does… wouldn’t you?

        • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

          No

          • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

            You’re speaking of baseball, yes? I’d rather have a catcher play and win games with a lower ERA when they catch than one that will catch and have a higher ERA and lose, but then again, MAYBE I’m using logical rationalization here.

            • Kyle

              We’d all rather have that. The problem is there’s no good way to predict which catchers will give you that.

              Catchers who have good ERAs and W-L when they catch aren’t any more likely to do it in the future than a roulette wheel is to keep hitting red because it’s hit red a few times in a row.

              • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

                There’s usually reasons that pitchers will prefer different catchers. I’m assuming part of that attributes to how they call the game.

                • Kyle

                  The reasons would be that athletes are superstitious.

                  • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

                    Or because Soto isn’t very good at calling a game. There are statistics displaying results from when he catches. Have you not read my posts?

                    • Pat

                      Correlation does not equal causation.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/AnotherSpaceSong Bret Epic

                      Try sitting the guy and see what happens…

    • Bric

      I’ve been saying this since his little dope incident. Not that I have a problem with smoking in itself, or his getting caught doing it, but his whole attitude since then, and the fact that it basically went under the radar and it’s susbsequent half hearted cover up. If the reporters don’t report or talk about it, it didn’t happen.

      And all the stats guys will play up the “good year, bad year” thing. In my mind, it’s been all down since his rookie year. What all these stats guys fail to address is how many times a pitcher shakes off his call, his lost looks into the dugout, and how his season averages are helped by playing no pressure, August and September games when the Cubs are already out of it. He reminds me of Ricky Williams. Lots of talent, plenty of chances, and just couldn’t put it together. But Rickey Williams got a chance for a fresh start a couple of times. Soto’s still here.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        You know nothing about Soto’s or anybody else’s “attitude”: you simply are projecting your own beliefs onto the actions of others.

        And the “stats guys” talk about how well people played.  Soto was better in 2010 than in 2008: he simply played better baseball in 2010 than in 2008 in the sense that he did more to help the Cubs win than he did in 2008.  That is, the 2010 Cubs would have been worse relative to what they were without Soto than would have been the 2008 Cubs.  That’s the long, short and end of it.

        • Bric

          Actually I would be very interested to see the long of it I’m just too lazy to put together all the numbers to prove something I already know.

          But Doc, since you enjoy numbers, maybe you could do me the solid and look up all of his stats post- 2007 in the first, say, 80 games of the season (for each season). This would be a logical starting point to figure his production in meaningful games since the Cubs were’nt out of it by then. Also factor in the number of injuries you will see that side lined him during this time, and if you’re really feeling squirley, look up his production in playoff games. I might be wrong.

          But until those numbers show me something different I’m pretty confident in my opinion that the guy’s edge has continued to decline since his rookie year. I know it’s a lot of numbers work but really be curious to see the results and will gladly admit my opinion is wrong and just based on assumptions and bias.

          • hansman1982

            Before you spout too much more about what you know about Soto’s offensive numbers, you may want to look below.

      • hansman1982

        One thing that would be interesting to see is how Soto is hitting compared to the rest of the league…wait, we do have that technology and it is called OPS+ (ah, the good part of sabermetrics)

        2008 – 119
        2009 – 80
        2010 – 135 – notice better than 2008
        2011 – 97 – notice better than 2009

        So looking at his good year, bad year trend he actually is improving – it is just that league wide offense is down. Even last year, he was still one of the best offensive catchers in the game. Should the Angels jettison Albert Pujols because he didn’t homer in April? No, while Soto is no Pujols, his track record is of a good offensive catcher.

        • Bric

          Again, do me the favor and split it out by month. I could care less what he did when the Cubs were 10 games out, just when they were in contention. Or actually in the playoffs. I’m just a fan. I’m not Ricketts looking to sell tickets in September.

          Like I said, I don’t get caught up in the insane number of season numbers, I just rely on my own memory, which might be wrong. But all I remember is abisysmal performance when the games were meaningful coupled with a lot of time on the DL which may or not have been his fault but I’ve never heard of him being a work out warrior, being the first at practice, or in any other way showing that he really wants to win. Just my opinion.

        • cubfanincardinalland

          Stop the insanity. Look at Soto’s stats this year and last. He has absolutedly no business even facing a right handed pitcher. In over 400 ab’s against righties his average is below .200, his on base is .265, and his ops is at an amazing almost under .600. We have kids in AA catching that could match these numbers.
          Add to that, he strikes out at almost a one in every 3 at bats clip.
          And you can see he drives many of the pitchers to irritation by the way he calls a game. The only reason he is even playing is some hail mary hope he can string some hits together so Theo and the boys can dump him for a B- prospect. He is a lousy hitter with a terrible plate approach.

  • MaxM1908

    I’m going to be optimistic and say 15-13 in May. We have tough series with the Dodgers, Braves, and Phillies, but we have each of them at Wrigley. We have the Cards and Milwaukee at their homes, but we end up with road series against the Astros and Pirates, and a home series against the woeful Padres. I think we win series against the Astros, Pirates, Padres and White Sox and take one of Dodgers, Braves or Milwaukee.

    I predicted 10 wins for April, so I was too optimistic for that month, but given that the stats say we should have won nine–my guess wasn’t too bad. My hat goes off to Big Puma who predicted 7 wins for the Cubs at the end of April.

    • RY34

      haven’t the pirates pretty much owned us the last few years?????????

    • http://!? Houston Transplant

      The Astros, from what I’ve watched, aren’t that bad…they aren’t significantly worse than the Cubs, that’s for sure. I don’t think that series is necessarily in the bag as much as we might want/think it to be.

  • Smitty

    May is going to be an important month for the Cubs. They need Soto/Dempster/Marmol/Lahair to get hot, or continue their hot streaks so the Cubs can trade them. If Soto can hit his normal #’s for May and June he will be gone at the trade deadline.

  • TSB

    Soto, Marmol, and Stewart currently stink, and some fans want to run them out of town.
    LaHair, Camapana, and Garza are doing well, and some fans want to run them out of town.
    Meanwhile, the fans look upon Rizzo (41 big-league games) and Jackson (3 big league games) to be the saviors of the Cubs.
    God help them if they get off to a bad start, they might wind up back in Poolokaville.

  • RY34

    7-21 in May.

  • Cheryl

    Hardtop, You were right about April. But I went ahead and got the bat and glove anyway. It will be donated to a church in the suburbs that has an auction every year and needs repairs. I hope it does end up witha deserving kid.

  • a_mazz_ing

    To politely put it, we need offense. And BAD. LaHair, Castro, and Campana are the only ones doing anything. DeJesus is good for some walks to get on for the next few guys. But it is painful to watch 5-9 bat (and the best AB usually comes from the pitcher in the 9 hole). The thing that really stinks is that the two guys we’ll eventually call up (B-Jax and Rizzo) play positions where we’re getting production out of. Arguably, you would like a corner OF spot to be open for them, but DeJesus still gets on around a .400 clip right now and Soriano is not going anywhere. So until some shake-up happens in the OF (injury, trade, unfortunate falling into a black hole of oblivion), it’s going to be same stuff different day.

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