It is suddenly vogue to write articles dumping on the Cubs, on the front office, on ownership, and on the 2014 team’s performance. I can only scratch my head, thinking about how (1) nothing negative that’s transpired at the big league level so far this year has been a surprise – what, you thought this team was a clear playoff contender?; and (2) it’s been 12 games. I dread the day that the Cubs surprise and get a few lucky wins in the first week of a season, and everyone starts writing about how the plucky bunch of gritty winners is winning because now they’re winners.
In any event …
To the surprise of no one paying attention for the past couple of years, the Chicago Cubs aren’t racking up the wins right now, and don’t project to do much better the rest of the way. That said, I find the roster to be as interesting as it’s been in recent memory, and I do still like the upside and versatility. It feels like they’ve played fairly well this year, the losses notwithstanding, so I’m wondering: do the Cubs deserve to be 4-8 so far?
Well, let’s take a look at some numbers.
- Four of the Cubs’ eight losses have been by just one run, and two of the remaining four have been by just two runs. Just one of their wins has been by only one run.
- Starting in the simplest place, the Cubs have allowed 55 runs (16th in baseball), and have scored 47 (22nd) in baseball. Based on Pythagorean win expectancy, you’d expect a team with those run totals through 12 games to be 5-7 (well, a touch better, but we need whole numbers here).
- Even just eyeballing that run differential, and you can see that the Cubs should probably be right around the 19th team in baseball, in terms of record. Instead, they are second to worst (ahead of only the Arizona Diamondbacks – talk about a sob story there (4-12)).
- Baseball Prospect takes things a step further, for those inclined, and calculates an expected record based on both expected run totals (based on underlying statistics), and then also based on underlying statistics and opponents faced. In both instances, with what the Cubs have done so far, you’d expect them to have a 5.5-6.5 record. If the Cubs are 6-6 today, we’re probably feeling a whole lot better about how they’re doing so far than if they are 4-8 (which really just underscores how early it is).
- Speaking of underlying statistics, the Cubs’ OPS comes in at .667, or 26th in baseball. The Cubs’ OPS allowed is .696, 12th best in baseball. That the OPS allowed is higher than the OPS produced suggests this is a team that deserves to have a record under .500. But the spread looks more like a 5-7 or 6-6 team than a 4-8 team.
- If we go by OBP, the Cubs are at .305 (22nd), and are allowing .329 (20th).
- The Cubs are hitting just .220 with runners in scoring position, which looks familiar, but hey, that’s actually only 20th in baseball right now. Other teams, thanks to small sample size, are faring much worse (the Padres are batting just .161 with runners in scoring position).
- With a .305 team BABIP (12th in baseball), we’re probably not seeing a club that’s getting hugely luck or unlucky with the bat. Cubs pitchers are allowing a .279 BABIP (9th in baseball), which might be a touch lower than you’d expect, but they do have an athletic outfield, good infield defense, good defensive positioning, and at least one extreme flyball/low-BABIP starter in Travis Wood. In other words, this is all just about what you’d expect.
- The Cubs’ team FIP is 4.28, or 23rd in baseball. Their team wOBA is .294, or 26th in baseball.
So, you’re getting the picture of a team that’s probably right around the 20 to 22 or so range in overall performance so far this year, but which has the second worst record. It looks like the Cubs have a record slightly worse than you’d expect to see from a team with this one’s underlying performance so far.
… but, because it’s so early in the year, you would expect some teams to suffer from this kind of variation. In other words, while the Cubs may have been dinged so far by a tiny bit of bad luck, it’s completely normal to see this tiny measure of bad luck hitting a number of teams at this point in the season.
In the early going, the Cubs have deserved to be under .500. They’re probably an extra game under .500 from where they should be, but that’s hardly anything to get your feathers too ruffled. There’s still plenty of time for the ball to bounce back the other way. Unfortunately, over time, the Cubs’ true talent level will manifest in the numbers, and, so far, it’s looking like the Cubs will live into their low-70s win projections.
But it’s early. Have I mentioned that it’s early? It’s early.