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old-computerIt 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.

  • nate1m

    I was hoping for 71 wins coming in and I think that would be a good year still. Five more than last year and a steps forward from the young guys. So far, I’m happy. Well, except I still want to sweep the Cardinals

  • http://CubbiesCrib.com GarrettFilsonFS

    Sounds about right. The Cubs haven’t been horrible, but they haven’t been good.

  • Brocktoon

    “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.”

    I’d manage

  • MatthewP

    Arizona is 4-12? I see Mike Harkey is pitching coach for Arizona. Perhaps he’s taken his former Cub snake-bitten-ness with him to Arizona. Talk about a “What coulda been,” sob story…

    Anyway, though I haven’t been complaining about the platoons, I *have* noticed that if Olt and Lake aren’t playing, I tend to not pay as much attention. I’d rather them be 2-10 with potential building pieces playing than 5-7 or 6-6 with guys who won’t be a factor in a year or two.

    • Sandberg

      That’s probably because for some reason Kalish has to bunt in half of his at bats.

  • itzscott

    Still don’t understand how the concept of luck plays into this.

    If a team has 2 or 3 players that were expected to hit well and are hitting well while the other 6 or 7 players who weren’t expected to hit well aren’t hitting well….

    That’s just a bad team which has nothing to do with luck.

    • Edwin

      Bad teams can still be unlucky.

      • itzscott

        So teams with good players and good records are luckier than teams with bad players and bad records?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          The answer to your question, which does not address Edwin’s point, is not necessarily. They might be.

          • itzscott

            Just expanding Edwin’s point by concluding that it must be that teams with good players and good records are less unlucky than teams with bad players and bad records.

            Just wondering at what point does talent statistically trumps luck?

            Does good luck supersede bad luck when the more statistically talented players a team has?

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              “Just wondering at what point does talent statistically trumps luck?”

              Never.

              If a team projects at 120 wins because they have an amazing talent level but then only win 100 games, were they not unlucky?

        • J. L.

          No. Nobody said that.

          A team can be either good or bad. And a team can be either lucky or unlucky. The first opposition has no bearing whatsoever on the second, and vice-versa.

          What Brett has concluded is that the Cubs have been slightly unlucky so far this season. And then he went on to point out that, as we all knew, they are also a bad team.

        • Darth Ivy

          Any team can be lucky, unlucky, or have neutral luck. The possibilities are:

          Good lucky
          Good unlucky
          Good neutral luck

          Average lucky
          Average unlucky
          Average neutral luck

          Bad lucky
          Bad unlucky
          Bad neutral luck

          • itzscott

            So if the Cubs’ record was reversed, we’d be describing them as bad lucky and that these players who we didn’t think too much of to begin with will suddenly see their balls being caught instead of finding holes?

            • Edwin

              You’re somewhat describing two different things. Think of 4 categories, Expected Production, Actual Production, Expected Results, and Acutal Results.

              Expected Production vs Actual Production is one way a team can be lucky/unlucky. Expected Record vs Actual Record can be a different way a team can be lucky/unlucky.

      • Orval Overall

        And they’d still be bad if they weren’t unlucky, so what difference does it make?

    • DarthHater

      “Still don’t understand”

      Should have stopped right there.

  • candyland07

    It maybe early to skew the numbers , but history has a way of repeating and the Cubs have done almost nothing to help develop and improve the 25 man roster. The front office has put a new strategy in place / platoons and real story is that the Cubs do not have a worse W/L record after 12 games.

    When a team wins, no excuse factors needed . The Cubs need to be better not find or depend on luck or use bad luck as an excuse. I want the Cubs to win, wanting and knowing are two different mindsets . Stating that your Team can compete and offering excuses while the loses pile up is a lie . This past of season was slap to CUb fans everywhere. The front office and its owners did almost next to nothing to improve the team . The only improvement was payroll – it dropped again and Tomorrow when the Yankees and Cub Play – the highest paid athlete by the Cubs will be hitting against them . THat is not bad luck that is just poor made decisions.

    • GoCubsGo

      Every one of your posts reads like anti-front office propaganda trying to get public opinion swayed from them based on your alleged stance/ownership of a Wrigleyville rooftop. I could be way off base, but that’s how I interpret them.

    • Don Eaddy

      “the highest paid athlete by the Cubs will be hitting against them”

      I actually think of it as us paying Corey Black $14 Million, and he is paying it to Soriano….lol

      Either way it was a good investment because Soriano wasnt gonna get us a good prospect without us paying most of his remaining salary. By paying the Yankees that money, that we would have been paying to somebody anyway, we got a nice pitching prospect back. Trading Soriano and his contract wouldnt have gotten us any prospects, which would make that trade pointless.

  • Elden14

    I think if we’re having this conversation we should also include strength of schedule up to this point. Virtually all of our games have been against one of either the Pirates and Cardinals, which would deflate any team’s offensive numbers.

    • candyland07

      the Cubs play 162 games They are the bottom feeders of the NL central and every team in the NL Central will try and win . I do not Think baseball can make an easier scedule for the Cubs. They would need to improve and they chose not to (insert any excuse or reason why.) Therefore, any scedule that MLB would produce would be considered hard by Cub fans in any given month and week.

      The Cubs have a 6 games in the 9( against a struggling Yankees (2 games) and the Diamondback (4 Games) This is a break for the Cubs will they be able to take advantage . All we can do is wait and see.

      • DarthHater

        Over 162 games, all teams have roughly equal strength of schedule. Over the first two weeks of the season, that it totally not the case.

        • DarthHater

          *is*

      • Elden14

        I’m not saying the Cubs aren’t worse than the teams they’ve played (because they are), I’m saying that if we’re going to go over a sample size of 12 games then you have to consider opponent, especially when it’s as lopsided as our schedule has been to this point.

        When a close to 40% of your ABs are against the likes of Cliff Lee, Liriano, Wacha and Wainwright, you’re going to be a little down in the offensive category.

      • The Nefi Perez Plan

        Struggling Yankees team? They just took 3 of 4 from the Red Sox.

        • candyland07

          Despite injuries to Brian Roberts,Derek Jeter, DL players Cervilli ,Teixeira and closer Robertson They are struggling . Yes they did win the last 3/4 but they are still struggling by virtue of injuries .

          • Jon

            struggling by virtue of injuries .

            That doesn’t make an sense.

            • candyland07

              Unless you feels when a team wins then it must not struggle. The injury bug has hit the Yankess early. (That is struggling) The Yanks just called up two players because of recent lack of depth due to injuries. The Yankees are playing hurt and without its set line up ( struggling) know in spite of all these struggles The yanks are the better team . good teams can struggle and beat bad teams.

              • Jon

                The Yankees are hurt, but they are not struggling. The definition of struggling usually involves the process of not winning baseball games.

              • Elden14

                So if their entire team was in a bus accident and out for 4-6 weeks with miscellaneous minor injuries and their AAA squad came up, playing out-of-their-minds quality ball, they would technically be struggling because the people who aren’t playing are hurt.

                Got it.

                • MatthewP

                  They would be struggling with injuries, I suppose.

              • The Nefi Perez Plan

                The reason why the Yankees are not struggling despite the injuries is the front office planned for this. They know better than to depend on Roberts, Tex, or Jeter playing every day without injury at this point in their careers.

                • CubsFaninMS

                  Surely Texeira. He is an injury machine.

                • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

                  Really.

                  You call this guy “planning for injuries”?

                  http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=solart001yan

                  And this guy:

                  http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnske05.shtml

                  They are getting lucky as shit right now. Really…replacing Cano with a guy that only OPS’d over .800 when he was too old for AA and then having that guy perform better than Cano is lucky as fucking shit.

                  • The Nefi Perez Plan

                    You are not going to have superstars that are backups. The main job of backups is to stem the tide until the starter can come back or a better player can be picked up. And Solarte has actually been performing well. Lucky definitely, good scouting, perhaps but either way he is performing right now and the Yankees are winning. They just hope that Brian Roberts can come back or they can pick up somebody else before midnight strikes and Solarte turns back into a utility infielder.

          • Kyle

            I wish we could “struggle” our way to first place.

  • DarthHater

    Isn’t the Cubs current winning percentage well within the range that would be expected with a high probability? And if so, doesn’t it follow that any small discrepancy between the predicted and actual winning percentages doesn’t really tell us much of anything?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I think that’s kind of what I said.

      But doing it my way allows us to look at some of the results so far.

      • DarthHater

        In other words, doing it your way allows us to talk about variations that are statistically insignificant, even though they are insignificant? ;-)

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Only if you’re *applying* those numbers in a way that is outside the parameters I laid out above. :)

          The numbers, themselves, are fun to consider. This is a vehicle.

          • DarthHater

            Things that are statistically insignificant are, ipso facto, insignificant. No parameters of discussion can change that.

            What you are saying is that it’s fun to consider insignificant things. In other words: The Internet. :-P

  • DocPeterWimsey

    Here are expected records given net OPS. Amusingly, the Mets seem to be by far the luckiest team in baseball (Prob. of X wins or more if exceeding expectations or X wins or fewer if underachieving expectations), whereas the Reds have been the least lucky. Yes, other teams have gone 2 over: but the Mets have played so much worse than anybody else that it is less probable that they would do so.

    Team nOPS E[WP] E[W-L] P
    Oak 0.143 0.691 9-4 (+0) 0.61
    Mil 0.140 0.687 9-4 (+1) 0.38
    Atl 0.125 0.667 9-4 (+0) 0.68
    WDC 0.106 0.641 8-5 (+0) 0.53
    LAD 0.079 0.605 8-5 (+1) 0.37
    Sea 0.067 0.589 7-5 (+0) 0.59
    ChS 0.048 0.564 7-6 (+0) 0.53
    Col 0.045 0.560 8-6 (-2) 0.23
    LAA 0.042 0.556 7-6 (-1) 0.34
    NYY 0.032 0.543 7-6 (+0) 0.59
    Pit 0.029 0.539 7-6 (-1) 0.39
    SnD 0.020 0.527 7-6 (-1) 0.42
    Det 0.019 0.525 5-5 (+1) 0.44
    SnF 0.009 0.512 7-6 (+1) 0.32
    TBy 0.006 0.508 7-7 (+0) 0.58
    Cin 0.001 0.501 7-6 (-3) 0.13
    StL -0.003 0.496 6-7 (+2) 0.28
    Tor -0.020 0.473 6-7 (+1) 0.42
    KnC -0.024 0.468 5-6 (-1) 0.35
    ChC -0.029 0.461 6-6 (-2) 0.28
    Phi -0.030 0.460 6-7 (+0) 0.62
    Mia -0.042 0.444 6-8 (-1) 0.35
    Cle -0.043 0.443 6-7 (+0) 0.66
    Bos -0.062 0.417 5-8 (+0) 0.52
    Min -0.064 0.415 5-7 (+1) 0.37
    Tex -0.066 0.412 5-8 (+1) 0.46
    Hou -0.091 0.379 5-8 (+0) 0.64
    Bal -0.094 0.375 5-8 (+1) 0.35
    Ari -0.127 0.331 5-11 (-1) 0.35
    NYM -0.166 0.279 4-9 (+2) 0.12

    • DarthHater

      Dunno what all that means, but I reckon you’re some kinda cypherin’ demon! :-P

      • candyland07

        It means the Cubs Are still 4-8

      • ChrisFChi

        That’s cylon talk.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    For the most part starting pitching and defense has been pretty good with this team. Of course Jackson and Veres are doing their best to nulify that. But at the end of the day there aren’t any awards for the team that played in or lost the most one run games. I shudder to think what it’s going to be like to lose Samardzija and Hammel. That makes Wood our ace with Jackson our number two. That’s scary! I do like this team better than the one last year because I can see some guys stepping their game up. I think that with Shark, Wood or Hammel in the game that we can hang with the big boys. Hopefully Arietta join that group and someone appears as our closer. I honestly think that not for Veres and Jackson we could very well have a .500 record right now. From a mental standpoint I like the job that RR is doing. When a guy fails RR doesn’t dog them, he just tells them to come back and do better tomorrow.

    • Beast Mode

      Or he sits them on the bench. Which isn’t so bad either.

  • Jon

    Under performance to the mean suggest a bad bullpen. It’s no coincidence as our bullpen has been terrible the past few years.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Actually, under/overperformance doesn’t correlate with much of anything. Remember, bullpen performances are part of the stats.

      Remember also that only one team (the Reds) is deviating from expectations by as much as 3 games. Of course, it is so early in the season that it would be really tough for anybody to deviate from expectations by any meaningful amount: the Mets come the closest (despite their 6-7 record, they’ve played the worst overall of any MLB team), but if they keep up a net -0.166 OPS, then they’ll be choosing first in next June’s draft. (I doubt that they will: the other part of the tiny sample sizes is that it is much easier to get players deviating from expectations one way or the other: and the Mets likely have multiple guys underperforming so far.)

      • Pat

        Isn’t there a confidence interval with this small of a sample? For instance given a net OPS of x over 12 games, we’d expect a record of y (+ or – 1/2 games). Not sure how it works with net OPS specifically, but something like pythagorean record should be based on a much larger sample, and when you reduce the sample the error bars get correspondingly larger.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Ah, there are two issues at work here: expected winning pct. given net OPS (~= 0.500 x 4*nOPS / 3), and expected OPS. The second one is hard, but it’s the question that (say) Brewers fans need to be asking on one end and Mets fans need to be asking on the other.

          Here is one we can address much more easily than that. Let’s further simplify by assuming that P[W]=0.461 for each game. You have to use a more complicated approach involving the distribution of P[W] (which should follow a particular type of distribution) to assess the affects of playing (say) the Astros one day and the Cardinals the next. So, if the Cubs really are a 0.461 team, then what is the probability that they will be 4-8?

          The equation for that is (G!/W!L!) x 0.461^W + 0.531^L. (N! = Nx[N-1]x[N-2]x…x2; the first term gives you the number of different ways you can distribute 4 wins in 12 games, which is 495.)

          Wins P[Wins] P[At least this many wins]
          0 0.0006 0.0006
          1 0.0062 0.0068
          2 0.0290 0.0358
          3 0.0828 0.1186
          4 0.1593 0.2778
          5 0.2179 0.4958
          6 0.2175 0.7132
          7 0.1594 0.8727
          8 0.0852 0.9579
          9 0.0324 0.9903
          10 0.0083 0.9986
          11 0.0013 0.9999
          12 0.0001 1.0000

          The second column sums the probabilities so that you can get the probability of the Cubs winning at least 4 games if they are a 0.461 team. At any rate, you would expect about 60% of all 0.461 teams to have records ranging from 4-8 to 7-5 after 12 games. Really, you need to get to 2-12 before you expect fewer than one of the MLB teams to be doing this (relatively) poorly by chance alone. (Now, add in the schedule heterogeneity and having a 2-10 or 9-3 team that really is a 0.461 team becomes much more probable!)

          The error bars on OPS are a bit tougher because you need error bars on multiple rates for multiple players, and then you have to sum over the different combinations that produce the same OPS. Oi….

  • Kyle

    Didn’t we do this last year almost every week?

    But yeah, if we manage to avoid stripping the team bare for prospects, it should be better than 29th in MLB.

    • Eternal Pessimist

      I think if we start trading away many of our trade pieces (sans shark) we might actually get better. Baez to second, bryant to rf, maybe alcantara to somewhere. This may be one time where a sell-off will make the Cubs better right away.

  • Jon

    Alright, they don’t show because we’re 4 and 8…and unfortunately, that’s the criteria of them dumb fifteen percent that come out to day baseball. The other eighty-five percent are earning a living. I tell you, it’ll take more than a 5 and 12 or 5 and 14 to destroy the makeup of this club. I guarantee you that. There’s some pros out there that wanna win. But you’re stuck in a stigma of the Dodgers and the Phillies and the Cardinals an all that cheap sh*t. It’s unbelievable. It really is. It’s a disheartening situation that we’re in right now. Anybody who was associated with the Cub organization four or five years ago that came back and sees the multitude of progress that’s been made will understand that if they’re baseball people, that 4 and 8 doesn’t negate all that work. We got 150 f* games left.

  • MightyBear

    Tweek the roster a bit, get Arrietta back, bring up some youngsters and voila – 85 wins.

    • DarthHater

      “voila – 85 wins.”

      Okay, but for whom?

      • Brocktoon

        For the remainder of our opponents would put the Cubs right at the 69-93 mark I guessed in ST

  • http://BN Sacko

    As with most people watching having the lead and lose at least a couple times already I’m encouraged that they aren’t messing with the closer position and rearraging it. I still think we have a better BP then we have had in a few years. Casto and Rizzo are hitting. Arieta coming back will help alot. Jackson has to start pitching to his expectations. And the lineup is going to be more consistent. I’m in for 77 wins.

  • IA_Colin

    I have a feeling some of commentators may take this like they do to climate change. I just hope we start turning around those 1 run losses to wins.

  • EQ76

    I think the opponents we’ve played and level of pitching factor in as much as anything to our schedule.. half of our games against the Pirates who were a playoff team last year, and 3 against the Cards who won the NL last year, and we were in most of those games.. 4-8 isn’t too bad considering all that. I still think this can be a 70+ win team.

  • Eternal Pessimist

    I think once we bring up Baez, bryant, edwards and others we will bw much “luckier”.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Last year we really got killed in home games and against division rivals. Although the Reds appear to be weaker the Brewers appear to be much better so I don’t see things being easier this year. The thing that makes it difficult to predict 70+ wins is that without Shark and Hammel in the rotation for the second half we are potentially much worse than at present.

  • Hee Seop Chode

    Well the Cubs are tied for having the 3rd most successful bunts in MLB with 7, and they’ve been unsuccessful at least 2 times I can think of. Each bunt is something like 0.15 runs lost, so the Cubs have voluntarily (no luck involved) given away 1.35 runs. So there’s your difference between 4-8 and 5-7: 4 one run losses, 1.35 runs given away.

    No bunts = more runs
    Bad coaching decisions = bad luck

    http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/sortable.jsp#elem=%5Bobject+Object%5D&tab_level=child&click_text=Sortable+Team+hitting&game_type='R'&season=2014&season_type=ANY&league_code='MLB'&sectionType=st&statType=hitting&page=1&ts=1397595775465&sortColumn=sac&sortOrder='desc'&extended=1

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Except that if you add the one run to one of the Cubs 1-run loses, then it’s a tie game: and then it’s 50:50 that the Cubs win. (And, of course, that one run might be added to a different game!)

      Sacrifice bunting with real batters still sucks, however.

  • ssckelley

    Hooray! Cubs are on pace for the 2nd pick of the 2015 draft.

  • cannon

    Vegas had the Cubs wins at 63 for the season, They are under that right now. Consider the following:

    1) Reds are better than their start – plus they have Votto
    2) Cubs will have their seasonal fire sale early this year
    3) Attendance and viewership continues to fall (why not) more excuses for management

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