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Dude, the Chicago Cubs Always Underperform Their Expected Record

Analysis and Commentary

homer at the chalkboardAs mentioned in the Bullets yesterday, the 2014 Chicago Cubs now have a -5 run differential, which would yield an expected record (using Pythagorean Expectation calculations) very close to .500. The Cubs, of course, are actually 12 games under .500. That’s quite a disparity, and it got me thinking about the last few years. Haven’t we seen this before? I seem to recall the Cubs underperforming their expected record last year, and it was a frequent discussion point. Maybe the year before, too.

Wait a minute. Am I crazy, or does it seem like the Cubs always underperform their expected record?

I am not crazy.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference, we can look at the Cubs’ actual, and then expected, winning percentages over the years. And, man, look at this thing going all the way back to the start of divisional play in 1994 (underperforming expected record is bolded):

2014: .342 – .485
2013: .407 – .439
2012: .377 – .403
2011: .438 – .434
2010: .463 – .448
2009: .516 – .523
2008: .602 – .609
2007: .525 – .539
2006: .407 – .431
2005: .488 – .493
2004: .549 – .578
2003: .543 – .527
2002: .414 – .467
2001: .543 – .547
2000: .401 – .424
1999: .414 – .406
1998: .552 – .522
1997: .420 – .455
1996: .469 – .501
1995: .507 – .515
1994: .434 – .457


16 out of the last 21 seasons, the Chicago Cubs’ actual record has been behind what you would expect the record to be, based on the number of runs they’ve scored and given up. And two of the five “outperformed” seasons were basically flat.

I know that, over a normalized curve, you’d expect some MLB teams to be unlucky by this metric over the past couple decades, but the Cubs look like they’re falling on the unlucky side of unlucky. (Unlucky squared.)

The way that this kind of thing happens, by the way, is in a year where your team is winning its wins by a healthy margin, but losing a whole lot of close games. Is there a “skill” built in there somewhere? Even if there were, doesn’t the 21-years-worth of records mute some of that?

That timeline spans three font office regimes, a boatload of managers, and a wide variety of roster compositions. The only constant, so far as I can tell, has been the team name, city, home pinstripes, and home ballpark. I’m not smart enough to know whether there’s anything statistically significant going on here, but I do know to feel an internal sense of sweet-hot-damn-that’s-ridiculous.



Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor of Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.