Today at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron wrote about the surprisingly solid New York Mets, noting that their hot start, 10-3, has unexpectedly put them smack dab in the middle of what might be a tight Wild Card race – along with the Padres, Pirates and Cubs, which sounds about right.
The argument is fairly simple: despite the many early wins, the Mets are still essentially the same team that was projected to win and lose the same number of games in 2015 (factoring in injuries). So then, if they finish the season playing .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll ultimately win 85 games. This is directly relevant to the Cubs, who projected to finish with roughly 84-85 wins and contend for the very same Wild Card spot.
If you’re expecting the Mets to face a hard, negative regression to the mean, though, you’d be mistaken. According to Cameron, a team that has an exceptionally good run isn’t due for an equally exceptional, bad run to make up for it (that gets into Gambler’s Fallacy territory). The Mets have been lucky, and have won more games than they probably should have – indeed, their Pythagorean Record indicates an 8-5 start based their runs scored and allowed – but a win is a win, and the Mets have 10 of them already.
In a world of projections and estimates, the only sure bets are the wins you’ve already locked in.
So what about the Cubs? They’ve gotten off to a pretty good start, and it feels like they’ve lost at least a couple of games that could have gone either way. Despite a very small sample size, the early returns indicate that the Cubs might win a bit more games than we originally thought.
As I am writing this article, the Cubs (6-5) are one game over .500. If they keep up this .545 winning percentage for the entire season, they will win 88 games – a win total near the top end of the expected Wild Card race. Just like the Mets, though, we may not want to change how well we think the Cubs will play the rest of the season, based solely on some stolen, early season wins. (However, the Cubs Pythagorean record is actually equal to their real record – meaning that their true talent level may be a bit better, indeed.)
The expected winning percentage at FanGraphs (rosW%) the rest of the season for the Cubs isn’t as optimistic (.517). If the Cubs win games at a .517 rate the rest of the season, they’d win just 84 games. 84 wins would definitely represent a nice turnaround and an exciting season, but a playoff berth? Not so much.
There are plenty of predictable events Cub fans like to bank on for expected improvement, but none of them are guaranteed. Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler may yet battle for Rookie of the Year, or they may be slowed by contact issues. Addison Russell could contribute sooner rather than later, or he could spend most of the year in the minors. The Cubs could try to improve midseason with a trade, or they could whiff at the deadline. No matter what, the Cubs are going to need some luck, either in development or the bounces of the ball. They just don’t project to be good enough to make the playoffs without it, even after the solid start.
So where does this leave us?
I know that I am going to look for the Cubs to continue to play just above .500 baseball, while praying that everyone stays healthy. The Cubs definitely have a non-zero chance of making the playoffs in 2015, but like the Mets, they’ll need some breaks to get there. A good start is a good start, though, and we’ll have to check back in on how they project throughout the season.