The Cubs are who we thought they were.
Or what projection modules thought they were and could be.
Well, at least they are so far.
While the Mets and Royals have taken advantage of a weak schedule en route to strong starts (as detailed in Dave Cameron’s piece on Fangraphs), the Cubs are off to a 9-7 start going up against what looks to be close to a rather fair strength of schedule.
The difficulty of the Cubs’ schedule, to this point, has been about as difficult as it was expected to be. Just take a look at how close the Cubs are to the line in Chart 1.
The placement of the dot representing the Cubs suggests the signs of early season success are not a result of some sort of fluke based on their opponents. Placement amongst the middle of that cluster suggests the Cubs are what they are supposed to be and aren’t getting an unfair bump one way or another.
Moving on to Chart 2, take note of where the Cubs’ win percentage (prior to Friday’s win) and where their expected rest of season win percentage is on the chart. The Cubs — through 15 games, mind you — were nearly matching what is expected of them moving forward, as there is only a 4.3 percentage point difference in their current win percentage and that of what is expected moving forward. No funny business here.
Also notable from the second chart are two extremes in the NL Central.
Check out how much the Brewers are under performing. They had a pre-season expected winning percentage of .481, but entered Saturday with a .176 winning percentage. Maybe “under performing” is under selling the point here.
The 29-point gap between Brewers’ current win percentage and their expected win percentage for the rest of the season (.472) is the largest in baseball.
On the other side of that equation are those pesky Cardinals, who are exceeding expectations. They entered Saturday winning at a .733 clip, and with a projected .547 win percentage moving forward, the 26.9-point difference is tied for the most in baseball among teams with winning records.
Even with a regression to the mean, the Cardinals still project to with the division with 91 wins. And even if the Brewers have a progression to the mean, they still project to have 91 losses.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are somewhere in the middle. Their projected rest of season record is 76-70, which would put them at 85 wins — six behind the Cardinals and one behind the Pirates.
If this holds true, get ready for what should be a tightly contested race for a Wild Card spot.