Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

cubs-bullpenIn an effort to explain the Oakland A’s surprisingly slow start, Dave Cameron dug into the team’s underlying statistics at FanGraphs and found that the Athletics’ pitching staff has allowed a .411 wOBA to opposing batters in high leverage situations (second worst in MLB). The poor performance in high leverage situations, then, is partly to blame for a team that has won six fewer games than they should have, according to BaseRuns Win Differential (a measure of underlying performance, about which you can read more in Cameron’s piece).

While the Cubs, as of the writing of the article, had only won one fewer game than they should have, according to their underlying statistics, they share at least one problem in common with the A’s: terrible pitching in high leverage situations – i.e., those moments when the outcome of the game could swing most wildly.

According to the graph in Cameron’s article, the Cubs difference in wOBA between high leverage (.396) and low leverage (.265) situations is third worst in the MLB. That is simply not going to cut it, and it doesn’t get any better, when you dig into the rest of the numbers, as of Tuesday afternoon.

In high leverage situations …

  • The Cubs’ K% plummets from 6th in MLB in all situations (22.0%) to 26th (15.9%)
  • The Cubs’ BB% jumps from 4th (6.8%) to 28th (13.8%)
  • Opposing hitters gain over sixty points of average against the Cubs, coming from the middle of the pack (.247) to third worst (.310)
  • The Cubs’ ERA balloons from a mediocre 4.20 to a robust 13.03
  • The Cubs’ FIP jumps from 8th best (3.57) to 26th (5.25)

To put it lightly, that is very, very bad. The fun of the last two days allowed us to forget temporarily, but, in the most critical situations so far this year, the Cubs’ pitching staff is allowing far more hits and walks than they do otherwise. Allowing more men on base restricts defensive positioning, affects how and what a pitcher can throw and gives the opposing team more opportunities to do damage.

The real killer, though, is the lack of strikeouts.

High leverage situations – and you can read more about them here – often come with runners on base and less than two outs. Failing to record a punch out in these situations, then, will result in more balls in play. Putting a ball in play is dangerous on its own (batters hit roughly .300 on balls in play), but you also run the risk of runners scoring other ways (fielder’s choice, errors, sac flies, etc.). Put simply, the Cubs have to start striking out far more batters in high leverage situations than they have been.

While it’s true that the Cubs have had their fair share of bullpen injuries, the Cubs’ starters have been relatively healthy and they’ve had their (arguably) top two bullpen arms all year (Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon).

With the trade deadline still a couple of months away, the Cubs may be on their own for a while; and a team just isn’t going to win too many games with a 5.25 FIP and 13.03 ERA in high leverage situations.

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