The last scheduled off-day for the Chicago Cubs was May 16th, but that came so quickly after the one before it (May 12) that we didn’t need to check back in to see how much better or worse the Cubs were doing.
Now that it’s been another two weeks, however, let’s dive back in and see where the Cubs’ record and playoff odds, and a variety of offensive and pitching statistics stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball.
Since our last off-day check-in, the Cubs hit a bid of a skid. They went 5-7 during that stretch of twelve games (they dropped the final two just before this stretch, as well, so hooray for arbitrary cutoffs), against the Pirates, Brewers, Giants and Cardinals. That would look bad, but luckily four of the five wins came against the Pirates and Cardinals, so their place in the division is actually quite strong.
Check the NL Central standings as of the start of play today:
- Chicago Cubs: 31-14 (.689)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 26-19 (.578)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 24-23 (.511)
- Milwaukee Brewers: 20-26 (.435)
- Cincinnati Reds: 15-32 (.319)
But if you think the Cubs’ 5-7 stretch was bad, consider this: the last time we checked in, the Reds were 14-20. Now, they’re 15-32 after losing their last ten straight (they just went 1-13 during a 14-game stretch … yikes). So, yeah, things could be worse.
The Cubs still have a five game lead over the Pirates (eight games over the Cardinals) in the NL Central, which is still the biggest lead over second place in any division. Although they couldn’t maintain their .758 winning percentage from last time, the Cubs are still on pace to win 111.6 games. I guess that’ll do.
And even through this rough stretch of baseball, the Cubs are still, still, still performing better than their record indicates.
Despite the last two weeks of mostly losing, the Cubs’ run differential actually increased from +99 to +119. In other words, the Cubs have scored 119 more runs than they’ve allowed. That remains the best in baseball by far, and is why you shouldn’t be too concerned about the recent expected regression in the win column. Here are the rest of the top five run differentials, so you can put that in perspective:
- Chicago Cubs: +119
- Boston Red Sox: +78
- Seattle Mariners: +54
- Washington Nationals: +51
- St. Louis Cardinals: +41
The Cubs’ run differential is 41 runs better than the second place Red Sox and more than double the third place Nationals. Better yet, the Cardinals dropped from second place (+50 RD) to fifth place (+41) since our last check in. The Cubs have now scored the second most (formerly first) runs per game (5.69) to the Boston Red Sox (5.96), but continue to allow the fewest runs per game (2.73) of any team in baseball.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that their expected record is actually a few games better than reality by two separate measures:
The Pythagorean and BaseRuns records are a way to measure how many games a team should have won over a given stretch based on the number of runs score and allowed (Pythagorean) and other underlying metrics (BaseRuns). Obviously, teams frequently under and over-perform these numbers, but they are usually a pretty good indication of how well a team may do going forward. The Cubs, according to those to numbers, should have probably won about 2-3 more games.
Further proving the point, even the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on underlying performance) have the Cubs winning up to 35.5 games total so far.
So, yeah, the Cubs have the best record in baseball, but it should probably be even best-ier. At the very least, like I said, this is a good sign for the rest of the season. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs will win 69 (FG) or 68 (BP) more games this season, which would put them right at 100 and 99 wins respectively. That’s five more wins than any team for the rest of the season and seven more than the next best team when all is said and done. I think we’d all be plenty happy with those results.
So, what does it mean for the playoffs and beyond? Let’s check back in on that at FanGraphs.
- Chances of winning the division: 94.3% (no change)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 98.9% (no change)
- Chances of winning the NLDS: 55.5% (+0.2)
- Chances of winning the NLCS: 32.7% (+1.2%)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 19.7% (+1.0%)
Like I say every time. These aren’t some homery, made up numbers seen throw blue-rose colored glasses. These are the statistical models that are doing their best to objectively measure what is likely to happen at the end of the season. And it’s not just FanGraphs.
Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):
- Chances of winning the division: 93.5% (+0.2)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 98.3% (-0.4)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 17.3% (+0.8)
The Cubs, then, are flirting with a near certain shot of reaching the playoffs [Brett: bite your tongue, statistical projections!] and a basically a 1 in 5 chance of winning the world series. The next closes team in terms of reaching the playoffs with any sort of certainty is the Red Sox at 85.0% – that’s 13 percentage points lower than the Cubs!
Even as the Cubs winning percentage comes back down to a terrestrial level, they are still favorites to win more games, including ones in October, than any team in baseball. They have really played exceedingly well and that remains true for the cold stretch they (hopefully) just exited. Check out some of their statistics via FanGraphs, with their league ranking and relative positioning since last time in parenthesis:
Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics
- Walk Rate: 12.2% (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st)
- Strikeout Rate: 19.8% (Today: 10th – Previously: 10th)
- ISO: .165 (Today: 12th – Previously: 10th)
- OBP: .359 (Today: 3rd – Previously:1st)
- SLG: .424 (Today: 10th – Previously: 8th)
- wOBA: .342 (Today: 4th – Previously: 3rd)
- wRC+: 113 (Today: 4th – Previously: 5th)
Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics
- ERA: 2.74 (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st)
- FIP: 3.38 (Today: T-3rd – Previously: 3rd)
- xFIP: 3.56 (Today: 4th – Previously: 3rd)
- K-Rate: 24.5% (Today: 2nd – Previously: 2nd)
- Walk Rate: 8.6% (Today: 20th – Previously: 15th) – increase of 0.4% points.
- K/BB: 2.86 (Today: 10th – Previously: 7th)
- AVG (against): .200 (Today: 1st – Previously:1st)
- WHIP: 1.07 (Today: 1st – Previously:1st)
So, as you can see, the Cubs remained neutral in seven categories (Batting BB-rate, Batting K-rate, ERA, FIP, Pitching K-rate, Batting Avg. Against and WHIP) relative to the rest of the league, went down in seven other categories (ISO, OBP, SLG, wOBA, xFIP, Pitching BB-rate and K/BB), while improving in wRC+.
It’s not the explosive performance that we saw at the beginning of the season, but they are among the top five teams in ten different statistics spanning offense and pitching. That’s not easy to pull off. The variety, versatility and flexibility of this team is their strong suit. They don’t have to be the best in any one category as long as they continue to be very good in all of them.
A lot will happen before the season is over, but on today’s off-day, things continue to look good.