The Chicago Cubs had an astonishingly good season in 2016. Even setting the World Series aside, it was clearly one of the best in team history, as the team not only won 103 games, but statistically performed even better than that.
Early in the year, many even thought that they had a shot at breaking the 2001 Seattle Mariners’ record 116 wins in a single season.
Of course, the Cubs came up short in that feat, but those 103 wins are fifth best for the Cubs all-time.
But at The Hardball Times, Ryan Pollack wasn’t satisfied with knowing how the Cubs stacked up against other Cubs’ groups in the past. Instead, he wanted to find out which other team in history most resembled the juggernaut on the North Side of Chicago in 2016. Well, he did and his answer is pretty surprising.
According to Pollack, the 2016 Chicago Cubs most resembled the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays (a team which coincidentally featured both Ben Zobrist and Joe Maddon). But if you think your memory of that team is failing you, it is not: the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays were not the powerhouse the 2016 Chicago Cubs were. No, they finished 90-72, in third place of the AL East, and didn’t even make the postseason.
So … how?
Well, unfortunately for the 2012 Rays, they may have experienced some really, really cruel luck. By Pollack’s measure, they are the singular team in all of history whose stats relative to the rest of the league (in their year) most closely resemble that of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Indeed, assigning a score against 15 different offensive and defensive statistics, the 2012 Rays come up on top. The teams similarly pitched deep into games, got a lot of strikeouts, didn’t strike out too much at the plate, walked a ton, etc. The ways in which the 2016 Cubs were good, relative to the rest of the league, it turns out that the 2012 Rays were similarly good.
For more on how Pollack reached this point, I strongly urge you to check it out, it’s a pretty fun read.
Now, don’t get me (or, rather, Pollack) wrong.
The comparison between the 2016 Cubs and the 2012 Rays is more about the Rays’ bad luck than any Cubs mediocrity. In fact, using the same scoring method, Pollack created a top ten list of the next closest teams in recent memory, and there are plenty of World Series Champions and powerhouse teams on the list:
- 2012 Rays
- 1999 Yankees
- 1995 Braves
- 2012 Braves
- 2013 Reds
- 2014 Athletics
- 1918 Red Sox
- 1939 Reds
- 1998 Padres
- 2000 Giants
The 2016 Cubs, clearly, were very good. The 2012 Rays, apparently, were similarly very good. But, well, baseball. Let this be a harsh reminder of how a team can do so many things right, and still finish out of the postseason pitcher. (Or win the World Series, as the case may be.)
For more on Pollack’s method and the similarities between the Cubs and other teams, check out the full article here. I suspect you will not be disappointed.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.