Well, with that crazy win and banner raising celebration, we’re officially one week into the regular season.
And given that today also happens to be an off-day, that means it’s time for an Off-Day Check-In!
This is, of course, the first check-in of the season, and if you’re unfamiliar with the purpose, let me try to explain.
Whenever there’s no Cubs baseball to played, I gather a bunch of numbers and write a bunch of words detailing where the Cubs’ record and playoff odds – as well as a variety of offensive and pitching statistics – stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball. Got it? Let’s go then.
Since the beginning of the season, the Cubs have gone 5-2 against the Cardinals, Brewers, and Dodgers. They won both of their first two series – despite walk-off loses in the first games of each – and won on a walk-off win of their own last night at Wrigley Field. For the most part, it’s been exactly the sort of start for which the Cubs and their fans could hope.
Check out the NL Central standings as of the start of play today:
- Chicago Cubs: 5-2 (.714)
- Cincinnati Reds: 5-2 (.714)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 3-3 (.500)
- Milwaukee Brewers: 2-5 (.286)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 2-5 (.286)
The Chicago Cubs are tied for first place in the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds. Both teams have a 1.5 game lead over the Pirates and a full 3.0 game lead over the Brewers and Cardinals. I doubt this precise order is the way the NL Central wraps things up in October, but for now, I’m just glad to see the Cubs on top (where they belong).
If the Cubs’ winning percentage today (.714) was stretched out over the course of an entire season, they’d wind up winning 116 games. Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you that the sample is far too small to extrapolate like that, but you can still be pleased with the very strong start. They don’t have the best record in baseball (yet), but they’re just a half-game back of the distinction.
Moving on: since the beginning of the season, the Cubs’ run differential (+10) has been strong, though not quite the very best in baseball. Here are the top five run differentials in MLB, so you can put that in perspective:
- Minnesota Twins: +17
- Los Angeles Dodgers: +17
- Arizona Diamondbacks: +16
- Cincinnati Reds: +16
- Chicago Cubs: +10
The Cubs’ are one of just twelve teams with a positive run differential so far this season. As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (-6), Pirates (-7), and Cardinals (-14) all fell below 0. The Cardinals, by the way, also happen to have the second worst run differential in all of baseball.
The Cubs’ pitching staff has had a really strong start to the season, having allowed just the third fewest earned runs per game (2.86) of any team in baseball. And the offense, similarly, has scored the ninth most runs per game (4.71) over that stretch. If Jason Heyward’s recent stretch of success continues, they’ll move up in the rankings quickly.
The Cubs’ expected record, according to two separate measures, indicates that their right on track in the early going:
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, are right where they should be.
The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on underlying performance) have the Cubs winning something between 4.5-5.0 wins by now, so everything is tied up pretty neatly here. As more games are played, these numbers may begin to drift further away from reality.
As far as the future goes …
According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 90 more games from here on out, bringing their season win total to 95 (which is right around where they were projected at the beginning of the year). That remaining, projected win total is the highest in baseball and one win more than the Los Angeles Dodgers. If things played out that way, the Cubs would finish with the best record in baseball once again.
Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, sees things a little differently. According to their metrics, the Cubs will win 89 more games the rest of the way – which is the same amount as the Indians and Astros, but four less than the Dodgers (93). By this measure, then, the Dodgers would finish with the best record in MLB.
So, what does it mean for the playoffs and beyond? Let’s check back in on that at FanGraphs.
- Chances of winning the division: 91.1%
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 97.4%
- Chances of winning the World Series: 15.5%
Well, how do you like that? After getting off to a nice start, the Cubs have a ridiculous 97.4% chance of reaching the postseason this year. These numbers will go up and down all season, but dang, that’s hard not to like. In fact, how about this: the Cubs’ 97.4% chance of reaching the postseason in 2017 represents the highest odds in all of baseball. Only two other teams – the Dodgers (94.6%) and the Indians (91.6%) – are up over 90%.
- Chances of winning the division: 80.1%
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 89.0%
- Chances of winning the World Series: 13.7%
Baseball Prospectus is slightly less bullish on the Cubs’ chances in 2017, but their 89.0% chance of reaching the post season is only slightly behind the Dodgers 90.2% (and nobody else). And look at the World Series odds! As of now, the Cubs have something between a 13.7% and 15.5% chance of repeating as World Series Champions, depending on which system you prefer.
Now 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: 10.7% (7th)
- Strikeout Rate: 22.5% (19th)
- ISO: .116 (24th)
- OBP: .345 (5th)
- SLG: .367 (21st)
- wOBA: .317 (15th)
- wRC+: 93 (17th)
Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics
- ERA: 2.81 (3rd)
- FIP: 3.22 (3rd)
- xFIP: 3.52 (6th)
- K-Rate: 27.4% (3rd)
- Walk Rate: 9.4% (20th)
- K/BB: 2.92 (7th)
- AVG (against): .193 (3rd)
- WHIP: 1.11 (4th)
So, as you can see, the Cubs’ pitching staff has been the driving force here in the early going. In fact, by most measures, they’re a top three staff in baseball. They cold probably stand to issue a few less walks, but their sufficiently high strike out rate has neutralized those associated problems.
Offensively, the Cubs seem to be in the middle of the pack, but I doubt anyone would bet on Anthony Rizzo (47 wRC+) or Addison Russell (94 wRC+) to finish the season as a below average hitter. In fact, I’d argue that this is a top three offense in baseball when all is said and done. Just give them some time to heat up.
And that was your first Off-Day Check-In, Cubs fans. Be happy, things look good.