Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Getting Things Back on Track

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Getting Things Back on Track

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

You know how you forget how terrible winter is around here every time January rolls around? That’s how I’m starting to feel about off-days. Is it really too much to ask that these guys play every single day?!

… Or at least stop losing the day before an off-day.

Our last check-in came exactly one week ago (April 20), but the Cubs had a pretty productive six games during that stretch. So let’s dive back in and see where their record, playoff odds, and a variety of offensive and pitching statistics stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball.

Since that last check-in, the Cubs have gone 4-2 against the Reds (2-1) and Pirates (2-1) and moved up to first place of the NL Central (woohoo!). Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 12-9 (.571)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 12-11 (.522)
  3. Cincinnati Reds: 10-12 (.455)
  4. St. Louis Cardinals: 9-11 (.450)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 9-12 (.429)

The Cubs are in first place, and are just one of two teams in the division with a record over .500 (and that’s only because the Brewers just finished up three straight wins). And how about those Brewers? They are still chugging along and using that slugging offense to surprise in the Central to this point.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.571) is a good bit better than last time (.533). If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, they’d win between 92-93 games – which is fairly close to their projections (typically 94-95 wins) and probably enough to take the NL Central. Only six teams in MLB (three in the NL) have a better winning percentage at this point in the year.

Since April 20th, the Cubs’ run differential (+20) has increased by fourteen runs and snuck back into the top five in MLB. Take a look at the leaders from around the league:

  1. New York Yankees: +32
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks: +26
  3. Washington Nationals: +23
  4. Chicago Cubs: +20
  5. Milwaukee Brewers: +16

The Cubs’ 14-3 romping over the Pirates on Monday obviously gave this stat a boost, but they’ve been scoring quite a bit more lately (although they’ve allowed a bit more than usual, as well). On the whole, however, they’ve clearly done more damage than they’ve allowed.

As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+16) are actually also a part of the top five, but the Reds (-2), Cardinals (-14), and Pirates (-27) are all below zero. The Cardinals, for what it’s worth, moved up a bit in the rankings – they were previously the owners of the second worst run differential in baseball, but now are the eighth worst (Aww – there ya go guys! Progress!).

The Cubs’ pitching staff has had a rough-ish week once again. Two check-ins ago, they had allowed the third fewest earned runs per game (2.86). Last week, that number rose to 3.60 earned runs per game (9th overall). This week, they moved up a spot in the rankings (8th), but actually got a little worse: 3.67 earned runs allowed per game.

The offense, however, has carried a lot of weight. During our last check-in, they were averaging 4.40 runs per game (14th in MLB). By today, however, that number has increased all the way up to 5.19 runs per game, which is fourth best in baseball. Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo had something to do with that, but the whole team has been clicking a bit better lately (I know, I know, I saw the RISP stats last night).

The Cubs’ expected record, according to two separate measures, indicates that they are 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 just about where they should be (if just a little unlucky).

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on underlying performance) have the Cubs winning something between 12-13.5 wins by now, so everything is – once again – tied up pretty neatly here. As more games are played, these numbers may begin to drift further away from reality. But for now, the Cubs aren’t really too lucky or unlucky.

As far as the future goes …

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 81 more games from here on out, bringing their season win total to 93 (which is exactly the same as last time). That remaining projected win total, however, is tied for the highest in baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. If things played out that way, the Cubs would finish with the second best record in baseball, just behind the Washington Nationals.

Baseball Prospectus also projected the Cubs to win another 81 games before the season is up. According to their metrics, the Cubs’ 93 total wins would be just one less than the Dodgers’ and Astros’ 94 wins.

So, what does it mean for the playoffs and beyond? Let’s check back in on that at FanGraphs.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 89.0% (-0.08%) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 96.2% (+0.2%) 
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 15.1% (-0.4)

The Cubs odds of taking the division have gone down ever so slightly once again, but there’s still – clearly – no reason to be anything but content. Same thing with the Cubs World Series odds. They may have fallen a little bit, but they’re third to just the Indians (17.6%) and Dodgers (15.4%). Nothing surprising – or disappointing – about any of that.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 80.6% (+4.1%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 89.3% (+3.9%) 
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 14.6% (+1.1%)

Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, is correcting a bit after dinging the Cubs a lot before our last check-in. They now have an 89.3% chance of reaching the postseason and almost the same odds of winning the 2017 World Series. Like FanGraphs, the Cubs World Series Odds (14.6%) are only behind the Indians (14.9%) and Dodgers (15.1%). The Astros (13.6%) are the only other team that’s really even all that close.

Now check out some of their statistics via FanGraphs, with their league ranking and relative positioning since last time.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

As I hinted earlier, the Cubs offense has been doing some work lately. They’ve either improved or held their ground in the most important offensive categories and are beginning to sneak into the top ten overall. They’re not quite where they probably should (and will) be, but they’re definitely trending in the right direction.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

The pitching staff, on the other hand, improved upon their slash line (ERA/FIP/xFIP) and average against, but dropped one spot in strikeout rate, three spots in walk rate, and, thus, one spot overall in K/BB ratio. They’ve been relatively fortunate with their strand rate (74.4% – 11th in MLB), but if that were to slip the increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts could really start to hurt.

So, there you go, Cub fans. The team has still not yet become the behemoth we know it can be, but they’re going strong and still seemed destined for playoff baseball.


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.