When the Cubs are in the throes of a terrible stretch, it can be especially difficult to separate the crappy baseball you’re watching from the long-view, true-talent, big-picture stuff. I promise you, even I grow weary at times of pointing out when the results on the field will probably get better. Sometimes, you just feel like feeling the frustration. Like you don’t want the projections to invalidate a terrible performance or a game the Cubs totally blew. Knowing that the Cubs should probably be better next month doesn’t always make you feel better about a week of losses.
That’s where we are right now, especially after these two things happened yesterday: (1) the Cubs lost in ridiculous fashion to a rebuilding Phillies team, their fourth loss in five games; and (2) Dan Szymborski dropped his updated ZiPS projected standings:
ZiPS mean projected Standings, 5/1/17. pic.twitter.com/TAZIjmEesw
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) May 1, 2017
So, then, the Cubs are still projected to be very good when it’s all said and done. FanGraphs and BP still project the Cubs for that same range of wins, too, for what that’s worth.
What you choose to do with that information here and today, I won’t judge you for it. Comforted? Great. Annoyed? Fine.
For me, it doesn’t really strike me either of those ways. Instead, I just think about the assumptions upon which the projections are built – namely, constructing expected/mean player-specific performance, putting them together, and then playing out seasons to generate more expected/mean team-level performances – and wonder if we’re going to see any holes exposed as the season goes on. I definitely didn’t think I’d be wondering those things in early May absent a rash of Cubs injuries, but here we are. (What if several Cubs starting pitchers are going to regress deeply this year at the same time? What if Kyle Schwarber’s sophomore slump stays this deep all season? What if the Cubs’ historically good defense from 2016 simply doesn’t show up again this year? Can the projections reasonably account for those possibilities? But then, Brett, that’s kinda the whole point of projections – they’re supposed to be somewhere in the dispassionate middle of your hoped-for hopes and your worst-feared fears.)
For his part, Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn’t sounding any alarm bells.
Saying that he “couldn’t be happier” with his players, Maddon put things this way (Cubs.com): “Our starting pitching hasn’t been as good as it was last year, but it will be. Offensively, we’re still not hitting on all cylinders, but we will be. And even defensively, even [Sunday] we made a couple of mistakes we normally don’t make, and that’s going to go away.”
I guess Maddon would be a buyer on those ZiPS projections.
To be fair, I doubt Maddon would say much differently even if he were deeply concerned, but then again, we have no reason not to believe that he really is not troubled. Not only is Maddon’s notoriously even-keeled approach part of what makes him a great 162-game manager, but he also probably does believe (1) this is a very good team, and (2) over a large enough sample size, good teams tend to win a lot of baseball games.
For me, for tonight, I’d just like to enjoy watching a game where the Cubs look good. Projections don’t always get me there.
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