Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Some Good, Some Bad, Mostly Mixed

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Some Good, Some Bad, Mostly Mixed

Analysis and Commentary

It’s been only six games since our last off-day check-in, but they were an eventful six – the Cubs were swept by the Cardinals (0-3) in St. Louis before sweeping the Marlins (3-0) at home. So it’ll be interesting to see how much, if anything, has changed.

Here’s a look at the NL Central standings entering play today:

  1. St. Louis Cardinals: 20-14 (.588)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 21-16 (.568)
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates: 21-16 (.568)
  4. Chicago Cubs: 19-15 (.559)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 10-27 (.270)

There’s been some shifting in the standings, sure, but it’s mostly just a jumbled mess at the top. For example, two of the teams “ahead” of the Cubs actually have more losses, while the first-place Cardinals actually have fewer wins than the Brewers and Pirates. There’s just not a familiar first, second, third, and fourth place right now. There’s just a group of teams fighting for the top. And also the Reds exist.

But at least the Cubs’ run differential has rocketed up:

  1. Houston Astros: +82
  2. New York Yankees: +66
  3. Boston Red Sox: +63
  4. Atlanta Braves: +46
  5. Chicago Cubs: +43
  6. Philadelphia Phillies: +36
  7. Arizona Diamondbacks: +34
  8. Los Angeles Angels: +33
  9. Washington Nationals: +29
  10. St. Louis Cardinals: +19

The Cubs may have split their last six games, but the blow-out nature of their wins and tiny margins of their losses has pushed their run differential up from +25 (8th in MLB) to +43 (5th in MLB) in just six days. That’s nyts. And they now the Cubs the second best run differential in the National League, leapfrogging the St. Louis Cardinals – who beat the Cubs three times during this stretch – in the process. That’s not easy to do.

The Pirates (+18) and Brewers (-3) meanwhile, might not deserve their records nearly as much.

As always, that differential isn’t equally balanced. After taking a relative nose dive last time we checked (5.79 runs scored per game to 4.86), the Cubs’ new average runs scored per game (5.24) ranks fourth best in baseball and second best in the NL (still behind those pesky Braves).

Similarly, the Cubs’ 3.97 runs allowed per game is nearly identical to last time (3.96 RA/G), but it now ranks ninth in baseball, as opposed to seventh. In the National League, the D-Backs (3.42 RA/G), Brewers (3.78), Cardinals (3.79), Phillies (3.81), and Nationals (3.87) all rank higher. Overall all though, that’s really good. The Cubs are winning by a lot when they win, and losing by a little when they lose. That’s what you want to see, because some of those close losses will flip the other way.

Speaking of which, the Cubs’ record, according to two different measures, the Cubs should actually have them just barely out of first place:

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 over a long enough horizon.

According to those two numbers, the Cubs’ 19-15 start is close to the right amount, but arguably just a tad low. Meanwhile, the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), have the Cubs winning something between 18.8 games and 21.3 games. There’s a lot more variance there, but for the most part/all things considered, the Cubs probably should have one more win.

As for the rest of the season … According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to go 71-57 the rest of the way, which is still the highest projected winning percentage in the National League, and behind only the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians overall. That would leave them with a 90-72 record at year’s end, which is actually two games worse than our last check in and tied for first in the NL with the Nationals.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 65.5% (-3.8)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 88.1% (-3.1)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 9.7% (-1.4)

The Cubs’ playoff odds are down across the board again, but still represent the best marks in the NL Central (and the best in the National League). It seems, at least according to FanGraphs’ metrics, the Cubs are still the class of the NL. By the way, the Dodgers’ odds of making the playoffs now sit at just 59.0%, below the Diamondbacks in their own division (64.0%). Even the Cardinals (66.1%) have better odds of reaching the postseason than the Dodgers. Didn’t see that coming in March, did you?

Baseball Prospectus has playoff odds, too, but they’re a bit harder to condense into one witty line before the numbers:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 45.0% (-1.0) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 67.3% (+5.7)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 8.6% (+0.5)

Although the Cubs’ chances of winning their division have dropped down to 45.0%, their chances of getting into the playoffs (via the Wild Card) has actually gone up enough to rise the tide, overall. I don’t love it, but how can you argue with having the best odds?

Now it’s time to take a look at some statistics and rankings.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)

Walk Rate: 8.0% (20th, 16th) –
Strikeout Rate: 21.1% (9th, 11th) +
ISO: .173 (8th, 13th) +
AVG: .254 (10th, 13th) +
OBP: .327 (8th, 11th) +
SLG: .427 (5th, 12th) +
wOBA: .327 (6th, 12th) +
wRC+: 105 (7th, 14th) +
Position Player War: 6.8 (4th, 8th) +

Although the Cubs have walked a bit less since the last time we checked in, they’ve since hit for more power, more average, and are striking out less. That means their entire slash line has improved and their wOBA has become the sixth best in MLB, second best in the National League (gosh, get out of here, Braves).

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.41 (4th, 8th) +
FIP: 4.28 (19th, 18th) –
xFIP: 4.24 (20th, 17th) –
K-rate: 22.0% (18th, 19th) –
BB-rate: 10.9% (28th, 28th) +
K/BB: 2.01 (29th, 27th) –
AVG: .224 (5th, 7th) +
GB-rate: 48.2% (1st) =
Soft-Contact: 21.0% (5th, 3rd) –
Hard-Contact: 30.7 (4th, 2nd) –
Pitching Staff WAR: 2.0 (22nd, 22nd) =

Because the pitching staff has maintained it’s too-high walk rate and lost a couple of clicks on the strikeout rate, their FIP and xFIP took a drop. But because they are still one of the best contact managers in baseball (best ground ball rate, top five soft and hard-hit rates), their batting average against remains just .224, and, thus, the results have been good: 3.41 ERA ranks 4th in MLB. That might not be what FIP was predicting, but the Cubs have been taking advantage of the contact side of the equation for a long time now.

Up Next: The Cubs are hosting the Chicago White Sox for three straight afternoon games this weekend, before playing a make-up game against the Braves at home on Monday and then traveling to Atlanta for a regular scheduled three-game set against the Braves. After that, they’ll get the Reds for three regularly scheduled games and a makeup before their next off-day.


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Author: Michael Cerami

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