Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Not Their Best Stretch, But Not the End of the World Either

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Not Their Best Stretch, But Not the End of the World Either

Analysis and Commentary

Whew. (x2)

Those last two wins over the Milwaukee Brewers sure saved the day today, because there is almost nothing worse than an off-day following a loss. And can you imagine how down you’d be if the Cubs were just swept by the Brewers and Pirates in back-to-back series heading into today? It almost happened.

Our last check-in came nine days ago (April 11), and, since then, well, the Cubs weren’t their best (even if it could’ve been worse!). 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 3-5 against the Dodgers (1-0), Pirates (0-3), and Brewers (2-1) and dropped down to second place of the NL Central. Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Cincinnati Reds: 9-6 (.600)
  2. Chicago Cubs: 8-7 (.533)
  3. Milwaukee Brewers: 8-8 (.500)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 6-9 (.400)
  5. St. Louis Cardinals: 6-9 (.400)

The Reds are leading the division, but with the Cubs latest two come-from-behind wins, and the Cardinals’ three wins in a row, I don’t think the division will look upside down for too much longer.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.533) is a worse than last time (.714), but that amount of variation is expected this early in the season. If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, though, they’d win just 86 games (oh no!). Still, only nine teams in MLB have a better winning percentage at this point in the year.

Since April 11, the Cubs’ run differential (+6) has dropped by four runs and out of the top five in MLB. They snuck their way into the back end of the top ten, however, so all is not lost.

  1. New York Yankees: +28
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: +22
  3. Cincinnati Reds: +19
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks: +15
  5. Minnesota Twins: +14

  1. Chicago Cubs: +6

The Cubs may have fallen back a bit, but they are still just one of just fourteen teams with a positive run differential so far this season. As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+5) are one of the fourteen teams in the black, but the Pirates (-14), and Cardinals (-19) all both well below zero. The Cardinals, by the way, still have the second worst run differential in all of baseball.

The Cubs’ pitching staff has had a rough-ish week. At our last check in, they had allowed the third fewest earned runs per game (2.86). Today, however, that number sits up at 3.60 earned runs per game. It’s still top ten (9th overall), but a far cry from where they were. The offense, similarly, was scoring more runs per game at the time of our last check in (4.71 runs – 9th in MLB) than they are today (4.40 runs per game – 14th in MLB). I still expect this offense to score a lot of runs – the last two games are great examples – they just haven’t done it yet over a long stretch.

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 8-9 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. But for now, the Cubs aren’t lucky or unlucky.

As far as the future goes …

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 85 more games from here on out, bringing their season win total to 93 (which is two wins fewer than last time). That remaining projected win total, however, is tied for the highest in baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers. If things played out that way, the Cubs would finish tied for the best record in baseball with the Dodgers and Nationals. The NL is where it’s at.

Baseball Prospectus also projected the Cubs to win another 85 games before the season is up. According to their metrics, the Cubs’ 89 wins is tied with the Indians for second place and two games fewer than the Dodgers (87). By this measure, then, the Dodgers would finish alone 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.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 89.8% (-1.3%) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 96.0% (-1.4%) 
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 15.5% (No Change)

The Cubs odds of taking the division have gone down ever so slightly, but there’s no one in their right mind who would complain about a near-90% chance of winning the division and a 96.6% of reaching the postseason no matter what. And if that is getting you down, at least be happy that the Cubs chances of winning the World Series are still 15.5% – the highest mark in baseball after the Cleveland Indians (16.2%). Who’s up for a rematch?

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 76.5% (-3.6%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 85.4% (-3.6%) 
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 13.5% (-0.2%)

Baseball Prospectus is slightly less bullish on the Cubs’ chances in 2017 once again, but their 85.4% chance of reaching the postseason is behind just the Houston Astros (86.6%) and Los Angeles Dodgers (88.2%). And the World Series odds are still looking good, too! As of now, the Cubs have something between a 13.5% and 15.5% chance of repeating as World Series Champions, depending on which system you prefer. They’re behind the Dodgers (16.4%), Astros (13.7%), and Indians (13.6%), but I’m still not complaining.

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: 9.7% (6th – Previously 7th) 
  • Strikeout Rate: 23.3% (23th – Previously 19th)
  • ISO: .137 (22nd – Previously 24th)
  • OBP: .337 (6th – Previously 5th)
  • SLG: .389 (19th – Previously 21st)
  • wOBA: .319 (11th – Previously 15th) 
  • wRC+: 101 (13th – Previously 17th)

So, as you can see, the Cubs’ offense has still not hit its stride, but a couple of days worth of extra bases has improved their ISO and slugging enough to pump up their wOBA just outside of MLB’s top ten. Additionally, their wRC+ not only jumped into the top half of baseball, it’s also officially above average at 101. Given that it was 93 wRC+ the last time we checked in, that’s a very nice bump.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

  • ERA: 3.57 (9th – Previously 3rd)
  • FIP: 4.02 (20th – Previously 3rd)
  • xFIP: 3.76 (12th – Previously 6th)
  • K-Rate: 24.2% (7th – Previously 3rd)
  • Walk Rate: 9.5% (21st – Previously 20th)
  • K/BB: 2.54 (14th – Previously 7th) 
  • AVG (against): .215 (5th – Previously 3rd)
  • WHIP: 1.20 (7th – Previously 4th)

As for the pitching, well, that has taken a bit of a step back … in every single category. Notably, their ERA has increased rather significantly, and most of their peripheral statistics support the leap. It’s obviously so very early, but their 3.22 FIP ranked 3rd last time we checked in and today it’s up over 4.00 (20th in MLB). With that said, while their average against ticked up, .215 is still a really excellent number. It’s not all great, but I still believe in this staff and bullpen (and defense) overall.

So, there you go, Cub fans. The team hasn’t quite yet been the behemoth we’ve grown accustom to, but for the most part, the projections still adore them. Just hang in there, because these sorts of stretches should become few and far between.


Author: Michael Cerami

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