Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Surprise, the Cubs Are Still Crazy Good

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Surprise, the Cubs Are Still Crazy Good

Chicago Cubs

cubs win standings flags scoreboard

The last scheduled off day for the Chicago Cubs came on April 25, and a lot has changed since then.

For example, the Cubs, at the time, were in first place of the NL Central, had the best run differential in baseball, had the best record in the league, should have won more games than they actually did, and kept shockingly high but awesomely encouraging odds of making the 2016 MLB Playoffs.

… okay, so maybe not that much has changed.

First thing’s first, let’s check out the standings in the NL Central (winning percentage in parenthesis):

  1. Chicago Cubs: 25-8 (.758)
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates: 18-15 (.545)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 18-16 (.529)
  4. Cincinnati Reds: 14-20 (.412)
  5. Milwaukee Brewers: 14-20 (.412)

Since their last off day, the the Cubs have gone 11-3 and remain in first place of the NL Central by a hefty margin.  Their impressive 25-8 record through their first 33 games is good enough for a 7 game lead over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates. And, if you can believe it, they’re actually still performing better than the record indicates (you know, the record that has put them on pace to win roughly 122 games).

Let me explain.

After the Cubs dropped both ends of the doubleheader yesterday, their run differential dipped back down under 100, +99, to be exact. In other words, the Cubs have scored 99 more runs than they have allowed so far in 2016. Here are the rest of the top five run differentials, so you can put that in perspective:

  1. Chicago Cubs: +99
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: +50
  3. Boston Red Sox: +48
  4. New York Mets: +46
  5. Washington Nationals: +42

Those are the TOP FIVE in all of baseball, and the Cubs have a 49 run margin over the second place Cardinals. And even after not scoring in the the second half of the doubleheader yesterday, the Cubs have still scored the most runs per game (5.94) overall, and have allowed the single fewest runs per game (2.67) of any team in baseball.

Which is all to say, that’s why their expected record up until this point is actually slightly better than reality by one measure (Pythagorean Record) and exactly right by another (Base Runs Record):

The Pythagorean and BaseRuns records are a way to measure how many games a team should have won over a given stretch based upon the amount of runs scored and allowed (Pythagorean) and other underlying metrics (BaseRuns). Of course, teams often over and under-perform these figures, but they can be a good indication of how well a team may do going forward. The Cubs, as you can see, had a chance to win about 1 more games this season than they already have.

Even the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on underlying performance) have the Cubs winning somewhere between 25.0 and 27.3 games up until this point.

All of which is to say, the Cubs have largely been as good as their record indicates, and project to still be pretty good for the rest of the season (even though the sky totally fell yesterday). How good? Well, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs will not only be the best team in baseball when all is said and done, they’ll still win the most game from here on out. More specifically, FanGraphs is projecting a 76-53 finish to the season, which would put the Cubs at 101 wins on the year, while BP is projecting a 75-54 finish to the season, putting the Cubs right at 100 wins.

According to both systems, the Cubs’ 101-61 (or 100-62) record will be the best in baseball by a full 7 (or 6) games over the second place Mets (94-68) and 10 (or 9) games over the third place Red Sox and Nationals (91-71). As you can imagine, that does wonders for the chances of reaching the playoffs (warning: depending on how big of a fan you are, the rest of this is not safe for work):

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 94.3%
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 98.9%
  • Chances of winning the NLDS: 55.3%
  • Chances of winning the NLCS: 31.5%
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 18.7%

Feel better yet, Cubs fans? 

These aren’t homery projections based on my own bias. These are statistical models that are doing their best to objectively measure what is likely to happen at the end of the season. And FanGraphs isn’t alone:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 93.3%
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 98.7%
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 16.5%

No matter how bad of a day you were having, it just got better. By TWO independent measures, the Cubs have above a 98% chance reaching the playoffs this year. I know we all sort of expected that, but it’s good to see it down on paper. The New York Mets are the next closest team with an 89.1% chance of reaching the playoffs.

But here’s the kicker..

Right now – using data alone – the Cubs have somewhere between a 16.5-18.7% chance of winning the 2016 World Series. (Remember, a pure roll of the dice would have each team in baseball with a 3.333% chance of winning the World Series – the Cubs are blowing that away.) We are flirting dangerously close to territory we haven’t ever seen.

But let’s pump the breaks.

You shouldn’t necessarily expect the Cubs to continue winning at the rate they have been (hey! that’s what I said last time), but it is true that the Cubs haven’t really lucked into any of this. They really have performed exceedingly well. Check out some of their statistics via FanGraphs, with their league ranking in parenthesis:

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

  • Walk Rate: 12.9% (1st, this improved since last time)
  • Strikeout Rate: 19.3% (10th, this improved since last time)
  • ISO: .169 (10th)
  • OBP: .368 (1st, this improved since last time)
  • SLG: .432 (8th)
  • wOBA: .349 (3rd, this improved since last time)
  • wRC+: 113 (5th, this improved since last time)

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

  • ERA: 2.67 (1st, ERA went up, but Cubs improved relative to the league)
  • FIP: 3.24 (3rd)
  • xFIP: 3.39 (3rd)
  • K-Rate: 24.7% (2nd, rate decrease, but Cubs improved relative to the league)
  • Walk Rate: 8.2% (15th)
  • K/BB: 3.02 (7th)
  • AVG (against): .199 (1st)
  • WHIP: 1.04 (1st, WHIP increase, but remained in 1st relative to the league)

Above, I listed just about 15 of the most important statistics on both offense and defense, and in all but one, the Cubs are at least in the top 10. Moreover, they’re still the leaders in 5 total categories and are top three in out of 15. Last time we checked in, we were surprised that the Cubs were this good on both sides of the ball but somehow, they found a way to keep being so.

Anything can happen over the course of a long season, but as of now, the Cubs are still the team to beat.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami