A Different Kind of Off-Day Check-In: Early-Season Leaders, Fun with Numbers, and More

If you followed along with us over the past few seasons, you’ll already know that we like to use the Cubs’ built-in off-days to check in on their overall performance, standings, projections, playoff odds, and more.

But given that there’ve been just five games (including a painful 17-inning loss, back-to-back shutouts, and a rainout), I thought we’d hold off on the first one, and do something different – give you a quick sense of what’s going on around the league so far, if you’ve been laser-focused on the Cubs.

So today, we’re going to kick things off with a quick standings check-in, before perusing the statistical leaderboards to see what fun stuff pops up.

First, the standings:

AL East:

  1. Red Sox: 5-1
  2. Blue Jays: 4-2
  3. Yankees: 3-2
  4. Rays: 1-4
  5. Orioles: 1-4

Not too many surprises here. The Red Sox are off to a really good start, but they’re certainly a contender for the division, even if the Yankees are the odds-on favorite. Speaking of which, they’re not roaring to open the season, but the Yankees do have a winning record through five. Must be nice.

AL Central:

  1. Twins: 2-2
  2. White Sox: 2-2
  3. Indians: 2-3
  4. Royals: 1-3
  5. Tigers: 1-4

Has there ever been a more boring start to a division than this? No team has a winning record, two teams are .500, the best on-paper team in the division, Cleveland, is doing their best Chicago Cubs impression, the trying-their-best Royals are two games below .500, and the rebuilding Tigers are probably happy with their 1-4 start. Shrug. Yawn. Shrug.

AL West:

  1. Astros: 5-1
  2. Mariners: 3-1
  3. Angels: 4-2
  4. Athletics: 2-4
  5. Ranger: 2-4

Now we’re talking. MLB’s reigning champs have come out of the gate hot, and are trying their best to dispel any notion that they’ll be hungover like the Cubs were last year. Meanwhile, the Mariners and Angels are each two games over .500, after making some serious attempts to improve in the offseason. I think this is clearly Houston’s division to lose, but it sure would be fun if Trout and Ohtani gave them a run for their money.

NL East:

  1. Nationals: 4-1
  2. Mets: 3-1
  3. Braves: 3-2
  4. Marlins: 2-4
  5. Phillies: 1-3

No surprise to see the Nats on top here, but I was sorta hoping the Phillies got off to a hotter start. Yes, I want to see Jake Arrieta and his new team succeed, but I’ve also started to build up a Cubs/Nats rivalry in my mind (I think it’s Bryce Harper-related, but I can’t place it), so I want their season to be as frustrating as possible.

NL Central:

  1. Pirates: 4-0
  2. Brewers: 4-1
  3. Cubs: 2-3
  4. Cardinals: 2-3
  5. Reds: 1-3

The Pirates are not winning the NL Central in 2018, but they sure got off to a great start. Meanwhile, the stupid Milwaukee Brewers, a real threat in the Central this year, also started strong. At least the Brewers strong start was directly related to the Cardinals’ mediocre beginning to the season. I just want more games to be played; the Cubs haven’t scored a run since the 10th inning on Saturday.

NL West:

  1. Diamondbacks: 4-1
  2. Rockies: 2-3
  3. Giants: 2-3
  4. Dodgers: 2-4
  5. Padres: 1-4

Is it just me or is the Dodgers-and-Indians-having-losing-records thing making you feel a bit better about the Cubs? I’m not *worried* – like, at all – but it has been a super annoying start. At least the Cubs are not alone in that regard. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks, who are just as likely to be fighting for one of the Wild Card spots in the end, join the Pirates, Nationals, Astros, and Red Sox as teams who’ve clearly had the best first week(ish).

Okay, is everyone caught up? Now let’s have some fun with weird, early-season statistical leaders. (This is just for fun – not predictive use!)

To start, how about the WAR leaderboard? If you can believe it, 14 different players have already been worth 0.5 WAR or better through the first five games. And it’s interesting, as these are guys (more or less) you’d expect to be near the top:

  1. Didi Gregorious: 0.7 WAR
  2. Carlos Correa: 0.7 WAR
  3. Bryce Harper: 0.6 WAR
  4. Freddie Freeman: 0.6 WAR
  5. Eleven others: 0.5 WAR

Gregorius has had the best offensive start to the season, slashing .444/.524/.1.111 (346 wRC+) through his first 21 plate appearances. That includes two homers, a triple, and four doubles plus nine RBI, three walks, and just one strikeout. Wow.

Speaking of which, only six qualified hitters have yet to strike out this season (Adrian Gonzalez, Cheslor Cuthbert, Bryce Harper, Elvis Andrus, Whit Merrifield, and Colan Moran), and of those six hitters, Harper is especially killing it.

Through 24 plate appearances, Harper has already smashed a league leading four homers (tied with Charlie Blackmon) and walked seven times(!). Yes, you’re reading that right. Out of 24 trips to the plate, 11 have ended in a homer or a walk. That is truly unbelievable. I think Harper’s in store for a huge season. [Brett: Bonus factoid – he came into the day’s action hitting .400 … with a .154 BABIP. Lulz.]

Speaking of the home run leaders:

  1. Bryce Harper: 4
  2. Charlie Blackmon: 4
  3. Paul DeJong: 3
  4. Joe Panik: 3
  5. Tim Anderson: 3
  6. Brian Dozier: 3
  7. Edwin Encarnacion: 3
  8. Matt Davidson: 3
  9. 19 others with 2 homers

On the flip side, Ian Happ’s near the top of the strikeout leaderboard:

  1. Chad Wallach: 11
  2. Marcus Semien: 10
  3. Miguel Sano: 10
  4. Ian Happ: 10
  5. Giancarlo Stanton: 9

But, hey! He only has one more than Giancarlo Stanton, the 2016 NL MVP! That’s some … okay, I’ll stop. He’ll figure it out, don’t worry.

The second highest wRC+ in MLB right now, behind Gregorius’s 346 is Mitch Haniger (he’s a Mariners outfielder) at 334. Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are tied with the highest mark for the Cubs (189), and are 32nd in baseball. Early season numbers!

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

On the pitching side of the game, there’s still a massive 22 guys with no earned runs allowed and at least 5.o innings pitched.

As far as the Cubs go, Eddie Butler’s 1.29 ERA is the lowest among the qualified arms (he’s actually the relief WAR leader at the moment, with 0.4 WAR), but Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood (both with 1.50 ERAs) follow just behind. Unfortunately, Jon Lester and Yu Darvish don’t have enough innings to qualify … and if they did, their 8.10 ERA and 10.38 ERA would, uh, not be among the best in baseball.

The current qualifying threshold for relievers is much lower right now, which means there are still 90 qualified relievers who’ve yet to give up a run. But don’t worry, that field will thin very quickly. Speaking of which, remember when Wade Davis went 18 games without an earned run allowed last season? That was cool.

Sticking with relievers, check out the strikeout leaderboard and be amazed:

  1. Adam Ottavino: 8
  2. Edwin Diaz: 8
  3. Josh Hader: 7
  4. Chad Green: 7
  5. Eight guys tied with 6 Ks

Despite working around just 3.0 innings, these 12 relievers have managed to strike out six or more batters. I doubt many of those names will fill the leaderboards come September, but it’s an impressive start nonetheless.

For what it’s worth, Justin Wilson (5Ks in 3.2 IP), Eddie Butler (5Ks in 7.0 IP), and Brian Duensing (4Ks in 3.2 IP) have each collected a fair share of strikeouts, as well.

Meanwhile Butler (5.0% hard-hit rate) and Pedro Strop (9.1% hard-hit rate) have allowed almost no hard contact. And you know what, it’s almost unfair to cut it off there, because Mike Montgomery (11.1%), Steve Cishek (14.3%), and Carl Edwards (20.0%) are also posting excellent numbers … as are Duensing (22.2%) and Wilson (28.6%).

Actually, hey … every single one of the Cubs’ qualified relievers has been giving up less than average hard contact (Brandon Morrow has faced only one batter) – that’s a really good sign.

Since we’re on a bit of a high note, perhaps we’ll end it there. And as soon as the Cubs get a few games under their belts, we’ll go right back to our normal off-day check-ins. Happy Wednesday.

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.

written by

Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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