I love following Christopher Kamka on Twitter. He’s insightful, quick on the draw, and extremely resourceful in digging up unbelievable or unexpected stats, particularly in the Cubs world. And, I mean, just look at that mustache! What’s not to like?! (I know that’s not really him (probably)).
But when he laid this egg into the world yesterday, I wasn’t particularly tickled:
Most games this season with 1 or 0 runs scored:
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 1, 2018
The Cubs have scored 10 runs or more a staggering 17 times this season, including three games with 13 runs, three games with 14 runs, and one game with 16 runs … and yet they scored 1 or no runs an embarrassing 39 times. That’s second only to the Baltimore Orioles, who finished this season with 115 losses, tied for the fourth most loses in the modern era (1900-today).
As dramatic as those stats look, let’s not act like the Cubs’ offensive inconsistency is a surprise to any of us. But here’s the thing: there’s actually something to be said for this sort of inconsistency. A long time ago, I read an article on FanGraphs discussing the benefits of an inconsistent pitcher and the concept always stuck with me, especially this season, as the Cubs managed to win a ton of games despite a roller coaster offense.
The basic idea is relatively simple – a starter who does terribly in one start and very well in the next (e.g., 8 runs in 2 innings followed by 2 runs in 8 innings) gives his team better chances to win than one who is mediocre in two starts (5 runs in 5 innings both outings).
Makes sense, right? To be sure, I know this isn’t exactly how things play out in the real world – it’s just a thought experiment, after all – but stick with me.
Throughout the 2018 season, the Chicago Cubs scored 7 runs or more 49 times (30%) and they won every single one of those games. But that didn’t hold up down the stretch. In September and October, the Chicago Cubs played 29 games, scoring seven runs or more only 7 times (24%). That’s a pretty big drop-off from their season-long 30% clip.
Relatedly, the Cubs scored 3 or fewer runs 76 times this season (47%), but did it 15 times from September 1st on (52%), losing 12 of those games. Perhaps these aren’t huge distinctions, but I think they are pretty telling.
In short, in September, the highs weren’t as high and the lows were much lower for the Cubs, and that’s pretty concerning heading into tonight. Indeed, whatever theoretical help their offense was getting from being extremely inconsistent (but with huge run totals on certain nights) has mostly gone away. It’s like they finally became more consistent … in a bad way.
From the beginning of the season through August, the Chicago Cubs collectively slashed .263/.340/.420 (104 wRC+), which was the 6th best mark in the Majors and second best in the National League. But from September on, they slashed .235/.300/.363 (76 wRC+) which was the 7th worst mark in baseball, and 5th worst in the NL.
Walk rate: 9.4% (6th)
Strikeout rate: 21.3% (T-10th)
Fly ball rate: 32.9% (26th)
Soft-hit rate: 19.5% (28th)
Hard-hit rate: 32.4% (25th)
Walk rate: 7.5% (22nd), -1.9%
Strikeout rate: 24.1% (21st), +2.8%
Fly ball rate: 30.9% (30th), -2.0%
Soft-hit rate: 20.4% (26th), +0.9%
Hard-hit rate: 28.3% (25th), -4.1%
In many of the most important peripheral departments, the Cubs were worse in September/October than they were throughout the regular season when we already thought/knew the offense wasn’t quite clicking right.
But you know what? That’s the beauty of today’s game. ANYTHING can happen in one game of baseball. It’s already an unpredictable sport in large samples, but in tiny samples, it’s pure chaos. So just because the Cubs’ offense has struggled a lot this month, doesn’t mean they will tonight. And that’s about as optimistic as I can get.