The start of the season occupies a unique space in the minds of baseball fans; that place where you can barely see beyond the next day, extrapolating every misfire and every 0-4 and every blown save as though they are the things that will permeate every game that follows. We’ve done this so many years, and we know it’s irrational. Yet we still do it. The season is long. The memories, apparently, are short.
For that reason, I suppose I would say the Cubs’ 2-7 start to the year still felt worse than the current stretch, even though, by a single loss, this stretch is actually worse (2-8).
One question I had this morning, though, was how the cold data looked during each stretch. Strip away all of the narrative and context, and I just wanted to see how the team was actually performing by the numbers in each of these stretches. I have no idea what it’s going to show or what the utility will be, but I wanted to do it, so I’m doing it right now and sharing with you.
OK, let’s see what we see …
March 28 to April 7
Runs Scored: 62
Team Batting Line: .294/.385/.494
Team wRC+: 133
Positional Strikeout Rate: 20.1%
Positional Walk Rate: 11.9%
Positional Soft/Hard Contact Rate: 15.4%/41.1%
Positional Groundball Rate: 49.8%
Positional BABIP: .336
Runs Allowed: 71
Team ERA/FIP: 7.51/6.77
Pitcher Strikeout Rate: 20.5%
Pitcher Walk Rate: 14.5%
Pitcher Soft/Hard Contact Rate: 14.1%/47.9%
Pitcher Groundball Rate: 47.0%
Pitcher HR/9: 2.4
Pitcher BABIP: .346
May 23 to June 2
Runs Scored: 41
Team Batting Line: .236/.325/.466
Team wRC+: 107
Positional Strikeout Rate: 29.0%
Positional Walk Rate: 11.2%
Positional Soft/Hard Contact Rate: 17.6%/42.3%
Positional Groundball Rate: 47.5%
Positional BABIP: .279
Runs Allowed: 58
Team ERA/FIP: 5.42/4.63
Pitcher Strikeout Rate: 19.6%
Pitcher Walk Rate: 8.0%
Pitcher Soft/Hard Contact Rate: 17.2%/40.9%
Pitcher Groundball Rate: 39.9%
Pitcher HR/9: 1.4
Pitcher BABIP: .333
What do I see when I look at those numbers? Well, for one thing, it’s obvious that in the stretch to open the season, the offense was humming along, even if it was getting a little lucky on balls falling in. But they also weren’t striking out at all, were taking a ton of walks, and scored a load of runs. As you no doubt remember, it was the pitching getting blown up – especially by long balls, and especially late in games. But when you look at a variety of the metrics there, it’s not hard to see that the pitching probably also was getting really unlucky. With time and distance, I see so many signals there that things would probably straighten out.
This second stretch? Well, there’s still a lot of bad-luck-indicator stuff going on for the pitchers, so that’s good, but there is also a big drop in strikeouts and groundball rate, as well as still a lot of hard contact.
Again, you already would have suspected that it was instead the offense causing problems in this stretch, and whooooo boy look at that strikeout rate. That’s scary. The Cubs are hitting the ball hard and for good power right now (ah, all those solo homers), but they aren’t getting hits. A lot of that seems pretty darn unlucky to me when you consider the contact quality, but when you’re whiffing as much as they are, it makes me wonder if some guys are off-balance overall (and we could anecdotally name names).
On the whole, then, when I look at these numbers, I probably feel a little more nervous about this second stretch than the first.
Of course, if you’d asked me back then if I was nervous, thanks to the feel you get when you’re right up next to something, I probably would have been super nervous then, too.
In any case, hopefully some balls start finding holes, some bats start finding balls, some dinged up gets get healthy, and so on and so on.