Cubs Are Closer To Being “Good” Than You Might Think
By Andrew Denny
This season has been tough on Cubs fans so far, and even that feels like an understatement.
The team has been put through the wringer in multiple ways, varying from bullpen blunders to limp bats and the list of follies continues. It’s far from pretty and quite frankly, a little painful to watch.
All things considered, the Cubs currently sit at 11-19 which is good enough for dead freakin’ last in the NL central. I don’t think that this is what fans had in mind when many sources were predicting a respectable 70+ win season for the north siders.
Something seems askew with the Cubs this season – they have temporary moments of greatness then follow it up with baffling displays of little league caliber baseball. The worst part is what seems to be killing the Cubs is almost intangible. Where do the answers lay? Time to break in to the number values of the Cubs’ 2013 season so far.
Amazingly, the Cubs don’t look all that bad on paper despite their horrendous record. In fact, I’d say their record should be closer to (if not over) .500 considering a few basic stats.
Starting pitching has been the saving grace so far for the Cubs with great performances from Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Villanueva, Travis Wood and occasionally Scott Feldman. In total before yesterday’s game, Cubs’ starters have a rock solid 106 OPS+ for the season and are tied for the second best team WHIP in the NL at 1.236.
This is indicative of how dominant the pitching has been considering the depth of teams they’ve been matched against in the early portion of the season. I know I wouldn’t want to face Texas, San Francisco, and Cincinnati every single game.
May 3, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstopStarlin Castro
(13) talks to Chicago Cubs first base coachDave McKay
(39) while at first base during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports
As much as we can observe these awesome figures from the Cubs’ starters, we must also take in to account that the Cubs have surrendered 14 total unearned runs , which puts them in the NL top 5 for this category. Unearned runs can be attributed to sloppy defense and a pile of errors which has no business being committed.
Think of it this way – the golden total score in baseball is 5 runs. If you can plate five, by law of averages, you’re going to win more games than you lose. This totals out to almost 3 additional losses for the Cubs based on fielding blunders alone. It has a huge impact and it’s a subtle detail that can be fixed very easily.
Another interesting stat is something that baseballreference.com calles “deffensive efficiency” and is essentially a total measure of a team’s ability to keep their opponents of the scoreboard. The Cubs have posted a .714 DefEff% which is 3rd best in the NL and tops in the NL central. By this logic, the Cubs should be one of the toughest teams in baseball to score runs against and arguably should be over .500.
However, stats can be misleading and after exploring further, I noted that the Cubs also have 23 total errors scored against them (2nd worst in the NL) and are tied for the worst fielding percentage at .979. Clearly this stat was being inflated by the Cubs’ starting pitching and truly shows how good they’ve been over the first month of the season.
Hitting with RISP has been another significant problem with the Cubs, and this is something that is a little tougher to take a tangible approach on. Thankfully, Luke Blaize (former writer at Cubbies Crib and current minor league guru at Bleacher Nation) was able to shed some light on the situation for me. He said that hitting with RISP has a lot to do with luck and that a team’s OPS without RISP and with RISP tend to balance out as the year progresses. It’s difficult to try and quantify “clutch” hitting properly without skewing the metrics one way or another, and the Cubs have simply been on the wrong side of the inch to start the year. Probability tends to work itself out in the end and this means more hitting with RISP will come.
As far as the bullpen woes go, Carlos Marmol has been in tough for a long time. The rest of the bullpen has been fairly solid with Hector Rondon, James Russell, and even Shawn Camp showing promise before the wheels fell off. Kyuji Fujikawa also started the year injured which did not help his case, and considering how effective he was before, I have high hopes for him when he returns.
I really don’t have a solution for the bullpen. You can’t hide a player there and when any member of the bullpen can’t find the strike zone, the whole team suffers. This is pivotal to the success of the team going forward in to May.
All hope may seem lost, but I’m more enthusiastic about the Cubs than ever. Consider the following: the Cubs trail the league average in both AVG and OBP but are 3rd best overall in SLG. Small adjustments with the bats will lead to more frequent and consistent hitting which will also lead to a jump in hitting with RISP. The team has lost 7 games by 1 run and 3 more by only 2 runs, so this adjustment will lead to more Ws.
The Cubs are a good baseball team this year, and the numbers back that up. It’s difficult to believe considering their record and a few other on field blunders, but the team is literally only 3 minor tweaks away from being a competitor in the NL central.
I know it’s tough Cubs fans, but don’t lose hope. We’re close.