If you haven’t noticed, the Chicago Cubs have been great at home but terrible on the road. This is by far the worst away record they’ve had in the last five years, so what gives?
Let’s be honest, when the Chicago Cubs are ‘on the road,’ they are rarely the ‘away’ team. Cubs’ fans come out in herds in every city they play, often equalizing or overpowering the home team. Even the San Francisco series, there were plenty of Cubs’ fans in the seats. So clearly, that’s not the reason. And while the fans can affect the game, they rarely dictate the outcome.
Is it travel? There has been a lot made of the schedules the league tries to keep. I’m sure traveling to the West Coast can be hard on a player. I made the trip once as an adult for business Michigan to San Diego), and I was exhausted the first day. Going out and playing a game? I couldn’t even stay awake for the free dinner at a nice place.
But those trips are few for the Cubs. Mostly they stay within a time zone of their own, and two of their divisional foes in the Cardinals and the Brewers can be driven to. Traveling can be hard on players, even when they do it every year. But in looking at the numbers for the last five years, this is the worst they’ve been–and I can’t figure out why.
Looking at the chart below are the last five years of home/away splits, as well as one-run records and blowouts (5+ runs). As you can see in the time that Joe Maddon has been around, they’ve been consistent on the road. No less than 44, no more than 48. To be quite honest, it’s hard to understand why they are struggling so bad on the road.
If those leave you at a loss, the following numbers aren’t going to help any. The Cubs are hitting .249 with RISP (runners in scoring position) away from Wrigley. At home, they’re just slightly better at .258. So it must be the home runs, right? The Cubs have hit 74 in the Friendly Confines, 86 in the enemies parks.
And the OPS split isn’t going to help figure it out. They’ve posted a .790 on the road, an .785 at home. So what could explain this disparity between playing at home and playing on the road? It’s difficult to blame the offense (at times, it’s relevant.)
So maybe it’s the pitching. And the possible culprit? wOBA. Tom Tango developed weighted on-base average in ‘The Book: Playing the percentages of Baseball’ in 2007. Essentially, the batting average is just that, the average. wOBA takes into account the situation (low-lev, med-lev and high-leverage) situations to give a more accurate account of the player.
For a pitcher, a higher wOBA is worse (A batter is the opposite). When looking at the wOBA at home and on the road, you start to see things taking shape. The Chicago Cubs pitching is allowing a .262 wOBA at home, and a .318 on the road. And in the third and fourth time through the order in all games, they’ve allowed a 4.51 ERA and .304 wOBA.
A starter generally faces the opposing lineup two to three times, but not always. So when you look at the third and fourth time through, you start to get into the bullpen–which I’m aware is a hot topic these days. Those can be a cross of starters and relievers, but they’re not good.
This isn’t the defining stat that solves their woes on the road. In fact, I could spend more time digging into the numbers to find even more metrics that might explain why. The truth is, the Chicago Cubs aren’t winning away from home, and they need to figure this out. Division games are important. Road wins are just slightly behind that.