I think it's easy to look at the record and conclude that the Cubs are a terrible team. They are in last place at 5-9 and they have had some ugly losses. But there is some reason for optimism.
- Six of those nine losses have been against the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants. 3 of those 6 losses have been by one run and one additional loss was in extra innings.
- The Cubs are just (-10) in run differential, far less than other teams with comparable records. Miami, for example, has a run differential is (-42). They aren't even in most of their games. The Cleveland Indians (-20), Houston Astros (-21), Philadelphia Phillies (-23), Toronto Blue Jays (-25), and the Los Angeles Angels (-27) have had run differentials at least twice as high.
- The Cubs have the 7th best ERA in the NL. They have held their opponents to the 3rd lowest slugging percentage, they are 2nd in strikeouts per 9 innings.
- The offense has been poor overall, but actually acceptable vs. RHP. They have a .744 OPS, which ranks 5th in the NL.
Jed Hoyer feels the team is better than their record,
“It’s been frustrating with the results. The wins and losses, they are what they are, and that’s our record, but given some of the production, we should have more wins than we do."
“It’s always bad when you can’t close out games,” Hoyer said. “If you want to look for a silver lining, we’ve been in a lot of games and we should’ve won more. If you’re getting blown out night after night and don’t have the talent to compete, I think it would be more frustrating. I think the way we’ve played is probably the most frustrating brand of baseball. There’s nothing worse than winning a game for 2 hours 45 minutes and then losing. I think that starts to wear on a team. As the game goes, the most frustrating brand of baseball is winning for most of the night and losing in the end, and we need to stop that. Obviously, the bullpen needs to tighten up and the defense needs to tighten up, too.”
So why are they performing poorly? Part of it, of course, is the offense, but much of it has to do with sloppy play. The Cubs margin for error in this area is small, as Theo Epstein has noted.
“[There's been] some sloppy play that we need to eradicate sooner rather than later. The bullpen is off to a slow start which can make for some tough losses.
“We’re not that talented that we can get away with playing sloppy ball, so we need to fix that,”
They've been poor at the little things. They have by far thrown the most wild pitches (13), they have allowed the most stolen bases (14), they've hit the most batters (10) and they are tied for first with the most blown saves (4). They have allowed the 4th most walks, though that isn't as bad as it sounds. They've walked just 5 more batters than the 5th best team, but with all the other little things, the Cubs need to do better.
Much of those poor numbers, as you might expect, have come from the bullpen. The bullpen ERA is 2nd worst in the NL despite the staff as a whole being 7th. The bullpen ERA is 5.73 , while the starters' ERA is just 3.15. They have thrown 6 wild pitches, 4 more than the average NL team.
While errors aren't a tell-tale sign of bad defense, it is a sign of the sloppy play that Theo Epstein talked about. The Cubs have the 4th most errors in the NL.
The Cubs hitters have been poor overall, but they've been downright non-competitive vs. LHP.
- The slash line this year as team vs. LHP is a woeful .193/.264/.289. It adds up to a .552 OPS which, incredibly, is still better than two teams -- the Pirates and the Phillies. Their OPS against RHP as noted earlier, is much more respectable.
The Cubs have made some steps to address the bullpen situation already. They've removed Carlos Marmol, who cost them two wins on his own, from the closer role. They've added Kameron Loe, who throws strikes and generates ground balls, and they've added Kevin Gregg as an option at the back of the bullpen. Whether that shakeup will make a difference remains to be seen, but at least it's clear the Cubs are aware of the problem.
The Cubs defense, outside the errors, has been solid and should get a boost with the return of Darwin Barney.
That performance vs. RHP needs to improve. It's a small sample size so far for both Scott Hairston (2 for 15, 1 HR) and Dave Sappelt (1 for 19), the two main platoon players, so the Cubs will wait and see if they heat up with the weather. The alternative is to play David DeJesus full time, but he batted .133 last year vs. LHP without a single extra base hit. Nate Schierholtz was not much better (.175/.206/.238) and may not be the answer either. The Cubs were hoping to use both players vs. RHP only where they could maximize their production. That part of the plan has worked so far. Now it's time for Hairston, Sappelt, and whomever plays 3B vs LHP (Cody Ransom?) to pick up the slack and hold up their end of the deal.
So the problem areas early on are clear. It's been the bullpen, performance vs. RHP, and sloppy play in general. With just average play in those areas, it isn't hard to imagine the Cubs being a .500 team, perhaps more.
Filed under: Uncategorized