Earlier today I talked about how the Cubs have been just good enough to compete -- but lose.
"On the bright side, we are seeing the Cubs now as a competitive team who are able to stay in ball games, which is better than we saw at most points last season. It doesn't make the losses any less frustrating, however. If anything, it makes them more so."
But it's the last sentence that I think deserved more examination,
"Perhaps this is what rebuilding teams go through before things start to turn around."
Coincidentally, one of my favorite baseball writers, Dave Cameron, did the legwork for us. Cameron was actually inspired by a Gordon Wittenmeyer tweet,
Cubs: 36 more H, 30 more 2B, 6 more HR and slug% 39 points higher than opponents. And 3.65 ERA. But 5 fewer runs, 9 games under .500
If you aren't familiar with Cameron, he is an excellent baseball analyst and, when it comes to bloggers, one of the forerunners of the advanced metrics revolution in baseball. He expanded on Wittenmeyer's idea and used one of our personal favorite stats here at Cubs Den: wOBA.
Specifically he used wOBA differential. For those unfamiliar, wOBA stands for weighted on base average and it was actually created by current Cubs statistical consultant Tom Tango.
What it does is in essence is add a little meat to the OBP statistic in that it gives more value to extra base hits. When we talk about wOBA differential, we're comparing the difference between the Cubs team wOBA and the wOBA that it's pitching staff allows. This differential correlates closely to run differential and thus to wins in general
The bottom line is that the Cubs rank 11th in all of baseball in wOBA, ahead of more successful teams like the Orioles, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Yankees.
So why aren't the Cubs winning?
Intuitively you'd think that it has to do with when the Cubs are putting up these numbers -- what some people may refer to as clutch hitting (or pitching). And while advanced metrics proponents loathe the word "clutch", you'd be generally correct. Cameron uses the word sequencing as far as how and when teams are putting up these surprisingly impressive numbers. So, for the Cubs, it hasn't been that they haven't put up good numbers, it's that the poor sequencing of this production has affected their ability to win ballgames.
The difference is that the sabermetrically-inclined don't view the timing of such hits (or outs when the Cubs are pitching) as something that's the result of being "clutch". It has nothing to do with a team's intestinal fortitude. Rather, in their eyes, such sequencing is largely random and that at some point, these things tend to even out.
If so, then we can expect the Cubs to improve. We've talked about players with peripherals that portend better things to come. Well, the Cubs as a team have peripherals which indicate there are better days ahead. As it is right now, Cameron estimates that the Cubs peripherals are indicative of a team with around a 24-21 record.
So, perhaps the Cubs aren't quite as bad as we think they are and are closer to being competitive than their record otherwise indicates. We've heard Theo's abstract line many times, "progress isn't linear". What that really means is that we don't always see progress in terms of bottom line results.
That's difficult for many of us to accept because we naturally tend to measure everything in terms of results, but Cameron's analysis does at least give us some numbers to support the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Cubs are making progress. Progress that is unfortunately getting masked by all the frustrating losses.
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