The folks at Baseball Reference recently posted an item to their blog titled, 2010 Cubs: Blowout Specialists. The Cubs lost 11 games last season by 10 or more runs; only 12 teams have managed to do that since 1901.
How does a team manage to lose repeatedly by ten or more runs? I suppose conceptually it's pretty simple: you give up a lot of runs, and you don't score many. Lord knows the Cub offense last year was... ungood, you might say. But the Cubs' pitchers were an interesting bunch, in that they actually had a good number of good-to-great players on the staff.
Allow me to explain further.
As a unit, Cub starters put up the 9th-best ERA in the league last year, at 4.00 even. But when you add in the bullpen, the Cubs move down to 13th in team ERA in the NL, better than only three teams: the Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Pirates.
Not every Cub reliever was godawful in 2010. In fact, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall were downright super, posting ERAs of 2.55 and 2.65 respectively. And there were a few Quad-A guys that weren't horrible either: Casey Coleman, Andrew Cashner, and James Russell each kept their ERAs below 5 over about 50 innings pitched each.
But the rest of the bunch? In a word, they were poop-like.
Specifically: Justin Berg, Thomas Diamond, John Grabow, Marcos Mateo, Bob Howry, Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Stevens, Mitch Atkins, Jeff Gray, Brian Schlitter and Esmailin Caridad combined to allow 153 earned runs in 205.1 innings.
It's even worse when you look at it from the perspective of runs allowed, rather than writing some runs off as defensive mistakes: as for total runs, those guys gave up 180 in their 205.1 innings pitched. That's nearly 8 R/9, compared to the near 4 R/9 allowed by everyone else on the staff.
The Cubs got 960 innings out of their starters last year, a pretty middling number compared to other teams in the league... suppose they do that again in 2011. Say they get another 140 innings out of Marmol and Marshall, and 50 from Woodie. For the sake of comparison, let's grant James Russell another 50 innings of non-terrible pitching this year, and let's imagine a Triple A Placeholder of the Year giving the team 50 more. Add it up and that should be 1250 innings; a team needs to pitch 162 * 9 = 1458 innings to complete a season.
In other words: beyond the rotation, Marsh and Marmol, Woodie, Russell and the Best Iowa Cub You Can Imagine, we're gonna need another 200 innings from the C-Team again. If they can cut their total runs allowed down from 180 to something like... 120? 110? 100? That's six to eight expected wins added on to the team's record right there.