Now that the Cubs have completed 10% of their season (well, they've been rained out twice), I thought it'd be nice to give a review of how the Cubs have done so far this year. This should be a fairly long post and will focus exclusively on the major league roster.
Cubs Actual Record: 5-9
Runs Scored/Allowed: 50/60
PythagenPat Win Percentage: .418
PythagenPat Expected Percentage: 5.9-8.1
Reconstituted Record: 6.2-7.8
Longest Winning Streak: 1
Longest Losing Streak: 4
Runs Scored Per Game/Standard Deviation: 3.57/2.21
Runs Allowed Per Game/Standard Deviation: 4.29/2.46
Cubs Strength of Schedule: .549 (3rd in ML)
Team BABIP: .272 (LgAvg: .298) [24 of 30]
Team wOBA: .297 (LgAvg: .314) [24 of 30]
Team BB%: 6.2% (LgAvg: 8.1%) [27 of 30]
Team K%: 22.4% (LgAvg: 20.0%) [25 of 30]
Team P/PA: 3.90 (LgAvg: 3.87) [13 of 30]
As a whole, this "selective aggression" approach has not been working. The Cubs have a higher P/PA than league average (barely), but that's a symptom of their 2nd-best percentage of Foul Ball Strikes extending at-bats. The Cubs are swinging early and often, which should result in more balls being put in play and a theoretically higher K% and BABIP (the idea that you'll put more of "your pitches" in play, and you'll run counts to 2-strikes more quickly). With a guy like DeJesus, this is great. With a guy like Soriano (swing-happy players), it's not great. The Cubs as a team have a really poor BABIP, which makes the goal of putting balls in play counterproductive. That number should eventually snap back to normalcy (to whit: the Cubs were 26th in the league in BABIP last year, but the total was .286), and when it does, the Cubs' bats will wake up (somewhat) with it.
Among Qualified Players (OPS+ rankings):
No Qualified Player: Catcher (Castillo would be 2 of 23)
Anthony Rizzo: 12 of 19
No Qualified Player: 2nd Base (Gonzalez would be 13th of 20)
No Qualified Player: 3rd Base (Valbuena would be 10th of 21)
Starlin Castro: 8 of 22
Alfonso Soriano: 17 of 24
David DeJesus: 8 of 25
No Qualified Player: Right Field (Schierholtz would be 2 of 19)
Welington Castillo has been incredible so far. He's 4 PA from being qualified for the batting title; if he qualified, he'd be tied for 16th in OPS in the majors. Castillo's projected wOBA this year (via CAIRO) was .326; so far he's hitting .448. He hasn't drawn a walk this season (but he has been hit by 2 pitches), so I'd obviously like to see some walks drawn. Otherwise, his .516 BABIP is probably going to come down and so will Welington.
Nate Schierholtz has only had 5 plate appearances against lefties this season, so you know the platoon is on 100%. That being said, he's absolutely crushed righties this year. His 1.059 OPS would place him 12th in the majors (he's 2 PA shy). His BABIP (.364) isn't extremely high, either; he's been productive because he's drawn walks, hit HR, and only struck out 11.1% of the time (he's normally not strikeout-prone anyway). Put it all together and you've got a wOBA of .445, a wRC+ of 178, and a very productive platoon mate.
Starlin Castro is on pace for around 23 HR this year. He's only taken two walks this year, both in the last game the Cubs have played. Castro actually looks pretty much exactly like he did the last 3 seasons. The only difference so far is that he's shown a little more power this year than in years past.
ISO by year:
He's walking a little less and striking out a little more, but the uptick in power is more than enough to mask those problems (and it's still early; all of these differences could shift one way or another). If Castro ends the season with 20 HR and 40 2B, I think we'd all be thrilled.
David DeJesus has been pretty awesome so far. He's striking out more than is customary for him, but I'm chalking that up to some selective aggression. DeJesus is swinging at a ton more pitches than last year (up to 44% from a career of 40%), which is naturally going to increase your strike outs. His walks have been fine up to this point, and the increased aggressiveness should allow a smart hitter like DeJesus to maintain a high walk total as pitchers start to work him outside of the zone more. DeJesus' ISO of .256 is extremely atypical (his career number is .139) but his new approach might allow that number to settle in the mid .100s. His BABIP is a reasonable .344 and putting it all together, you've got a wOBA of .380, 6th in the majors this year.
Anthony Rizzo is still better than the league average batter this year (102 OPS+). However, he's a 1B, so he needs to be a lot better than that. Rizzo is just making poor contact this season. His K% is 27.1 (last year it was 16.8%), and that's concerning. His BABIP is .167, so that should regress to the mean; however, the two in concert is pretty problematic. He's missing a lot of balls and the ones he's hitting are either right at people or just hit weakly (and his infield fly ball rate is 15.4%). His numbers would look even worse if he didn't have a bonkers ISO (.280 – last year it was .178). 30.8% of his flyballs are home runs, which is not going to happen long-term.
Alfonso Soriano needs to pick it up a little bit. His line (.268/.293/.375) looks curiously like the career line of Darwin Barney (.261/.303/.347), without the awesome 2B defense. Hopefully Soriano gets on a hot streak (and he usually does, this time of year – May is his best month historically) and reclaims some of his value. I'll settle for a return to his normal .200-ish ISO and associated .450 SLG.
I didn't expect anything from anyone else, so no one else is really a disappointment.
Team BABIP Against: .292 (LgAvg: .292) [15 of 30]
Team FIP: 3.56 (LgAvg: 3.98) [7 of 30]
Team BB%: 9.1% (LgAvg: 8.1%) [25 of 30]
Team K%: 22.1% (LgAvg: 20.0%) [8 of 30]
Team LOB%: 69.3% (LgAvg: 72.4%) [9 of 30]
Team HR/9: 0.66 (LgAvg: 1.01) [5 of 30]
All things considered, the pitching staff (primarily the starters) have been pulling their weight. I'd look for that strand rate to normalize a little bit, but the walks are offset by the strikeouts and the HR rate has been great if slightly unsustainable. I'd expect this staff to be about as good as it has been throughout the rest of the year; they've been slightly lucky in some ways and slightly unlucky in others. All in all, the pitching isn't what's killing this team right now.
Carlos Villanueva has been ridiculous so far. In 3 starts (in which he should have won all three), he's allowed 13 hits and 4 walks over 21 innings. He's struck out 15 and his only blemish is the 3 HR he's allowed this season. A pitcher like Villanueva (one without overpowering stuff) can put up terrible starts in a hurry, so it's imperative he keep hitting his spots. If he does that, he can be a valuable trade piece for a team that needs what is in all reality just an average pitcher who is having a great start to the year.
Travis Wood has been good this year as well, but his success is more of the smoke-and-mirrors variety. He's still walking a good deal (10.4%, his highest rate as a major leaguer) and not walking many (16.9%, a tick below his career average); in fact, his xFIP is 4.61, the same number pretty much exactly as last year and the year before. His success has come via the longball (he hasn't surrendered any) and the strand rate (he's stranded a ton of batters this year). He's also been inducing more grounders and less line drives. That could be due to his increased movement on his pitches, though he's well, well short of being able to have a sample size that's significant (FWIW, his fastball's movement on the z-plane is about 20% greater than last year, which I'm assuming is the primary driver of the increased GB rate). His fastball has also had a .179 wOBA against (career average; .314); hopefully, that's a sign that he's turned the corner.
Shark had an incredible first 5 innings of his second start before it all fell apart. His FIP still sits at 1.56, not just best on the team but 4th best in baseball. Honestly, I think he's only slightly worse than he's shown so far this year. When his GB% and LD% normalize, we'll see his real future, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he is just an actual ace pitcher at some point in the near future. Something interesting to note is his increased slider usage this season; he's actually thrown it more often than the fastball this year.
James Russell and Hector Rondon haven't pitched enough to truly know how well they've done, but they've both acquitted themselves nicely. The fact that we can even whisper that Rondon could close (and it's a bad, bad idea) tells you all you need to know about both Rondon and the rest of the bullpen.
Kyuji Fujikawa is already broken. That didn't take very long. When you carry a WHIP over 2, things are bound the not turn out well for you. That being said, his FIP is 2.62 and his BABIP is .471. I'm willing to hope that we are just being deceived by small sample size. Then again, I've seen his performances this year. Those balls have been well, well hit.
Edwin Jackson said that pitching for the home Chicago fans is more difficult than pitching in the World Series. That's slightly concerning; however, that'll pass and he'll settle in, I'm sure. He's also yet another guy that hasn't surrendered a home run this season.
Same goes for Scott Feldman. I've gone back and forth on thinking he could really have been a great sign and realizing that he's not a very good pitcher. Unfortunately, I think the latter is more true than the former. Feldman is certainly the first one destined to the bullpen when Garza or Baker return; hopefully he can be more competent there. His splits don't really indicate any change in effectiveness from starting to relieving; however, his OPS against when seeing players for the first time is .723 so in really short spurts he can moderately effective. He also doesn't really profile as a ROOGY, either; he's equally mediocre against lefties and righties.
The whole bullpen has been terrible this season (with the two exceptions I already noted). I was quietly optimistic that the pen would be at least average this year if not better. That hasn't happened; in fact, the bullpen might be worse this year than last! As a team, the Cubs have converted 43% of save opportunities. Last year, that figure was 57%, tied for last in the Major Leagues. Of course, a sample size of 7 is grossly inadequate, and this probably indicates that the Cubs will actually improve in this area with no effort on there part. Still, Fujikawa, Marmol, Camp, and Takahashi have all been really poor this year.
One Sentence Reviews
St. Louis has had incredible pitching so far, headlined by the sublime Shelby Miller.
I really wish the Cubs had traded for Shin-Soo Choo, who has torn the cover off the ball for the Cincinnati Reds (as have Votto, Phillips, and Frazier).
The Pittsburgh Pirates' outfield of Marte/McCutchen/Snider is really young and really good.
Once you get past noted steroid user Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers are pretty much dogshit.
1. Carlos Villanueva
2. Welington Castillo
3. Nate Schierholtz
The Cubs have had a less-than-ideal start to the season. In their defense, they've played some very good teams (Braves, Giants, Rangers to go with 2 bad ones (Pirates, Brewers). The bats have been cold as well as the bullpen. These are things that can change very quickly, considering the sample sizes and BABIPs we're dealing with. As bad as the 5-9 Cubs have been, they are still only 3.5 out of first which is nothing this early in the season. I'm not going to worry to much until I get some more data.