The Cubs had just dropped another series to the division rival Cincinnati Reds. It’s almost as though the Reds think of Wrigley Field as their home away from home, but there was enough positive to think that eventually the Cubs will start using their homefield advantage again. I’m a bit bored now that school’s out and we’re waiting out some trades and draft signings, so let’s take a look at some numbers here…
While we’re not all that big on the All-Star Game, especially with the goofy quirk of the winner earning homefield advantage in the World Series for their league, it is still nice to recognize great performances. From looking at the MLB leaderboards (via Baseball-Reference.com), we notice a few Cubs featured prominently despite the team having a losing record and likely staring at another top ten pick in 2015. The star of the team is none other than first baseman Anthony Rizzo. It’ll probably update tomorrow, but as of now, Rizzo is in the MLB top 10 for on-base percentage and OPS. Rizzo also graces the top 10 charts for home runs, runs scored, walks, among other categories.
His teammate, shortstop Starlin Castro, is also on a few of those lists. Castro is in the top ten for doubles, and interestingly, also for hit-by-pitch. I was pleased to see that Castro isn’t in the running for most outs made like he was last season; it seems that last season was the aberration and not the norm, at least so far in 2014.
On the pitching side, it’s interesting to see that the starting pitcher who has amassed the most wins above replacement so far is Jason Hammel, who is featured in the MLB top ten. As a sign-to-be-flipped candidate, this is really good for the Cubs front office as they should be able to score a nice payday for a rental; Hammel also limits the baserunners as he is in the top ten in WHIP as well. Jeff Samardzija, the default (and probably bonafide) ace of the staff, does show up on the ERA list as well as ERA+.
When we take a look only at the 2014 Cubs, we find only three players who are better than league average on offense using the OPS+ metric: Rizzo, Castro, and Luis Valbuena. Valbuena is in a bit of a slump but I’ve argued that he’s still useful anyway. It’s kind of fun to think that Starlin Castro is slugging better than Robinson Cano right now, although of course Cano plays in a pitcher’s park while Castro plays in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field.
When we look at batter WAR, we of course find Rizzo, Castro and Valbuena up top. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list but has put up some decent value, though that was mostly due to a blistering hot start in April. Junior Lake and Welington Castillo (just back from the DL) are the only other position players to accumulate positive value. Travis Wood (0.6 WAR!) leads a host of pitchers in positive value as well, and it’s really no wonder the Cubs have trouble outscoring their opponents as most of the rest of the roster have accumulated negative value with the bat. After the Reds series, only three players (you guessed it: Rizzo, Castro and Valbuena) have an OPS greater than .700, and Travis Wood actually has a .846 OPS so I do hope he’s in the running for a Silver Slugger after the season.
Now we can switch to the pitchers, where we see that Jeff Samardzija is leading the way with 103 innings pitched. If he had enough innings to qualify, Jake Arrieta would actually lead the club with a 2.05 ERA. It’s interesting also to note that Edwin Jackson has actually recorded the third-most strikeouts on the staff despite his struggles. And the bullpen for the most part has been great, something Behind The Ivy observed as early as mid-May. If we get down to the standard stats, we see that the Cubs have been good at limiting bases on balls, maximizing strikeouts (though I hear through the grapevine that strikeouts are up league-wide anyway, but still nice to see) and keeping the ball in the park. You wish then that the offense would actually make all this pitching count for something!
We can see that the pitching is also responsible for accumulating most of the WAR on the Cubs. Most of the pitchers who have pitched meaningful innings this season have positive WAR. Jose Veras was designated for assignment so he won’t do any damage anymore, and Carlos Villanueva has been improving some so his WAR should become less negative. Even Jackson isn’t so horrible as to be too negative in the WAR department. The reliever corps is led by Brian Schlitter, who has been pretty good as the “weak link” in the bullpen.
No Cubs are going to be voted in as starters, but I believe that the MLB managers will at least give serious consideration to putting Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on the National League squad. I’m not so bold to think that any of the relievers will have a shot, but stranger things have happened. It’s fun to think that there could be up to four definite Cubs reserves on the NL All-Star team, which is a testament to their production on a losing club. They can only control their own production though, and so far I’m happy. It will be fun to keep tabs on, at least up until Hammel and Samardzija get traded away. But after the trade deadline, it will be intriguing to see what magic Chris Bosio does with the call-ups and trade return pieces.
I suppose I could have gone hog-wild and did all the wRC+ and Z-swing% and SIERA and crap, but I figured I’d leave that to other folks. This was just a fun little exercise that you could do just be sorting the available spreadsheets, simple enough and still plenty informative.