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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans

Monday, May 23, 2016

Regression and Perspective

I tend to think that sometimes “regression” is used too broadly when talking about a really good or really bad team.  I know that it has a very specific meaning in statistics and projections, but part of my mind always goes to the non-statistical definition: “a return to a former or less developed state.”  That’s probably a poor way of saying that we really shouldn’t be surprised that the Cubs have started looking downright mortal.  For the season, the Cubs are down to 5.5 runs/g (6.2 in April, 4.8 in May) and 2.9 RA/g (2.6 in April and 3.3 in May). 

One of the reasons why I was never concerned about the offense even though the overall dropoff was to be expected, was that the Cubs were getting so little from either corner OF spot (still true) and having so many above average bats meant that a prolonged slump for the whole team wasn’t likely.  That has been someone born out when you go player by player. 

Fowler is hitting .286/.396/.455 in May after having a 1.087OPS in April.  Rizzo is hitting .263/.374/.474 with only 3HRs this month after going .218/.384/.577 with 8HRs in April (but hey - his BA is better!).  Russell (.254/.342/.448 may, .214/.341/.343 april) and Zobrist (.394/.483/.662 may, .260/.396/.356 april) have actually improved, while Bryant only slightly dropped off (but more interestingly, he’s hit much better on the road this year - .312/.390/.538 vs .233/.325/.452 - after the exact opposite last year .243/.333/.360 vs .311/.408/.629).  On the pitching side, the samples are even smaller, but overall is still pretty good. 

So while the last 10 games or so have been a little underwhelming (shutout twice, and only scored more than 3 runs 3 times), there’s on reason to be overly concerned.  Just like there was no reason to assume that the total domination of early would continue indefinitely.  As we’ve talked about before, there’s still a few roster issues to be sorted out, and there’s still a long, long way to go. 

Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 23, 2016 at 04:34 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Andere Richtingen Posted: May 23, 2016 at 10:27 AM (#5226890)
In the first 30 games or so it was abundantly obvious that the Cubs were playing over their heads; in fact, they were playing above the heads of virtually every team that has played in the last 100 years. Champion teams, even the upper cut from that, have stretches of 4 and 7.

But interestingly, they really didn't look that bad in this stretch. The pitching was decent: in this 4 and 7 stretch, there was really only one terrible start (Lester in SF) and two kinda crappy ones (Lackey against SD and Hendricks in MIL). The starters had a 3.51 RA. The bullpen was strong (8 runs in 29 IP) and really only had one game where they blew it (the first game in the SD doubleheader). The offense was what came short, but it wasn't that terrible: 40 runs in 11 games, and shut out twice. In the last seven losses, the Cubs lost by a total margin of 12 runs. Overall, despite losing 7/11 games, they still outscored their opponents 40 to 33.

They lost Heyward, but wouldn't you know it, Soler's bat has shown some life, and Szczur has come back hitting.

Of course the team is not perfect, and the imperfections are most visible when a team isn't winning games. The bullpen has come through when they were needed, but that's easier when you have eight relievers, and I think it could use another quality arm. And of course catchers occupy two of the four bench spots, one of whom is referred to as "Gramps" and is hitting like a much younger version of himself. As May turns to June, we have to wonder about Jason Hammel. I am sure attention is being paid to these issues.
   2. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 23, 2016 at 10:33 AM (#5226896)
there was really only one terrible start (Lester in SF)

That was the only start this year where the SP didn't go 5 innings. Amazing that streak lasted that long.

---

It's a shame Ramirez didn't appear to recover from that injury, and he never really gained Maddon's trust. I'm ready for Richard to be gone, and yeah, the 3rd catcher thing is beyond annoying now.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: May 23, 2016 at 09:26 PM (#5227522)
Keeping the 3rd C around while Heyward is hurting is particularly odd. I suppose it's part of the fall-out from the Schwarber injury and the Ross signing. Montero managed only 90 starts last year with an injury and has already hurt himself once this year. You probably can't count on him for 120 starts, you don't want Ross for 50 starts ... carrying a 3rd C is at least more tenable if we're sticking with a 7-man pen.

Hopefully the answer here will be Wilson Contreras who's doing very nicely at AAA. 328/421/478 with more BB than K and a K-rate around 1/9. That's a nearly identical line to last year with an improvement in the K-rate. I have no idea where his defense is, he doesn't really have as many starts as I'd like to see but he became a C late. They will obviously wait at least long enough to make sure the super-2 deadline has passed.
   4. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 24, 2016 at 06:03 AM (#5227646)
Everything I've seen says that his defense is ok - he's got a strong arm, is pretty athletic for a catcher - but that the Cubs really want him to focus and improve his handling of the pitching staff. That is obviously something this team puts a lot of emphasis on (both because they didn't like Castillo and how much they value Ross), so I understand why they'd avoid calling him up until he can either get more regular PT or until they think the game calling is ready. It sure would appear his bat is ready now.

They will obviously wait at least long enough to make sure the super-2 deadline has passed.

I'm pretty sure we're beyond this now. There's nothing to suggest that this is true.
   5. bbmck Posted: May 24, 2016 at 06:16 AM (#5227647)
Better May:

Player                  Split   OPS PA
Jason Heyward             May  .621 66
Jason Heyward     April
/March  .604 99
Miguel Montero            May  .778 19
Miguel Montero    April
/March  .649 57
Addison Russell           May  .790 76
Addison Russell   April
/March  .684 85
Jorge Soler               May  .612 48
Jorge Soler       April
/March  .610 68
Ben Zobrist               May 1.145 88
Ben Zobrist       April
/March  .752 91 

Better April:

Player                  Split   OPS PA
Javier Baez       April
/March  .838 31
Javier Baez               May  .521 53
Kris Bryant       April
/March  .878 94
Kris Bryant               May  .845 94
Dexter Fowler     April
/March 1.087 95
Dexter Fowler             May  .850 91
Tommy La Stella   April
/March 1.203 29
Tommy La Stella           May  .777 44
Anthony Rizzo     April
/March  .961 99
Anthony Rizzo             May  .847 91
David Ross        April
/March  .851 39
David Ross                May  .724 41 


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/24/2016.
   6. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 24, 2016 at 10:26 AM (#5227753)
You probably can't count on him for 120 starts, you don't want Ross for 50 starts


But isn't the reason you don't want Ross for 50 starts because he's not that good? But Tim Federowicz is worse - much worse. So, how is that a solution? Frankly, a straight Montero-Ross platoon would be just fine on this team. Despite the team's recent offensive struggles, it can afford to stick Ross at #8 and still win games - heck, Ross is actually hitting well this season (OPS+ of 111) and I've really grown to appreciate and enjoy his defense / throwing arm.

Looking for silver linings in their recent struggles, the Cubs are 4 games below their Pythag, which is an eye-popping 33-10 - apply that Pythag to their remaining 119 games plus the 29 wins-in-hand adds up to a 120-42 season (no, I am not predicting a 120-42 season). The Cubs outscored the Giants in their series. And if I'm reading their results correctly, the Cubs have only lost 3 games all season by more than two runs (to the Rockies, Reds, and Padres).
   7. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 24, 2016 at 11:13 AM (#5227809)
Law moved up Contreras to #18 on his top prospect list:

Since the start of 2014, Contreras has hit .332/.415/.478 between Double- and Triple-A while throwing out 29 percent of opposing runners. He's a very athletic catcher but is considered a poor framer, though that seems to be a skill that can be improved, at least sometimes, with good coaching. I think teams would live with some below-average framing if they're getting a star-caliber bat behind the plate.


Like I said before, the Cubs seem to want him to get better at the receiving part before he comes up (unless necessary).

(He also has Torres at #14.)
   8. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 25, 2016 at 06:07 AM (#5228512)
Nice of Federowicz to get an RBI hit yesterday, hopefully that's a nice going away present for him. Also, it's be nice if Clayton Richard turned off the lights on his way out. Good riddance. Well, I hope they ask him to, that is.
   9. Norcan Posted: May 25, 2016 at 07:47 AM (#5228532)
Nice to see Soler start to get it going. I think he's made a subtle adjustment in the rhythm of his swing. Instead of rocking his front foot up and down at a consistent interval while waiting for the pitch, he rocks and rocks then stops and then rocks again I guess at a certain cue in the pitcher's delivery before going into his leg kick/foot slide. I like it. Initially I thought he had incorporated a toe tap into his swing but he's not, it's more of a static heel tap but I think the principles are similar. I still don't understand why he hasn't tried the swing that was so successful for him in the playoffs last year, the one which he still had a wide open stance but adopted a leg kick. Right from spring training he had a more closed up stance and has stuck with it throughout his struggles. My guess is that they applied the same "fix" used so successfully on Castro's swing but damn, maybe Soler's swing had already been fixed in the playoffs.
   10. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: May 25, 2016 at 09:02 AM (#5228562)
The Cubs have now won 17 games by blowout in 2016.

They won 16 games by blowout in 2015.
   11. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 25, 2016 at 09:15 AM (#5228568)
   12. bbmck Posted: May 25, 2016 at 09:22 AM (#5228571)
Cubs teams since 1913 with 14 or fewer games scoring 8 runs:

Year    Matching L   R   OPS
2016          14 0 134 1.012
2013          14 1 126 1.018
1976          14 4 129  .967
1971          14 0 141 1.046
1963          14 1 143 1.088
1953          14 2 135 1.048
1916          14 2 118  .944

2014          11 0 111 1.021
1981          10 0  99  .994
1947          10 1  93  .975
1915          10 1 104  .996
1919           5 0  46  .929 


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/25/2016.

Pretty big improvement from 2013-14 unless the rest of the season goes really badly. 57 in 1929 is the most. 36 in 2008 and 1998 is most since WW2.
   13. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 26, 2016 at 04:23 AM (#5229388)
I mentioned Rizzo's slump and BA swings this year in yesterday's gamechatter, but in more detail:

4/4-4/19: .163/.339/.388, 3HR
4/20-5/11 (game 1): .368/.494/.794, 7HR
5/11 (game 2)-5/25: .120/.224/.200, 1hr
TOTAL: .239/.368/.503

That is some up and down so far. Cubs recent less than greatest team ever streak coincides with this current slump.
   14. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 29, 2016 at 05:21 PM (#5231738)
Looking for silver linings in their recent struggles, the Cubs are 4 games below their Pythag, which is an eye-popping 33-10 - apply that Pythag to their remaining 119 games plus the 29 wins-in-hand adds up to a 120-42 season (no, I am not predicting a 120-42 season). The Cubs outscored the Giants in their series.


The Cubs now have a Pythag record of 37-11. If you apply their Pythag to their remaining 114 games plus the 34 wins-in-hand, they're now up to a 122-40 pace. Once again, no, I am not predicting a 122-40 season, although if the Cubs keep this up, I may have to ditch the disclaimer.
   15. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: May 29, 2016 at 06:16 PM (#5231753)
Their pitching has got to come back to earth sometime. They have 5 quality starters, but jeeze. At the start of today, their starters in aggregate looked a lot like Steve Carlton's 1980 CYA season, which is just ridiculous. And then today they added 7 IP, 1 run to that.
   16. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: May 29, 2016 at 06:35 PM (#5231763)
Team records in blow outs, as of 5 PM today (bunched into groups of fives for readability):

18-2 CHC
12-8 STL
10-3 BOX
10-4 DCN
10-4 SEA

10-7 PIT
9-4 CLE
8-4 CWS
8-4 SFG
8-7 BAL

7-6 NYM
7-7 TEX
7-8 ARI
6-3 LAD
6-4 TOR

6-8 LAA
6-11 COL
5-6 TBR
5-6 DET
5-7 NYY

4-5 HOU
4-5 SDP
4-7 MIA
4-7 MIL
4-8 KCR

4-10 ATL
4-11 OAK
2-10 MIN
2-12 CIN
1-8 PHI
   17. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: May 29, 2016 at 06:49 PM (#5231771)
Their pitching has got to come back to earth sometime. They have 5 quality starters, but jeeze. At the start of today, their starters in aggregate looked a lot like Steve Carlton's 1980 CYA season, which is just ridiculous. And then today they added 7 IP, 1 run to that.

Jason Hammel -- first half / second half splits in his career as a starting pitcher (2009-15):

2009: 4.43 ERA in 89.1 IP in the first half. 4.23 ERA in 87.1 IP in the second half
2010: 4.08 ERA in 90.1 IP in the first half. 5.56 ERA in 87.1 IP in the second half
2011: 4.23 ERA in 110.2 IP in the first half. 5.73 ERA in 59.2 IP in the second half
2012: 3.47 ERA in 106.1 IP in the first half. 3.09 ERA in 11.2 IP in the second half
2013: 5.24 ERA in 111.2 IP in the first half. 3.90 ERA in 27.2 IP in the second half
2014: 3.01 ERA in 113.2 IP in the first half. 4.31 ERA in 62.2 IP in the second half
2015: 2.86 ERA in 103.2 IP in the first half. 5.10 ERA in 67 IP in the second half.


That's six straight years where Hammel has been either: 1) injured in the second half, 2) ineffective in the second half, 3) both.

It works out to a 3.89 ERA in the first half and a 4.84 ERA in the second half. And with 45 more innings per year in the first half. Hammel's current 2.17 ERA is way over his head by any standards, and he's a great bet to fall off considerably in the second half.
   18. McCoy Posted: May 30, 2016 at 09:10 PM (#5232250)
With the win today the Cubs are now doing better than the 1906 team which went 34-15 in their 116 win season. The only 20th century to do better was the 1907 team. They have to go 8-3 in their next 11 games to stay in second behind the 1907 team. They cannot catch the 1907 team even if they win all 11 games. That's how hot they started.

The 1906 team would go 88-21 after May 30th. Good for a .806 winning percentage. Only the Pirates and the Yankees came close to matching that performance. The Rangers were the closest team to not getting at least 70 wins with 2011 being the only time they got 70 wins in a 112 game stretch in a season.
   19. Kiko Sakata Posted: May 30, 2016 at 09:21 PM (#5232259)
Their pitching has got to come back to earth sometime. They have 5 quality starters, but jeeze. At the start of today, their starters in aggregate looked a lot like Steve Carlton's 1980 CYA season, which is just ridiculous. And then today they added 7 IP, 1 run to that.


So, how about that bullpen? Starting pitcher goes down at the start of the 3rd w/ cramping? Ho-hum: 7 perfect innings by the bullpen. And only Wood pitched more than one inning, so they're not even burned out for the rest of the series. This team is unbelievable.
   20. Meatwad Posted: May 30, 2016 at 11:18 PM (#5232396)
Wood came up huge today. I suspect he was trying to show that he should start if hammel misses time. Also how good has Zobrist been for the cubs? Did not expect anyting close to what he has done.
   21. McCoy Posted: May 31, 2016 at 11:40 AM (#5232612)
Something to watch for as the goes on.

This season's team could be the first Cub team to have 4 players with 100 or more RBI since the 1929 team. It would also only be the third time it has happened in Cub history. The other interesting thing is that if you were to count the catchers as some sort of three headed monster there is a possibility that it will be 5 players to do it.

I'm thinking at the end of the day it will be just 3 players but it would be neat to have 4 guys do it.
   22. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:02 PM (#5232627)
So, how about that bullpen? Starting pitcher goes down at the start of the 3rd w/ cramping? Ho-hum: 7 perfect innings by the bullpen. And only Wood pitched more than one inning, so they're not even burned out for the rest of the series. This team is unbelievable.

Incredible. I think a key lurking variable is what happened to the Dodgers over the previous 24 hours: 1) play a Sunday night game on the West Coast, 2) fly to Chicago in the middle of the night, and 3) then play a late afternoon game at Wrigley.

I gotta figure that's part of the reason their bats were so dormant. Not to slight the job Travis Wood and the rest of the bullpen did, but as long as your starter has to leave the game really early like that, it sure helps if the opposition is dragging ass for reasons beyond anyone's control.

(Remember when Zambrano no-hit the Astros in Milwaukee, and Ted Lilly flirted with a no-hitter the next day? Team was distracted by the big hurricane hitting Houston. Yeah, it helps to play a team that's out of sync).
   23. McCoy Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:08 PM (#5232629)
A result in search of a narrative.
   24. Charles S. is not doing chainsaw bears any more Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:13 PM (#5232632)
Dag, your overall point is a good one, but the Sunday night game was played in NY, not on the West Coast.
   25. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:19 PM (#5232642)
Anyone have an article or idea they want me to post on the blog for this week? I have very little to complain about (Federowicz isn't worth a whole post), and it's hard talking about how good they are every week.
   26. McCoy Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:30 PM (#5232652)
37 players on the 40 man roster?

The rumor about the Eovaldi trade? Possibly make it about what pieces the Cubs need to make a good run and or what they can give up to get better.
   27. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 31, 2016 at 12:40 PM (#5232664)
(Remember when Zambrano no-hit the Astros in Milwaukee, and Ted Lilly flirted with a no-hitter the next day? Team was distracted by the big hurricane hitting Houston. Yeah, it helps to play a team that's out of sync).


Come on, Dag. As McCoy says a bit more eloquently, this is just makin' sh*t up.
   28. Charles S. is not doing chainsaw bears any more Posted: May 31, 2016 at 02:44 PM (#5232857)
Moses, how about a discussion of untouchables in the farm system? If the Cubs were to make a play for, say, Andrew Miller, who is off the table? I'd say Almora and Contreras, because they might be in the starting line-up next year, and Torres just because. What about the rapidly emerging Eloi Jiminez? Any pitchers we might be excited about?
   29. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: May 31, 2016 at 02:48 PM (#5232871)
It's based on an old Bill James study, IIRC -- teams are more likely to get no-hit when there is some kind of "dragging ass" factor. (No, this wasn't a no-hitter -- but it didn't miss by much. One hit, and a blooper one at that).

I remember thinking it was weird before the game: a 4:05 PM start - don't recall seeing that before. Then I looked and though -- wait, the Dodgers have a day game following a night game ..... with an airplane flight in between. How often does that happen? It doesn't sound like something that occurs all that often in MLB.

I just heard Len Kasper say on the radio that the Dodgers flew into Chicago at 3:30 AM yesterday. What time did they get to the hotel? What time did they get to sleep?

Look, Travis Wood & company pitched great yesterday. But it sure helps to play against a day game against a team that went to bed at 5 AM than one that fell asleep at a normal time.
   30. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 31, 2016 at 03:12 PM (#5232901)
It's based on an old Bill James study, IIRC -- teams are more likely to get no-hit when there is some kind of "dragging ass" factor.


As defined ex post facto by James himself?

But it sure helps to play against a day game against a team that went to bed at 5 AM than one that fell asleep at a normal time.


Sure, there's some narrative logic to that. But definitively attributing causality to such a factor in any one case (as so many reporters/writers/"analysts" so often do), let alone to say that you are sure it was because of "distraction by hurricane" or somesuch, is just makin' sh*t up. I mean, right there in your example - let's say they got in at 5 a.m. That's still time to get, what, 6 hours of sleep and get to Wrigley in plenty of time for warmups before a 4:05 start. I would bet that most people are capable of functioning perfectly well at work with 6 hours of sleep.
   31. McCoy Posted: May 31, 2016 at 03:21 PM (#5232907)
I also bet that most people only do get about 6 hours of sleep or so.
   32. Due to the leadership of Zonk... Posted: May 31, 2016 at 04:06 PM (#5232957)
Anyone have an article or idea they want me to post on the blog for this week? I have very little to complain about (Federowicz isn't worth a whole post), and it's hard talking about how good they are every week.


I don't know if it's worth a post, but it still irks me - as much as anything can irk someone in this storybook thus far - that the Cubs are losing these series against bad teams. I suppose they're beating up on the GOOD teams... but imagine if they hadn't lost of 2 of 3 to the Padres, dropped 2 of 3 against the Brewers, and 2 of 3 against the Rockies! Plus splitting the rain-abbreviated series with the lowly Braves. I guess they've smacked around the Reds pretty good - was gonna note the sweep against the Phillies, but the Phils are playing well.

IIRC, the Giants are the only .500+ team to win a series against the Cubs.

NO JINX! But I find myself disappointed the Sox have come back down to earth - was looking forward to the possibility of an L series. I just hope the Sox can find a way to right the ship in the next week or so because - see above.
   33. McCoy Posted: May 31, 2016 at 11:01 PM (#5233329)
I'll take a Windy City Classic after the Cubs win a WS. Losing to the White Sox would be unbearable without one in the bag already. Still ticks me off that the Sox won one in 2005.

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