2016 First Quarter Review: Cubs in Control and Ready to Surge

It’s hard to believe but the 2016 season is already a quarter of the way through. It’s been a quarter that was dominated with lots of talk about the Cubs and their winning ways. And, for all their efforts, the Cubs are 31-14 (.689) through their first 45 games. It’s a record to be proud of and is a great foundation to build off for the remainder of the season.

We thought we’d take some time to look at how the Cubs rank, both as a team and as individuals, in total offense and pitching through the first 45 games.

Pitching

Beginning with pitching, there’s not much surprise that Jake Arrieta leads the way for the Cubs. He is the soul of this pitching staff and has started the season with an incredible 9-0 record. His K/9 of 8.87 is a touch lower than 2015, when it was 9.28 for the year, and his 2016 ERA, at 1.72, is just slightly lower than his 1.77 2015 ERA.

We ranked the pitchers based on ERA compared to other starting pitchers (minimum of 40 innings pitched) in the league. We did not include relievers in these rankings but will highlight below how the bullpen, as a whole, has done so far. But first, here’s a list of the Cubs’ starting pitchers along with a few key stats.

Starting pitcher rankings:

ERA Rank Player W/L K/9 BB/9 FIP
1.72 3 Jake Arrieta 9-0 8.87 2.78 2.71
2.17 5 Jason Hammel 6-1 7.83 3.50 3.35
2.60 18 Jon Lester 4-3 8.46 2.44 3.49
3.30 39 Kyle Hendricks 2-4 7.38 2.33 2.92
3.38 42 John Lackey 4-2 8.95 1.91 3.15
2.59 1 Team 25-10 8.37 2.59 3.11

The Cubs’ starting pitching has, hands down, exceeded expectations so far this year. They currently hold a 6.5 fWAR (FanGraphs). What was most surprising to me, at least the first month of the season, was John Lackey’s slow start. While his ERA has improved to a very respectable 3.38, he started the first month of 2016 with a hearty 4.97 ERA. Over his last five games his ERA is 2.25, so a big improvement for him.

The Cubs’ bullpen has also been very good so far in 2016, as you can see below.

ERA Rank Player W/L K/9 BB/9 FIP
3.09 8 Team 6-4 9.93 4.27 4.02

Their top performer is Hector Rondon, who has a 1.17 ERA and a healthy 15.26 K/9, good enough for fourth overall among relievers with at least ten innings pitched.

Offense

The Cubs offense has been absolutely lethal all year, with the exception of a few games. Those few games have brought their overall numbers back into the realm of reality and at least comparable to the rest of the league.

We ranked the offense based on fWAR (FanGraphs) compared to the rest of the league by position (hence, the ranking below represents the ranking within the player’s position and against other players in the same position).

What was somewhat surprising to me is that Ben Zobrist’s numbers, with the exception of fWAR, were all higher than Dexter Fowler. I knew Ben had been extremely hot lately but didn’t really realize that he had actually passed Dexter, after his incredibly hot start. If anything, that really just adds to the case that Ben has become the offensive leader of this team and is playing perhaps the best baseball of his career.

Starting position player rankings:

WAR Rank Position/Player AVG OBP R RBI
1.1 6 C/David Ross .254 .354 13 14
1.1 5 1B/Anthony Rizzo .234 .371 29 14
2.7 1 2B/Ben Zobrist .346 .453 34 31
1.3 6 SS/Addison Russell .247 .345 20 30
2.3 2 3B/Kris Bryant .279 .368 33 35
0.4 25 RF/Jason Heyward .217 .320 21 16
3.0 2 CF/Dexter Fowler .319 .436 32 23
-0.4 60 LF/Jorge Soler .204 .302 20 10
13.8 1 Team .258 .359 256 244

Everyone has been playing well on the offensive side. Kris Bryant has been playing extremely¬†well so far this season and really seems to be hitting his stride. If he keeps up this level of offensive production he’ll likely find himself being talked about for MVP runner-up (because, unless he gets hurt, that award will most certainly belong to Bryce Harper — again.).

And even though Anthony Rizzo’s batting average is low — .234 — his fWAR is still 1.1 and that’s due in large part to being tied for fourth in the league in RBIs (35).

My main take away when I look at this offense is that there really is no weakness anywhere in this lineup, and yes that includes left field and Jorge Soler, who’s been playing very well the last 14 days slashing .286/.412/.571 (read more about him here). And while there are players that haven’t started the first quarter of the year nearly in line with their career numbers, other players have consistenly stepped up.

Consider this, the Cubs have the top offense in the league and that’s with Heyward, Rizzo and Soler batting .217, .234 and .204, respectively. That’s impressive because those guys are going to pick it up, both Soler and Heyward have already started, and when the entire offense is clicking all at once, I can’t even imagine how good this team is going to be. Although, I can imagine it’s going to be a whole lot of fun this summer on the north side of Chicago.

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