Heretofore, I’ve focused solely on playoff odds in this feature. But with the Cubs all but locks since we turned the page on April, I felt the need to branch out just a little more. We’ll still have some odds mixed in here too, they just won’t be the whole meal. Instead, I’ll look at some stats and info I’ve come across in the last few days.
Starters’ home ERA’s
To find evidence of just how comfortable the Cubs have been at Wrigley this season, one need look no further than the sparkling ERA’s of the starting staff. Much has been made of their league-best 2.98 overall mark, but it gets even better when you look specifically at the individual home splits. For instance, John Lackey’s home ERA of 2.84 ranks 23rd in MLB among starters with at least 40 innings pitched in their own park. And that’s the worst of the Cubs rotation.
Jason Hammel is 18th in the league with a 2.70 and Jon Lester ranks 7th with a 2.18 mark. Then you’ve got Jake Arrieta and his 1.61 ERA, which puts him 5th in baseball. That means…wait, really? Yep, Kyle Hendricks and his 1.36 ERA at Wrigley ranks 2nd behind only Clayton Kershaw. That comes out to a 2.10 aggregate ERA for the starters at home, which is not terrible. To what can we attribute these performances, particularly when they’ve come in a hitter’s park?
There’s really no one thing we can point to, but I’m actually inclined to put most of it on psychological factors. And I’d put comfort on the top of that list. Between the atmosphere, both in the park and the clubhouse, it’s got to feel good for those guys to go to work every day. And speaking of the clubhouse, I have no doubt the new digs are helping. Maybe it’s silly to chalk any significant measure of improved performance up to that, though, I don’t know.
What I do know is that feeling more relaxed mentally can help you to perform better physically. And that renovated clubhouse is a hell of a lot more relaxing than the cinderblock closet the Cubs have called home for the past many years.
Schwarber trade talk
This is a dead horse if ever there was one and I almost feel bad standing here with this stick in my hand. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron, however, has no such compunction when it comes to matters of metaphorical animal cruelty. As such, he took an interesting — if somewhat tedious — tack and approached the topic from a different angle.
While most Cubs fans are placing a premium on War Bear because they’ve got emotional ties to the team and because he’s incredibly awesome and is capable of destroying small cities with the concussive force of his swing, Cameron dials things down significantly. He spends the first 2,100 words of the piece — which is a lot, even coming from a guy who’s loathe to throw stones because he had to build his bathroom in the basement — tempering expectations for the injured slugger before getting around to a comparison of value between Schwarber and Andrew Miller.
There’s a great deal of data to unpack, whether it’s Schwarber’s relatively low in-zone contact rate, his absurdly high ratio of homers to extra-base hits, or the fact that he faces a shift 63% of the time as a very pull-heavy lefty hitter. It’s all very interesting, if perhaps a bit much for the average fan to wade through in one sitting. The (somewhat belabored) point, however, is to set up the possibility that Schwarber may only ever be a left-handed-hitting Mike Napoli.
I recommend checking out all Cameron has to say so as to put your own context to it, but here’s his conclusion:
With a 20% discount rate — which is entirely subjective, of course, so this more for illustration than a precise valuation — a +10 to +3.5 WAR gap in favor of Schwarber [over Miller] during their relative control years shrinks down to a +4.6 to +2.8 WAR gap. It’s still not enough to overcome the long-term value that Schwarber provides, but it’s at least an argument that it’s not insane for the Cubs to consider a deal involving those two, especially if the Yankees sweetened the pot.
Like, say, adding Aroldis Chapman to the deal. Putting Chapman and Miller in the Cubs bullpen, along with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop, would give the Cubs the best bullpen in baseball, to go along with all the other things they’re the best at. And at that point, the short-term upgrade would be large enough that I think the Cubs would have to at least consider moving Schwarber.
I know the Cubs love his personality and his work ethic, and perhaps he will turn into the kind of franchise cornerstone that justifies keeping him for the future, even if he could bring back a serious upgrade to the team in the short-term. But given the questions I have about his offensive upside, in addition to the real questions about his defensive value, I think I’d at least be engaging the Yankees on a Schwarber-for-Miller-and-Chapman deal. Schwarber looks like a very nice young hitter, but the Cubs have other guys who also look like nice young hitters.
What they don’t have is a World Championship in the last century. Kyle Schwarber can’t help them with that this year. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman could, and from my perspective, the short-term upgrade might be worth the long-term cost.
He almost had me up until the opener of that last graf. Not that I would ever be in favor of trading Schwarber, just that I was almost ready to consider that the right circumstance could at least get me to accept it as a necessary evil. Invoking the World Series drought as a reason to make a move, however, is where I get off the boat. Winning in general? Fine. But once you start framing decisions with that historical futility it just irks me to no end.
I respect Cameron’s knowledge and his research on this topic, but it felt as though he’d already made up his mind about Schwarber and was laying it on a little thick in terms of his supporting evidence. On the other hand, we could all use a spoonful of medicine with our sugar now and again.
At least Cameron stuck with the oft-discussed Schwarber-for-Miller swap, though. I was later made aware of a Franken-trade idea that would send War Bear and a pair of prospects to Joe Maddon’s former team in exchange for a former Cubs farmhand who’s turned into a nice starting pitcher. Establishing various teams’ needs and looking at potential targets is one thing, but I’m not a fan of these speculative trade proposals, particularly when they don’t really have any merit. And I have a visceral reaction to the rationale that Schwarber is expendable simply because he hasn’t contributed to this year’s team.
For what it’s worth, I am very confident in War Bear’s ability to make the necessary adjustments to his approach to become more than a Mike Napoli redux. That means I also believe his presence in the lineup would have made this Cubs team even better. It’s an egregious fallacy to view Schwarber as some sort of surplus inventory — like your appendix or that can of Old Style you left in the vegetable drawer in your fridge for seven years because you were too crestfallen to drink it after the ’03 NLCS loss and that your father-in-law found and subsequently drank — due to his injury. And then there’s that title-drought argument again. ARGH.
I suppose a lot of people really dig reading about this stuff, which is why it persists. Still, I’m gonna move on before I start punching thi…crap, too late.
After cruising along at nearly 100% for a while there, a few hiccups caused the Cubs to 97.3% back on July 9. A week and a half later, they’ve recovered a bit and are all the way back up to 98.0%, about 53 points higher than the Redbirds. The Pirates have dropped all the way to 18.1% and are in danger of free-falling right out of the postseason conversation.
Speaking of, the early optimism on the South Side has all but vanished as the White Sox have fallen 10 games back in the AL Central and are now clinging to 3.5% playoff odds. There’s even talk of selling off starters, though it’ll take more than a king’s ransom to pry Chris Sale loose.
The Cubs, on the other hand, have added lefty Mike Montgomery to the pen and will soon get Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler back from the DL to boot. Then they’ve got Joe Nathan and Brian Matusz rounding back into form at AAA Iowa. And they may not be done in the trade market. I’d say things are looking pretty good at this point.
Speaking of points, looks like I’ve still got about 600 words before I need to get to mine. Guess I’ll just have to leave you all in suspense.