We should all know by now that you can’t take stats from the first 10 games of a season and make legitimate proclamations about how the rest of the year is going to go, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a little fun. So while I applaud broadcasts for opting to inform us that a batter is 4-for-7 rather than say he’s batting .572, it gives me no small measure of joy to see ridiculously inflated metrics.
Then again, you think Chris Davis might prefer to just have them say he’s batting .000 than to say he’s 0-for-32 before adding that it’s actually an MLB record 0-for-49 dating back to last season? Once he finally gets that hit, however, it’s going to be tough to choose how to display it. If I were him, I’d want the actual average since at least some people might think .0303 was just a graphics error.
Anyway, the Cubs have got some pretty wild small-sample stats of their own at this point, especially the pitching staff. Their starters have averaged only 4.3 innings per start so far, worst in the NL and trailing only the Orioles (4.24) for worst in MLB. And unless Yu Darvish pitches at least 3 more innings than Twins starter Jake Odorizzi Wednesday night, the Cubs will still have the fewest total innings pitched by starters.
One other dubious stat in which the Cubs sit last in the NL is home runs per 9 innings, as their 2.51 mark is worse than every team but the Red Sox (2.70). They’ve also averaged 5.65 walks per full game, nearly one whole walk more than the Cardinals (4.66) in the NL and making them tops in baseball as the only team over 5.0 (Rangers – 4.94).
As you might imagine, Cubs starters have also allowed more homers per fly ball (26.7%) than any team in the game. That’s actually a staff-wide issue, as we see when shifting our focus to the bullpen. Only four relief corps in MLB have surrendered a HR/FB rate over 20%, and three of those are at 27.8% or lower. The Cubs, however, sit at 38.1% through Tuesday, though their 1.79 HR/9 mark is only sixth in baseball.
Part of that is because their relievers haven’t actually given up many fly balls, relatively speaking. The Cubs bullpen’s 53.1% groundball rate is tops in the NL and trails only the Yankees (55.2%) for best in MLB. They are led by Steve Cishek’s 87.5%, highest of any pitcher with more than an inning of work, with Pedro Strop’s 77.8% coming in not too far behind.
Now if they could just find a way to make it so that 18% of the contact against them didn’t leave the yard, they might really be on to something. That’s almost certain to come down pretty soon, though it might remain somewhat elevated if the Cubs keep inducing grounders at a high rate. Brandon Kintzler (100% HR/FB), Mike Montgomery (66.7%), Randy Rosario, Tyler Chatwood, Allen Webster, and Carl Edwards Jr. (50% each) all rank among the 24 highest HR/FB rates in baseball.
If you need more proof that some of this is bad luck, the Cubs’ .346 BABIP against is 59 points higher than league average right now. That indicates an inordinate amount of good fortune for their opponents, though allowing the most hard contact in MLB (46.9%) isn’t helping matters. Tied into that is a 9.5% swinging-strike rate that ranks 26th in baseball, indicating that the Cubs simply aren’t missing enough bats. But you probably knew that already.
The point of this exercise isn’t to scare you or to prove that your anxiety about the bullpen has firm roots in statistical evidence. If anything, this is an illustration of how silly things can look when we zoom in closely. Consider that the ‘pen has tossed 12 consecutive scoreless innings — nearly 30% of its total workload — dating back to Saturday night in Milwaukee and then imagine how bad these numbers would have looked like prior to these last two games.
Anyway, the only stat that will really matter in the end is wins. And not pitcher wins, which don’t matter, but team wins. You can dig up all the quirky metrics you want and point to how good or bad a staff is or should be, just know that it’ll all work out if the Cubs keep flying the W.