Diagnosing the Chicago Cubs' Problems

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Diagnosing the Chicago Cubs' Problems
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

You look at the Cubs' record, and you can't help but grimace. Their record, 14-17, is right in line with their Pythagorean Record, 15-16. The Cubs struggle somewhat in one-run games, going 3-6 in such contests.

The Cubs struggle mightily on the road, going 7-11 on road games, as opposed to 7-6 at Wrigley.

Let's gander at their pitching.

The Cubs are actually pitching very well. They are first in the league in strike-outs per walk, and boast the best Contact Percentage.

The starting pitching has preserved the bullpen well, limiting the relievers to the fourth least innings-pitched in the National League. That has led to the fourth-best relief Runs Above Replacement, even with negative efforts from Jeff Gray, John Grabow, Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, and Jeff Samardzija.

On the flip side, none of the starters are posting negative seasonal RAR efforts. All in all, the Cubs have the fourth-best RAR in the National League, behind the Cardinals, Rockies, and Giants—all great pitching staffs.

You look at their team ERA (4.50), and it's slightly below average. Why?

Well, looking at their batted ball statistics, you'll see that they are 14th in the leage in both batting average on balls in play (.326, .300 is the average) and left on base percent (66.3%, 71% is the average).

So looking at those two stats, you could say that the Cubs are a bit unlucky. A nifty little stat, Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) adjusts for that, giving the Cubs a 3.87 xFIP, good enough for second in the league.

Maybe their fielding is the problem.

The Cubs are decent enough fielders, maybe even above average. They rank fifth in UZR and fielding RAR in the league.

That can't be the problem, what about their hitting?

The Cubs are fourth in the league in batting Runs Above Replacement level, second in walks per strikeouts, and third in average, OPS, and wOBA, which is widely accepted in sabermetric circles as the premier batting statistic.

The glaring issue with their batting seems to be timely hitting. Their clutch rating (which measures how well hitters perform in late innings, runners in scoring position, and such) is dead last in the majors , at -2.86. The next "best" is the Brewers at -1.12. Needless to say, the Cubs need to pick it up in the clutch.

If they can perform at even a league average level in high leverage situations, the Cubs could push for a good shot at the wild card.

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