Why the Cubs Are Better than Their Record Shows

The Chicago Cubs have the second-worst record in baseball, but their numbers suggest otherwise.

The Chicago Cubs are 26-37, have the second-worst record in baseball and sit in last place in the NL Central. At face value, it appears the Cubs are destined for their fourth straight 90-loss season, which would be a first for the 140-year-old franchise. But when we take a deeper look at their performance this season, the numbers show they’re actually playing better than their record indicates.

Prior to their 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh last night, the Cubs were ranked 17th in our MLB Power Rankings with a team nERD of -0.23. Following the loss, they dropped down to number 23 and now have a team nERD of -0.32. For those who aren’t familiar with the stat, it calculates how good a team is based on how much it should win by against an average opponent. They have a higher nERD than two 30-plus win teams (Royals, Rangers) and three 29-plus win teams.

In essence, they're not as bad as you'd think. Their pitching staff has been more than reliable. After ranking 21st in team earned run average in 2013, the Cubs have the 11th-best team ERA in the majors this season at 3.63. They're limiting opponents to just a .244 average on the year, good enough for seventh-best in the league. A large part of their success on the mound has come from the arms of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who rank 12th and 17th in the majors in ERA.

Jeff Samardzija2-52.54 (12).229 (21)1.13 (19)2.16 (22)
Jason Hammel6-42.81 (17).213 (7)0.98 (7)2.12 (27)

As you can see, Samardzija and Hammel have put up some pretty impressive numbers this season. Both have started 13 games thus far, but because Samardzija has the second-lowest run support in the majors at 2.54 runs per game, he has accounted for six no decisions. Hammel, on the other hand, has had no problem with run support (4.31) and has been on a tear as of late. He had his 14-inning scoreless streak snapped yesterday when Andrew McCutchen took him deep in the first inning. It was the first home run he has surrendered in 51 2/3 innings.

With an efficient pitching staff, the Cubs have been able to pick up the slack of their offense, which ranks 25th in runs scored. Through 63 games, they have a -11 run differential, topping division rivals Pittsburgh (-18) and Cincinnati (-20). If the Cubs’ offense had been able to score just one more run every three games, they would be roughly +10 in that regard.

So why are they bad?

Why They're 11 Games Under .500

Offensively, the Cubs have flat out struggled. Not only do they rank 25th in the league in runs scored, but they are also tied with the Mets for the second-worst team batting average at .233. Outside of first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, who are having pretty great seasons so far, their offense just hasn’t been clicking.

Of Chicago’s 55 home runs, 21 have come from Rizzo and Castro. Of their 236 runs batted in, 68 have come off their bats as well. That’s roughly 38 percent of the team’s home runs and 29 percent of the teams’s total runs coming from the two. They've a combined on base percentage of .362, compared to that of the team’s .299 OBP.

Rizzo and Castro are responsible for a healthy portion of the Cubs’ offensive numbers to this point, and that is unlikely to change as the season progresses. They’re averaging 3.89 runs per game, which ranks 23rd in the league. When their offense has shown up, it’s streaky and inconsistent. Outside of their five-game winning streak in early June, they have struggled to string together consecutive wins.

Close games have not been friendly to the Cubs. Of their 37 losses, 21 have come by one or two runs. In those 21 losses, seven came when Chicago pitchers gave up three runs or less. Their pitching staff has done its part thus far, but the Cubs’ offense has struggled to capitalize on several winnable occasions.

Lastly, the Cubs just can’t buy a win on the road it seems. They have a record of 11-23 away from Wrigley Field, giving them the worst road record in baseball. It’s hard to win when you can’t generate any offense.

PlayerHome BAAway BA
Anthony Rizzo.327.244
Starlin Castro.286.261
Emilio Bonafacio.288.248
Junior Lake.250.236
Luis Valbuena.264.307
Nate Schierholtz.182.245
Welington Castillo.253.233

It’s not just the offense that’s struggling away from home, but also the pitching.

PlayerHome ERARoad ERAHome WHIPRoad WHIP
Jason Hammel2.203.200.891.05
Jeff Samardzija1.643.791.051.23
Edwin Jackson3.226.101.401.51
Travis Wood2.587.341.041.82
Jake Arrieta0.564.051.191.60

Despite their above-average pitching staff, the Cubs still have plenty of work to do before they record their first winning season since 2009.