Cubs are playing better baseball, due to a surprising surge since July 30th culminating with respectable .566 ball, 17-13 (16-13 in August). Though they are still 19 games under .500! September 1st is a good time to look at the whole picture. This is not a good team. Allow me to detail how bad:
- They are ranked 17/30 in runs scored, 8th in the NL, the Cubs rank 26/30 in pitching ERA, 15th in the NL and ahead of only Houston.
- Cubs rank 30/30 worst in errors in the MLB which means they are also worst in the NL
So when the curator of this blog cried out to "blow up this team" including the front office
back in July, he of course was so right----even late.
- Worse yet Cubs rank 6th in payroll ($126M) behind the White Sox, Angels, Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees. They are just ahead of the Mets, Giants and small market Twins, Tigers, Cardinals, and Dodgers who all have payrolls over $100M. So where are the Cubs strengths and weaknesses?
Cubs did lead the NL in home runs in August, (39) YIPPIE, for the season the Cubs Cubs rank 7th in the NL and 14th--yes there has been a power surge. This has improved their OPS for August to .784 (up from the .672 in July and .693 in June) to lead the NL in the month. Yet with all the HR's Cubs still finished 6th in runs scored in the month (125 runs). This should tell you something?
I don't have all the situational splits for August but overall Cubs rank 14th hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) sporting a putrid .232 BA. Cardinals lead the NL with a .RISP 290 BA, Milwaukee is 2nd with a RISP .268 BA The glaring weakness is that the Cubs rank 15th in the NL in OBP. Even though this improved in August to .329 that would move the team only up to 13th in the NL. BTW St. Louis leads the league with a .375 OBP, they are followed by Cincinnati at .358 OBP. In short Cubs put less runners on base and then have less proficiency in knocking them in. Their only strength is occasionally they hit a home run.
Pitching also improved in August (YIPPIE again) during the month up to 7th in the NL from still an overall season ranking of 15th. But on the good side is that their August ERA is 3.71 an improvement of 4.47. So in August they hit more HR's, scored more runs and allowed less....resulting in 3 games over .500!
Fielding, oh YUCK Cubs rank 30/30 at catcher position with 19 errors. Yankees are 29th with 14 errors while Philly leads the MLB with just 3 errors. At 1B Cubs are 11/30 and 6th in the NL, mostly with Pena ( 7 errors). At 2B Cubs rank 15/16 in the NL (15 errors), and 28/30 in the entire MLB. At shortstop Cubs rank 26/30 and 13th in the NL, Castro committing 23 errors. 3B Ramirez is 7th in the NL and 13/30 overall committing 15 errors. Out in the outfield Cubs rank dead last in LF with 9 errors last MLB also meaning the NL. In CF Cubs rank 20/30 with 4 errors and 9th in the NL. RF has been a bright spot with only 3 errors committed ranking them 4th in the NL and 9/30. Don't be surprised but the Cubs rank 29/30 at the pitchers spot with 18 errors (tied w/ 30th).
Are there strength's on this team? Well I am not sure. They do have some HR power but since they don't have a good overall OBP or the ability to hit with RISP their run production is poor.
Looking at pitching their starting pitching possesses a 4.97 ERA, ranked 29/30 so you can't be a poor offensive and fielding team and also have a poor pitching team. The ERA is even worse when you note that the Cubs are 29/30 in IP and worst in the NL from the starters. A slight bright spot is that fact that the Cubs are 15/30 in relief pitching and ranked 9th in the NL with a 3.62 ERA. Taken that their starting pitching is one shy of the worst---meaning there is a lot of pressure on the bullpen in that they having logged the most amount IP in the NL and 3rd greatest in MLB September call ups are needed just to bring in more bodies.
Ultimately this is how bad the Cubs are? They have given up 90 more runs, 80 more earned runs than the NL league average roughly 17% higher. The Cubs do hit more HR's than the league average (11) or 9% greater however they score just 6 runs less than the NL average or just 1% off the average. But what really jumps off the page is that the Cubs committed 28 more errors than the league average or an increase of 33% above the NL average. Their starting pitching is one of the worst but fortunately they have a strong and overused relief pitching corps. The Cubs do hit more HR's than the league average (11) or 9% greater.
So how bad are the Cubs? Bad, really bad. Pitching is king in MLB. What helps pitching is fielding because giving MLB players extra outs is really putting pressure them. In 2011 Cubs hurled in 1197 IP, 36% pitched by the relievers, 9% over the league average and 30% more than the league leading Philadelphia.
The new GM will have to fix three things; starting pitching effectiveness defense and either OBP or RISP hitting. A start will be coaching. A manager who is committed to pitching and defense will go a long way. That will mean the GM will have to commit available resources towards starting pitching and even adding to the relief corp since their might be some side effects from overuse. Next will be the need to shore up the defense. The middle infielders are ranked near the bottom. They are young and have physical abilities but their decisions are poor and inexperienced. The corner IF'ers are average, but they are old (Cubs are the 6th oldest team) but there is a huge holes in left field, catcher and pitching, all four spots up the middle on the infield.
There are some decisions that must be made. Can the Cubs live with Soto and the pitcher's leading the league in errors? Can they live with Soriano in left field? Castro and Barney in the middle infield. Offensively can they live with Soriano's, Byrd and Pena's horrific hitting with runner's in scoring position? If they think they can they will again be 20 games below 500 even if they bring in a Fielder or Pujols. There is so much wrong here it will be interesting to see how a new GM approaches it.