Baseball’s back, and the 35-inning three-game series that we just witnessed had to be one of the most exciting opening series we've had in a while. The Cubs went 1-2 to start the season, and while the losses were gut-wrenching, the Cubs lost to a playoff-caliber Pirates team. The Cubs currently sit in a tie for third place, one game behind the division-leading Cardinals and Pirates.
Runs Scored: 6 | Runs Scored per Game: 2.00 | Runs Allowed: 7 | Runs Allowed per Game: 2.33
Competition Adjusted Runs Scored: 0.59* | Competition Adjusted Runs Allowed: 0.58*
The Three Most Important Plays
4/2 Bot 12, men at first and third base with two outs, 3-2 Cubs: Starling Marte singles off Jose Veras to tie the game, resulting in a -.447 WPA. The Cubs had an 82.4% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 37.7% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
3/31 Bot 10, bases empty with no outs, 0-0 Tie: Neil Walker hits a walk-off home run off Carlos Villanueva, resulting in a -.386 WPA. The Cubs had a 38.6% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 0.0% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
4/2 Top 9, men at first and second with two outs, 2-1 Pirates: Luis Valbuena hits a single off Jason Grilli to tie the game, resulting in a .381 WPA. The Cubs had a 12.8% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 50.9% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub
Emilio Bonifacio: In three games, Bonifacio has been on base 12 times, has stolen four bases, and has scored three of the Cubs' six runs. That said, it’s only been three games.
What could be interesting is his batted ball profile. Historically, Bonifacio’s LD%/GB%/FB% stands at 20.8%/53.9%/25.3%, while it’s currently at 36.4%/45.5%/18.2%. Again, a three game sample is way too small to draw any conclusions from, but Bonifacio could take advantage of his speed with fewer fly balls, more ground balls, and more line drives. If we look back to his last successful season – in 2011, he posted a 2.8 WAR – Bonifacio posted his second lowest FB% and highest LD% of his career.
Based on research by Russell Carleton, we’ll have to wait for Bonifacio to hit 80 balls in play before we can determine whether his new GB% and FB% are meaningful deviations from his mean. We’ll have to wait for another 520 balls in play before we can determine the significance of his improved LD%, (this one is all but likely to fall).
Least Valuable Cub
Carlos Villanueva: Villanueva faced one batter on opening day, and seven in game two. Of the eight batters he faced, four hitters reached, and two of them scored in walk-off fashion.
Villanueva’s average fastball velocity has fallen from a career high 89.9 mph in 2010 to 87.7 mph last year, and 87.3 mph this year. It’s still very early, but per Bill Petti’s research, velocity loss in April isn’t insignificant. It’s something to keep an eye on over the course of the next few weeks and months.
Once the minor league season gets going, I’ll be including a couple of graphs on how our top hitting and pitching prospects are performing over the course of the season.
The Cubs host the Phillies at Wrigley for a three-game series before the Pirates arrive for three more in Chicago next week.
* Competition Adjusted figures are based on last year’s runs scored and runs allowed. This will be the methodology for the first few weeks given the small sample size of games that we currently have.