The Cubs went 2-5 this week, losing their series against both the Brewers and Giants. After a dreadful 8-21 August, the Cubs now sit 3½ games ahead of the Twins for the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. This week's bright spot is below:
Runs Scored: 31 | Runs Scored per Game: 4.43 | Runs Allowed: 49 | Runs Allowed per Game: 7.00
Competition Adjusted Runs Scored: 1.02 | Competition Adjusted Runs Allowed: 1.57
The Cubs were 2% better than the average offense and 57% worse than the average pitching staff. As we can see from these adjusted metrics, the pitching was atrocious this week, with three games that could be categorized anywhere from bad to awful. Cubs starters pitched 39⅓ of the 63 innings played this week, or 62% of the innings pitched. That's down from last week's 65%.
The Three Most Important Plays
9/2 Bot 5, men at 1st and 3rd base with 2 outs, 3-2 Giants: Alfonso Soriano homers off Matt Cain to give the Cubs the lead, resulting in a .392 WPA. The Cubs had a 40.6% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 79.8% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
8/30 Bot 9, men at 1st and 3rd base with 1 out, 11-10 Brewers: Anthony Rizzo doubles off Francisco Rodriguez to tie the game, resulting in a .388 WPA. The Cubs had a 45.2% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and an 84.0% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
8/30 Top 3, bases loaded with 1 out, 3-0 Cubs: Jonathan Lucroy hits a grand slam off Brooks Raley to give the Brewers the lead, resulting in a -.301 WPA. The Cubs had a 70.3% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and an 40.2% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub Hitter
Alfonso Soriano: Soriano put together a great week, hitting two big home runs against two very good pitchers: Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. At the pace he's at, Soriano's 2012 season would be the third-best season he's had with the Cubs, behind only his 2007 and 2008 seasons in which he posted 7.0 WAR and 4.1 WAR respectively. His performance has rebounded as a result of two things: (i) a BABIP more in line with his career mark, (.300 in 2012 vs. .302 in his career), and (ii) a very strong showing in the field, (over 40% of his WAR comes from his fielding prowess). While BABIP is largely a result of luck, the improvement in the field is likely a result of better coaching -- the credit here goes to coach Dave McKay. As many here have been saying, a couple more years of Soriano might not be the worst thing after all.
Most Valuable Cub Pitcher
Jeff Samardzija: Though he came out on the losing side, Samardija pitched brilliantly against the Brewers. He limited the same team that scored 30 runs in the other three games to two earned runs in seven innings, striking out 10 batters in the process.
He has pitched very well since his rough June. He posted a 1.91 ERA in July, and a 3.52 ERA in August. In his 11 post-June starts, Samardzija has pitched 71⅓ innings, given up 22 earned runs -- good for a 2.76 ERA -- walked 20 batters, and struck out 78. That's 9.8 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9. If we look at the bigger picture, Samardzija's walk rate is at 3.06 BB/9 this season, which is far and away his career best. Prior to this season, his walk rate stood at 5.30 BB/9. Furthermore, the 9.25 K/9 that he has posted this year is also his career best, but by a much narrower margin than his walk rate is. Samardzija has been one of the brightest spots on this team this year and it looks like it's because of his new-found ability to throw strikes, (or avoid walks).
Least Valuable Cub Hitter
Josh Vitters: With Dale Sveum essentially relegating Vitters to the bench for the remainder of the season with his comments this week, we may be seeing Vitters' window with the Cubs closing. That statement might be a little pessimistic, but Vitters has done nothing to prove that he's the third baseman of the future, and while the expectations weren't set that high, I think many of us expected more than a .085/.113/.169 line from him. Sure, it has only been 62 plate appearances, but Vitters has just looked completely overmatched. Brett Jackson looked that way for the first couple of weeks, and while he still has a lot to prove, he's hitting .190/.313/.417, which is significantly better than what Vitters has posted. Put another way, Jackson's OBP is higher than Vitters' OPS.
His confidence level has to be a concern right now, which makes this a tough situation: do you continue to play Vitters and hope he shows some positive signs, or do you try and avoid further damage to his psyche? Barring the unexpected, I've got Vitters penciled in as the Iowa Cubs third baseman in 2013.
Least Valuable Cub Pitcher
Alex Hinshaw*: Ross's "Did Alex Hinshaw Have the Worst Cubs Career Ever" is all you need here.
Please do keep the managerial decision comments coming -- I think they're a great way to keep up to date on how people feel about Sveum's tenure thus far.
* Hinshaw's ERA and WHIP are undefined because he technically pitched zero innings -- when that happens, the divisor equals zero in both the ERA and WHIP equations, making the quotient undefinable.