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A Comparison: The Cubs 2017 vs. 2016

How do this year’s Cubs stack up against the champions?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Let me begin by saying this is probably an unfair thing to do to the 2017 Cubs. The 2016 version, beyond winning the World Series, did things no Cubs team had done in decades and in some cases not for a century.

There’s almost no way this year’s club could stack up.

We are now 21 games into the season, about one-eighth’s worth of the year, and with today’s off day I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how this year’s club compares.

Here are the team’s numbers in selected categories through 21 games in 2016 and 2017.

Cubs 2016-17 Comparison

2016 2017
2016 2017
W-L 16-5 12-9
Runs 130 109
2B 39 40
3B 3 4
HR 27 22
SB 12 13
BB 118 86
Run differential +74 +20
ERA 2.51 3.65
Runs allowed 56 89
HR allowed 14 26
BB 52 76
SO 189 188
WHIP 0.986 1.247
SP ERA 2.48 4.04
RP ERA 2.82 2.97

The Cubs’ run differential in 2016 was historically huge. It wound up as the second-largest in franchise history, so I don’t think we could have expected anything close to that this year. The Cubs’ current +20 run differential is fourth-best in the major leagues, and not too far off the current leader, the Yankees (+32).

The biggest differences that should stand out to you are the decrease in team walks from this point last year (118 to 86) with a commensurate increase in walks allowed (52 to 76). This has led to a much higher WHIP and, most likely, to the decrease in runs scored and the increase in runs allowed, thus the higher starting-pitcher ERA.

The bottom line is that there’s really nothing wrong with this year’s team that couldn’t be fixed by issuing a few less walks and giving up fewer home runs — that increase from 14 homers allowed in the first 21 games a year ago to 26 is a bit alarming.

Last year the Cubs played ahead of their Pythagorean projection for much of the season, and finished at -4 games (808 runs, 556 allowed projected to 107 wins). This year, with 109 runs and 89 allowed, they’re exactly on the projected W/L record.

Anyway, the Cubs are still in first place, a game ahead of the Brewers and 2½ in front of the Reds (and you don’t really expect those two to be in second and third place all year, do you?) and the current winning percentage of .571 projects to 93 wins. You’d be all right with a division title with that many wins, right?