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Do the 2023 Cubs have more than a .500 win percentage in their future?

A look at the Cubs at the quarter season mark

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I know it’s hard to believe, but Major League Baseball is closing in on the first quarter of the season. The Cubs have played 37 games to the tune of an 18-19 record. Their .486 win percentage would translate to somewhere between 78 or 79 wins over the course of the full season. That win total would be precisely in line with FanGraphs’ preseason ZiPS projections, and would exceed Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA preseason projections by a handful of games. So with a day off before the Cubs embark on a nine-game road trip now seemed like a good time to check in on the 2023 Cubs. What’s gone right? What’s gone wrong? Let’s dive in.

Projections Check

Let’s start with those projection systems. One of the great things about having a decent number of games played is that PECOTA and ZiPS are dynamic systems that update their projections based on additional information. So now that both systems have seen the actual 2023 Cubs, let’s see what they think:

Cubs Projected W/L as of May 11

Projection System Date Win Loss Win %
Projection System Date Win Loss Win %
ZiPS Preseason 78 84 0.481
ZiPS 5/11 79 83 0.485
PECOTA Preseason 77 85 0.475
PECOTA 5/11 79 83 0.486
Pythag 5/11 24 13 0.649
Actual 5/11 18 19 0.486
*Note: Some win percentages are different due to slightly different W/L rounding. FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference

Not much has changed for ZiPS or PECOTA in terms of how they see the Cubs. They saw a slightly below .500 team coming into the season, and both systems still believe that is true. However, there is at least one metric that thinks the Cubs are currently underperforming their potential, and that’s the Pythagorean Win/Loss projection that uses run differential to approximate a team’s record.

There are a couple of different ways to view the Pythag outlier. For an optimist, you could say it offers proof that the Cubs talent level is somewhere above .500. They are merely underperforming that right now and if they continue to put up runs at the rate they put up runs while preventing runs at the rate they prevent runs, they are truly closer to a .650 win percentage team. That would translate to a 105 win team at the end of the season, and while I don’t think that’s particularly likely, I do believe all of us would prefer that.

Hold on there, not so fast. The pessimistic view of that outlier is that the reason the Cubs are underperforming their Pythag is a staggeringly bad 2-8 performance in one-run games. Whether that is bullpen composition, roster composition, bullpen management, roster management, or some combination thereof, it’s going to be very hard for the Cubs to reach that upper bound Pythag believes is possible if they only win 20 percent of their one-run games going forward.


My preseason look at the Cubs and projections highlighted an excellent piece from Eno Sarris and Sahadev Sharma explaining the 80th/20th percentile outcomes for the Cubs, including which players would need to hit particular levels to reach those upper echelon results.

It’s worth noting that most of the players identified by Sarris and Sharma were prospect types hitting, but Patrick Wisdom and Christopher Morel were both on that list. Morel has played two games, although he was raking in Triple-A, so it’s probably a bit early to check in on him. That said, let’s look at the top five Cubs position players by WAR so far this season:

Cubs Top 5 Position Players by WAR

Dansby Swanson 166 3 .289 .392 .423 129 1.6 6.4
Cody Bellinger 150 7 .288 .360 .530 139 1.5 6.0
Patrick Wisdom 132 12 .237 .336 .605 150 1.4 5.6
Nico Hoerner 164 2 .303 .348 .395 106 1.4 5.6
Ian Happ 160 4 .300 .425 .469 148 1.2 4.8
Select stats as of 5.11 FanGraphs

All five of the above players are punching at or above their top tier projections for the Cubs in 2023. Swanson would finish just shy of a career year if he finished with 6.4 WAR, Cody Bellinger would be second only to his MVP year. Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ and Patrick Wisdom are all currently on-pace for the best year of their careers. Just missing this list (both by WAR accumulated and because he doesn’t quite qualify for the leaderboard after missing time on the IL) is catcher Yan Gomes, who hasn’t put up a season worth more than 3 WAR since he was 25 in 2013, but is currently on pace for a 3.2 WAR season with the Cubs.

Now, projections don’t work on “pace.” It’s a bit simplistic to just assume all of these players are just going to continue to exceed expectations for the duration of a very long baseball season. No projection system at FanGraphs projects any of these players for four-times their current production, they see some regression coming for all of them. But, if the Cubs are to get out of their aggressively .500 funk, each of these players will need to continue to exceed expectations.

On the pitching side of the ledger there are also five clear standouts:

Pitching leaders as of May 11

Justin Steele 49.1 20.3% 7.3% 1.82 3.23 1.3
Marcus Stroman 47.1 23.7% 9.1% 2.28 3.41 1.0
Drew Smyly 38.1 22.4% 5.9% 3.05 3.75 0.8
Adbert Alzolay 18.2 25.7% 4.3% 2.41 2.56 0.4
Mark Leiter Jr. 16.0 38.5% 9.2% 1.13 2.68 0.4
Select stats FanGraphs

Pitching is even more difficult to establish an “on-pace” metric for than position players and so I didn’t. For example, none of us should expect Justin Steele to come anywhere near 197 innings in 2023 (his career high was the 119 innings he threw in 2022). Additionally, while a glance at all of these pitchers over performing their FIP would generally be a red flag for regression, in this instance that may not be the case. After all, FIP stands for “fielding independent pitching,” ie, pitching with the randomness of the defense pulled out of it. In the case of the 2023 Cubs, however, defensive prowess is definitely a strength, so it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility that the Cubs rotation continues to overperform their FIP (although maybe not by two full runs).


It’s not all rosy performances, however. The Cubs will need all of the above players to continue to overperform while addressing some areas where players have struggled to date if they are going to exceed the mediocre projections most systems see for their future.

The only two positions where the Cubs are not currently projected to get at least one WAR over the course of the season are DH and first base. Yes, that is after the Matt Mervis call up has already been factored into projections. You can see screenshots of both full season projections at those positions per FanGraphs Depth Charts below:

First Base Depth Chart Projections 2023
DH Depth Chart Projections 2023

Now, is it possible that some combination of Mervis, Christopher Morel, Nelson Velázquez, and fill in the blank exceed these expectations? Absolutely. I mean, it’s worth noting that after a very slow start that saw Trey Mancini slash .261/.305/.375 with a wRC+ of 87 through his first 97 plate appearances in March and April, he’s heating up a bit in May with a .259/.375/.370 for a wRC+ of 104 through 32 plate appearances in May. It’s a small, but meaningful, improvement that is bolstered by improved walk and strikeout rates, plus playing in more favorable matchups as prospects have been called up.

Question marks

But there are still a lot of unknowns. Seiya Suzuki has struggled since he’s returned from the injured list. It’s shown up most notably in his quality of contact and his barrel rate has basically collapsed in 2023 to 2.9 percent after posting an 11 percent mark in 2022. To put those numbers in a bit of context, Suzuki had a 77th percentile barrel rate in 2022, in 2023 that barrel rate is in the 12th percentile of the league.

On the pitching side, Jameson Taillon has struggled with injuries and hasn’t thrown more than three innings in a start since April 15. His abbreviated starts have not been high quality, he’s left both games after surrendering crooked numbers to the last place Nationals and Cardinals.

Additionally, Kyle Hendricks has yet to take the mound for the Chicago Cubs in 2023, although he did look much better in his third rehab start in Iowa going five complete shutout innings while giving up two hits, no walks and striking out four. He’ll get at least one more rehab start on Sunday.


The Cubs have had their fair share of exceptional performances to start the 2023 season, and it has resulted in a team that is just a tick below .500. While there are reasons to be optimistic, specifically their run differential, they will need to identify a way to win more one-run games while hoping that Suzuki, Morel, Mervis, Taillon and Kyle Hendricks join the crew of overperformers heading into the final three quarters of the season if they want to contend for the NL Central. Absent some additional production, Jed Hoyer could face another tough decision at the trade deadline with both Bellinger and Marcus Stroman potentially in walk years while putting up outstanding numbers so far this season.