I’ve often described my style of writing as vaguely stream of consciousness. So buckle up for me making a short story long.
I’ve written about a lot of things in this space that aren’t explicitly Cubs-related or even Cubs-adjacent. I’ve written about moving, about my daughter’s pursuit of a broadcasting job (she’s working for NPR in Peoria and was bumped up from a social media job, to a weekly local business feature, to reading news drops in a semester. She’ll also intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the spring of 2024 (Charley Steiner connection). I recall using a cooking analogy. Suffice is to say, I’ll take you on a journey through my mind and collective history occasionally.
To my memory, I think I’ve only delved into the world of gambling once. A little odd, because of all of the things I’ve done in my life, poker was probably the thing I did successfully the longest. I mean I’m pretty good at mental math (thank you north suburban grade school teachers!), certainly better than the average human, though I horribly mangled a piece of math in this space not even a week ago. I’d hope my employer would chime in with some job related skills, customer service, empathy and understanding pressure points in negotiation and litigation.
But the best intersection of my recreational life and success was found at a poker table. For a few years, I won a lot of money at poker. As it was starting to come back down to earth, with the guys around me catching up to my huge head start on game theory and probability, I got married and largely quit playing. If I played now, I’d lose my shirt at a table. Definitely a skill that has to be kept sharp or it goes away in a hurry.
The intersection of gambling and the insurance industry that I work in center’s around the gambler’s fallacy. The simplest example is me flipping a coin. What are the odds that it is heads? 50 percent (ignoring any slight imperfection in coins that could possibly make a difference in a very long run). Ok, it was heads. What is the chance on the next toss? 50 percent. Tails isn’t “due.” If I flip and the next five results, the next 10 results are all heads, what is the probability on the next toss? 50 percent, but you better check my coin somewhere along the way, particularly if we are gambling on the outcome.
For poker, the equivalent is knowing that the odds are 221-1 that you’ll draw pocket aces in Texas Hold ’em. After you get them this hand, the probability on the next hand? 221-1. Some of those very large towers in Vegas have more or less been built on the backs of gamblers who thought that “red” or an ace or whatever is “due” simply because of a series of “black” numbers at a roulette table or a string of 10’s at a blackjack table. Heavy sight. Detour through Tom’s brain. Depending on how many deals the house is using, actually, based upon the number of 10’s showing may in fact lean at least a bit towards an ace. Duh.
Bad examples aside, what am I prattling on about? We avoid the gambler’s fallacy that by knowing over time probabilities will always play out properly. Yet on any given outcome, the results are properly weighted, but are not effected by what has come before.
How in the world does this come around to baseball? The Cubs have now won nine of 11. They’ve won five straight (in fact, all five games they’ve played) against the Pirates. They’ve won two in a row to start this trip. There is nothing intrinsic to those numbers that says anything that even vaguely sounds like the Cubs are due to lose, simply because they’ve been winning. If the probability of the Cubs winning was 50 percent, then Wednesday’s probability would be... 50 percent.
Of course, if we had a very large series of numbers, then the probabilities will revert to their normal likelihood. The coin being tails 50 percent, 6 coming up on a die 16.6 percent of the time, aces coming up 1 in 222, any given number in roulette 37-1 (36 different numbers, 0 and 00 on most tables), etc.
There is some proper probability that the Cubs will win today, June 21. I’m not sure that number is truly knowable, but it would account for the game being played in Pittsburgh, the weather conditions, the time of day, the starting pitchers, the relative health of the teams, etc. There are tons of micro-variables that go into determining the probability. Vegas makes a ton of money being better at assessing those probabilities than the public. But none of those factors is ever that the Cubs are “due” to lose.
I’ve set the bar for this trip at four wins in five games. The Cubs have won the first two. Winning two out of three, including two games at a neutral site against a subpar team, is no longer a lofty unachievable goal. There is nothing baked in because the Cubs won the first two or because they’ve stacked a number of wins over the last close to two weeks.
To the contrary, I’ll argue that the Cubs have an extra chance of winning Wednesday’s series finale. There’s no “due.” So the probability is a sum of the various factors. What one factor am I leaning into that I think gives the Cubs a little added boost? It’s two actually. One, Marcus Stroman threw seven innings Tuesday night. The Cubs’ “A” relievers threw two innings. In my book, the “A” relievers are Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather. Merryweather threw a single inning on Monday. That game got lopsided and the Cubs didn’t need any high leverage innings out of the pen for that one.
So, the Cubs have a very well-rested bullpen heading into Wednesday. That’s advantage one. In fairness, the Pirates haven’t particularly gone through a ton of pitchers in these first two games. I don’t follow them at all and so I’m not actually familiar with who their leverage relievers are. I’m not sure if we’ve seen then at any point in these first five games.
What is the second edge? The Cubs don’t play for two days after this game. The only two days that a manager normally knows that his team will have as many as two days off ahead of time are the days following the All-Star game and the last day of the season. In theory, the Cubs could empty the pen as aggressively as they want to in chasing a sweep on Wednesday. The Cubs moved into third place Tuesday night. But they can only stay there by winning on Wednesday too. Does that mean anything in the long run? No.
“Get Greedy” anyway. For all of the reasons. Kick the Pirates while they are down. Sorry Pirates, I hate to see what you are going through. But the reality is the Cubs need to grab every single win that they can. They let too many games slip away early and they will likely be digging out as a result until the very last day of the season.
It sure looks right now like the Reds think they can win every day. For the Cubs, for the Reds, for every team that is defying the odds by winning day after day after day, probability will eventually catch up. Two concepts there. Large numbers tell us that over time things revert to their probability. But gambler’s fallacy reminds us that on every individual “trial”, that trial is unaware of what came before in sequencing.
There’s nothing that says that the Cubs must lose, that a losing streak is “due” or anything of the sort. Even a 162-game baseball season isn’t a “large” set of numbers. If we knew that the correctly weighted odds said that the Cubs would win 85 games, in a given season, they wouldn’t necessarily win 85 games. They could over shoot the expectation or under shoot it. But if we could somehow make them play 10 seasons, 100 seasons, a thousand seasons, then we’d expect over time that they’d win 85 games on average.
Clear as mud? My point: Don’t be lulled into thinking this ride has to come to an end. This team can win again Wednesday. And if they do, they can win again Saturday. Each of those games is played with no memory of the games played before it. Sadly, for all of the Pirates fans out there, even eight straight losses doesn’t mean that they’ll win Wednesday. We can suspect that they’ll likely start winning games again soon and will gravitate towards 70 or 75 wins or whatever the true talent is of their team. But there are no guarantees in either direction.
Enough on that subject for now. Let’s talk about three positives from another very positive game.
- It starts, as it so often does, with the starting pitcher. Marcus Stroman won his seventh consecutive start. All of them have been quality starts. His ERA has dropped to 2.28. FIP is still painting a 3.35 picture, but even that is a very strong result. Marcus has thrown at least six innings in each of the seven games and hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of them.
Recent Cubs history has featured a lot of high quality pitching. That said, Marcus Stroman is entering that area where they are going to be talking about dominant stretches in recent Cubs history. It’s a team with a long history and some of the best pitchers that ever played. So there are some amazing numbers out there. I’m not playing Cubs historian, but I’m going out on a very strong limb when I suggest that seven wins in seven starts is a rare feat.
- Tucker Barnhart caught the win. Marcus has been quick to credit Barnhart and so I will tip the cap to his catching work. That is made even easier by Tucker’s first homer of the year accounting for the first run of the game. He also drew a walk. This was a day that he provided value offensively and defensively.
- The Cubs scored four runs. Two of them were solo homers. The other two were triples that scored on sacrifice flies. Ian Happ had two hits and one of them was one of those triples. Therefore, he scored a run. Ian continues to be a really consistent contributor on this team.
Game 73, June 20: Cubs 4 at Pirates 0 (35-38)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Marcus Stroman (.441). 7 IP, 27 batters, 5H, BB, 5K (W 9-4)
*This is the second highest positive WPA score of the year for a Cubs player. Marcus also has that top score.
- Hero: Tucker Barnhart (.094). 1-3, HR, BB, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.084). 2-4, 3B, R, K
- Billy Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.058). 0-3, HBP, DP
- Goat: Christopher Morel (-.056). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Mike Tauchman (-.025). 1-5, HR, RBI, R, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Tucker Barnhart was the second batter of the third inning, batting with one out in a scoreless game. That situation sees a run expectancy of .26. Tucker’s first homer of the year tallied the first run of the game. (.117)
*Pirates Play of the Game: Tucupita Marcano batted with one out in the seventh, the Pirates trailing by two. He tripled, giving the Pirates one of their best scoring chances of the evening. (.067)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Mike Tauchman (Superhero is 49-23)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Marcus Stroman +24
- Ian Happ +15.5
- Adbert Alzolay +12
- Mike Tauchman/Justin Steele +10
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Patrick Wisdom/Jameson Taillon -12
- Trey Mancini/Nico Hoerner -14
Up Next: The third and final game of the series between these two teams. The Cubs will try to pull off home and home sweeps to fully overtake the Pirates in the standings. They’ll send Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.44, 28⅓ IP) to the hill in search of his third straight win. In the first two wins, Kyle has allowed a total of two runs over his last 13 innings. In fact, he’s allowed only six total hits across the two games and just one walk. These two games have coincided with Kyle beginning to call his own pitches.
The Pirates start Father Time. Rich Hill made his major league debut in a game started by Greg Maddux that the Cubs lost 15-5 to the Florida Marlins. Ryan Dempster finished that game for the Cubs. The legendary Neifi Perez led off for the Cubs. Jason Dubois, Jerry Hairston, Jeromy Burnitz and Todd Walker are some fun random Cubs from that game, not to mention Jose Macias — and Enrique Wilson, who I just don’t remember at all.
The lefty was a fourth-round pick of the Cubs way back in 2002. Rich has appeared in 363 games since that debut, starting 235 of them. Here in 2023, he is 6-6 with a 4.31 ERA in 77⅓ innings. He’s been fairly consistent, he’s made 14 starts. If we split that down the middle and look at his most recent seven games, he is 3-3 with a 4.08 ERA in 39⅔ innings of work. Certainly not a pitcher that is showing signs of running out of gas as the season wears on.
Somewhat spectacularly, Hill has faced the Cubs only five times in his long career, four of them starts. He is 1-1 with a 2.49 ERA. The only team he’s faced fewer times is the Dodgers. Hill was a Cub for four seasons and a Dodger for parts of four years as well. Hill has made 364 career appearances, 235 of them as a starter. It seems wholly improbable that he’s seen so little of the Cubs. There was, after all, interleague play throughout his entire career. A little odd.
Enjoying the stroll down memory lane. Here’s more: When Rich Hill posted his first MLB win, Juan Pierre and Cesar Izturis were the top two hitters in the lineup. Hill threw eight innings, allowing three runs on six hits. He threw 109 pitches, ran his record to 1-4 and dropped his ERA to 7.92. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t expect him to hang around another 17 years.