The Struggles of 2017 by the Numbers
A statistical look at how the Cubs stack up to their 2016 season thus far
Everyday on Cubs Twitter you see fans in deep discussion of what is wrong with the 2017 Cubs team. You hear everything from starting pitching to struggling hitters. Today I want to look a little deeper and see where the problem truly lies. This can best be done by taking a look at how the Cubs stack up to their 2016 World Series Championship team.
The 2016 season jumped off to a start like none we have ever seen as Cubs fans. The team came out blazing hot and set the tone for how good this team could actually be. In 2017 we have seen a return to reality. In order to shed a little light on the situation we must first remember a few facts about 2016.
Historically what the Cubs did last year to start the season was very rare. In fact only 3 teams ever had started better than the Cubs 27–9 record through their first 36 games. Their current record of 17–17 is not that bad when you take a look across all of baseball.
However, we still need to take a look at the comparisons in order to see where it is that the Cubs are struggling the most in 2017. Just a little heads up for all you fans that are getting a little nervous. This isn't going to make you feel any better after you see these numbers.
There is no doubt that Pitching has been a problem so far in 2017. We grew used to seeing the early domination of Jake Arrieta and the overall dominance of Lester and Hendricks, but this season we have seen everything except dominance.
When we look at a comparison between 2016 and 2017 we see that the Cubs staff has seen all of their numbers falling short of 2016.
As you can see our pitching staff is not quite where we expected them to be at this point. Although fans are growing nervous, it would appear that Joe Maddon is not.
“We’re in May, so I think we’re OK by now. I think they’re fine,” Maddon said. “I don’t think they’re beat up mentally, I don’t think they’ve been pushed physically. It’s always a concern when you play — not only just last year but two seasons in a row — deeply that you have that among your pitchers, no doubt. But I’m not seeing, even speaking to them I’m not hearing wear and tear.
“I’m just going to be patient and see it evolve back to what it’s supposed to look like.”
As for the bullpen, Maddon still believes they are the best in the National League.
“The biggest thing for me is just to get our starters more deeply into the game,” Maddon said ahead of Saturday’s game against the Yankees. “As of right now, if you look at our bullpen, actually look at the numbers, easily the best bullpen in the National League on a lot of different fronts.
When we look at the opponents runs per inning thus far we see that the Cubs need to tighten things up across the board.
As you can see the staff is giving up more runs in every inning except the 5th and 6th innings. This means that they are struggling on both ends.
In 2016 we watched as the offense put up unbelievable offensive numbers. It seemed at times that the Cubs had no holes from top to bottom of their order. In 2017 we are seeing a different picture though.
We have seen a few bright spots in the lineup as 2016 MVP Kris Bryant continues to put up good numbers, but we are seeing a lack of production as a team so far.
We can be encouraged by the improvement of Jason Heyward in 2017, but players like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber & Willson Contreras have struggled to find consistency in the early going.
It’s early and I know that April is typically a down month for hitters, but we have seen a drop in the stats so far in 2017.
One of the big stats that jumps out at this point is Run differential. In 2016 on May 12 the Cubs had a +103 Run differential and on May 12 2017 we see a +8.0 Run differential.
Most of the numbers seem minuscule in difference, but when you factor them all in together it creates a team that is struggling on many levels.
We see a team that is currently scoring 1.31 runs less per game in 2017 and ant the same time allowing 1.78 more runs per game. We see a team that is reaching base less and striking out more. We see a team that’s ERA has risen 1.36 while batting average has dropped .026.
You put all these factors together and you have a team that is currently sitting in 3rd place in the division at 17–17. Sure the numbers make things look pretty bleak at this point, but should we be worried?
The answer is without a doubt NO.
Although this is a team that gave us a historic season in 2016 and brought us our first World Series title in 108 years, we still need to be realistic. Baseball is not an easy game no matter how much they made it look easy last year.
We should expect to see a team that has its ups and downs throughout the long and grueling 162 game season. If everyone would just stop and take a breath we might remember a stretch of games in 2016 when the Cubs looked anything but superior.
Heading into the All-Star break the Cubs went 9–16 and we heard the same type of panic coming from the fans and the media. Over that stretch of games the Cubs scored a measly 3.67 runs per game. To put that into perspective — If the Cubs had that same number over a 162 game season, the Cubs would score 594 runs. That would be the fewest runs scored by the franchise since the 1963 season where they scored 570 runs and ended with an 82–80 record.
Yeah, that’s what could have happened. However, it didn’t and the resiliency of the young Cubs team showed through in the end. So although the numbers don’t make us jump with excitement, they also shouldn’t make us panic just yet. We have a lot of baseball left to play, and I for one am not ready to stop believing in this team just yet.
Craig House is a lifelong Cubs fan with a passion for everything Cubs related. You can follow him on twitter here where he loves to interact with all his fellow Cubs fans.