Watching the Cubs offense sputter yet again this past weekend in Phoenix, scoring just one run Saturday and just one run Sunday over the final eight innings, when they really needed to continue putting runs on the board, I was thinking that the team is lucky the starting pitching has been so solid for most of the season. That is, solid at least by Cub standards.
Then this evening, I came across this note in Matthew Carruth's most recent Dartboard column at The Hardball Times:
If the Cubs outlast everyone else in the Central, they'll have their defense to thank which has gone strides all year to make their pitching staff look way better than it actually is.
Immediately following was this comment about second-place Milwaukee:
As much as the Cubs can thank their defense, the Brewers can curse it. According to THT's stats, the defensive spread between the Brewers and the Cubs stands at 81 plays.I might be misreading THT's fielding charts, but to my eye, it appears that the spread between the Cubs and Brewers is actually 93 plays. In other words, the Cubs have turned 56 more plays into outs than an average team would have, while the Brewers have converted 37 fewer plays into outs than one could expect.
81 or 93--in either case, the Cubs appear to be catching a lot of balls the Brewers aren't. Here's a position-by-position comparison of Brewer and Cub Zone Ratings (the percentage of plays hit into a fielder's normal "fielding zone" that he turns into outs.)
For those of you keeping score at home, that's five positions where the Cubs have an edge, one for the Brewers (rightfield, assuming Floyd is playing for the Cubs), and one tie. In short, defense represents a whopping advantage for the Cubs this week.
As long as the Brewers don't start hitting a whole bunch of balls out of the park.