First, over at The Cub Reporter, I just posted a wrap-up of sorts following Tuesday night's 5-3 Cub victory over the Brewers. Always nice to win; especially nice to win with a late-inning comeback against your closest pursuers.
Earlier today, I stumbled on this Tom Verducci interview with Arizona General Manager Josh Byrnes. Byrnes muses on how his Diamondbacks have been able to exceed by 12 wins the victory total predicted by their run differential (an actual 74 wins vs. a predicted 62) so far this season.
Byrnes believes in statistical analysis as much as any GM, but his explanations for why his team defies its run differential sound very old school. Byrnes listed five reasons why Arizona has exceeded expectations: 1) in-game decisions by manager Bob Melvin; 2) a reliable bullpen; 3) a lineup with production spread throughout, rather than one that waits for one or two spots to come up; 4) a good bench, and 5) excellent defense. Those qualities, Byrnes said, have served Arizona well in close games. The D-Backs are playing .644 baseball in one-run games (29-16).
As a Cub fan, I was drawn to this article because the Cubs have underperformed relative to their run differential all year long. (As of yesterday, the Cubs had won four fewer games than might be expected. Also, the Cubs' record in one-run games is just 16-20.) If Byrnes is right about his D-Backs, wouldn't it make sense that the exact inverse of Byrnes's Five Truths applies to the Cubbies?
In answer to the question, "Why have the Cubs failed to win as many games as their run differential would predict?" we have:
1.) In-game decisions by the manager.
Nope. Doesn't apply. Piniella can be faulted or at least questioned on a few counts, including the new-lineup-a-day approach, maybe not effectively nurturing some of the young guys (Murton? Fontenot?), and delivering a lot of uninteresting, post-game press conferences, but I think his in-game decisions have generally fallen in a range between reasonable and inspired.
2.) Unreliable bullpen.
The Cub bullpen ranks 8th in ERA and OPS Against and 6th in Save Percentage, but is among the league leaders in stranding inherited runners. (Carlos Marmol and Michael Wuertz are #1 and #2). Reliable? I'll say pretty reliable, most of the time and lately, very much so.
3.) A lineup with production concentrated in just a couple spots.
Don't think so.Without going into my actual calculations--which could only have the effect of making me look like I must have flunked Mr. Filliman's math class my junior year in high school, which I nearly did--I will simply say I verified that the productivity of the Cub batting order is almost exactly as evenly distributed as that of the Diamondbacks.
4.) Lousy bench
Cub pinch-hitters have a composite .192 batting average, tied for 2nd worst in the NL. Lousy, definitely. Plus Bob Brenly pointed out on Saturday's broadcast that Daryle Ward looks fat. So let's agree the Cub bench is both lousy and chubby.
5.) Porous defense
Nope. Per the numbers I cited yesterday from The Hardball Times, the Cubs have turned 56 more batted balls into outs than the average National League team would have, the highest such figure in the NL. Those numbers just confirm what my eyes have suspected this season--the Cub defense is solid, particularly with regard to its range.
Other than #4, it looks like the inverse of Brynes's Five Truths doesn't explain why the Cubs have won fewer games than they should have.
Maybe they'll just have to run off with the NL Central title and charge right through the playoffs to a World Series win. Then I can finally put the whole issue to rest.