Commentary: What's changed with Cubs the last three weeks?


by - Columnist -
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports

As I was chatting with a friend on Sunday night, we discussed the ugly, radical turnaround that Chicago has made over the past few weeks. Just a few weeks ago the Cubs were unstoppable, but all of the sudden they seem vulnerable on their best days. How could a team comprised of so many strengths, suddenly take a downturn, as though it were late September?

The best I can tell, Chicago’s problems started occurring after the first week of May (excluding, of course, their 2-7 start this year). After demolishing any and every opponent they faced for nearly a month, it was though someone had suddenly flipped a switch to the “off” position- and it wasn’t just a player or two, it seemed to be almost systemic. Starters, relievers and position players alike, suddenly started struggling again (with the exceptions of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), and it made no difference whether the Cubs were home or away. It mattered, not, what the weather was, and whether day games or night seemed immaterial.

I studied the team record and stats, and then I started looking at the game logs of individual players- starting pitchers mostly, as that’s been one of the more noticeable issues. If there’s one good thing about researching stats, it’s that if you stare at those numbers long enough, a picture will start to come into focus.

The first week of May seemed to be OK for the Cubbies, so I chose to start looking at performances from May 8th through May 27 (18 games’ worth, as of Monday night). Then, to compare things equally, I looked back a total of 18 games (April 16th - May 7th).

During May 8-27, the Cubs went 10-8, outscoring their opponents 85-77 (run differential of +8). Working backwards from May 7 to April 16, the Cubs went 14-4, outscored their opponents 100-55, for a run differential of +45.

Looking at the starting rotation, I counted individual starts during the same time frame (May 8-27), then counted back an equal amount of starts, before May 8.

In Lester’s most recent three starts, he’s posted outings of 6.2, 4.1 and 4.0 innings (average of 5.0 innings per start). During those starts, Jon gave up 13 runs or an average of 2.6 runs per outing. In Lester’s previous three starts, he lasted 5.0, 7.0 and 6.0 innings (average of 6.0 innings per start) and gave up just three runs (1 per start).

I next looked at Jose Quintana, who’s gone 6.2, 5.0, 6.0, and 5.1 innings in four starts since May eighth, for an average of 5.75 innings per start, and has given up 12 runs (3 per start). Meanwhile, his previous four outings saw him last 7.0, 7.0, 5.2 and 6.2 innings (average of 6.6 innings per start), giving up only seven runs, or an average of 1.75 runs per start.

Cole Hamels has now had four starts since May 8th, in which time he’s turned in outings of 7.0, 5.0, 4.0 and 4.0 innings pitches (average of 5.0 innings per outing) and has allowed 12 runs or the equivalent of 3 runs per start. In Hamels previous four trips to the mound, he’d lasted 5.1, 5.1, 6.0 and 7.0 innings (average of 5.9 innings per start) and had given up a total of 10 runs, or 2.5 per start.

Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish have been the anomalies in this sequence, as both have improved some since May eighth, though in different ways.

Hendricks has shown an overall improvement in his last four games, having netted an average start duration of 6.9 innings with an average of 2.25 runs per start, while his previous four starts saw an average outing of 6.5 innings pitched, with his run total at 2.5 per game. Darvish has improved in terms of duration but has fallen further behind in the number of runs that he’s allowed. He’s lasted an average of 6.1 innings per start with a run allowance of 3.7 runs per game in his last three starts, while his previous three starts only saw him last an average of 4.66 innings per game, allowing an average of 2.33 runs per outing.

I searched high and low for a reason why May eighth seemed to be some turning point (for the worst), and when I finally figured out the significance of that date, I went back and rechecked my math. May eighth is the day that Addison Russell rejoined the team.

Russell has continued to improve with every outing, and he’s delivered some clutch hits in times of need recently. His fielding still seems to be just a tick off from what it was last year, but other than a throwing error in his first game back, he’s been solid.

I’m in no way, shape or form saying that Russell is some sort of jinx, but you’d have to admit, the numbers and dates do seem a little compelling.

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