The Cubs' pitchers are on a historical DRA-beating pace. Are there some factors that explain why some teams do this?
I’m certainly not the first person, and maybe not even the first person whom you’ve read today, to point out that the Cubs are having an incredible season. As of the moment this sentence is being written, their third-order winning percentage is an insane 0.750, and they sit in first place on both the batting and overall WARP leaderboard (and in fourth on the pitching one). As was pointed out by Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight last week, their pitching staff’s BABIP allowed is historically low. They also are among the best all-time in outperforming their DRA, the best pitching skills estimator currently available.
It was even more extreme a few days ago, but as of Friday evening the Cubs’ RA9-DRA was -0.95—almost a full run difference over nine innings. That’s the 12th-biggest difference in the entirety of what you might call the “DRA era,” which begins in the early 1950s. Also of note, both their DRA and RA9 are lower than any team above them on that list.
The Cubs are suddenly losing, the Mariners are seriously losing, and Zack Greinke moves up a special leaderboard.
The Thursday Takeaway Arnold Schwarzenegger would have you believe that “If It bleeds, we can kill it.” Perhaps this is true, perhaps it isn’t. All we know at this moment is that the Cubs have lost four games in a row for the first time since last year’s NLCS.
Bill James is not a fan of groundball pitchers. This is not new news; he’s written about them in the past on his site, Bill James Online. His most recent thoughts on the subject came last month in an essay entitled Two Bits, Four Bits. He addressed four separate topics:
1. The oddity of teams’ no. 1 starter being referred to as “not a true number one starter” when one never hears, say, a cleanup hitter being referred to as “not a true cleanup hitter”
2. The value of groundball pitchers vs. flyball pitchers
3. Whether facing a knuckleball pitcher screws up opposing hitters’ timing in the following game
4. How the ascendancy of Donald Trump indicates a challenge for the Republican Party
As you may have heard, the Chicago Cubs started the season pretty well. As of the end of May, they were 35-15, playing exactly .700 ball. That projects to a 113-49 record over 162 games, which would be the most wins in a season since the Mariners won 116 in 2001, and the most in the National League since, well, since the Chicago Cubs won 116 in 1906.
But that wasn’t the only notable end-of-May record. The Twins and Braves were both 15-36, on pace for 48-114. The Reds, at 17-35, were on pace for 53-109. The 20-33 Padres projected to 61-101, raising the question of how Padres owner Ron Fowler would describe the Twins, Braves, or Reds. On the other hand, the 32-20 Red Sox were on pace to finish 100-62, the 33-21 Giants were on track for 99-63, the 32-21 Nationals on pace for 98-64, the 31-21 Rangers for 97-65, and the 30-21 Mariners for 95-67. So there were, at the end of May, four teams with a shot at 100 losses and six that could win 100.
As an aside, I am fully cognizant that “on pace for” is intellectually lazy and ignorant, unless it’s wielded cleverly by the likes of Jayson Stark or Cespedes Family Barbecue. (Especially the Cespedes Family Barbecue link. You should check it out. Go ahead, it won’t take long. I’ll still be here.) So no, I’m not implying that there actually will be four teams with 62 or fewer wins and six with 62 or fewer losses. I’m just setting the tone. Play along with me here.
Did Justin Verlander announce his resurgence in a Twitter reply?
Twitter can be a rough, unforgiving place for baseball players. Their mentions stink with fans using the direct line to bombard them with criticism, name-calling, and personal attacks. Players can't reply in tone, of course, so they can ignore, or they can reply with positivity—as Jake Arrieta did, three years ago, in an exchange culminating in a now-legendary tweet.
Arrieta, then with the Orioles, received a tweet from a stranger on the internet telling him “you f***ing suck” and “go back to the minors.” It was April 21, 2013 and Arrieta had just allowed five runs in four innings against the Dodgers to raise his ERA on the season to 6.63 and his career ERA to 5.41.
He was no doubt frustrated and unhappy with how his career was going at age 27. But instead of lashing out (with cause) at a person who had lashed out at him (without cause), Arrieta killed him with kindness. Well, mostly. Arrieta replied: “Agreed. Gotta be better. If we see each other in person, you should avoid me.” That could be viewed as a threat, but it could also just be a factual statement made to a person who said “you f***ing suck.”
After a bit more back and forth Arrieta totally changed the tone of the conversation to the point that the same person who kicked things off by saying “you f***ing suck” was telling him things like “you have great stuff” and “good luck to you.” He even got the guy to admit “maybe I have anger issues.” All of which is interesting in itself, but my favorite part is Arrieta promising,