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The Cubs Starters Are the Best In the NL…and They Have a Best Friend

This is probably needless to say but this whole season is and will continue to be an exercise in Small Sample Size Theater. It’s best that we just get used to it now to save us all a lot of typing. Stats below courtesy of Fangraphs.

The Cubs have now completed roughly 20% of their season. So far, the starters have been outstanding, led by Kyle Hendricks and the breakouts of Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills. Yu Darvish and Jon Lester are doing the things that brought them fame and riches over the past decade or so.

The Cubs starters, thus far, lead the NL in ERA by a decent amount. The lead the NL in innings pitched, even on a per start basis. They lead the NL in BB/9 with a paltry 1.8/9IP and have been great at limiting home runs, giving up only 0.4/9IP. That combination has the Cubs 2nd on the NL in FIP, which is good. That metric has the Cubs second in the NL in starters’ WAR.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Even with Chatwood and Darvish striking out well north of 10 hitter per 9 innings, the rest of the staff is simply getting by by limiting hard contact. The Cubs are near the bottom of the NL in K/9IP, one of 5 teams below 8K/9IP (that list also includes the Dodgers and the Braves, who you may have heard are pretty good). Remember how I said the Cubs are second in the NL in FIP? Well, their expected FIP, xFIP, puts them in the lower third of the NL. The one run difference is not insignificant and needs an explanation. I think you see where I’m going with this.

When the Cubs won in 2016, their defense was historic. The middle of the infield was among the best in the league and they had GG winners at 1B and RF as compliments. Although 10 games into a season is a crazy small sample size but the Cubs defense in 2020, so far, has been nothing short of outstanding.

The Cubs are currently 3rd in the NL in Fangraphs’ dWAR. They are currently 2nd in UZR and, when normalized to 150 games, they are still 4th. They lead the NL in DRS (the Dodgers are 2nd with 90 more total player innings played; no, that doesn’t mean the Dodgers have played 10 more games). Both teams have twice as much DRS accumulated as the 3rd place Rockies.

Diving deeper into the Cubs defensive stats, we see some very expected results. Javy Baez leads NL SS in all the defensive metrics. As expected. Anthony Rizzo is lapping the field at 1B. The combination of Kipnis and Hoerner has been excellent at 2B. Although Ian Happ has rated at the bottom of NL CFers, Albert Almora has supplemented his subpar defense with playing the best CF defense in the NL, finally living up to his prospect expectations. They’re making a pretty great starter/defensive replacement platoon. Kyle Schwarber has been passable in LF, sitting at about average in the NL.

The real surprise has been Kris Bryant’s excellent play at 3B. In 37 fewer innings at 3B, he’s tied with Nolan Arrenado in DRS. He’s sitting 5th in UZR and has been worth a positive .7 dWAR. He really has been outstanding and a very pleasant surprise. Which is nice, since he hasn’t started hitting yet.

The Cubs starters are taking great advantage of this really good defense. As a staff, they are middle of the pack in GB%. They’ve been giving up a good amount of line drives, too. But, on the flip side, they’ve only committed 6 errors on the year. They’re catching what they’re supposed to catch. They’re making great plays behind the staff.

The Cubs starters have been great. They owe their defense some steak dinners, too.

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  1. Fun post. I am so enjoying the defense highlights this season (small sample). Can’t wait to not see “hitting” and “yet” whenever Bryant’s name comes up. I’ll settle for the Aranado tie for now…

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