The Chicago Cubs head into the MLB Playoffs after completing an historic 103-58 regular season record this year. The Chicago White Sox had yet another disappointing season, finishing at 78-84. So why do I think the Sox were almost as good as the Cubs this year? Before you get crazy, let me explain.
2016 MLB Standings
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|AL CENTRAL||W||L||WIN %||GB|
|AL WEST||W||L||WIN %||GB|
|NL EAST||W||L||WIN %||GB|
|NL CENTRAL||W||L||WIN %||GB|
|NL WEST||W||L||WIN %||GB|
Now that the 2016 season is over, I went to http://www.baseball-reference.com to conduct some statistical research. I was shocked (not really since I’ve been theorizing about the weakness of the National League for years) to learn that the Chicago Cubs played 105 games against teams that were under .500. In other words, they played two-thirds of their games against losers. The Cubs dominated those games. Give them credit. They went 72-33 against those loser clubs. In many cases, those teams are tanking. Those teams are in the rebuilding stages. You know that stage very well if you’re a Cubs fan. You lose on purpose to get high draft picks. The Cubs finished in 5th place five years in a row from 2010-2014. You build up your farm system with young players that will either pan out for your big league club someday or you use them as trade bait to land already proven veterans such as Aroldis Chapman. That’s the modern game.
Don’t get me wrong. The professional players on those tanking teams are not trying to lose. They are playing hard for themselves and their teammates but frankly they aren’t good enough or there are not enough “good” players to win games. Management knows this and hopes they struggle. Think “Major League” where those bottom feeder Indians got fed up with their Owner and foiled her plan by winning in spite of her!
These General Managers might say all the right things but let’s be honest…..this is exactly what Cubs GM Theo Epstein did for several years to rebuild the Cubs farm system. Now we’re seeing the results of that experiment. Other organizations are seeing it too, believe me. Now they are the ones tanking and basically giving free, easy wins to the good teams such as the Cubs. It’s all a cycle.
The Cubs played 56 games against teams that were .500 or better. Nobody in baseball played less games against winners than the Cubs. So in that regard the Cubs had the EASIEST SCHEDULE IN BASEBALL! In those games, the Cubs only went 31-25. That is an average record, a little better than mediocre. For a comparison, the Texas Rangers went 60-31 against winners. Wo! That makes me respect the Rangers and their postseason hopes. But is it predictive of playoff success? Who can say? The Cubs record against the other playoff teams is even murkier. In fact, the water is murky in Wrigleyville. It’s not as murky as Flint, Michigan…but Flint hasn’t had a drought since 1908 either!
This is a good Cubs team that is going to the playoffs. They dominated their division. However, their competition level reminds a college football fan of a Big Ten team playing an FCS opponent. If this were college basketball, it would be like Kentucky playing Towson St. (no offense Towson). If this were the NBA, it would be like the Golden State Warriors playing the Bulls……no not those BULLS rather their NBADL development league team the Windy City Bulls! When you think about it, baseball has no parity anymore. There is no salary cap to entice parity like the NFL. With the modern rules, MLB is really rewarding tanking. The 2016 Cubs schedule was so poor that I’d argue it was misleading at best and unfair at worst.
8 miles south on the Dan Ryan, the White Sox had a disappointing season once again, going 78-84. However, the Sox went 27-23 against losing teams, playing just 50 games against teams under .500. That means they had to play 112 games against teams over .500. They went 51-61 against those winning teams. So the Cubs played 105 games against losers and the Sox played just 50 games vs losers. 55 games is one third of the season! (technically 54 games). The Cubs played 56 games against winners while the Sox had to play 112 games against winning clubs. The Sox had the 4th hardest schedule in baseball according to this statistic. Only the Rays (121), Angels (114), and A’s (113) played more games against winning ballclubs (Note these are all American League teams). These numbers will floor most people. In fact, it’s hard to believe. Believe it.
Do you see the disparity from the North Side to the South Side? How can we attribute that crazy difference? Well, the American League is a far superior league to the National League. The AL has more contending teams. They have more teams trying to win. The NL has more tanking teams. The disparity in NL wins is 35 (from 68 to 103). There were three teams with just 68 wins (Braves, Reds, and Padres), another with 69 wins (Diamondbacks), another with 71 wins (Phillies). The Brewers had just 73 wins. The Rockies won 75 games. That is a total of 7 teams (out of 15 NL teams) that were just plain bad. You could argue all of those teams mentioned were tankers. There is no doubt at least 5 National League teams were 2016 tankers (Braves, Reds, Padres, Phillies, Brewers).
Over in the American League, the disparity in wins was actually 36 (from 59 to 95). Take away the tanking Twins 59 wins and the disparity was just 26 ( from 69 to 95). What does that mean? It’s means the AL has more parity. There are more teams “trying” to win games. The AL tankers are the Twins, Rays (68 wins), A’s (69 wins) and probably the Angels (74 wins).
To recap, the AL had 11 teams trying to win and only 4 real tankers. The NL had only 8 teams trying to win and up to 7 tankers. That’s HALF THE LEAGUE! While the Cubs took advantage of those teams and won games they should have, the Sox were scuffling all season as they were challenged 56 more times than their North Side rivals. 56 more games against winning teams! That explains a lot. The Sox have their problems, there is no doubt but it doesn’t help them that they couldn’t rest their bullpen or they couldn’t earn some easy victories against subpar teams. In reality, the Sox are much closer to the Cubs than one might think. Put the Cubs in the AL and they might be a 90 win team. Put the Sox in the NL and they might be an 85 win team. Who knows? If you took the league average record against winning teams which was 38-47 (85 games) and added 29 more hard games for the Cubs (56 + 29 = 85 league average) and subtracted 29 easy games from their schedule, what would their record be? I’d be willing to gamble a few sheckels that the Cubs record wouldn’t have been 103-58. It might have been more like 90-71. By that same token, if you subtracted 27 tough opponents from the Sox schedule and added in 27 easier opponents, maybe they would have qualified for the Playoffs (112-27 = 85 league average). They would have had to make up 11 games to equal the AL Wild Cards Baltimore and Toronto. It’s possible but not probable. Still, they likely would have won more like 85 games.
What if the Sox made the Playoff field while the Cubs were sitting at home in October? It’s unlikely but we just don’t know due to this strength of schedule disparity. The only real facts we have are:
- The Sox and Cubs split their season series 2-2.
- The Cubs schedule was the easiest in baseball while the Sox had the 4th hardest.
- All statistics point to the AL being better than the NL.
The American League proved once again that they are the premier league….by far! How many teams were over .500 by league? The AL had 9 teams over .500 while the NL had just 6. There are 15 teams in each league. So 60 percent of AL teams (9 of 15) were winners. Only 40 percent of NL (6 of 15) were winners.
Other facts supporting the American League’s supremacy:
- AL won the All-Star Game…..again. This year the AL won 4-2, once again dominating the series they have most of the time since 1988. Since then the AL is 22-6-1.
- AL won Interleague play by a total of 165-135 this year, continuing a trend of winning every year since 2004. In fact, the National League has only won 4 seasons over their AL foes in the 20 years since Interleague play was introduced in 1997. When you sort the teams by Interleague record you’ll see 7 of the top 8 are AL teams. The Cubs were first with a 15-5 Interleague record. Once again, the Cubs took advantage of a light schedule, going 9-2 against losing teams and 6-3 against winning teams. Overall, the AL had 10 teams at or above .500 in Interleague record while the NL had just 6 teams. For more info, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interleague_play
Cubs records vs NL Playoff teams: 15-13 total
- 2-5 vs New York Mets
- 4-3 vs San Francisco Giants
- 4-3 vs Los Angeles Dodgers
- 5-2 vs Washington Nationals
Cubs records vs AL Playoff teams: 2-1 vs Texas Rangers
Total record vs all Playoff teams: 17-14
Total record vs all other teams: 86-44
As you can see, the Cubs went 17-14 versus other playoff teams. This should be a cause for concern. The concern is twofold: that the Cubs only played 31 games all year vs playoff teams…..and that they just barely won more games than they lost.
Overwhelming evidence supports my theory that the Cubs are not as good as you think. Their 103 wins are “not your father’s 103 wins”.
Bottom line is, they won enough to make the Playoffs and now they have a chance to prove me wrong. Maybe they will just do it. The statistics say it will be a bigger struggle than many diehards and bandwagon jumpers want to believe. Now the heat is turned up as the temperatures fall. The Cubs wake-up call rings on Friday night. Will they answer? So tap the brakes on your Cubs enthusiasm. Better yet, slam on the brakes because a storm is brewing…..and the clouds are looming at Wrigley.
Hope you got my comment. I just sent a new message after reading the other Dutch Lion post. But really, so very good. I enjoy these articles so much. Missed talking to you yesterday. We’ll catch up next week.
Hope you have a good weekend for Deb’s birthday!
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Was the sox season so bad? At least no Ventura. Don’t worry about the cubs. W-L records are just an indicator. Baseball has so many statistics (most are worthless). You don’t have to watch the cubs. I hate to tell you that this cub team will be a major contender for the WS for the next 4-5-years. I hope the chisox will get their act together. It’s more fun when both teams are good(this hasn’t happened often.
I just read some of your bears blogs. I like a little levity (Gene Wilder?) I don’t know how many fans know who he is.
Watch the Hawks and enjoy..
Thanks for the comments! I really appreciate the kind words and the fact that you read it. I’m glad you enjoyed the Gene Wilder comment. You’re not the first one that liked that joke so that’s eye opening. I also write Bears columns for Football Nation. Check it out here: http://www.footballnation.com/teams/chi