Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a failure of fortune

the cubs have endured the loss of alfonso soriano pretty poorly on the whole, it would seem. he last played in game 110, and in the eight games since the team has gone 2-6.

how could one man be so important? if the cubs hadn't fielded soriano this year, would they really have played .250 ball from the get-go?

of course not. soriano is a big loss, and perhaps constituted some of the marginal run production i talked about when he was hurt. but what has happened to the cubs goes much further than his absence.

the club has scored just 3.88 runs per game in the eight tilts soriano has missed, but less appreciated is the fact that the team losing skid began before he left -- going back to game 107, the cubs are 3-9. the team offense in that span has scored a puny 4.00 runs per game. the culprit? not babip -- the club continued to tag a remarkable .308 average on balls in play -- but walks and power. with just 2.9 bb/g (down from a season average of 3.1, down 6%) and just 0.67 hr/g along with a .384 slugging output (down from 0.80 and .407, respectively, down 5%), run production has fallen 13% off the season-long pace. soriano's power is missed, perhaps, but the lineup should take more walks and run a higher obp without him in it.

but that's not even half of what has transpired. the pitching in this run has allowed 6.00 runs per game -- a figure no offense would win in spite of. and the reason? babip -- the cubs staff has been lit into for a .340 babip, which has ended up fuelling a 297/382/476 opposition batting line.

i wrote in the aftermath of soriano's injury:

poor slugging figures to be a more probable feature without soriano, and with that a heightened sensitivity to variations in babip. if the cubs, for whatever reason, don't receive in his absence the benefits that babip has granted them most of the year to date -- in the first 45 games and then most particularly in july -- august could be a very disappointing month for a cubdom that expects first place.

and here we are, unfortunately, seeing that babip-related disaster unfold. as you can see form the shaded regions of the 12-day babip differential graph, whenever this team has experienced anything like even a balanced babip -- luck-neutral, as it were -- is has generally played .500 or worse. we're seeing that again now.

the best examination yet into the role of defense in the nature of babip allowed was recently offered here by commenter goldwater. what i proposed qualitatively he has quantitatively confirmed -- the notion that sustainable cub defensive quality is the basis of its pitching babip outperformance doesn't hold water. this babip allowed is a characteristic much remarked on here as the foundation of the cubs success. now that we're seeing an episode of bad pitching luck and team babip neutrality, i at least hope it offers observational support for the concept we've discussed here so often -- even if i truly rue the runs allowed and the losses.

if this continues to be the case -- and indications are that something like babip neutrality is essentially what we should expect, in spite of what we've generally seen this season so far -- the cubs are going to have to count on yet worse disasters befalling milwaukee. so far, in fact they have. the brewers are 4-8 in august in large part because they are suffering under a 96-point babip deficit -- .272 for the offense and 4.42 rs/g, a shocking .368 for the pitching and 8.00 ra/g. (even if you remove the 17-run outlier of august 8, the brewer staff has still allowed 7.18 runs per game in the other 11!)

milwaukee is, put simply, a better ballclub than the cubs are under similar babip conditions (and have tolerated not babip parity but a significant deficit with a slightly better record) because they hit for vastly more power than do the cubs while fielding what would be, at babip parity, an equivalent or slightly superior quality of pitching. one has to pray that either disastrous luck continues to strike at milwaukee, the gods return the cubs to favor or both in the remaining six weeks if the cubs are going to cover their 1.5 game deficit.

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