After this weekend's Cardinals sweep of the Cubs, many fans have been wondering if this really is as much of a rivalry as the media makes it out to be. The perception seems to be that the fans are not as into it as they are other rivalries (perhaps White Sox, Royals), and that it has been a mostly one-sided match-up in recent years. While it is difficult to measure the first claim, we can examine the second. The table below shows the last 20 years of Cubs-Cardinals match-ups, including the head-to-head record for that year and each team’s overall winning percentage at the end of the season. Overall, the Cubs’ record vs. the Cardinals for the past 20 years has been 147-165, or a .471 winning percentage, which suggest the teams have played each other at much closer to parity than perceptions suggest. The Cubs have mostly held their own. This is even more impressive when looking at the season winning percentages. The Cardinals have had the better season record in 15 of the last 20 seasons, yet the Cubs have taken 9 of the head-to-head matchups. In several seasons (2005, 2006, and 2010) the Cubs far exceeded expectations: below-.500 Cubs teams dominated much better Cardinals teams on the season. These are small sample sizes and anything can happen in a short series, so we can’t take much away from this. But it should at least be clear that the Cardinals have had an advantage in the rivalry in recent decades but that is largely due to them fielding far superior teams, and that advantage hasn’t been as big as we might think.
Records after just 20 games should be taken with a grain of salt. The standard small sample size caveats apply, and particular matchups or hot/cold streaks can skew a team's win-loss record considerably. Still, it's better to be off to a good start than a bad one, and good teams tend to play at least decently across most 20-game stretches throughout the season. The Cubs are off to a hot 12-8 start that places them 4th in the NL and 7th in the majors by winning percentage. How does this compare to recent Cub teams? The table below shows the record for the first 20 games for all Cubs teams since 1980 and their corresponding final season records. As you can see, prior to this year, the Cubs have only been above .500 through their first 20 games in 10 of the past 35 seasons. Doing so is no guarantee of end-of-season success, but the team finished above .500 in 7 of those 10 seasons, making the playoffs in 4 of them. The other three seasons can seemingly be explained away. The 1985 Cubs were very much the same team that won the division title in 1984, but injuries to the pitching staff (Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Scott Sanderson, and Dennis Eckersley all spent time on the DL) hamstrung the squad. Similarly, the 2006 team started off well, but a Derrek Lee injury in late April started the team on a slide it couldn’t recover from, especially with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior out for most of the year. I can’t explain away 1980 as well, but the 11-9 start was probably a function of going 5-2 against the lowly Mets, who would finish 67-95 on the year. So, while there are no guarantees, there is a lot to like about the Cubs’ early season success in 2015 and a hot start certainly bodes well for the season as a whole.
You hear it every year. If a team is doing poorly in spring training, its general manager, manager, and players are likely to say: “Spring training games don’t count, we aren’t concerned with our record, guys are working on things, we are giving young players some looks” etc. They will also state clearly that spring training performance will have no bearing on the regular season, usually with some “throwing out/away” and “starting over” metaphor.
In contrast, if a team is doing well in spring training, you are likely to hear that they “like to win no matter what, everything is clicking and the team is playing well,” and of course that the “momentum will carry us into the regular season.”
The Cubs started 0-6-1 this spring training and still sit at just 6-9-1. During these early days Anthony Rizzo stated definitively: “It is Spring Training, yes. Does it matter if we lost? No.” Manager Joe Maddon walked a bit on the line, downplaying the record and emphasizing the type of play he was seeing (the good and the bad), but also hinting that winning mattered: “Of course it does,” Maddon said, “You always want to win.”
So does winning in spring training matter? I surveyed the field to see what we know, if anything, about the relationship between spring training and regular season performance.
Hall of Fame ballots were due by December 27, and the results will be announced on January 6. A player must appear on 75 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots to be inducted. I’ll have more commentary on the entire ballot soon, but in this post, I’ll more closely examine the case of one former Cub: Lee Smith.
Following on my previous two poss on the 2012 and 2013 drafts, here is an overview of the Cubs 2014 draft and where the players are now. Here again it only shows those draft picks who signed with the Cubs and lists their draft number, current age, position, current organizational level, and a brief snapshot of their 2014 performance. Another positoin player, Kyle Schwarber, is the headliner here; but the Cubs drafted 10 pithcers in the first 12 picks, many of them teenagers. While most debuted at low levels and only played the last part of the summer, there is a lot to like about the level of success of many so far.
Following on my Friday post on the 2012 draft, here is an overview of the Cubs 2013 draft and where the players are now. Here again it only shows those draft picks who signed with the Cubs and lists their draft number, current age, position, current organizational level, and a brief snapshot of their 2014 performance. Bryant is the headliner here; beyond him it was a pitching-heavy draft and many are moving steadily through the system with three reaching A+ by the end of the year, though one of those (Godley) was sent to the Diamonbacks in the Montero trade.
I’ve been a frequent commenter on TCR for over 8 years now and in the past I have sent Rob some guest posts, for example on the Cubs’ use of no-trade clauses and the Cubs’ best drafts of all time, and I have also written longer analyses directly the comments. Rob has now graciously provided me with my own login so I can now post commentary directly. I won’t be a frequent poster, but this will make it easier for me to share the longer form data collection and analyses pieces I like to do. In particular, readers have seemed to like my overviews of recent Cubs’ drafts that I have done in comments in previous summers. So to help us through the boredom of winter, I’ll post overviews of all three Epstein/Hoyer drafts in the next week, starting with 2012 today. Below you will see the pick #, player, the level at which they ended the 2014 regular season, and a short snapshot of their performance this past year.