As the MLB season is quarter of the way over, some are wondering whether the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs are dealing with a championship season hangover. No world series champion has repeated since the 2000 New York Yankees and Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated notes that, in the first 20 games the next season, champions have an average winning percentage of .569. However, when you look at the overall season, that number goes down to .535. In other words, the reigning world series champions winning percentage falls off by 43 points. What could be worrisome for some Cubs fans is that from 2000-2015, 7 of the 16 world series champions have made the playoffs the next season.
However, I am not worried about the Cubs not making the playoffs this year, but there are some concerns that the team will have to address in order to make another long playoff run. Two of their starters, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta both have an ERA of almost 5, and while their team ERA is 3.99, the team ERA was almost a run lower in 2016 (3.15)
Part of this is that Cub pitchers accumulated so many innings in 2016 that they may be going through a ‘dead arm period.’ Arrieta pitched 197.1 innings in 2016, Lackey 188.1, Kyle Hendricks 190 and Jon Lester surpassed 200. Another reason why the Cubs are not where they were last year at this time is that their offseason was cut short. Some of the players did not get much rest over the offseason, all the sudden Christmas comes along and it’s time to work out, plus spring training is only a month and a half away.
The defense is a cause for concern as in 2016, the team’s defensive efficiency rating was at .728. The defensive efficiency rate is the rate in which they turned batted balls into outs, was the highest since the 1991 Chicago White Sox. This year has been a different story as that number has dropped to .680, which is in the bottom 5 in the NL.
The Cubs should feel fortunate because other teams that made the playoffs in 2016 have seen their winning percentage drop. Take the San Francisco Giants, who had a .549 winning percentage in 2016, their winning percentage is well below .500, while the Cubs are slightly above .500.
If you look at recent history of teams that have won 100 games in the regular season, most of them lose in either the division or championship series. Yes winning 103 games like the Cubs did in 2016 looked good, but there are perils. Yes the Cubs made it look easy at times in the regular season last year, but they used a considerable amount of energy to get to the century mark.
Remember back in 2006, that team won 83 games, won the division and yes went on to win it all. There is something to be said to playing pre-playoff games in September and the Cardinals did not clinch a playoff spot until game #161 on October 1. Compare that to the Cubs world series championship, they won the division on September 15. As contradictory as this sounds, I would have preferred the Cubs to go through a stretch where they lost 5 of 6 because it can give the team the sense that despite what we have done, we are not unbeatable in a short series.
If the Cubs are to repeat this season, I would argue that going for 100 plus wins will not work. Furthermore, winning between 92-96 games is where I expect the team to finish and playing meaningful games deep into September is what can help accomplish the goal of winning another world series championship. The Cubs are not going through a hangover, but I am not surprised that they haven’t kept up with the 2016 record and I do not expect them to win 100 games, which may play to their advantage in October.