Why To Avoid The Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are a team that has met expectations in the early going of the baseball season. The preseason favorite to win the World Series, the Cubs have answered with a MLB-best 29-11 record and for baseball bettors they’ve delivered a moneyline profit of (+$735) based on $100 betting increments on a game-to-game basis. But with their World Series odds sitting at 13-5 - with no one else lower than 10-1, it’s imperative that handicappers keep a skeptical eye. To aid that process, this post will tell you why the Cubs aren’t going to ultimately cash in come October.

We’ll give the Cubbies this - Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are hitting at a sustainable pace. Jake Arrieta is the best pitcher in baseball. But even allowing for the formidable talent assembled by the great general manager Theo Epstein, there is still a lot of overachievement going, up and down the lineup. Consider that…

  • David Ross, the veteran catcher, has stats of .347 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage. Not only is Ross 39-years-old, but he has no recent track record of hitting. Not since 2010 has he performed at this level.
  • Ben Zobrist’s on-base percentage is .444. Only once in his career has the 35-year-old Zobrist exceeded the .400 threshold. That was in 2009. Zobrist is a solid offensive player, to be sure. But he’s solid in the .360 and .370 range, not where he’s currently at. And to end up at his career norms is going to mandate a significant slump at some point this summer.
  • In a similar vein, centerfielder Dexter Fowler’s OBP is currently .441. Fowler, whose entire career has been spent in hitter-friendly venues, from Coors Field to Minute Maid Park and now Wrigley Field, has never had an OBP higher than .389. Like Zobrist, he can be counted on to be good. But Fowler is also 30-years-old and there’s no reason to expect he’ll suddenly turn great. And if that’s the case, a long slump to pull him back to the norm is ahead.
  • Jon Lester is an excellent pitcher, a steady lefthander with a penchant for being at his best in big games. His ERA is also 1.88, his career-best is 2.46 and that time - in 2014 - was in a contract year and the only time in his career he’s been under 3. What are the odds this continues?
  • And if Lester is unlikely to continue that pace, how much more unlikely is 33-year-old Jason Hammel to continue at his pace of a 2.31 ERA? Hammel has only been under 3 one time in his career and in fact he’s been on the wrong side of 4 far more times than not. While Lester is a threat to slide from great to good, Hammel could plummet hard to all-out mediocrity.
  • Bullpen depth, a bugaboo for the Cubs last year, continues to be a problem this season. Hector Rondon and Trevor Cahill have been the only reliable relievers for manager Joe Maddon. Let’s start with the fact that Rondon and Cahill are not exactly Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to begin with. But two relievers is not enough to get through the long summer, particularly if the starting pitching requires some help at some point.

That’s two-fifths of the starting rotation that’s overachieving and a bullpen that has yet to be really tested. That makes it entirely reasonable to posit that the Cubs will not maintain their current pace of having the National League’s best pitching staff. It’s hard enough to do that in Wrigley Field to begin with. If they slide to fifth or sixth, it would still be a solid staff, but it’s going to take its toll on the W-L record. And with the offense already ranking second in runs scored there’s only so much more they can do to offset a pitching decline.

We also went through three of eight offensive spots that are dramatically overperforming. Even allowing that Jason Heyward is off to a poor start and can pick up some slack going forward, the overall picture still suggests decline.

None of this is to suggest that the Cubs can’t win the World Series. It’s to point out that betting a team at 13-5 odds before Memorial Day is absolutely insane. A number that low will stick around on the board for a while. Handicappers can watch the injury situation unfold - an area the Cubs have already been hurt with the loss of Kyle Schwarber. They can see what trade deadline moves will happen. The rosters of the contenders are going to look different on August 1 than they do today.

In short, if you’re a Cubs fan, enjoy the ride. But if you’re putting your money where your mouth is, avoid the futures market for now and stick to trying to squeeze out value on the moneyline.