Cubs Appear Ripe for "Miracle" Season (in 1984)
No, this isn't a bold Ryan Dempster-like statement about the Cubs 2008 chances. We're going to hop into the DeLorean we have sitting around here at the sprawling TCR headquarters and visit my all-time favorite Cubs team - the 1984 ballcub.
I recently finished a rather impressive historical account on the Cubs by Glenn Stout, aptly titled "The Cubs: The Complete Story of Chicago Cubs Baseball". Of course, as I approached the section on the 1984 Cubs, my ears perked up a bit as they are my all-time favorite Cubs team. In his research, Stout came across a rather intriguing article posted on April 1st of that year. Reading through it, you'd think it was an April Fool's Day joke.
A substantial portion of the 19-game difference between the Cubs and the top of the division is not a real difference in talent. It might be called an illusion. It might be called a difference in the ability to play one-run baseball. But whatever it is, it isn't a difference in the ability to score runs or the ability to prevent the opposition from scoring runs.
This is an unusually large disparity - eight games - between projected performance and actual performance, and such disparities do not hold up from year to year.
So who this mysterious Carnac? Bernie Lincicome? Jerome Holtzman? One last clue...
The Cubs certainly don't have the potential to be a great team, a dominant team over time. But that's not really germane; miracle teams are never great teams. They're teams that have a moment, teams that slip through a window of dominance.
Alright, that wasn't much, was it? Let's see if this helps:
The Cubs have a specific, correctable weakness, action on which can have a huge impact on their record. I speak of their ability on artificial turf. The Cubs last year were 58-56 on grass fields, but were the worst team in baseball [13-35] on artifical turn by a wide margin.
The reasons for this are not hard to understand. They have a power-hitting offense, and Larry Bowa and Ron Cey don't move so much as sort of melt toward the ball. Their staff is composed heavily of ground-ball pitchers - they had more ground balls hit off them than any other staff in the majors- and ground-ball pitchers get killed on artificial turf.
Well if you haven't guessed yet, there weren't a lot of sabermetrically-inclined authors back in 1984 and the article was actually an excerpt from the "Bill James Baseball Abstract/1984", naturally written by the true father of sabermetrics, Bill James. Thanks to Transmission for finding the actual Trib article for me, which you can view the full text by following this link.
PS - The Cubs were 2 games behind their Pythagorean record last year if it makes anyone feel better about 2008. They won 85, but "should" have won 87.