Scorecasting looks at data: Cubs not unlucky, just bad

The recently published book Scorecasting (read a quick summary here) has a chapter that tackles the question of whether the Chicago Cubs are cursed or not. Their conclusion after looking at the data: the team has simply been bad.

But how can anyone disprove the existence of a curse? According to the authors, teams that frequently field good teams but finish in second place, or make the playoffs but fail to win a title, justifiably can claim to be unlucky. So, too, can teams that have impressive batting, hitting and defensive statistics, but whose strong numbers don’t translate into victories.

On both scores, the Cubs proved to be “less unlucky” than the average team. That is, not unlucky, just bad.

“Relative to other teams, we could easily explain the Cubs lack of success from the data — both their on the field statistics and where they finished in the standings,” Moscowitz said.

Since their last Series appearance in 1945, the Cubs have finished second fewer times than they have finished first. They also have finished last or next to last close to 40 percent of the time. According to the book, the odds of this happening by chance are 527 to 1.

The authors of “Scorecasting” believe that what has been stopping the Cubs the last three decades is the extreme loyalty of their fans, which has served to reduce the incentive for Cubs management to win.

According to their analysis, which is primarily based on attendance records and the team’s won-loss percentage from 1982-2009, Cubs fans are the least sensitive to the team’s winning percentage, while White Sox fans are among the most sensitive.

There are two interesting arguments going on here, both of which commonly come up in conversation in Chicago:

1. The data suggests that the Cubs have just been a bad team. It is not as if they have reached the playoffs or World Series multiple times and lost. It is not that they have impressive statistics and this hasn’t translated into wins. They just haven’t been very good. It would be interesting to read the rest of this chapter to see if the authors talk about the MLB teams that have been truly unlucky. I don’t know if a chapter like this will put the talk of a Cubs curse to rest but it is good to hear that there is data that could quiet the curse talk. (But perhaps the curse is what Cubs fans want to believe – it means that the team or the fans aren’t at fault.)

2. Cubs fans like to think that they are loyal while White Sox fans argue that Cubs fans will go to Wrigley Field no matter what. So is the answer for more Cubs fans to stay away from the ballpark until the team and the Ricketts show that they are serious about winning?

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