5 stats to keep in mind during tonight's Cubs-Rockies Wild Card matchup

5 stats to keep in mind during tonight's Cubs-Rockies Wild Card matchup

A little after 7:05 PM Chicago time tonight, the N.L. Wild Card game will get underway at Wrigley Field. 

This'll be the 7th meeting between the Cubs and Rockies this season, and with the series split at 3-3, it's oddly poetic that tonight is single-elimination. 

The Cubs will send Jon Lester to the mound, and Kyle Freeland's starting for Colorado. 

Baseball is a game overstuffed with stats, and you will surely hear that you're allowed to throw them all out for a one-game playoff. Platitudes aside, there are a handful of stats worth looking at when trying to get a feel for tonight's game. Here they are: 

1.) -1.07 

We'll start off with some bad news for Cubs' fans, with the promise that I'll make up for it somewhere farther down the list. The -1.07 represents the difference between Jon Lester's ERA and Jon Lester's FIP. It doesn't get the hate that W-L records do, but ERA is not-so-slowly losing its status as the tell-all pitching statistic. With that said, looking at ERA in comparison to other statistics still provides plenty of insight. In this instance, Lester's ERA is over a full run lower than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). On its surface, that indicates that Lester has benefitted mightly from luck this season. Lester's ERA sits at 3.32, which is not going to win him any Cy Youngs but still lower than the 2018 league average (4.14). Lester's FIP? 4.39. Of all Cubs' starters with at least 50 innings pitched, no one has a higher disparity than Lester's -1.07. In fact, only eight starters across the entire league with at least 50 IPs has a wider gap. No one questions whether Lester can perform on a stage like this -- and looking at a gap set over 180 innings doesn't do a whole lot for a one-game performance -- but it's interesting to see how ERA still finds ways of directing the narrative around starters. 

2.) 78

This is the wRC+ that the Rockies' offense posted in road games this season. Given that wRC+ is a park-adjusted stat where the league average sits at 100, you can get a sense of how bad that is. Only 1 team - the San Fransisco Giants - had a worst road wRC+. It's not groundbreaking to point out that the Rockies offense is quite as prolific away from Denver's thin air, but it's illuminating to see just *how* bad their offense is on the road. The Rockies had a -6 run differential on the road (and a +41 at home, lolol) so they're clearly a different team away from Mile High. 

3.) 11% 

11 percent is how often the Cubs bullpen walks batters. It's not great! In fact, it's so not great that only one team's bullpen (Atlanta) walks more batters. It gets worse! Only six teams had worse K-BB% ratios than the Cubs' bullpen did this season, and four of those teams finished with less than 65 wins. Plainly, the Cubs' walk a lot  of batters late in games and don't have much in terms of backend strikeout threats. He's struggled this season, but not having Carl Edwards Jr -- the Cubs' best strikeout guy -- on today's roster is a real blow. 

4.) .797

Here we have the Cubs' OPS against left-handers at Wrigley. Granted, this is an awfully specific stat. But it's worth pointing out that it's the third-best home OPS against lefties in all of baseball. Given that the Cubs are at home, against a lefty, that seems noteable. What does this mean in regards to their lineup? I'd expect to see Albert Almora Jr. and his .806 OPS against lefties slotted in there somewhere. Same goes for David Bote, though most of his damage against lefties has come on the road this season. 

5.) 2.25

Finally, we've reached some good news. 2.25 is Jon Lester's ERA through 148 playoff innings pitched. Did I just spend 500 words explaining why ERA was outdated? I sure did! And while that's certainly true, it doesn't take Bill James to tell you that a sub-3 ERA over almost a full season's worth of playoff innings is incredible. The Cubs' gave Lester $155 million over six years specifically for starts like tonight. 

BONUS - 48.6%

The Rockies are one of the most aggressive swinging teams in baseball. That 48.6 percent represents how often they swing at pitches, which is the 4th-highest in all of baseball this year. They swing at pitches in the strike zone 70 percent of the time, which is four percentage points higher than the MLB average and the second-most in the league. They make contact on 84 percent of pitches in the zone, which seems like a lot, but actually isn't (23rd in MLB). They're free swingers who don't make a particularly impressive amount of contact, which bodes well for Lester and the Cubs. 

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair