Updated: Jun 17, 2020
The Cubs and Sox faced similar odds over the years. Both play in Chicago, struggled for many years, and had long World Series championship droughts. Both teams had that one special championship season, which their respective fans will hold near and dear. As one might expect, a common argument is over which team was better. Poor CyHendricks2020 said a statement which I consider to be true, then got onslaught with White Sox fans chanting "11-1, 11-1" in reference to them nearly sweeping through the playoffs. Today I'd like to examine which team is actually better. Rather than just compare overall record, WAR, OPS or ERA, I'd like to do a deeper drive to determine which team is the better one.
I'm pretty sure it's the Cubs. They had the better record. They should have won more games than they did based off run differential, while the Sox should have lost more. Even when factoring in playoff records of 11-1 vs 11-6, the Cubs still have a better overall record and run differential. The Cubs allowed less runs and scored more than the Sox. But baseball isn't just about the simple raw numbers. Who knows. Maybe there are underlying statistics that can prove the Sox where actually superior.
To measure this out, I've chosen 9 different pieces of criteria which will measure out both teams. That way, Cubs fans can't just say "well we had the better record" and Sox fans can't say "Well we were better in the playoffs." Both of those arguments have certain amounts of merit. Think of this as a 9 game World Series of team statistics. Either team will garner 1 win by winning their category, with a 5-4 minimum majority needed to win my series.
My 9 metrics:
Record: Overall record in season. 162 games is enough of a sample size to shake out who's better, but I'll adjust for playoffs.
Team Starting Pitching: Which team had the better rotation? Measured by overall ERA, WHIP, FIP, WAR, among others.
Team Hitting: Which team was better offensively? Team statistics measured out by overall RC+, WAR, BA, OBP, SLG, among others.
Team Bullpen: Which team had the better pen? Collective ERA, WHIP, FIP, WAR, and others.
Team Defense: Overall Fielding %, RDRS, RF, and others
Run Differential: Making adjustments for overall record should one team be much better but happened to lose a few one run games.
Strength of Schedule: Did one team get lucky with a weak schedule to inflate their numbers?
Offensive Star Power: A look at the top hitters from each team and how they stack up, since a lot of good bench bats might not see playing time in the playoffs.
Pitching Star Power: A look at the top pitchers from each team, and how they compare if they were lining up in a playoff series.
Manager: I feel like this is too intangible to count, nor would it be a deciding factor as to which team is better. Ozzie Guillen won the MOY award in 2005, and Joe Maddon won in 2015 while being a finalist in 2016. Maddon had some high profile World Series missteps, but he's also likely going to the Hall of Fame. Personally, I feel that the Cubs have the advantage here, but there's just not a real tangible way to measure this, so I won't.
Offensive contributions from pitchers: Team hitting stats are taken without pitchers hitting. Since one team is an AL club, its pitchers won't be good hitters because they have the DH. So rather than try and compensate for that, I just took it out.
Playoff Stats: Unless someone has a good stats website that combines regular season and playoff stats for me. I couldn't find one. I considered making my own spreadsheet, but it didn't seem worth it after seeing some of the stats. It's not like Mark Buerhle threw 3 shutouts in the playoffs which edge his stats past Jon Lester's. The Cubs scored 8 more runs than the Sox in the playoffs. The Sox gave up 23 less runs than the Cubs. The Sox played 12 games and the Cubs played 17. It's not enough of a sample size to tilt the scales.
League Adjustments: Some might argue that the difference in leagues might mean that the Sox's pitching staff facing DH's all season should have better stats. The difference in league avferages is pretty negligible. In 2016, NL OPS was .734 and ERA was 4.16. The AL had a .744 OPS and 4.20 ERA. In 2005 the AL had a .755 OPS and a 4.35 ERA, while the NL had a .744 OPS and a 4.22 ERA. So if you really need to try and adjust for league balance, go ahead and subtract .010 from OPS and .1 from ERA from the Sox numbers. It doesn't tilt the scales.
Here we go!
Regular season: 103-58 .639
Playoffs: 11-6 .647
Overall 114-64 .640
Regular Season: 99-63 .611
Playoffs: 11-1 .916
Overall: 110-64 .632
Even trying to give the White Sox extra credit for their astounding 11-1 run through the playoffs, their overall winning percentage was still lower than the Cubs. We'll talk about strength of schedule and run differential later. What happened on the field did happen on the field. And the Cubs won four more games while losing the same amount as the White Sox.
Team Starting Pitching:
Both teams relied on their starting rotation for their rings. The Cubs had a great 1-5, and didn't get much from their spot starters. The Sox had a great 1-4, then 5 and beyond was an issue.
The Cubs had statistical advantages in WHIP and HRs allowed, which led to major statistical advantages in ERA (.79 difference) and FIP (.41 difference). The White Sox threw nearly 100 more innings, and had an advantage in WAR. Despite this, I have to give the overall advantage to the Cubs, as big advantages in ERA, FIP and WHIP don't outweigh WAR (Fangraphs).
We will talk about how each pitcher lines up in a game by game matchup later, but please note, the Cubs had a superior starting rotation from top to bottom. The only reason the White Sox have better WAR is because of the 85 extra innings. Subtract 7% WAR away from the Sox (7% being the number of innings needed to equate them to the Cubs inning totals) and their WAR becomes 16.95, a little bit higher than the Cubs. That doesn't outweigh the Cubs significant advantage in ERA, among other stats.
These stats are taken without pitchers hitting. Since one team is an AL club, its pitchers won't be good hitters because they have the DH. This puts the Cubs at a certain disadvantage without the extra bat, but their pitchers will hit better than the Sox. The pitcher's spot is essentially 1 out of every 9 or 11% of total plate appearances. If the Sox had to bat their pitchers that much without a DH... you see where it's a slippery slope. So rather than try and compensate for that, I just took it out. The Sox still get credit for all DH stats. The Cubs get no credit for their pitchers hitting.
The Cubs were the better team offensively, by far. They had nearly double the amount of WAR (Fangraphs) over the White Sox, and significantly better OBP and SLG. RC+ was no contest. Really, this was a mismatch. The White Sox might have been better base stealers, but that simply just doesn't outweigh what the Cubs did with the bats in 2016.
Offense was the Cubs biggest advantage in this matchup. The pitching and defense advantages are a bit debatable. But if the Cubs and Sox are more or less tied in those two categories, this disparity is what really makes the Cubs stand out as the blatant winners. The Cubs scored 5 runs per game in 2016, 2nd in the NL behind the Rockies 5.22. The White Sox scored 4.57 per game, 9th in the AL, behind the leaders Red Sox's 5.62 leader. It's no contest.
Both teams had good bullpens. This category might have been the most closely contested. Out of my 9 categories, the Cubs won 5. But the Sox had better ERA, WAR, and saves, so I'll give the win to them in a coin flip decision.
I'm open to debates on this one. Maybe the Cubs ERA is inflated because their back of the bullpen guys were much worse than the Sox, and that wouldn't matter in a playoff series. Maybe the Sox are superior because of much more WAR in much fewer innings.
Winner: White Sox
It's really hard to evaluate baseball defense. There are clear metrics that value just one part of the game, and then there are advanced metrics that have flaws. Fans tend to regard Gold Gloves highly, but those are just opinion votes.
In the 7 categories I personally consider to be the most telling stats for team defense, the Cubs won 4-3. The Cubs had 2 Gold Glove winners in Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo, and had 2 other nominees in Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell, while Javy Baez was left out. The White Sox didn't have any winners, and I couldn't find the list of nominees from that year.
The Sox made fewer errors, and had slight advantages in fld% and range factor. The Cubs had more defensive runs saved (which might be a stat that wasn't tracked properly in 2005). I'll give this category to the White Sox in a coin flip decision.
Honestly, I think I'm being very generous to the White Sox in this one. The Sox were 14th in baseball with their 7 defensive runs saved, while the Cubs were 1st, 30 better than second place.
Winner: White Sox
I'd personally give this one to the Cubs, too. By most measures, they had a historically great defense in 2016, and it was one of the things that led to their win, especially in the postseason. But I'll let you give this one to the Sox. ;) --Staci
Run Differential and Anticipated Schedule:
The Cubs were known for their run differential in 2016. Because of how much they beat up on opponents, they arguably should have been better than they were. On the other hand, the Sox should have been a whopping 8 games worse than they were. Once again, even when factoring in an extra advantage for the White Sox by grouping their remarkable playoff run into the regular season numbers, they still fall short of what the Cubs did. The Sox's 11-1 stretch evens the amount of runs scored between the two teams, yet the Sox still gave up 34 more runs.
Regular season: 808-556, Pythagorean 107-54
Playoffs:17-13, 31-17, 27-27; 75-57
Regular Season: 741-645 Pythagorean 91-71
Playoffs: 24-9, 23-11, 20-14; 67-34
Cubs: 883 RS 613 RA
Sox: 808 RS 679 RA
The 2016 Cubs scored 5 runs per game (3rd), and allowed 3.43 (1st). The Sox scored 4.57 per game (13th), and allowed 3.98 (5th). The Cubs have a huge advantage here. HUGE.
Strength of Schedule Adjustments:
Both teams played in decent divisions, with only 1 playoff team from each division.
The Cubs's 2016 NL Central was 305-342 out of 647 games, a .471 winning percentage. Their main competition was an 86-76 Cardinals team (17.5 GB), and the Cubs beat up on a 68-94 Reds squad (35.5 GB). In the playoffs, the Cubs beat an 87 win Giants team, a 91 win Dodgers, and a 94 win Indians.
The Cubs had a .640 winning percentage first in all of baseball. 2nd place being 3 teams in the .584-.586 range. There were 6 teams with a +.500 record in the NL that year. The Cubs were 31-25 against above .500 teams (.553), and 72-33 against sub .500 teams (.685).
Overall, the Cubs had a strength of schedule of .495 and a relative power index of .531.Baseball Reference gives them a SOS of -.2 and an SRS of 1.3
The Sox's 2005 AL Central was 303-345 out of 648 games, a .467 winning percentage. Their main competition was a 93-69 Indian's team (6 GB), and they beat up on a 56-106 Royals squad (43 GB). In the playoffs, the Sox beat 95 win Red Sox and Angel teams, then a 89 win Houston Astros.
Their winning percentage of .611 was second in baseball, and there were 7 AL teams over .500 that year. Against .500 or better teams, they were 39-33 (.541), while beating up on sub .500 teams to a 60-30 clip (.666).
Overall, they had a strength of schedule of .498 and had a relative power index of .527 Baseball reference gives them a SOS of .1 and an SRS of .7.
Based off of regular season records, the Cubs were better. They were better against +.500 teams by a .012 margin, and -.500 teams by a .019 margin. But, we can't discount the Sox's run in the playoffs. If you add playoff games to the +.500 records, the Sox become a 50-34, .595 team , and the Cubs become a 42-31, .575 team.
Sox fans like talking up how mighty their opponents were in the 2005 playoffs, because it adds muscle to the "11-1". That's a bit untrue. The Angels were a 95 win team, but also outperformed their record by 2 games and had a below average offense. The Red Sox were also a 95 win team, but outperformed their record by 5 games (run differential pythagorean).
There's also a lot of chatter about how the Sox beat up on a mighty Houston team. But in 2005, The Astros' two best qualified hitters were Endsberg and Berkman. Biggo was 39 and a 104 OPS+. Bagwell was 37 and had 123 PAs for a OPS+ of 94. The Astros got there with a solid 3 in the rotation (Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte) and 3 good relievers (Lidge, Qyalls, Wheeler). They lacked depth, and were spent by the time the White Sox got them. Going 11-1 in the 2005 playoffs is an accomplishment, but they just did not beat up on three powerhouses, plain and simple.
Both teams led their leagues in RPI, and while the Cubs had the 6th easiest schedule, the Sox's was ranked 9th. Given the White Sox's more difficult challenge; a tougher road through the playoffs and slightly tougher regular season schedule, they get a win here. It's close, but clearly the White Sox. Personally, I don't think the slightly better strength of schedule makes the White Sox the better team. But I'll weigh it in equally with my 8 other categories.
Winner: White Sox
Offensive Star Power:
The Sox weren't known for their hitting in 2005. But looking at the overall numbers, there's a huge disparity. The Sox basically had 2 good regular hitters in their lineup. Missing is Frank Thomas, as he was limited to just 124 PAs. In their starting 9 hitters, 3 had OPS+ over 100, 4 were in the 90-99 range, and 2 were in the mid 80s. Kornerko was 6th in MVP voting
On the other hand, the Cubs were loaded with offensive studs. Obviously, that conversation starts with Bryzzo, but then they also got solid contributions from Fowler, Contreras, Zobrist, and Soler. In their top 9 hitters (PAs), they had 5 hitters over 100, 2 in the 90-99 range, and 2 under 90. Kris Bryant won the MVP, and Rizzo finished 4th in voting.
It was no contest. Not only were the Cubs the better hitters from top to bottom, but their offensive stars completely lapped the Sox's. Here's each team's top starting lineup hitters:
Sox Top 5: RC+ Kornerko 136, Dye 119, Iguchi 105, Crede 94, Rowand 93
Cubs Top 5: RC+ Bryant 148, Rizzo 145, Fowler 129, Contreras 126, Zobrist 124
I bring this up to explain that the Cubs didn't outhit the White Sox because of some depth that might not see action in the playoffs. The Cubs lapped the Sox in their overall quality of a starting lineup. They also lapped them in bench bats too, with OPS+ 100 or better numbers from Willson, Ross, La Stella, and Coghlan. The Sox had one bat on the bench with a better than 100OPS+, Frank Thomas.
Really, if you want to go through the starting 9 on each squad, the Sox are only better at DH and RF. The lineups just don't compare at all.
Pitching Star Power:
In a playoff series, it's typically the teams best 4 starters matching up. While one team might have had overall better rotation stats because of a better 5th starter or better injury fill in starters, I wanted to see how things would match up in a hypothetical playoff series. Because if we are going to have this fantasy World Series, everyone is going to be healthy. While a White Sox playoff rotation has an advantage in WAR, they have noticeably worse FIPs and WHIPs. The Cubs ERA is also much better, with 2 guys under 2.50, and nobody over 3.50. The White Sox have 3 guys over 3.50 ERA. The Cubs had 2 top 3 Cy Young finishers. Sox had 2 guys at 5 and 6 in voting.
Game 1: Buehrle vs Lester
Lester has the better record, ERA, WHIP and more strikeouts. Buehrle has more innings pitched, which contributes to his better WAR. In the end, Lester's 19-5 record is no fluke with a sparking ERA that was second in the league. Buerhle didn't rank in the top 10 for anything other than innings pitched. While the FIPs are similar, I give the slight advantage to Cy Young runner up, Jon Lester.
Game 2: Garcia vs Arrieta
Arrieta has much better ERA, FIP, and more strikeouts. Despite this, Garcia has slightly more more WAR, largely due to IP totals. You can't argue with going with the pitcher that gives up less runs. I take Arrieta pretty easily.
Game 3: Garland vs Hendricks
Hendricks has Garland easily beat, boasting an advantage in ERA, FIP, WHIP, WAR, and strikeouts. It's no contest for the Cy Young 3rd place finisher, Kyle Hendricks. He led all of baseball in ERA. He's getting the advantage, no matter what.
Game 4: Contreras vs Lackey
Lackey has the advantage in ERA, strikeouts, FIP, WHIP, while Contreras has the WAR advantage. I can't outweigh one stat over all others, even if it is WAR. I'll take Lackey.
That makes for a Cubs sweep. At best, maybe you take Buerhle and Contreras over Lester and Lackey, but both of those decisions could be considered to be coin flips, not marginal advantages. In each of these 4 matchups, the Cubs starters have the better ERAs. Reduce the Sox's IP totals to the Cubs tier, and that advantage is WAR is gone.
Overall, the Cubs won 6 of 9 categories, with the three losing categories being close calls at strength of schedule, bullpen, and defense.
All of that said, the 2016 Cubs were the superior team, plain and simple. Their offensive lapped the White Sox, and their pitching was better. This led to blatant advantages in runs scored, runs allowed, and overall record. In a fantasy 7 game World Series, The Cubs are outhitting the Sox, and they have a better rotation 1-4. The differences in bullpen and defense don't outweigh the significant advantages the Cubs have there.
I went into this thinking the Cubs would be better, but really pushed myself hard to try and give the Sox every argument I could. Reverting back to to my Cubs fandom, it's arguable that the 2016 Cubs could have won every single category I made. Sorry Sox fans. You can keep chanting 11-1 all you want, but that's basically a participation trophy.
Winner of the Championship Drought Ending Champions: The 2016 Chicago Cubs.