These Cubs Are Writing Their Way Into the History Books

With each new win, another franchise or league record seems to come into jeopardy of falling to the 2016 Chicago Cubs. The hype is real with this team, and deservedly so given the results thus far, but the old cliches still apply: “the best team in the regular season isn’t guaranteed anything”; “the playoffs are a crapshoot”; “it just matters who gets hot at the right time.” None of these statements are wrong per se, especially since 2000 where the team with the best record in baseball each season has only won one World Series (the 2009 Yankees).

Still, that shouldn’t take away from our enjoyment of what’s happening, which is this: the Cubs are in the middle of one of the hottest starts in modern MLB history. First, let’s take a look at the list of teams that have had a start similar to what the Cubs have done thus far.

Year Team Hot Start Final Record Finish
2016 Chicago Cubs 24-6 TBD TBD
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers 22-2 98-55 Won World Series
1984 Detroit Tigers 35-5 104-58 Won World Series
1939 New York Yankees 29-7 106-45 Won World Series
2001 Seattle Mariners 20-4 116-46 Lost ALCS
1998 New York Yankees 23-6 114-48 Won World Series
1970 Cincinnati Reds 22-6 102-60 Lost World Series
1969 Baltimore Orioles 20-8 109-53 Lost World Series
1956 New York Yankees 25-11 97-57 Won World Series
1927 New York Yankees 21-9 110-44 Won World Series

Every one of these teams except the 2001 Mariners made it to the World Series, and only the Big Red Machine of 1970 and the Orioles of the year prior failed to win it. This list bodes wells for the Cubs’ start since they are outpacing the majority of list already. The Cubs are currently on pace for a ridiculous 130-wins which is a .800-win percentage. There’s a lot of baseball to be played, so predicting the Cubs to win a historic number of games in early May is a fool’s errand. But given the previous list of hot starts, you can see these teams usually do threaten or make history. So it’s a fair assumption the 2016 Cubs will be in the neighborhood of these teams come October, barring catastrophic injury. Let’s look next at the results of the teams with the highest win percentage in any season.

Season Team League Wins Losses Pct. Finish
2016 Chicago Cubs NL 24 6 0.800 TBD
1906 Chicago Cubs NL 116 36 0.763 Lost World Series
2001 Seattle Mariners AL 116 46 0.716 Lost ALCS
1998 New York Yankees AL 114 48 0.704 Won World Series
1954 Cleveland Indians AL 111 43 0.721 Lost World Series
1909 Pittsburgh Pirates NL 110 42 0.724 Won World Series
1927 New York Yankees AL 110 44 0.714 Won World Series
1907 Chicago Cubs NL 107 45 0.704 Won World Series
1931 Philadelphia Athletics AL 107 45 0.704 Lost World Series
1939 New York Yankees AL 106 45 0.702 Won World Series

Out of the eight teams with a .700-plus winning percentage that reached the World Series, five of them won it. At this level of performance, you’d feel pretty good about the chances for the Cubs entering the postseason if they can dominate enough to make this list, and the Cubs are far exceeding this pace right now.

The last stat worth looking at right now is run differential. The Cubs currently sit plus-102 in run differential, leading the league in both runs scored and allowing the fewest. To put that in some perspective, the second best team, the Mets, sit well behind the Cubs at +44. That difference between the Cubs and the Mets (58) is 14 more than the Mets have outscored their opponents so far this season. Furthermore, that’s more than the difference between the second-ranked Mets and the 19th ranked Kansas City Royals (-13). The Cubs are light years ahead of the competition right now in terms of run differential and that’s a great spot to be in.

Season Team Runs Scored Runs Allowed Run Differential Finish
2016 Chicago Cubs 6.13 2.73 3.40 TBD
1939 New York Yankees 6.4 3.68 2.72 Won World Series
1927 New York Yankees 6.33 3.89 2.44 Won World Series
1936 New York Yankees 6.96 4.78 2.18 Won World Series
1937 New York Yankees 6.36 4.36 2.00 Won World Series
1931 New York Yankees 6.93 4.94 1.99 Finished 2nd in AL
1942 New York Yankees 5.2 3.29 1.91 Lost World Series
1998 New York Yankees 5.96 4.05 1.91 Won World Series
1929 Philadelphia Athletics 6.01 4.1 1.91 Won World Series
2001 Seattle Mariners 5.72 3.87 1.85 Lost ALCS

What jumps out immediately on this list is just how dominant those Yankees teams were. The next thing is this: What happened in 1931? The 1931 Yankee team holds the record for most runs scored in a season during the modern era at 1,067, but they only finished second in their division, 13.5 games behind the Philadelphia Athletics. Back then, the top-2 teams from each league automatically made the World Series, so despite their stellar run differential, the 107-win Philadelphia Athletics blew them away.

Looking at what we’re here for though, the Cubs are outpacing the entire list again. Six of the top nine teams in run differential won the World Series, only one team lost it, while two failed to reach it. Demonstrating once again that historically great teams are highly likely to reach somewhere the Cubs haven’t been since 1945 and 1908 respectively.

Comparing the Cubs’ start to the best teams to ever play the game shows exactly how dominant this Chicago Cubs team is, if that last week of games wasn’t proof enough. While the era of parity in baseball is thriving, this Cubs team is so far beyond their contemporaries that the standard rules of parity do not really apply. There’s definitely a few caveats raised, like the 2001 Mariners and 1931 Yankees for example. Nonetheless, it’s more telling that these lists are littered with World Series participants, and (perhaps more importantly, as only good teams made the World Series for years), World Series champions. This team was a little off offensively in April, but in May the big bats started to click and we’ve seen the results this past week. It’s been fun.

Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports.

Related Articles

9 comments on “These Cubs Are Writing Their Way Into the History Books”

PolitiJim (@politiJim)

and all this without…
– Heyward’s historical OBP
– Miggy
– Soler’s late 2015 season form


Unfortunately, the vast majority of those teams reached the World Series in years where all you had to do to get into the World Series was have the best record in your league (something dominant teams such as the ones you listed are automatically going to do since you’re selecting for extraordinary regular season dominance).

It’s largely irrelevant with the playoff system we have today. Only a few of those teams had to participate in even so many two rounds of playoffs (1969 and onward). Totally changes the equation.

Michael Jimenez

This did not slip my mind and I gave it a lot of thought. I do agree when you are looking only at winning percentage; however, they still had to win that many games, and for the majority of those teams, they still won the World Series.

The argument works both ways as well. You can argue for those teams pre-playoff expansion were guaranteed to get in; however, you’re basically saying it was easier to make the World Series back then than it is now. I would highly disagree with that sentiment because you had to have the best record in your league, period. There was no second chance and even if you were a historically great team, there could have been another team better than you (1931 for example).

One of the reasons I also used three different lenses to investigate, was because neither of the hot start teams or highest run differential teams were guaranteed to be the best team in their division record-wise, so their auto-inclusion into the World Series was not guaranteed pre-playoff expansion.


Goal number one: win the division. The Cubs are making a statement that they’re not going to settle for the one-game wild card again.

Despite the sweep against the Nationals, play either them or the Mets in a one-game wild card at your peril.



Love the article, but you are saying having the best record in baseball over the course of the year, is more difficult than getting though 2 play off series.
If that is true, why has only one team with the best record won the WS since 2000.

Or am I misunderstanding what you are saying?

Michael Jimenez

I do think it is harder to have the best record over the course of an entire year than to win 2 series to make the World Series.

I think the reasoning for such parity in the last decade and a half is that teams are smarter. Improved scouting, teams know their own strengths, have better roster creation for the playoffs, and can exploit other team’s weaknesses. I think if you look at the 2008 Cubs for instance, the team had the best record in the NL but was swept by the Dodgers mainly due to the Dodgers never throwing a lefty at a righty heavy Cubs lineup.

This 2016 Cubs team doesn’t really have any weaknesses right now, unless they have more injuries occur, and the historically great teams I looked at, were also juggernauts in that regard.

The teams in recent history that broke the 105-win threshold all made it to the World Series except that Seattle team who lost to the Yankees at the end of their dynasty run so maybe 105 is the point where teams aren’t just good but exceptional where the rules of parity no longer exist? That was a point I was trying to get across.


In what world did the 2007 Cubs (85-77) have the best record in baseball? They had the worst record of any NL playoff team.

Michael Jimenez
Thomas Kelley

I’m a diehard Red Sox and I just love this Cubs team. Looks like you guys made the right move in hiring Theo. I’d love to see a Red Sox vs. Cubs World Series, wouldn’t that be historic?

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username