Commentary

More won't than will for city ballclubs

Cubs, Sox aren't showing much this season. Their fans aren't showing up, either

Updated: May 27, 2013, 12:38 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The defining moment of the first two months of the Chicago baseball season, at least the B.C.C. (Before Crosstown Cup) portion, wasn't an Adam Dunn whiff or a Carlos Marmol blown save.

It wasn't Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum calling Travis Wood "the best pitcher in baseball, pretty much" or the fleeting hilarity that was the Rosemont Cubs nor was it the thousands of confused Chicago White Sox fans watching games on TV wondering "who that guy is" (It was probably Conor Gillaspie).

[+] EnlargeCubs-Sox fans
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastWith the Sox at .500 and the Cubs 19-30, it's been a ho-hum season, at best, for the Chicago faithful.
No, the moment that highlighted the first two months of another frigid start to a Chicago baseball season was the White Sox folk hero Ken "Hawk" Harrelson going all "vox populi, vox Hawk" on an MLB Network show and inventing his own statistical metric.

When Hawk created TWTW, which stands for The Will To Win, we all won. The stats people, the meatheads, the casual fans.

What, you thought Hawk just invented batting gloves?

Of course, only Hawk would try to wryly define an intangible in his quixotic quest to prove that "Moneyball" was a dumb book, and later a bad movie, that got "a bunch of people fired." That's why we love/hate him.

The creation of the hashtaggable "TWTW" was Hawk at his finest, cocky and self-involved and, well, flagrantly awesome.

Of course, this being Chicago, you couldn't find too many teams in baseball with a worse TWTW than the Sox and the Cubs.

More like The Will To Win 79 and 62 games.

What does TWTW mean to you? Is it The Will To Wince when you watch Starlin Castro boot a grounder up the middle? Is it The Will To Wonder if Dunn is the worst free-agent signing in the city's history? Is it The Will To Waste another summer watching your favorite team gag? It certainly doesn't stand for The Will to Walk. The Cubs are dead last in walk percentage, while the Sox are 28th. Accordingly, both are in the bottom five in on-base percentage.

Chicago baseball is, once again, background noise. The irrelevance of both teams makes me wistful for Derrick Rose Watch and the Chicago Blackhawks' power play. OK, maybe not. But it's getting close.

In case you've been blocking out baseball for the past two months, here's a quick update:

The Cubs are just trying to field a major league team until the Ricketts get the OK to put up a videoboard bigger than Antonio Alfonseca's belly. Commercials coming soon! The starting pitching has been fantastic, the rest of the team less so.

The .500 Sox are, once again, maddeningly mediocre (and injury-riddled, which is rare) and the front office needs to figure out the future of this team, and that might include a near-complete makeover and rebuild. It's not like fans are flocking to see this product.

Certainly neither fan base has The Will to Watch. And which is why neither team has sold out its two-game allotment for the four-day festival of Chicago baseball that is upon us.

While I couldn't get ratings information from Comcast SportsNet (the latest ratings will be out Tuesday), the Sox are averaging 21,288 fans, a slight increase compared to this point last season, while the Cubs are down 4,280 fans compared to this point last season but still drawing 33,005 per game, at least in paid attendance. Actual fans in the seats are closer to the Sox figure.

While the teams are struggling in TWTW, the more accepted statistics aren't too good, either. As of May 25, Jeff Keppinger was tied for the worst WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in baseball at -1.2., while Dunn and Paul Konerko were in the conversation. No wonder the Sox are next-to-last in WAR.

Meanwhile, the Cubs pitchers have 15 RBIs, while Alfonso Soriano has 18. That tells you a lot about the team careening toward another 100-loss season.

What statistic (from May 24) most defines the moribund state of Chicago baseball? Is it Dunn's .159 average? How about the Cubs' 50 percent save percentage? Or the Cubs' 38 errors? How about .216/.225, the Cubs' and Sox's batting averages, respectively, with runners in scoring position?

Sure, there are positive numbers, too. The Sox bullpen had given up just six homers, the fewest in baseball (as of May 24). Alex Rios had an 18-game hitting streak. Cubs starters had a sparkling 3.63 ERA (10th in MLB) and 1.18 WHIP despite Edwin Jackson's struggles. Sox starters were even better at 3.39 ERA (fourth) and a 1.14 WHIP.

But the positives are being drowned out by the negatives. Some things never change.

So, what's the immediate future for these teams? The Cubs will get their new Cubby Square campus, and they'll get money to improve the organization. Until then, Cubs front-office folks shake their heads at the team's glaring lack of baseball intellect, most notably the on-base percentage ignorance.

As of now, Castro, Darwin Barney and Soriano are struggling to get their on-base percentages to .300. Anthony Rizzo, recently inked to a $41 million extension, is worth every penny but also capable of great droughts, like the 0-for-23 skid he just snapped.

The White Sox, typically the healthiest team in baseball, are struggling through injuries and general ineffectiveness at the plate and in the field. At best, they'll be mediocre once again. As we know, Sox fans don't flock to an 85-win team. Should they blow it up? It's a legitimate question for promoted general manager Rick Hahn.

Both teams have wasted impressive performances by starting staffs, which were fifth and sixth in ERA as of May 24. Both teams were helped by luck, it seems, with the Cubs first and the Sox second in BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) despite uneven defenses.

Cubs fans were buoyed by a FanGraphs story that illustrated how the team wasn't as bad as its record suggested, with a strong weighted on-based average (wOBA) and wOBA against. WOBA, which, according to FanGraphs, "combines all the different aspects of hitting in one metric that is weighted in proportion to actual run value," is a stat popularized by Cubs analyst Tom Tango. Going into Sunday's game, the Cubs were 11th in wOBA differential, and the 10 teams above them have winning records. But the Cubs are heroically awful in clutch situations, which is why their record doesn't reflect their strong wOBAs.

As if losing close games and blowing leads are cause for celebration. No, wasting good opportunities is a telltale sign of a bad team.

The Cubs have wasted a perfectly good opportunity to be relevant years ahead of schedule. As Theo Epstein opined when he was hired as president/savior, every chance to win is sacred. But we all know that doesn't apply here. In fact, the Cubs might be better off, because they can sell starting pitchers and get prospects to build the "foundation for sustained success."

The Sox, just five back in the AL Central after Friday's win, deserve credit for living up to Epstein's creed and trying to compete every season, but no one would blame them for a white-flag trade this season.

TWTW? We need to figure out what the teams have the will to do this season.

Sometimes, this city series is a harbinger for the future. But the present isn't pretty, which is why the series' slogan should be: Good seats still available.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.