A couple weeks ago I showed that the current Cubs offense was performing as poorly as any Cubs team in history. Their 77 wRC+ (at the time and still today) was tied for second worst in their history. wRC+ is but one metric that measures offense. It's based on Tangotiger's wOBA. Baseball Prospectus has a similar value based on their TAv (True Average). You could use OPS+ to approximate the quality of an offense though either of the other two would yield more accurate results. Baseball Reference uses batting runs (Rbat) to measure a player's contribution in runs above or below the average player. For pitching it's referred to as RAA (Runs Above Average), but for position players RAA includes baserunning and fielding. I'm not interested in including either.
I decided to take a look back to 1974 since that is the year I was born. I added the offense (Rbat) and pitching (RAA) together to get a team total. Three different seasons since then have been interrupted because of a strike. In 1981 they played only 103 games and the 1994 strike resulted in 113 games played that year and only 144 the following year. Several years going back to 1974 the team played only 161 and sometimes even 160. The 1998 team even played in 163 games. The current team has played just 122.
I converted all the totals to 162 games. This means I'm prorating the Cubs current totals, which implies they'll perform as poorly over the next 42 games as they have the previous 122. That may or may not be true. The Cubs could run off a month of quality baseball. They're not as good as they were through those 122 games due to various trades and injuries, but that's entirely possible. They could even be worse than they've been so far.
The 2012 team is 88 runs below average at the plate. This includes pitchers so it's not actually a perfect measure of how good the position players are, but I've included the pitchers for all the years so it's a pretty close. Besides, we know this team is bad offensively even if we don't include the pitchers. The pitchers are 68 runs below average. This kind of surprised me. I knew the pitching wasn't as bad as the offense, but it's not much better. These two combined equal -156 runs above average. That's -207 if we prorate it to 162 games.
Prior to this season, as well as throughout it, I've mentioned that this was the worst Cubs team in at least a decade. I was talking mostly about the projections, but if you included minor league talent I've stated this is the worst Cubs team that I can remember. This was a horrible team entering the season and they lacked talent in the minor league organization to give me all that much hope for the Cubs turning it around anytime soon.
As it turns out, the prorated -207 this season is the worst in my life. If the Cubs somehow managed to be an average team over the next 42 games and remained at -156, they would still be the 5th worst Cubs team since 1974. Only 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000 would be worse.
The 1999 Cubs are the only team even close to as bad as the prorated -207 runs above average this team has produced. The 1999 Cubs were -199. The Cubs will almost certainly fly past the 1996 and 1997 teams. Those teams were each -161 runs above average. This team is only a handful away. The 2000 team was -178 and the Cubs are almost certain to surpoass that. They are also likely to be the first team in my life to be 200 runs below average.
It will come as no surprise that the 2008 team was far and away the best they've been in my life. Remember, this doesn't include baserunning or fielding and there may be a better team though I doubt it. The advantage the 2008 team has over the rest of the field when looking at pitching and batting is huge. Their 170 runs above average bests the 2004 team by 43 runs.
There are a lot of Cubs fans who don't remember 2003 or 2004. The new generation of fans haven't been around the game long enough and have no recollection of those seasons. It's been nearly 10 years. In another 5 years it's quite likely that many fans won't even remember the best Cubs team since at least 1974. It's not all bad though.
Those fans currently have no recollection of how awful they were in 1999 and 2000. For that matter they have no idea how bad they were from 1996 through 2000. With the exception of 1998 when they won the Wild Card, those are the only years since 1994 that currently beats this team in being shitty at baseball. Those fans have no memory of that. In another 5 years they won't remember the awful -134 runs above average that the 2006 team was.
If the Cubs continue to play as poorly as they have so far, they will finish the season being 377 runs worse than they were just 5 seasons ago. They'll be 202 runs worse than they were last year!
The totals for each year are below.