You don’t need an advanced forecasting system to tell you the Cubs are bad, but it’s a bit disheartening to have one of the team’s top talents singled out.
Last week, FanGraphs released their ZiPS projections, which were unkind to the Cubs, though there were signs of hope on an individual level. Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections, however, are somewhat more bearish, especially in regards to Jeff Samardzija.
You need a BP subscription to access PECOTA, so I won’t divulge too much information in this post, but here’s a few notable points:
✶ PECOTA thinks Samardzija is going to be the worst pitcher in the starting rotation with a 4.49 ERA and 0.1 WARP. For comparison, ZiPS projected Samardzija to lead the rotation in ERA (3.56) and wins above replacement (3.2), so this is quite a discrepancy. Samardzija’s true performance will probably fall somewhere in between, but the range of these projections is disconcerting.
✶ The Cubs are expected to finish 71-91. The anticipated results don’t include the recent addition of Jason Hammel, and if Samardzija outperforms his projections, the Cubs could be four or five wins better. Either way, it looks like the Cubs are destined for last in the NL Central again. Only the Astros (66 wins) and the Marlins (69) are projected to finish worse overall.
✶ PECOTA’s projections for Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are nearly identical to ZiPS, so it’s nice to see these forecasts are in agreement that both players could have a strong season.
✶ Ryan Sweeney is expected to have a very David DeJesus-like slash line of .273/.332/.398, which is exactly what the Cubs want.
✶ Like Samardzija, PECOTA isn’t a fan of James Russell (4.45 ERA, -0.1 WARP), but neither is ZiPS (3.92, 0.2 WAR).
✶ In regards to prospects we might see in the majors this year, PECOTA only allots 60+ plate appearances for Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, so there’s nothing significant worth reporting on that front.
D’Agostino’s is no longer the official pizza of the Chicago Cubs, who signed an exclusive deal with Giordano’s on Tuesday.
Normally I don’t care about corporate partners, but D’Agostino’s, which opened in 1968 at the corner of Addison and Southport, is a neighborhood business, so it’s kind of a bummer the Cubs dropped them. Also, their pizza is pretty damn good.
Anyway, here’s a story about Dale Sveum drinking at D’Agostino’s a week before he was fired.
FanGraphs finally released their ZiPS projections for the 2014 Chicago Cubs, though the results won’t provide much optimism.
It shouldn’t shock anyone that the latest iteration of Cubs baseball is going to struggle, but that doesn’t mean 2014 is a lost season. From a developmental standpoint, this is an opportunity to find talent that can contribute in 2015 and beyond.
Here’s the best and worst of what’s ahead:
✶ Starlin Castro is expected to rebound nicely (.280/.319/.413, .319 wOBA, 99 OPS+, 3.0 WAR), which is the first step toward returning to all-star form and/or rebuilding his trade value. His walk rate (4.8%) is still disappointing, but at this point in his career, we know Castro isn’t going to become a selective or patient hitter.
✶ While Castro is expected to lead the team in WAR among position players, Anthony Rizzo (.255/.336/.464, .343 wOBA, 116 OPS+, 2.9 WAR) will be the team’s most significant offensive weapon. The numbers might not blow you away, but if Rizzo can hit his projected 27 home runs, walk at a rate of nearly 10% and play Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, Cubs fans should be very satisfied.
✶ The Cubs will try to exploit the platoon advantage at three positions to start the season: centerfield (Ryan Sweeney/Justin Ruggiano), third base (Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy) and catcher (Welington Castillo/George Kottaras). ZiPS projects these tandems will produce a 3.0 WAR each, which is pretty damn solid.
✶ Unsurprisingly, Jeff Samardzija will lead the rotation in ERA (3.56) and the pitching staff in WAR (3.2). In 184.3 projected innings, Samardzija will strikeout 179 batters, which is 40 more than the next closest pitcher. Edwin Jackson (3.99 ERA, 2.1 WAR) and Travis Wood (3.88 ERA, 2.4 WAR) are looking at average seasons, but that’s a decent rebound for Jackson, who was painfully unlucky in 2013.
✶ As a unit, the bullpen is projected to have a 3.0 WAR season. In particular, ZiPS seems to like Pedro Strop (3.29 ERA, 23.6% strikeout rate), Jose Veras (3.36, 25.8%) and Wesley Wright (3.43, 23.4%).
✶ Though they’ll open the season in AAA, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara will contribute significantly if they each receive 500+ plate appearances in the majors. Baez will lead the Cubs in home runs with 28 and post the team’s second-highest wOBA (.340) and OPS+ (110), while Alcantara will compile a 2.4 WAR, which is higher than that of incumbent second baseman Darwin Barney (1.6).
✶ Junior Lake (.252/.295/.380, .297 wOBA, 28.1% strikeout rate, 83 OPS+, 0.3 WAR). Woof.
✶ Not a lot of love for Jake Arrieta, who projects to finish with a 4.64 ERA and 11.1% walk rate, but he’ll be worth watching to see what pitching coach Chris Bosio can do with his top-shelf stuff.
✶ Offensively, things are looking grim. With only three players expected to post an OPS+ over 100—Rizzo, Baez and Nate Schierholtz (107)—this team is going to struggle to score.
✶ Baez and Mike Olt have alarming strikeout rates of 32.6% and 30.8%, respectively. That’s Adam Dunn territory. Whereas Baez can get away with it because of his power (.486 SLG), Olt cannot (.383).
✶ Potential future closer Arodys Vizcaino is projected to finish with a disappointing 5.12 ERA and 15.1% strikeout rate. Considering how much time he’s missed due to injury, that’s not too surprising, but he should easily outperform these numbers if he’s truly healthy and his electric stuff remains intact.
Overall, the 2014 Cubs probably won’t be much better than the team that finished the 2013 season, but this might be the calm before the storm.
- Section 6.6 of the Cubs’ contract with the rooftops.
- Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) on the failed negotiations between the Cubs and rooftop club owners.
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times is once again taking a look at the Cubs’ financial situation. His conclusion: “A picture emerges of a wealthy team pinching baseball pennies to compete even within its rebuilding plan.”
I’m not going to pretend I understand the business of baseball, but Wittenmyer’s premise doesn’t make baseball sense. That is, if the Cubs were looking to spend this offseason, what moves would/should they make?
Should the Cubs have signed Robinson Cano, a 31-year-old second baseman, to a decade-long deal worth $240 million? No. Should Theo have spent $130+ million on Jacoby Ellsbury (30) or Shin-Soo Choo (31) with several outfield prospects on the horizon? No. Would you be willing to overpay right now for Matt Garza, Ervin Sanata or Ubaldo Jimenez rather than waiting for their demands to inevitably come down? No, no, no. This is dumb money.
On the other hand, we’ve know since at least October that Masahiro Tanaka has been the front office’s top offseason priority. Some rumors have the Cubs bidding as high as $200 million (which would almost certainly include the $20 million posting fee), but even if that number is in the more realistic $140-$160 million range, that’s still a substantial financial investment from an owner who’s supposedly hoarding his cash. Why spend that kind of money on Tanaka instead of spreading it around? Because it’s smart money.
Tanaka is the perfect acquisition for a big-market team in a rebuilding phase. He’s 25, he’s had success in an advanced league, he satisfies an organizational need, and his prime years will align with the team’s next window of competitiveness. Furthermore, the Cubs don’t need to surrender draft picks or prospects to acquire him. To claim the Cubs are being cheap while acknowledging their aggressive pursuit of Tanaka in the same article is the journalistic equivalent of cognitive dissonance.
Reporters are taught to follow the money, so when Wittenmyer observes one of baseball’s most profitable teams with a payroll below $100 million, his skepticism becomes understandable, but sentences like this highlight the glaring lack of evidence:
"Chairman Tom Ricketts has asserted since the family took ownership that all profits would be invested back into the team. But the payroll budget has declined to a low of just under $100 million this year, while revenues in the game have increased to industry-record levels."
Implying that payroll is the primary indicator of a team’s competitive strength and financial ability is laughably misguided and selectively ignores the money spent on acquiring international talent, building new facilities in Mesa and the Dominican, providing scouts with the best resources and assembling one of baseball’s brightest front offices. These investments have real short- and long-term effects without unnecessarily inflating payroll.
Follow the smart money, Gordon.