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.