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chicago cubs logoWith the bullpen picture now clear, the 25-man roster for Opening Day is set:

Starting Rotation

Jeff Samardzija

Edwin Jackson

Jason Hammel

Travis Wood

Carlos Villanueva

Jake Arrieta (15-day DL)

Bullpen

Jose Veras

Pedro Strop

James Russell

Wesley Wright

Justin Grimm

Hector Rondon

Brian Schlitter

Catchers

Welington Castillo

John Baker

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo

Darwin Barney

Emilio Bonifacio

Starlin Castro

Luis Valbuena

Mike Olt

Outfielders

Justin Ruggiano

Junior Lake

Ryan Sweeney

Nate Schierholtz

Ryan Kalish

All in all, it’s a deep roster, though it’s obviously thin in elite talent. Plenty of upside, mostly because of the youth, which is great. But, as the prognosticators have accurately noted – again and again – there’s a ton of downside risk on this roster, too. The outfield could struggle to produce average numbers, even with massive platoons. Rookie struggles at third base, slow bounce back at short and first, and too much defensive-focus at second base could scuttle the infield offensively, too. A little regression from Travis Wood or injury troubles in the rotation could spell disaster, and the bullpen clearly offers as much breakout potential as breakdown.

I do love the versatility and the options Ricky Renteria will have in gaining platoon advantages, though. Maybe it’s the sunshine and roses that accompanies Opening Day every year, but I really can’t get myself to hate this roster. No, I don’t think they’re going to win 80 games, but I could see a little bit of joy in there.

The question is, how does this year’s iteration compare to the team that the Cubs broke camp with last year? The team that had decent background numbers, but, when it came to wins and losses, struggled so badly that it was torn apart as soon as early June?

Well, let’s take a look:

Starting Rotation

Jeff Samardzija

Travis Wood

Edwin Jackson

Scott Feldman

Carlos Villanueva

Matt Garza (15-day DL)

The rotation is actually pretty similar to last year, with the one big difference being the upside difference in a Matt Garza return versus a Jake Arrieta return. The rotation performed quite well in the early going last year, so maybe the same will be true this year. Of course, I’d expect some natural regression from Travis Wood (perhaps offset by positive regression from Edwin Jackson?), and I’m not sure Jason Hammel, as much as I like him, can match Scott Feldman’s early-season dominance.

Bullpen

Carlos Marmol

Kyuji Fujikawa

James Russell

Michael Bowden

Shawn Camp

Hisanori Takahashi

Hector Rondon

I think this year’s bullpen pretty clearly looks stronger than last year’s – that is to say, it looks clearly stronger, even if not dramatically stronger. There’s upside that wasn’t there last year, and a little more stability at the back end. I don’t want to hindsight things too badly, but you could have predicted the Camp falloff, and you knew Rondon might struggle out of the gate, being a Rule 5 pick coming back from injury.

Catchers

Welington Castillo

Dioner Navarro

Steve Clevenger

Although Clevenger was really more of a utility player, he was able to catch. You add him to a fantastic backup in Navarro, and this was a much stronger spot last year. Maybe Castillo improves sufficiently to offset the difference, or maybe Baker’s latent defensive ability (pitch-framing, instruction for pitchers and Castillo) actually steps things up this year despite the obvious offensive step back.

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo

Alberto Gonzalez (Darwin Barney was on the DL)

Brent Lillibridge

Starlin Castro

Luis Valbuena

You could throw Clevenger in here, but, either way, there’s a pretty extreme difference between last year and this year. Bonifacio blows Lillibridge out of the water, and his presence – combined with Mike Olt – could improve the production at both third and second base.

Outfielders

David DeJesus

Alfonso Soriano

Dave Sappelt

Nate Schierholtz

Scott Hairston

As clearly better as the infield and bullpen are this year, the outfield is clearly worse. Not only is there no starter quite like Alfonso Soriano, who had the potential to be a well above-average offensive performer every day (and, ultimately, he was), but, on paper, Scott Hairston was probably the best fourth outfielder in baseball. You could argue that the Cubs have a couple of the best fourth and fifth outfielders again this year, but they’ll be playing the role of part-time starter. You pretty much have to dream on the upside of Lake and Kalish to convince yourself that the outfield this year, on paper, is in the same league as last year’s group (which, quite frankly, wasn’t all that great).

That said, I could see Sweeney producing as well as DeJesus did, and it’s conceivable that Schierholtz/Ruggiano together well out-produce Schierholtz/Hairston in the early going (Hairston was a disaster). Using some optimal platooning, and with some serious luck from Lake, this outfield could be better than last year’s version ultimately was. But, as of Opening Day, on paper, it looks worse.

So, all in all, I think this year’s roster probably looks just about on par with last year’s. But there are two important caveats: (1) this year’s roster has a great deal more youth and upside potential, even if there’s also downside risk; and (2) this year’s roster offers a great deal of versatility and flexibility on the offensive side, which, if used properly, can translate to more wins.

In the end … just get here, baseball.

  • joejoe234

    I don’t really think on paper going into this year you can say the bullpen looks better. To me I think that the top three releivers we had going into last year looked better then this year. Obviously they didn’t work out last year but they looked somewhat strong going into the year. Marmol, Camp, and Fujikawa looked decent. Plus I think expectations last year were much better for Russel.

    • joejoe234

      If anyone is interested in opening day tickets I am selling mine not looking to make any money on them. I posted on the message board the details and pictures from the seats (press box view). Most games I’m selling for $12 or less. Check it out on the message board if you are looking to go to any games.

      • dcooper136

        Sorry I’m new to the site. What message boards are the details posted to?

    • sdcoddi

      You don’t need to go any further than marmol to recognize this bullpen is stronger. He was very ineffective the year before and, while we hoped otherwise, we all knew going into the year he was ready to implode at any minute. While there’s a lot of unproven players in the pen this year, none are players that we expect to fall apart.

  • Spoda17

    I think this year has a significant higher upside than last year. And also a lot more intriguing to watch.

  • The one who knocks

    Has a timeline been given for Fujikawa’s return? That could strengthen the bullpen. Potentially.

  • Kyle

    I more or less agree, but I like the bullpen a tiny bit less than Brett does.

    • Jason P

      I don’t think comparing the major league bullpen 2013 to 2014 tells the whole story. Last year, there was literally no depth. The waiver wire was our depth.

      This year, we’ve got guys like Parker, Vizcaino, Rivero, Ramirez, maybe Cabrera, and Rosscup waiting in the minors should injury/ineffectiveness strike.

      • Jason P

        And I forgot, Fujikwawa.

      • Leo the Lip

        Outstanding analysis by Brett. I also agree with Jason P. The major differences with this year’s team over last year’s is both upside and depth. Even if some of the bullpen flames out, we do have some depth in the minors. And of course, there is the downside on both levels. As for the outfield, we have more minor league depth, but it would likely be the “same old-same old.”

        All in all, I have more hope for this year’s squad.

  • Diehardthefirst

    There you go again using this “P” word that only you and I believe is the answer to this years roster issues- key will be hitting coach whose switch hitting acumen will prove to be Mgr Ricks ace in the hole keeping all the hitters doing the best their ability will allow them

  • johnnyfootball

    Am i crazy if i think we can win 75-80 games this year? Say Rizzo and Castro have strong bounce back seasons, Olt and Lake prove they belong in the bigs, and Samardzija finally lives up to his potential, along with Wood, Edwin, and Arrieta pitching well, why not? I think Ruggiano and Schierholtz perform well in platoon roles also. A lot to ask, but impossible? No.

    • Porkslap

      I remember a couple months into the season the Cubs had actually outscored their opponents by a few runs and were still somehow like 10 games under .500. I think the bullpen was largely to blame as they couldn’t win the close games, only the blowouts.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        I don’t think that they’d outscored the opponents so much as out-OPS-ed them. The Cubs problems stemmed more from scoring fewer runs than expected given their core performances than it did from giving up more runs than expected given their core performances.

        • Jason P

          The Cubs team OPS wasn’t nearly as bad as their offense last year. You could blame some of it on luck, but more than that I think it’s because OPS puts an undue emphasis on slugging percentage over OBP, when we know the opposite is true as a correlate of runs scored.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            People keep writing that. However, the data just don’t show that. Here are the correlations between runs scored and: 1) OBP; 2) Slugging and 3) OPS over the last 10 seasons. For additional value, I’ve added the correlation between OBP and SLG (which is obviously is high because numbers of hits figures prominently into both):

            Year RS&OBP RS&SLG RS&OPS OBP&SLG
            2005 0.766 0.862 0.943 0.535
            2005 0.613 0.624 0.774 0.294
            2006 0.640 0.729 0.873 0.318
            2007 0.766 0.783 0.903 0.476
            2008 0.695 0.816 0.891 0.501
            2009 0.724 0.830 0.919 0.500
            2010 0.770 0.781 0.891 0.507
            2011 0.849 0.897 0.935 0.760
            2012 0.620 0.854 0.897 0.479
            2013 0.801 0.804 0.891 0.618

            These are r2, not just r; however, they three columns won’t sum to 1.0 because they are not independent (obviously!). However, in every season SLG explains a greater proportion of the variation in runs scored than does slugging. (Last year, OBP gave SLG a strong run for the money. But that is as close as they got.)

            Now, note how strongly correlated OPS is with runs scored. Part of the reason why “stat heads” emphasize slugging & drawing walks over the other aspects of the game is that OPS alone, ad hoc though it is, explains about 90% of the variation in runs scored each year.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Here it is broken down into the more basic outcomes. I lumped doubles and triples because triples are so rare that they sometimes have negative correlations with runs-scored, and they often just reflect “doubles” hit by fast guys. (So, if a bad offense has a couple of fast guys, they wind up with a lot of triples even though they don’t score much.)

            Year BB 1B 2B+3B HR
            2005 0.357 0.179 0.238 0.579
            2005 0.270 0.108 0.018 0.508
            2006 0.185 0.209 0.201 0.313
            2007 0.178 0.325 0.315 0.287
            2008 0.308 0.126 0.343 0.381
            2009 0.411 0.162 0.232 0.553
            2010 0.459 0.140 0.439 0.529
            2011 0.358 0.292 0.302 0.627
            2012 0.021 0.240 0.172 0.419
            2013 0.281 0.407 0.547 0.282

            • Jason P

              Thanks for the breakdown. I’ve gotta say, I’m surprised. There’s a pretty sizable gap between the Cubs 17th ranked slugging percentage and their 28th ranked offense in 2013.

              Of the years you posted, 2005 jumps out. All the correlations were weak that year. I wonder why.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            OK, maybe this is what people have meant. Here are the correlates between runs scored and: 1) number of times guys reach base (OB); 2) number of extra bases on XBH (XB), and 3) XBH

            Year OB XB XBH
            2004 0.718 0.664 0.656
            2005 0.699 0.504 0.427
            2006 0.669 0.493 0.546
            2007 0.731 0.424 0.499
            2008 0.680 0.555 0.643
            2009 0.783 0.620 0.629
            2010 0.765 0.626 0.631
            2011 0.846 0.790 0.804
            2012 0.650 0.611 0.682
            2013 0.762 0.515 0.680

            So, just getting on base correlates more strongly with scoring than does numbers of extra bases or even numbers of extra base hits. Huzzah, OBP! However…. this is potentially grossly misleading because unless walks and singles have a negative correlation with runs-scored, the correlation between OB and RS is going to be greater than that between XBH and RS simply because OB subsumes XBH.

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      Johnny, Lots has to go right, but I think the potential is there even if unlikely

  • itzscott

    Instead of the usual “Who’s going to have a breakout season”…. How about predictions in the other direction:

    Who do you think will disappoint?

    I’m going with Samardzjia. I just don’t think he’s as good as many on this board think he is or how good he thinks he is.

    • brains

      i’m going with schierholtz as the surprise winner of having a *good* year. he quietly keeps impressing middle management. he’s off our radar, but will likely pull a 275/23/80 season. a team of guys like that wins.

      the disappointment will be our own reception to the typical struggles first year players have. i do think they all have extremely high upside though the scaffolding isn’t there for them to succeed.

    • The one who knocks

      Unfortunately I’m afraid I agree.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Someone will have bad BABiP luck. Who will that be? I’ve no idea: the variance between observed and expected BABiP is huge, and it does not correlate from one year to the next. This works both ways: just because Rizzo and Castro had atrocious BABiP luck last year, it does not follow that they are “owed” good BABiP luck this year. However, expect their core numbers to improve a little from last year. (Castro’s K & BB rates in particular should improve as he won’t be giving the opposing pitchers one or two free strikes in the first two pitches.)

      Someone might well get injured. Who will that be? No idea, although the dart board always favors pitchers.

  • Diehardthefirst

    First call up from minors should be starting pitcher to form 6 man rotation which allows each to go all out each start aiming for complete games each time

    • https://twitter.com/dwoytek dw8

      This is wonderful.

  • NorthSideIrish

    Chris Cotillo ‏@ChrisCotillo 15m
    #Marlins likely to designate Brian Bogusevic for assignment today.

    Thanks for the Ruggiano…

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      That’s funny! Theo humiliates another FO.

      • baldtaxguy

        The Marlins FO is humiliated because Ruggiano made the cut of an outfield of 4th and 5th outfielders?

  • WernerT

    This is interesting. I’m not a stat ninja but it seems last year that the bullpen and specifically Marmol and Camp blew multiple games early. I don’t think Veras will be perfect but I think he will have a more even hand. And I do agree there seems to be more ready help in AAA if, say, Strop or whoever starts to fall apart. Also, didn’t Soriano take his usual first month or two to warmup?

    To me the question is how short a leash does this team have? I mean, do they have to be at .500 — or over — by June 1? By May 15? not to have the Scheirholz/Barney/Shark be shopped?

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      you don’t have to be a stats head. They blew a ton of games. It was really, really bad.

  • Kyle

    Minor league rosters are coming out. Here’s the entire Daytona:

    http://daytona.cubs.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20140330&content_id=70454196&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t450&sid=t450

    Assman, unsurprinsgly considering his sources’ status as “totally made up,” was wrong about Almora starting with Soler at AA.

    Also, Vizcaino is going to Daytona, presumably to make sure he doesn’t have to pitch in the cold, which I don’t think says great things about how they view his arm.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Zastryzny in High A is a good sign.
      Vizcaino strikes me as a “keep him far from cold weather” move, not a “he can’t get Double A hitters out” move.

      Lots of talent on that infield. And if Saunders comes back hitting like he was when he went down last season, that’s even better.

      Looking forward to seeing what Zapata can do in High A, but I suspect the answer may well be “not much.”

      • Kyle

        The fact that he still needs to be treated with kid gloves when he’s supposed to be completely healthy and just going to the bullpen is a bit concerning to me.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          I’m not sure starting a guy coming off two years worth of arm problems in a warm weather area qualifies as kid gloves so much as abundance of caution, but no big deal either way. He shouldn’t spend long in Daytona regardless.

          Unless they are going to try to stretch him back into a starter. That’d be a surprise.

          • Kyle

            He’s supposedly been healthy for awhile, but they sure don’t act that way.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              I don’t think they’d have let him throw gas in Spring Training if he weren’t healthy. But it’s a process when you haven’t pitched competitively in over two years.

      • Kyle

        Missed that before. Zastryszny in Daytona is a very aggressive, interesting move. I hope he does well.

        • The Real Wrigley

          How long did he play @ Mizzu? I’m under the impression he’s 21, or so. High A, in that case, doesn’t surprise me.

      • jeff1969

        If you go back & look at Zastryszny in high school & then Missou, then through now, he has changed a lot. He has much bigger thicker legs than he did and he looks bigger & bigger overall through the years which is ok cause he was pretty small looking in high school. He has a much smoother & quicker looking delivery; he looks like he has a power approach but doesn’t quite have the huge fastball. In my very amateur opinion he looks like a set up guy, a really good one.

  • Rebuilding

    I think we had a good offseason. Mainly, we didn’t blow money on guys who are declining and will clog payroll going forward. I think the Kalish pick-up was nice. Although technically not the offseason, the pick up of Olt last year has the potential to positively affect a lot of things. I only have 1.5 issues with what we did:

    (1) I do not understand not picking up Grady Sizemore. Here is a guy at one of our biggest positions of weakness who has the potential to be a Top 5 CF if (big if) he stays healthy. For what he eventually signed with the Red Sox it could be the steal of the offseason. If you could have just iced his knees until the All-Star break the return we could have gotten for a flip would have been huge. Just seems like the kind of low cost, potential high reward move we should have made.

    (1.5) Tanaka. I only give this a half because it’s possible that he would only sign in NY or LA. There is just no way to know for sure. But even with the opt out I think in 3 years that contract is going to look like a bargain. This offseason if we go after Scherzer it will cost more for a 31 year old than we could have paid this year for a 25 year old. Given the difficulty in growing #1 starters and the risk of picking pitchers in the Top 10 he just fit every need. At some point you’ve got to overpay

    • Kyle

      If you standard for a good offseason is “we didn’t do anything bad,” then maybe your standards are just a tiny bit low?

      • Rebuilding

        At this point in our rebuilding cycle I don’t think that is something to be taking lightly. We could have Curtis Granderson and Jason Vargas on the payroll

        • half_full_beer_mug

          I thought they were supposed to be almost complete with the rebuilding cycle. If they are really planning on competing for a playoff spot two years from now the flipping needs to slow way down and the asset building phase needs to hurry up and start.

          • Rebuilding

            I think this is the last year of that. That’s why I’m disappointed about Sizemore. If you did keep him and Olt works out then you put Bryant in RF and you are a LF away from having a competitive lineup (assuming Baez at 2b)

            • brains

              there’s nothing to be disappointed about, the FO is doing exactly what they said they would do. we either have to be patient, for roughly 3-4 more years until new income lines become available, or be unhappy with the plan. the plan is managed inactivity for a prolonged period of time, and not signing players who provide immediate impact is exactly its point.

              • half_full_beer_mug

                blah, blah, blah

                • brains

                  some of you guys not only want it both ways, but every possible way depending on the situation. i understand that this site has a strong fantasy baseball component, and we liked to pretend to be managers, but i tend to just want the team to win, and everyone has every single priority at once, and hence none at all. i guess i’m just mr. buzzkill, i need to start drinking in the afternoons.

        • Kyle

          And if we did, that would somehow slow down the rebuilding?

        • Voice of Reason

          Granderson and Vargas?

          YIKES!

  • cub4life

    22-1/2 more hours………………(excited and can’t wait).

    • half_full_beer_mug

      Veras and Fuji were both born in 1980, so 33 right now is the oldest person on the active roster with them being 34 at the end of the year. Average birth year is 85, so looking at about an average age of 28.

      • half_full_beer_mug

        reply function fail, meant for cubman87 one comment below

  • http://www.facebook.com/cubman87 cubman87

    Roster looks really young. Who is the oldest on the team? and what is the average age?

  • Picklenose

    I am really looking forward to us being able to argue about what is happening instead of what might happen.
    Until then, I thought I would share something about the Yankees from a snarky news site I read. ” . . .Masahiro Tanaka, the latest superstar pitcher imported from Japan to help out a Yankees rotation that is pretty much the fat dude who ate C.C. Sabathia and whatever the coaches can wring out of Hiroki Kuroda before his arm falls off sometime around early August. “

  • 70′s Cub

    Come on Brett! Much stronger CUB year at every position. Young athletic roster each player has a real chance to out produce last years number except for Wood who broke out last year.
    1. Lake much better LF plus can play the other two spots, better arm, more range, faster base runner. Sori did nothing until May he needed warmth to loosen up.
    2. CF younger better bat
    3. RF better right handed player plus the lefty is moving into his prime
    4. 3rd base both options are young and improving! Olt could be big!
    5. SS Castro is 24 with almost 700 hits, becoming a leader
    6. Barney will be traded
    7. Rizzo is 23, 25-90 265 average, born leader
    8. The catcher gets better, backup better defense
    9. Pitching, Out side of Russell and Wood each player can have a better year!
    10 Better more experienced field management
    11. stronger 40 man, some of the 15 left off the opening day club can become real good MLBaller’s.
    12. This is a young team that is motivated to improve in part because they see the collective strength of the younger prospects pushing up.

    • Medicos

      Hi 70s CUB: The vast majority of the 40-player roster are just above the Triple AAA level. Only 2 maybe 3 Cub players would in the starting lineup for a contending team. Obviously you’re extremely optimistic, but I’ve been a fan since 1952 (only 17 winning reasons) and this team will be fortunate to win 68-70 games.

      • brains

        nice, literally earlier today i predicted 69 wins on the medium high side, right inbetween your 68-70. this is fine, because they’ve already announced that this is a throw-away year. wait until they announce it again next year.

      • 70′s Cub

        Hi, brains, Medicos I am not disagreeing with both your comments (FO wants another top 5 pick) however the Cubs have lots of young options for every position. I believe these options are real, much improved roster’s at all organizational levels from the old washed up recent past. By adding (3-4) Wood, Castro Rizzo, types per year gets the CUB playoff competitive by 2016. This FO is capable of moving that up one year to second half 2015.

  • NorthSideIrish

    Fujikawa starting the year on the 15 day DL instead of 60 day is interesting. I thought they might choose not to rush him and open up a spot on the 40 man.

    So with Cabrera being designated and Schlitter being added, those two net out. But with James McDonald being placed on the 60 day DL, does that put the 40 man at 39? I’ve kinda lost count this week.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I think it’s 40 – starting at 40 and dropping to 37 for Kottaras/Murphy/Cabrera; but then adding Baker/Bonifacio/Kalish/Schlitter, so need one spot, that comes from McDonald.

      • NorthSideIrish

        Thanks…I think I missed the fact that they still needed another spot. Thought it was at 40 going into today and that McDonald opened up a spot. It’s just really unfair when work gets in the way of my baseball.

  • JAllman

    Lefties hit .131 vs Liriano last year. I’m think RR will load the lineup with 7 righties and Rizzo my guess is:

    Bonifacio CF
    Castro SS
    Rizzo 1B
    Olt 3B
    Lake LF
    Rugianno RF
    Castillo C
    Barney 2B
    Shark P

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  • aaronb

    I gotta disagree that this roster looks better than the opening day roster from last year. Garza and Feldman were clear upgrades over Hammel and Villanueva (who was in the pen).

    The pen is largely a complete question mark. Although I do like a couple of the unproven live arms down there.

    The outfield is absolutely atrocious and among the worst in recent baseball memory. And the lineup in general is most likely going to be among the worst in baseball yet again.

    The only upside is that Baez should be up come June.

    • C. Steadman

      To be picky, last year Opening Day…Garza was on the DL and Villanueva was in the rotation

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