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old-computerAmong the first things you’ll notice when you scan the just-released ZiPS projections for the 2015 Chicago Cubs is that the projection system shares our affection for the team’s depth at a variety of positions. Which is to say, a number of guys whom we expect to hold down reserve roles – or to be depth in the upper minors – actually project to be decent big leaguers if they were given enough time this year. That’s nice to know, because quality depth can make the difference between a disastrous year and a surprisingly competitive one.

Similarly, you’ll notice that, just as the depth is applauded, the “peaks” are relatively small. Which is to say, there aren’t too much huge, game-changing, elite performances projected for the Cubs in 2015. That’s not necessarily a problem – projection systems are conservative by nature – but if this team is going to compete in 2015, they’re going to need a handful of guys to blow up. Because of the team’s relative youth, that’s absolutely possible (and would be tough for a projection system to confidently identify).

I highly recommend you spend some time with the ZiPS projections at FanGraphs, and maybe give Dan Szymborski a follow on Twitter to thank him for the work. [EDIT: I should have included the obligatory projections disclaimer. These things are a lot of fun to read and review and debate, but you have to keep in mind that they are just projections based on the best available data we have. They are far from perfect, because you can’t perfectly predict baseball. That’s a part of its beauty. But it doesn’t make projection systems any less fun or interesting.]

I won’t get into everything here, because you should dig in for yourself. But some things I noticed:

  • Overall, the Cubs look to be a 83/84-ish win team, based on these projections, and probably a couple wins higher if Kris Bryant winds up seeing significant time. And, speaking of Bryant: .256/.339/.500 with a .364 wOBA and 29 homers. He’s projected for 4.3 WAR, highest on the team. WANT. The best part? ZiPS has Bryant doing that despite a 32.9% strikeout rate (which could really happen).
  • Funny thing? That strikeout rate is actually 0.3% higher than the rate projected for Javier Baez. If Baez actually did manage to drop his rate into the low-30s (which, let’s keep perspective, is still quite poor), he would be an incredibly valuable player. ZiPS isn’t digging Baez’s defense at second, thus he doesn’t show up in the system as much better than a 2-win player, but I’d put him closer to at least average at second (probably better), which would make him a 3-win player in this system. You’d take that from Baez in 2015, right? Oh hell yeah you would.
  • Offensively, ZiPS likes Anthony Rizzo (.367 wOBA), Dexter Fowler (.345), and Starlin Castro (.330), but doesn’t much care for Miguel Montero (.304) or Chris Coghlan (.307). Jorge Soler is at .335, which is a quality wOBA, but isn’t necessarily as high as you might hope out of a guy with his profile in right field.
  • The Cubs have a ton of guys who cluster in the .310 to .320 range, which is really impressive, given that (1) offense probably still isn’t the team’s strength, and (2) .316 was league average for the NL last year among all non-pitchers. When you’ve got a bunch of guys with average bats in your “depth” pool, that’s a good sign.
  • (Apropos of Luke’s Albert Almora piece yesterday, ZiPS says that he’d be a decent bench piece this year if he were in the big leagues. The glove is that good, and the contact skills translate well enough at the big league level to not absolutely crush him. And this is all a good year or two before he’s actually expected to be in the big leagues.)
  • On the pitching side, the bullpen looks very good (I’m pleasantly surprised that a system is actually noticing), and the rotation looks good … but mostly because ZiPS is in love with Kyle Hendricks. He’s projected for a 3.54 ERA and 3.52 FIP, and worth 2.7 WAR in just 165.3 innings. Relative to historical expectations for Hendricks, that’s a full on swoon.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, ZiPS isn’t buying Jake Arrieta yet, projecting him as merely good (3.67 ERA, 3.79 FIP), rather than great. Jon Lester, though, looks great (3.11 ERA, 3.28 FIP – those are very low for a projection system).
  • Looks like ZiPS says the best in-house fifth starter option is Tsuyoshi Wada.

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