Back in January, BP’s PECOTA projections came out for the 2015 Chicago Cubs and Brett took a look at some of the finer details. Ultimately, I think we were all pretty happy with the projected 82-80 record, and the fact that BP had the Cubs finishing the season with the sixth best record in the National League. Given five straight losing seasons, a winning record and a borderline playoff bid – in terms of projections – was more than welcome.
At the time, the projections were bullish on many of the Cubs’ young players – especially Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Hendricks – but were not as sold on the breakout of Jake Arrieta or bounce back of Starlin Castro. Brett reminded us, though, that projection systems are inherently and purposefully conservative. Of course, outliers do happen every season, but they are called outliers for a reason – so on the whole, this was good news.
Without debating the individual projections themselves, though, Brett noticed that the Cubs’ projections could, or even should, be reasonably tweaked in order to be more accurate. Specifically, he identified some playing time projections laid out by PECOTA that we knew wouldn’t likely be true in 2015. For example, Edwin Jackson was projected to have nearly 200 innings in 2015, despite posting a -0.7 WARP, while Hendricks was only listed at 68 innings. We know now, of course, that it is much more likely that Hendricks will receive a full season’s worth of innings, while Jackson finds himself scrambling to hold onto a spot on the roster.
Additionally, while Kris Bryant might not be up on Opening Day, he certainly is going to acquire more than the 199 plate appearances PECOTA projected back in January. Just by swapping Kyle Hendricks with Edwin Jackson and increasing Kris Bryant’s plate appearances, Brett determined that the Cubs would stand to add about 2.85 WARP, bringing their rounded season win total to about 85.
Well, lo and behold: PECOTA updated the playing time calculations for their 2015 Chicago Cubs projections, resulting in a new total win projection of … 85. (I know it’s just a projection, but that’s nice.) Because PECOTA is a premium BP feature, we can’t get give away too much, but let’s look at some of the more notable changes and see where they leave the 2015 Cubs:
- Adjusting for an earlier call-up, PECOTA has Kris Bryant with a dazzling .261/.351/.515 line (are you freaking kidding me?) over a more reasonable, but still potentially short, 395 plate appearances. Coming in at 3.9 WARP, if Bryant produces anywhere near that, you have to think the Cubs will be right in the thick of it, and everyone should be very satisfied with his debut.
- PECOTA effectively swapped Kyle Hendricks and Edwin Jackson in the rotation, by increasing Hendricks innings pitched to 120 and decreasing Jackson’s to 78. Like Bryant’s projected PAs, 120 IPs is still probably a touch too low for Hendricks, but, when coupled with his 3.36 ERA (increased from 3.11 previously), you can’t really complain – especially for a conservative projection.
- The Cubs’ bullpen has some interesting projections, as well; believing in Jason Motte’s return (2.88 ERA over 46 IP), but not believing in Neil Ramirez’s breakout (3.96 ERA over 46 IP).
- Overall, PECOTA now has the 2015 Chicago Cubs at 85-77, second best in the NL Central and fourth overall in the National League.
Like Brett said previously, the projected win total isn’t as important (because of the many caveats and variability of projections) as the overall order of the teams. The Cubs were already projected to finish second in the NL Central, by BP’s system, but they jumped several spots to fourth overall in the National League after some playing time adjustments. That’s a big and very important jump. By this projection, the Cubs are no longer projected for the fringe of playoff contention, but instead find themselves right in the heat of it.