In case you haven’t been following along, the fine people over at FanGraphs have been ranking all thirty MLB teams by projected positional strength in 2017.
The benefit of doing power rankings this way – as opposed to a player-based system – is that this allows for teams with strong platoons (and/or multiple good players who are expected to help out across the field) to be better represented.
It also lends an objective eye to a process that is typically quite opinion-based.
We have talked about FanGraphs ranking the Cubs catching tandem of Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero as eighth best among all catching collections, as well as the entire Cubs’ infield displayed similar strength with three top five finishes (first base, shortstop, third base) and another in the top ten (second base).
As you might’ve already guessed, we’ll look at the outfield rankings today.
For as much certainty and expectation piled into the Cubs’ infield, the outfield is quite a different picture. In fact, three of the Cubs’ biggest unknowns come in left, center, and right field.
Left field will be primarily occupied by Kyle Schwarber in 2017. And while we know his upside includes a bat that is potentially as good or better than any other hitter on the team (which is saying A LOT), we also know that he’s played just half a season and is coming off an injury. Center field was vacated by the steady and productive Dexter Fowler and is being replaced by a 22-year-old rookie in Albert Almora and a recently-injured free agent in Jon Jay.
And right field, well, right field might have the greatest variance of all. There is either a 5-6 win potential Gold Glove and MVP candidate patrolling the grass, or a lost-hitter whose best offensive days are behind him. That’s obviously bit of an exaggeration at both ends for Jason Heyward (the reality is certain to fall somewhere in between), but that’s just about where we’re at.
With that said, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised – if not shocked – by the relative, projected strength of the Cubs’ outfield in 2017.
- New York Mets (3.2 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (2.5 WAR)
- Detroit Tigers (2.5 WAR)
- Cleveland Indians (2.5 WAR)
- Kansas City Royals (2.3 WAR)
When people suggest that left field isn’t really what it used to be, they’re right. The overall league strength in left is very low compared both to what it used to be and the other positions around the diamond. Even still, ranking out as the second best left field in baseball is nothing at which to sneeze.
Although these are positional rankings, the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes is sure to get the lion’s share of starts in left field this year, meaning that the Schwarber-led Cubs’ left field is behind only the two-time All-Star, 2015 Gold Glove Winner, and 2016 Silver Slugger. Not bad company. Having Ben Zobrist as the nominal back-up plan A doesn’t hurt the Cubs’ overall total, but this is a great start.
- Chicago White Sox (0.2 WAR)
- Detroit Tigers (0.5 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (1.1 WAR)
- Oakland Athletics (1.5 WAR)
- San Diego Padres (1.5 WAR)
In case you can’t tell – and I’m sorry if this mislead you – those are the reverse rankings. In center field, the Cubs found themselves ranked in the bottom five, which is – by far – their worst ranking for any position (28th overall). Indeed, the platoon of Jon Jay (0.5 WAR) and Albert Almora (0.5 WAR) is not projected to approach anything close to the best center field group in baseball. There is plenty of upside there, but this doesn’t strike me as an entirely unfair portrait.
- Boston Red Sox (5.5 WAR)
- Washington Nationals (5.2 WAR)
- Miami Marlins (3.8 WAR)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (3.6 WAR)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (3.0 WAR)
- Chicago Cubs (3.0 WAR)
We don’t have the time to get into the entire Jason Heyward story right here, but you know the highlights: For six full seasons before coming to the Cubs, Heyward was one of the best OVERALL right fielders in baseball (and that capitalized word includes offense). Obviously, last season went terribly at the plate, but the projections aren’t believing that’s the new him just yet: .263/.341/.402.
With his defense and that slash line, Jason Heyward can easily be the leader of the sixth best right field group in the league. And when you consider some of the players ahead of him – Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen – that doesn’t look all too bad.
Overall, then, the Cubs outfield is … well, it’s confusing. The WAR totals are weaker than the infield, and center field is a concern, but two top six finishes isn’t half bad either.
- Left Field: 2nd (2.5 WAR)
- Right Field: 28th (1.1 WAR)
- Center Field: 6th (3.0 WAR)
And the best part is that each of those positions has a legitimate chance to out produce their projections, based on things we know to be true that don’t necessarily show up in statistical models. The outfield isn’t the Cubs’ #1 strength, but it’s far from a liability.