Digging Into the Cubs 2017 ZiPS Projections – Surprise: They Are Good

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Digging Into the Cubs 2017 ZiPS Projections – Surprise: They Are Good

Analysis and Commentary

old-computerIf we’re being completely honest, rumors are my favorite part of the offseason. With them comes hope, excitement, and mystery.

The prospect of acquiring seemingly unavailable players, the arm-chair GM-ing, the posturing and message-board trade proposals, the excitement over the word “Source.” It’s all just too much fun.

BUT, rumors aren’t the only great thing about the offseason. There are also prospect rankings, and, in a very close second to the rumors: projections.

Every offseason, various publications release a series of objective and/or subjective statistical projections for the upcoming season, and they’re always fun to pore over. Usually, unless your team makes a deep playoff run, they’re the first set of new numbers to dig into after the previous season, and there’s always something juicy.

Fortunately, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have started rolling out, and the Chicago Cubs numbers have been released! Check them out, get excited about one player, get angry at the projections of another player and posture! Posture your little heart out.

In the Bullets yesterday, Brett already covered a number of the side-lights, including 1) a fair, if uninspiring shake for Albert Almora Jr., a 2) surprisingly high strikeout rate for Kyle Schwarber, 3) just below average bats for Jason Heyward and Javy Baez, 4) an almost ready Mark Zagunis, 5) some comparable arms in Felix Pena and Carl Edwards and 6) a rotation full of solid performances.

Here’s the general overview of projected production in 2017:

If you’re new to the ZiPS projections, you’ll be happy to know they include a theoretical player comp (from any team in any year throughout the history of baseball) for the upcoming season. You’ll be even happier to know that Kris Bryant’s 2017 comparison is none other than the Cubs’ own Ron Santo.

And thus, Kris Bryant is projected to once again lead the Chicago Cubs in total WAR next season with 6.9 overall. He did earn 8.4 WAR in 2016, but a projection isn’t the same as a prediction. It’s supposed to be something closer to a statistically reasonable median. So projecting Kris Bryant at 6.9 WAR is like projecting a team to win 95 games … anything more is possible, but you can’t exactly call it statistically likely. And to put a bow on this, FanGraphs mentions that Bryant’s 2017 projection is second only to fellow MVP Mike Trout.

Anthony Rizzo (5.7), Addison Russell (4.2), Willson Contreras (3.2), Jason Heyward (3.1) and Ben Zobrist (3.1) follow, making up the remainder of players projected to be worth more than 3.0 WAR in 2017. While Javy Baez (2.7) and Kyle Schwarber (2.1) get somewhat snubbed.

To be fair and clear, ZiPS still projects a good offensive season for Schwarber (.243/.337/.504 with 28 home runs), but doesn’t exactly believe much in his defense. The story is the same, but opposite, for Javy Baez – who figures to be just below a league average bat with excellent defense at second base.

The Cubs’ starting rotation shows plenty of promise, with each of Jon Lester (4.4 WAR), Jake Arrieta (4.4), Kyle Hendricks (3.8), and John Lackey (3.1) delivering above-average seasons in the rotation, albeit over very conservative inning totals:

  • Jon Lester: 189.7 IP
  • Jake Arrieta: 188.0
  • Kyle Hendricks: 182.0
  • John Lackey: 176.7

Although Hendricks and Lackey’s totals might be expected, Lester has thrown over 200 innings in eight of his nine full seasons at the Major League level and Arrieta seems like a safe bet to approach and exceed 200 in his walk year with the Cubs, so I’ll take the over on both.

Speaking of over/unders:

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo project to lead the team in homers with 33 apiece, followed by Kyle Schwarber at 28. But it was the Russell (19), Baez (19) and Contreras (14) that struck me as the most interesting projections. [Brett: Give me over, under, over.]

More specifically, I am confident that Russell will exceed that mark in 2017. He hit more homers in 2016 (21), has looked better at the plate every single day, and figures to get just as many opportunities in 2017. For almost the exact same reasons, Contreras feels like an easy over bet, as well. After all, he hit 12 homers in just 283 plate appearances in 2016, but figures to approach something closer to 450-500 plate appearances in 2017.

Javy Baez is the iffy guess, but in my mind, that’s only if playing time is a serious problem. To be fair, ZiPS doesn’t seem to be shortchanging him. In 2016, Baez hit 14 home runs in 450 plate appearances. A projection of 19 home runs in 516 plate appearances, then, isn’t outlandish. In fact, it might be giving Baez a lot of credit, especially given the changes in his game last year that saw him becoming more contact-oriented.

There’s a whole lot more to dig into, including a relatively weak showing in the bullpen, but I couldn’t possibly get into all of it here. Some stray final notes include:

  • A return to dominance for Hector Rondon (2.97 ERA) and Pedro Strop (2.94 ERA),
  • A sweet strikeout rate (31.4%), but dangerous walk rate (13.3%) for Carl Edwards Jr.,
  • A heavy, but not full-time starting workload (115.3 IP) for Mike Montgomery,
  • Some potentially valuable seasons off the bench from Jeimer Candelario and Albert Almora Jr., and
  • A continued offensive decline for catcher Miguel Montero.

Overall, there is plenty to be excited for. The 2017 Chicago Cubs are already one of the best teams in baseball, and they have only (so far) lost players from their 2016 team. It should be another great year.

Let’s see what they do when they get back to that rumor stuff.


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.