The Cubs' Position Player Group is Collectively Elite on Offense and Defense

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The Cubs’ Position Player Group is Collectively Elite on Offense and Defense

Analysis and Commentary

Before the 2016 season, many picked the Chicago Cubs to accomplish great things in October.

After all, they were coming off a 97-win season in 2015, wherein they reached the NLCS, and had just added Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, and John Lackey to the mix without losing much of anything.

Of course, the Cubs went on to win the World Series and the rest is history.

And now here we are before the 2017 season, and many more are projecting the Cubs for greatness once again. Buster Olney, for one example, has identified Cubs at every position (besides center field and right field) as top ten players in the game. Then, as he moved on to group rankings, the Cubs rotation took the top spot.

Next, Olney has ranked both the top defenses and lineups throughout the league, and unsurprisingly, the Chicago Cubs rank at or near the very top. We’ll talk about the lists below, but you’ll want to read the full articles for context and much more analysis and information.

Top 10 Defenses 2017:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. San Francisco Giants
  3. Houston Astros
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Los Angeles Angels
  6. Toronto Blue Jays
  7. Kansas City Royals
  8. Tampa Bay Rays
  9. Cleveland Indians
  10. Seattle Mariners

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies. 

Before we get into the Cubs, let’s talk about the list as a whole. As I’m sure you picked up on, the American League apparently owns defense. With the exception of the two teams at the top (Cubs and Giants), the remaining eight spots go to AL teams, and it’s not until the honorable mentions that we see some NL squads show back up. But the Cubs are there up top, as you would probably expect, given their historically great defense in 2016.

According to Olney, the Cubs have a great lineup (we’ll get to that in a minute), a solid rotation (which he actually ranked as the best), and an elite closer in the bullpen, but it is their defense that makes them stand out. In 2016, Olney notes, “Jason Heyward was fourth among all outfielders in DRS; Addison Russell was tied for the most among shortstops with the Giants’ Brandon Crawford; Rizzo led all first basemen.”

And then, of course, Olney goes onto mention manager Joe Maddon’s secret defensive weapon, Javy Baez, whom he deployed wherever the ball was set to be hit the most (leading to that now-famous statistic that he was third in DRS among all second basemen, despite roughly 1,000 fewer innings).

And the thing about the Cubs defense, as Olney puts it, is that it’s making the rotation so much stronger. This is something into which we’ve dived many times before, but five of the top 13 pitchers with the lowest BABIP last season were the five Chicago Cubs starters. They’re great pitchers, no doubt, but the low batting average on balls in play lead to fewer base runners, fewer runs, and many more outs in a hurry.

The defense the Cubs sent out there last season posted the highest number of defensive runs saved (107) since the stat was first tracked back in the early 2000s. And, for what it’s worth, that same team is going right back out there, but could potentially be better. Javy Baez appears ready to take on a much larger role and Albert Almora Jr., one of (if not) the best defenders on the Cubs is replacing Dexter Fowler (together with solid defender Jon Jay), who is historically average in center field.

After ranking the various defenses throughout the league, Olney switches over to the offensive side of the game, with the best lineups in baseball. The Cubs don’t quite finish on top, but they’re pretty darn close.

Top 10 Lineups 2017:

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Colorado Rockies
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Seattle Mariners
  6. Cleveland Indians
  7. Arizona Diamondbacks
  8. Washington Nationals
  9. St. Louis Cardinals
  10. Detroit Tigers

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates.

The best lineups in baseball suggest much more league parity – with five teams coming from the NL and five from the AL – than the best defenses in the game. And at the very top of the list is a well-deserving Boston Red Sox team. Following the Red Sox is the Colorado Rockies, who benefit from playing in the league’s hitter-friendliest park (but also are loaded with bats), and then the Chicago Cubs.

In these rankings, unlike some of his others, Olney breaks down each team’s lineup with three key focuses: 1) The Big Dog, 2) The Big Concern, and 3) The Big Variable. For the Cubs, the picks for each are pretty obvious.

At the top, Olney breaks his own rule, and notes not one but two Big Dog(s): Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. He calls them the David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez of their era and projects them to terrorize pitchers for years to come. The big concern is Jason Heyward, who just wrapped up his worst season at the plate. Although, I will say that even if Heyward’s offseason long quest to revamp his swing and become a new player again in 2017 isn’t quite successful, that’s hardly a scary “big concern.” After all, they won it all with him in right field last year.

The biggest variable, Kyle Schwarber, is also a pretty fair assessment. He had a blisteringly hot start to his career, missed all of 2016, and came back big in the World Series, but no one seems to remember how young and inexperienced Schwarber is. He may very well crush it (and I would never bet against him), but he is far from the sure-things that Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have become.

But, in short, it’s hard not to like everything we’ve been seeing in these rankings. Be sure to check out the original articles, because there’s far more depth and detail there than I could ever include here.

Evaluators think the Cubs are still a very strong team, my friends, enjoy it.


Author: Michael Cerami

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