Yesterday, we took a look at the Cubs’ individual player performance projections from BP’s PECOTA system, noting that, in general, the system was more optimistic on the Cubs’ offense than it was on the pitching staff.
But now that we’ve done that, I’d like to zoom out a frame and take a look at the league-wide PECOTA projections in the standings. Before we get there, however, there are a few big caveats.
First, remember that projections are inherently conservative. Every year teams under and over-perform their won/loss projections, but you don’t project outliers. You might gamble and bet on one, but that’s not what a projection is. Relatedly, remember that as the season goes on, bad teams tend to get slightly worse (as they trade good players away) and good teams tend to get better (as they acquire those players, and also get more aggressive with call-ups/playing time). That’s why, sometimes, certain teams’ projections will look lower/higher than we’d otherwise be willing to bet.
And finally, for a caveat I’m not used to bringing up: These projections are going to change A LOT before the season starts. Why? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, there are still a TON of really quality players available on the free agent market. Guys like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Alex Cobb, and Greg Holland *will* make relatively big impacts on whichever team they sign (or don’t sign) with, so that has to be taken into consideration.
And more specifically, given that the Cubs (Darvish, Cobb, Arrieta), Brewers (Darvish, Cobb), and Cardinals (Arrieta, Holland, Mike Moustakas) have been connected to many of these remaining free agents this winter, that final caveat applies very centrally in the Cubs’ own division.
Let’s get into it and, for more, you can see the full projected standings right here at Baseball Prospectus.
NL West: Dodgers (99-63)
NL Central: Cubs (89-73)
NL East: Nationals (89-73)
AL West: Yankees (99-63)
AL Central: Indians (97-65)
AL East: Astros (96-66)
Okay, immediate reactions first: This is basically everything we’ve come to expect out of the 2018 season, in terms of playoff contenders. With the exception of the Yankees and Red Sox swapping spots at the top of the AL East, every other division winner is the same as last year.
In fact, in the American League, the only difference in playoff teams would be the Twins (81-81) stepping out in favor of the Rays (84-78) as the second Wild Card winner behind the Red Sox (87-75). [Brett: The Rays?]
And it’s the same story in the National League, as well. Five out of the six playoff teams from 2017 would be returning in 2018, with just one of the Cardinals (84-78) or Giants (84-78) taking the place of the Rockies (78-84) who lose their Wild Card spot – if this happens, that pricey bullpen is going to look awfully useless, awfully quick. [Brett: That’s a dramatic drop-off for the Rockies, who still look mighty solid on paper to me.]
Turning to the NL Central, specifically …
2018 Projected NL Central Standings
- Chicago Cubs: 89-73
- St. Louis Cardinals: 84-78
- Milwaukee Brewers: 83-79
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 78-84
- Cincinnati Reds: 74-88
In terms of relative order, this feels just about right, though I could easily see the Brewers and Cardinals swapping spots – then again, they’re separated by just a single win (and also … who cares, because the Cubs are projected to win the division anyway!).
Obviously, the Cubs’ win total is on the low side (failing to reach 90 wins this season would feel like coming up short in its own way) … but remember all of our caveats! Not only are these projections conservative, the Cubs will likely add a starter to the rotation from outside of the organization (which will improve the rotation, the bullpen, and the starting depth), and they could always tack on via trades in the middle of the season as necessary.
And, hey, the Cubs could do a whole lot worse than winning their division for the third straight season, while reaching the playoffs for the fourth straight season. As a matter of fact, the Cubs have *never* won their division three years in a row, and have *never* been to the playoffs in four straight seasons. So … yeah, 89 wins and another shot in the tournament would be just dandy.
But remember, the Cardinals and Brewers can improve, too, and, as of now, they project to be only 5-6 wins behind the Cubs. With the right additions (and if the Cubs don’t improve before the season) that gap could be narrowed to 3-4 wins and suddenly, the fickle nature of baseball might play a much bigger role.