Now that the offseason is underway and the stove is officially cooking, we’re getting to another wonderfully nerdy part of the winter: the various 2019 statistical projections. Indeed, FanGraphs just announced the release of their 2019 Steamer Projections, which is the first major statistical projection system out of the gate this year. Check the projections out in full right here.
Obviously, I can’t get into all of the current Chicago Cubs projections – or even all of their potential free agent targets – but we will hit on a few of the more interesting cases below. After that, head over to FanGraphs and start taking notes. There are some really interesting projections this year, so you’ll want to check them out.
According to Steamer, Kris Bryant is going to be the fourth most valuable position player in 2019, trailing only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Francisco Lindor. At 5.7 WAR overall, Bryant would finish the season tied with Corey Seager as the best player in the National League. Neat.
But despite the apparent optimism, I’m still taking the over on Bryant’s projected .274/.382/.502 slash line. While I’d be happy with a 138 wRC+ a season after Bryant dealt with some serious shoulder issues, I think that he’s so much better than that when healthy. Put me down for a 145 wRC+ and 6.0 WAR or better (but count me as happy if he ends up where Steamer projects).
Note: Steamer doesn’t seem to concerned about Bryant’s power numbers, with 33 doubles, 3 triples, and 29 homers projected for next season.
Perhaps to the chagrin of some Cubs fans out there, Javy Baez is not – at all – projected to repeat his 2018 MVP campaign at the plate. Steamer is pegging him for just .268/.312/.486 next year (109 wRC+), which isn’t bad, particularly with his defense, base running, and overall versatility, but results in just 3.2 WAR.
Unlike Bryant, I’m not as confident Baez will blow past these numbers, but I certainly think it’s possible. Maybe even probable. Baez continues to have a lot of upside and last season might have just been the beginning for him. Of course, it might also have been his career year. He simple has so much potential variance, it’s hard to project anything with any certainty. The one thing I know for sure, is that the total package – even at his realistic worst – is still a pretty valuable player.
For what it’s worth, Anthony Rizzo (4.2 WAR) is projected to be the Cubs second best position player, directly behind Bryant and ahead of Baez.
The Starting Rotation
None of the Chicago Cubs’ front-5 starters (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, and Cole Hamels) are projected to finish among the top-30 in baseball in WAR, but they are all clumped together still relatively near the top, and all inside the top 50, besides Jon Lester:
- Jose Quintana – 3.89 ERA, 2.6 WAR (38th in MLB)
- Kyle Hendricks – 4.04 ERA, 2.6 WAR (39th)
- Yu Darvish – 3.76 ERA, 2.6 WAR (41st)
- Cole Hamels – 3.97 ERA, 2.4 WAR (45th)
- Jon Lester – 4.35 ERA, 2.0 WAR (64th)
Now, on the surface, that might not seem too promising. But for one, I could be credibly convinced to take the over on several of the projections above. And for another, more salient point: having four starters in one rotation rank among the top 45 starters in all of baseball is pretty freakin’ legit.
Perhaps there’s not that one, dominant Jake-Arrieta like guy leading the way, but that is one deep rotation that should give you the chance to win every single game, if they stay healthy. Would you rather have an Ace and four #4s? Or five guys in that #2-#3 range? I think I prefer the latter, so long as someone has that top of the rotation upside, which everyone in this group does.
Consider it this way: in 2018, just 11 clubs got more WAR from *all* of their starting pitchers over 162 starts than the Cubs would be projected to receive from that group above in 2019 in 149 starts.
Manny Machado (5.1 WAR) is projected to outproduce Bryce Harper (4.9 WAR), but only slightly, and not in the offensive arena (134 wRC+ versus 147 wRC+). While both players project to be a plus at the plate, there is a HUGE difference between a 134 wRC+ and a 147 wRC+. For reference, 20 players finished with a wRC+ above 134 last season, but only six players beat 147.
Josh Donaldson might have one of the most interesting projections, because Steamer is all the way behind his comeback: .256/.366/.484 (131 wRC+, 4.6 WAR). That would make him the second best player on the Cubs next season, behind only Kris Bryant. Given that he might be available for pennies on the dollar compared to Harper and Machado, but is expected to produce almost as much … well, if he’s healthy now and is willing to take a short-term deal … just sayin’ … Cubs could coordinate the roster to make it happen ….
Another interesting projection comes in for Andrew McCutchen, who’s expected to produce another 124 wRC+ season, but with only 2.6 WAR thanks to some expectedly rough defense – of course, that defensive value could fluctuate greatly, depending on which stadium he’s playing in, and which position he primarily mans – perhaps a home field with a really small center field and a perennial gold glover in right could make sense.
Christian Yelich is projected to be very good again next season (139 wRC+, 5.1 WAR), but Steamer is not predicting a repeat of 2018, when he posted a 166 wRC+ and earned 7.6 WAR. Obviously, he’s still meant to be very, very good, but that would be a considerable, Baez-like projected drop-off. Ditto Lorenzo Cain, but to an even greater extent (110 wRC+, 3.8 WAR versus 124 wRC+ and 5.7 WAR last season).
Marcell Ozuna (126 wRC+, 3.5 WAR) is projected to be the Cardinals best offensive player next season, though I suspect – strongly – that they’ll add to their offense before the winter is up. Perhaps significantly so.
Meanwhile, Chris Archer (3.63 ERA, 3.8 WAR) is projected to be the best starter in the NL Central next season, and is notably projected to finish just ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, and Patrick Corbin. And Jameson Taillon is projected to be the second-best NL Central starter next season, so, I guess, don’t sleep on the Pirates?
Well … I Don’t Love That
Willson Contreras is projected to finish next season with just a 107 wRC+, which would be a considerable disappointment, given our expectations. And the same can be said for Kyle Schwarber.
Although the Cubs’ big left fielder is projected to finish with a solid 119 wRC+ and nearly 3.0 WAR – not bad at all! – I just have such a brighter picture sketched out for him in my mind. If he settles into this just-shy-of-All-Star type player, the Cubs will have been justified in their draft pick, but I just can’t help but hold out hope for that monster season we all thought would eventually arrive.
Brandon Morrow is projected to pitch a clean 65.0 IP next season – which would be huge – but he’s only expected to earn a 3.44 ERA, which is far from desirable out of the closer for a (hopefully) playoff-bound team. Pedro Strop, meanwhile, is right there at 65.0 IP, but with an even worse ERA (3.65).
Ultimately, there is plenty of good stuff here, but, even accounting for the conservative nature of projections, it’s easy to see why the Cubs *should be* active in free agency and the trade market this winter. Hopefully, the front office can find a way to either move some money around or get creative, if it comes to that. The Cubs have an excellent core – and probably the most talented team in the NL Central – but the other teams can get better and pass them. This is a critical offseason.