Over at FanGraphs, the ZiPS projections are out for the New York Yankees, which means that we get a look at Starlin Castro’s projected 2016 season. Being that the Chicago Cubs effectively, if not literally, swapped Castro for new second baseman Ben Zobrist, I thought it would be interesting to compare each player’s projected production in the coming season.
It’s an especially useful exercise because, given the Cubs’ current window of competitiveness – which is likely to be at its maximum in the next two years or so – the Zobrist signing strikes me very much as a “win right now” move, for which the Cubs would be hoping to get much more out of Zobrist at second base than they expected to get out of Castro (plus, of course, the versatility Zobrist can provide, and the contributions by Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan, whom the Cubs actually acquired in the Castro deal).
ZiPS pegs Yankee Castro as a .274/.310/.405 hitter in 2016, with a .311 wOBA, slightly above average defense, and a 2.2 WAR (same as Jacoby Ellsbury, and 0.2 better than Brett Gardner, by the way).
ZiPS (via a Dan Szymborski tweet) pegs Cub Zobrist as a .273/.356/.439 hitter in 2016, without a wOBA listed (but it would be quite a bit better than Castro’s, given the line), slightly below average defense, and a 3.2 WAR. Notably, the Castro projection has him getting nearly 100 more plate appearances, so the Zobrist WAR projection already accounts for the 34-year-old playing in fewer games.
Steamer is much less optimistic on Castro, pegging him as a .267/.308/.397 hitter in 2016, with a .304 wOBA, slightly above average defense, and a 1.5 WAR.
Steamer pegs Zobrist as a .273/.356/.424 hitter in 2016, with a .340 wOBA, slightly above average defense, and a 3.3 WAR.
Taking it all together, at least with these two projections, the Cubs should be expected to see a bump of a win or two in 2016 because of the swap from Castro to Zobrist at second base. With a competitive team, a swing of a win or two is absolutely huge, so it’s not hard to see why the Cubs wanted to make this move (again, especially when you factor in Zobrist’s versatility (should it become necessary) and veteran presence, plus what the Cubs were able to get in trade for Castro).Remember: even though the Cubs won 97 games last year, “improvements” in their expected win total like this are not about moving the needle from 97 to 98 or 99 wins. Instead, they are about keeping the Cubs in that 90+ win range that makes them a likely playoff team. The 2015 Cubs team was both very good and very fortunate (which is how you get to such a lofty win total), and, while the Cubs cannot control the latter part of that equation, they can do their best to make sure the team is once again very good.
Of course, it’s always necessary, when discussing projections, to point out that they are merely doing the best job they can at predicting the median expected performance for a player in an upcoming season. It’s entirely possible that Castro will bounce back, and it’s entirely possible that Zobrist’s decline will set in.
All you can do is make calculated bets to improve the team, though, and, at least with respect to these two sets of projections, the Cubs improved the team quite a bit for 2016 with this swap.