How Much Would Adding One Superstar Actually Help This Year's Cubs?

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How Much Would Adding One Superstar Actually Help This Year’s Cubs?

Chicago Cubs

All the recent talk about Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs had some folks doing the “no, go after Carlos Correa!” thing, which is a false equivalency, since it’s not like one is a replacement for the other. Rizzo is seen as a possible low-cost, short-term, fan-favorite, still-quite-useful signing. Correa would be seen as a fundamentally-roster-changing superstar signing. One simply doesn’t have anything to do with the other, both because the players (and contracts) are so different, and also because of what signing them says (or does not) about the Cubs’ intentions for 2022.

And that distinction made me think of a FanGraphs article I was just reading! This was from Dan Szymborski:

To be sure, most of Szymborski’s article is about the different possible postseason structures for MLB, and how they would or would not incentivize/reward big signings throughout the league. A perfectly interesting article for that reason.

But it wasn’t necessarily something I was going to deconstruct and discuss here until I was thinking about the Correa stuff in that top paragraph. Specifically, it made me think about just how much of a different signing a Correa-level superstar would impact the Cubs’ current projections with respect to the postseason. How much DOES signing one single player like Correa change things – at least on paper – for a still-pretty-rough roster like that of the Cubs?

Again, this was not the focus of Szymborski’s work, so I don’t want to go too far with this. But he did use ZiPS to calculate the difference in postseason odds for each team if they were to suddenly add 4.0 more WAR, which is arguably how much more WAR a team would get from adding a player like Correa – he’s specifically name-checked – over whatever it is that they would do without him. (You could argue the bump would be even greater for the Cubs because of their infield situation, but Szymborski didn’t do that math. So we go with what we’ve got. Also, you might be talking about only an additional 0.5 to 2.0 WAR for a team like the Cubs (between the player difference and the defense for the pitching), so the relative difference is not HUGE. Maybe meaningful, but not huge.)

In the current postseason structure, the Cubs – after adding a Correa-level superstar – would see their projected playoff chances increase substantially: from just 6.8% to 17.2%. I will admit, that’s a MUCH larger jump than I would’ve expected from a single superstar addition, even at an addition of 4.0 WAR. And if you want to stop reading right there, you can rightly say that adding Carlos Correa would improve the Cubs’ postseason odds a ton, and you’d be correct.

However, you would also be missing most of the relevant considerations when it comes to actually competing for a high-priced free agent on the market. Other teams want that guy, too. And other teams might rightly value him a lot higher.

That is to say, reviewing Szymborski’s work outside of the Cubs, our instincts about the relative value of big additions are still correct: the superstar means MORE to most of the better teams. That 10.4 percentage point improvement for the Cubs? It’s just the 22nd largest jump. The average jump is closer to 16 percentage points. Some teams are close to 20 points.

In other words, if you’re just looking at 2022, adding a superstar is tremendously valuable to a team like the Cubs, but it is relatively much more valuable for teams with a higher projected win total. The story is the same for the Cubs’ World Series odds, which would be bumped from 0.4% to 1.2%, but that’s the 7th smallest bump among all teams. Teams like the Dodgers, Astros, and Yankees are getting bumps over 4%.

Hey, but you’re wondering what happens if the size of the postseason changes. Fair enough! They story winds up in roughly the same place, though.

If the postseason gets increased from 10 teams to 14 teams, as MLB hopes, these numbers change a good bit: a rough team like the Cubs actually sees a MUCH greater relative odds increase – a 16.9% bump, which is the 12th largest bump. It makes sense: with more teams making the postseason, the very best teams are much less likely to bad-luck their way out of the postseason, so adding a superstar is much less impactful for them when there are more postseason spots. For a poorly-projected team like the Cubs, that bump of four wins is all the more significant when the playoff threshold is lowered. (That said, the bump the Cubs would see in this system in terms of World Series odds is still in the bottom ten.)

In the end, it is definitely interesting to see how much of a difference the change from 10 to 14 playoff teams makes when talking about this kind of consideration. But even at 14 teams, and even after adding the superstar, the Cubs’ playoff changes still project at a mere 34.3%. That is to say, they get a healthy bump from adding a guy like Carlos Correa, but he alone is not nearly enough to make them an on-paper favorite to make the playoffs even if the league expanded to 14 playoff teams.

I’m not saying that is a reason not to pursue Carlos Correa – he wouldn’t have to be the only move, and 2022 isn’t the only season he could impact! – but it is important context when you think about how much value he could provide various teams in the years that figure to be his most productive. The Cubs don’t look like the kind of team that typically benefits a lot from adding a single superstar.

(This also tracks with what we’ve said all offseason: no short-term, high-AAV signing should be off the table for the Cubs. It doesn’t risk the future – indeed, could help it in July if it came to that – and if you can add 4.0 to 5.0 WAR (or whatever) in the process, then hey, you get that same playoff odds bump in 2022 anyway.)


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.