The First Punditry Projections for the NL Central Have the Cubs Smack in the Middle

We will, of course, be digging into the statistical projections for the season now that the Chicago Cubs’ roster – and most around baseball, save for wherever Michael Conforto signs – are pretty much set for purposes of “the offseason.”

But it is also interesting to see how the punditry views the various teams around the league – not because they are necessarily better than the projections (all are imperfect in their own ways), but because it winds up becoming part of the story of how many fans and other pundits discuss the season as it unfolds. Who was expected to do what. Which team was supposed to be better than which other team. What group of guys is really surprising everyone. So on and so forth.

The group of baseball writers at USA Today dropped their standings for the year ahead, and, at least in the NL Central, I think it looks pretty reasonable:

The Pirates there winning just 60 games is actually the only bone I might pick in the Central. Not because I think the Pirates won’t finish with an exceptionally low win total – I do – but I think they do have a pretty good collection of young talent that is finally percolating toward the big league roster, and might buoy them to something closer to 68 wins than 60. Heck, it wouldn’t shock me if the Pirates wind up winning more games than the Reds this year, depending on how their sell-off goes.

And the Cubs? Well, I think 75 wins right now is a fair projection, but I think we can all say there’s a loooooad of variance in the Cubs’ group. They have a lot of guys who are very unlikely to be great, but whose 80th percentile outcomes are really quite excellent. That is to say, if guys like Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom and Nico Hoerner and Clint Frazier and on and on wind up being near the best versions of themselves (and everyone else is as good as you think they reasonably could be), then hey, they might be trending toward a 85-win team that buys at the deadline and puts itself in playoff position.

Since all of that is unlikely to happen at the same time, though, you have to keep the projection in the mid-70s. Because it’s also just as possible that a LOT of guys all disappoint at the same time, and the team is tracking toward just 70-72 wins before another sell-off. At that point, a high-60s win total is certainly possible. I think that outcome is probably slightly more likely than the one to the upside, but I think that big, meaty middle – where some guys do surprisingly break out, while others expectedly disappoint and some guys get hurt – is the most likely outcome this year. I think there is really only a 10 to 20% shot that the Cubs finish anywhere – above or below – the 70s. That just feels like the right range. Maybe I will realize I was foolish when I dig in more on the data, but at a gut level, that just seems correct.

I think the Cubs did some nice things this offseason to aid in 2023 (and keep open their path to pushing in harder next offseason), but I don’t really see that they did enough to turn this group into an on-paper contender. That was going to be a herculean task after they allowed themselves to walk off the cliff last year, yes, and it was probably going to require adding some risk to those future years (either by committing bad future dollars to get a guy signed today, or by trading prospects). Admitted. I’m just saying they didn’t pull it off on paper. I’ll root like heck for this year’s group to surprise and compete, though.

Meanwhile, I look around the rest of the league and I think the Mets are too low, the Giants and Padres are too high, and the Tigers are definitely too low. The Rangers feel a bit right, despite their massive spending spree. Good luck projecting the four teams atop the AL East. I might actually have the Red Sox up there closer to the Blue Jays, but that’s picking nits, because it’s just a group of four really good teams having to beat up on each other.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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