Upgrading Run Prevention at the Right Time, Suzuki's Breakout, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Upgrading Run Prevention at the Right Time, Suzuki’s Breakout, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Challenging week to travel, and my return home from Chicago has already been delayed by at least one day. Fingers crossed that I can get home tomorrow, and that the family has another good winter-break-day at home without me …

  • FanGraphs analyzed the Tucker Barnhart signing for the Cubs (still not officially official), and although they don’t get into the deal points that are probably most important to the Cubs (how Barnhart works with the pitchers in game-planning, adjustments, game-calling, etc.), they did highlight something I didn’t know going into the signing: Barnhart is top ten in caught-stealing percentage since 2020, and his total 140 caught would-be base-stealers since 2016 is second in baseball, behind only JT Realmuto.
  • Taking that point a step further on something I hadn’t really considered. We know Willson Contreras’s best value comes from his bat, and part of what the Cubs are trying to do behind the plate is upgrade their defensive/run-prevention impact overall. But we also know there was one aspect of catcher defense that Willson Contreras always HAS done really well: his arm is awesome. For his career, Contreras has caught 30% of would-be base-stealers, waaaaay above the league-average mark of 25-ish%. We know that baserunning is about to become all the more important with the pick-off limits and larger bases, so having a catcher who can help control the run game seems pretty important at this very moment.
  • Uh oh! Cubs are going to be in trouble in that regard! Nope. Turns out, as FanGraphs noted, Barnhart is one of the best in the game (32% CS for his career), and so is Yan Gomes (33%). If anything, the Cubs may have UPGRADED this part of their defense, too.
  • Make no mistake: the offensive difference between Contreras and Gomes/Barnhart, even if platoon-optimized – is going to be enormous. You will notice it constantly. But hopefully we also notice, by midseason, that the pitching staff continues to outperform our expectations, because that is very much what the Cubs are betting on.

Speaking of the need for offense …. The MLB.com beat writers opine on the possible breakout player for each club in 2023, and I think there are a number of options for the Cubs, but Jordan Bastian’s pick is pretty realistic:

Cubs: OF Seiya Suzuki
Suzuki lived up to the international hype in April of his rookie season in 2022, posting a .934 OPS out of the chute. Over the next few months, the outfielder’s first taste of the Majors hit a snag as pitchers adjusted to his approach and he tried to adjust accordingly, while also acclimating to his new surroundings and encountering injury setbacks. The good news is that Suzuki heads into ’23 knowing what to expect, and his strong finish could be a sign of things to come. He carried a .241/.315/.402 slash line into Aug. 21, but then hit .315/.392/.514 the rest of the way. In that late-season span, Suzuki’s 155 wRC+ ranked eighth in the NL (min. 120 plate appearances).

  • Seiya Suzuki was solid overall in 2022 (.262/.336/.433/116 wRC+). In 2023, he might be excellent. If he is, then it would go a long way toward supporting an offense that is going to be comprised of a whole lot of you-hope-for-at-least-average bats.
  • Interesting way to frame what the Cubs have done on the starting pitching side this offseason, from Gordon Wittenmyer: “(W)ith the long-expected news that left-handed starter Drew Smyly has agreed to a two-year, $19 million deal to return, the Cubs have retained every pitcher who contributed to the rotation’s second-half ERA of 2.89 — minus the four starts (16 innings) by Wade Miley. Along the way, they added well regarded veteran Jameson Taillon on a four-year, $68 million contract.” So basically the Cubs are guaranteed to have a sub-3 ERA this year. That’s just math.
  • Nah, but in all seriousness, it is notable that the Cubs will have more or less the same group in place to open the season – or at least almost all of the same arms available – as they had pitching so dang well in the second half. And heck, I wouldn’t even mind seeing the Cubs bring Miley back, too, though it might have to be on a minor league deal initially so as to preserve some roster flexibility, realistically speaking. (And he may find a team that doesn’t have QUITE as much starting depth where he sees a better path to innings.)

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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.