The Cubs’ Outfield is Good, Morel is Good, Hard Contact is Good, and Other Cubs Bullets
Sometimes I think about how Cubs President Jed Hoyer said he wants to get extensions done – if any – before Spring Training starts. No negotiations during Spring Training.
And then I think about how Spring Training is only a little more than a week away …
- A whole bunch of outfield thoughts coming together for me this morning. It started when I was reading Paul Sporer going over his outfielder rankings for fantasy purposes, and he had Seiya Suzuki all the way up at 14th in baseball:
I’m on the Seiya Suzuki breakout train! A finger injury interrupted his solid stateside debut and he doesn’t need a massive skills surge to go off in 2023. Some pop, some speed, and an improved lineup in Chicago give him a chance at increased output across the board if he stays healthy this year and that’s what I’m looking for out of the 28-year-old Cub. If he improves his success on the bases (64% last yr; 61% in Japan), a truly special season could be on tap, but his success doesn’t hinge on that.
- Interestingly, all three of the Cubs’ outfielders (Ian Happ, 25; Cody Bellinger, 44) were in the top 44. There could be as many as 90 everyday “starting” outfielders in baseball, so by that logic, the Cubs have a pretty good trio! For fantasy purposes, anyway. And if all three perform up to their abilities or a tick over, that’s going to go a longggg way to helping the Cubs surprise with an above-average overall offense.
- That did get me thinking about the Cubs’ outfield for non-fantasy purposes, though, and when you start eyeballing the league, the Cubs actually do have a top-half-of-the-league group of starters. In the NL Central, I might take the Cardinals’ group over the Cubs (mostly because I fear Jordan Walker’s arrival), but that’s it. Probably one of the better groups in the NL this year.
- The rub, though, is that the depth behind the three starters is currently open to significant questions if there’s an injury. We don’t know if Nelson Velazquez is more than a lefty masher, we don’t know if Ben DeLuzio is even a big league bench guy, we don’t know if Christopher Morel is going to play much in the outfielder, we don’t know if Brennen Davis is going to be in a physical place to fill in if necessary, we don’t know when Alexander Canario will be back, we don’t know how well utility guys like Zach McKinstry or Miles Mastrobuoni would fill in for a longer time in the outfield, we don’t know if Darius Hill or Yonathan Perlaza are big leaguers, etc.
- It’s weird to say, because we know the outfield is a strength of the system long-term, but for 2023, the Cubs really need good health in the outfield among the starters. The best coverage they have is probably at a corner spot if they had an injury and Trey Mancini moved out there semi-regularly, but you’d prefer him to be available to DH and play 1B.
- Ben Clemens writes about the year-to-year stickiness of 95th percentile exit velocity (i.e., a guy’s hardest hit chunk of batted balls), and how rare it is for that to meaningfully change for a guy during his career. And since we know that, all else equal, it’s really good to hit the ball really hard, it is increasingly seeming like 95th percentile exit velocity data is pretty useful. Now we just need to find an accessible source for that data without having to run massive data scripts …
- Speaking of the importance of hitting the ball hard, here’s a thing I found while trying to see if I could locate EV95 anywhere – 13.4% of Christopher Morel’s batted balls qualified as a Barrel. That was the 21st highest rate in all of baseball in 2022, just behind Matt Olson, and just ahead of Julio Rodriguez.
- And speaking of Morel:
- Morel will have a chance to win the everyday third base job, because the offensive upside there is obviously significant. The questions are whether he’s sorted out the throwing issues he was having at third, whether the Cubs still want to get regular time at third for Patrick Wisdom and Zach McKinstry, and whether the Cubs want Morel to move around more because they believe that’s where his highest value is. Injuries will play a part, too, of course. I suppose the point here is only to not forget that Morel’s bat clearly has “starter” level upside.
- Oh, but back to the EV95 thing for a moment (though the Morel-Taylor super utility connection would’ve also been a good transition) – as hinted at by Lance Brozdowski, although it’s currently rare for the number to change year-to-year for players … what if it didn’t have to be:
- I still remember when the prevailing wisdom was that you could not add multiple MPH to your fastball after you were physically matured. Just didn’t happen and couldn’t be done. Then people realized … oh, actually, you can … and everything changed over the last 20 years.
- All Amazon devices are on a Valentine’s sale, which is a connection I don’t quite get, but a sale is a sale. #ad
- Everybody is pumped about Opening Day coming, but Manny Machado looks deeply concerned for some reason: