The Right Side of the Cubs Infield is a Mixed Bag in the Projection Rankings

The positional rankings at FanGraphs continued with the righty side of the infield, which offered up some positivity and negativity for Cubs fans.

At first base, just like at the catcher spot, the Chicago Cubs show up at number 28. Out of 30. That’s low.

At just 1.4 WAR total, the Cubs are projected to be all kinds of terrible at first base this year. Some of that is due to the playing time allocations projected by FanGraphs, and some of it is the system not seeing a huge breakout coming for Matt Mervis. We could probably debate those things at the margins, but I don’t know that it’s entirely unfair to see the Cubs’ first base situation as relatively uncertain at the moment.

If Eric Hosmer can be a little above average at the plate (or gets bounced early), if Trey Mancini bounces back this year to a better version of himself, and if Mervis does indeed come up at some point and contribute in a big way, you could see the Cubs getting average overall production at first base. (By WAR, “average” at first base for a team is really only about 2.5 WAR total. So “average” isn’t really a pipe dream.)

Fun fact, though: the Cubs netted -0.6 WAR last year at first base (yes, BELOW replacement level, which is pretty hard to do), so even if they wound up netting just the 1.4 WAR projected by FanGraphs, that’d still be a two-win upgrade. That says so much …

Things look rosier at second base in the projections, though, where the Cubs show up tied for 10th:

Thanks to Nico Hoerner moving to second base, the Cubs’ WAR total there is projected to be 3.7 (mostly Hoerner, but a decent chunk from Nick Madrigal as his primary backup). The teams in that area of the rankings are so clustered that the Marlins at 6th are just 3.9 WAR, and the Mets at 4th are just 4.0 WAR. So it’s all kinda grouped there together, and the Cubs rightfully fall into that group of very good, but not quite elite, second base situations. (The Rangers are on top, led by Marcus Semien, and total 4.7 WAR, for what it’s worth.)

From the FanGraphs write-up:

By signing Dansby Swanson to play shortstop, the Cubs also got themselves a major upgrade at second base. Nico Hoerner was a breakout star at short last season, and his glove should remain elite as he moves down the defensive spectrum. His arm strength, which is unimpressive for a shortstop, will play better at second too.

Hoerner is another one of those second base contact machines, although he’d be a better hitter if he were more selective at the plate. He walked at an 8.5% clip in his first three seasons, but that number fell to 5.4% last year. On the plus side, Hoerner had a mini power surge in 2022, hitting 10 bombs in 135 games; he hadn’t hit a single home run in his previous 323 trips to the plate. The projections think his power is real, with our depth charts envisioning another 10 homers for him this season.

Nick Madrigal entered last season as the starting second baseman for the Cubs. He missed significant time with back and groin injuries, yet even when he was healthy, he was hardly productive. He no longer has a starting job, but his strong defense and great contact skills will make him an adequate backup.

Second is one of the spots on the Cubs that’ll see the biggest upgrade in projections like this. That said, it’s kinda funny to note that, because first base was SO BAD last year for the Cubs, that two-win upgrade is actually larger than what is projected at second base. Last year, the Cubs were at 2.3 WAR at second, so they’re projected for about a win-and-a-half of a bump.

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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