The Rundown: Canter’s Cubs Projections, Scouting Jake Arrieta, Touring the Blogs of the NL Central

Top Of The First

The Cubs make their 2016 debut today with a game against the Brewers. Evan has the lowdown on the lineup. Also, we are now one calendar month away from Opening Day. The 2015 season still feels like a dream. It deviated so far from our humble expectations that last October still seems unfathomable. Anthony Rizzo was right – the 2015 season really was magic.

Canter’s Cubs Projections

Bill James I am not. I do have projections though.

I am an analytics guy and quantifiable data means everything to me. Yes, I am aware of the need to account for any number of non-quantifiable tricks and turns — last season being a perfect example — but, generally speaking, numbers don’t lie. My numbers say the 2016 Chicago Cubs will finish 95-67. To the naked eye that means a regression of two wins. Let me clarify. Last year I expected the team to win 81 games, yet they finished with 97 wins. I expect this team to be 14 wins better — on paper — than last year’s squad. My numbers:

Ed. note: Mike provided screenshots of his projection data for the Cubs’ hitters and pitchers, but they were not showing correctly in my preview. I replaced with tweets but  You can also view the Excel versions of the hitting and pitching projections.

I should point out a few things about my calculations. First, I always account for a deviation of  +/- 4 wins. So the range of total expected wins falls between 91 and 99. That puts me pretty close to other predictions so far this spring. Also, my win/loss projection is based solely on pitcher wins, calculated via underlying skills analysis. I feel comfortable aggregating those numbers to provide a team capsule, though I am not so foolish to think that any of this is a given.

Still, my valuations give me a genuine — if not rudimentary — look at how this season will play out. And for 2016, I say the Chicago Cubs are a 95-win team with this roster.

Scouting The Cubs Roster

Between now and Opening Day I will give you my scouting assessment on one Cubs player per day. I’ll go in alphabetical order, so, in other words, Jake Arrieta to Ben Zobrist.

Jake Arrieta — Arrieta’s historic second-half run capped a generational breakout for the Cubs SP. The late-blooming right-hander’s peripherals have remained elite across his last 50 starts. In 2015 Arrieta leaned more on his heavy sinker and as a result 56% of batted balls were driven into the dirt, up 7% from the previous year. He was virtually unhittable in the second half of 2015, going 14-1 with 126 strikeouts across his final 17 starts, including a no-hitter against the Dodgers. In fantasy baseball terms, that represented nearly $70 in value post All-Star break. That’s unheard of and that’s how you win the Cy Young.

If you are looking for any semblance of a red flag in Arrietta’s 2015 season, it should be noted his first-pitch strike rate dropped from 60% to 54% in the second half, but that’s extreme nitpicking. Two straight years of sub-3.00 xFIP and a cumulative 0.89 WHIP makes Jake Arrieta a legitimate ace.

5 – 4 – 6 – 3

This is a new section of my column that will provide relevant links to blogs representing other NL Central teams. I am (possibly naively) thinking/hoping that if we drive our readers to some of these blogs they will in turn drive their readers back. So if you comment on other stories be sure to indicate you are a Cubs Insider reader, please and thank you.

I wanted to call this section Around The Horn but everybody has an Around The Horn section. I’ll choose scorekeeping nomenclature instead. Why? I already told you I’m a number’s guy.

Redbird Rants looks at five burning questions facing the St. Louis Cardinals heading into the season. Negative points to the author for the unnecessary use of the word ‘albeit’ in this particular column. Though it is grammatically correct, I feel the author used the entire clause simply for the sake of including the word albeit, which is the most overused word in the baseball blogosphere. Why? I do not know. But I don’t like it, and I can rant too, Redbirds Rant.

Baseball Bloggers Alliance says the St. Louis Cardinals are a lot closer in talent to the Chicago Cubs than they are being given credit for in national publications. Doubtful. I think the Cards will regress further than most think. St. Louis is a .500 team and I am being respectfully generous only because of their post-millennial pedigree.

The Milwaukee Brewers coaxed 11 walks in a tune-up for today’s tilt against the Cubs in beating UW-Milwaukee 11-2 in what was — I guess — an exhibition for the exhibition season. Brew Crew Ball tries to find the positives in what will likely be an underwhelming 2016 season in Brew City.

The Pittsburgh Pirates absolutely hammered relief pitchers in 2015. Will they continue this trend in 2016? Pirates Breakdown has the analysis.

Bucs Raise It thinks the 2016 Pirates could be this year’s version of the New York Mets. After consecutive Wild Card heartbreaks, the team is certainly due.

Yes — hope springs eternal, but for some teams it’s not too early to be looking at the Rule 4 draft in June. Redleg Nation takes an early look at which players may interest the Cincinnati Reds, who hold the number 2 pick this year. As Cubs fans we’ve been there. Be patient.

Fact, Fiction, Truth, Or Rumor

San Francisco Giants GM Bobby Evans sees untapped potential in Jeff Samardzija’s powerful right arm. We’ve been there, too.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post examines the offseason’s biggest winners and biggest losers. As in every other similar story, the Cubs rank as big winners. Ian Desmond? Ouch.

Seven authenticated century-old Ty Cobb baseball cards were found recently by a family that wishes to remain anonymous. The cards will likely fetch seven-figures when auctioned later this month.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals donated $1 million dollars to the baseball program at his alma mater, the University of Virginia.

The Tampa Rays will play the Cuban national team in Havana on March 22nd, marking the return of U.S. baseball to the Caribbean island for the first time in nearly 20 years. President Obama and his wife Michelle will be in attendance.

Curt Schilling lost his filter. Again. Obviously he is a stickler for accountability, but I am not sure stating that Hillary Clinton should be “buried beneath some prison” is the most eloquent way of presenting his opinion on the matter. ESPN is addressing Schilling’s comments.

Bottom Of The Ninth

Play Ball! In fact, let’s play two today, it’s a beautiful day for baseball!

If I may, “The Cubs will be pristine in 2016.” Yes? No? My apologies to the late Ernie Banks.

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