By all accounts 2015 was a pretty unexpected year for the Cubs. Even the most optimistic among us were leery of projecting more than 85 wins, yet the team blew past that mark en route to a 97-win season that gave them the third-best record in baseball. After having added more talent in the offseason, the prevailing thought is that they’ll be even better and more consistent this coming season. But here’s the thing: the Cubs could be a better team but still finish with fewer wins.
If you look back at how the Cubs collected their wins last year, there was a good deal of luck involved. Their 34-21 record in one-run wins was 3rd in baseball (Pirates 36-17; Angels 35-17) and you can’t really expect to pull out another 13 walk-off wins. Their +81 run differential was excellent, but was still only 6th-best in baseball, telling us that they made the most of the leeway they created.
While projections, particularly those calculated in mid-January when the free agent market has yet to fully settle, can’t really be read as gospel, FanGraphs’ numbers look really promising. Check out the full list below, followed by some brief comments and a look at the NL Central specifically.
The Cubs are expected to put up the best record in baseball and, as you see from the highlighted section, to have the highest run differential as well. That comes from a significant increase over last season’s 4.25 runs scored per game, as the Cubs are actually projected to allow a few more tallies than they did in 2015. Despite perceived improvements to the pitching staff, that 3.82 runs allowed per game is actually up a bit, though only by .07 runs.
Over the course of a full season, that’s only a very nominal 11.34 runs. Spread over the course of the season, that’s not even noticeable. Actually, when you factor in Jake Arrieta’s expected regression, the staff is expected to be much better on the whole. Steamer projects the ace to allow a total of 76 runs in 2016, 24 more than he gave up over the course of his Cy Young campaign. The good news is that that means the rest of the staff will combine to allow about 13 fewer runs. Not insane numbers, but every little bit counts.
You can see all the individual teams above, but I wanted to cut through some of the noise and show just the Central.
My first thought is that this looks a bit off for the Cubs’ four rivals. I think the Cards and Pirates are projected for too few wins and the Reds too many. I guess the Brewers could be about right. It’s incredibly foolish to take this without a grain of salt, but it sure is nice to see the Cubs so clearly ahead of the rest of the pack. Again, all on paper. I like what the paper says though.