Reviewing 6 Cubs Predictions from Last Year

One of our commenters recently chastised Cubs Insider for failing to hold ourselves accountable for our failures of prognostication. This struck a chord. Good analysts should self-assess periodically or we will never improve. With that in mind, I felt it was time to grade the predictions and assertions I have made over my first year with Cubs Insider.

Having reviewed my 60 posts since joining CI, I asserted or predicted the following:

  1. Kyle Hendricks was the most likely Cubs to sign an extension in 2018.
  2. Arbitration estimates for all seven eligible Cubs.
  3. David Bote would displace Tommy La Stella in 2019.
  4. The Cubs would exercise Hamels’ 2019 club option.
  5. That only six teams could and would pursue Byrce Harper and Manny Machado.
  6. Listed the Cubs as one of those teams.

So how did I do?

Regarding item 1, Hendricks did not sign an extension. In fairness, I did not outright predict an extension, only that he was the most likely candidate. And since none of his teammates agreed to their own long-term deals, I maintain that my assessment remains accurate.

My arbitration estimates were about as accurate as those of the professionals this offseason. Here are the numbers:

I had two clunkers, Russell and Kyle Schwarber. Part of my error with Russell is that my predictions predated the expanded allegations of abuse detailed by his ex-wife. That obviously suppressed his salary even lower than the MLB Trade Rumors projections. Even so, I put too much stock in his service time and his past All-Star appearance. I also thought Schwarber would get dinged more by his reducted playing time (relative to service time), low batting average, and lack of gaudy RBI totals.

To my credit, I was extremely accurate on Hendricks, Edwards, and Montgomery (slightly beating the experts on all three). Kris Bryant ended up almost exactly mid-way between my prediction and the experts and I was far more accurate on Javier Baez.

Continuing this good run, my prediction that David Bote would supplant Tommy La Stella (way back in August) was on point since La Stella was traded this offseason. The same post also predicted the Cubs would pick up Cole Hamels’ $20 million club option.

Turning now to Machado and Harper, I had guessed their market would be collectively limited to the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Twins, and Cubs. Yeah, I dropped the ball there. I missed the White Sox as an interested party for Machado while overstating the Cubs’ financial means to pursue Harper. My mistakes are all the more galling in that they center on the two Chicago franchises, my supposed area of expertise.

I knew the White Sox had heaps of money to spend, yet I thought they would wait another season before hitting the free agent market. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to my own advice to the Cubs on this topic, noting that 26-year-old superstars do not hit free agency often and you have grab them while they are available, even if it does not perfectly fit your internal schedule.

Most concerning is that I was blindsided by the Cubs’ austerity. Looking back, some of my errors may originate all the way back in 2015. Many of my estimates are based on using past Cubs’ payrolls as a proxy for annual revenue, then estimating new additional revenues being added. In retrospect, the Cubs may have been stretching their budgets back in 2015-17. For instance, the Cubs used leftover money from the 2014 budget to pay Jon Lester’s signing bonus in 2015.

The Cubs also supposedly borrowed money from the 2017 budget to pay for the ’16 payroll splurge. The effects were hidden because of huge playoff revenue windfalls in those two seasons. So when 2018 generated virtually no postseason revenue, the Cubs were left with a budget already near max capacity. I also apparently overestimated how much extra money Marquee — the Cubs’ new regional sports network — would generate in its early years.

In fairness, these mistakes are understandable given how opaque baseball finances are and how little reliable information exists. Still, I should be more open about the limitations I am working with in future pieces.

While I am on the subject of mea culpas, I should acknowledge a blatant error of omission. In my post discussing whether the Cubs have any likely Hall of Famers, I ignored a sure-fire honoree: Theo “Cursebreaker” Epstein (Joe Maddon also has a good shot as well). While the title uses the word “players,” the text never included that limitation. I done goofed.

All told, not a bad run. Thanks for keeping us honest.

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