2012 Cubs breakout and bounce back candidates: The position players

A while back we looked at some breakout and bounce back candidates on the mound.  Now it's time to look at some of the position players.  This isn't as easy.  The Cubs don't have a lot of breakout candidates right now as far as position players.  Most of those type of players are in the minors, but for now we're sticking with the major league squad.

Here's a couple of the statistics I'll use in this analysis

BABIP: Stands for Batting Average of Balls In Play.  To some degree, this stat measures "luck" on batted balls.  If your BABIP is high, it means a lot of batted balls fell for hits.  In other words, more seeing eye groundballs and bloop hits and less line drives right at ‘em.  In Yogi Berra’s words, more “hitting them where they ain’t”.  A higher number can mean less luck for a pitcher (and more luck for a hitter).  The league average for this statistic is about .300.  Note that it isn't all luck and BABIP varies from player to player.  Faster players tend to have higher BABIPs because they'll beat out a few extra ground balls.  Some players make hard contact more consistently and that can certainly have an effect on how many balls get past the defense.

WAR: Stands for Wins Above Replacement.  It's an all-encompassing number for statistics that a player can control.  For position players that includes hitting, defense, and baserunning.  It attempts to measure how much wins that player provides over some every day joe AAA guy.  That player is considered to be "replacement level".  As an example, Blake DeWitt qualified as a replacement level player last year and not surprisingly has been replaced by an average AAA player (Adrian Cardenas) on the roster.  To give you an example of how WAR numbers break down, here's a quick reference chart...

Below 0: This is Koyie Hill level. It's a substandard MLB player who should be replaced.  He costs your team runs, and ultimately wins.

0: A replacement player such as the Blake DeWitt example above. Neither hurts nor helps your team.

1: A solid reserve level player.  Reed Johnson is a good example.

2: The minimum of what you want out of your starter. Marlon Byrd and Darwin Barney were around this level, largely on the strength of their defense. Most of the Cubs starters fell into the 2-3 range in 2011.  Others include Carlos Pena and Geovanny Soto.  Remember that position is important.  Pena was much more productive than Barney, but the league average production level at 1B is a lot higher than it is at 2B.

3: A good starter.  Castro was at 3.4 last season which makes him a pretty good player, but not a star.  With better defense, he would have easily been a 4 level player.  Sean Marshall was at 2.8, which is amazing for a relief pitcher.

4: A very good starter: Cubs didn't have a player at this level.  Aramis Ramirez at 3.6 was the closest and that was due purely to his offensive production.  Had he been even an average defensive player, he would have been at 4 or above

5: A great player.  The Cubs didn't have a position player at this level.  The Cubs only player in this category was SP Matt Garza.

6+: A superstar.  The Cubs, obviously, had nobody at this level.

Breakout Candidate:

Starlin Castro

Castro is already the Cubs best position player, so calling him a breakout player seems odd. Castro really got by on his tools and instincts last year.  He had a good, but error prone season. Now it's time for the kid to grow up.  Castro was an all-star player in 2011, but he was by no means a great player.  Not yet.  He showed improvement in two big areas late last season, defense and plate discipline (8.5% walk rate in Sept/Oct).  If Castro can turn up the defense up a notch and increase the walk level from about 35 to 50 (which would be a very obtainable 7% walk rate) and hit just a few more HRs, he becomes a 5 WAR player -- that would make him a great player.  He's on the cusp of stardom.  He just has to keep working hard and making progress.  For Castro it isn't a matter of skills or instinct, it's a matter of focus and maturity.  This is his 3rd year and he'll have a new manager who'll expect him to focus on the mental aspects of the game to go with his tremendous physical skills.

Bounce Back Candidates:

Geovanny Soto

Soto is the Cubs box of chocolates.  You just never know what you're going to get from one year to the next.  Conditioning often plays a role in how well Soto performs.  He has some talent, but he's not gifted enough to come into camp out of shape and get away with it.  He has to work at it -- constantly.  The word is that Soto has come into shape this offseason and that bodes well for him.  Soto was a combination of bad with some bad luck last season.  He was still patient, but not as much as he'd been in previous years.  His walk rate dropped below 10% for the first time in his career.  His BABIP dropped to .280 from .324 the previous season, so Soto had a little bad luck as far as a few extra balls in play not falling for hits.  If he can even find just middle ground on that number, it'll bump his average back around into the .250 range or better.  Combined with his usual walk rate, which is in the 12% range, it'll bring his OBP back up around a very respectable .350.  Factor in his above average power and that makes for a solid, if not spectacular season.

David DeJesus

DeJesus struggled with the bat a bit playing in Oakland's cavernous stadium.  His BABIP was even lower than Soto's at .274, down from .355 the previous season.  Perhaps we're not expecting his BABIP to be as high as .355, but it should at least be around his career average of .316, perhaps even a bit better than that playing at Wrigley.  That would mean an average of around .280 or so with all other things being equal.  Like Soto, DeJesus has a good eye at the plate and with a bit more hits falling and finding holes next year, he could be back in the .350 OBP range or better.  His defense is always good and he's become a pretty good baserunner over the years, even if he doesn't steal bases.  Put it all together and DeJesus would be an above league average RF'er and a respectable leadoff man -- both are qualities that Cubs fans haven't seen too often over the years.

Breakout/Bounce Back

Ian Stewart

Stewart can qualify under both categories. His numbers were awful last year.  Part of that can be attributed to a wrist problem, but it doesn't meant you can ignore Stewart's contact issues over his career.  He has struck out in an incredible 28% of his plate appearances in his career.  That simply has to improve for Stewart to be a more effective offensive player.  He has many positive traits, such as good power (25 HRs in just 491 PAs in 2009) and good patience ( a nice career walk rate of 10.3%).  The key for him is simply making more contact.  We're not expecting miracles but if Stewart can get his K rate down a few percentage points to say, 24% or so and maintain a league average .300 BABIP, it's not out of the realm of possibility he can hit .250 and have an OBP in a respectable range of .330-.340.  Combined with his above average power and defense, that would give the Cubs a pretty good 3B overall.   Stewart has a chance to not just bounce back, but have a career year if things fall into place.



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  • Castro in 2010 had 27 errors in 544 chances for a .950 fielding percentage. Castro in 2011 had 29 errors in 742 chances for a .961 percentage. He needs to show continued improvement. By 2014 he can be a really good fielding shortstop.

  • In reply to Cliffy46405:

    That is encouraging and I think his range and arm are good enough to make him at least an average SS even if he does make a few more than his share of errors. Like Sveum said, I'll live with the physical errors as long as he cuts down on the mental mistakes.

  • Thanks John for all the great insight into my beloved cubs.

  • In reply to irishivy75:

    Your welcome, irishivy, and thanks for reading!

  • I know that baseball is full of many kinds of stats (i.e., BA against
    lefties at night) but the real question is "Can he play" We just
    have to give our new/injured players a chance to see if they can.
    It's better than giving a long term high price contract to a middle aged

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Some stats tell you a lot of what we don't see with our eyes. It's good to have a balance of both.

  • I think castro can become very good defense shortstop if he work at it. He has all tools to become one he just needs to work hard.

  • In reply to cubsfanforlife:

    I do too. I don't think he'll win Gold Gloves, but his range and arm are good enough to be a league average SS at least, perhaps a bit better.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey , Jeter was never great and he won Gold Gloves. :)

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    His defense never seemed to hurt the Yanks. And I think Castro will eventually be better defensively than Jeter was.

  • My big concern with Castro is that if he doesn't improve his defense, I don't think management will keep him at short. They seem big on defense up the middle (which I agree).

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    In reply to jimmy mac1:

    One scout has said for a couple of years that Castro's best position defensively is 2b. I think if he can keep improving then he can probably stick at SS, they'll trade a little defense if his hitting progresses as expected, however, I read other scouts earlier this offseason were predicting Castro will get too big at SS and probably should move to 3b eventually. I don't know what position he's playing in 5 years, but for now, while we aren't really contending, there's no reason not to keep him at SS.

  • In reply to jimmy mac1:

    That's always a concern. I think he'll work at it. The physical skills are there, so I'm optimistic.

  • fb_avatar

    We have now 9 in the auction league. Shooting for 16, but hopefully at least 12. Planning on the draft for Friday night (tomorrow) at 8:30pm central time. I thought that would be fun to just kick it off right away. If most people in the league want though, we can move it back a week or two. If you have strong feelings about it, email me using the league or just message on here and if enough people want to move it back, we can. If you have never done an auction draft, it's a lot of fun. you can try one tonight, they have plenty of mock drafts online all the time at yahoo. You get $250 to spend, everybody does. So you can bid on any player you want, but bid wisely, obviously, you need to fill out your roster. Should be a lot of fun! We have room for a few more, so come join!

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    Need at least 3 more for this league and the Arguello's Rejects league needs at least one more, I believe. Cubs Den II looks full.

  • John,

    Thanks for including descriptions of the stats in your articles. that really helps guys like me who can never remember exactly what they stand for or what are good bad rankings in those categories.

    Good insight as always. You have stoked some optimism in me for a competitive season rather than this just being a rebuilding year.

  • In reply to 104YearsofGlory:

    Your welcome. At some point I'm going to create a glossary to make the articles shorter. But for now I'm going on an as needed basis.

    Thanks for the kind words. There's always room for optimism. It's guarded optimism for me, though, because it does entail a few IFs, but I think these guys are good bets to bounce back -- and it's probably no coincidence that Theo and Jed have gone and acquired Stewart and DeJesus.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'd love a glossary. I look at baseball reference and I don't know what half the numbers mean. Baseball ref doesn't include BABIP from what I see, though, is there a better site you use?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I'll use a combination of sites. Fangraphs is good. I used those WAR/BABIP figures for this article.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And I'll work on that glossary. I've already got a bit of a start on it, I guess!

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    up to 10 now and counting! we actually could play with 10, but i'd prefer at least a couple more! thanks for joining the league John, by the way, it will make the championship that much sweeter for whoever wins it if they can take down a pro like you. Assuming of course that you do not win.

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    John, do you think Stewart's struggles are comparable to Alex Gordon's early struggles? The league adapted, and it just took him a while to adapt back. Then you have the injury, which set Stewart further back.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Very possibly. Being able to adjust is the key to being a MLB player. If you've made it to AA, you probably have the physical skills to play in the major leagues, but you have to be able to respond when opponents find your weak points or they'll keep attacking it. We'll find out soon if Stewart is able to do that.

    Another guy I think about in that respect is Rizzo. MLB pitchers found a way to get him out. Now it's his job to figure out how to counter that. It's why baseball is my favorite sport, it's more than just the physical aspect of the game.

  • fb_avatar

    Gary Carter passed away at age 57 today.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Wow. Sorry to hear that. I know he had been sick for a long time. Was a heckuva player. Played on those great Expos teams in the 70s.

  • That sucks, I always liked Gary Carter. Easily one of the two best catchers ( Carlton Fisk being the other) I saw growing up. Everything I have heard and read about him was that he was a very nice guy as well, one of the true greats.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Did Barry Foote not make your list?

    The one guy I wish would have seen more of was Johnny Bench. Caught a few of his last decent years, but the best catcher I saw in his prime was Gary Carter.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Agreed Steve, had some really good catchers in the 80's to watch growing up. Namely Carter, Parrish, Fisk, Pena

  • Barry Foote ?? LOL ! My god , I forgot about him. The ironic thing is that he came up with the Expos in 1974, and was on the all-rookie team, the next year he got a little hurt, had a slump and was replaced by a very promising rookie named.....Gary Carter . The other ironic thing was that while Gary Carter was one the most well-liked and approachable baseball players, I heard that Barry Foote was one the most unpleasant, unfriendly d-bags to play in his era.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Heard Carter would hold up the bus signing autographs...was always accessible. Didn't know Foote was a jerk, though. I was too young to know that much about the players, I guess.

  • Barry Foote! 1974! I'm older than I thought. Born '61 I saw Hundley, of course, Bench, Sanguillen,Carter and Fisk. Gary always seemed like a class act may he RIP. But of all of them who I saw in person, Carlton was the most imposing and intimidating catcher I ever saw. I am a Cubs fan, but going to Comiskey, drinking Falstaff and watching him in his prime; explode from behind the plate with his cannon arm and throw out a "potential base stealer" was something to behold. It gave me goosebumps watching such perfection, drive and will. It's what makes sports great, them moments in time that carry over.

  • Falstaff beer...wow. Completely forgot about that stuff. Fisk was a great player but, being a teen, I was at the height of my anti-White Sox phase back then. Probably should have appreciated him more!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I was at the I love the Cubs but like the Sox too age back then and Fisk was my second fav player after Sandberg in the early 80's.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    The Sox have grown on me over the years, partly because my wife is a lifetime Sox fan. For a while, though, I didn't like them, then I became completely indifferent to them, now I'm okay with them. Don't think I'll ever be a fan, though!

  • As far as comeback and bounceback players goes; I don't know much about all this sabermetrics. But I'm sticking to my guns. I think Darwin Barney is a ballplayer and belongs at SS. I think Starlin Castro should follow Ryno's path and move to 2cnd base or 3rd base and if memory serves,Ryno came up at SS then 3rd and then 2cnd and played great defense at all them positions IMO. I just disagree with the thinking that Starlin will improve defensively because he is so young. I kind of think the opposite.

  • Great memory. Sandberg played SS in the minors, then played a few games there for the Phillies. He switched to 3B his rookie year with the Cubs and then 2B the year after.

    It would certainly improve the defense short term, but I think with Castro, if he can just play average SS can be a real asset for the Cubs there. They'd have a top hitter in a spot where most teams are just trying to make do. If it were up to me, I'd keep him there unless he was absolutely terrible. He improved last year, especially in the 2nd half. I'm optimistic that he can at least be a league average defender this season.

  • I'd love Stewart to have a breakout season. When Jepstein talk about bringing in players with a little bit of an edge, I think Stewart. It would be great if he could be our Millar or Youkilis. That said though, I don't see it happening. You talk about 2 being the minimum you want a starter to have, he's never even been as high as 1.4. In fact, you add up his WAR's for every season he's played it only totals 1.9. Hope he proves me wrong.

    My money's on DeJesus. Except for last year, his WAR has been consistently above 3 since 2005. I think he comes to Wrigley and thrives.

    How do they determine what a AAA 0 WAR is btw, John? They use last year's stats or last 5 years or what? Crazy to me that Castro isn't a 4 oWAR, leading the league in hits and being the youngest player to do so. I worry the SS WAR is biased by the steroid years. Growing up, it was a pickem who was going to be your better offensive player - your SS or your 2B. Steroid era injected more power into that position than was usually there and is penalizing today's SS's for it. Be curious to see what his oWAR would have been if he played second. I think as the years go by it'll normalize again, hopefully to the point of grouping SS's and 2B's together to calculate their oWAR.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Good point with Stewart, he's never had better than a 1.5 WAR (per Fangraphs).

    The AAA 0 WAR guy is just a fictional, hypothetical player. As far as I know, I don't think WAR is calculated or used much for minor league players.

    The offensive demand for 2B is actually higher, so all things being equal, Castro's WAR would have dropped had he played there. At any rate, he's a SS for the foreseeable future or until he plays himself off of there. No reason to think he won't continue to improve.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ah, so it's just a way of thinking of it. You could have every minor league outfielder be Babe Ruth, say, but that wouldn't make it impossible for a major leaguer outfielder to be higher than 0 WAR. It isn't truly using minor league players as a mathematical baseline, but rather calculates WAR based solely off the major leaguer's statistics.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    It's just theoretical. It's sort of what like your average minor leaguer or waiver guy off the scrap heap would do. That's why Blake DeWitt is a great example. He's a fringe major leaguer. He's pretty much replacement level and when you look at Darwin Barney's WAR, it was 2.2. In other words, he was worth 2 wins more over a course of a season than DeWitt, largely because of his defense.

  • When researching Castro numbers, did you happen to find a source that has game logs of defensive statistics? I was trying to find how his first half and second half errors committed compared last year. I was pretty certain that his errors dropped substantially in the 2nd half.

  • In reply to Northside Neuman:

    He made less errors in the send half but it wasn't by a whole lot. I believe he made 16 errors in the first 81 games and then 13 over the last 81. I agree that he did look better overall, though. It seemed like he had some nice stretches of error-less baseball.

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