Perusing through my morning routine of checking my favorite baseball websites, I was happy to see that Dan Szymborski (@dszymborski) has come out with his ZiPS projections for the Cubs in 2013.
I'm a big fan of these kinds of projections and ZiPS is my favorite. At the same time, remember that they tend to reflect a general trend for similar players at similar stages in their career. There is always the chance for sudden individual improvement, as we saw with Jeff Samardzija, who was great to begin the year and continued to improve as the year went on.
Of course, predicting which players will completely buck that trend and defy expectations is more art than science and so have no use in a statistical projection system. With that in mind, here are some of the interesting projections of the Cubs players in 2013...
- Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are projected to have the highest WAR among all Cubs at 4.0. Two 23 year old guys playing at an All-Star level to build around is a nice start.
- Jeff Samardzija has the highest WAR among pitchers at 3.1
- The most surprising WAR projection is Brett Jackson, who ties Darwin Barney for 2nd at 2.3. That mark is roughly that of an average starter.
- Logan Watkins, Junior Lake, and Matt Szczur all project at 1.5 WAR or better with Watkins the highest at 1.7. Interesting to know that all of those players project better than Josh Vitters, not to mention regulars like David DeJesus and Ian Stewart.
- Stewart projects at a 0.4 WAR, which is basically replacement level but if his poor past couple of seasons were due to injury and Stewart is healthy, we can hopefully throw that out the window.
- As far as pitchers, Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza are the Cubs next top two at 2.8 and 2.7. That's not surprising except that it's Jackson who eeks in ahead of Garza here.
- Carlos Marmol is the top reliever at 0.9 while Kyuji Fujikawa is at 0.7. Fujikawa in general has surprisingly good numbers across the board.
- Top rookies are Arodys Vizcaino at 0.3 and Alberto Cabrera at 0.2. Though they're both listed as RPs, those numbers would likely go up as SPs.
- Anthony Rizzo is the leader in OBP at .349 (.279 BA). David DeJesus is next at .341 (.262 BA). Rizzo is the runaway leader in wOBA (which factors in power) at .362. Castro is next at .332. Every other Cub is below average in that category.
- Starlin Castro, meanwhile project for the best average by a significant margin. He projects to hit .294. Rizzo is the next closest. Castro projects at just a 5.3% walk rate which limits his OBP, but my hunch is that he'll get a tick or two above that. A 7% walk rate (roughly 12 more walks over the season), for example, would put him at a solid .346.
- Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart are the only Cubs projected at a walk rate higher than 10%. They also have the highest projected K rates at 34% and 29%, respectively.
- There are an encouraging number of Cubs over the 9% mark, which is well above league average. DeJesus and Valbuena are the regulars/semi-regulars on the list at 9.3%, while Anthony Rizzo is close at 8.7% and Welington Castillo has a solid 8%. We also get some insight into what the Cubs valued in their under the radar signings as OF reserve candidates/minor league depth signings Bryan Bogusevic and Brad Nelson project at very good rates (9.4% and 9%, respectively). If the Cubs need more at-bat grinding help from MLB ready prospects, than Logan Watkins is your man (8.3%) after Jackson.
- The frightening part of this is that behind the Castro/Rizzo/DeJesus trio, no other Cub projects to have as high as a .320 OBP.
- Home Runs: Anthony Rizzo is the HR leader at 31 with Alfonso Soriano 2nd at 26. The next Cubs players on the list may suprise you. Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters both project to hit 17 and minor league signee Brad Nelson projects to hit 16. Of the guys in the expected opening day lineup, Castro is 3rd at 14 HRs while Castillo (12) and Valbena or Stewart (both at 11) also project to hit double digit HRs. Surprisingly, if Junior Lake gets at 522 PAs (highly, highly unlikely), he also projects to hit double digit HRs at 10.
- Slugging: As you might expect Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs best slugger and the only over .500 at .503. Alfonso Soriano is next at .470 and Castro 3rd at .446. Other interesting names over the 400 mark incude Nate Schierholtz (.417), Josh Vitters (.413), and Brett Jackson (.403). Welington Castillo just missed the cut at .398.
- ISO: Rizzo (.224) edges out Soriano (.221). The next highest Cub is Brett Jackson at .173. If the Cubs have similar projections to what we've seen with ZiPS so far, I have to think they'll stick with DeJesus at CF and bring Jackson up at some point mid-season. Cubs over .150 include Ian Stewart (.166), Welington Castillo (.158), Nate Schierholtz (.154), Starlin Castro (.152), and Josh Vitters (.151).
- The Cubs won't be a fast team but if Tony Campana winds up playing everyday, he's projected to steal 43 bases.
- Apparently almost all the speed is on the farm. If they were to get regular playing time, Matt Szczur (28), Junior Lake (26), Brett Jackson (22), Logan Watkins (21), and Christian Villanueva (20) would be among the Cubs top threats on the bases.
- Of the guys expected in the opening day lineup, Castro is 24 and he's the only starter who projects in double digits. Possible reserves Bryan Bogusevic (16) and Dave Sappelt (14) also offer some speed.
- Starlin Castro (12) and Brett Jackson (10) are the only Cubs projected to hit double digits in triples.
- We expect the Cubs to have an above average regular at every position except possibly CF but the only Cubs regulars on the positive side in Def are Darwin Barney (10), Anthony Rizzo (4), Nate Schierholtz (1) and Alfonso Soriano (1). DeJesus is at an even 0. Reserve Tony Campana is above average (5).
- Of the rookies/minor league players Christian Villanueva (4) comes out on top. Logan Watkins (3), Matt Szczur (3), and JC Boscan (2) are also plus defenders.
- ERA/FIP: The best ERA/FIP of the starters belongs to Jeff Samardzija at 3.62 and 3.52. Matt Garza is next at 3.68/3.69. Edwin Jackson has a better FIP than Garza at 3.66, but for him it translates to a 3.91 ERA. Scott Baker is the 4th best starter in this group at 3.95/3.82. Carlos Villanueva has a sub-4 ERA projection at 3.98 while Scott Feldman has a sub 4 FIP projection at 3.81.
- The bullpen is solid but not really dominant. Their top 4 relievers project to have a sub 4 ERA/FIP. The are Carlos Marmol (3.36/3.61), Kyuji Fujikawa (3.38/3.37), James Russell (3.82/3.39), and Shawn Camp (3.92/3.72). Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon projects to a 4.73 ERA while the top rookie is Arodys Vizcaino at 3.83
- Strikeouts: Jeff Samardzija is your leader at 172 while Edwin Jackson is projected to whiff a very solid 159. Matt Garza is at just 140 but he's projected at just over 150 innings, so it's one of the better rates on the team. Travis Wood is next at 135 while Scott Baker and Carlos Villanueva also project in triple digits at 100 each.
- As far as strikeout % goes the Cubs top starter is again Jeff Samardzija (24.1%). The Cubs are strong as far as strikeout rates go. Starters at 20% or better are Matt Garza (21.8%) and Scott Baker (21%) and Carlos Villanueva (21%). Edwin Jackson just missed the cut at 19.8% and Travis Wood projects at a respectable rate of 18.1%.
- Among relievers Carlos Marmol has a robust rate of 31.9%. Fujikawa also comes in high at 26.5%. Alberto Cabrera (23.7%) and Arodyz Vizcaino (23.8%) project well if they pitch in relief, but we expect them to be starters at the minor league level. Of the guys expected to make the team, Michael Bowden is the only other guy at above 20% (20.3%)
- Walks: Of the Cubs 7-deep rotation, all of them project at significantly less than 10% walk rate. Scott Baker (6.3%) is the lowest while Carlos Villanueva has the highest at a still respectable 8.6%. Scott Feldman also projects to have good control (6.6%).
- The control is a little more iffy in the bullpen with a lot of average or worse rates. The best control in the bullpen is Shawn Camp (6.8%), the worst, as you might expect is Carlos Marmol at 16.1%, though it is an improvement that translates to about one less walk per 9 IP compared to last year. If the Cubs need another strike thrower, Cory Wade (6.9%) is an option. Feldman may ultimately help out here as well.
This is always fun, but it's purely based on numbers and not tools, stuff, etc. so it's not an exact comparison from a natural ability standpoint. Here are the more interesting comps...
- Starlin Castro/Robin Yount
- Anthony Rizzo/Kent Hrbek
- Darwin Barney/Jose Lind
- Alfonso Soriano/George Foster
- David DeJesus/Dave Martinez
- Tony Campana/Willy Tavares
- Jeff Samardzija/Kirk McCaskill
- Edwin Jackson/Kris Benson
- Scott Baker/Hideki Irabu
- Carlos Marmol/Ryne Duren
- Kyuji Fujikawa/Rob Nen
- Arodys Vizcaino/Atonio Osuno
- Both Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley's #1 comp was the same guy: Wes Whisler
And there you have it.
The projections/comps aren't very exciting for Cubs fans, but it's always fun. We know Theo Epstein has his own computer models and it's likely it differs somewhat. Moreover, we know this front office values intangibles such as mental makeup very highly, so part of the plan is to find guys who will actually outperform projections, as Samardzija did last season.
Building a team is a blend of art and science, but when we look at the less than optimistic scientific/statistical part of this 2013 projection, we can only hope that, for this season, when it comes to the "artistic or creative"/non-statistical side, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are the MLB equivalents of Picasso and Rembrandt.
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