NL Central Preview

The Chicago Cubs: 105 and Counting

Basics

  • Manager: Rick Renteria (first year)
  • 2013 Record: 66-96
  • 2013 Division Finish: Fifth place
  • 2013 Runs Scored: 602
  • 2013 Runs Allowed: 689
  • 2013 Attendance: 2,642,682
  • 2013 Payroll: $61.6 million
  • 2014 Expected Payroll:  $84.5 million

In the midst of a massive rebuilding project, the Cubs suffered through another losing season in 2013, finishing a tidy thirty games below even. It’s safe to say that 2014 won’t be the year the north-siders snap the 105-year streak of not winning a World Series.

But there’s always the future. Instead of dwelling on a major league roster full of holes the size of the John Hancock Center, Cubs fans rightfully point to the bounty of top prospects that President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are stockpiling. When you talk with the Cubbie faithful, they’ll typically speak the names Javier Baez and Kris Bryant with a sense of reverence, long before any mention of a current major league player for their team.

The Cubs fired Dale Sveum after two years and hired Rick Renteria as manager. Renteria was the Padres’ bench coach when Hoyer worked in the San Diego front office.

Key Losses from 2013

  • SP Scott Baker
  • OF Julio Borbon
  • RP Kevin Gregg
  • RP Matt Guerrier
  • C Dioner Navarro

Key Acquisitions/Extensions

  • C John Baker
  • IF Emilio Bonifacio
  • SP Jason Hammel
  • SP James McDonald
  • RP Jose Veras
  • RP Wesley Wright
  • OF Justin Ruggiano
  • Clark the Cub

Top Ten Prospects (Baseball America, Fangraphs)

Run Production

The Cubs hitting was dreadful in 2013. While they were second in the NL in home runs, they were fourteenth in On Base Percentage, fourteenth in Weighted Runs Created and fourteenth in line drive percentage. It’s no surprise they finished next to last in runs scored, ahead of only the Miami Marlins.

Projected 2014 Lineup

  1. Starlin Castro (23), SS
  2. Luis Valbuena (28), 3B
  3. Anthony Rizzo (24), 1B
  4. Nate Schierholtz (30), RF
  5. Junior Lake (23), LF
  6. Ryan Sweeney (29), CF
  7. Welington Castillo (26), C
  8. Darwin Barney (28), 2B

Only Anthony Rizzo and Starling Castro are sure bets to figure in the long-term core for the Cubs. Both are coming off a relatively down 2013. Rizzo hit 15 home runs and sported a .805 OPS in the first half of 2013, flashing his much-promised upside, but he slumped after the All-Star break. Castro had a flat out awful season in 2013 (.245/.284/.347; 70 wRC+). The organization desperately need a bounce-back year from their shortstop, who is still just 23  years old.

Darwin Barney’s wRC+ in 2013 was 50, second lowest in the major leagues among hitters with 500 plate appearances.

3B Mike Olt, who was a Baseball America top 25 prospect heading into 2013 had a disappointing 2013 but he’s reportedly fixed his vision problems and recovered from a concussion suffered the previous winter. It’s possible that he’ll break camp with the major league club and win the 3B job before too long.

Run Prevention

The Cubs starting pitching was just below the midpoint of the National League. They were ninth in ERA, eleventh in FIP, eleventh in xFIP, tenth in K/9 and tenth in BB/9.

Expected Rotation

  1. Jeff Samardzija (29), RH
  2. Travis Wood (27), LH
  3. Edwin Jackson (30), RH
  4. Jason Hammel (31), RH
  5. James McDonald (29), RH

It’s fair to say the Cubs rotation is full of question marks. The their starting staff is full of pitchers whose underlying fundamentals in 2013 didn’t match their success with earned runs allowed, in both directions.

By looking at his ERA (2012: 3.81, 2013: 4.34) it appears that Jeff Samardzija didn’t follow through on his breakout 2012 season in 2013. But His FIP and xFIP were close in line over the two seasons. While his K/9 fell slightly and BB/9 rose a bit, both fundamentals remained considerably better than his career average. Samardzija has an above average fastball (>94 mph) and excellent splitter. He’s been designated to pitch Opening Day for the Cubs in Philadelphia.

Travis Wood had a great 2013 by certain measures (3.11 ERA) but poor by others (4.50 xFIP and 6.48 K/9). That discrepancy normally points to a degree of luck, and that’s exactly what happened with the former-Reds lefty. Wood benefited from the second-largest positive differential between his ERA and SIERA among all qualified starters. His .248 BABIP likely won’t be sustained in 2014. It’s hard to imagine a fly-ball pitcher continuing his success at preventing runs pitching at Wrigley Field. Wood was chosen by manager Rick Renteria to start the home opener for the Cubs.

Edwin Jackson, who was signed to a 4-year/$52 million deal in 2013, experienced the opposite of Wood last season. He was unlucky with BABIP (.322) and because of that, his ERA (4.98) was inflated above what the fielding-independent numbers (FIP 3.79, xFIP 3.86) predict. Despite Jackson’s ERA fluctuations over the past few years, he’s actually been pretty steady when it comes to the fundamentals of how he’s pitched.

New free agent addition, Jason Hammel, began the 2012 season for the Orioles with 87 strikeouts in 89 2/3 IP. If Hammel has a similar first half for the Cubs, expect the front office to move him for younger pieces like they did Scott Feldman last year. But that is far from assured as Hammel slumped both in the second half of 2012 and throughout 2013.

Jake Arrieta is recovering from a spring injury and he’ll have a shot at the fifth starting role once he’s healthy.

Bullpen

The Cubs bullpen was a disaster in 2013. They were last in FIP and xFIP and were thirteenth in ERA. One reason was the ease with which they surrendered free bases, finishing next to last in walks allowed. They blew 26 saves, trailing only the Arizona Diamondbacks in that category. The main culprits, Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol, have moved on.

  • Closer: Jose Veras (33)
  • Set-up: Pedro Strop (28), Wesley Wright (29), Blake Parker (28)
  • Lefty specialist: James Russell (28)

The Cubs signed free agent Jose Veras to a one-year, $3.85 million contract with a team option for 2015. Veras did a decent job as Houston’s closer for the first four months of 2013, converting 19 of 22 save opportunities. He was traded at last-year’s deadline to Detroit where he served mostly as a set-up reliever. Next in line for the Cubs would be Pedro Strop, who they acquired at the trade deadline from the Orioles. The Cubs also signed free agent Wesley Wright. Strop, Blake Parker and Cincinnati-native James Russell give the Cubs respectable set-up options.

3 thoughts on “The Chicago Cubs: 105 and Counting

  1. The Cubs are one of those teams you have to look at and take stock. Yeah, their not ready in 2014, but 2015? Hmmm…. they could be something. Will they catch the Cardinals by 2015, no way. But could they catch the rest of the division, perhaps. We’ll see.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s