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Why The Cubs Will Repeat As Champions

Written by , Posted in General

I’m really tired of Cub fans saying the Cubs probably won’t repeat as champions in 2017.  I say, why not dammit?!  I contend the Cubs are the team to beat in 2017 and I’m here to tell you why.  Full disclosure: I’m going to attempt to use Sabermetrics to make my case and totally geek out on you here, so if you have a problem with that you should probably stop reading now.  I’m a scientist and have a degree in engineering, so sue me.

The first hurdle to the Cubs winning the championship, of course, is to get to the post season and, ideally, to win the Central Division.  In 2016 the Cubs finished the season 17.5 games ahead of the Cardinals, 25 ahead of the Pirates, 30.5 ahead of the Brewers and 35.5 ahead of the Reds.  So question number one is, are the Cubs going to be worse in 2017 and/or are any of these teams going to improve enough to close the gap?  Let’s start with the question of whether the Cubs will be better or worse in 2017 than they were in 2016.

I’m going to make a few assumptions in figuring this out.  First, I’m going to use player’s 2016 (and sometimes ’15) numbers as the base for all my calculations.  And I actually think this approach is going to prove to be conservative because this team is so young that almost all of the Cubs starters figure to improve next year.  Secondly I’m going to make a bunch of educated guesses as to who is going to get what playing time in 2017.

First the easy part.  The Cubs have Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo returning in their 2016 roles, more or less.  Since the average big leaguer tends to improve until he is 28-30 years old, all of these guys with the exception of Zobrist should be better in 2017.  I can hear the snarky remarks flying now, but I am including Heyward in the “going to improve” camp because, honestly, does anyone think he could be any worse than he was in 2016?  For the sake of simplicity, and brevity, I’m not going to get into the weeds on this (there’s plenty of that to come in this article) so I’ll just say between Heyward being better offensively and all the young guys improving this should more than offset Zobrist’s decline, assuming there is one.  (His OBP in 2016 was his highest since 2012, and the 4th highest of his career, BTW.)  So even though I think this lot will be a net improvement in 2017 I’m willing to call it a wash here.  Advantage: Push.

So what significant changes will there be at Wrigley in 2017?  Let’s start with catcher.  Offensively, here are the lines from Cubs catchers last year, using Bill James’s basic Runs Created formula¹:

Player At Bats Hits Walks Total Bases Runs Created
Federowicz 31 6 1 8 1.8
Contreras* 166 47 17 88 30.6
Ross 166 38 30 74 25.7
Montero 241 52 38 86 27.8
TOTAL 85.9

* ~34% of Contreras’s playing time came in left field, so these numbers have been pared out of his total to represent the time he played catcher.

In 2017 David Ross will be gone. ;-(  Presumably Willson Contreras will be the starter and Miguel Montero will be his backup.  If we extrapolate out their numbers from 2016 to 2017 with Contreras getting 2/3 of the playing time we get

Player At Bats Hits Walks Total Bases Runs Created
Contreras 402 114 41 213 74.5
Montero 202 44 32 72 23.4
TOTAL 97.9

We can see that this projection has the Cubs getting 12 more offensive runs from the catcher position in 2017.  Woo Hoo!

Defensively the breakdown in 2016 was like this:

Player Innings Defensive Runs Saved
Federowicz 63 -3
Contreras 389.2* 1
Ross 448.2 13
Montero 559.2 -2
TOTAL 9

We can see that the Cubs catchers saved a total of 9 runs defensively, with the majority of that positive contribution coming from the defensive prowess of Grandpa Rossy.  Obviously, without him things aren’t looking quite as sunny on the defensive side in 2017.  But due to his arm strength, athleticism and short time playing the position I think Contreras has a very high defensive ceiling at catcher.  But even if we say he will be no better in 2017 than he was in ’16 we’re probably looking at no worse than +3 DRS from him.  Unfortunately, that is likely to be offset by -2 from Montero for a total of +1 and a net -8 when compared to 2016.  But with the 12 additional runs produced by the position offensively we are looking at a +4 for 2017.  Advantage: 2017.

As for the closer position let’s look at the numbers for Wade Davis and Aroldis Chapman for the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons.

WHIP H9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Davis ‘15 0.787 4.4 2.7 10.4 3.9
Chapman ‘15 1.146 5.8 4.5 15.7 3.52
Davis ‘16 1.131 6.9 3.3 9.8 2.94
Chapman ‘16 0.862 5.0 2.8 14.0 5.0

Davis was better in ’15 and Chapman was in ’16.  All in all I’d say they were pretty even over this span.  One thing I like about Davis is he’s never walked a lot of guys.  That always gave me that sinking feeling when Chapman just didn’t have his control that day and started doling out free passes.

One significant difference I did see between these two was in their career post season numbers.

WHIP H9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Davis 0.959 6.1 2.5 12.8 5.11
Chapman 1.180 7.1 3.5 11.1 3.13

Chapman’s postseason numbers are good, but Davis’s are undeniably better.  It should also be noted that the Cubs only had Chapman for half of the 2016 season.  Advantage 2017.

So far 2017 is looking pretty good.  Please return on February 11th for Part 2 of this series where we’ll discuss the Cubs’ fifth starter and outfield.

¹ Runs Created = ((Total Bases) * (Hits + Walks))/(At Bats + Walks)

  • Bruce Fritz

    You don’t think Maddon will try Schwarber at C for at least a few games?

    • I sure hope not!

    • Kyle

      I think he’ll play a few just to see how he does, but not more than 5.

      • cap’n realist

        All one needs to do is watch him catch a bullpen and you can see he’s a fish out of water back there.

        At least today’s writer was up front about the material. Saved me from reading the top part.

      • Doug S.

        There’s always Taylor Teagarden.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Is that the country music singer?

      • Seymour Butts

        Is he related to the Targaryens?

      • I thought it way Tealor Taygarden.

      • Bruce Fritz

        You’re probably right, but those 20sh at bats could still be included just like the 31 at-bats from Federowicz last year. Doesn’t take away from the end result, just picking a nit.

    • Adam Peters

      With that knee? No, I don’t. Like Kyle said below, Joe may throw him a bone and give him a handful of games catching in the second half of the season after he’s had more time to heal, but he was never very good defensively back there, and they’re not going to put that added stress on his knee just for kicks.

      • Bruce Fritz

        I agree that he doesn’t belong back there catching meaningful innings, but you still just made the point that he might see a few games, even if it’s as an experiment late in the season. Those games still count in the calculus, though I highly doubt it changes the outcome of the season in any way.

      • Bruce Fritz

        I do like the technical analysis, this was a good article btw. I’m only nit-picking on a small detail here.

  • Brad Lyerla

    Very nice analysis. I am convinced the Cubs will be better. But what if the Giants, Dodgers, Indians or someone else is better too? One game improvement for one of them in the playoffs and that would make all the difference.

    You could be exactly right and we still might not repeat.

    • Adam Peters

      You’re right, Brad. The Cubs could win 115 games in 2017 and not win it all. As we know that 5 game division series is a real roll of the dice. One mediocre starter throwing the game of his life can change the whole thing. I’ll talk about other teams in a later installment.

      • Brad Lyerla

        Look forward to that. Good piece here.

  • Jerry in Wisconsin

    You should read this comment section more. I have not see anyone here suggest that the Cubs will not successfully defend their World Series Title. In fact most of us know that the Cubs win their titles in multiples.

    • Oh I can pretty much guarantee we’re not the fans he’s referring to.

    • theguz7

      We gotta beat The Curse–been 108 yrs since we repeated!

      • Doug S.

        How many curses do we have?

      • Sherm

        Don’t say CAPS. Don’t say CAPS. Don’t say CAPS.

        CAPS?

        D’oh…………..

      • JTBarrett16

        That”s it, I’m outta here

      • Sherm

        You can’t go until we decide on this year’s trip – I know you want San Diego again, but don’t know that works for everyone. Are there other ideas being floated on the subject? I know Seymour wanted a weekend series…

      • JTBarrett16

        Simpsons! When you said that, that was what I thought of. I’ll spare you the core dump

      • JTBarrett16

        Even if we don’t meet up in San Diego, I’m still going to that series. The Dodgers series before it might work, but I would only be able to do Sunday. I’m flying out that Saturday to SD. My return flight to Boston is only $15. This year my rental car is going to be more than my airfare.

      • Kyle

        Y’all should come to Cincinnati! It’s right in the middle. The Cubs usually pound the Reds. There’s a river. And the weather is somewhat close to what it is in San Diego.

      • Sherm

        Works for me – I can get there in under 7 hours by car…

        And there’s a river.

      • Doug S.
      • Sherm

        ooh…a river of CHOCOLATE!!!

      • Kyle

        Chicago colors their river green, we color ours brown.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        I thought the Browns were in Cleveland.

      • Kyle

        Mike Brown, who’s family used to own Cleveland, is the owner of the Bengals. So, technically, the Browns are in Cincinnati.

      • JTBarrett16

        Paul Brown. Coached the Bengals. Was also Ohio State’s coach before Woody.

      • Joe Aiello

        We could carpool

      • Sherm

        I’m in! ROAD TRIP!!!!

      • cap’n realist

        A river? A real one, or one that’s flammable like they have in Cleveland?

      • Not sure you get the meaning of “somewhat”. 😉

      • Sherm

        I thought he meant that, like San Diego, they HAVE weather.

  • Sherm

    Most of last season I really didn’t think they could win it all – I saw, and mentioned, what I felt were too many deficiencies in certain fundamental parts of the game, but was (gloriously) wrong.

    It’s really hard to repeat as a champion in any major team sport – and baseball has proven that. It’s been what? 17 years? 12 in the NFL? We see it more in the NBA, but I don’t care about the NBA.

    So – in terms of pressure. Which was/is more? 108 years since the last one? Trying to repeat? My guess is the 108 years. I think they’ll be pretty loose this time around which will probably make them BETTER…

    Hope so, anyway!

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