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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)

39 Comments

  1. Bruce Fritz
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