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Why the Cubs Will Repeat As Champions, Part 2

Written by , Posted in General

I’m back to continue my argument that the Cubs will still be the team to beat in 2017.  I’ll get right to it by continuing my analysis of how the 2017 Cubs will be different from the 2016 version.

Jason Hammel is gone.  Assuming Mike Montgomery will be Hammel’s replacement let’s have a look at how they compare.  I’ll spare you a table of stats and just say Jason Hammel was a very capable 5th starter in 2016.  He made 30 starts and logged 166 2/3 innings.  The baseball geeks contend that the most telling and concise stat for pitchers is ERA+ which adjusts for ballpark and is supposed to be a more accurate one number measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness.  League average is 100, with a higher number being better.  e.g. Kyle Hendricks led MLB with an ERA+ of 188 in 2016.  In 2016 Jason Hammel’s ERA+ was 105.  Just above average.  So the question is, can Mike Montgomery be slightly better than average as a starter next year?  Which is to say, can he make 30 starts and give the team 5 ½ innings per start on average while not getting absolutely shelled in the process?  Well, his ERA+ in 2016 was 161, which is pretty damn good.  Granted, that was primarily as a reliever and those numbers won’t necessarily translate directly to how he will fare as a starter.  But the Cubs’ front office seems to think he can be a good one, and given their track record with this kind of thing (e.g. Jake Arrieta) so do I.  In fact I’ll go further and say, I think there’s a good chance he will be an above average starter.  But since there’s no good way to quantify that assertion I’ll say Advantage: Push.

Now the real fun begins—the outfield.  Obviously, this gets very squirrely in a hurry because it is impossible for me to predict exactly how much playing time Albert Almora, Jr., Jon Jay or Kyle Schwarber will get.  Additionally, will Kris Bryant play significant time in the outfield in 2017?  What about Willson Contreras?  Where does Ben Zobrist fit in here?

Let’s take a look at the numbers from 2016.  Again using Bill James’s basic Runs Created Formula¹

Player At Bats Hits Walks Total Bases Runs Created
Fowler 456 126 79 204 78.17
Soler 227 54 31 99 32.62
Contreras* 77 22 8 38 13.41
Heyward 530 122 54 172 51.84
Bryant* 200 58 25 111 40.95
Szczur 185 48 13 74 22.80
Zobrist* 118 32 22 53 20.44
Almora 112 31 5 51 15.69
Coghlan 90 23 19 35 13.49
TOTAL 289.40

* ~34% of Contreras’s playing time came in left field.  These numbers have been pared out of his total to represent his offensive production for that time.  Ditto Bryant and Zobrist.

We see that Fowler created 78.17 runs in 2016, Jorge Soler 32.62 and Chris Coghlan 13.49.  And since in my last article I gave Contreras all of his playing time in 2017 at catcher it would be cheating not to subtract his 2016 number for when he was in the outfield, which was 13.4 RC.  So that’s 137.69 runs the 2017 Cubs have to find in center and left field.

If we use Kyle Schwarber’s Post-Season numbers as our base we see that he created 14.43 Runs in 14 games.  So if we extrapolate that out to a whole season of 150 games we see that he will produce roughly 155 runs.  This alone makes up for Fowler, Soler, Coghlan and Contreras’s 2016 contributions.  BOOM!  Case closed!

Seriously though, here are Schwarber’s regular season numbers from 2015, and Jon Jay’s and Albert Almora, Jr’s from 2016.

Player At Bats Hits Walks Total Bases Runs Created
Schwarber 232 57 36 113 39.21
Jay 347 101 19 135 44.26
Almora, Jr. 112 31 5 51 15.69

 

I know this is overly simplistic, but I’m going to say that Almora and Jay will get all the time in centerfield and will split it 50/50.  I’m also going to say that Schwarber will get all of the at bats that Soler (227), Coghlan (90) and Contreras got while playing outfield (77) in 2016 because the first two are gone and I think Willson’s days as an outfielder are done.  So extrapolating out that looks like this:

Player At Bats Hits Walks Total Bases Runs Created
Schwarber 394 124 78 245 66.67
Jay 250 73 13 98 32.05
Almora, Jr. 250 69 10 113 34.33
133.05

 

Now I know I’m underestimating Schwarber’s total bases here (his 83 home runs alone will equate to 332 total bases) but I’m intentionally lowballing to prove a point.  If Schwarbs only hits as well as he did in 2015, during which we all have to recognize he had his struggles, he still will produce runs at almost the exact same rate that Fowler did.  As a group this lot, on paper, looks to be last year’s offensive equal.  As for defensively, centerfield will be better this year, and I don’t think Schwarber’s D is all that much worse than Soler’s.  All in all I’m going to say, Advantage: Push.

And for anyone who wants to argue that we don’t have a “true leadoff hitter” now (aka the guy who gets on then gets himself into scoring position by stealing bases, a la Rickey Henderson) and therefore our offense is screwed, I would point out that Kyle Schwarber had as many stolen bases as Fowler did this postseason.  Small ball wasn’t the Cubs’ game in 2016 and it won’t be in 2017 either.

In summary, while the chemistry will certainly be different the Cubs 2017 squad looks to be every bit as formidable as the 2016 version.

Next Friday in Part 3 I’ll take a look at the Cubs’ competition and figure out how by much they will win the division.

 

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

17 Comments

  1. Brad Lyerla
    • Doc Raker
  2. Doc Raker
  3. Sherm
    • Doug S.
      • JTBarrett16