Originally written on World Series Dreaming  |  Last updated 10/14/14
Hey remember that book a football player who was accused of murder wrote about how he would do the crime if he actually did the crime even though we know he committed the crime?                           The IF is in there, I swear. Uhhh, whoops, wrong guy. There we go. So I bring that up because I’m not saying that I am going to predict the Cubs will win 80 games, but if I were to predict the Cubs to win 80 games and generally not be awful this is how I would do it, since I wouldn’t do such a thing. Because I’m a cynic. And stuff. Ok, ok, how about this; I have a really good feeling that the Cubs will be something other than awful in 2013. No? Fine, I think the Cubs can win 80 games. I’ve agonized over this, as some of my blogmates can attest to. It’s an idea that Harry Pavlidis put forth on his twitter feed: I’m really starting to wonder about things like Stewart’s wrist and Garza’s forearm. This could be an 80 win team #aimhigh — Harry Pavlidis (@harrypav) January 24, 2013 And now, it’s an idea that I’m slowly starting to embrace. Certain segments of the internet are starting to as well (bonus blog from OV’s dmick89). The Cubs might just be an average team. Not awful, not great, but happily average. This is what the Cubs front office has acquired this offseason: Edwin Jackson Carlos Villanueva (pending the world’s longest physical) Scott Hairston (pending a hopefully shorter physical) Hector Rondon Kyuji Fujikawa Scott Feldman Chang-Yong Lim Nate Schierholtz Scott Baker and Dioner Navarro. Those aren’t big names. Zack Greinke is not on that list, neither is Josh Hamilton, neither is Albert Pujols or any other big name free agent that fans were pining for. That list is instead full of ok talent that can contribute to a dramatic improvement if things fall the right way. So how does this cast help the Cubs gain around 20 wins? Run prevention and a slight uptick in offense. Run Prevention In 2012 the Chicago Cubs finished with a 4.51 team ERA, which was good for 14th in the National League (only the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies were worse). The Cubs do not have a true ace on the staff, very few teams do. It’s certainly debatable whether the Cubs have a true #2 on staff as well. Jeff Samardzija seems to be the most likely candidate, but I digress. The fact is that the Cubs don’t have an abundance of really good starters. They don’t have a lot of guys that can miss bats either. Their 1128 K’s ranked 15th in the league, only ahead of the lowly Marlins. Low K’s means that more balls are put into play, and if you have a weak defense that can cause major issues and strain on the pitching staff. Run prevention does not occur in a vacuum, it’s a total team effort. So the Cubs attacked this issue on a few fronts. Better Starters Any hypothetical Cubs success will hinge on the pitching staff coming through in big ways. It’s going to have to start with the Starting staff, a unit that ranked 14th in IP. Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza will be the 1-2 combo at the top of the Cubs rotation when Garza gets healthy (he expects to be ready by the opener fwiw). Both pitchers miss bats at a fairly healthy clip, yet the Starters still only ranked 10th in the NL in terms of K%. Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, and Paul Maholm were guys that didn’t miss many bats. Volstad and Wood were both abject disasters while Maholm did enough to surprise and get traded to the Braves. The back-end of the starting staff has been overhauled. They added some pitchers that can miss bats. Edwin Jackson has the reputation of being a wild and sporadic starter that doesn’t provide much in value, but he does know how to miss bats. Jackson’s shown improvement in the K/9 department over the past three years, he’s flirted with an 8+ figure, butin that span it’s sat at 7.3. Carlos Villanueva has never logged 200 innings, and he’s pretty new to the whole starting gig, but he’s showcased good stuff and a pretty consistent ability to miss bats as well. He peaked in 2010 with an 11 K/9 number, but he got hurt and is likely to be more in the 8 K/9 range. Scott Baker is another guy that boasts a fairly healthy K rate, he strikes out 7.2 per 9 and peaked last year at 8.2 K/9. Not everyone on the staff is able to generate a lot of swings and misses. Scott Feldman is a guy that “pitches to contact.” his K/9 sits at 5.4. So, how do you help out a guy that relies on his defense? Improved defense Defense is definitely the last Sabermetric frontier. The numbers are there, but open to interpretation. The Cubs had a fairly solid infield defense last year, and the outfield defense did not completely suck according to the eye test.  The numbers didn’t hate the 2012 Cubs all that much either. The 2013 squad is faced with a problem in the outfield, however, since Brett Jackson needs to completely retool his swing. David DeJesus is a fine right fielder and a decent defensive player, but the Cubs OF defense was worse in two spots before the acquisitions of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston. Schierholtz covers a defensive deficiency in right. DeJesus moving to center prompted this move. Schierholtz has a really good arm and he is regarded as a good defensive right fielder. Scott Hairston can play both corner outfield spots and can stand in center for a few games. He’s regarded as an ok defensive outfielder. If Alfonso Soriano can keep the gains he made afield last year this unit has a shot at being competent, which is a plus. The infield defense completely hinges on Starlin Castro‘s development (as does the offense, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Castro needs to continue the improvement he saw after an atrocious start to the season at short. Castro’s arm slot and baseball IQ have been questioned in the past, and he’ll have to work hard to lay those questions to rest this year. What should not be questioned is his range, which might be top five in all of baseball. Castro has the tools, should he put it together the defense will be greatly improved. Not awful offense The Cubs had an atrocious offense last year. They were above average offensively in three positions, 1B (buoyed by a strong start from LaHair), SS, and LF. The Cubs also got a slightly below league average contribution from Darwin Barney. They were just awful in the other spots. The Cubs couldn’t find any offense from third with Ian Stewart, center, with the rotating carousel of Marlon Byrd, Brett Jackson and Tony Campana, catcher, or right. Now, David DeJesus is an ok offensive player, but he doesn’t have the power to be a good corner OFer. A move to center will hurt the defense but it might help the offense. The Cubs are set to employ an interesting three man platoon in the OF. Scott Hairston can hit lefties well and we’ve already covered that he can stand in all three outfield positions. While the Cubs don’t really have an elite offensive outfielder they have a collection of 4 guys that can make solid contributions, with Soriano being the best of the bunch. However, if the Cubs are going to improve on offense Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro need to take major steps forward. Major League pitching adjusted to Rizzo as he struggled in August before finding more success in September/October. It is important that he keeps the gains he made last year and becomes a slightly above average 1B next year. We can safely assume that Darwin Barney will be a below average offensive 2B and anything he provides over that is a bonus. The major X factors on the left side of the infield are key if the Cubs are to get to 80 wins. Starlin Castro’s patience has been a talking point since Theo’s arrival in Chciago. Many have speculated that Starlin isn’t a “Theo Guy” because he doesn’t play good defense and he doesn’t walk. Castro went through a crisis in June/July/August before rebounding in the season’s final month and coming away with a .283/.323/.430 line. That represents his worst year as a professional. Castro’s development at the dish is the most important aspect of this pseudo prediction. If Castro can make the jump and put up an elite line the Cubs offense will run much better. Synopsis It’s hard to predict a 20 game jump for any team. Let’s be honest, this all hinges on the Cubs being competitive throughout the season and not selling off major talent at the deadline. I fully expect some of the buy low guys like Baker and Feldman to be sold off should they be productive. This will likely cause a strain on a rotation that doesn’t have too much impact talent backing it up at the minor league level. The likely outcome is that the Cubs win 60-70 games. Should the Cubs go over that mark it will take a confluence of the events listed above, along with some serious managing by Dale Sveum. It’s a long shot, but it doesn’t seem so crazy right now. Perhaps it’s an old habit, but there are real reasons to hope for a big improvement by the Cubs next year. And it’s kinda weird.
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