Today, I'll attempt to assess the Cubs for the upcoming season. Once again - I'm simply looking at the Win Shares of the key players on the roster over the last 3 years and making an estimate as to how many the Cubs can expect to receive from these players in 2005. Rotation
Having to go without Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in 2004 is largely credited with the Cubs missing the playoffs, which is fair. Prior and Wood only combined to make 43 starts last year, compared to 62 in the previous season. By simply looking at Win Shares in 2003 vs. 2004, the loss of Prior and Wood cost the Cubs as many as 5 wins on the season, putting them into the playoffs if they had been healthy. And this same argument is helping the average Cub fan to look to the 2005 season with hope.
2004 Win Shares
Zambrano - 19
Maddux - 12
Rusch - 9
Wood - 8
Prior - 7
(Note: Clement had 11 in 2004)
Carlos Zambrano may be a nut job, but he's a great pitcher. This guy doesn't turn 24 until June 1st, yet has already finished in the top 7 in the NL in ERA twice, and last year was in the top 10 in the league in ERA, wins, strikeouts, innings, and complete games. Oh, and he led the majors in hit batsmen with 20. Want an interesting comparison? Bob Gibson never hit more than 13 batters in a season.
Cubs fans should be a little nervous about the workload that Zambrano has seen at such a young age, exceeding 209 innings in each of the past 2 seasons. But so far, Zambrano has taken everything Dusty Baker has thrown at him and only improved. Over the last 2 seasons, Zambrano has posted 19 and 18 win shares. I'm going to write him down to have 20 in 2005.
Greg Maddux, the eternal 15 game winner, was the 2nd most valuable pitcher on the Cub's staff last year. His ERA+ of 113 was actually a slight improvement over the 105 he posted the previous season. Considering that Maddux turns 39 in April - well, he has to decline at some point. Maddux had 12 WS in 2004, and 11 in 2003. I'm going to assume that Maddux has one more solid season left in him, and give him a 10 WS prediction for 2005.
Glendon Rusch essentially came out of no where last year to keep the Cubs in the Wild Card race. Note his ERA+ trend over the past 4 seasons:
2001 - 89
2002 - 85
2003 - 68
2004 - 131
How good is a 131 ERA+? Kerry Wood has only exceeded that level once in his career when he posted a 133 in 2003. The Cubs having 129.2 innings of Rusch pitching like Kerry Wood was a huge plus for the North Siders last year. Did he learn how to pitch at the age of 29?
In 2004, Rusch had 9 WS. I haven't been able to find a Win Share total for Rusch in 2003, but in 2002 he had 7 WS for the Brewers over 210.2 innings. Based upon that season and the fact that I think Rusch was very lucky last year, I'm going to assume he can match the 7 WS mark in 2005.
That brings us to the guys the Cubs need to be healthy. First, Kerry Wood. Wood had quite a disappointing year, going 8-9 with a 3.72 ERA. His 122 ERA+ was quite respectable, but being limited to 140.1 innings due to injury hurt his counting stats. And, of course, critics of Wood always point to the fact that he's "never had more than 14 wins in a season." Personally, I'll point to the fact that he's played for horrible teams, but for some reason that gets ignored.
If Wood can stay healthy this year, he could be huge. He will turn 28 in June, and with a lower workload last year he may in fact be healthy again. Wood's career high in Win Shares was 18, which he posted in 2003. I'm going to go out on a limb ever so slightly and give him a 20 WS projection for this year.
Then there's Mark Prior - the man that was never going to get hurt due to his perfect mechanics. So much for that theory. In 2003? He was a stud. In 2002? He performed at the same level as his 38 year old rotation mate, just over fewer innings.
I'm a huge Mark Prior fan. I think he's going to be a blast to watch for years to come, and that he's going to be back to 2003 levels (if not better) this year. Assuming Dusty Baker doesn't overdo it, of course. Prior had 22 WS in 2003. This year, I think he can put together another 22 WS season, putting him back as the ace of the staff.Bullpen
The Cubs bullpen had plenty of problems last year. Consider this - the Cubs had 8 relievers combine for 32 win shares. The Cardinals and Astros each had 39 WS out of the bullpen, giving both teams approximately 2 more wins out of relief pitching alone. What's more, 56.3% of the Cubs bullpen WS came from just two players - LaTroy Hawkins with 12 and Kent Merker with 6.
And, of course, it gets better. The Cubs let Kent Merker go to free agency, and further traded away their #3 bullpen pitcher in Kyle Farnsworth (3 WS in 2004). And they've added? Well....not much. An area that was a weakness for the Cubs in 2004 is even more uncertain in 2005 as they will be counting on AAA callups, retreads, and reruns.
Hawkins will be back, and is a great bullpen asset. Over the last 3 years, he's had 12, 13, and 11 WS. I suspect he'll be right back again this year with 12 WS. He appears to be best suited to work in setup, and it looks like he'll be back in that role this year.
Mike Remlinger missed time with an injury last year, only pitching 36.2 innings instead of his usual 70. Of course, considering that he turns 39 in March, it's hard to imagine that not happening to him again this year. He had 3 WS last year - I think that's likely to be what he does again this year.
Here's an interesting one for you - the Cubs let Merker go, as was already mentioned. Who is going to replace him as the 2nd lefty? As far as I can tell, they only southpaw they signed was Stephen Randolf who posted an 81 ERA+ for the DBacks last year. Randolf did have 3 WS last year, however, over 81.2 innings (including 6 starts). Let's scale him back to 2 WS this year due to a likely reduced work load.
That leaves the production provided last year by the likes of Leicester, Wuertz, and Beltran. Rather than getting too carried away, I'm simply going to say that the back end of the Cubs bullpen will provide them with 7 WS, which is what the 3 of them had last year.
After those guys it gets even murkier.
Ryan Dempster is supposedly the Cubs closer heading into Spring training. Dempster looked decent last year coming off of an injury - 116 ERA+ over 20.2 innings. However, he walked 13 batters over those innings, which has always been his problem. Last year was also just the 2nd time over his 7 year career that he's posted an ERA under 4.71. Personally, I'm not sold on him, although some claim he's well suited for bullpen work. For now, I'm simply going to assume that he can replace Farnsworth in the pen, giving him 3 WS on the season.
Other Cubs projects for this year include Chad Fox and Scott Williamson. Both have been solid in the past, both are struggling with injuries. Fox may be able to have an impact in 2005, while Williamson likely won't help until 2006.Lineup
Talk about a different look. Out is the face of the Cubs for the last decade along with Bartman's best freind. In are Jeromy Burnitz and Jerry Hairston, Jr. How much production are the Cubs going to lose?
2004 Win Shares
Ramirez - 22
Lee - 21
Patterson - 19
Burnitz - 18
Barrett - 15
Walker - 14
Nomar - 6 (11 over 81 Games on the year)
Hairston - 8
(Note - Gone are Alou with 26, Sosa with 14, and Grudzielanek with 9)
Aramis Ramirez finally put together the type of season expected of him last year. Well, I say expected - he was only 26 years old. Ramirez had career highs in batting average, OBP, SLG, R, BB, HR - the list is long. His OPS+ of 136 was the best he had posted since his 125 in 2001. Do keep in mind, however, that Ramirez is just 3 years removed from a season in which he posted a 69 OPS+ with and OBP of 279. However, I think that was a fluke. ARam had 22 WS last year after posting 19 the year before. Chalk him up for 20 this year due to a slight decrease in production.
Derek Lee had a great season last year as well, posting career highs in hits and doubles and just missing his first 100 RBI season. Interestingly enough, Lee was off last year. His 114 OPS+ was lower than his previous 2 seasons (135 and 131 respectively), and his 21 WS was as well (25 and 23). Considering that he'll be 29 this season, I see no reason why he won't have a bounce back this year, posting 24 WS.
People forget that Corey Patterson is still very young. Despite being 24 for most of last season, Patterson managed to hit 24 home runs, steal 32 bases, and play solid defense in centerfield. He also saw his walk totals climb from a career high of 19 to 45. I'm not sold that he's ever going to be an OBP machine, but he's a solid player for a centerfielder. For this exercise, I'm going to assume that Patterson will progress a little more this year and provide the Cubs with 20 WS.
Nomar Garciaparra is an interesting player. After posting back to back 1000 OPS seasons in 1999 and 2000, Nomar has never been the same. Various injuries have kept him from reaching those amazing numbers since. (I'll ignore any Jose Canseco inspired rumors on Nomar.) With 4 straight seasons of 880 or less OPS, I think that it's safe to say that Nomar likely won't see those levels again. He should, however, be able to be a great player for the Cubs this season, assuming he can play in 150 or so games. Last year, Nomar would have had 22 WS if he had played a full season, even though he was playing through an injury. The previous 2 seasons saw Nomar posting 25 and 27 Win Shares. I think the Cubs can expect to get 24 WS out of him again this year, helping them replace the loss of Alou.
Michael Barrett had a career year last year, posting a 105 OPS+ over the season despite a career mark of 81. Barrett isn't going to regress to his 2003 level of 63, but it's hard to imagine him repeating his 2004 performance with the bat this year. From a WS standpoint, I think that he's likely to produce 12 this year, which would match his 2002 total.
Jeromy Burnitz gets a nice, juicy contract thanks to playing half of his games in Coors field. Are there really GM's out there that don't get that in 2005? Apparently so. Burnitz is a player that only provides value from his power. Over the past 3 seasons, his OBP has been .356, .299, and .311. And of course, the .356 came in a hitter's park. From a Win Shares standpoint, Burnitz had created 18, 9, and 7 over the past 3 years. One of these is not like the others. I think Burnitz will likely hit 30 home runs this year, but still only create 11 WS. And I might be generous in giving him that many.
That leaves the confusion of 2nd base and left field for the Cubs. Todd Walker is likely to start the bulk of the games at 2nd base, with Todd Hollandsworth and Jason DuBois available in left. And then there's Jerry Hairston Jr. who can play both positions. Combine that with Dusty Baker's preference to play veterans, and I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen here. My best guess is that Hairston is going to limit Walker's playing time by a little, and will limit DuBois already limited playing time by a lot.
At 2nd Base, Todd Walker will probably see a little more playing time than last year. Walker is a solid hitter who gets on base, although he's not a world beater (97 career OPS+). His glove gets a bad rap, as he's league average at worst. Over the last 3 years, Walker has had 14, 15, and 21 Win Shares, with the 21 coming when he played 155 games with the Reds. Since he's highly unlikely to play that much this year, I'm going to give Walker a 15 WS prediction.
In Left Field, Baker was expected to platoon Hollandsworth and DuBois, giving Hollandsworth the bulk of the at-bats. With Hairston on hand, I'm going to assume that he and Hollandsworth will in fact get the majority of the starts. This also makes the prediction easier, as neither Hollandsworth nor Hairston usually play the entire season injury free. Hollandsworth had 6 win shares last year over just 167 PA's. Of course, he was playing out of his mind, posting an OPS+ of 134, his best in 3 years. Over his career, Hollandsworth has a 101 OPS+, posting 96 and 97 in the 2 seasons leading up to 2004. I'm going to go back to his 2002 season, in which he got 430 at-bats to project his 2005 campaign. That season he got 12 WS between the Rockies and the Rangers. Since he's now 2 years older, let's give him a 10 WS prediction for this year.
That leaves Hairston, who will get starts at both 2nd and left. Over the last 2 years, he's averaged about 250 at-bats, which should approximate his playing time this year. He chalked up 8 WS last year, and 7 the year before. Another 7 WS this year should be about right.Bench
And you thought their bullpen was weak? The Cub's bench was almost a joke last year. In 2004, the top 3 teams in the NL Central featured the following amount of WS.
Cardinals - 39 Win Shares (13 Wins)
Astros - 36 Win Shares (12 Wins)
Cubs - 24 Win Shares (8 Wins)
I knew the Cubs bench was bad last year, but had no idea just how bad. Just looking at their weaker bench and bullpen, the Cubs had 7 fewer wins than the Cardinals last year. And what have they done for this year? They've promoted their best bench player, Hollandsworth, to the starting lineup, and let their other one, Ramon Martinez, go to free agency. Hollandsworth and Martinez combined to produce 12 WS last year - a full half of the total for the bench! It would have been even uglier had Neifi Perez not arrived late in the year and provided 4 WS by playing at a level he'll never sniff again. (And yes - he's back!)
The Cubs bench will usually consist of one of the three between Hollandsworth, Walker, and Hairston, so at least they'll have one decent pinch hitter available. After that, they have the likes of Henry Blanco, Neifi Perez, Jose Macias, and I suppose Jason DuBois. Dave Hansen was also given a Spring training invitation, and should have a good shot of making the bench.
Here's how I'm going to break it down. Hollandsworth/Walker/Hairston will reproduce the value created by Hollandsworth last year (this is already accounted for in the lineup section of this article, however). Jason DuBois will reproduce the value lost by Ramon Martinez leaving. Blanco and Bako will cancel each other out, and Macias will get his 4 WS from last year again. Neifi Perez will get 6 WS, helping the Cubs out by 2 more over his production last year (only over a season instead of a month.) That leaves the end of the bench - Dave Hanson? - to come up with at least 1 win share to make the Cubs bench as "good" as the 2004 version. I think he can do it. In fact, I'm going to say that the Cubs bench will actually be a little better than last year, posting an extra 3 WS (or 1 win.) Hard to imagine with that cast of characters, but that's what I'm going to stick to.Survey Says?
Starting Rotation - 79 Win Shares (66 in 2004)
Bullpen - 27 Win Shares (32 in 2004)
Lineup - 137 Win Shares (146 in 2004)
Bench - 27 Win Shares (24 in 2004)
That's 270 Win Shares, or 90 wins. Don't forget our friend Pythagoras, though. The Cubs had 5 - 5! - "unlucky" losses last year. If we assume that they can get a correction this year and have 5 "lucky" wins, the Cubs are projected to win 95 games, putting them right there with the Cardinals. Does this hold water?
Our little analysis shows the Cubs rotation improving in 2005 over 2004, giving the Cubs 4 more wins than last year. That seems to be conservative, if anything.
The bench also appears to be slightly better than the 2004 version, which I wouldn't have expected. The only way this becomes reality is if DuBois is allowed a decent amount of playing time, and if Dave Hansen makes the team.
The Cub offense does take a hit, however. The starting lineup appears poised to cost the team 3 wins over the 2004 version. Of course, this depends largely upon Nomar returning to pre-2004 form, but I don't think that's a long shot. Also key to the offense is the production of Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, and Corey Patterson. They have to play at or above their 2004 levels.
And, of course, the bullpen is a bit weaker on paper as well, costing the Cubs just under 2 wins from the 2004 season.
Looking at Win Shares alone, the Cubs appear to be about a wash over the 2004 version. Interestingly enough, luck factors more into my win prediction than performance. Can the Cubs in fact swing their luck around from having 5 fewer wins than expected to 5 more? To be honest, it's hard to imagine.
Usually, teams are not close to their predicted wins due to a bad record in close games, and by winning by large margins in blowouts. A bad record in close games is usually attributed to a bad bullpen - which the Cubs had last year and have not really addressed. And teams that blow out opponents from time to time are usually teams with a lot of power - which the Cubs had last year, but don't have as much of this year. With that being said - I'm sticking with my analysis method for the sake of consistency. (After all, my predictions have all seemed high to me thus far - so why change now?)
How can the Cubs improve? Obviously they need bullpen help, and could still use a corner outfielder or two.
How can they miss the playoffs? If just 1 of their top 3 starters (Zambrano, Prior, or Wood) miss half of the season or more, things get tight for this team quickly.
NL Central Win Predictions
Cardinals - 95
Cubs - 95
Astros - 88
So far, it's shaping up to be a fun Summer.