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2015 Bill James Handbook: Chicago Cubs projections


The 2015 Bill James Handbook is out, and clearly the parts you should be interested in are the projections for the Chicago Cubs next season. At a quick glance they seem a bit optimistic, but James method, while refined over the years, can still be a large bit of guesswork. He breaks players up into five categories (number of players in group) as follows:

Players who had significantly less playing time in 2014 than projected (122)

Players who had significantly more playing time in 2014 than projected (23)

Player who hit better than 2014 projections (16)

Players who hit worse than 2014 projections (98)

Players whose projections turned out right in stats and playing time (165)

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With that said, one thing to be aware of is the numbers can’t take in many factors. Injury, platoons, benchings, etc. The numbers are based in large part of either past performance or perceived expectation…not a perfect science. So without further ado, James projections for some of the Cubs key hitters:

Arismendy Alcantara: 154 G, 582 AB, 38 2B, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 48 BB, 32 SB, .259/.317/.450
Javier Baez: 152 G, 612 AB, 33 2B, 32 HR, 82 RBI, 48 BB, 23 SB, .242/.298/456
Kris Bryant: 152 G, 530 AB, 32 2B, 33 HR, 75 RBI, 66 BB, 18 SB, .266/.347/.517
Welington Castillo: 118 G, 421 AB, 23 1B, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 41 BB, .259/.323/.413
Starlin Castro: 150 G, 582 AB, 34 2B, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 9 SB, 35 BB, .284/.329/.421
Junior Lake: 69 G, 156 AB, 8 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 6 SB, 9 BB, .256/.301/.417
Mike Olt: 102 G, 253 AB, 13 2B, 14 HR, 41 RBI, 31 BB, 89 K, .213/.304/.431
Anthony Rizzo: 158 G, 598 AB, 39 2B, 34 HR, 99 RBI, 74 BB, 6 SB, .274/.362/.478
Jorge Soler: 146 G, 542 AB, 36 2B, 28 HR, 94 RBI, 67 BB, 2 SB, .247/.330/.483
Luis Valbuena: 132 G, 407 AB, 25 2B, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 51 BB, .241/.328/.396

Looking at these projections, a few things jump out. Rizzo is getting shorted. Period. His power numbers might not be far off, but I think in the end he’ll be closer to a .300 hitter than .274. If Olt was to play 102 games, he’s going to hit more than 14 home runs. It’s hard to predict Bryant, with no MLB experience to go from. And Valbuena’s numbers do look on par for his career,but there aren’t 380+ games to go around for those three. This is one of the “flaws” in the system.

Alcantara’s numbers look a bit ambitious, but Baez and Castro seem to be right on point. Soler is another that I think James is going to miss on. He’s a well-rounded hitter, and I see better numbers than a .247 average. There also seems to be a belief the Cubs will hit a lot of home runs, and steal very few bases. My feel is James hasn’t taken into account Joe Maddon. But some numbers to have some fun with.

How about the pitchers? They haven’t been forgotten. But James has admitted projecting pitching is much tougher than hitting. Projected W-L records tend to be near .500. James rarely forecasts “Cy Young” type seasons. He doesn’t have any starters forecasting out to more than 16 wins.

Jake Arrieta: 31 GS, 195 IP, 18 HR, 66 BB, 174 K, 12-10, 3.55 ERA
Kyle Hendricks: 28 GS, 176 IP, 8 HR, 39 BB, 135 K, 12-8, 3.17 ERA
Edwin Jackson: 28 GS, 164 IP, 18 HR, 64 BB, 130 K, 7-11, 4.50 ERA
Eric Jokisch: 27 GS, 174 IP, 16 HR, 46 BB, 140 K, 10-9, 3.57 ERA
Neil Ramirez: 66 G, 60 IP, 7 HR, 26 BB, 66 K, 3-3, 0 SV, 3.75 ERA
Hector Rondon: 64 G, 66 IP, 6 HR, 20 BB, 61 K, 4-4, 40 SV, 3.05 ERA
Pedro Strop: 66 G, 64 IP, 3 HR, 28 BB, 68 K, 4-3, 0 SV, 3.09 ERA
Jacob Turner: 27 G, 19 GS, 114 IP, 12 HR, 39 BB, 76 K, 5-7, 4.26 ERA
Tsuyoshi Wada: 27 GS, 151 IP, 18 HR, 45 BB, 133 K, 8-9, 4.05 ERA
Travis Wood: 31 GS, 185 IP, 20 HR, 72 BB, 146 K, 9-11, 3.99 ERA

Overall, the Cubs pitchers forecast out pretty well. If Jackson could go 7-11 I would be through the roof. But long ago I said it was time for him to go. I’m not even sure he’ll break camp with the Cubs. I believe Arrieta and Hendricks will surpass 200+ innings each. Jokisch seems to have some of the more favorable projections of the Cubs pitchers. Don’t expect 174 innings from him. Very unlikely.

A near .500 season and a sub 4.00 ERA would be welcomed for Travis Wood, and I believe he will have a bounce back season in 2015. Not the type of year he had in 2013, but more consistent at the least.Rondon at the end of the Cubs bullpen is more than capable of a 40 save season. He pitched lights out down the stretch last season, and was an amazing find for the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft two years ago.

The key with James’ projections, you have to look at them individually, not as a whole. If you do, they start to seem a bit crazy. Of the 10 hitters featured here, there are 203 home runs. Slightly askew. Have some fun with them. Use them to bide time till spring training starts. Baseball is of course a numbers game, and the Bill James Handbook is a great read for any true baseball fan.