Chicago Cubs: How to observe regression in 2016

Oct 18, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; (EDITORS NOTE: multiple exposure) Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the second inning in game two of the NLCS at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; (EDITORS NOTE: multiple exposure) Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the New York Mets in the second inning in game two of the NLCS at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

After an unexpected run in 2015, the Chicago Cubs may find that players struggle to duplicate their success from a year ago.

For all the good we’ve heard about and read about regarding the Chicago Cubs, what could happen if things don’t pan out the way we scripted it? At some point, the little voice in our minds, that negative, pessimistic tone waiting for the floor to fall under us, will speak up. We have been burned and tortured for years as a fan base and our fears are justified. I tried my hardest to enjoy the ride last year while I had that unwavering feeling that something was bound to happen because something always happens.

So what would 2016 look like if things don’t go as planned? The answer might seem frustrating but we need to keep perspective about our team. Progress can be slow and at times painful. I don’t doubt that this team will win it all at some point, but it’s a matter of timing.

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Regressing to the mean

A few players make prime candidates for a regression in 2016. First, understand that regression doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bust or a fluke. In many cases involving these players, we are more likely to witness them return to their normal statistical trends. It’s the by-product of the success they experienced last year.

Jake Arrieta officially had his coming-out party a year ago. Relatively unknown around the league, Arrieta had all but given up on baseball after things didn’t seem to be working in Baltimore. The NL Cy Young Award winner stunned the baseball universe by putting together perhaps the most ridiculous second half in Major League history. Arrieta finished the season with a record of 22-6 and an ERA of 1.77. After the all-star break, Arrieta went on a roll posting a 0.75 ERA, something you would normally see in a video game on the easiest level.

So here is the problem at hand. Arrieta threw almost 75 more innings in 2015 than at any other point in his career. He also surpassed his previous win total (10), which he got in 2011 with Baltimore and in 2014 with the Cubs. Fatigue was a factor in the playoffs and it will be imperative for Joe Maddon to reduce some of his innings to save him. Because of the limited use, expect Arrieta to be taken out of situations that he normally would battle through himself. This should cause his expected win total to fall some.

When 2016 is over, Arrieta will still be among the best, but seeing him around 15-5 and an ERA in the mid two’s seems fair.

The legend of Kyle Schwarber has grown and the stories continue to evolve like some greek mythology. The towering home runs, the Babe Ruth-like feel made him an instant hit. The type of success and the stamp he left in his wake might work against him next season. Teams have been studying him, trying to get a book on his tendencies and habits. Schwarber will have to show us he can adapt quickly because you can bet the league will be more prepared for him this time around.

A log-jammed outfield mixed with the improved scouting reports on him, Kyle may struggle at times. I would expect a similar home run total from a year ago, which would be bad considering this would be a full season worth of at-bats.

Falling off the table

The likely honoree in this category has been teetering on the edge for two seasons. Jason Hammel looked like a new player in his first stint with the team in 2014. Upon his trade to Oakland, which brought Addison Russell to Chicago, Hammel was never the same pitcher and wasn’t even added to the playoff roster when the Athletics played the Royals in the wildcard game.

Hammel, who will be 33 this season, matched his career high in wins last season at 10. In fact, he has won 10 games in four different years including the time he split between Chicago and Oakland. He was brought in to eat innings, something he will do without a problem. But with the Cubs in a playoff race, I imagine there will come a point when fans start demanding a change. Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood and Carl Edwards, Jr. are in the wings waiting if that happens. Hammel should project to be around the 9-win mark, but his ERA will climb.

Silent but steady

Raise your hand if you knew Chris Coghlan would have the year he did in 2015. Sure, a .250 BA doesn’t sound attractive, but how soon we forget that Coghlan has a career high in home runs and had his second highest total of RBI’s in his career. Just to add to the trend, his plate appearances increased as well. The only year that conquered these stats was in 2009, when Coghlan won Rookie of the Year with the Marlins.

We won’t see a dramatic swing in either direction regarding Chris Coghlan. He should hit around his career average and could see similar numbers in home runs and runs batted in.

Next: When will we see Almora?

2016 promises to have some excitement, and maybe this will finally be the year. Just keep in mind that progress means that we may take a few steps back before moving forward. Let’s just hope the growing pains don’t happen all at once.