Despite a colossal collapse at the end of the season you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t believe that the 2023 Chicago Cubs outperformed their projections. While the optimism is high based on that overproduction, the signing of Shota Imanaga, the trade for Michael Busch, and the signing of new skipper Craig Counsell, the question is:
Which team is better on paper, the 2023 Chicago Cubs actual performance or the 2024 Chicago Cubs projected performance?
We’ll be utilizing Fangraphs for this piece and looking specifically at their WAR from 2023 and their projected WAR for 2024. This isn’t a perfect exercise and teams often overperform or underperform relative to their projections all the time, but it’s January so this is what we’re resorting to.
2023 Performances: 14.1 WAR
Justin Steele 4.9 WAR
Kyle Hendricks 2.8 WAR
Marcus Stroman 2.7 WAR
Jameson Taillon 1.6 WAR
Drew Smyly 0.9 WAR/Javier Assad 0.9 WAR/Jordan Wicks 0.3 WAR
2024 Projections: 11.5 WAR
Justin Steele 3.3 WAR
Shota Imanaga 2.6 WAR
Jameson Taillon 1.8 WAR
Kyle Hendricks 1.4 WAR
Jordan Wicks 1.2 WAR/Javier Assad 0.7 WAR/Drew Smyly 0.5 WAR
The obvious problem in this situation is not the loss of Marcus Stroman as the projections expect Shota Imanaga to produce almost identical WAR to what the Cubs lost. The problem is that even with Jordan Wicks and Jameson Taillon expected to have better seasons, the remainder of the rotation is expected to come back down to earth.
Justin Steele came out of nowhere (to those not in the Cubs’ ecosystem) to be a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate. Kyle Hendricks bounced back from injuries in a way that no one could have imagined. Javier Assad and Drew Smyly proved to be capable swingmen at different points throughout the season.
For as much as the team underperformed down the stretch, they had spent the majority of the season overperforming and Fangraphs unfortunately doesn’t anticipate that continuing into 2024.