PECOTA projections do not love the Chicago Cubs ahead of the 2023 season

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages

If it wasn't already clear from FanGraphs' ZiPS system, the Chicago Cubs are not a projected favorite to win the division or even a wild card spot. Although they spent over $300 million in free agency this year and generally raised the floor as a whole, there were just so many holes to fill this offseason that it was going to be hard to make this team a real contender. There are moves you can certainly argue they should've made and places where more spending could've been worth it, but it's somewhat understandable, with players like Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner, how things played out.

I say this all as a preamble to set the scene for Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projections which just released and are even lower on the Cubs than ZiPS.

2023 National League Central Standing Projections via Baseball Prospectus PECOTA

  1. Milwaukee Brewers, 87.6-74.4
  2. St. Louis Cardinals, 87.5-74.5
  3. Chicago Cubs, 77.1-84.9
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 70.4-91.6
  5. Cincinnati Reds, 66.2-95.8

Like ZiPS, PECOTA puts the Cubs firmly in third place with a ten-game chasm in between them and the second-place Cardinals. For what it's worth, that's a much larger gap than ZiPS projected between second and third as it was much lower on the Brewers with only 83 wins. By PECOTA's simulated win percentage charts which show the different percentile outcomes, it certainly looks like the Cubs would have to do some decent overachieving to reach the Brewers and Cardinals' most likely outcome and not a lot of underachieving to reach the Pirates.

Playoff chances are especially grim too. Their chances at winning the division sit at a brutal 4.2% and National League Wild Card hopes are barely better at 5.3%, sitting them at only a 9.5% chance to sniff the postseason. World Series chances are about as low as they can get too, at only 0.2%. Yikes.

Finding silver linings in some grisly Cubs projections

For as doom and gloom, as these projections may seem, it's not all terrible. For one, keep in mind that PECOTA projected the Cubs for 70.4 wins last year (granted, that's before the addition of Seiya Suzuki, but he alone wasn't going to move the needle there). They definitely exceeded that in part due to a sneakily solid rotation with Marcus Stroman finding his footing, Drew Smyly being surprisingly good, and Justin Steele breaking out. In reality, the team's strong finish as a whole last year definitely wasn't predicted.

They have some really high-variance players again this year like Cody Bellinger, a fairly solid rotation with an added Jameson Taillon and the chance to get better if a pitching prospect like Hayden Wesneski pops, and other guys like Matt Mervis and Brennen Davis waiting in the wings. There are definitely foreseeable outcomes where the Cubs can beat these projections with one or two things bouncing their way.

Another thing to point out is that the gap isn't quite as large between the Cubs and the division crown. ZiPS was VERY HIGH on the Cardinals with 91 wins, but PECOTA is not as much, landing them barely behind the Brewers. 87.6 wins for the division-leading Brewers seems a bit more attainable for the Cubs if things go right than the 92 wins needed to surpass the Cardinals. While Milwaukee has a stellar rotation and made some notable additions including William Contreras, I don't see them as worlds apart from the Cubs as PECOTA does either.

Next. 4 Cubs who could sneak onto the 40-man by Opening Day. dark

At the end of the day, PECOTA mostly says the same thing ZiPS does - the Cubs are not that good and it's going to take some breaks in order to really get into the playoff conversation. The teams ahead of them improved and they still have too many holes on the roster to really be seen as a surefire threat. Between their ability to cobble together a competent pitching staff and some high-variance players though, there's at least some wiggle room to surprise the league.