2014 Bill James Handbook Cubs Projections

Courtesy Acta Sports

Let's look forward to next season and see how the numbers are crunched for Cubs player performances.

The Bill James Handbook for 2014 arrived recently, and one of the best things about it is that it says "2014" on it. It's the first printed baseball material I have for next year, and thus the metaphorical page has been turned.

In addition to all the stats for active players, various type of stat breakdowns and the 2013 league leaders, the Handbook has the Fielding Bible Awards, given by a distinguished panel that includes SB Nation's Rob Neyer.

But what you are all most interested in are the projections, using Bill James' methods, for Cubs players for next season. You'll note below that in addition to players who were actually on the Cubs in 2013, there are projections for guys such as Javier Baez, who have never played in the major leagues before, but might. James explains projections for players like that, this way:

Our policy is that if a young player might play, then we project that he will play. Our theory... well, my theory, actually... is that we really don't have any way of knowing which rookies will make the team out of spring training next year and, unless you are a blithering idiot, you know this. Our job is to tell you what kind of player the man is. We try to tell you, as best as we are able, how he will play if he plays. Is he a singles hitter who will steal bases and not return them, or is he a power hitter who will strike out 200 times and ask Adam Dunn for his signature after the game?

If we don't print the projection for the young player, then we're cheating you out of what we know; that's the way I see it. If we project that a young player will bat 550 times and he bats 170 times, well, that happens, and you should expect it to happen. But if a rookie bats 550 times and we haven't told you what kind of player he will be, then we haven't done our jobs.

With that in mind, here are the Bill James Handbook projections for Cubs hitters for 2014. You'll note there are big turnarounds projected for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro in particular.

                     AB   R   H   2B   3B  HR   RBI   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG
Javier Baez         541  78 146   25    0  22    78   43  166  .270  .324  .438
Darwin Barney       521  63 131   26    2   6    44   34   59  .251  .302  .344
Welington Castillo  415  46 109   24    0  13    50   37  100  .263  .330  .414
Starlin Castro      648  75 181   37    7  11    63   35  108  .279  .321  .409
Junior Lake         508  72 140   32    2  13    48   32  124  .276  .321  .423
Mike Olt            485  65 109   25    1  24    70   66  158  .225  .318  .429
Anthony Rizzo       612  83 163   42    2  30   101   68  123  .266  .344  .489
Nate Schierholtz    470  56 122   30    4  16    58   30   92  .260  .308  .443
Ryan Sweeney        287  35  79   17    2   6    32   26   50  .275  .338  .411
Luis Valbuena       298  38  74   17    1   9    35   38   57  .248  .337  .403

The relatively low playing time projected for Sweeney likely reflects the injury that caused him to miss much of 2013. Also, I couldn't fit it in the table and still make it readable, but Junior Lake is projected to steal 27 bases, with 12 CS; Baez, 21 SB and 8 CS, and Castro, 15 SB with 8 times caught.

We'd all be pretty happy with those numbers from everyone on that list. It's notable that Olt's overall numbers don't project all that differently from the Cubs' third-base group from 2013 of Valbuena, Cody Ransom and Donnie Murphy, who did this:

                    AB   R   H   2B   3B  HR   RBI   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG
Cubs 3B 2013       580  70 128   30    2  30    70   70  151  .221  .314  .434

There are pitcher projections in the Handbook as well, and James thinks they are more reliable than they were in the past:

I used to be very skeptical of projections for pitchers, didn't think it could be done accurately. In retrospect, it may have been my own ignorance that I was afraid of. I used to try to project future won-lost records based on past won-lost records, and future ERAs based on past ERAs. That worked for Warren Spahn, not so well for anybody else. We now understand that to project pitchers accurately, you have to focus on lower performance indicators... strikeouts, walks and innings, rather than wins, losses and ERA. How the strikeouts, walks and innings will aggregate themselves into wins and losses is kind of a random process, but if you stay focused on the elements, you won't usually miss by too much on the outcomes.

Here, then, are his projections for some key Cubs pitchers for 2014:

                    G   GS   IP   H   BB   SO   HR   W   L   SV   ERA
Jake Arrieta       20   20  117 114   53   99   14   5   8    0  4.31
Edwin Jackson      31   31  190 199   62  148   20   9  12    0  4.07
James Russell      66    0   48  51   15   34    7   2   3    0  4.50
Jeff Samardzija    32   32  211 198   76  194   24  11  13    0  3.80
Pedro Strop        67    0   65  56   32   68    3   4   4    8  3.46
Carlos Villanueva  40   14  125 116   41  107   17   6   7    0  3.74
Travis Wood        31   31  197 183   66  155   21  10  11    0  3.70

Those all look pretty reasonable, if not optimistic for Cubs fans. We'd all love to see a year like that out of Jackson -- that would be a significant improvement over 2013. The W/L records appear to be based more on past performance than on anything the Cubs might do in 2014, although they imply a record a little closer to .500. If Strop winds up the Cubs' closer, he'll obviously have more than eight saves.

If you don't already have this book, it's well worth ordering and should be part of anyone's essential baseball library for 2014. You can get yours at this link.

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