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2015 Bill James Handbook Cubs Projections

Want to know how Cubs players will do next year? Bill James' annual handbook has the answers... or, at least, projected answers.

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You might already have your copy of the 2015 Bill James Handbook, which contains complete statistics for everyone who played in the major leagues in 2014 (and selected others), as well as leaderboards, essays on various topics and some new features this year by James himself.

Before I review a couple of those, what you're really interested in here is the Jamesian projections for Cubs hitters and pitchers for 2015. James himself admits that this, though based on formulas well-tweaked over the years, can be guesswork. He divides players into five classes (and the number of such players in parentheses):

  • Players who had significantly less playing time in 2014 than projected (122)
  • Players who had significantly more playing time in 2014 than projected (23)
  • Players who hit better than the 2014 projections (16)
  • Players who hit worse than the 2014 projections (98)
  • Players whose projections turned out to be basically right in both playing time and productivity (165)

So, although the James system can be right about a significant number of players, it can also miss by a lot, whether due to player injuries or a minor leaguer who doesn't get as much playing time as the system thought he would. Thus some of these Cubs projections would be for playing time for a prospect if he became a full-time player in 2015. That might happen... or not.

With that in mind, here are James' projections for key Cubs hitters for 2015.

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

If all those players hit like that, the Cubs would likely lead the league in runs. That's 203 home runs just from those 10 players. Of course, some of those are overprojections -- Bryant likely won't get that much playing time, and when Bryant does wind up being recalled, Valbuena's playing time would likely be cut. As for Olt, we could only dream he'd do that well. I think the Alcantara projection is a little high -- that's almost All-Star level from him. Rizzo's likely to do a bit better than that, as those numbers aren't an improvement over a breakout 2014; same for Castro.

Let's hope some of those guys, at least, get close to that. Here are key Cubs pitchers:

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

And just for grins:

Jon Lester: 33 GS, 217 IP, 20 HR, 56 BB, 198 K, 13-11, 3.36 ERA

A few caveats on pitcher projections, which James admits are only "53 to 63 percent accurate": won-lost records tend to be pretty close to .500 in the James projection system. No one projects to more than 16 wins and the only ones projecting to significantly over .500 are Felix Hernandez (16-9), David Price (16-9), Stephen Strasburg (16-7) and Adam Wainwright (16-9). In any case, quite a few of the Cubs starters are seen as having solid-to-good years. If Jackson came anywhere close to that he'd be a fine fifth starter, but I don't think he can do that. Regarding the relievers, I think the numbers are pretty close except for the ERAs, which seem quite high to me.

These are fun as an exercise; don't figure the Cubs to do anything specifically like this, except by chance.

Among the essays in the handbook are a review of replay, quite a bit on fielding, a "starting pitcher ranking" developed by James (based primarily on game scores, and in which he notes one of the biggest jumps in the rankings was taken by Jake Arrieta, who moved up from 153rd at the start of 2014 to 61st). Most interesting to me were the manager rankings in various categories, seeing as the Cubs have a new guy in the job with whom we're not all that familiar, at least in his day-to-day tendencies.

Joe Maddon pinch-hits more than any other American League manager and has for several years; he's been quoted as saying he loves the National League game, so I'd expect him to do a lot more of this as Cubs manager. I think that means we can say goodbye to the eight-man bullpen, because a short bench wouldn't allow Maddon the flexibility he seems to desire. Maddon, though, has also been among the league leaders in using relievers on consecutive days -- so he'll have to carefully manage his expected seven-man pen to do that.

In an essay about defensive shifting cleverly titled "Who Gives A Shift?", it's noted that Maddon's Rays were second in the American League in shifts used in 2013 (561; the Orioles were first with 599). The Rays' total increased to 824 in 2014, but still finished second to the Astros, who jumped from 497 to 1341. As I'm sure you noticed, defensive shifts are all the rage now, with overall A.L. shifts increasing from 5,042 (336 per team) in 2013 to 8,856 in 2014 (590 per team). N.L. teams tended to shift a bit less (likely due to the lack of the DH), but they also increased by about 25 percent. The Cubs actually dropped in the number of shifts used in 2014 compared to 2013. In 2013, the Cubs ranked second in the National League (to the Brewers) with 508 defensive shifts; Rick Renteria used the shift less often, just 316 times. The Cubs and Reds were the only teams to have fewer shifts in 2014 than 2013. I'd expect that to change, big time, under Maddon.

Anyway, that's just a sample of the numbers you can find in the Bill James Handbook. It's well worth having (you can order it online at the link at the top of this post) and it'll fill your cold winter days with baseball numbers until spring training begins.