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2016 Bill James Handbook Cubs Projections

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The Cubs are going to have an excellent 2016, according to the annual projections in the Bill James Handbook.

The Bill James Handbook is back, and as every year, it's got an excellent selection of articles, in addition to complete stats for every player through 2015 and projections for 2016.

Yes, I know. You want to see the Cubs projections. First let me tell you a bit about what else is in the book. In addition to articles similar to those in the 2015 book such as manager shifting, replay review (for the second year in a row, the Cubs had the most challenges, despite having a different manager), use of relief pitchers and the Fielding Bible Awards (in which Addison Russell just missed winning the Multi-Position award, given to a player who split his time among two or more positions, by four points to Ender Inciarte), the book has expanded its reach. There's an article ranking starting pitchers by a "score" system (Jake Arrieta: fourth behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer), and a long article by James on "Painting the Corners," trying to determine exactly how the data now available shows how pitchers get strikes called "on the black."

The book's well worth reading for all of this information, plus the summary of 2015 major-league leaders in all kinds of categories.

All right, now you can have some Cubs hitting projections for 2016:

Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR
RBI SB CS
BA
OBP
SLG OPS
Javier
Baez

140 561
79 152 32 1 27 96 26 9 .271 .319 .476 .795
Kris
Bryant

157 581 112 176 36 4 37 120 17 5 .303
.399 .570 .969
Starlin Castro
146 543 60 152 29 4 11 61 8 5 .280 .322 .409 .731
Chris Coghlan
136 417 56 107 27 3 10 40 10 5 .257 .338 .408 .745
Dexter Fowler
147 553 91
146 30 7 13 49 17 9 .264 .362 .414 .776
Austin Jackson
147 544 77 146 28
5 9 50 16 7 .268 .330 .388 .718
Miguel Montero
119 357 38 88 18 0 12 51 0 0 .246 .339 .398 .737
Anthony Rizzo
152 554 85 151 37 2 31 94 11 6 .273 .371 .514 .886
Addison Russell
156 575 79 151 37 1 20 79 7 4 .263 .321 .435 .755
Jorge
Soler

142 525 68 149 35 2 22 92 4 2 .284 .353 .484 .837

You might notice someone missing up there: Kyle Schwarber. Even though Schwarber had more playing time in 2015 than Javier Baez had in 2014, and Baez got a projection for 2015 (see below), the James handbook left Schwarber out. I'm not sure why, but I think you can reasonably guess, based on some of the other numbers, that the system would have projected Schwarber for a 30+ homer season.

These are all, of course, projections. But the system projects huge breakthroughs for Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell . That presumes, of course, that Baez becomes an everyday player. The James projection system had Baez having a year like that in 2015, had he played fulltime (.242, 32 home runs, 72 RBI, a .456 SLG... and 214 strikeouts. The 2016 projection is better, I think). James' system pretty much nailed Anthony Rizzo:

Projected: .274, 91 runs, 39 doubles, 34 HR, 99 RBI, .513 SLG
Actual: .278, 94 runs, 38 doubles, 31 HR, 101 RBI, .512 SLG

Rizzo, of course, has a track record longer than some of the other Cubs young players, which makes the projection system likely a bit more accurate. Of Rizzo, James, who works as a consultant for the Red Sox, writes:

I'll never forget the first time I saw Anthony Rizzo in uniform; this was in lat February in Ft. Myers, must have been 2008 or 2009. At that time the Red Sox had a big left-handed hitting first baseman who was supposed to be a super prospect, Lars Anderson, but for some reason his power never came around at game time. There were three huge left-handed hitters in a spring training hitting group, just blasting the ball -- Anderson, Rizzo, and David Ortiz. I was standing about ten feet away from them. Anderson would hit the ball about 380 feet, then Rizzo would step in and hit it about 400 feet, and then David would step in and hit it about 420. The ball would just hang in the air for about an hour and sometimes it would bounce up and hit the side of the team bus that was parked out there at what was supposed to be a safe distance, and then finally Rizzo got hold of one perfect and actually hit it over the bus. I was thinking, "Oh, my God; who's this guy?" Rizzo looked like David, as a hitter, and that's saying something, because there aren't that many David Ortizes running around. He's the same hitter as David, anymore; just about the same. But you know what? Rizzo is really good and he might be a Hall of Famer -- but David is 14 years older, and he is still just a little bit better.

That's pretty high praise from James, and while I won't predict Rizzo will be a Hall of Famer, he's certainly got the chance to be one, and we'd certainly take it if he were this good a hitter 14 years from now.

You likely remember Anderson, too; he was hanging around Cubs camp in 2014 after Theo & Co. picked him up, hoping he might recover some of the promise James saw years earlier. He spent 2014 in the Cubs system, injured much of the year, then was let go, and in 2015 was still hanging around the Dodgers chain, drawing tons of walks (93) but overall hitting .242/.370/.408 split between Double-A and Triple-A with not much power (14 HR), and at age 27 -- a year older than Rizzo -- that's not going to get you to the big leagues.

I see I've digressed. On to the Cubs pitcher projections! (In addition to key Cubs pitchers, I included, just for fun, the 2016 projections for three pitchers who many here have discussed as possible Cubs free-agent signings.)

Player G GS IP
H HR BB SO W L SV ERA
Jake Arrieta
33 33
226 187 17 55 210 18
7 0
2.91
Justin Grimm
71
0
59
57
5
27
55
3
3
0
3.97
Jason Hammel
31
31
164
162 21 41
134 10
9
0
3.79
Kyle Hendricks
33
33
186
173 12
43
155 13
7
0
3.17
Jon Lester
31 31
211
195
18
49
198
15
9
0
3.24
Clayton Richard
40 3 62 66 7 14 35 3 3 0
3.92
Hector Rondon
70 0 70 64 6 17 65 5 3 44 2.96
Pedro Strop
74
0
67
51
4
28
73
5
2
2
2.69
Travis Wood
54
7
89
84
10
35
75
5
5
0
3.84
David Price
32
32
223
199
20
42
214 17 8
0
3.03
Mike Leake
31
31
191
191
23
47
127
10
11
0
3.77
Scott Kazmir
31 31 180 171 19 54 155 10 10 0 3.65

James has written before that pitcher projections are likely to be much less accurate than hitter projections. He writes in this year's book:

My intuition was to try to project end results based on previous years' end results; in other words, if a pitcher won 14 games last year, I would try to project that he would win 14 again next year, just as you might do with home runs.

But that doesn't work, because wins and losses are large-scale results, and consequently are subject to many different influences. A pitcher might go 19-8, not because he has pitched well but because his team has scored six runs a game for him. Also, pitchers get hurt a lot, and pitchers' careers take unexpected turns. Jake Arrieta in 2012 was 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA. Now, if he is not Cy Young, he is at least Walter Johnson.

It took us longer to learn to project pitchers, because we had to back away from the end products, and project the pitcher forward based on the elements of his performance, rather than the summary of his performance.

Cubs pitchers, then, show more variance than Cubs hitters. Arrieta's projected 2.91 ERA is much higher than his 2015 ERA, but then again, 2015 was an historic season not likely to be repeated. James shows Jon Lester going 15-9 after a 10-11 season in 2015, perhaps because his career showed him with a better W/L record, but also possibly because the Cubs might score more runs for him in 2016.

And if Hector Rondon saves 44 games, the Cubs are likely headed back to the postseason. The season projected above for Hector would be the third-highest season save total in Cubs history.

You'll note that adding a pitcher like Leake or Kazmir to the Cubs rotation would, as projected by James, add essentially another Jason Hammel. That's of value, because the Cubs didn't have anyone like that in their fifth spot, and by placing a pitcher like those guys in the No. 4 slot, it would make Kyle Hendricks (who James projects for improvement) an excellent fifth starter.

Some of these will come to pass; others won't. It's fun, though, to dream about these as the long winter offseason begins, and this book is, as always, an excellent way to immerse yourself in baseball numbers until spring training starts.