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A few more Cubs notes from the 2018 Bill James Handbook

You can find all sorts of things by delving into this book.

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Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I brought you the projections made for Cubs hitters for 2018 in the Bill James Handbook.

That’s not all you can find in the James handbook, though. In addition to projections and a very long essay (James called it “the longest article in the thirty-year history of this book”) about the Hall of Fame, the handbook contains the complete major-league career record of every active player in 2017, as well as essays and leaderboards on all sorts of topics.

It’s those other leaderboards that caught my eye over the weekend, and so I thought I’d bring some of those details to you. Some of them are things the Cubs are going to have to work on to improve in 2018.

Throwing things away

Among the top eight players in the National League in 2017 in throwing errors are four Cubs: Willson Contreras (10), Addison Russell (10), Kris Bryant (9) and Javier Baez (8).

Now, I know what you’re going to say: Errors are not generally a good way to rate fielders, and you’d be right about that. Plus, we all know how good a fielder Javy is, so errors certainly don’t tell the whole story about him.

But the question I would ask is this: Is there something about the way Cubs fielders are coached, or positioned, or whatever, that so many of them are among the league leaders in throwing errors? Anthony Rizzo saves even more errors like this from happening, but he can’t catch every missed throw.

This is something I’d like to see the Cubs work on in spring training. As a team the Cubs were in the middle of the N.L. pack in overall errors (95), but had the second-most throwing errors of any N.L. team, 52 (the Padres were first with 60). Again I’ll note that errors aren’t the best way of evaluating defense, but this in particular (throwing errors) seems to be an issue.

Why this matters: The Cubs allowed the fifth-highest total of unearned runs in the National League in 2017, 59. In 2016 they allowed 45 unearned runs, and a big part of the World Series win in 2016 was outstanding defense. The Cubs need to get back to that.

Willson Contreras is a beast

You know this already, but the following numbers really stood out. Contreras was second in the N.L. in slugging percentage among cleanup hitters who had at least 150 PA hitting cleanup: .608. He also hit .615 (!) with the bases loaded (8-for-13 with four doubles, one grand slam, 21 RBI, third-best behind Daniel Murphy and Logan Forsythe) and was seventh-best in the N.L. with RISP, minimum 100 PA, with a .363 BA, and the six ahead of him read like some of the top guys you’d consider for MVP: Murphy, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Anthony Rendon, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt.

It’s really a shame that Willson got hurt when he did. In the 10 games before the injury he hit .316/.350/.763 (12-for-38) with two doubles and five home runs. After he returned he failed to homer in 50 PA, though he did draw 12 walks. And he hit just .219 (7-for-32) in the postseason, though he did hit two home runs.

Presumably at 100 percent when next season begins, he ought to be ready for a big year at age 26.

Jon Lester is good, and bad, at catching base stealers

Only two pitchers (Julio Teheran and Aaron Nola) allowed more stolen bases in the N.L. than Jon Lester in 2017. Lester and Jake Arrieta tied for third with 19.

But! Lester topped the N.L. caught-stealing leaderboard with 12 while he was pitching. Of course, a lot of that is credit to Contreras. But Lester also tied for third in pickoffs in 2017 with four (with R.A. Dickey, Rich Hill and Teheran). That included this one:

Lester’s teammate Kyle Hendricks was second in the N.L. in 2017 with seven pickoffs. The league leader? Our old friend Clayton Richard, with eight.

Jon Lester, power hitter

Jon hit his first career home run in 2017:

That was the best thing he did that night, as he lasted only four innings in a 16-4 rout of the Diamondbacks.

In addition to the home run, Lester hit three doubles in 2017 for a .148/.203/.259 slash line. That .462 OPS ranked seventh among all N.L. pitchers and was .014 better than Clayton Kershaw.

So Jon can say he outranked Kershaw in 2017 in one thing, anyway.

Home run robberies

Bill James wrote an essay about home-run stealing, which reached what is probably an all-time record in 2017.

We here at Baseball Info Solutions have been tracking Home Run Robberies (Home Run Saving Catches) since 2004, and whereas there were only 33 such events in 2014 and only 32 of them in 2009, there were 60 in 2017, seven more than in any previous season. It’s a magic number for home runs, 60; I guess you have to be really old to get the reference, but it used to be a magic number. Now it’s a magic number for Non Home Runs.

The Cubs had three of these plays go in their favor in 2017, and if you don’t remember them, here they are.

Albert Almora vs. the Cardinals, April 4 in St. Louis:

That one might have saved that game, as the game would have been tied if Matt Adams’ ball had gone over the wall.

Jason Heyward vs. the Brewers, July 28 in Milwaukee:

The Cubs wound up losing that game 2-1, but seeing Ryan Braun unhappy is always good.

Leonys Martin vs. the Cardinals, September 28 in St. Louis:

That catch was especially sweet because it won the game for the Cubs and in so doing, eliminated the Cardinals from postseason consideration for 2017.

As I noted in the previous article, the Bill James Handbook is well worth having. If you’re missing baseball, it can fill the long winter days and nights with all kinds of detail and help you pass the time between now and spring training. These are just a few of the Cubs-related tidbits I came across while browsing through the book this past weekend.