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2020 Bill James Handbook Cubs projections

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This year’s handbook also has some fascinating essays by Bill James.

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Did you know that by one measure, all five Cubs starting pitchers were in the top 65 of 240 pitchers in 2019?

That’s just one of the fascinating statistical facts you’ll learn in the 2020 Bill James Handbook, a book not just filled with numbers, but with essays by James and other writers on various baseball topics. (If you’re interested in how the specific starting pitcher ranking is determined, James explains in this article on his website.)

James begins this book with two essays on the Hall of Fame, one of his favorite topics. This past spring and summer, if you follow James on Twitter, you might have seen a poll such as this one:

In the Handbook, James says he ran 234 Twitter polls. The purpose, he writes, was not to figure out who should go into the Hall of Fame, but which players the general public (as represented on Twitter) would want to see in the Hall. The resulting article is well-researched and well-thought-out. James has more on the Hall in this book, including updates on his Hall of Fame monitor numbers (you can see those numbers on any player’s baseball-reference.com page).

He also has a long essay about rule changes he’d make in baseball. He had hoped to get to 50 (!) of these changes, but as he writes:

(Spoiler alert: he doesn’t get there. Runs out of gas at 30.)

I’m not going to spoil any of them here, but I will tell you that some of James’ suggestions are pretty radical. Others aren’t. He notes:

When you say “No no no, baseball can never change, everything has to stay the same,” what you are really doing is ignoring the changes that ARE happening. If you can’t tweak the rules, you’re just rolling over and allowing the game to go weird on you. Baseball has very real problems, but the aesthetic problems can be solved with aspirins and band aids and exercise programs and better nutrition. Let’s look over the options, try to see the whole field of options, and fix what needs to be fixed.

I won’t spoil any of James’ proposed changes, some of which are way “out there,” while others make you go, “Hmmm. Hadn’t thought of that. That might actually be helpful!” Get the book and see for yourself. Besides, you’re really here for the book’s Cubs projections.

Before I get to his Cubs 2020 projections, James notes several players in the book whose 2019 projections were spot-on. One of them is Kris Bryant:

Kris Bryant 2019 Bill James projection/actual performance

2019 G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA SLG
2019 G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA SLG
Actual 147 543 108 153 35 1 31 77 4 .282 .521
Projected 150 573 102 158 36 3 30 89 5 .276 .506

That’s pretty close in almost every category.

Here are James’ projections for players expected to be Cubs in 2020 — plus free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Ben Zobrist.

Cubs hitters 2020 Bill James projections

Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
Player G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
Albert Almora Jr. 129 333 42 86 7 2 3 15 2 1 .258 .298 .393 .691
Javier Baez 153 567 86 151 33 4 30 94 12 5 .266 .310 .497 .807
Kris Bryant 144 545 99 149 34 2 31 84 4 2 .273 .379 .514 .893
Victor Caratini 92 270 32 73 15 1 9 36 1 0 .270 .346 .433 .779
Nicholas Castellanos 157 624 82 175 47 5 26 87 2 2 .280 .336 .497 .833
Willson Contreras 129 457 60 117 26 2 22 71 2 2 .256 .342 .466 .808
Ian Happ 117 349 52 78 16 1 17 51 6 1 .223 .323 .421 .744
Jason Heyward 141 476 67 123 23 3 13 57 5 2 .258 .340 .401 .741
Nico Hoerner 91 292 42 81 17 2 6 34 5 0 .277 .328 .411 .739
Anthony Rizzo 155 574 91 165 35 3 28 102 5 3 .287 .396 .505 .901
Addison Russell 121 382 51 91 20 2 15 53 3 1 .238 .315 .419 .734
Kyle Schwarber 150 515 80 125 24 2 34 85 2 2 .243 .348 .495 .843
Ben Zobrist 111 359 53 94 19 2 8 41 1 1 .262 .355 .393 .748

I tend to think, looking over those projections, that some of them are low, particularly for the Cubs power hitters. Remember that a fair amount of weight is given to the season immediately prior, and several Cubs hitters (notably Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant) missed considerable time due to injury.

Here are the handbook’s pitcher projections for various Cubs pitchers for 2020, including free agents Steve Cishek, Cole Hamels, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop.

Cubs pitchers 2020 Bill James projections

Pitcher G GS IP H HR BB SO W L SV ERA
Pitcher G GS IP H HR BB SO W L SV ERA
Adbert Alzolay 10 10 52 49 8 26 60 3 3 0 4.50
Tyler Chatwood 40 3 77 71 8 47 67 4 4 0 4.68
Steve Cishek 61 0 55 43 5 23 52 3 3 0 3.96
Yu Darvish 28 28 175 147 28 59 212 11 8 0 3.78
Cole Hamels 29 29 153 149 21 60 147 9 8 0 4.42
Kyle Hendricks 28 28 173 165 20 38 144 11 8 0 3.94
Danny Hultzen 32 0 30 19 0 18 43 2 1 0 3.32
Craig Kimbrel 61 0 59 38 8 27 90 4 2 33 3.21
Brandon Kintzler 51 0 47 46 4 12 35 3 2 0 4.10
Jon Lester 30 30 172 186 24 55 156 10 10 0 4.45
Alec Mills 33 5 67 72 9 23 63 4 4 0 4.50
Brandon Morrow 36 0 37 40 5 11 36 2 2 0 4.38
Jose Quintana 30 30 165 173 21 51 147 10 9 0 4.28
Kyle Ryan 71 0 61 59 7 28 55 3 3 0 4.43
Pedro Strop 50 0 41 31 4 17 43 3 2 7 3.85
Rowan Wick 45 0 50 40 4 23 54 3 2 0 3.72
Brad Wieck 41 0 32 26 4 13 48 2 1 0 3.35

Many of those do not look good, not at all, especially for the starting pitchers. Again, the most recent season might skew the projections somewhat. We’d certainly be happy with a season like that from Craig Kimbrel, and if those projections are to be believed, it might be worth bringing Pedro Strop back for one more season. And, the Wick/Wieck combo looks set to be solid relievers. There’s even a projection in the book for Brandon Morrow, who as I noted Wednesday, wants to come back to the Cubs. (That projected ERA seems high given the other numbers listed for him.)

You should get this book — it’s full of numbers and interesting articles, well worth your time to pass the cold winter until baseball begins again. The link above will take you to the Handbook’s Amazon page. Full disclosure: The folks at ACTA Sports, the publisher of the Handbook, sent me a review copy.