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:
BJ-HOF Poll #167; these players had 43.7 to 45 WAR. Which of these four is BEST qualified for the Hall of Fame, do you think?— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) August 30, 2019
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
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
|Albert Almora Jr.||129||333||42||86||7||2||3||15||2||1||.258||.298||.393||.691|
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
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.