Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module

The Cubs Are the Best Team in Baseball, While the Sox Also Improve

The North Siders are likely to enter 2016 with the best projections and highest expectations. The South Siders won’t be baseball’s best team, but they could be much better than last season.

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Last year the Cubs ended the regular season as the best team in baseball, having improved greatly over the course of the year. Over the offseason, they got better, while making their rivals and longtime superiors, the Cardinals, measurably worse. The future, which arrived late last season, is… well, now.

Take the current projections for wins above replacement at Fangraphs, the metric to judge how many wins a certain player would contribute to a team over a replacement player. The Cubs are projected to have the best offense in baseball, by a comparatively wide margin: 29.4 WAR when you add all offensive players together, 2.8 WAR ahead of the mighty Toronto Blue Jays. How good is a 2.8 WAR gap? It’s the equivalent of one of the better free agents still on the market.

Then, pitching. The Cubs have the second-highest projected WAR, 22.3, just 1.3 WAR behind the Los Angeles Dodgers—basically all of which can be chalked up to the Dodgers having the most reliably great pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, who is projected for 2.2 more WAR than Cubs pitcher Jake Arietta. The Cubs rotation, by projections at least, is actually better at the two-through-five spots.

And that’s assuming substantial regression from Arietta, down from 7.3 WAR to 5.6 WAR. In other words, it’s within the realm of possibility that the Cubs could have the best offense and pitching in baseball.

Overall, the Cubs beat the rest of the field with a projected 51.6 WAR, 3.2 points higher than the Dodgers.

Here’s how the playing field has changed, based on Fangraphs’s projections.

Wins Above Replacement, 2016 (Projected) vs. 2015

Team Projected 2016 WAR 2015 WAR Difference  
Red Sox 43.9 29.8 14.1
 
White Sox 33.6 23.5 10.1
 
Mariners 34.4 24.4 10
 
Rockies 25.3 16.6 8.7
 
Athletics 31.9 25 6.9
 
Marlins 32.3 25.9 6.4
 
Twins 30.5 25.2 5.3
 
Angels 34.1 29.5 4.6
 
Braves 20.6 17.7 2.9
 
Brewers 25.2 22.3 2.9
 
Reds 29.9 27.1 2.8
 
Padres 28.5 25.9 2.6
 
Phillies 18.7 16.4 2.3
 
Tigers 30.8 28.8 2.0
 
Rangers 34.2 32.2 2.0
 
Cubs 51.6 50.1 1.5
 
Nationals 42.4 41.0 1.4
 
Yankees 39.9 38.6 1.3
 
Rays 35.8 35.8 0
 
Dodgers 48.4 49.1 -0.7
 
Diamondbacks 31.1 32.9 -1.8
 
Giants 39.5 41.6 -2.1
 
Orioles 29.8 32.4 -2.6
 
Cardinals 40.5 43.5 -3.0
 
Pirates 39.5 43.5 -4.0
 
Mets 40.8 45.4 -4.6
 
Astros 39.7 44.6 -4.9
 
Indian 38.0 43.2 -5.2
 
Royals 29.0 38.3 -9.3
 
Blue Jays 39.2 49.5 -10.3
 
Source Fangraphs

At first blush, the Cubs adding 1.5 WAR looks disappointing, considering that they added Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey. But as Jeff Sullivan points out, neither Arietta or Schwarber are expected to be as insanely good as they were last year. Kris Bryant’s power and strikeout rates are projected to improve, but he had a very high .387 batting average on balls in play, fifth-highest in baseball, so his batting average and on-base percentage could realistically be expected to decline even if he improves fundamentally as a hitter.

Last year, the Cubs were arguably a bit lucky, in that their best players exceeded even their very high expectations. The plan this year is to be more good than lucky.

Speaking of luck, there’s something of a surprise in those WAR numbers: The White Sox are just behind the Red Sox in expected improvement. And a lot of that comes from what they did today, trading three prospects who got respectable use at the major-league level last year—Micah Johnson, Trayce Thompson, and Frankie Montas—for the Reds’s All-Star third baseman, Todd Frazier.

How much of an improvement is Frazier? He’s projected for 3.2 WAR. The last time a White Sox third baseman put up more than three WAR was Joe Crede in 2006. Frazier was a 4.4 WAR player last year; the last time the Sox had a four WAR third baseman was current manager Robin Ventura in 1998.

Last year, four players had at least 20 plate appearances for the White Sox at third base: Gordon Beckham, Tyler Saladino, Mike Olt, and Conor Gillaspie. They combined for -1.3 WAR. Not one of them had an on-base percentage over .300.

Of course, some of the White Sox’s projected improvement comes from expecting two of last year’s big acquisitions, Melky Cabrera and Adam Laroche, to not be absolutely horrid. In 2015 they combined for -1.7 WAR; next year they’re projected for 0.9 WAR. The glass might be half empty or half full, but last year there was a hole in it that went all the way through the table down to the sub-basement.

I am a lifelong Cardinals fan; I went to the University of Chicago, attended White Sox games, married into a South Side Sox family, and have a secondary loyalty to them as my AL team. As such, I expect the 2016 baseball season—despite a genuine respect and regard for the eternal persistence of Cubs fans—to be an avalanche of misery for me and my fellow Cards fans. The Cubs’s odds for actually winning the World Series might “only” be 15 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, but they’re going to be good. They’re going to be good for a long time. Get used it, and get used to reading about it.

But spare a thought for the White Sox next year. They’ll probably be better than they were. They might be quite a bit better. Or better yet, don’t: as expectations and ticket prices rise in Wrigleyville, 2016 could be a chance to catch a quietly competitive team at the Cell.

Share

Edit Module

Advertisement

Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Edit Module