FanGraphs offers Cubs, White Sox projections
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media March 31, 2014 10:45PM
Updated: May 2, 2014 6:22AM
Spring brings hope to baseball fans, though some hopes are higher than others. For Cubs and White Sox fans, hopes are mostly along the lines of improvement and prospect development.
At www.fangraphs.com/depthcharts.aspx?position=Standings, the FanGraphs.com collection of advanced metrics includes projections based on current talent levels. Before playing their first games, both Chicago teams were projected to finish in the mid-70s in victories, with the Cubs at 75 (up from 66 last season) and the Sox at 74 (a leap from 63).
That’s not saying the Sox will win 74 games. It’s more like saying if you had 1,000 teams with the Sox’ talent level, the majority would cluster around 74 victories, though a small percentage might contend or collapse. Projections are updated through the season as performance levels and rosters change.
FanGraphs breaks it all down into individual player projections. Let’s look at a few of interest:
Jose Abreu is projected to be the Sox’ offensive leader with 3.3 wins above replacement, a .271 batting average, a .359 on-base percentage and a .514 slugging percentage. At that level, he’d be a huge step up for the Sox at first base/designated hitter. Last season, Adam Dunn turned in a minus-0.2 fWAR (the FanGraphs version of WAR) and Paul Konerko a minus-0.8. This season, Konerko projects at 0.1 in limited playing time and Dunn, relieved of first-base duties where his defense is a negative, at 0.2.
Chris Sale again figures to be the best pitcher in Chicago with a 4.6 WAR, 3.31 ERA and 3.23 FIP (fielding-independent pitching, which filters out the effects of defense). Jose Quintana is expected to be solid at a 3.0 WAR, 4.12 ERA and 4.09 FIP.
Among the Cubs, FanGraphs projects a step forward for Anthony Rizzo, with a 3.3 WAR after a 1.6 in 2013. His struggles last season included a below-normal .258 batting average on balls in play. The projection has him at an .815 OPS, up from .742. Recovery also is expected for Starlin Castro. His projected 1.9 WAR and .727 OPS are up from minus-0.1 and .631 last season.
Jeff Samardzija (3.3 WAR, 3.70 ERA, 3.55 FIP) stands out in the Cubs’ rotation, but No. 2 is Edwin Jackson (1.9, 4.11, 3.80). It’s a projection that looks odd, considering Jackson’s 4.98 ERA last season was far worse than Travis Wood’s 3.11. But many of their peripheral stats look similar, with Jackson at 6.93 strikeouts, 3.03 walks and .82 home runs per nine innings and Wood at 6.48, 2.97 and 0.81.
Jackson is more of a ground-ball pitcher, with 51.3 percent of balls in play being grounders, compared with 33.2 percent against Wood. That will lead to a higher batting average on balls in play against Jackson, but last season was extreme, with Jackson allowing a .322 BABIP and Wood a .248 BABIP. So the natural starting point for any projection is improvement for Jackson and a little decline for Wood.