PECOTA Projects Cubs at Only 82 Wins Based on Poor Defense, League-Average Offense and Pitching

PECOTA just released their full 2019 projections and, oof, there’s a lot to digest here.

Central Updated W L RS RA AVG OBP SLG DRC+ FRAA
Milwaukee Brewers Hitters: Jan 14
Pitchers: Feb 4
89 73 738 660 .250 .320 .415 95 34.4
St. Louis Cardinals Hitters: Feb 6
Pitchers: Feb 4
86 76 722 670 .247 .320 .410 100 5.8
Chicago Cubs Hitters: Dec 18
Pitchers: Feb 4
82 80 739 730 .250 .329 .413 99 -12.5
Cincinnati Reds Hitters: Jan 21
Pitchers: Feb 4
81 81 745 745 .259 .331 .425 97 -16.4
Pittsburgh Pirates Hitters: Feb 4
Pitchers: Feb 4
81 81 680 679 .248 .311 .396 89 -1.6

Table taken from Baseball Prospectus

Wow, PECOTA thinks the Cubs are going to finish barely above .500 and in third place behind the Brewers and Cardinals. The projection system also thinks the Cubs offense will be just about league average (99 DRC+), though still better than the Brewers. The offense certainly isn’t what’s holding the Cubs back in these forecasts.

Partly to blame for the Cubs lackluster 82 wins is a poor defensive estimate. Whereas the Brewers (34.4 FRAA) and Cardinals (5.8 FRAA) have positive defensive assessments, the Cubs are expected to be 12.5 runs below league-average defensively. Willson Contreras (-10.5 FRAA), Victor Caratini (-4.2) Javy Baez (-1.8), Kyle Schwarber (-1.8),and Ian Happ (-7.7) are all bringing down the defensive ratings.

Pos Name FRAA
C Willson Contreras -10.5
Victor Caratini -4.2
Taylor Davis 0.7
1B Anthony Rizzo 8.8
Victor Caratini -4.2
2B Ben Zobrist -1.1
Javier Baez -1.8
David Bote 0.1
Daniel Descalso -1.9
3B Kris Bryant 1.4
David Bote 0.1
Daniel Descalso -1.9
Javier Baez -1.8
SS Javier Baez -1.8
Addison Russell 2.9
Zack Short -0.1
Daniel Descalso -1.9
LF Kyle Schwarber -1.8
Ian Happ -7.7
Ben Zobrist -1.1
Kris Bryant 1.4
CF Albert Almora -0.2
Ian Happ -7.7
Jason Heyward 3.5
RF Jason Heyward 3.5
Ben Zobrist -1.1
Ian Happ -7.7
Mark Zagunis -0.6
Kris Bryant 1.4
PH David Bote 0.1
Ian Happ -7.7
Ben Zobrist -1.1
Daniel Descalso -1.9
Victor Caratini -4.2
Kyle Schwarber -1.8
Willson Contreras -10.5
Albert Almora -0.2

You can also blame underwhelming pitching projections for such a low win tally. PECOTA expects regression from Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, with Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, and Yu Darvish coming in at roughly league average. Projections for the bullpen aren’t any better.

Brandon Morrow is expected only to throw 41 innings with a 3.92 ERA, and essentially every other reliever is expected to finish with an ERA hovering around four. Basically, PECOTA thinks the Cubs have assembled the most average roster of pitchers possible.

Pos Name IP ERA WHIP W L WARP
Sta-1 Jon Lester 174 4.38 1.32 12 11 0.9
Sta-2 Jose Quintana 165 3.96 1.3 11 9 1.8
Sta-3 Cole Hamels 180 4.06 1.27 12 11 1.7
Sta-4 Kyle Hendricks 165 3.92 1.2 11 10 1.8
Sta-5 Yu Darvish 142 3.78 1.26 9 8 1.8
Pos Name IP ERA SV WARP
Closer Brandon Morrow 41 3.92 20 0.3
Setup Pedro Strop 51 4.03 10 0.3
Setup Carl Edwards Jr. 51 4.01 5 0.3
Mid Brian Duensing 26 5.78 0 -0.3
Mid Brandon Kintzler 26 5.1 0 -0.1
Mid Tony Barnette 21 4.56 0 0
Mid Steve Cishek 46 3.92 3 0.4
Mid Brad Brach 46 4.1 3 0.2
Mid Kyle Ryan 10 3.78 0 0.1
Mid Rowan Wick 15 4.67 0 0
Mid Randy Rosario 26 5.17 0 -0.1
Mid Dillon Maples 21 3.89 0 0.2
Mid Duane Underwood 25 4.84 0 0
Mid Ian Clarkin 10 5.19 0 0
Mid Adbert Alzolay 15 5.4 0 -0.1
Mid James Norwood 10 4.91 0 0
Long Mike Montgomery 73 4.48 0 0.3

But, hey, at least PECOTA thinks the offense will be pretty good. For as much attention as it got for being “broken,” you have to be encouraged by these forecasts. The computers expect Contreras to be worth five percent more than your average hitter (105 DRC+) and for Bryzzo to do what Bryzzo always does. New Cub Daniel Descalso is projected to actually be better than average offensively.

In fact, much of these DRC+ projections are close to the Cubs’ 2018 totals. Baez, though, is projected to regress with a .268 batting average and 27 homers, but I’ll take those numbers every year from Javy.

Pos Name PA TotPA DRC+ AVG OBP SLG HR WARP
C Willson Contreras 489 519 105 0.253 0.339 0.415 15 1.4
Victor Caratini 136 236 104 0.261 0.331 0.417 6 0.5
Taylor Davis 70 70 66 0.238 0.3 0.333 1 0.1
1B Anthony Rizzo 661 661 131 0.282 0.381 0.486 25 4.8
Victor Caratini 70 236 104 0.261 0.331 0.417 6 0.5
2B Ben Zobrist 337 569 98 0.257 0.339 0.389 11 1.5
Javier Baez 297 669 108 0.268 0.322 0.47 27 3.1
David Bote 66 210 89 0.231 0.311 0.409 8 0.3
Daniel Descalso 35 150 103 0.246 0.336 0.408 4 0.4
3B Kris Bryant 559 635 132 0.273 0.376 0.473 23 4.3
David Bote 99 210 89 0.231 0.311 0.409 8 0.3
Daniel Descalso 35 150 103 0.246 0.336 0.408 4 0.4
Javier Baez 38 669 108 0.268 0.322 0.47 27 3.1
SS Javier Baez 334 669 108 0.268 0.322 0.47 27 3.1
Addison Russell 297 297 85 0.238 0.314 0.377 7 0.9
Zack Short 36 36 47 0.161 0.257 0.29 1 -0.1
Daniel Descalso 35 150 103 0.246 0.336 0.408 4 0.4
LF Kyle Schwarber 480 510 112 0.244 0.337 0.447 22 2
Ian Happ 138 475 102 0.229 0.326 0.41 17 0.9
Ben Zobrist 38 569 98 0.257 0.339 0.389 11 1.5
Kris Bryant 38 635 132 0.273 0.376 0.473 23 4.3
CF Albert Almora 371 401 88 0.268 0.316 0.395 8 0.8
Ian Happ 215 475 102 0.229 0.326 0.41 17 0.9
Jason Heyward 96 482 90 0.253 0.32 0.382 10 1.1
RF Jason Heyward 386 482 90 0.253 0.32 0.382 10 1.1
Ben Zobrist 149 569 98 0.257 0.339 0.389 11 1.5
Ian Happ 77 475 102 0.229 0.326 0.41 17 0.9
Mark Zagunis 35 35 68 0.2 0.314 0.333 1 -0.1
Kris Bryant 38 635 132 0.273 0.376 0.473 23 4.3
PH David Bote 45 210 89 0.231 0.311 0.409 8 0.3
Ian Happ 45 475 102 0.229 0.326 0.41 17 0.9
Ben Zobrist 45 569 98 0.257 0.339 0.389 11 1.5
Daniel Descalso 45 150 103 0.246 0.336 0.408 4 0.4
Victor Caratini 30 236 104 0.261 0.331 0.417 6 0.5
Kyle Schwarber 30 510 112 0.244 0.337 0.447 22 2
Willson Contreras 30 519 105 0.253 0.339 0.415 15 1.4
Albert Almora 30 401 88 0.268 0.316 0.395 8

If you’re worried about the Cubs’ 82-win projection, I’m not going to blame you. And if you were already worried about the pitching staff, PECOTA offers you validation. But what this and many other forecasts fail to post is the degree of confidence with which they’re operating. Maybe the computer projects wildly different numbers for Cubs players in different simulations.

In other words, a really large variation in PECOTA’s projections would mean there are scenarios in which the Cubs pitching staff might actually look much better (or worse, but let’s not think about that). Knowing how each simulation varies would absolutely change how we interpret these underwhelming projections of pitching and defense.

Perhaps more important than the specific individual stats is how PECOTA views the NL Central as a group, which is to say the teams are just as bunched up as we’ve seen in other projections. Now it’s just a matter of getting out on the field and seeing how the Cubs meet or exceed the numbers put forth by the models.

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Brendan Miller

Brendan Miller is part of the Cubs Related Podcast duo with Corey Freedman. Brendan, who has twice as many Twitter followers as Corey, often writes about baseball analytics and scouting for Cubs Insider.

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10 Comments

  1. This fits in perfectly with all the other shit news over the last 5 months.

    Maybe Theo needs to take this to Tom and ask for some Harper money to protect his investment and attempt to take his dad out of the news.

  2. I believe it bodes well to have diminished expectations from the “experts” and computer models. I don’t remember many nice projections from the 84-89-98-03-07 and 15 seasons. I want the Cards to think they have a chance before they implode. I want the Brewers to think they can get career seasons out of 4-5 guys again. If another team wants the NL Central, they are gonna have to win more than the 92-94 games the Cubs are gonna tally in probably the most competitive division in baseball.

  3. I can’t take seriously any projection that views Javy Baez, possibly the best defensive player in baseball, as a negative defender. So my expectation based off their expectations is that the Cubs will win over 100 games.

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