Sunday, June 28, 2020

Chicago Cubs 2020 Season Preview 2.0

From ESPN

       It is hard to imagine having a great shot at a wild card spot, then going 2-8 in your last ten games, missing the playoffs by five games, not bringing back your manager and having your entire team on the trade block. It may seem excessive, but it was not a fun September-October for Cubs fans. Expecting a busy offseason that could see their core get split up, the Cubs were relatively quiet, waiting until after the new year to make their first major league signing. They still have a talented lineup, but the rotation is aging and the bullpen does not look strong. It could be another heartbreak year for the Cubs.

        Offseason additions: OF Steven Souza Jr., RHP Jeremy Jeffress, 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Dan Winkler, RHP Casey Sadler, RHP Jharel Cotton, RHP Jason Adam, LHP Tyler Olson, C Josh Phegley, IF Hernan Perez, IF Carlos Asuaje, IF Corban Joseph.

        Offseason subtractions: OF Nicholas Castellanos, LHP Cole Hamels, IF Addison Russell, RHP Pedro Strop, UT Ben Zobrist, UT Tony Kemp, RHP Brandon Kintzler, RHP Steve Cishek, C Jonathan Lucroy.

       Rotation
The Cubs enter 2020 with a rotation of 30+ year olds who have regressed. The ace figures to be Kyle Hendricks, who had a 3.46 ERA but struck out only 150 batters in 177 innings. It was the second worst ERA of his career. At 87.2 miles per hour, he has one of the slowest fastballs in the league, but excels at not walking batters (4.4 BB%) and forcing soft contact (average exit velocity against of 85.2 mph). At age 30, he is Chicago's youngest starter. Yu Darvish's second season in Chicago since he signed a big contract wasn't as bad, as he made 31 starts and struck out 229 batters in 178.2 innings. Still, he had a 3.98 ERA, disappointing compared to previous seasons. At 11.1, his career K/9 is an all-time record. Darvish threw eight different pitches last year, including an Eephus twice, averaging 63.7 miles per hour. Jon Lester has alternated between good and bad seasons the last four years. That is good news for Cubs fans, as he needs to rebound. Lester had a 4.46 ERA while allowing a league leading 205 hits in 171.2 innings. His 1.497 WHIP was his worst since his rookie season of 2006. He is 36, and his fastball has lost two miles an hour since 2016. Jose Quintana has been a giant letdown after being acquired from the White Sox for budding star Eloy Jimenez and more. His 4.68 ERA in 2019 was a career worst, and he allowed 10.1 hits per nine innings. In two and a half seasons for the Cubs, Quintana has a 4.23 ERA after posting a 3.51 ERA in nine seasons for the other Chicago team. Tyler Chatwood will compete for a rotation spot after a decent season as a swingman. In 38 games (five starts) Chatwood had a 3.76 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. Of the 208 batted balls against him, only six were barrels. He has an exceptional spin rate on his fastball (2479 rpm) and curveball (3092 rpm). 25 year old Adbert Alzolay debuted late last year, posting a 7.30 ERA with 13 Ks in 12.1 innings.

       Bullpen
The Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel midseason to give their bullpen a boost. He could be the only lock to make the bullpen. The seven time all-star struggled when he finally arrived in June, posting a 6.53 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 13 saves in 20.1 innings. Opponent's expected batting average rose 98 points from 2018, up to .270. While his fastball's average velocity decreased by .9 mph, the pitch's average exit velocity against rose 3.7 miles per hour, to a very high 93.6 mph. He lost all four of his decisions. Lefty Kyle Ryan made 73 appearances, striking out 58 in 61 innings with a 126 ERA+. A major concern with Ryan is that none of his pitches average 90 miles per hour or more, and he allows hard contact 42.1 percent of the time. Rowan Wick posted an impressive 2.43 ERA over 31 games, with a 9.5 K/9 ratio. 19 of his 35 strikeouts came from his fastball, which averages just under 96 miles per hour. Lefty Brad Wieck, acquired midseason from San Diego, has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and an abnormal heartbeat in the last two Februarys. The heartbeat was this year, and he had surgery to fix that. Wieck struck out 18 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings post-trade. Jeremy Jeffress was an all-star in 2018, finishing the season with a 1.29 ERA in Milwaukee. However, he had a terrible 2019 with a 5.02 ERA and his K/9 ratio went down by 2.4. One thing that did improve from 2018 was opponent's exit velocity, which decreased from 88.1 miles per hour to 86.2. Ryan Tepera also had a decent 2018, but not as good as Jeffress'. For Toronto last year, Tepera played in just 23 games, posting a weak 4.98 ERA. His K/9 went from 9.5 to 5.8, a drastic change. He saw a dip in velocity in every pitch but his slider, a pitch he threw just 16 times. Another Blue Jay last year, Jason Adam, was impressive down the stretch, with a 2.91 ERA in 23 games. His fastball has good velocity, at 94.4 mph, but the pitch has a more impressive spin rate of 2580 rpm, more than his curveball. Alec Mills is in play for the 5th rotation spot. In nine games (four starts) Mills struck out 42 batters in 36 innings with a 2.75 ERA. Dan Winkler is another player with a strong 2018 and weak 2019. He had a 3.43 2018 ERA, and like Tepera, had a 2019 ERA of 4.98. He has a career 10.3 K/9. The Cubs picked up Casey Sadler after he had an impressive 2.14 ERA for the Dodgers and Rays last year in 46.1 innings, going up and down between AAA and MLB. He has a good curveball, as opponents hit .157 against the pitch that has a 2911 rpm.

       Catchers
There were some trade rumors regarding Willson Contreras during the offseason. They did not make much sense, as there is not a great reason for the Cubs to trade Contreras. Contreras has been an all-star in two straight seasons, hitting a career high 24 home runs with an .888 OPS in 2019. His main issue is that he does not hit the ball hard (career exit velocity of 87.5), so his expected batting average, slugging and wOBA are all less than his actual numbers. At 27.8 ft/s, he is one of baseball's fastest catchers. The Cubs picked up Martin Maldonado and then Jonathan Lucroy last year to play when Contreras got hurt twice. However, backup Victor Caratini had career highs in home runs (11), batting average (.266) and OPS (.794). He hit the ball harder than Contreras, with an 89.6 average exit velocity.

       Infielders
First baseman Anthony Rizzo had his option picked up. A three time all-star and Gold Glover, Rizzo has hit at least 23 home runs in seven consecutive seasons. He hit .293 with a .924 OPS in 2019. The former was a career high and the latter was very close to being one. His 14% strikeout rate was very good. The second base race is wide open. Jason Kipnis is in camp as a non-roster invitee. A nine year veteran in Cleveland, Kipnis hit 17 home runs last year, seven stolen bases and a .245 average. His -6 outs above average at second could push him back to a bench role. If he makes the team then the team will likely lose a player that they won't want to. That could be Daniel Descalso, a veteran presence who can play all around the infield. His offense in 2019 suggests that it is best for the club to DFA him. He had a .173 batting average, .250 slugging percentage and a .521 OPS in 82 games last year. David Bote can also play around the infield. Bote hit 11 home runs with five stolen bases and a .785 OPS for the Cubs. Javier Baez is a star, and is on the cover of MLB the Show 20. Baez hit 29 home runs and stole 11 bases with a .281 batting average and an .847 OPS, which were all drop-offs from 2018. He was at the top of the league with 19 outs above average. Third baseman Kris Bryant lost a grievance case in the offseason, meaning he will be a free agent after 2021. Bryant, who was also reportedly in play for a trade, made the all-star team for the first time since his MVP season of 2016. Bryant hit 31 home runs with a .282 average and a .903 OPS. He crushed fastballs, hitting 24 home runs with a .307 average and .584 slugging off of one pitch. Top prospect Nico Hoerner will start the season with the Cubs, and if he stays, will force one of Kipnis or Descalso to be DFAd. He hit three home runs with a .282 average in a 20 game trial last year.

       Outfielders
Kyle Schwarber had his best offensive season yet, hitting 38 home runs with an OPS of .871. His 156 strikeouts were a career high, but it is fine because he had 100 more Plate Appearances than he had in 2018, when he struck out 140 times. He will love the new DH rule, as his -10 outs above average can be pushed into a batting only role. He hit the ball hard 51.2% of the time, for an average exit velocity of 92.7 miles per hour. Five time Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward hit 21 home runs, his most since 2012. While he hit .305 against fastballs, he had a putrid .171 batting average against off-speed pitches and breaking balls, combined. His .772 OPS was his best as a Cub. Steven Souza Jr. signed with the team. He hit 30 home runs in 2017 with the Rays, but was traded after the season. He played in 72 games in the two years since, all coming in 2018. He has a .740 OPS in his career. Albert Almora hit a career high 12 home runs, but his .236 average was a 50 point drop-off from 2018, and his .651 OPS was a career low by 50 points as well. He doesn't hit the ball hard (85.2 average exit velocity), and he doesn't walk (4.4 BB%). Ian Happ had a career high .898 OPS in a career low 58 games. A 24 home run hitter in 2017, Happ hit 11 in 2019, for a 160 game pace of 30. He can connect with the ball, with a career barrel percentage of 12.9%.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
RF Jason Heyward (L)
SS Javier Baez (R)
3B Kris Bryant (R)
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
DH Kyle Schwarber (L)
C Willson Contreras (R)
CF Ian Happ (S)
LF Steven Souza Jr. (R)
2B Jason Kipnis (L)

       Projected Rotation
Kyle Hendricks (R)
Yu Darvish (R)
Jon Lester (L)
Jose Quintana (L)
Tyler Chatwood (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel, closer (R)
Kyle Ryan (L)
Rowan Wick (R)
Jeremy Jeffress (R)
Brad Wieck (L)
Ryan Tepera (R)
Jason Adam (R)
Daniel Winkler (R)
Alec Mills (R)
Adbert Alzolay (R)
Casey Sadler (R)

       Projected Bench
C Victor Caratini (S)
IF David Bote (R)
IF Daniel Descalso (L)
OF Albert Almora (R)
IF Nico Hoerner (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
32-52 record, last in NL Central
Most home runs: Kris Bryant (19)
Highest batting average Kris Bryant (.273)
Highest OPS: Kris Bryant (.951)
Best ERA, starters: Kyle Hendricks (3.68)
Best ERA, relievers: Craig Kimbrel (3.67)
Most innings pitched: Kyle Hendricks (102.2)
Most strikeouts: Yu Darvish (79)
Best K/9: Brad Wieck and Craig Kimbrel (11.7)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 34-26
2018: 36-24
2017: 30-30
2016: 42-18
2015: 33-27

       Prediction:
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016 as a young team that looked like they could have a dynasty. Their main team still remains, but they are all older, and that shows in the pitching staff. The lineup can still win them games, but the old rotation and weak bullpen will lose more games than win. In a tough NL Central, the Cubs don't stand a chance. I think they will fall to 4th in the division, and miss the playoffs.

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