Inspired by FiveThirtyEight’s regular Slack chats, Brandon Lee, Nick Strangis, Ross Bukouricz and Darius Austin got together to do a different kind of 2017 Cubs preview through the medium of Facebook. They were briefly and dramatically joined by Reds fan Eric Roseberry and Cardinals fan Alex Crisafulli
Brandon: I think we should talk about the Cubs winning the World Series because that’s a thing that they did recently
Ross: That’s old news Brandon, I’m sure the entire world has forgotten about it by now.
Nick: I am a big fan of the subject of Chicago Cubs as reigning World Series champions. I have never in my life experienced this feeling and I don’t really understand it
Brandon: It’s true that it feels like the world has changed since then because it has. Almost like the Cubs opened this Pandora’s box of [how Obi Wan described Mos Eisley. Scum and villainy? That might be too strong]. That also might be a little existential and I would refer people to the WP Kinsella short story The Last Pennant Before Armageddon
Nick: Honestly, I’m so disconnected from that feeling in November, I can’t even recall it at this point. Everything changed so rapidly after that. And it’s not just politics, Fernandez and Ventura dying within a few months of each other really takes the wind out of my sails in a lot of ways. So can Cubs fans get a redo this season if things improve? Can we be allowed to pretend we didn’t really break the curse last year and fast forward to November and try again?
Ross: Ha. No way. The Cubs are now rightfully in their place of the baseball big bads where they should have been all along.
Darius: On that note, I am curious about the Cubs heel turn. Are we there already? Are they going to start imitating Joey Votto?
Brandon: Idk, I think we’re still one more pennant away from being a True Big Bad
Ross: I’d say they are big bads, but haven’t reached true villain status the way the 90’s Yankees did.
Brandon: What’s the line between Big Bad and Evil Empire?
Nick: I think the problem for Cubs fans is we started putting the target on our backs pretty early. BP Wrigleyville went up prior to 2015. I think.
Darius: I feel like there’s a Buffy reference to be made here.
Nick: So there’s literally a whole site that went up devoting some of the best untapped baseball writers to cover only the Cubs following a losing season
Brandon: Uncovering the best untapped baseball writers to this day, including someone in this chat
Ross: I think in addition to the winning, you need to do something just over the top in terms getting so good to almost be unfair, like the Yankees getting peak A-Rod or the Warriors signing Kevin Durant.
Darius: So this is the Cubs trading for Mike Trout, right?
Ross: I might stop watching baseball if that happened.
Ross: I would actually get behind that move 100%.
Brandon: Jason Heyward: fourth outfielder and defensive replacement
Darius: I feel like Heyward becoming an above-average hitter again would already be kind of unfair in itself. Does anyone think he’s going to get back there?
Nick: I can settle for a 95 OPS+ at this point
Brandon: My Reasonably Hot Prediction is that Heyward gets down-ballot MVP votes this season
Nick: That would truly be unfair
If he rebounds so much so he can elect to opt-out because he became that good again at 28-29
Ross: That would be annoying, but not obnoxious.
Brandon: I guess that’s true cuz the Cubs already have Heyward and already spent the money on him
If he becomes who people thought he would be, it’s not that big a deal
Nick: does keeping Heyward around mean at least people have something they can hold against the Cubs? Their big mistake (potentially). Like Epstein trading away Hanley Ramirez in Boston
Ross: Plus, yes he puts up downballot MVP WARs when hitting well, but I’m off the opinion that really good corner outfields defensive numbers are systematically overstated due to the low bar defensively at those spots.
I think people might hold that against the Cubs, but it’s only money, which they have more than they know what to do with. Giving up the prospect that turns into a superstar is significantly bigger to me.
Darius: Did people use that against Epstein a lot when the Red Sox were winning under him? If the prospect thing is more significant, then it seems like the Chapman deal would be a lot worse.
Brandon: On that note, at what point will trading young position players for relief arms catch up to them
Nick: It could already. The Cubs’ 3rd shortstop is Kawasaki. I think. Right? So they’re 2 injuries away from Mune getting regular starts
Brandon: Yes that’s true
Nick: it’s not so much the quality of the player as it is just that we’re starting to see the upper minors thin a lot
Ross: I don’t think there is a team in baseball history that could have injuries to their top two shortstops and have anyone else that’s better than replacement level.
Nick: Here’s the SS depth. Well, I guess it’s not just the shortstops
Darius: Zobrist played two innings at short last year, so there’s that.
Nick: Like if Russell and 1 other player get injured, then you have to fill 2nd or third or left. Maybe I’m over exaggerating the issue in order to win sympathy
Brandon: Last year Cubs had some pretty extreme depth. Uncommonly extreme
Nick: With Ross playing as well as he did, it really opened up the rest of the field
Darius: So what we’ve come up with is that people who want the Cubs to fail can take solace in the fact that maybe if things go really wrong, they have to use Kawasaki.
Brandon: Sure, or the Pen can fall apart
Nick: or that Maddon loses faith in all the bullpen again. And they have to go trade for 3 more relievers. What’s that conversation like for Hoyer?
Brandon: If the Cubs “have to” trade Eloy for a high leverage reliever that will be Not Good
Nick: at least it’s not Baez. I wake up in the morning and thank someone that he made it to the 25-man roster in time
Darius: You have to assume that teams are going to try for those top prospects with relief options now.
Ross: If they need to get a reliever this year, I’m guessing they go after the second tier guys that would take like Eddy Martinez or someone like that to get.
Darius: I like Mark Zagunis, and I don’t see how he’s possibly going to get time, even though the bat is ready. I have to ask everyone about these PECOTA projections. So last year they were ‘unlucky’ -their second and third order records were 115 and 113 wins, even though their big free agent signing was a disaster at the plate. And then you have PECOTA’s projection – what chance is there that they actually win only 91? Anyone think it’s more than 10%?
Nick: I think it’s just that projections push everything toward the middle, as they should
Brandon: Years of Cubs fandom have probably made me more pessimistic than I should be about things like projections
Nick: Also, how PECOTA thinks the Dodgers are 8 games better? I don’t get it. I think even BP doesn’t get it.
Ross: I’m guessing they win more than 91, but is there any chance the pitching is good enough to get to the insane underlying records of last year?
Brandon: Dodgers have some obscene depth still
Darius: Well, that’s where I get stuck. I get the regressing towards the middle, but when you have the Dodgers at 99 it undermines the idea that teams can’t be projected that aggressively.
Brandon: What were the Nationals projected for in 2015? That was their big projection year, right?
Darius: I will find out.
Brandon: They were pushing 100 I thought
Nick: http://thenationalsreview.com/2015/02/05/the-nats-and-2015-pecota-projections/ Is what I could find. 10 games ahead of the next best team in the division
Darius: PECOTA had the Nats at 92 that year. And the Dodgers at 97/98!
Brandon: That’s about what the Cubs are, right?
Darius: Depending on when you looked.
Brandon: +10 games on 2nd place
Ross: Dodgers are at 99!?! right now
Nick: yeah PECOTA has always loved the Dodgers recently, it seems. Too bad BttP doesn’t have a resident Dodgers fan? Does such a thing exist outside of Cali?
Brandon: Carlucci is like a secondary dodgers fan
Ross: I don’t know that PECOTA can handle players where their variance is so tied up in injures, rather than just performance.
Nick: yeah, I wonder if PECOTA is getting too much playing time for some Dodgers or something
Darius: The Cubs are up 10 on second place by PECOTA, and FanGraphs has them up by 11, so it’s not like anywhere is saying it’s a race.
Nick: I admittedly haven’t looked at the breakdowns for their players. I know it loves Grandal recently as both a hitter and pitch framer. And probably hasn’t regressed hard on Gonzalez. But I’ll stop wildly speculating
Brandon: That’s all updated for Reyes, right?
Nick: yeah the NL Central is making me angry
Darius: Grandal is projected for 6.7 WARP.
Nick: it was fun to fight for the division lead and know that it felt like the Brewers were only a couple seasons’ rebuild away from being back in it. Now even the Cards’ projections aren’t great
Darius: Cards are at 76 even with Reyes still in.
Nick: I mean the division isn’t close, right?
Ross: PECOTA is at 2.1 for Gonzalez.
Nick: what’s his TAVG? Honestly, I only look at hitting stats for first basemen
Nick: oh. kind of surprised there. Last 3 years: .301, .302, .293. But enough about him, I guess?
Darius: Welcome to BttP’s Adrian Gonzalez preview!
Ross: So, quick aside, if you don’t set a minimum number of plate appearances, Matt Albers led the majors in TAv last year.
Darius: Naturally. 1-for-1.
Ross: And it was a double.
Nick: How much does losing Travis Wood hurt the Cubs and will the Royals even get to make use of him appropriately thanks to the majority of their games using a DH?
Darius: I think the chances of Ned Yost using Travis Wood creatively are lower than the Cubs winning fewer than 91 games.
Ross: Yeah, Ned Yost is definitely a roll the ball out there and let ’em play kinda coach. Not a whole lot of creativity there.
Brandon: too sooooooooooonnn
Nick: I used to say that. lol. But if you look at his AA and AAA stats, nobody was really picking up on what he was doing. He should have been a top prospect. He was really really good before he got called up. Pitch tunnels feels like a concept we’ve always known to be true but nobody gave it the correct description before? Or maybe it seemed too simple to be effective?
Darius: Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel about it, I think. I guess the problem was with a lot of early sabermetrics was that it was very heavy on the “if it’s not quantifiable, it doesn’t exist”, and that led to a lot of mistakes, like pitch framing. So I think it doesn’t really tell us something that a lot of people didn’t already know, but having that quantifiable aspect to back it up is reassuring.
Brandon: Hendricks’s FIP has been pretty consistent, in the 3.30 range all 3 seasons. It’s the ERA+ that has fluctuated wildly (high of 188 in 2016, low of 96 in 2015)
Ross: Yeah, pitch tunneling make s a whole lot of sense. My HS baseball team discussed an extremely rudimentary version of it without knowing what to call it.
Nick: our pitching coach managed the local Foot Locker. Just as an aside. Ie, the pitching coach was whomever our HC would round up for a season
Darius: Did he always get them from Foot Locker?
Nick: that would have been a genius way to both benefit the team via lifetime discounts and always have a pitching coach no more than 5 minutes from the field
Darius: Market inefficiency.
Nick: I wonder if Fightmaster has figured that one out, yet
Darius: One more guy I want to ask about: on a scale from 1 to Bryce Harper as a prospect, how out of hand is Schwarber hype?
Ross: At least an 11.
Nick: Cubs fans really think he’s a star. Like he’s not quite as good as Rizzo but not far behind, I’d guess. imo, he’s much more marketable than Bryant in the long run. He’s got a lot more personality
Brandon Lee added Eric “Buck Boulder” Roseberry.
Brandon: bah gawd. that’s Eric Roseberry’s music
Darius: Amazing. What is your music, Eric?
Ross: Oh no, this is gonna end poorly for us.
Eric Roseberry left the group.
Darius: I was going to ask about Maddon but I think Eric covered it.
Nick: he’s not really a tactics guy, I give him that. I think he’s a great team builder, though. And Francona out managed him (runs away)
Darius: That’s not a hot take, right? Or does winning mean it is?
Nick: I don’t think it is but I’d have to ask Brandon: what would happen if I stood in Nisei Lounge and said that
Ross: I mean, in reality it isn’t, but in perception it is.
Nick: at the end of the day, just give me the manager who helps his players succeed and helps them have a good time doing it. I have to go in a minute just FYI.
Darius: I think we’re mostly there. You guys know what I’m going to ask last anyway.
Nick: if I could be any dinosaur, which would I choose?
Darius: Yes. And also a win prediction.
Ross: Rooter from The Land Before Time and 95.
Darius: And if you have any lukewarm or hotter takes, of course.
Nick: Velociraptor and 95. That’s weird I already thought 95 before Ross chimed in
Darius: At least you picked a different dinosaur.
Nick: I’m going to hang up and listen. Thanks for having me in the chat. And to Ross and Brandon
Ross: Good chatting with you Nick!
Brandon: yeah definitely Nick, as always. But if you stood in Nisei Lounge and said that I think they’d upcharge you $1.50 per drink. Also the Schwarber thing. He’s done so much in such a small sample, it’s of course hard to tell if he can keep it up over 162, but he’s also already done plenty to cement his status as Cubs Folk Hero. I wouldn’t rule out a Kerry Wood-esque career trajectory. Came out gangbusters, got hurt early, and then was good but never Otherworldly Good like he was supposed to be at one point
Ross: That almost seems inevitable. Also, he wasn’t all that good of a fielder before he hurt his knee. Does his time as a Cub get cut short because he can’t get back to mediocre and is blocked at first by Rizzo?
Brandon: Theo backdoor lobbies for the DH in the NL. makes it happen cuz he’s Theo. keeps the Cubs window open 3 more seasons because of it
Ross: That’s my hot take. Either Schwarber gets traded because he can’t play outfield anymore or the Cubs somehow bring the DH to the NL.
And not like officially. Maddon just writes a lineup with a DH in it and the league shrugs and rolls with it.
Darius: Bringing almost as much heat as Eric Roseberry.
Brandon: “uh, Joe, this is a National League game”
Darius: You do wonder how they’d react.
Brandon Lee added Alex “Best Fan In Baseball” Crisafulli
Brandon: what the hell
Darius: Vince McMahon better not be next.
Alex: Until Schwarber can show he can handle the grind of a full season, he’s just a meatheadier Matt Adams. Uglier, too.
Alex Crisafulli left the group.
Darius: For some reason fans of other NL Central teams seem to really dislike the Cubs.
Ross: So much #fireemoji
Darius: I’m not sure we can top that. Brandon – the classic question: dinosaur and win prediction?
Brandon: I used to be obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, and when I was 6 or 7 the Field Museum in Chicago secured a brachiosaurus skeleton. Anyway, as part of a fundraising drive, they asked members of the public to sponsor a bone, and their name would be listed in the exhibit where it would be on display. Small bones were inexpensive to sponsor, but if you wanted ribs or the head that was big money. I had a family member sponsor one of the tiny foot bones in my name, so I was listed at the base of this Brachiosaurus for years until they procured Sue, the Most Complete Tyrannosaurus Rex in the world, and moved the Brachiosaurus outside
And this year for the playoff run that Brachiosaurus wore a Cubs jersey
Brandon: anyway, I pick Brachiosaurus and 100
Ross: I was literally on the edge of my seat in anticipation because you were typing for so long and it completely paid off.
Darius: Ok, now I know we can’t top that. Thanks everyone.
Ross: No doubt about it. Good work Brandon.Next post: Springfield ’17: A Modern-Day “Homer at the Bat” Lineup
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