Mesa – The Chicago Cubs have made it clear all spring long that they would be sending shortstop Javier Baez to the minor leagues for the beginning of the regular season, and the team was true to its word as it assigned the 21-year old to minor league camp on Saturday.
In a wide-ranging interview with Cubs.com, Baez expressed all of the right sentiments about his demotion, and said that he is looking forward to continuing to work on his game as the organization gives him pointers on how to do so.
When the Chicago Cubs struck out on prying Joe Girardi away from the New York Yankees last year, there was plenty of discussion not only about who Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would hire to manage the team, but also whether or not they had even made the right decision in firing Dale Sveum in the first place.
After all, firing a guy after only two years doesn’t exactly seem fair when you consider the “quality” of rosters that he had been given. In all likelihood, the 2012 and 2013 Cubs could not have won a championship in AAA, much less in the major leagues. Their win totals for the two seasons reflect that, with only a modest gain in that area in 2013 after a 61-win 2012 campaign.
Amid all of that belly-aching and strife, the Cubs went out and hired Rick Renteria, bench coach for the San Diego Padres. During his introductory press conferences, Renteria said all the right things about wanting to manage this team, and how he felt so positive about the futures of guys like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, but it’s been his conduct after those press conferences that has been more impressive to Cubs observers.
If you consult any guide about the upcoming 2014 MLB season, you’ll undoubtedly see one storyline about the Chicago Cubs:
They can’t hit.
Last season, the Cubs finished 28th in the majors in runs, with only 602 to their credit (four runs ahead of the White Sox). Weirdly enough, they finished 9th in the league in home runs with 172, but their overall batting average is what hurt them in the runs department, as they batted .238 to finish 27th in MLB.
One of the big reasons that the Cubs struggled so badly at the plate was that they could never get consistent production out of their big guns. Outside of a hot April, Anthony Rizzo was largely pedestrian, but even his numbers were better than those of shortstop Starlin Castro. In 705 plate appearances last year, Castro had a slash line of .245/.284/.347 (Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage), hit only 10 home runs, and drove in 44 runs.
Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their PECOTA projections, and fans of MLB teams eagerly flock to the website to check out how their favorite team will fare in the upcoming season.
For those looking for a bit of a primer, PECOTA is a mathematical formula that stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times and now a partner with ESPN with 538.com, invented the formula back in 2002, and introduced it in 2003. It uses proprietary formulas, but some of the components include batting average, home runs, and RBI, as well as other advanced statistics like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and EqA (Equivalent Runs Average), and it’s used to determine how players will perform in a given year.
Baseball Prospectus then takes the data that the computer spits out about players and uses it to determine what each team’s record will be in the upcoming season.
For the Chicago Cubs, PECOTA projections have them improving this season to 71-91, an improvement of five wins over last year’s 66-96 campaign. For Chicago White Sox fans, PECOTA is projecting that the team will improve dramatically, going 75-87 in the AL Central race.
The Cubs are forecasted to finish in the basement of the NL Central again in 2014, with the Cardinals winning the division and the Pirates experiencing a significant drop-off in finishing behind the Milwaukee Brewers. For the Sox, they are forecasted to finish fourth in the AL Central, four games behind the Kansas City Royals and 13 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers.
Going into deeper detail, the Cubs are only projected to score 641 runs, the third lowest total in the National League and third lowest in the Majors behind only the Mets and Marlins. The Cubs are also projected to give up 732 runs, the second highest total in the NL behind only the Colorado Rockies.
Last year, the PECOTA projections had the Cubs finishing at 77-85 before the season began, and the team seemed well on its way to coming close to that mark before tailing off at the end thanks to a combination of regression by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as trading off of several pieces that were helping the team to stay afloat.
This season, the PECOTA projections are much more modest about the Cubs’ chances for success, and there is a good reason for that. The Cubs didn’t exactly light the world on fire with their acquisitions over the winter, with Jose Veras being the only big piece that they added. Add to that the fact that guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are more likely to be September call-ups than May reinforcements, and you can see that the Cubs aren’t going to make any big steps forward, or at least realistically feel that they can do so.