Cubs Sign Scott Hairston, Edge Closer to Hopeful Season

The Yankees, Mets, Braves and Phillies were all in pursuit of Scott Hairston, and it wasn’t until last week that it appeared the Cubs even had a chance. Now the oft-wanted role player is joining the Chicago Cubs on a 2-year deal worth up to $6 million after incentives.

Hairston’s well-documented ability to hit left-handed pitching (119 wRC+ against lefties, 86 wRC+ against righties) has earned him quality playing time in the majors, but never a starting gig. That trend should continue as he joins a Cubs outfield alignment already featuring a pair of lefties in David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz.

Schierholtz has a career 96 wRC+ against righties and 90 wRC+ against his brother southpaws. On the merit of two consecutive strong seasons against right-handers (123 wRC+ in 2011, 126 wRC+ in 2012), Schierholtz figures to earn a hearty 500 PA as the Cubs anti-righty platoon mate.

DeJesus, meanwhile, owns a much more pronounced platoon split. His strong defense across the outfield and 117 wRC+ against righties keeps him in the lineup most days, but his 80 wRC+ against lefties may make him — despite being the more proven hitter — a possible platoon partner for Hairston as well.

All told, Hairston and his surprise suitors together make an increasingly interesting team, rich both in flaws and talents. With Hairston and a few other Scotts — Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Kyuji Fujikawa (“Scott,” to his friends, I believe) — the Cubs look like they may need a hunting cap in 2013. The playoffs may not be out of reach.

If it’s true that any MLB team has a chance to underplay or overplay their true-talent level by 10 wins in a season, then the minimum true-talent threshold for a lucky playoff team has to be the mid-to-high 70s. A 75-win team could, theoretically, win 85 or so. In a down season with a second Wild Card, that might be enough to reach the play-in game.

Fans in the comments of the 2013 Cubs ZiPS Projections post rightly noted there was a lot of talent on a team coming off a 61-101 seasons:

So when I add up all the WAR across all the positions in that graphic, I get 30. Even shaving off a couple wins for the inevitability of subs playing below replacement value for a few hundred innings, doesn’t this suggest that as constructed, the Cubs project out to a .500 team? This is assuming a replacement level team plays about .333 ball.

–chasfh711, Jan. 4, 2013

Why, there’s in fact an easy way to test notions of team WAR, if’n we have the desire to put together appropriate amounts of playing time. The undeterrable Sky Kalkman once made an adjustable team WAR calculator for just those purposes. I ran the numbers twice in December, using my best guesses for production (approximately a Marcels kind of prediction with an inevitable Cubs-fan twist) and came away with 77 wins and then later 79 wins after they added Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva.

Now we can create a third rendition, one using the aforementioned ZiPS projections and Mr. Hairston added as a high-quality fourth outfielder:

CAVEATS:

1) I pestered ZiPS Overlord Dan Szymborski for no less than two days, asking what league average wOBA would be. During a Fangraphs chat, he kindly informed me he does not calculate wOBA. I already knew this, but apparently forgot it. This means I had to guess on the league wOBA. I tried to adjust the wOBA so that the WAR totals in my spreadsheet came close to matching the WAR totals in Carson Cistulli’s ZiPS projection piece, but this resulted in a .312 wOBA, which seems prreeeeeettty low to me. If you don’t buy it, then change it back to the low-.320s (and watch that projected win total drop!).

2) So I had to drop the wOBA almost 10 points, but the ERA had to stay the same. It’s fishy. But stick with me.

3) Obviously this is a quick and dirty method. I’m not looking at the Cubs’ schedule or the Reds and Cardinals rosters. I’m looking at just the Cubs.

4) For defense and playing time, I used my best guesses. Well, I took input from ZiPS (defense) and MLB Depth Charts (playing time) and then made informed guesses. But hey, download this spreadsheet and tweak it yourself if you disagree with me so much! (Hit the green Excel logo to download the spreadsheet.)

5) It’s good to have lists of 3 or 5. A list of 4 is right out.

The Cubs fan in me still sees realistic room for improvement on this team, even without changing the roster. Jeff Samardzija showed the baseballing world he could pitch in 2012, and I expect his talent could grow even more in 2013. Alfonso Soriano is decidedly not a “human-shaped albatross” as Cistulli put it, but in fact — with a lighter bat and improved defense — Soriano should quietly continue to be the Cubs’ most underrated player, who smothers lefties (like Hairston) and fields his position with growing aplomb.

I think it’s also reasonable to expect one of the four similar-talent-level starters (Travis Wood, Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva, and Scott Feldman) to stake a legitimate claim on the fourth starter spot. These four pitchers each have some interesting quirks that portend a break out season (in relative terms; think low 3.80s ERA).

But as it stands now, the Cubs appear to be around 77 to 79 wins (depending how we treat that pesky league wOBA issue). That certainly puts them in the crazy luck range. Sky’s calculation gives them a 3% chance of reaching 91 wins, which has historically been a playoff spot. Can the Cubs do it? I’m just saying there’s a chance.



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


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JayT
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JayT
3 years 8 months ago

I’ve been really impressed with Epstein/Hoyer’s bargain bin shopping this offseason. Add in the big acquisition of Jackson, and they have a pretty interesting team. Now, they’re in a pretty tough division (who ever thought you’d hear that about the NL Central?) so I don’t think that playoffs are likely, but a winning season definitely seems to be within their grasp.

Honestly though, can you really say that the Orioles or A’s looked any better going into last season? And they were in some pretty tough divisions themselves.

Hawkeyecub
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Hawkeyecub
3 years 8 months ago

Great buy for the Cubs. I cannot believe that other teams in the market blanched at 2 and 6 mil. Used correctly, he should be good for about 1.5 wins a season. Can you say that about a lot of the relief arms teams blow $3 mil a year on?

ERIK
Guest
ERIK
3 years 8 months ago

This is still not a good team. I think you are deluding yourself. lucky to reach 72 wins. LUCKY.

smiley54663
Member
smiley54663
3 years 8 months ago

Obviously, there are offensive holes at 2b and 3b (and most likely catcher won’t be a strong point, but is it for anyone?). We have Rizzo, Starlin, Alfonso, and platoons of hairston/dejesus/schierholtz for CF/RF. If Samardzija continues to improve, we are pushing 80 wins with even a tiny amount of good luck

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
3 years 8 months ago

Agreed, they have Rizzo, Castro and a host of problems on offense. Soriano and Garza will be dealt at some point. In the rotation, 4 SP options does not make 2 quality SP, you have to allow for guys to fail before you can swap in a replacement. Then there is a bullpen that is awful. I doubt they win 70.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
3 years 8 months ago

Also platoons rarely work as well in real life as they do on paper.

Kyle
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Kyle
3 years 8 months ago

Well, can’t argue with that in-depth, insightful analysis.

CubSalad
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CubSalad
3 years 8 months ago

If Ian Stewart can play up to his glory days (if you can call them that) numbers (which I’m cautiously optimistic about), I think this is a team that can certainly break the 80 win barrier, and adding Scott Hairston just helps to bolster that prediction.

Cubfever7
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Cubfever7
3 years 8 months ago

I strongly suspect that Ian Stewart will slightly beat his “career” year from a couple years ago in Colorado. I forsee 25 HRs–85 steaks and some real nice glove work at the corner. And I still won’t be surprised to see Soriano get moved before April.

ezb230
Guest
ezb230
3 years 8 months ago

Is that Stewart projection based on anything besides hope? He has been either injured or awful for a while now.

ted murphy
Guest
3 years 8 months ago

I dont think the cubs are actually trying to do anything other than keep the fire from going completely out.
i dont think it starts for ” The Theo Llama” until Soriano and Marmol are traded.
I was uplifted with the Edwin Jackson signing but their continued talk of trading Garza only tells me that their rebuilding plan isnt supposed to start gaining traction for at least a couple of years.
Ive been a fan since Ron Santo broke in so whats 200 years between pennants.

always hopeful
tmurphy

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 8 months ago

So with a much improved farm and a few solid young core pieces in Rizzo and Castro along with solid pitchers like Jackson and Samardijza, you don’t think they’ve already started rebuilding? It’s not a mutually exclusive thing to build a solid foundation and fill a respectable roster with bargain bin stop gaps.

Kyle
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Kyle
3 years 8 months ago

This is exactly what I keep coming up with on back-of-the-napkin projections as well.

And it makes intuitive sense. The Cubs have an above-average rotation, an average bullpen, and a bad offense. That should come out to just a bit below .500 on average.

GoodasGoldy
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GoodasGoldy
3 years 8 months ago

The Cubs more than any other rumored contenders should sign Bourn. He just fits them so well. His base stealing props up some power deficiencies on their offense and his defense would be a huge asset given the high overall flyball tendencies of their rotation. Perfect fit, no lost 1st round pick and likely a decent discount price (making him a solid future trade chip)… It all favors the Cubs here. Who knows, that hopeful season may not be that far fetched if Bourn is in it.

Sincerely,
S.B.

James Owens
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

I think we have to agree the Cubs have done themselves no harm this winter, which leaves them a young and improved team. You never know about a young team and how and when they will put it all together. We have seen it in the past, where young teams or teams that were left in the cellar the year before for some reason find the right combinations and put together a play off run, I’m not predicting the cubs will make a play off run, just saying it’s possible. With their improved pitching and two OF pick ups I think the will finish around the 80 to 82 win mark – right around .500. If one of the big prospects like Solor come up and knock the hide off the ball in September we could be looking at an 84-85 win season, and the Cubs finding themselves just a couple games off the mark in the wild card race.

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