FG on Fox: The Cubs Are Poised for a Breakthrough

The phrase “wait ’til next year” is a popular one for fans of perennial losers, but no professional sports team shares a more lasting affiliation with the axiom than the Chicago Cubs; there’s even a movie about the team with that exact title. For the Cubs, winning has rarely been a this-year thing, and so the fan base has had to take solace in the future, even if that future has often brought just more losing. Well, Cubs fans, I have some good news, even if you’ve grown tired of hearing this; next year really might be your year.

Much has been written about the young talent coming up through Chicago’s farm system. Cuban sensation Jorge Soler is going to be the newest hyped prospect to reach the big leagues when he makes his debut today, where he’ll join Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez to form a trio of exciting young rookies. And these guys are just the first course, as even better prospects — third baseman/maybe outfielder Kris Bryant and shortstop/maybe second baseman Addison Russell are the cream of the Cubs crop — are not too far behind. The Cubs have so much young talent that people are actually stressing out over whether the team will actually have room for all of them on the roster at the same time.

Of course, prospect hype doesn’t guarantee Major League success, and Cubs fans have been burned by supposed waves of talent that didn’t pan out before. So what’s different this time? Well, for starters, this roster is a lot better than people might realize, even without factoring in all the prospects on the rise.

Yes, I’m talking about the roster of a team that is currently 59-72, good for last place in the NL Central. On the surface, this is just another terrible Cubs team in a long line of terrible Cubs teams, but once you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll find that this team has actually shown some real promise this year.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Mike D
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Mike D
2 years 29 days ago

The Cubs doing well next year?

Sheeh…. Back to the Future 3 determined this already

Mike D
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Mike D
2 years 29 days ago

2, not 3. Damn no edit feature

Ad-Roc
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Ad-Roc
2 years 29 days ago

Mmmm, DROP???

haslone
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haslone
2 years 29 days ago

No sleep ’til Cooperstown!

Jared
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Jared
2 years 29 days ago

Do teams in “announced” rebuilding mode tend to not invest in reliable bullpen arms, would this partially explain the under performance in close games?
We’ve seen that decent bullpen arms are fairly available, but when rebuilding there’s not much incentive to pay the premium for those extra wins in close games.

George
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George
2 years 29 days ago

“We’ve seen that decent bullpen arms are fairly available”

^ Please tell this to Dave Dombrowski.

Pat
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Pat
2 years 29 days ago

Wake me up when the Cubs and Astros have a good season, easy to make an excuse for rebuilding for a few years, but they need results, it’s been a long time. There’s more parity than ever in baseball and you don’t need to rebuild for 5 years.

haslone
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haslone
2 years 29 days ago

My only concern would be the amount of turnover that has occurred since Opening Day roster 2013 to Opening Day roster 2015. The Cubs next year won’t even slightly resemble the Dale Sveum disaster that was run out last year. Not to mention that next years Cubs will be fielding a bunch of young/largely inexperienced players, and their production is a lot more unpredictable than veterans.

channelclemente
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channelclemente
2 years 29 days ago

Good luck.

Paul
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Paul
2 years 29 days ago

Of course they will. As we all know, top prospects all do well their first year or two in the bigs. Just like at consensus #2 overall prospect, Xander Bogaerts… I mean consensus top #5-8 overall prospect Oscar Taveras…. I mean consensus top #12 overall prospect Gregory Polanco… I mean consensus top #10 overall Archie Bradley…

Okay, maybe top prospects don’t always pan out.

Dovif
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Dovif
2 years 29 days ago

I do not thing you can win with that many hitting prospects, because many won’t pan out and they win be struggling in the major, which meAns the cubs might be worse next year rather then better.
Baez has a 45% k rate historically bad contact rate and bad defense. He might never have a obi greater then 300 with those issues

Alcantara also plays bad defense, have too many ks for not much power and a obp under .280. Both of these players need more time in aaa

Chicago Mark
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Chicago Mark
2 years 29 days ago

That’s a good article Dave. And despite what the nay sayers….say (and deservedly so), they will be better next year. I agree they will make a splash in free agency this off-season. They will have a ton of money to spend. We’re a lot closer than Dovif says…..or writes! Ha.

Otter
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Otter
2 years 29 days ago

Baez looks horrible so far. Can’t get on base. Strikes out a ton. HR/FB% that’s around 30% last I checked. The pressure Cub fans have put on him is insane. Baez might not see another strike all season with the way he swings away.

I’m at a lost as to why everyone seems to be in love with all these Cub prospects. I’m sure one or two of them will be good to great (my money is on Soler and Russell, I can’t get a feel for Bryant yet, is he Troy Glaus or Russell Branyan?) but seemingly every Cub fan has Baez, Bryant, Soler and Russell in the Hall of Fame and a lot of baseball guys not far behind them (Law, Rany, Dave). I don’t get it especially seeing how things have played out for the Padres and, lets face it, the Royals too (even considering this year’s run which is pretty much all smoke and mirrors).

Chicago Mark
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Chicago Mark
2 years 29 days ago

I don’t get it Eric. What pressure do us fans put on Baez? And why shouldn’t the Cub prospects be the envy or love of the game? And I don’t know anybody that has any of them as HOF’ers. The Cubs have the money. The Cubs have an under-achieving current team. And they have the envy of all baseball in a farm system. You can either be negative and jealous or enjoy. The Cub arrow is pointing up. And not even George’s sons are paying to buy World Championships any more. It may not work. But I’d rather be in our position than about 25+ other teams. Like I say, be negative and jealous or enjoy.

Dovif
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Dovif
2 years 29 days ago

I do not think many team wants to be in the cubs position, maybe phillies. I do not think they will be better next year. The cubs will be playing too many prospects next years and many will fail and fail badly in the major.

For example Baez’s line for the last 18 days is 180/223/360 with a 51% k rate 1/10 walk/k rate and historically bad contact rate and he has gotten worse in the last week. Quite simply he has no place on a ml roster ATM. This will happen a lot for the cubs the next few years and if enough of their prospects stop failing. They might reach 500 in 2 to 5 years

Developing too many hitting prospects in the major will always be a big tidk

Him
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Him
2 years 28 days ago

Don’t look now but the Cube have been playing .500 ball since the middle of May despite selling off Samardzija and Hammels.

The Cubs don’t need Bryant, Soler, Baez, or Alcantara to be 5+ WAR players next year in order to compete for a wild card spot. They just need them to out produce Darwin Barney, Mike Olt, Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano and Junior Lake. This will not be hard.

Ben
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Ben
2 years 28 days ago

“seemingly every Cub fan has Baez, Bryant, Soler and Russell in the Hall of Fame”

You lose all credibility making statements like that.

Sayers40
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Sayers40
2 years 28 days ago

There are several points about Baez that need to be said:

1) he is a middle infielder, and is at least average with the glove. This means that is he happens to hit .200/.250/.450, he still should provide positive WAR.

2) but, he has shown a propensity to struggle when he hits a level before figuring it out. His k rate drops, his BB rate goes up, this is what he does.

If instead his K rate is closer to 30%, for instance, he will probably be around a 3 or 4 WAR player. This is true even with the fairly low BA and OBP. if he were a LF or 1B for instance, his issues would be more concerning. So don’t worry too much about Baez, he really doesn’t have to turn into a HOFer to be a positive player for the team. Remember, this is a team that has played Darwin Barney at this position for several years. Having a guy with 30+ HR power will be great no matter what his BA is.

astrostl
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astrostl
2 years 28 days ago

Their two highest-performing starters were traded to Oakland. Is that factored anywhere for 2015?

Derek R-C
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Derek R-C
2 years 28 days ago

I thought the same thing. I thought they should have thought about keeping samardizja. He was a good young pitcher who had the experience that could have been the anchor ace for them. They have the money to sign him long term.

I understand why they traded him but it may not work out for them.

Cornflake5000
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Cornflake5000
2 years 28 days ago

Shark’s not young. He’s 29. When the new contract starts he’ll be 31. The Cubs have been .500 since May, they haven’t fallen apart since trading those two.

ChiGuy
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ChiGuy
2 years 28 days ago

Samardzija and Hammel were both performing at an unsustainable pace in 2014, and the Cubs sold (and the A’s bought) very high on both of those guys. That’s how they were able to get Addison Russell, who (I think) turns out to be a steal for the Cubs as a result.

Remember this, though—despite Samardzija’s lights-out performance, he was still losing games. It didn’t translate to wins because the Cubs offense sucked so badly. Shark was 2-7 at the time of the trade. Hammel was 8-5, so they were 10-12 as a pair. A much better offense next year should offset a dropoff in pitching performance, if any exists. Which brings me to my next point.

Jake Arrieta’s performance has been just under ace-level this year, but he missed a good chunk of time at the beginning. He didn’t start til May 3, and wasn’t able to go 6 innings consistently until a month later. So that should be factored in along with a guess at what the loss of Shark and Hammel’s April-June performance will mean.

astrostl
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astrostl
2 years 28 days ago

“A much better offense next year should offset a dropoff in pitching performance, if any exists.”

One hopes! Or, at least Cub fans hope. Still, this isn’t quantified in the article or your response, with something like the as-is starting rotation for 2015 along with their projections. Which is pretty material to me when discussing things in terms of “poised for a breakthrough” rather than “won’t suck.”

ChiGuy
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ChiGuy
2 years 23 days ago

Not precisely quantified in the article, I suppose. But the whole point of the article is that the Cubs are likely to be better purely through regression to the mean. Right? That’s what I got out of it.

MORE IMPORTANTLY: If you look at the WARs of the Cubs 2014 Opening Day lineup, for example, it’s not hard to see areas where improvement is inevitable. When you have a stack of guys with negative WARs, it follows logically that a “replacement” level player is going to be an improvement. The Cubs (and, yes it’s true, the fans) are convinced that the players coming in (Soler and Bryant especially) are going to be significantly better than replacement level.

Their offense will be much improved next year. You can probably count on an additional 50-100 runs scored for the 2015 season, at a minimum. Barring a plague of catastrophic injuries, at least.

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