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2006 Team Previews: Chicago Cubs, Positional Players

2005 was a frustrating season for fans of the Cubs. That will seem like an understatement to some, and that feeling is most likely warranted. The pitching, which should have been the class of the National League (again), was decimated by injury (again). The problems all started in the 2005 offseason though, as the club waited much too long to trade Sammy Sosa. It tied their hands in other potentials deals (Cliff Floyd's +19.66 pNRAA would've been a welcome addition, and would've ranked second on the team). The Cubs ended up signing Jeromy Burnitz as Sosa's replacement, and he gave them a league average season. Matt Murton, snagged in the blockbuster 2004 trade that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs, as well as Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox, performed very well, especially considering his tender age. And of course, Derrek Lee should have won the Most Valuable Player Award, considering he led both leagues in pNRAA and pNRAA/GP.

The pitching problems were not solved over the offseason. Greg Maddux was healthy, but not an ace, which wasn't expected of him at this stage of the game anyways. Carlos Zambrano showed himself to be the Cubs reliable ace yet again, throwing 223 innings with a 3.26 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. Kerry Wood's 2005 season pushed me closer and closer to the "Wood needs to be a closer/fireman" camp, and Mark Prior was a victim of the slew of unnecessary attacks against pitchers by line drives last year. So many men lost, and for what?

Here is a look at the Cubs pNRAA for every player who made at least 50 outs in 2005, ranked by pNRAA.

Cubs 2005 pNRAA
Player OUT EQA Games Rate pEQRAA pEqA pNRAA pNRAA/GP
Derrek Lee 398 0.344 158 109 52.58 0.284 42.28 66.80
Matt Murton 96 0.308 51 97 6.75 0.272 10.23 5.22
Aramis Ramirez 324 0.302 123 88 22.63 0.265 6.40 7.87
Neifi Perez 419 0.236 154 112 -12.78 0.256 3.70 5.70
Michael Barrett 310 0.277 133 89 17.01 0.244 1.79 2.38
Todd Walker 277 0.279 110 93 8.75 0.261 0.95 1.05
Ronny Cedeno 56 0.260 41 100 -0.09 0.261 -0.23 -0.09
Jeromy Burnitz 453 0.258 160 106 -12.43 0.274 -1.77 -2.83
Nomar Garciaparra 165 0.260 62 95 -1.39 0.265 -7.24 -4.49
Jerry Hairston Jr. 290 0.244 114 99 -7.82 0.261 -7.86 -8.96
Jose Macias 135 0.212 112 98 -10.43 0.265 -11.32 -12.67
Jason Dubois 109 0.247 52 95 -4.50 0.272 -13.66 -7.10
Corey Patterson 359 0.214 126 102 -24.44 0.261 -17.40 -21.92
Jody Gerut 128 0.224 59 96 -9.50 0.272 -20.10 -11.86
Matt Lawton 59 0.211 19 101 -5.35 0.272 -27.16 -5.16

This should show you how things went on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Derrek Lee was the best player in the game, but the second best player on the Cubs rate wise was Matt Murton, who appeared in the grand total of 51 games. Aramis Ramirez was next in line, but he was only a few runs above average thanks to his poor defense. After that...well, I'd rather not talk about Neifi! There are a whole lot of negative signs up in that chart; a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Cubs do not really have any stellar positional players outside of Lee. The Cubs are full of players who are a little above or below average, have one major star, and then are loaded with players who really shouldn't participate on a playoff caliber team as often as they do. Corey Patterson had a pNRAA of -17.40; Jose Macias played over 100 games to the tune of a -12.67 pNRAA/GP; Jason Dubois, Jody Gerut and Matt Lawton were all extremely ineffective, although I do have to credit Hendry for trying on that one. Lawton was having a very good season in Pittsburgh, after all.

  • Acquired
  • Jacque Jones
  • John Mabry
  • Augie Ojeda
  • Michael Restovich
  • Lost
  • Corey Patterson
  • Jeromy Burnitz
  • Nomar Garciaparra
  • Mark Johnson
Trading Corey Patterson was absolutely necessary. He had a .214 EqA; I was excited about the Cubs shedding him before I knew it was that low. Losing Nomar isn't that big of a deal. A) He wasn't there that often anyways and B) Where was he going to play? Not shortstop, he had issues there before ripping body parts off of his inner thigh. Third base is occupied by Aramis Ramirez. First base, like the Dodgers are trying, is taken by the team's best player. It was good to let him walk. I think Burnitz may be preferable to Jacque Jones, but if Jones ever gets a platoon partner, he is useful. No, really.

Mike Restovich could be that useful platoon partner (.279/.333/.463 against LHP in 136 AB since 2002), but he was optioned to the minors. Figures.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played). Powered by the musical excellence of Ben Folds (and some really good chicken) in the background, let's move on to the positional analysis.

2005: Michael Barrett .276/.345/.479; +1.79 pNRAA; +2.38 pNRAA/GP

2006: Michael Barrett .272/.336/.443; +5.34 pNRAA; +5.39 pNRAA/GP

If Barrett had been a league average defensive catcher in 2005, his pNRAA would have been +12.79, which would have made him one of the best catchers in the league, rather than a league average catcher. I'll still take Barrett over a great deal of the catchers in the league, and the Cubs need his bat anyways. If he improves on his defense like PECOTA expects him to, and retains the bat he swung in 2005, the Cubs will have themselves one of the better catchers around. David Gassko's numbers have Barrett around the same area that PECOTA expects him to be at in the upcoming season. By the way, I've noticed a great deal of the Rate and FRAA statistics that are way off in 2005 in comparison to the other statistical systems seem to right the ship with the 2006 projection. I wonder if anything has changed in the way they calculate the projected stats since last year, and if it just hasn't hit the DT cards as of yet.

First Base
2005: Derrek Lee .335/.418/.662; +42.28 pNRAA; +66.80 pNRAA/GP

2006: Derrek Lee .298/.384/.570; +20.34 pNRAA; +31.11 pNRAA/GP

There is obviously regression in Lee's bat from his dominating 2005 campaign, which just missed the cut, WARP3-wise, as one of the rare 13+ seasons at first base, coming in at 12.3 instead.

Lee is projected to be a better hitter than he was prior to the 2005 season, which is to be expected, as there was legitimate improvement to his game. Here are his 2005 splits:

  • Pre/Post All-Star
  • Pre: .378/.452/.733; 11.67 AB/HR
  • Post: .287/.380/.581; 14.68 AB/HR
His PECOTA projection looks eerily similar to his second half stat line, which makes sense, because I think that is a good indicator of future performance, at least when discussing the next season.

By the way, Gassko's numbers show Lee to be below average at first base, although Rate feels he is one of the best around. Dewan thinks he is above average, but not by much, and David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has him ranked 11th among first basemen.

Second Base
2005: Todd Walker .305/.355/.474; +0.95 pNRAA; +1.05 pNRAA/GP

2006: Todd Walker .280/.341/.425; -5.47 pNRAA; -5.31 pNRAA/GP

Todd Walker is widely considered an awful defensive second basemen, but last year he wasn't really that bad if you believe Dewan and Gassko. He was below average, but not as far down as Rate has him, and Pinto has him down low in his rankings as well. I didn't pay nearly as much attention to defense as I should have in 2003 when Walker was playing for Boston. I hadn't started blogging yet ok...stop looking at me with such disgust.

There were some Todd Walker trade rumors over the winter; one I didn't mind so much was in exchange for Luis Matos, but then again, I like Matos more than most. More than Juan Pierre even. My issue is that I don't think the Cubs should be upgrading in a corner only to lose out on middle infield value, and I trust Walker to account for more production than the backup options on the roster.

Third Base
2005: Aramis Ramirez .302/.358/.568; +6.40 pNRAA; +7.87 pNRAA/GP
2005: Nomar Garciaparra .283/.320/.452; -18.24 pNRAA; -11.31 pNRAA/GP

2006: Aramis Ramirez .293/.356/.540; +9.09 pNRAA; +12.36 pNRAA/GP

Remember when I complained about Aramis playing poor defense? I take it back. Nomar had a Rate2 of 84 last year at third in his time there...I'll take Ramirez, thank you. Aramis can certainly swing the bat, and with defensive improvement should be a fine player, roughly 10 runs above average. Gassko's figures don't put him quite as low as Rate did. The scouting report in The Fielding Bible brings up an interesting point I had forgotten about. Ramirez had improved his defense when he came to the Cubs in 2003, but the groin and leg injuries he seems to get yearly reduce his effectiveness. Seeing Ramirez healthy for a full season would help us gauge how good he actually is defensively.

Ramirez had an EqA of .302, which is one of the highest among third basemen. The Cubs could use another bat like Ramirez's in the lineup to make up for the issues in the rest of it, but there doesn't appear to be any help like that on the horizon.

2005: Neifi! Perez .274/.298/.383; +5.70 pNRAA; +8.78 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ronny Cedeno .273/.320/.387; -4.02 pNRAA; -4.38 pNRAA/GP

Neifi! was all kinds of ridiculous good at shortstop defensively. He was basically just as bad offensively though; that .274/.298/.383 line is probably worse than it actually looks.

Neifi! Month by Month Splits
April 68 25 2 1 3 12 3 0 1 7 2 0 1 0 .368 .403 .559
May 108 28 6 0 2 9 3 0 1 9 4 1 5 0 .259 .283 .370
June 109 25 3 0 2 8 2 0 1 12 0 1 6 0 .229 .248 .312
July 103 24 7 0 1 12 2 2 0 7 2 1 0 0 .233 .245 .330
August 75 26 7 0 1 6 5 1 0 6 0 0 6 0 .347 .388 .480
September 102 26 7 0 0 6 3 0 0 6 4 1 3 0 .255 .274 .324
October 7 3 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .429 .429 .571
Total 572 157 33 1 9 54 18 3 3 47 12 4 22 0 .274 .298 .383

There's a better chance we'll see those summer at-bats than there is we'll see April again. Please ignore August, which seems to be a repeat of April. I'm trying to cope with the fact that my system thinks Neifi is an above average player ok? You don't know what that's like! Well, unless you are a Cubs fan.

As for Ronny Cedeno, he was very impressive in Iowa, hitting .355/.403/.518 at age 22. John Sickels gave him a grade of B in his most recent prospect book, but PECOTA remains pessimistic. I think a lot of that has to do with his previous minor league experience, which didn't contain quite the offense that 2005 did. He was also rated higher defensively as a shortstop in the minors than PECOTA is giving him credit for. Cedeno is one to watch this year.

Left Field
2005: Todd Hollandsworth .254/.301/.388; -17.15 pNRAA; -18.35 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jason Dubois .239/.289/.472; -13.66 pNRAA; -7.10 pNRAA/GP
2005: Matt Murton .321/.386/.521; +10.23 pNRAA; +5.22 pNRAA/GP

2006: Matt Murton .281/.343/.418; -5.91 pNRAA; -7.39 pNRAA/GP

Well, left field can't possibly be as poor as it was in 2005. Matt Murton isn't projected anywhere near the incredible debut line he put up (and I don't think he should be) but I think PECOTA may be cheating him a little. Murton should be capable of reaching his 75th percentile projection, which comes to .292/.354/.440, giving him a pNRAA of -0.98...much better. I think Murton can handle the value of a league average player nicely. PECOTA sees him as basically a league average player for the next four seasons after that; again, I'm not so sure I agree with that sentimenent, and if he succeeds this year I think we'll see a lot of improvement in those future projections.

Center Field
2005: Corey Patterson .215/.254/.348; -17.40 pNRAA; -21.92 pNRAA/GP

2006: Juan Pierre .297/.348/.361; -7.71 pNRAA; -11.80 pNRAA/GP

It is sad to me in a way that a player can come in with a projected pNRAA of -7.71 and be considered a vast improvement. It is happening though. Pierre should be better defensively than he is listed under Rate. Dewan has him at exactly average over the course of 2003-2005. Interesting tidbit...

2005: Luis Matos .280/.340/.373; +9.61 pNRAA; +11.63 pNRAA/GP

Dewan has him rated as one of the better centerfielders in the game, coming in at 6th over the 2003-2005 seasons in the plus/minus rating system. Pierre is 16th, although he was 28th overall in 2005.

Right Field
2005: Jeromy Burnitz .258/.322/.435; -1.77 pNRAA; -2.83 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jacque Jones .268/.327/.441; -7.05 pNRAA; -8.46 pNRAA/GP

Burnitz did earned his paychecks in 2005, putting up a league average season in right. As for Jones...well, I'm as tired of talking about the fact that he can't hit lefties as you are of hearing about it. Apparently, he isn't as good of a fielder as I once thought he was either, so any times you see me say, "well, he's a good defender," just ignore it. I cannot believe that this team did not get him a platoon partner. I'm just going to leave it at that, as nothing of substance outside of "Why Jim Hendry, why?" is coming to me. Bless each and every Cub fan out there for your perseverance and patience. Seriously.

Time for the lineup analysis. As always, first comes the projected lineup based off of past Dusty Baker creations and the current depth charts, and then comes the Marc version of the lineup.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Pierre
  3. Walker
  4. Lee
  5. Ramirez
  6. Jones
  7. Murton
  8. Barrett
  9. Cedeno
  10. Pitcher
This lineup is expected to score 781 runs, or 4.821 runs per game. If this is the case, the Cubs are going to need Prior and Wood at full health, because the Cards are expected to do better than that, and their rotation is better when Prior and/or Wood aren't around. So are the Brewers, actually.
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Murton
  3. Lee
  4. Walker
  5. Ramirez
  6. Barrett
  7. Jones
  8. Cedeno
  9. Pitcher
  10. Pierre
Using the sort of ideas found within Dan Scotto's Lineup Cheat Sheet, I came out to the same lineup that Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool claimed would work the best. This lineup comes out to 5.045 runs per game, or 817 for the season. I actually feel like there is more depth to this lineup than the one we are most likely to see; having Walker in the #3 spot is something not every team has the luxury of when it comes to this type of lineup structure.

Overall, I think the Cubs are looking at a second place finish, and potential Wild Card berth, if they can just stay relatively healthy. They need Prior and Wood to return back and stay back for a change; if this happens, I can see them possibly making it to October. If not, the Brewers are going to finish in second, with the Cubs coming in behind them.