We’ve all heard it repeatedly over the past couple weeks. The Cubs offense is struggling. They have multiple guys hitting well below their expected numbers, most notably Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo. But how bad is it? How far off are these guys based on their projections? It’s an interesting way to look at things. Projection systems aren’t perfect, but they give us a good unbiased (yes, we can all be homers) look at the upcoming season. I looked back at the Cubs player’s percentile projections and looked at just how badly some of the north siders have struggled compared to their preseason PECOTA projections. To make it easy, I worked off of TAv, which is the best overall offensive stat that we have here with BP.
Kris Bryant TAV .334
2016 (699 PA) .350
Bryant is the one of the few Cubs regulars who is performing better than expected to this point. The reigning MVP is performing right at his 80th percentile projection. The continued MVP-like production is a key reason the Cubs have as many wins as they do. The crazy thing is that Bryant’s projections were quite conservative considering the numbers he put up last year. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect this kind of performance from Bryant to continue.
Jon Jay TAv .284
2016 (373 PA) .271
The center field platoon has done quite well compared to its projections. Although he’s cooled off some lately, Jay still remains right between his 80th and 90th percentile projection. While his numbers might come down some, the depth of the Cubs allows Joe Maddon to put his part-time players in the best positions to succeed. This could allow these guys’ numbers to play above their projections the rest of the way.
Albert Almora TAv .250
2016 .267 (117 PA)
The other half of the center field platoon has also performed relatively well compared to his PECOTA projections. While he hasn’t put up the numbers Jay has, he has performed right at his 60th percentile projection, just a tad above average. As with Jay, Almora is going to be put into positions to succeed, so I don’t necessarily expect his production to tail off. Pitchers have started to make adjustments against Almora, so he is going to have to adjust back in order to maintain his slightly above-expected production.
Javier Baez TAv .248
2016 (450 PA) .275
Baez begins the below average production compared to PECOTA by being just slightly below average. While he was able to produce a .275 TAv in 2016, the projections were a bit lower on him, with a 50th percentile TAv of .252. Baez’s production has come in just slightly below that. I sound like a bit of a broken record here, but Javy is going to be in the same boat as Almora and Jay when it comes to being put in better positions to succeed.
Anthony Rizzo TAv .257
2016 (676 PA) .334
Here is the beginning of the guys who are REALLY struggling. Anthony Rizzo is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career at the moment, which has tanked his TAv all the way down to .257. This number sits well below his 10th percentile projection and WAY below his 2016 production. Rizzo is obviously a key guy for the Cubs, and they need him to turn it around, which given his career numbers is completely expected. Look for the Cubs offense to turn the corner as Anthony heats up.
Kyle Schwarber TAv .232
2015 (273 PA) .307
Kyle Schwarber makes it two key Cubs bats who are performing below even their 10th percentile projection. While Kyle has limited time at the big league level, his minor league dominance gave him a pretty rosy projection for the 2017 season. He hasn’t lived up to that yet, but it’s hard to imagine him staying down this low for much longer. As Cubs President of Baseball Operations said yesterday, “If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying.”
Willson Contreras .257
2016 (283 PA) .302
Willson Contreras is another guy like Schwarber who has a limited MLB track record, but PECOTA was relatively high on. Again like Schwarber, he has yet to live up to the expectations. While he hasn’t been as bad as Kyle or Anthony, his .257 TAv falls between the 20th and 30th percentile projection and much below his 2016 mark of .302. I wrote about some of Willson’s issues, and it looks like he has already started to correct some of that. I expect it to continue moving forward.
Addison Russell .233
2016 (598 PA) .275
Addison Russell is another one of the young bats who has struggled early. His .233 TAv falls between his 10th and 20th percentile projections. It may be obnoxious to have me say it over and over, but he is another guy who you just expect to turn it around. While the bat hasn’t broken out yet in his career, his 2016 mark was still well above where he’s currently at, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that’s the kind of floor that Russell will end up at in 2017.
Jason Heyward .260
2016 (592 PA) .237
Heyward became one of the most polarizing Cubs in 2016 with his abysmal performance to start his Cubs career following signing a $184 million contract. However, because of his long major league track record, PECOTA wasn’t too down on him. He started very well, though he cooled off a bit before going on the DL. Heyward’s current .260 TAv falls between his 30th and 40th percentile projections. If he’s healthy, Heyward should be around his 2017 projection or better, but it remains to be seen how his hand will feel following his DL trip.
Ben Zobrist .259
2016 (613 PA) .306
Zobrist is one the Cubs that I am most surprised has struggled in the early going. While he is up there in age, Zobrist has a remarkable track record. His .259 TAv is between his 20th and 30th percentile projection and well below his 2016 number. Zobrist is an interesting case just because of his age. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for Ben, or have his early back troubles zapped his production?
All in all, you see that many Cubs are performing well below their PECOTA projection, which usually tend to be on the conservative side of things. A guy like Rizzo is fully expected to bounce back, but following the young bats with limited track records is going to be something to watch. While guys like Contreras, Schwarber, Russell, and Baez shouldn’t continue to be this bad, they are still establishing what kind of hitters they will be at the big league level.
Lead photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing—USA Today Sports