Welcome back to baseball Cubs fan, or just fantasy readers who want to know about the Cubs. 2018 was a disappointment for many Cubs fans and fantasy owners of Cubs players alike, unless you happened to own Javier Baez. At least there is always the bleachers with a sausage and an Old Style.
While my outlook for 2019 may still be rosy (I expect the Cubbies to win the NL Central), there is an impending contract cliff that the North siders are going to have to maneuver, and the roster could look completely different in 2021 and 2022. Some of these guys the Cubs will try to re-sign, and other deals will be nice to get off the books, but the Cubs must make that decision on Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and several other less impactful guys.
I’m a bit hesitant on the Cubs for the future, but you’re here to figure out what to do this season. While 2018 may be viewed as a down season, the Cubs still finished 9th in runs scored and the pitching finished with the 3rd best ERA in the league. PECOTA is projecting doom and gloom with a last place finish in the division, but that seems like an overreaction to a team that is getting a healthy Kris Bryant and hopefully, a healthy Yu Darvish back this season. I may even take the over on the THOME projection of 88.5 wins with a 2nd place finish in the division, but maybe I’m just optimistic, after all, it is spring training time
(To hear more about the THOME projection system, check out my podcast, Ditka, Sausage, and Fantasy Sports on Razzball when we interview the creator, Steve Paulo).
|Albert Almora Jr.||111||448||9||45||47||25||75||3||0.272||0.314||563|
Nothing stands out as out of place on the initial lineup projection. Possibly the biggest question coming into the season is Kris Bryant. To quote my buddy Walter McMichael (@RealFakeWalter), Bryant keeps getting better for real baseball, but worse for fantasy. That may not apply to 2018 as his season was marred by injury and never got going, but from his MVP 2016 season to his 2017 season, Kris improved his batting average, struck out less, walked more, and had a better barrel per plate appearance rate.
However, the homeruns dropped from 39 to 29 and the RBI dropped from 102 to 73. RBI are dependent on situation, but Bryant did move to 2nd in the batting order compared to splitting 2nd and 3rd in 2016. Bryant has dropped out of the 1st round and is squarely in the back of the 2nd or early 3rd at this point. I can understand the drop as a return to MVP form makes him a first rounder, but if the shoulder isn’t right, or the power doesn’t return, he becomes more like Justin Upton than J.D. Martinez. I still believe in the skill set and look at the impact his bat will make on the offense. As Wilson Fisk is fond of saying
The one player that did not disappoint in 2018 was Javier Baez, but can he repeat it in 2019. There has been plenty of speculation that 2018 was his career season, and that he won’t return his current ADP value. Baez is currently going off the board as the 13th player off the board, ADP of 14.67 in NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championships) compared to TGFBI (The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational) where Baez was the 21st player overall to match his ADP of 21.
I have Baez ranked 4th among SS, and depending on the format, may move him up to 3. Last year, we saw Baez put up a .290 average with 34 HRs and 21 SBs. Steamer has him down for 29HR/17SB and a .269 average. I think the slight drop in HR and SB is fair in a projection, but the average dropping to .269 seems drastic as he’s hit .273, .273, and .290 in the last 3 seasons. Despite his high K rate and improving, but still poor plate discipline, the thing that people miss when number scouting Baez is that he has some of the fastest hands and wrists in the game coupled with his elite hand eye coordination. Draft Baez at the backend of the 1st or early 2nd with confidence and enjoy the power/speed combo.
Anthony Rizzo did fall under 30 homeruns, but other than that, Rizzo was Rizzo. I know some people believe he had a down season, and maybe he did, but he’s the same guy he has been, and one of the safest bets for bankable stats. Ben Zobrist is a decent target late in deeper drafts if you’re just looking for some runs.
Ian Happ has a lot of swing and miss in his game with back to back seasons over a 30% k rate, but he was top third in the league for average exit velocity, barrels/PA, and hard hit rate when he does make contact. He also gets a nice boost in OBP where he ended last season at .353 (15.2% BB rate). If he can make better contact and avoid the fall in the second half this season, he could be a nice power/speed option late in your drafts.
If you’re looking at the bench, I think David Bote could be a 20 HR threat given full playing time but needs an injury or two to make that happen, and Albert Almora can be a nice late pick at OF for a decent average and a few counting stats.
|Carl Edwards Jr.||3||3||3.8||0||2||60||74||33||1.35||11.1||4.89|
That brings us to the rotation, which is full of question marks other than Kyle Hendricks. Jon Lester had another solid season with 32 starts to a 3.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 18 wins. However, we saw his K% drop below 20% for the first time since he moved to the National League, and his WHIP has now been over 1.30 in consecutive years. I don’t know what to make of it as it’s likely just the randomness of baseball, but Lester, like the Giants, is better during even number years. I’m fading Lester in 2019 for more than that little tidbit, but he’s slipping so far in some drafts that I’m willing to draft him and just play the matchups with a veteran pitcher that has not failed to start more than 30 games since his rookie season.
Yu Darvish is a mystery man at this point. Is he healthy? Will he get back under a 4 ERA? Why am I asking you the questions since I’m supposed to have the answers? Well, I’m in the same boat that you are right now. I know it’s a surprise, but I don’t have an inside connection to every Asian player in the country. He looked good in his 2 innings of scoreless ball against the White Sox with 3 strikeouts and 1 walk. He was hitting 97 mph, and says he has the “best stuff in my life”, which would be saying something for a guy with his repertoire, including this gyro/curve ball that he breaks out on occasion.
Cole Hamels was an in-season acquisition for the Cubs who picked up his $20 million option for 2019. For one season with no more commitment, I thought it was a good choice, especially given the lack of starters available on the free agent market this year. Nether I, nor the Steamer projection, seem to expect much from Hamels, but could be useful in a similar way to Lester with a higher strikeout potential. In fact, outside of Darvish, the entire Cubs rotation will likely provide you similar results at different points in your draft. If your draft unfolds where you have more risky pitching options early, maybe grab one of these Chicago starters as an innings eater.
The bullpen is a bit of a mess with Pedro Strop likely the leading candidate to close, at least to start the season. Strop has 5 consecutive seasons of an ERA under 3 and has only had a WHIP over 1.08 once in that time. The K rate dropped a little last season from previous seasons, but his swinging strike rate was higher than in 2017. In case Strop were to falter, or if Joe Maddon just plays roulette with the closer position, there are several options to take that role starting with Brandon Morrow when he’s healthy enough to join the club along with Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., and Brad Brach. I believe Strop is the best arm in the bullpen and worth taking as the team’s closer but monitor usage early in the season to see who may be next in line. Normally you could take some information from the spring training appearances, but we never know what crazy Uncle Joe is thinking.
Follow B_Don on Twitter @DitkaSausagePod and subscribe to the podcast here at Razzball!