Happy Opening Day y’all!

The Chicago Cubs are the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Central (again).  Most baseball pundits also think this year is just a ride on the Cub juggernaut train for the next 3 years (at least).

The Cubs – under this management (are you listening McCaskeys?) – have climbed into the Phillip Drummond of penthouses when it comes to MLB diff’rent strokes. The question now for Joe Maddon has been and will be, “How do you get Arnold and Willis and Kimberly all the at-bats you need to move the beat of just one drum?” 

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Living in the icy frozenscape of Indiana during the winter, I sat and wondered, “How will Joe Maddon dupe millionaires into being happy about playing time yet again this season?” The Cubs have both emerging stars and aging players with high salaries, balancing a concentrated effort to blend analytics with human sensibilities to win games. Money and stats collide. How can you divide the playing time so nobody’s mom calls Maddon and complains?

I think I have a good idea how all of the Cubs can succeed, play everyone and get a treat at the concession stand while still winning 95+ games.

First, I noticed the 2018 projections for FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference seemed woefully low. To correct this: I estimated how many plate appearances (PAs) the Cub position players usually get as a team (PAs minus pitchers), then adjusted the well-known published winter projections to that more accurate number:

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 12.03.43 AM

So, more or less, the 2018 Cubs position players will have 5,930 PAs give or take. If they hit better than last year (which is a fair assumption), they may approach 6,000 PAs by position players. Most internet ratings are conservative and project less PAs, but when you look at actual numbers during recent seasons, you can be more aggressive assigning PAs to the thunderous Cub hitters.

2018 Cubs Plate Appearance Projections

The 2018 Cubs offense – preliminarily – should be broken up into 3 groups:

  • Plate appearances by 6 usual suspects that are up in the air
  • Plate appearances that will come from 4 everyday players
  • Plate appearances that go to subs and other guys who randomly get to hold a bat

I spent time (Indiana winters!) looking at B-Ref and FanGraphs projections compared to the above 5,930 number and realized popular national baseball projections are way too conservative. Simply, there are more PAs to be had over a 162-game season for a team that will be top 4 in the bigs in runs scored.

Guys Who Play But PAs Up In The Air

Here’s how the internet – and also me – project the plate appearances of the 2018 Cub players who will mix and match. Basically, we have 6 good players for 4 every day spots:

Baez, Schwarber, Almora, Happ, Zobrist and Heyward will be the 6 players who occupy the spots for 2B, LF, CF, RF. Here’s how B-Ref and FanGraphs and myself estimate how Maddon will play these 6 players for the 4 spots over 162 games this year:

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 12.13.49 AM

Heading into 2018, it seems as though Happ will play a ton and get first crack at batting leadoff. Zobrist is a (aging) do-it-all Swiss army knife, Heyward is on a short leash and management loves Schwarber to the point where he will be given every chance to succeed. Schwarber is gonna play almost every day – he’s an above average fielder defensively and the front office loves him.

So stick those 2,864 PAs in your head and let’s move on to the 4 studs who will play pretty much every day – Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Addison Russell. Here are the PA projections for the Cubs who should play almost every day:

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 12.23.34 AM

Rizzo bats nearly 700 times per year, but I suppose he’ll occasionally be spelled at first by Caratini, Contreras and maybe even Bryant and Zobrist here and there. Russell is the key here. He’s likely to play shortstop almost every day if everything goes smoothly. Hopefully, he gets close to the 21 and 95 he had in 2016. If Russell drives in 85 runs, the Cubs will win 100 games.

What’s Left?

We talked earlier about the Cubs being able to expect more or less 5,930 plate appearances as a team for 2018. Between the 2 graphs above, we’ve only covered (in the Rattray projections) 5,500 PAs. What’s left?

Guys like Tommy La Stella, Victor Caratini, Mike Freeman and other late call-ups will fill the last 400 or so PAs for the Cubs in 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 12.28.29 AM

Plate Appearance Conclusions

As the 2018 season begins, we’ve laid out a scenario where the core Cubs players and borderline roster guys will add up to 5,910 plate appearances. If this exercise seemed boring – sorry! But the 2018 Cubs are stacked and trying to figure out who is going to play and how many times each guy will hit may dictate how heavily they dominate this year.

Enjoy this year, #CubsNation. The Cubs have more good players than what is normal – 10 big leaguers for 8 spots. Maddon’s biggest headache will be, once again, playing them all enough.

He’s Got Jokes

We’re talking baseball…

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