A quick back-of-the-envelope assessment of the 2008 Cubs:

Hitting:

Should be better.  Slight age-related attrition for Lee, Soriano (maybe), but significant improvements at C and (probably) at RF.  No one had a “career year” last year, so there’s no reason to expect anyone to fall back a lot from their performance last year.

Pitching:

The Cubs certainly got a little lucky in the BAbip department last year (especially Lilly), and I don’t expect them to put up the league’s 2nd best ERA this year like they did last year.  Still, they have a solid core of starters and a large pool of mediocre guys to plug into the 4 and 5 slots, a bullpen with some excellent power arms, and a few AAA-level guys to plug holes if needed.

What is the Baseline?

Were the Cubs “for real” last year?  Certainly: their Pythagorean record was 87-75, and their “third-order” W-L record according to Baseball Prospectus was 84-78.  So, to use a phrase coined to describe another Chicago sports franchise, “they are who we thought they were.”  Thus, in assessing what impact the additions/improvements to the team will have, we can go ahead and start by using 85 wins as our baseline.

This year:

My method will be very rough, as befits a “quick-and-dirty” back-of-the-envelope style calculation: I will ignore the differences between last year’s WARPs and this year’s mean projected WARPs for all positions except catcher, center field, and right field, then add the differences for those positions to 85.  It’s so simple and dumb it might work.  Here are the relevant numbers:

C: last year’s total WARP1=3.3; this year’s projection=4.8 (assuming backups are at replacement level)

CF: last year’s total WARP1≈4.0 (this is approximate); this year’s projection=3.7 (assuming Pie starts and backups are at replacement level)

RF: last year’s total WARP1≈4.9 (this is approximate); this year’s projection=4.4 (assuming backups are at replacement level)

The net change in WARP is then +.7.  But wait!  There’s a bad assumption here, namely that the backups will be at replacement level.  Last year, the “backups” actually contributed a large chunk to the WARP position totals at both CF and RF (DeRosa, Murton, Pagan, and Ward to RF, Pie and Pagan to CF), and that should be the case this year as well.  PECOTA predicts Fukudome will only play in 110 games, so let’s give the remaining 52 to Murton and use 1.7 of his projected 2.3 WARP for RF.  In CF, PECOTA projects Pie to play in 102 games, so let’s give 30 of the remaining games to Fuld and the other 30 to some replacement level guy.  This gives us a total WARP1 of 6.1 for RF and 4.3 for CF, giving us a net gain in WARP of 3.0 over last year.  So I therefore fearlessly predict that the Cubs will win 88 games!

This exercise has been extremely rough, but I think the end result—namely, that the Cubs should win a handful of games more than last year—sounds about right in that it jives with both my intuition and the the results of various simulations and projection systems.  This is still not a great team, but it is a good one that plays in a bad division, so I expect them to be up in the high 80s/low 90s in wins this year.

Here’s my 25-man roster:

C: Soto, Blanco

IF: Lee, DeRosa, Theriot, Ramirez, Fontenot, Cedeño

OF: Soriano, Pie, Fukudome, Murton

Fat PH: Ward

SP: Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Marquis, Leiber

RP: Wood, Marmol, Howry, Eyre, Wuertz, Marshall, Dempster

OK, let me explain the bullpen: the way I see it, the Cubs have three power arms (Marmol, Howry, Wood) that should be used in high-leverage situations and two “pretty good” guys (Wuertz, Eyre) who can be used in medium-leverage situations.  But when Marquis and Leiber are two of your starters, you’re going to have a significant amount of low-leverage—that is, mop-up—situations, and there’s no need to give those innings to one of your better relievers.  Hence, Marshall is your “long man A” and Dempster is your “long man B” who can also be used in higher-leverage situations if needed.  I like Gallagher, but I think he needs a little more seasoning.  He and Kevin Hart and Carmen Pignatiello should start the year in AAA, ready to be called up when someone gets hurt.

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