Cubs

By the numbers: Analyzing Cubs through first part of 2015

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By the numbers: Analyzing Cubs through first part of 2015

With the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field Tuesday night, it marked the 32nd game of the season, which means roughly 20 percent of the 2015 campaign is completed.

One-fifth of the way through the season, the Cubs are on pace for 85 wins. Last season, the fewest number of wins by a team that made the playoffs was 88 (Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's). In 2013, the fewest number of wins by a playoff team was 90 (Cincinnati Reds).

[MORE CUBS: Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard]

The Cubs' -3 run differential ranks eighth in the National League and 18th in Major League Baseball.

At .531, the Cubs have the ninth-highest winning percentage in all of baseball.

National League Ranks:

2nd - BBs taken (114)
2nd - SB (30)
5th - HRs (31)
5th - OBP (.325)
6th - Total Bases (435)
6th - SLG (.397)
6th - OPS (.722)
8th - Runs (137)
10th - AVG (.249)

[MORE - 'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs]

2nd - K/9 (8.46)
5th - Strikeouts (270)
7th - Batting AVG Against (.249)
7th - HR allowed (28)
8th - ERA (4.10)
9th - Quality Starts (16)
13th - Blown Saves (6)

Pace (hitters)

Kris Bryant - .276/.417/.460 (.876 OPS), 76 R, 25 2B, 15 HR, 96 RBI, 101 BB, 172 K

Because he was in the minors for the first two weeks of the MLB season, Bryant is also only on pace for 122 games and 440 at-bats, making those pace numbers above all the more impressive. He's walking at a ridiculous rate right now, which is helping to make up for all the strikeouts and helped ease the surprising loss of power his first three weeks in The Show. But he has three homers in the last four games and it's not crazy at all to think he could finish with 25-30 dingers.

Starlin Castro - .280/.301/.371 (.673 OPS), 66 R, 15 2B, 15 HR, 101 RBI, 20 BB, 137 K, 10 SB

Much like other names on this list, Castro is striking out too much and he's also not drawing many walks. The 20 free passes would represent a career low (he walked 29 times in 125 games his rookie season in 2010). Castro also hasn't hit for a ton of power yet, but those 101 RBI looks nice hitting in the middle of that lineup. The projections have him at 187 hits on the season, which means he'd notch his 1,000 career basehit somewhere around early September if he stays healthy.

Alfonso Soriano was the last Cub to reach 100 RBI (2012).

Dexter Fowler - .262/.348/.402 (.749 OPS), 101 R, 35 2B, 10 3B, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 71 BB, 147 K, 41 SB

Fowler is on pace to play in 157 games and notch more than 600 at-bats, which may be a little unrealistic. The veteran outfielder has never earned even 500 at-bats in a season and he hasn't recorded 20+ steals in a season since his rookie year of 2009.

The Cubs haven't had a player score 100 runs in a season since Mark DeRosa accomplished the feat with 103 runs in 2008.

Anthony Rizzo - .330/.455/.600 (1.055 OPS), 122 R, 41 2B, 35 HR, 96 RBI, 96 BB, 86 K, 35 SB

There's almost no way Rizzo winds up with 30 steals, but the crazy pace he's on was unpredictable from the start, so who knows? That BB:K ratio is elite stuff and the numbers across the board look like an MVP candidate.

Addison Russell - .250/.280/.431 (.711 OPS), 46 R, 35 2B, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 15 BB, 157 K

Keep in mind that Russell is only just now starting his fourth week of MLB action and that 35-double pace is only in 365 at-bats (96 games).

Jorge Soler - .280/.338/.424 (.762 OPS), 76 R, 35 2B, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 56 BB, 238 K

The first thing that stands out, obviously, is the strikeouts and lack of power. Soler hit 28 homers in 163 games in the minor leagues and had five in 24 games last year. His strikeout total is especially alarming, as he leads the NL in that category and 238 whiffs makes Mark Reynolds look like an extreme contact hitter.

Pace (pitchers)

—Jon Lester is on track for 15 wins and 203 strikeouts. He recorded 220 whiffs last season, his first year over 200 since 2010.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

—Jake Arrieta is on pace for 20 wins as well as 243 strikeouts in 228 innings.

—Jason Hammel (who starts Wednesday night) on pace for 15 wins and 177 strikeouts, which would both be career highs.

—Hector Rondon is on track for 35 saves. Kevin Gregg (33) was the last Cubs reliever to notch 30 saves in a season in 2013. Thirty-five saves would be the highest for a Cubs closer since Carlos Marmol saved 38 games in 2010.

Catchers

The Cubs went against the grain by keeping three catchers on the big-league roster to open the season, but that experiement has worked out for them.

Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo have combined to post an .877 OPS, tops in the NL and third in all of baseball. The trio have combined for nine doubles five homers, 19 RBI, a .282 AVG, .377 OBP and and even .500 slugging.

Odds and ends

—Travis Wood has a 9.4 K/9 ratio through six starts, which is way above his career 7.0 mark coming into 2015. In fact, even in the minor leagues, Wood only managed an 8.4 K/9 ratio.

—Wood has also been a nonfactor at the plate in the early going. He hit six homers and three doubles the last two seasons with 18 RBI, but has only two singles in 20 at-bats in 2015, good for a .200 OPS. His OPS in 2013 and '14 was .639 and .700, respectively.

—With 27 errors in their first 32 games, only two teams - Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A's - have made more miscues than the Cubs. Joe Maddon's squad is on pace for 135 errors; they made 103 errors as a team in 2014.

—The Cubs have struck out the most of any team in the NL with 321 whiffs, almost 40 more than the next closest team (Milwaukee).

—Rizzo, Mike Trout & Justin Upton are only three players in Majors with at least 7 HR and 7 Stolen Bases this season.

—All of last season, the Cubs had four first-inning homers at Wrigley Field (they didn't hit their first until Aug. 19th). They have already matched that total in 2015, including two on Monday.

—In 202 PA vs lefties 2014-15, Anthony Rizzo is hitting .323/.443/.524 with 8 HR. He is 11-24 (.458/.581/.625) in 31 PA in 2015 alone.

—Lester's first four starts: 0-2, 6.23 ERA, 21.2 IP, 29 H

Last three starts: 3-0, 1.80 ERA, 20.0 IP, 15 H

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

—Lester now 0-for-52 career at the plate

—Arrieta is now 18-10 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.030 WHIP and 252 strikeouts in 253.1 innings in 41 starts with the Cubs.

He was 20-25 with 5.46 ERA, 1.472 WHIP and 277 strikeouts in 358 innings spanning 69 games (63 starts) with the Baltimore Orioles to begin his career.

(H/T to CSN Stat Guru Chris Kamka for help with stats/info)

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.