Cubs scoff at last place projection: 'Wow, that's cool'

Cubs scoff at last place projection: 'Wow, that's cool'

MESA, Ariz. — How much would have to go wrong for the Cubs to not only miss out on the playoffs, but somehow end up in last place in the National League Central?

A year ago, it was pretty much Murphy's Law around the Cubs: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Kris Bryant didn't have a healthy day after mid-May and his power numbers took a serious hit. The Cubs got very little contributions from the top three pitchers they added over the winter (Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tyler Chatwood) between injuries and ineffectiveness. The schedule did the Cubs no favors, Pedro Strop got injured at the absolute wrong time, nearly every young hitter struggled in the second half and even Mr. Reliable Steve Cishek seemingly ran into a wall down the stretch.

Yet they still won 95 games, which you might have heard reference to a time or two this offseason.

But apparently PECOTA doesn't think the Cubs will be able to rise above adversity again in 2019.

The Baseball Prospectus projection system initially pegged the Cubs for 82 wins when it was first released last week, but an update now has them at 80-82 for the season, firmly in last place in the National League Central. Yes, that's a below-.500 record for a team with championship aspirations and a slot finishing behind both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds (pegged for 81-81 records) in the division.

"Wow that's cool," Kyle Schwarber said sarcastically when he found out about the projections. "I guess they want to be different, right? They want to get some publicity, I guess. I think we all know what we have in this clubhouse, but baseball's baseball. It *might* happen, but I'm betting on it won't happen.

"I don't think we'll [finish last] so next question."

Pedro Strop is one of the leading voices in the clubhouse and he didn't bat an eye when told about PECOTA's projections, simply shrugging his shoulders and referencing how much the teams in the division improved this winter while the Cubs haven't made many moves.

"Our division got a lot better," Strop said. "It's not that we went down. It's just the other teams have gotten better, too. It's not a secret."

So are the Cubs being underrated by external projections and talking heads?

"Honestly, I don't care," Strop said. "It doesn't matter if you're underrated, you're still going to have to go and play those games in the season. We'll find out if we're underrated after the season.

"If we lose a bunch of games, we weren't underrated. But if we win and we win the World Series, that means we're underrated. It's too early to say that."

Obviously PECOTA is just one computer projection and not reflective of any one person's opinion. They also weigh value in different ways than other projections, placing an emphasis on framing from catchers (where Willson Contreras rates very poorly) and overall defense while essentially predicting the Cubs' aging pitching staff will take a step back across the board.

There's also the fact they only added Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach, Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette to the group this winter while the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers all made big splashes.

Then again, winning the offseason rarely translates to wins in the regular season.

Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. initially said he doesn't pay any attention to external projections, but admitted this could also be extra motivation for a Cubs team that already came into camp with a chip on its shoulder.

"Of course," Edwards said. "You have to. The last couple years, we have been that team to beat. I still feel the same way about it. I still feel like we're the team to beat, regardless of how other teams have stepped up."

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Cubs reportedly demote Carl Edwards Jr. to Triple-A Iowa, will call up Rowan Wick

Cubs reportedly demote Carl Edwards Jr. to Triple-A Iowa, will call up Rowan Wick

Carl Edward Jr.'s return to Chicago didn't last long. 

Three days -- and one appearance -- after being called up from Triple-A, Edwards is reportedly headed back to Iowa: 

His lone appearance over the weekend came in the last inning of Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Padres, facing four batters before getting the last out. He allowed one earned run on one hit, but both walked and hit a batter; the two runners he inherited would score as well.

It's been a rough season for righty, who's spent much of the year on the IL or in Iowa. Back in early June, he was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left thoracic strain. When healthy, he's pitched 15.1 innings to the tune of a 5.87 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. 

Up in his place is Rowan Wick, who himself has seen time in both Chicago and Iowa this season. Wick's latest stretch in Triple-A has been lights out: 

Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

USA Today

Cubs trade rumors: Is Arizona's Jarrod Dyson on the team's radar?

As we get closer and closer to the July 31 trade deadline, it's becoming clear that the Cubs are firmly in the market for outfield help. 

The first name connected to the team was Detroit right fielder Nick Castellanos, whose prowess against left-handed pitching would significantly buoy a team that's struggled against lefties thus far. 

Now, it's Arizona's Jarrod Dyson who is reportedly on Chicago's radar. On Monday morning, a piece written by The Athletic's Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma details the Cubs' interest in Dyson: 

The Cubs have been interested in Dyson (who has 21 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 86 this season) at previous points in his career and have always liked his skillset. If Dyson is moved, it will likely come closer to the July 31 deadline, giving the Diamondbacks more time to evaluate where they stand this year.

On the surface, Dyson's fit with the Cubs is an interesting one. The conventional wisdom is that for all of Albert Almora's defensive abilities, his offensive production simply doesn't warrant every day starts. This season has been rough for Almora, and he's currently slashing .239/.275/.384 with a .659 OPS, adding up to a career-worst wRC+ (67). As Mooney and Sharma point out, that wRC+ is the 3rd-worst among all players with at least 400 at-bats this year. The contact peripherals aren't much better, with a Hard Hit % and Average Exit Velocity both in the bottom 8% of qualified hitters; his current fWAR (0.0) would suggest he is quite literally the definition of replacement-level. 

With all that said, Dyson's numbers this year have ... not been much better? He's hit .254/.335/.369 with a .704 OPS in 24 less at-bats than Almora has. Dyson's wRC+ (87) is certainly an improvement over Almora's, but nothing to write home about either. In fact, the Statcast profiles for both players look almost identical. First is Almora's, and then comes Dyson:

Like Mooney and Sharma mention, it'd be a platoon move. While their overall stats look the same, Almora's been better against lefties, and Dyson righties, through their careers:

Dyson career vs. RHP: .257/.324/.360 with a .685 OPS (87 wRC+)
Almora career vs RHP: .272 /.303/.398 with a .701 OPS (83 wRC+)

Dyson career vs. LHP: .226 /.309/.272 with a .580 OPS (63 wRC+)
Almora career vs LHP: .286/.335/.420 with a .755 OPS (101 wRC+)

While Dyson isn't going to solve the Cubs' outfield issues on his own, he is more consistently playable against right handed pitching in a way that Almora -- despite some weird reverse splits this season -- has typically not been. It's also worth noting that he'd help solve the Cubs' leadoff issues, as 217 of his 252 at-bats have come from the top. Dyson would give the Cubs a jolt of bench speed, and while stealing bases isn't in this team's DNA, having one of the game's fastest players available as a pinch-runner is obviously a huge advantage in a pennant or postseason run. Acquiring a pinch runner in the latter half of the season has been a staple of the Theo Epstien era, so this falls in-line with what we've seen in the past. 

The Cubs probably have bigger fish to fry, and it doesn't sound like the front-office is solely in the market for platoon outfielders that can pinch run. Production concerns aside, though, Dyson's making $3.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends - so in theory there's a low-risk fit for the Cubs.