Cubs

One projection system predicts Cubs will be 13 games worse in 2019

One projection system predicts Cubs will be 13 games worse in 2019

Count PECOTA among the 2019 Cubs haters. 

In fact, we may have a new clubhouse leader in that department.

The Baseball Prospectus projection system unveiled its 2019 picks Thursday morning and they believe the Cubs will finish third in the National League Central...with only 82 wins.

The projection is for the 2019 Cubs to struggle to finish above .500? That's wild. Did the negative portion of Cubs Twitter hijack the system?

A year ago at this time, PECOTA projected the Cubs would win 89 games and claim the division crown with the Cardinals (84 wins) and Brewers (83) not far behind.

What's changed so much with the system in a year? The Cubs return almost the exact same roster from a team that won 95 games (and was projected to win 89 by PECOTA) plus a full season of Cole Hamels and the minor additions of Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach and Tony Barnette.

So why the major step back?

The answer lies in run prevention, namely the aging pitching staff.

The Cubs scored 761 runs last season, which makes their projection of 739 for 2019 seem a little light but otherwise on par. 

The "RA" column (runs against), however, is a different story. The Cubs gave up only 645 runs in 2018, but PECOTA projects them to surrender 730 runs this year, a difference of nearly a half-run per game.

How is that possible? A combination of really poor defense and some unkind pitching projections.

The Cubs have had one of the league's better defensive units the last few seasons (with record-setting glovework in 2016), but PECOTA lists only Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward as positive defenders (plus Addison Russell after he returns from suspension). Meanwhile, Willson Contreras' defensive projection is appalling mainly due to to poor pitch-framing metrics. Somehow, Javy Baez and Albert Almora Jr. are also negative defenders by the projection system.

As for the pitching side, only a handful of players are slated for an ERA below 4.00: Jose Quintana (3.96), Kyle Hendricks (3.92), Brandon Morrow (3.92), Yu Darvish (3.78) and Steve Cishek (3.92).

PECOTA projects Pedro Strop for a 4.03 ERA and 1.28 WHIP despite the fact he hasn't hit either number since 2013 and sports a 2.63 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 6 seasons with the Cubs.

The projection system is also unkind to Jon Lester (4.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) and Cole Hamels (4.06 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) as they enter their age-35 seasons.

Offensively, PECOTA essentially projects each player to put up a similar line to their 2018 season with a couple of notable exceptions: The system sees Baez and Ben Zobrist taking major steps backward. 

At the end of the day, this is just one projection system that doesn't actually impact real life in any way beyond the fact that it's fun to talk about. 

There's no guarantee the Cubs will make the playoffs or finish above third in what is shaping up to be a really tough division, but it's hard to see so much going wrong for this team that they only win 82 games this year. There's simply too much talent and this same roster found a way to 95 wins last year despite a host of misfortune.

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Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return

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USA TODAY

Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return

Brandon Morrow’s comeback attempt has hit a bump in the road.

Morrow, the Cubs reliever and former closer, has what the club is calling a “mild right upper chest strain,” according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Bastian added Morrow felt the strain in his last bullpen session and there is no clear timeline for his return.

The strain is the latest ailment to sideline the oft-injured Morrow, who hasn't pitched since July 2018 due to a series of arm troubles. The 35-year-old has undergone two elbow surgeries since then (November 2018, September 2019) before becoming a free agent this winter. He rejoined the Cubs on a minor-league deal.

Morrow entered camp optimistic the latest procedure did the trick to get his elbow healthy. The Cubs have been easing him into action — the right-hander is throwing one bullpen every four days. Morrow said earlier this month he’s experienced some aches and pains but attributed those to being part of the rehab process.

Morrow is listed as day-to-day, according to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune. But considering his injury history — and the fact he was already unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster —  the Cubs will proceed with extreme caution. There's no need to expedite his return, mild strain or not.

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David Ross has flu, won't manage Saturday's spring training opener

David Ross has flu, won't manage Saturday's spring training opener

David Ross' spring training managerial debut will have to wait until Sunday, at least.

The Cubs' first-year skipper has the flu and will miss Saturday's game against the Oakland A's. Bench coach Andy Green will be the acting manager in his place.

Saturday isn't going as planned for the North Siders. Besides Ross' absence, inclement weather in Arizona forced the club to push back first pitch from 2:10 p.m. CT to 7:10 p.m.

Weather permitting, here's the lineup the Cubs are rolling out tonight against Oakland:

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