Chicago Cubs: PECOTA misses the mark when forecasting the 2017 team

The projections for the Chicago Cubs aren’t all that bad. They’re predicted to win the NL Central once again. But their win total is forecasted to drop. What gives?

The popular projection measure, released this week by Baseball Prospectus for the upcoming season, says the Chicago Cubs will take home the National League Central again in 2017 – but will win just 88 games.

It’s not hard to support the claim the Cubs overperformed in 2016.
Kyle Hendricks broke out in a Cy Young-like way; Kyle Schwarber’s injury was overcome in its entirety and the team came from behind to win eight games when trailing in the final inning. When the dust settled in the regular season, Chicago finished with 103 wins – the franchise’s most since 1910.

We saw countless clutch plays, as well. From Javier Baez’ ‘routine’ slap tags at second to guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo leading the offense on a day in and day out basis, or even Chris Coghlan’s half-swing RBI mid-season, the stories piled up all year long.

Regression doesn’t mean failure

So, it’s fair to suggest the team will regress a bit in 2017. Even with Schwarber back in the mix, the team lost veteran Jason Hammel out of the rotation, leadoff man Dexter Fowler to the division-rival Cardinals and ninth-inning man Aroldis Chapman. That’s not to mention losing a key clubhouse leader in the form of grizzled backstop David Ross.

But to think the Chicago Cubs won’t even crack the 90-win plateau seems a stretch, at best.
According to the projections, Chicago wins the division – because they’ll be the only team above .500 in the National League Central. As much as I’d love to see St. Louis and Pittsburgh join the likes of the Reds in the cellar, it hardly seems reasonable to believe that’s what’s coming down the pipeline in 2017.

I broke down the worst-case scenarios for this year’s club earlier this week. The biggest threat to another deep postseason run is maintaining the roster’s overall health – something last year’s team did exceptionally well.

Key players remain

Kris Bryant is coming off one of the best offensive seasons in Chicago Cubs history, both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks finished in the top five of NL Cy Young voting and role players stepped up in pivotal moments.

Even taking a big step back, call it 10 wins, leaves Chicago at 93 victories, which seems a much more reasonable clip for the reigning World Series champions. The last time the Cubs finished with 90 or more wins and saw a 10-plus loss drop the next season was from 2008 to 2009, in which the team made the postseason both years.

The worst drop in semi-recent memory was following the team’s 90-win 1998 campaign. To say 1999 was forgettable on the North Side is an understatement. The team won just 67 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the division.

But that’s another story for another time.

The moral here is simple: even with an injury to a key player or a prolonged slump from one of the team’s big bats, the Chicago Cubs aren’t an 88-win club. There’s too much depth and the front office has too many chips in their pocket to sit and do nothing if glaring holes arise (which, in and of itself, seems unlikely).

So, I’ll see you on the other side of another 90-plus win season, Cubs fans. And remember. There’s history at stake: the last time our North Siders won 90 games three years in a row, the year was 1930.

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