Tag Archives: Anthony Rizzo

Chicago Cubs 2015 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Cubs, whose many years of rebuilding are close to coming to fruition. The signing of free agent Jon Lester to a $155 million contract was their announcement to the world that this is the year they’ll be competing.


Projected Lineup: CF Dexter Fowler*, 2B Arismendy Alcantara, RF Jorge Soler, 1B Anthony Rizzo, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Kris Bryant, C Miguel Montero*, LF Matt Szczur

Projected Rotation: LHP Jon Lester*, RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Jason Hammel*, RHP Kyle Hendricks, LHP Travis Wood

* new additions

There’s a different feeling in Chicago this year, even before any wins or losses are tallied.

All the stars seem to be aligned to indicate that a new era has begun: A new manager in Joe Maddon, a new ace starter in Jon Lester, and the ever-enduring prophecy on the back of everyone’s mind: The proclamation in Back to the Future, Part II that 2015 will be the year that the Cubs finally win the World Series.

Joe Maddon will be the most important factor in the prophecy being realized. He’s the type of manager the Cubs need right now. He likes to tinker. He won’t bat a struggling Javier Baez in the 2-hole every day. He won’t be afraid to bench Starlin Castro for his mental lapses on defense.

So why shouldn’t this be the Cubs’ year?

Let’s take a look at all the traditional attributes of a World Series-caliber team, and you tell me if the Cubs don’t fit the bill.

Young hitters on the cusp of breakout seasons: check.

If baseball crowned a champion based only on potential, the Cubs would be running away with the title. The Cubs are saturated with young talent, and if even one or two of these guys perform to the level at which they’re capable, that’ll go a long way towards igniting the offense.

Keep in mind that the Cubs have already enjoyed a breakout season from young Anthony Rizzo, who clubbed 32 home runs and finished third in the National League with a .913 OPS last season.

Rizzo is their star hitter, and the rest of the offense is structured around him. This is important, because it means they don’t need to put pressure on the other young guys to carry the offense, but rather to be Rizzo’s supporting cast. Much like the movie Grease, in which Frenchy, Jan and Marty Maraschino were all members of the “Pink Ladies”, but Rizzo was the ringleader who called all the shots.

So from whom can we expect to see a breakout year in 2015? Keep an eye on Jorge Soler, the 23-year-old outfielder from Cuba who enjoyed a short stint with the Cubs last year, but still has his rookie status intact. His power is well chronicled, and while home runs will be a big part of his game, he’s a more dynamic hitter than he gets credit for. He displays patience at the plate, which will be a huge weapon for him once he’s able to harness it fully. Soler reached base at a .383 clip throughout his minor league career, and if he could approach that mark in the majors, it would really help stabilize what has chronically been a very free-swinging lineup.

He also has a cannon for an arm, which has inspired comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero. So just take a second and imagine a 23-year-old Vladdy hitting in the middle of this Cubs lineup. Scared yet?

Kris Bryant is another young hitter who appears ready to terrorize big league pitching. After leading the minor leagues with 43 home runs a year ago, he reported to Major League Spring Training and picked up right where he left off, hitting for an otherworldly 1.652 OPS and easily leading the Cactus League with nine home runs. There is literally nothing else Bryant can do to prove he’s ready for the show.

Bryant will start the year in Triple-A, but the Cubs will likely call him up to the majors within the first month of the season. And once he’s up, he won’t be going back down.

Frontline starters: check.

We know about Jon Lester. But what went slightly under the radar last season was the emergence of Jake Arrieta. A once-prized pitching prospect with the Orioles, he finally figured something out last year, posting a 2.53 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP.

There are reasons to believe his breakout was not a fluke: most notably, he learned to pitch for the ground ball last season. A seemingly simple thing, but you have to realize that a few extra ground balls can drastically reduce the number of homers and extra base hits a pitcher gives up. Arrieta’s home run percentage was a mere 0.8% last year, down from his career rate of 2.5%. Extra base hits? Down to 4.7%, from a career mark of 7.3%.

Arrieta also recently decided he’s Mariano Rivera, and started using the cutter as his primary pitch. This enables him to pitch away from right-handed hitters, further reducing the amount of hard contact against him. The effect of this shows up in his splits: righties managed just a .520 OPS against him last season.

Shutdown bullpen: check.

Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. None of these guys are household names, but soon this trio will be as well known as the legendary Royals’ troupe of Herrera/Davis/Holland. R-S-R will be the new H-D-H. And who knows—maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see the two trios go toe to toe with each other in this year’s World Series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cubs certainly could make the playoffs, but it’ll be a trek to get there. The trials of the season can get to a lot of young players, and these kids need to prove they can make it for the long haul.

I’m a believer though.

Projected Finish: 94-68, First place in NL Central, World Series Champions

Positional Rankings 2015

Every year, I like to do an MLB-wide player ranking by position. It’s a ranking of what I expect each player’s total contributions to his team to be in the coming season. It takes into account offense, defense, baserunning, the overall game. For the sabermetrically-inclined, I suppose you could say this is how I expect the players to rank in total WAR for 2015. The only reason they’re grouped by position is that they’re easier to compare that way. For instance, I couldn’t definitively say who was better between Giancarlo Stanton and Andrelton Simmons, because I wouldn’t know how to quantify the importance of position, and the defense-for-offense tradeoff. But I can compare Stanton to other outfielders, and Simmons to other shortstops.

Comments are welcome, of course – just keep in mind that there is a fair amount of speculation included in the following rankings. The best players of 2014 won’t be the same as the best players of 2015, because that isn’t how baseball works.

Onward!

We’ll start with the top five catchers in 2015:

  1. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
  2. Salvador Perez, Royals
  3. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  4. Devin Mesoraco, Reds
  5. Buster Posey, Giants

Now, I don’t know much about catching at the major league level. But I do value defensive skills here more than at any other position, because at catcher is where I believe it’s most critical. Game-calling and overall leadership also come into play here. Salvador Perez is not the best-hitting catcher in baseball, far from it. But he’s one of the best damn team leaders I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mention: Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters, Russell Martin

Top five first basemen in 2015:

  1. Jose Abreu, White Sox
  2. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
  4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  5. Joey Votto, Reds

I just hope that last year was an anomaly, that Joey Votto isn’t actually breaking down. Because he’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy. The top four should speak for themselves, but I expect both Abreu and Rizzo to continue to climb into the echelons of baseball’s elite players.

Honorable mention: Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez

Top five second basemen in 2015:

  1. Robinson Cano, Mariners
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros
  3. Kolten Wong, Cardinals
  4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
  5. Brian Dozier, Twins

Jose Altuve could eclipse Cano this season if he repeats last year’s performance. And that’s a very lofty statement because Cano is baseball royalty. Kolten Wong is an emerging star of whose 12 home runs in 2014, 11 came after July 1st. Dozier gets the nod over the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and others because I believe he could be an elite defender, something which up to now has only shown up in flashes.

Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Jason Kipnis

Top five shortstops in 2015:

  1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  2. Andrelton Simmons, Braves
  3. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals
  4. Starlin Castro, Cubs
  5. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

Despite Tulo’s history of injuries, it isn’t even close. I’d take 100 games from him over 162 from any other shortstop in baseball. Castro was an easy pick, if you recall he’s still just 24 years old. Alexei gets the nod due to consistency and defense, over guys like the Nats’ Ian Desmond, who didn’t quite make the cut because his numbers have been on the decline since 2012.

Honorable Mention: Ian Desmond, Jose Reyes

Top five third basemen in 2015:

  1. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
  2. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  3. Kyle Seager, Mariners
  4. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
  5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

Anthony Rendon figures to own the top spot on this list for many years to come. Even if he can’t replicate his offensive numbers from last year, he still has the defensive skill to be number one. You’ll notice an absence of Josh Donaldson – while one of the best players in MLB the past two seasons, I figure I’m with Billy Beane in thinking that he’s peaked.

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Brett Lawrie, Kris Bryant

Top five left fielders in 2015:

  1. Alex Gordon, Royals
  2. Jayson Werth, Nationals
  3. Michael Brantley, Indians
  4. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
  5. Starling Marte, Pirates

I’m not quite sold on Michael Brantley yet – if this were last year’s rankings, he’d be at the top of the list, but I want to see him repeat that performance and prove it wasn’t just an extended hot streak. Hanley Ramirez is another potentially controversial pick, since he hasn’t played an inning in left field yet, but I think he’ll surprise some people, and actually end up being an above average defender.

Honorable Mention: Christian Yelich, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton

Top five center fielders in 2015:

  1. Mike Trout, Angels
  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  3. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
  4. Lorenzo Cain, Royals
  5. Adam Jones, Orioles

There shouldn’t be any surprises here — except how on earth a .300 hitter with elite speed and defense could end up ranking 4th! It turns out center field is a pretty stacked position in MLB, as you can clearly see.

Honorable Mention: Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares, Marcell Ozuna

Top five right fielders in 2015:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  2. Jason Heyward, Cardinals
  3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
  5. Kole Calhoun, Angels

Yes, I’m a believer in Carlos Gonzalez. He’s one of the best all-around players in the game when he’s healthy, so I wish him and Rockies a good tentacle-free year. Kole Calhoun is the surprise here – he’s my breakout star for the coming season, I expect him to get his walk rate up while maintaining the power stroke he found last year that went somewhat under-the-radar. He should make the All-Star team in 2015.

Honorable Mention: Bryce Harper, Hunter Pence, Yasiel Puig

Top five starting pitchers in 2015:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Chris Sale, White Sox
  3. Yu Darvish, Rangers
  4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
  5. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

Felix Hernandez doesn’t quite rank as high as he would have with last year’s numbers, only because I don’t know when he’ll be hitting that decline all too common with pitchers around his age. Also, just do me a favor and take a minute to look up how good a season Chris Sale had last year – if he continues pitching the way he’s been, a Cy Young should happen for him sooner rather than later.

Honorable Mention: Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann

Relief pitchers are always a crap shoot, but I’ll take a shot at it:

  1. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
  2. Greg Holland, Royals
  3. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  4. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
  5. Dellin Betances, Yankees

So there you have it. These rankings might provide a sort of preview to how I believe the divisions will shake out in baseball this year. Those posts are soon to come. In the meantime, enjoy these and keep in mind that nothing makes me happier than people who argue with me on twitter!

Chicago Cubs 2014 Season Preview

This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.

Today we look at the Cubs, who under Theo Epstein’s management have rebuilt their minor leagues and brought feelings of hope to Chicago households again. Not too much hope though. Cubs fans know better than to let their defenses down like that. This hope manifests itself in the form of casual affirmations like “Maybe we’ll win one in the next hundred years.”

Projected Lineup: SS Starlin Castro, 3B Donnie Murphy, 1B Anthony Rizzo, RF Nate Schierholtz, LF Junior Lake, CF Ryan Sweeney, C Welington Castillo, 2B Darwin Barney

The Cubs have made significant progress towards exorcising the spirit of the billy goat.

Oh, excuse me. My fact-checker tells me that the billy goat isn’t a “spirit” per se. It’s more of a general curse, imposed on the Cubs by a man who just happened to own a billy goat. Curses are so complicated sometimes.

The Cubs have established a young core of players, expected to carry the team through the tough times and into the good times. The problem, at least as 2014 is concerned, is that these young players aren’t quite good enough yet. The seeds have been planted, but now the Cubs must wait to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Anthony Rizzo, one of the key players as the Cubs look to the future, has a few kinks to work out. He’s terrible against lefties—hitting a mere .189 against them last year.

Junior Lake is another guy with an inherent flaw. Lake’s issue is that he never walks. In 254 plate appearances after he was called up to the majors last year, he only took 13 free passes to first base.

Darwin Barney is an interesting case. He can’t hit at a major league-caliber level, that much has been clear for years. But his value is difficult to quantify, because he’s one of the best defensive second basemen in the game. He seems like he’d be that slick defensive infielder that every championship team needs to win it all—and when the Cubs eventually get to the World Series, Barney needs to be there.

But the Cubs have more infielders waiting in the wings. Arismendy Alcantara is a middle infielder who is good with the glove, and can hit well enough to be in the majors right now. He could be starting at second base by the end of the season, relegating Barney to more of a “late inning defensive substitute” role.

Pitching-wise, Travis Wood has become the ace of the staff, although I wish he’d change his number to 34 so Cubs fans could all recycle their Kerry Wood jerseys. Really, it’d be the least the team could do to make up for the many years of hardship the fans have gone through.

They’ve shored up the bullpen by bringing in former Astros greats Jose Veras and Wesley Wright. Sure, they may not be top-tier guys, but really anything’s an improvement after the torturous year of Carlos Marmol, Kyuji Fujikawa, and a number of other guys who decided to make the term “save situation” synonymous with “AAAAAUGHHH NOT AGAIN”. Just think of how many games the Cubs can expect to improve based strictly on the number of leads Carlos Marmol threw away last year. As any Cubs fan will tell you, the sky’s the limit for the post-Marmol era.

Projected Finish: 73-89, Fourth place in NL Central