Hooray, it’s baseball! Much like it seemingly has been for the past few years, the Cubs are opening the season against the Beers. The Brewers had a relatively quiet offseason. Their only significant free agent signing was Wade Miley, but they did do some wheeling and dealing. Amongst other moves they traded for William Contreras, which surely made beat writers in Milwaukee and St. Louis happy. I guess they also traded for Jesse Winker, who is better than the Reds stink that has surrounded him. They also managed to piss off their best player in Corbin Burnes, who they took to arbitration and beat, likely souring any possibility that he might stick around when he reaches free agency.
Per fangraphs, the Beers are projected to a ~86 win record, which would slot them into the last wild card spot behind the Mets and Dodgers. The Cubs are sitting at a ~77 win projection.
Obviously the biggest change from last year is the new rule changes. I think it’s been kind of weird how these rule changes have been front and center in MLB’s marketing campaign for the new season, as they don’t seem that complicated and kind of imply that the product is bad, at least to cynics like me. But given how much time we spent trying to figure out the nuances of the ‘challenge clock’ on the podcast yesterday, maybe it was a good call on MLB’s part after all (dying laughing). The impact on spring training game times was a lot larger than I expected…it will be interesting to see if that continues into the regular season when we get a few more pitching changes per game and the game results actually matter.
Given their offseason moves, the Cubs made a big bet on guys that will eke value out of the new rules (e.g. defense up the middle, pitchers that put the ball in play). However, as we know from Moneyball, finding those edges helps your team a lot but you’d still rather have a Jason Giambi (dying laughing). Or (cough) Yu Darvish.
(Projected) Team leaders
Numbers taken from Zips projections – based on past performance there’s a 30% chance that I’ll put someone who is no longer in the team on these lists on any given week (dying laughing).
- OBP: Jesse Winker (.362)
- ISO: Rowdy Tellez (.228)
- HR: Tellez (32)
- R+RBI: Willy Adames (173)
- wRC+: Winker (124)
- BSR: Christian Yelich (1.4)
- Defense: Adames (9.7)
- SP K/9: Corbin Burnes (11.1)
- SP BB/9: Bob Minocqua (2.28)
- SP FIP: Burnes (2.77)
- RP K/9: Devin Williams (13.66)
- RP BB/9: Hoby Milner (2.14)
- RP FIP: Williams (2.85)
- WAR: Burnes (4.9)
- OBP: Seiya Suzuki (.352)
- ISO: Patrick Wisdom (.230)
- HR: Wisdom (26)
- R+RBI: Dansby Swanson (171)
- wRC+: Suzuki (135)
- BSR: Hoerner (1.1)
- Defense: Swanson (16.1)
- SP K/9: Justin Steele (8.94)
- SP BB/9: Jameson Taillon (2.16)
- SP FIP: Marcus Stroman (3.69)
- RP K/9: Brandon Hughes (10.62)
- RP BB/9: Madden Generated Player (2.91)
- RP FIP: Michael Fulmer (3.78)
- WAR: Swanson (5.0)
Who isn’t available?
On the Cubs side, Seiya Suzuki is on the 10-day IL as he recovers from his oblique strain. He’s been taking BP and has played in the field in some back field games, and could be back in a week or two. Cyle is also on the 10-day IL with his shoulder injury, and probably won’t be back until May. The Cubs were hoping that lefty reliever Brandon Hughes would be ready to go for opening day, but he’s still dealing with some knee issues and is probably a week or so out. And lest we forget, RP Codi Heuer had Tommy John last year, and could be back at midseason.
For the Brewers, swingman Adrian Houser suffered a groin injury in his final spring start last weekend and is out a week or two. He had similar issues last year so Brewers management is sure to keep looking at his groin as this season progresses. OF Tyrone Taylor has a sprained elbow and is likely our for a month or two. Back end starter Aaron Ashby, from a baseball family that apparently loves alliterative names, has missed most of spring training with shoulder fatigue and likely won’t join the team for 2-3 months. Former Cub Justin Wilson is in the org, recovering from TJS.
Pitching Matchups, game times
2022 K/9, BB/9, ERA, and 2023 Projected ERA listed for all starters
Technically speaking the Cubs had not announced their Saturday and Sunday starters at the time I wrote this so I’m just going off the nominal ‘rotation’ here. (EDIT: now corrected)
Thursday: Corbin Burnes, RHP (10.83, 2.27, 2.94, 2.99) vs Marcus Stroman, RHP (7.72, 2.34, 3.50, 3.58), 1:20 PM CT
You* may have forgotten, but Burnes won a Cy Young in 2021, and was in the mix last year as well after leading the NL in strikeouts and posting a 2.91 ERA. Given that those numbers count as a ‘regression’ year for Burnes, I’m certainly happy that the Beers managed to poison the well for their hopes of extending him. He’ll be a free agent in 2025, and has two years to reinforce his driveway to accommodate the Brinks truck that someone is going to send to his house. *actually me
Seeing Stroman’s numbers lined up next to Burnes certainly highlights the Cubs strategery in assembling their staff. No one is an ace by any stretch of the imagination but they have a lot of guys who live within the “third starter” band. Stroman is probably still pushing the edge of that band at this point of his career. You maybe tell that I’ve been dealing with HR nonsense recently (dying laughing).
Saturday: Brandon Woodruff, RHP (11.15, 2.47, 3.05, 2.96) vs Justin Steele, LHP (9.53, 3.78, 3.18, 3.70), 1:20 PM CT
Bob Minocqua took a bit of a step back last year going from 4.7 fWAR to 3.5 fWAR. This was mostly attributable to volume – his rate stats were right in line with what they were the year before, but he pitched ~25 fewer innings. He throws 96-97 and has a great changeup…I guess we’ll see if the Cubs have finally purged the inability to hit changeups that their old core struggled with.
Steele’s emergence was a pleasant surprise last year – I’ve been too inured by learned pessimism where the Cubs ability to develop pitching is concerned. He got a slow start to spring training this year due to an injury so I would not be surprised to see him get off to a slow start to the year. Spring Training stats are what they are but he’s definitely been walking some dudes.
Sunday: Eric Lauer, LHP (8.91, 3.35, 3.69, 4.02) vs Jameson Taillon, RHP (7.66, 1.62, 3.91, 4.02), 1:20 PM CT
Lauer is a big ERA-FIP split guy – his peripherals have looked more mediocre than his ERA since moving to Milwaukee. He gives up a decent amount of homers, but I guess a lot of them are solo shots.
Taillon is yet another solid if not spectacular pitcher. I was surprised to see that he was already a free agent when the Cubs signed him – it felt like he was waiting in the wings forever when he was a Pirates prospect and he was stuck in some sort of eternal limbo. Cubs fans of a certain vintage will love the fact that Taillon was in the top 10 SPs in terms of BB/9 across all of baseball last year. He throws around 94 and is one of an umpteen pitchers who has been working on the new ‘sweeper’ though oddly enough he didn’t start working on it until leaving the Yankees, who have been the main team teaching it to all their pitchers.
To-Day’s base ball squadrons
- LF Yelich
- DH Winker
- SS Adames
- 1B Tellez
- C Contreras (no not that one)
- 3B Urias
- CF Mitchell
- RF Anderson
- 2B Turang
- SP Burnes
- 2B Hoerner
- SS Swanson
- LF Happ
- CF Bellinger
- DH Mancini
- C Gomes
- 1B Hosmer
- 3B Wisdom
- RF Mastrobuoni
- SP Stroman