WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about Chicago baseball. Check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire and stay with us for his takes on postseason baseball in upcoming days.
Overall Team WAR (Wins Above Replacement) — 25.9 (23rd in MLB)
Position Players WAR — 17.3
Pitching WAR — 8.6
WAR isn’t the tell-all stat to replace the other granular statistics – we still need those – but it does try to give an overall value of a player, using a lot of data points to measure and also comparing to league averages. The stats above would indicate (and this seems pretty obvious with or without the statistic) that the area with most room for improvement is the pitching staff. Just 10 major league clubs had a pitching staff produce less than the 8.6 that the Cubs’ staff accumulated. Interestingly, though, two of those 10 squads were division winners, with the Angels (5.2) and Orioles (8.2) coming out the AL West and AL East, respectively.
Still, it indicates where the Cubs are weakest and what they must address to be competitive and in the playoff hunt in 2015. Sure, the Angels and Orioles go it done with less than impressive WAR numbers, but their staffs were solid enough to get it done and their batter WAR numbers were incredibly high, with 30.5 and 23.4 respectively.
It’s no secret that this is a big offseason for marquee pitchers. David Price, Jon Lester and Jordan Zimmerman are just a few of those guys who will be available this winter. Theo has hinted at waiting until the 2015-16 offseason to make big moves in the free agent pitching market, but with certain position players rising to the big leagues a little faster than expected and a healthy crop of pitchers available now, he and Cubs’ brass may just have to make moves now. The trouble with waiting another season is that the free agent potential signees for the next off-season aren’t quite at the skill level the current free agents possess.
When you compare this season’s batting numbers to that of the Cubs’ 2013 season, the differences are very marginal at best. In 2013, the Northsiders hit .238 as a team, hit 172 home runs (Alfonso Soriano and Nate Schierholtz combined for 38), drove in 576 and had an on-base percentage of exactly .300. Glance over at 2014 stats, and it isn’t a whole lot different at the surface. Chicago hit .239 as a team, knocked 157 home runs, drove in 590, stole 65 bags and an on base percentage of – wait for it – .300.
It’s an incredibly long season and a lot of variables – weather, trades, injuries, opponent pitching, etc – play into the final numbers, but all-in-all, an eerily similar offensive season to that of 2013. But, there is hope, I swear.
A look at the month of August might give us a better look at what this Cubs’ offensive ceiling could be next season. In that heat, the Cubs managed to pop 39 home runs, score 111 runs, and slug .400.
Sure, they did it while striking out a ton, but these guys were expected to be still grooming their games in the minors. If anything they’re ahead of schedule and the production, all things considered, was better than you could have hoped for.
The core of Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler – whom I believe is the crown jewel of the class – should be putting up good numbers in Wrigley for years to come.
Throw in Kris Bryant, who led all minor leaguers in home runs this season, and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo’s bats, and you have yourself a strong lineup from top to bottom.
As for the position density – the Cubs seem to have a one to two too many guys who play the middle infield – that will all work itself out. One of those prospects is almost surely to be dealt for a pitcher in the next few seasons, especially if the Cubs don’t make a big splash in the free agent sweepstakes this offseason.
Just a hunch, but I feel that if the Cubs were to make a move with one of their marquee infielders, they will try to deal anyone who is too strikeout prone. While they’ve got great power, Bryant and Baez swing and miss a bit too often. I don’t think Bryant is going anywhere…I’ll just leave it at that.
Overall Team WAR — 24.0
Position Players WAR — 10.7 (28th in MLB)
Pitching WAR — 13.3 (17th)
Let’s start with positions players and batting, as that seems to be where the White Sox fell shortest. Again, I need to reiterate WAR isn’t a tell-all stat, but a nice metric to use when you want to consider lots of different data points over the course of the long season.
Finishing 28th out of 30 in batting WAR suggests the offense struggled mightily, but the Sox averaged 4.07 runs per game over the 162 game season, which was good for 13th best in the majors (4.14 runs per at home, 4.01 on the road). It also suggests that some or much of the offensive production came from a few key offensive guys, while the rest failed to contribute above the major league average.
That did, unfortunately, ring true for the White Sox this year. Nearly 100% of their positive position player WAR came from just three guys. Jose Abreu, who had a monster rookie season, accounted for more nearly half, with 5.3!
Following Abreu in order was Alexei Ramirez (3.3), who had himself one of his best seasons, especially defensively, and newcomer Adam Eaton with 2.7.
Outside of those three, the contributions were rather small. Tyler Flowers 1.8 total WAR is respectable, considering the strides he has made at the plate and the fact he played in just 127 games. Conor Gillaspie falls into the respectable category as well, totaling a 1.2 WAR over 130 games.
This isn’t to say the White Sox were abysmal or have nothing to build off of offensively going into 2015, but it does emphasize the need for more contributors. Alexei is beginning – if he isn’t already in – the tail end of his career.
Abreu is just a rookie, but he’s also 27 years old. A team that top heavy in talent and production soon topples over on itself. Imagine what the Sox record would have finished like if either Ramirez or Abreu lost their season to injury? Yikes.
As for the downers, I hate to say it, but Paul Konerko did more harm this season than good, compiling a negative WAR on the season (-1.2). Leury Garcia was essentially in the same sinking ship, amassing the same negative war (-1.2) in seven fewer games than Paulie. This was the second straight negative WAR figure for Konerko, who wrapped up his career with a 24.8 WAR total, dating back to his 1997 start with the Dodgers.
For a little perspective on position players WAR, there were individuals in the majors that produced more than half of the White Sox team 10.7 total. Mike Trout – not surprisingly – lead all position players with a 7.8 WAR mark. Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Anthony Rendon, Alex Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Jonathan Lucroy and Giancarlo Stanton all finished with individual marks above 6.0.
As for team pitching, well, it’s even more top heavy than the Sox lineup was in production, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana accounting for roughly more than 75% of the team’s total pitching WAR. Sale and Quintana finished with a 5.4 and 5.3, respectively. If Quintana can match that production next season (or even fall just shy), the Sox have a really solid lefty-lefty 1-2 punch. You don’t see that too often in baseball, but there are many teams coveting it.
Although I wouldn’t want to see either play dealt in a trade, the truth is, the White Sox are starved for minor league talent. They may want to or be able to flip a lefty for some soon-to-be-ready AAA or AA guys. Avisail Garcia returning full-time from injury next season will be a nice boost, but it isn’t enough when you’re looking up at Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit in the standings.
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