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projecting the cubs

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jeff weaver to pittsburgh?? don't ask me; ask ken rosenthal. well, you could also ask the pittsburgh post-gazette:

It has become known that the Pirates are one of a handful of teams pursuing Weaver, with the St. Louis Cardinals being another and, possibly, the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners in the mix, too.

It is believed that Weaver's offers are in the range of two years for markedly less than the $8,325,000 he made last season. That should be affordable for the Pirates, who are projected to have about $11 million remaining in leftover money toward next season.

if this is who the cardinals are competing with, i'd say they have a fair chance of getting weaver back on appropriate terms. it would surely take an enormous inducement to lure weaver to pittsburgh; since escaping the terrible organization he began his career with, jeff has pitched in the playoffs in 4 out of 5 seasons. i don't see why he'd want to go back losing --- not unless the bucs were willing to go to three or four guaranteed years. . . . . but then, dave littlefield's so erratic the bucs just might do something that stupid. so i take it back: maybe bidding against a bad organization actually hurts the cards' chances, because bad organizations are more likely to overbid on bad players and inflate their asking prices.

whatever. attempting to predict dave littlefield's behavior is not how i plan to spend my morning.

jeff sackmann posted his team preview of the cubs today at Beyond the Boxscore and eyeballs the cubs at 86 wins --- a 20-game improvement over last season. that's right in synch with david pinto's estimate of a couple weeks ago. are these guys high? i decided to run a quick PECOTA aggregation, the same exercise that projected the cardinals to win about 86 games. cutting quickly to the chase: my PECOTA-derived estimate trues right up with sackmann's and pinto's. it's slightly more optimistic, in fact; i've got the cubs at 87 wins.

here's how it breaks down. first, i've got the cubs improving their offense by about 100 runs, or roughly 10 wins:

AB H 2B 3B HR BB | AVG OBP SLG | runs
created
base
runs
CHI PECOTA 5540 1518 304 32 208 464 | .274 .337 .453 | 846 817
2006 5587 1496 271 46 166 395 | .268 .319 .422 | 745 729

"base runs" is a run-scoring model that's slightly more accurate than runs created; i ran both formulas to see if the respective year-to-year comparisons matched, and they essentially did. if we split the difference between base runs and runs created, we get an estimate of 831 runs scored --- probably a league-leading total. here's how i distributed the at-bats in my projection:

infield: lee 500, derosa 450, cedeno 450, itzuris 350, ramirez 539
outfield: soriano 576, jones 400, floyd 337, murton 300, pagan 250, pie 150
catchers: barrett 450, blanco 151

i then added 337 at-bats' worth of replacement-level bench play, and 300 at-bats for the pitchers. note that PECOTA anticipates a significant improvement in the cubs' plate discipline --- nearly 70 more walks this year than last. if'n your curious, PECOTA's projection for derrek lee isn't particularly rosy; it places his OPS in the high .800s, which neighborhood he inhabited for three consecutive years prior to his big breakout in 2005.

ok, now for the pitching staff:

GS IP H ER BB SO HR | ERA WHIP | total
runs
CHI PECOTA 162 1440 1403 704 612 11759 193 | 4.40 1.399 | 764
2006 162 1439 1396 758 687 1250 210 | 4.74 1.448 | 834

here the cubs pick up 70 runs, or about 7 games. in this telling, the distribution of starts goes: zambrano 32, marquis 30, lilly 27, hill 26, marshall 18, prior 10, and wade miller 8, with the last 11 going to a generic replacement-level pitcher with a 5.75 era. the bullpenners are dempster, howry, eyre, cotts, kerry wood, ryu, mateo, novoa, ohman, and wuertz, plus a catch-all replacement-level category (35 innings) with a 5.00 era. i estimated 60 unearned runs to derive the overall runs-allowed figure; the cubs coughed up an abysmally high figure last year, 76, but they were below 50 in each of the prior three seasons.

putting these numbers into the pythagorean won-loss calculator, we end up with:

runs
scored
runs
allowed
w l pct
cubs 831 764 87 75 .537
cards 781 735 86 76 .531

look, it's only january; they're only made-up numbers. but from here, it looks like it might be an interesting summer . . .