A lot of Chicago Cubs fans came into the offseason like a group of kids going to “Christmas at Daddy Warbucks”. Every bright, shiny free agent under the tree was to be unwrapped to show each fan’s favorite free agent wearing Cubbie Blue!
It’s got to be David Price! Forget that! It’s got to be Price AND Greinke!!!
Fortunately for the Chicago Cubs organization, and by default their fans, that’s not how they operate.
The Chicago Cubs have made quite a few moves this offseason already. The trade for Rex Brothers really helps solidify the left-handed side of the bullpen, Andury Acevedo was another terrific “buy-low” candidate to add to the Cubs pitching depth. However, the three biggest moves the Cubs have made (trading Starlin Castro, signing Ben Zobrist, and signing John Lackey) have been met with a mixed reaction. The group of fans who are elated and the group of fans that feel the Cubs are seeking out an AARP discount.
We feel it’s time to put some of this to rest. Let’s take a look at exactly how much the Chicago Cubs have improved with these three moves this offseason, mathematically speaking:
Many fans were clamoring for the signing of an “ace” this offseason. Whether that was Zack Greinke or David Price was up for debate, but many fans wanted at least one of those two. Well, those two who are a combined 62 years of age netted a combined amount of $423 million dollars with 13 years of commitment(6 years and 206 million for Greinke, 7 years and 217 million for Price).
In the Championship League Series’ that took place this last offseason, I’m assuming most would be surprised to find out that of the 4 participants who were contending for a trip to the World Series, the Cubs top 2 pitchers combined for the best total WARP at 12.3. That was a 5 flat for Jon Lester and 7.3 for Jake Arrieta. An ace was/is not needed. What IS needed, and was acquired, is an improved middle-of-rotation.
In a market that has watched Jeff Samardijza net nearly 100 million dollars over 5 season, Jordan Zimmermann net $110 million over 5 seasons, and Johnny Cueto turning down $120 million dollars, the Cubs were able to swoop in and acquire the services of John Lackey for 32 million dollars total and no commitment past 2017. That is incredible. Now let’s look at how he improves this team:
- John Lackey 2015: 218 IP, 2.77 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 3.77 xFIP/ 3.6 WARP
Now let’s look at the Cubs number 3 pitchers last season
- Jason Hammel 2015: 3.74 ERA/ 3.68 FIP/ 3.47 xFIP/ 2.4 WARP
- Kyle Hendricks 2015: 3.95 ERA/ 3.36 FIP/ 3.36xFIP/ 3.4 WARP
Finally, Let’s look at how we ended the season from the 5 spot in the rotation:
- Dan Haren : 3.60 ERA/ 4.61 FIP/ 4.69 xFIP/ 0.9 WARP
With the acquisition of John Lackey, the Cubs get another bulldog pitcher who has proven postseason success and last season would have added .2 WARP to the 3 spot in the rotation.
More importantly, Lackey’s ripple effect likely moves Hendricks into the 4 spot in the rotation and Hammel to the 5 spot.
Hendricks was worth 1 additional win over Hammel, and Hammel was worth 1.5 more wins than Haren.
So to tally it up, John Lackey theoretically would have improved the Cubs by 2.7 Wins last season. That’s a pretty vast improvement for our pitching rotation.
If the Cubs were to stop there I would feel much more comfortable about the pitching rotation going into next season. Especially considering that we have added depth by resigning Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill as well as acquiring a pitcher we will discuss later. However, I believe the Cubs will proceed with seeking a cost-controlled starter via trade that will only improve the rotation that much more.
Not because they have to, but because they deem the acquistion of a frontline starter to be of value and they have a surplus of position players that allow them to potentially acquire one.
Next was the move to trade Starlin Castro for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan as well as the move to acquire Ben Zobrist.
This move has been met with the most criticism by the fanbase. Mostly, fans who are fans of Starlin Castro. I want to be clear here, I thoroughly enjoyed Castro as a Cub. I think he handled the multiple changes that occurred while he was here with a smile, I think that he put together some great moments as a Cub, and I think he genuinely cares about improving. I hope he does great as a Yankee. However, let’s put to rest that Castro is somehow a better piece for the Cubs than Ben Zobrist. It’s not even close.
As we discussed in the article linked, Zobrist has been worth over 3 Wins more on average over the last 3 years, struck out only 10.5% of the time last season, and has been far superior over his career. It shouldn’t even be a discussion we have to have. Zobrist checks every box for the Cubs. He improves the defense, he vastly improves the team’s contact rate and OBP, and he is a proven switch-hitter, which balances the lineup immensely.
WARP wise, Zobrist was worth 2.2 WARP last season even as he was battling some injuries and is projected to be worth 3.3 next season. Castro last season was worth 0.8 WARP and is only projected to be worth 1.2 next year. Doing the same calculations from above in pretending that Zobrist was a Cub instead of Castro last season, the Cubs gain 1.4 WARP.
Adam Warren is an interesting get for the Cubs. He is a pitcher that actually has really good stuff as indicated by 7.13 k’s per 9 compared to his 2.67 BB/9. If he is a reliever for us, he likely helps the Cubs have the best bullpen in all of the National League. However, he very well may start for the Cubs as the #5 pitcher if the Cubs decide to move Hammel in a deal to free up some salary. Last season, Warren was worth 2.2 WARP as a mix between bullpen guy and starter. So let’s add that to the total.
To be fair to our calculations, we will take Travis Wood‘s totals out of the Cubs calculations from last year as he acted as the Cubs version of Warren while being the Bullpen/Starter guy throughout the year. So let’s remove his 1.3 WARP
Let’s look at how the Cubs would have looked with this roster in 2015:
- Cubs added 2.7 WARP with the acquisition of Lackey, 1.4 with Zobrist over Castro and 0.9 with Warren in the fold.
This is a total of 5 added WARP. The common belief in baseball is that it costs 7 million per win on the free agent market. The Cubs were able to acquire 5 additional Wins for roughly 20 million of added payroll. Giving them nearly a 50% discount on Wins.
It should be quite obvious how terrific the Cubs front office has performed at the Winter Meetings. There may be another big move or two before it’s all said and done. However, make no mistake about it, the moves made thus far have been extremely valuable. For any fans that still question it, just remember the moniker: In Theo We Trust