Quantifying Hope: Cubs Projected to Maintain Defensive Superiority
Stop me if you’ve heard this already, but the Cubs had a really good defense last season. Since no one stopped me, I’ll press on and tell you that their glovework was downright historic. And now they’re swapping out a center fielder who was merely average with one who’s got Gold Glove potential. Though there are still questions when it comes to Kyle Schwarber playing left, it won’t matter when Jason Heyward and Albert Almora can cover the outfield by themselves.
Then you’ve a Platinum Glove winner at first, a guy who was arguably baseball’s best second baseman despite limited time there, a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, and a third baseman whose defense is underrated. Oh, there’s also a catcher who proved himself quite adept at framing strikes as a rookie. Wait, does that mean the Cubs could be even better next season?
Why, yes, it does. It’s borderline irresponsible to project an improvement over an all-time performance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t assume that the Cubs will still have the best D in MLB. Nor does it preclude us from using double negatives.
In his look at projections for the best and worst team defenses for 2017, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan found that the Cubs should again reign supreme. What’s funny is that, despite still being the best in baseball, the Cubs are projected to experience one of the largest drop-offs in team z-score (based on a blend of UZR and DRS). In case you’re not on speaking terms with that bit of statistical mumbo-jumbo, it just means Sullivan sought to simplify the comparison between the reality of last season and the hypotheticals of this one.
Because numbers on paper, particularly when they’re predicting events yet to come, are worth nothing, we can’t always put a ton of stock into them. We can, however, trust what our eyes and common sense tell us, which is that the Cubs can pick it like a mug. And the continuation of that defensive prowess will once again provide the foundation upon which another contender will be built.