Chicago Cubs 2004 Preview

Thursday, February 26 2004 @ 12:01 PM EST

Contributed by: Pistol

Can the Cubs reverse the Bartman Curse this season?

2003 Results:
88 wins, 74 losses Runs scored – 725 (9th in NL)
Defeated Atlanta in NLDS 3-2Runs allowed – 683 (4th in NL)
Lost to Florida in NLCS 4-3Pythagoras record – 86-76

Players AcquiredPlayers Lost
Greg MadduxEric Karros
Derrek LeeAntonio Alfonseca
LaTroy HawkinsRandall Simon
Todd WalkerKenny Lofton
Michael BarrettHee Sop Choi
Todd HollandsworthDamian Miller
Kent Mercker
Jose Macias
Augie Ojeda

2003 Overview
After blowing a 3-2 NLCS lead to the Marlins (with Prior and Wood starting in games 6 & 7) the Cubs look to take another step forward in 2004 under Dusty Baker. With the signing of Greg Maddux, trade of Hee Sop Choi for Derrick Lee, and the signing of LaTroy Hawkins the Cubs feel they have taken that step forward.

Pitcher Age Throws Innings ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Prior 23 R 211.3 2.43 175 10.4 2.1 0.6
Wood 27 R 211.0 3.20 133 11.3 4.3 1.0
Maddux 38 R 218.3 3.96 105 5.1 1.4 1.0
Zambrano 23 R 214.0 3.11 136 7.1 4.0 0.4
Clement 29 R 201.7 4.11 103 7.6 3.5 1.0

Strikeouts & innings. Innings & strikeouts. The Cubs led all of baseball in strikeouts last season and nearly everyone of their pitchers has a strong strikeout rate. The scheduled rotation will be full of pitchers that each logged at least 200 innings last year.

Mark Prior leads the staff and established himself as the best starting pitcher in the NL last year at 22. There’s no reason to expect a decline in 2004.

Wood is another top pitcher who could move up to the elite status of starters if he were able to cut back on the walks.

Greg Maddux returns to his original team after 11 years in Atlanta. While his strikeouts are down and home runs are up, his control remains exceptional and he should remain an above average pitcher as he looks for his 17th consecutive year with 15 or more wins.

Zambrano and Clement make up one of the best combos of 4 & 5 starters in baseball.

One area for concern with the Cubs rotation is their workload. Wood and Prior were 1st and 3rd overall in pitcher abuse points . In addition to normal workload concerns Wood is an additional concern because of his prior elbow injury, and Prior has additional concerns because he was born in the 80’s. Zambrano, also born in the 80’s, ranked 17th in PAP pitching 214 innings making him a pitcher with a high risk of injury as well.

As a team the Cubs ranked first in PAP and, along with Montreal, were far and away above the other 28 teams in the league. Given Dusty Baker’s history (SF was 1st in PAP in 2002 and 3rd in 2001) this isn’t likely to change.

Pitcher Age Throws Innings ERA ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Borowski 33 R 68.3 2.63 161 8.7 2.5 0.7
Hawkins 31 R 77.3 1.86 248 8.7 1.7 0.5
Remlinger 38 L 69.0 3.65 116 10.8 5.1 1.4
Farnsworth 28 R 76.3 3.30 129 10.9 4.2 0.7
Mercker 36 L 55.3 1.95 242 7.8 5.2 1.0
Cruz 25 R 61.0 6.05 70 9.6 4.1 1.0

Joe Borowski followed up an excellent year as a middle reliever with an equally excellent year in 2003, this time as a closer, adding himself as further evidence that good middle relievers can also be good closers.

After his 2nd straight dominating year the Cubs were able to sign LaTroy Hawkins away from the Twins to serve as the top setup man. He should remain a top reliever as long as his control stays strong.

Remlinger provides a solid LH option for the Cubs. However, Remlinger is not a traditional LH pitcher. He’s much more effective against righthanders than lefthanders. Over the past 3 years his OPS allowed against LHB is .789 while his OPS allowed against RHB is a dominant .570. The increase in HRs and BBs allowed is a bit of a concern.

Farnsworth is another potentially dominating reliever. His success will be primarily tied to his walk rate.

Cruz, prior to the Cubs signing Maddux, was a good candidate for the 5th starter but now will be another hard-throwing member of the bullpen. If (when?) someone in the rotation goes down Cruz should fill in capably.

Kent Mercker was signed from the Braves and provides the Cubs with another lefthanded option out of the pen. Given his peripheral stats his 1.95 ERA last season was a huge fluke that is virtually certain not to be duplicated in 2004.

Batter Age Pos Bats ABs Ave OBP SLG EQA
Barrett 27 C R 226 .208 .280 .398 .226
Bako 32 C L 188 .229 .311 .330 .228
Lee 28 1B R 539 .271 .379 .508 .307
Grudzielanek 34 2B R 481 .314 .366 .416 .276
Walker 31 2B L 587 .283 .333 .428 .265
Ramirez 26 3B R 607 .272 .324 .465 .272
Gonzalez 31 SS R 536 .228 .295 .409 .243
Alou 37 LF R 565 .280 .357 .462 .283
Patterson 24 CF L 329 .298 .329 .511 .285
Sosa 35 RF R 517 .279 .358 .553 .303

Damian Miller is out, and Michael Barrett is in at catcher. Either way, the position will still be a serious weakness for the Cubs.

The big upgrade for the Cubs this offseason was the trade for Derrick Lee. While Lee won’t be $7 million better than Choi, he will be an upgrade over the Karros/Choi combo (104 Eq runs vs 76 Eq runs) that the Cubs sent out on the field last year.

Second base will be slightly improved with the addition of Todd Walker which will allow the Cubs to platoon Walker with Mark Grudzielanek. Grudzielanek killed lefties last year (.360/.444/.470) while Walker was better against righties (.301/.352/.448).

The Cubs will get a full season out of Aramis Ramirez at third base this season. While his OBP is low, he does provide the lineup with some pop.

Alex Gonzalez returns at shortstop and there’s no reason to believe he’ll venture far off his annual 700 OPS.

Mosies Alou will man left field for the Cubs. His play has slipped the past 2 years with the Cubs, but he remains a solid contributor to the lineup. Injuries have always been a concern with Alou and those concerns won’t go away; Alou will be 38 in July.

Corey Patterson returns from a knee injury to play center field. Prior to the injury Patterson was having an apparent breakout year in the first half, but given his poor plate discipline (15 BB/ 77 Ks) it wouldn’t be a shock to see him slip some. However, at age 24 with over 1,000 ABs under his belt it’s very possible he could still improve considerably.

Right field will again be patrolled by Sammy Sosa. Despite struggling after getting hit in the head, and serving a suspension for corking his bat Sosa was still able to hit 40 HRs last year. Thirty of those HRs came in the last 3 months of the year. However, his overall numbers have slipped the last 2 years.

Year – Ave/OBP/SLG
2001 - .328/.437/.737
2002 - .288/.399/.594
2003 - .279/.358/.553

While his production is still strong, Sosa is no longer among the elite hitters in baseball. At age 35 the odds are against Sosa returning to elite status.

Bench Age Pos Bats ABs Ave OBP SLG EQA
Goodwin 35 OF L 171 .287 .328 .363 .256
Hollandsworth 31 OF L 228 .254 .317 .421 .256
Macias 32 IF/OF S 272 .239 .273 .353 .208
Martinez 31 IF R 293 .283 .333 .375 .253

Walker gives the Cubs a nice option off the bench, when he isn’t starting, Hollandsworth can fill in for any of the outfield spots, and Goodwin is fast. If the Cubs have any serious injuries to their best hitters there’s going to be a significant drop-off.

Top Prospects
While no Cub prospect ranked in the top 50 hitters according to John Sickels, the Cubs did have 4 pitchers ranked in the top 50 pitchers.

19) Angel Guzman RHP B+
20) Chadd Blasko RHP B+
28) Andy Sisco LHP B+
43) Ricky Nolasco RHP B+

None of these prospects are expected to have an impact on the Cubs in 2004.

2004 Outlook:
If the Cubs remain (relatively) healthy they will very likely win the Central. However, given their usage, the starting pitching staff is very high risk. An injury to any of the returning starters is a strong possibility that would be a surprise to no one with the exception Dusty Baker.

Offensively, despite the addition of Lee the Cubs will very likely remain a slightly below average offensive team.

However, with the Maddux signing two things become apparent. One, the Cubs are willing to spend money if they need to, and two, they have pitching depth that will allow them to trade Cruz or their minor league prospects for improvements to the lineup during the season.

Mix that all together and you’re looking at the likely NL Central winner with 90 wins.