Since the magical 2016 season that saw the Chicago Cubs finally end a 108-year drought of World Series Championships, the franchise held its winning ways for only a few years. The past couple of seasons marked the departure of many faces from that World Series team and cratered the team’s record in the process. Though Fanduel forecasts a pessimistic 76.5 O/U, there are four reasons the Chicago Cubs will trot out the definition of a “solid” club, and this new look 2023 Cubs will jump the OVER on 76.5 O/U.
New-Look 2023 Cubs Jump the OVER On 76.5
Setting the table at the top of the Cubs lineup, second baseman Nico Hoerner never strikes out and exhibits sprint speed in the 92 percentile. He’s also top-five in Statcast Zone Contact% and sprays pitches to all parts of the field in almost equal measure.
He’s also previously demonstrated higher BB% than his 5.4% from 2022, so Hoerner could score a boatload of runs frequently getting on base in front of some big power hitters.
Third baseman Patrick Wisdom is one such power hitter. Known for a streaky bat that could carry any team when it’s hot, 31-year-old Wisdom didn’t get a shot at full-time play until his age 29 season. Wisdom strikes out a ton but has top-flight exit velocities and puts good wood on it, with a Barrel% in the 93 percentile.
Another 31-year-old power hitter Trey Mancini joins the Cubs on a two-year free-agent deal that includes an opt-out clause. As a cancer survivor, Mancini makes for the ultimate feel-good story and exemplifies the current team’s dogged underdog mentality.
The past few years have been unusual for most, and that’s certainly the case in baseball with the pandemic-shortened season of 2020 disrupting many players’ momentum. This was the season that followed Mancini’s career year, as well as his diagnosis.
Now a couple of seasons removed from his health scare, a return to form could find Mancini hitting for power and a high average while seeing time at first, outfield, and DH.
The player whom Mancini will temporarily replace in right field, Seiya Suzuki, starts the year on the injured list but is expected back in mid-April.
Suzuki got off to a scorching hot start in his debut year 2022, only to have nagging injuries give way to inconsistent play and missed time. With a keen batting eye and excellent bat-to-ball skills, Suzuki has decent power to all fields and wheels to move, with Barrel% and Sprint Speed identically falling in the 77 percentile.
Dynamic super-utility player Ian Happ finds himself in potentially his final year with the Cubs. Sporting very good on-base skills, Happ took a step forward in 2022 by having a career-low K% with career-high plate appearances – all while hitting a career-high .271.
Like a few other Cubs, Happ’s potential free agency could motivate the player to really put it together. If he can carry over that plate discipline and return his ISO to over .200, he’ll create a serious run-scoring threat in the heart of a solid lineup.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson signed a long-term deal with the Cubs after the Atlanta Braves chose to let him go. Swanson provides the team on the north side elite defense with some pop and speed.
His last couple of years in Atlanta saw his home run total increase along with his strikeout rate. Most projection systems appear optimistic that his recent performance will continue. Slated to hit between Hoerner and Happ, Swanson will have plenty of opportunities to score runs and drive them in.
Alleged to be a super clubhouse guy, Eric Hosmer typifies the moniker of a professional hitter. He is, however, an analytics nightmare with a career of promising exit velocities and unworthy launch angles capable of optimizing those hard-hit balls.
With mammoth power and the ability to play the corners, Rios fits the Patrick Wisdom mold of getting a late start on his MLB career. But his ISOs in limited samples with the Dodgers speak to big-time power upside.
Bellinger has displayed big power and comes to the Cubs with a lot to prove ahead of a mutual option in his contract. A change of scenery and the ability to disappear into a workman-like lineup of balanced power and on-base talent could awaken the talent Bellinger clearly possesses.
Pitching Rotation With Floor
The old saying that you want a starting pitcher who gives you a chance to win ball games typifies the Cubs’ rotation. With no definitive staff ace, the Cubs will trot out a rotation of SP threes and fours, as well as a number five starter with way more upside than that.
Additionally, staff veteran Kyle Hendricks plans to return shortly into the season with plenty of motivation in perhaps his impending free-agent year. Whatever value Hendricks contributes will be mostly in the form of eating innings, as a return from a shoulder injury muddies how good those innings might be.
Marcus Stroman is another Cub who can opt out after this season, so it’s likely the club will see the best of the pitcher, who himself is a bit of a Kyle Hendricks doppelgänger.
While Hendricks relies on a sinker-changeup combination to coax weak contact, Marcus Stroman flashes much better velocity and a five-pitch array that elicits grounders at a 57.6% career rate. Previously, Stroman hasn’t been able to manufacture strikeouts from a few above-average pitches – which, in his 2021 season with the Mets, generated a career-high 11.6 SwStr%.
With the incentive to perform and out of the spotlight, the best could be yet to come from Stroman if he can raise his K/9 above 8, which he has never done. Regardless, the team’s number one starter on paper should roll up some quality starts and challenge for 190 innings, giving the Cubs plenty of chances to win.
Speaking of untapped potential upside, Jameson Taillon also shares a terrific survivor’s story with teammate Mancini. He shares with Stroman and Hendricks a distaste for issuing free passes, compiling a 1.62 BB/9 in his 2022 season with the Yankees.
Taillon also claims some K upside, flashing a 12.2 SwStr% in 2022, though he only punched out 151 batters over 177 innings. With decent spin on his 94mph fastball and 81mph curve, as well as an above-average slider, it may simply be a matter of pitch sequencing to lift Taillon’s K numbers and elevate his game even further. The Cubs reportedly agree with this sentiment, and Taillon may as well, as he’s integrated the trendy sweeper with great results in spring training.
Southpaw Justin Steele bears an arsenal of two pitches he frequently uses and two he does not. His fastball boasts 95 percentile spin but doesn’t get great results, and his slider gets great movement with great results. His curve usage dipped from 15.5% in 2021 to 2.9% in 2022, despite that pitch having good outcomes.
After tossing 119 innings last year with a 3.18 ERA and a 9.53 K/9, Steele may have another level in him to help lift this team to an over .500 winning percentage.
The Cubs thought highly enough of Drew Smyly to sign him to a two-year deal, after the veteran starter put up a 3.47 ERA over 106 innings with the club in 2022.
Smyly again continues the theme of limiting bases on balls by pitchers on this staff. An uptick in velocity the past few years, averaging around 92.7 in 2022, shifted gears for Smyly’s career at just the right time.
Leaning into off-speed stuff and essentially pitching off one’s secondary pitches has led to success for many pitchers in the past several years. Mixing in three pitches, Smyly upped his curveball usage the past couple years as well, utilizing the pitch 42.9% last year compared to his sinker at 37.6%.
The Cubs number five rated prospect according to MLB, Hayden Wesneski will serve as the number five starter. Based on his 33-inning cup of coffee with the club last year, expectations range for him to perform more as a number two or three.
Equipped with a five-pitch mix – including a four-seam, sinker, cutter, changeup and slider – Wesneski stirred up these off offerings to the tune of a 9 K/9 and a 1.91 BB/9. Wesneski once again appears stingy with walks and has an exciting future as a control and command artist.
When pitchers aren’t giving away bases, teams stand a better chance of winning. Facts.
Sneaky Good Bullpen
Even without a set closer to open the season, the Cubs put together a back end of talented pieces that should form one of the more surprising bullpens in 2023.
While Brad Boxberger had a couple of very good seasons in Milwaukee as a setup man, he’s reportedly in line to get saves with the Cubs. His main competition Michael Fulmer has been vocal about his desire to seize the job and is yet another recent adapter to a successful sweeper.
Good bullpens shorten games, so it’s great to see a fired-up Fulmer willing to lead on a one-year deal. Because converted starter Adbert Alzolay and his upper 90s gas/tight slider could slide into the closer role once Fulmer moves on.
A Cub who’s picked up a handful of saves, Brandon Hughes, will also return to middle-inning work, once he returns from a knee injury. He generated an excellent 14.9% SwStr in 2022, so a little less home run allowance could turn Hughes into a top setup guy.
Julian Merryweather was acquired off waivers and has a 70-grade fastball that averages 97.4 to pair with some eye-level-changing off-speed stuff. Jeremiah Estrada was just optioned, but he threw his filthy, moving cheese at 97 in a 2022 cup of coffee and also carries a 60-grade changeup.
Down On the Farm
The team’s future blind spots in outfield and pitching are well covered in the 12th-rated minor league system, according to MLB.
Wesneski would be profiled here, but he’s the number five to start the season. There’s plenty of depth with names like Caleb Kilian and Jordan Wicks with ETAs of 2023. Ben Brown and Cade Horton might be a bit further out.
A late-season call-up for one or more of these exciting talents could mean a return to winning ways for the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs went 39-31 after the 2022 All-Star break. With a loaded farm system and depth at the majors, building off that momentum should ensure the Cubs jump the 76.5 O/U.
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