One of the benefits of being a parent is being able to watch television shows that you would otherwise feel guilty about watching by yourself. My daughter has become a fan of the most recent version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The new version has made numerous changes to the cartoon and movies that I watched as a child, but the same basic premise of the main characters is there. Also because my mind works in strange ways I began to see parallels between the four main characters and the 2013 Cubs.
There has been a wave of cautious optimism surrounding the Cubs. These qualified good thoughts have been in the range of this team winning between 75-85 games, but those are still remarkable predictions with the many holes and lack of big names acquired. The predictions have mostly to do with the vast improvements made to the pitching staff. The offense is still a work in progress to be generous.
The Cubs outfield should actually provide average to perhaps even a tick above average production for their position. That is perhaps a shocking statement given how poorly Cubs centerfielders and right fielders performed last season, and the Cubs only added Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston to the mix. However, the Cubs have the possibility of having two very successful platoons combined with another solid season from Soriano should make the OF a strength of the offense.
The infield will be the biggest question with a group of five players all under the age of 28. There are four players that are going to be the difference between this offense producing enough to push this team into the heady waters of 80 or more wins or another 2012 like season. The four players are Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo, and Ian Stewart, and they are my teenage mutant ninja Cubbies.
Rizzo came to the Cubs with much fanfare. The Wrigley faithful waited patiently for his Cubs debut, and were not disappointed with a solid performance that erased the doubts his stint in San Diego had raised. Rizzo’s numbers dropped a touch after his blistering start, but he ended the 2012 campaign with a very respectable .805 OPS and 15 homeruns in a little over half a season.
The Cubs are going to need him to be the leader of this team like Leonardo. The offense cannot afford for Rizzo to have a Hosmer like sophomore slump. Rizzo being a legitimate middle of the order bat is necessary for this to be even an average bunch in 2013. Obstructed View already has looked at the projections for Anthony Rizzo, and so I am not going to rehash them here. If the Cubs Leonardo takes a step forward and moves towards elite level production than the Cubs might exceed even those cautiously optimistic expectations.
Michelangelo is the fun loving, immature, nun chuck wielding turtle that seems a best fit for Castro. In the new version of the show they have made Michelangelo incredibly stupid, more so than I remember. Many question Castro’s mental makeup and his baseball decision making is one of the few skills that can be questioned. Castro is also the youngest of the bunch despite having the most big league experience in the infield besides Ian Stewart. Michelangelo’s weapon is the nun chucks which require an incredible degree of hand-eye coordination. Castro’s ability to get bat on ball is the best amongst Cubs players and maybe one of the best in baseball.
In terms of offense though Castro had his first truly subpar season, which I must say still represents above average production for a shortstop. Castro’s slash line fell to .283/.323/.430, but there were a number of positives that were shown throughout the season. Castro’s power continued to grow as he established career high marks in ISO and HR total. After the dismissal of Rudy Jaramillo, Castro displayed more patience at the plate than any point in his career. The if with Castro is whether he can combine those elements with the rate he got singles in 2010-2011. That would result in a player capable of holding down a middle of the order spot in more than a few lineups. But if Castro is what he is at this point that is still an above average offensive SS and solid piece of the supporting cast.
Donatello is the smart turtle and that is exactly what the Cubs are going to need from Welington Castillo. Castillo’s reputation has always been a player with the tools necessary to be a good starting catcher. He has the arm strength and power to provide value both at the plate and behind it. However, the other parts of his game have needed refinement especially framing of pitches. He has worked hard at improving these areas of his game and drew praise for the way he took command of the pitching staff. The Cubs will need that continue with as Castillo hopefully evolves into the Donatello role of the infield.
The focus here though is on offense, and he had a very solid season last year at AAA and in the majors. He finished the year with a major league slash line of .265/.337/.418. If he maintained that level that would be a huge boost for the offense. Obstructed View did a breakdown of the projections of Castillo and the baseline seems to be a touch lower than those marks at .251/.319/.429. Those numbers are good, but if he takes a step forward the Cubs offense becomes a lot more dynamic with his 65% numbers of .265/.341/.466.
Raphael is the angry, loner of the bunch. I will admit that I always like Raph, and perhaps that is why I picked. Or perhaps it was like Rice Cube said that he makes Cubs fans sai. The Cubs are going to need Raph to save the day this year by providing some power to the bottom of the order to make up for the lack of truly elite hitter in the lineup.
Ian Stewart had a terrible season last year with a .201/.292/.335 slash line. He also finally had a wrist injury cleaned up and is pain free for the first time in two years. If Stewart can return to form from that time period the Cubs have a very nice option for the bottom three of the lineup. Stewart from his three season, let’s call it a, peak hit .246/.334/.454 with 24 HRs averaged over 162 games. That player would like mighty nice in the 7 spot of the Cubs lineup.
I wasn’t planning to include Darwin Barney because I think his offense is pretty fixed, but to keep the theme going I think Barney is a nice match for Splinter. As the second oldest member of the infield and with a gold glove he will take on more of a leadership role in the infield than he already does. Barney has been a good influence on Castro defensively, and should continue to mentor the most important Cub player.
Offensively Barney is what he is at this point. He is going to hit for a decent average with little power and few walks. He provides value as a glove first middle infielder, but expecting more than a middle .600 OPS is probably unrealistic. That will be fine if the other infielders play their role.
Best case lineup projection
David DeJesus/Dave Sappelt .288/.359/.437
Alfonso Soriano .252/.310/.473
Nate Schierholtz/Scott Hairston .287/.364/.437
Worst case lineup projection
David DeJesus/Dave Sappelt .288/.359/.437
Alfonso Soriano .252/.310/.473
Nate Schierholtz/Scott Hairston .280/.320/.460
As you can see there is a wide range of possibilities from my very unscientific methods of figuring these projections, but I think these numbers really do represent the realistic high and low ends of production for those four Cubs. If the TMNC hit their peaks than this offense could be average to even slightly better. If the TMNC fall to their weakest numbers this offense looks like 2012 or worse. This doesn’t factor in the possibility of injury because the replacements for the TMNC are not good, and possibly the platoons don’t play up to their potential production.
The odds are quite low that all of them hit their peak or their low, but where the majority fall on the spectrum will determine what this offense will produce. More than likely it will be a below average bunch, but perhaps if they tap their TMNC power perhaps those projections aren’t quite so optimistic.