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2016 Team Previews: Chicago Cubs

Throughout the long, cold offseason, I am doing team by team previews to get you ready for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Today it's the Cubbies.

Jake Arrieta and his beard dominated baseball in 2015. What's in store for him and the Cubs in 2016?
Jake Arrieta and his beard dominated baseball in 2015. What's in store for him and the Cubs in 2016?
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my 2016 fantasy team previews. I will be breaking down 2016 prospects for the relevant fantasy players on all 30 teams, one team at a time. Check back throughout the offseason for new team previews. You can catch up on old ones in my archive (here) or in the section (here). Because there are 30 teams to cover in limited time, I have to get started now, even though there will certainly be some trades that move players around and open up larger roles for existing players. Also, free agents and guys that moved midseason will be analyzed with one of the teams they played for, even though they likely (or definitely) won't be on that team in 2016 so they don't get missed. Hopefully you can bear with me on those issues and remember that these were written before those trades occurred.

I am starting at the bottom of the standings and working my way up. In each team preview, I will attempt to follow the same layout. First, there will be two tables of stats for hitters (showing stats acquired while playing for this team; traded players will be missing some stats) followed by quick analysis of the most fantasy relevant of those hitters (relevance at my discretion). After that, two tables for the pitching stats and some pitcher analysis. I will then present one breakout player (aka sleeper) and one breakdown player (or bust, if you prefer) for the team. Got it? Ok, let's get started.

Chicago Cubs

Hitters

Name Position PA HR R RBI SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Anthony Rizzo 1B 701 31 94 101 17 6 11.10% 15.00% 0.278 0.387 0.512
Addison Russell 2B, SS 523 13 60 54 4 3 8.00% 28.50% 0.242 0.307 0.389
Starlin Castro 2B, SS 578 11 52 69 5 5 3.60% 15.70% 0.265 0.296 0.375
Jon Herrera 2B, SS*, 3B* 132 2 14 14 3 0 1.50% 17.40% 0.23 0.242 0.333
Kris Bryant 3B, OF* 650 26 87 99 13 4 11.80% 30.60% 0.275 0.369 0.488
Miguel Montero C 403 15 36 53 1 1 12.20% 25.60% 0.248 0.345 0.409
David Ross C 182 1 6 9 1 0 11.00% 33.50% 0.176 0.267 0.252
Dexter Fowler OF 690 17 102 46 20 7 12.20% 22.30% 0.25 0.346 0.411
Jorge Soler OF 404 10 39 47 3 1 7.90% 30.00% 0.262 0.324 0.399
Chris Denorfia OF 231 3 18 18 0 1 6.50% 24.20% 0.269 0.319 0.373
Chris Coghlan OF, 2B* 503 16 64 41 11 2 11.50% 18.70% 0.25 0.341 0.443
Kyle Schwarber OF, C* 273 16 52 43 3 3 13.20% 28.20% 0.246 0.355 0.487

Name BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Anthony Rizzo 0.289 21.80% 34.60% 43.60% 14.60% 7.70% 17.80% 49.00% 33.20% 9.91
Addison Russell 0.324 18.20% 41.00% 40.70% 9.80% 13.70% 20.40% 52.60% 27.10% 1.45
Starlin Castro 0.298 17.00% 54.10% 28.90% 8.30% 8.60% 23.20% 53.20% 23.60% 2.75
Jonathan Herrera 0.267 15.50% 46.40% 38.10% 5.40% 7.90% 25.20% 58.90% 15.90% -2.46
Kris Bryant 0.378 20.50% 34.20% 45.20% 15.80% 16.50% 14.80% 47.70% 37.50% 8.30
Miguel Montero 0.306 25.50% 40.50% 34.00% 17.90% 13.50% 16.20% 50.60% 33.20% 0.79
David Ross 0.276 18.60% 32.00% 49.50% 2.10% 16.50% 14.90% 55.50% 29.70% #N/A
Dexter Fowler 0.308 20.30% 43.30% 36.40% 10.60% 8.20% 16.60% 55.70% 27.70% 5.58
Jorge Soler 0.361 27.80% 42.30% 29.80% 13.50% 15.40% 15.30% 48.80% 35.90% 0.95
Chris Denorfia 0.351 24.50% 51.00% 24.50% 7.90% 12.20% 17.60% 49.70% 32.70% -1.86
Chris Coghlan 0.284 20.10% 45.80% 34.10% 13.70% 7.90% 15.20% 52.00% 32.80% 2.85
Kyle Schwarber 0.293 17.30% 40.40% 42.30% 24.20% 14.40% 14.70% 45.50% 39.70% 1.44

*Will lose this eligibility in 2016

**The ESPN player rater is based on a player's standard 5 x 5 category performance relative to average. A score of 0 is replacement level and negative values mean the player is actually hurting your team. Values in the 1-2 range generally are for your worst starting player, unless you are unlucky. There are no positional adjustments, though, so shortstops and catchers will often have very low scores relative to everyone else. It is normalized so that guys with little playing time can be compared to guys that played all year.

Analysis

We've reached the top three teams from 2015. And oh boy, this team is exciting. There is no team in baseball with more upside and major-league ready youth. I'm a Red Sox fan and we have some exciting young players, but nothing close to the treasure trove on the North Side. Let's dive into the excitement.

Anthony Rizzo has emerged from being a platoon hitter with a poor average a few years ago to a first round draft pick in all leagues. He is consistent, healthy, has great power and OBP, hits in the heart of a great lineup, can hit for a good average, and throws in double digit steals as a bonus. He's right in the second tier of first basemen just below Goldschmidt. There really aren't any holes in his game or warning signs to worry about. He's a sure bet to repeat his excellent 2015 stats, except maybe his steals. It's hard to imagine him putting up 17 steals again with his speed. I would bet on 10-13 instead.

Addison Russell disappointed many by not tearing the world apart in his first season like Correa or Lindor. He was ranked up near those two on most prospect lists, so you can see why people might think that. However, Russell is considered more of an all-around good player and he missed some key development time due to injury in 2014, so it's not surprising that he started off slow in MLB at age 21. He actually did pretty well compared to most 21 year olds since he spent most of the year in the big leagues and at least hit well enough to stay in the lineup most days. He showed a little bit of his 60-grade power with 13 homers and had a decent walk rate. He needs to get his strikeouts under control. Both his strikeout rate and swinging strike rate were awful and he needs both to improve if he is going to get his average up to where scouts predicted it would go (0.290 or so). In fantasy, we can look at this two ways: either he is overmatched at this level and may be a bust because he can't figure out MLB pitching or he was just learning in 2015 and is poised to reach his potential in the next few years and should see significant improvement in 2016. Most are in the latter camp because everyone likes to stick with former top prospects until it is clear they are done for good. I tend to agree in this case because we have just one season of data and he is so very young. I'm willing to bet on his upside and pick him as a top 10 SS in drafts, even though he wasn't close to that in 2015 (he was #34 on ESPN), but don't pick him until pick 120 or so at the earliest.

Starlin Castro is now in New York and will be just a second basemen for them, most likely. I'm worried about him ever becoming top 10 at his position in fantasy again. There isn't a dominant skill (power, average, speed) that you can count on him providing. His power is now average, his speed has disappeared, his average (once over 0.300 for two straight years) has bounced from bad to pretty good, and there are just so many question marks with him. I don't know what we will see from him in 2016, but he would have to fall pretty far for me to take a chance on a guy this volatile. He will still be SS-eligible, so that boosts his value and is certainly draftable in all leagues, but there is real downside.

Kris Bryant did much better than the previous two guys on this list in 2015. In fact, his 2015 stats are not that much different than Anthony Rizzo's except for three key things: BABIP, K%, and swinging strike %. In those three Bryant was absurdly lucky (0.378 BABIP) or showed poor plate discipline (near team-high K% and SwStr%). If he doesn't start to cut down on the swings and misses, his average is going to go into the tank. Rizzo produced only slightly better results but because his plate discipline is so superior, he has a much better chance of repeating those results. Bryant's power is unquestioned. He hit many fly balls, hit them far, and hit them very hard. The home runs will be there, but I am concerned about the average. His walk rate is high enough to keep his OBP up even when his average falls. I'm going to slow down the hype train here and project Bryant for this line: 0.230/0.320/0.470 with 29 HR, 12 steals, 80 R, and 85 RBI. That's not a bad line, by any means, but it is below Steamer's projection and below the conventional wisdom. I'm just not sure he can fix his plate discipline issues after just one season and I need to see him survive with a 0.300-0.320 BABIP and get his K% down to at least 25% or so before I can trust his average.

Miguel Montero actually had a good season for fantasy owners. You'll take 15 HR, a great OBP, and a decent average from your catcher. He finished as the #15 catcher on ESPN. He is often overlooked in drafts, so if you wait forever on catcher like me, he's actually a good, consistent option. He doesn't have much upside and he's not exciting, but I believe the floor is higher than some of the other options in the 10-15 range.

Dexter Fowler is still a free agent floating around, but he performed well last year. He won't put up 102 runs again in a lesser lineup, most likely, and he hit a career high in home runs and a six-year high in steals, so I expect all three of those categories to drop in 2016. His average and OBP should be about the same, though. Basically, his slugging might drop to 0.400 and his HR/SB might be 12/16 instead of 17/20.

Jorge Soler seems to have the same plate discipline issues as Bryant, but without the 75-grade power to keep him valuable. Despite a very high BABIP, he still only managed a 0.262 average. I am much more worried about him than I am Bryant or even Russell. Bryant has his great power and Russell has a history of low K% in the minors. If Soler doesn't figure out his discipline issues, he could have another awful year. He is still young (who isn't on this team?) and has time to grow and develop, but I'm worried. There is enough upside in this former high-ranking prospect to take a chance on him, but there is big downside here, too. I'll probably stay away to avoid the risk, but if you like to gamble on highly variable players, I wouldn't blame you for picking Soler. At least his high Hard % gives us hope that his power is there.

Ben Zobrist is new in town and will make playing time hard for a couple Cubs. He was covered in detail in the A's preview.

Chris Coghlan surprised many last year by providing great value in all leagues. He contributed power and speed and had a good OBP. He even earned second base eligibility late in the season, boosting his fantasy value even more. He is a platoon player that rarely faces lefties, but like Seth Smith and Andre Ethier, he does so well against righties that he has mixed league value. Despite all those good things he does when he plays, he's not going to get much of a chance to play in a very crowded Cubs outfield. With Heyward, Schwarber, Soler, and even Zobrist, there isn't much left for Coghlan. On another team, I think he would make a good 5th OF or 3rd OF in deep leagues, especially OBP leagues. As it is, he should be on waivers most of the season.

Kyle Schwarber is one of my favorite players. I love big guys that are much more athletic than they look and put up great power and OBP numbers in their first year in the majors. Ray Guilfoyle is down on him for 2016 because he is worried that the hype might be ignoring Schwarber's late season slump. However, even during that slump, his power was there. He still qualifies at catcher in some leagues (sorry ESPN owners) and is a great high upside option there. I ranked him as the #2 catcher behind Posey, so I am a believer that we are looking at a special hitter. My biggest question is if he will catch enough this season to keep that eligibility in 2017. As just an OF, he is still great but just not top 2 or even top 10. He probably slots in between 10 and 20 at that position. I think he will rack up the counting stats hitting near the top of this loaded batting order.

Javier Baez would have been a breakout pick if he had the second base job all to himself, but alas, Ben Zobrist had to ruin all that. Now Baez is just a backup that might even spend much of the season in AAA. He showed progress in his plate discipline in the limited time he played in AAA last year, so I want to see how that new skill translates to the majors. We will have to wait for a key injury to find out unfortunately.

The newly-acquired Jason Heyward will be covered in the Cardinals preview, since that is where he spent 2015. He's been a consistent source of decent power, speed, and average for several years, and I don't see a reason that won't happen again. He is even better in OBP leagues and his runs scored total should be over 110 hitting near the top of this lineup.

The Cubs still have a deep farm system but I'm just going to talk about two call-ups that could contribute this year. Willson Contreras was covered by our own Domenic Lanza recently. I encourage you to check that out for more info on this fast rising catching prospect. With Montero around, Contreras doesn't have a clear path to MLB playing time, and he might not be ready this season anyway, but he's one of the top catching prospects in baseball and could be a solid fantasy catcher very soon. Albert Almora is an outfield prospect with average power and a slightly above average hit tool. He will likely be ready for the majors this season, but with Heyward in center, doesn't have a place to play. He could very easily be traded and end up starting somewhere else. He doesn't have huge upside (0.280, 15 HR), but deep leaguers should keep an eye on him if he can snag a starting job.

Pitchers

Name Position IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP LOB% GB% SwStr%
Hector Rondon RP 70 1.67 2.68 3.03 1 0.268 80.10% 52.40% 10.80%
Justin Grimm RP 49.2 1.99 3.11 3.05 1.15 0.255 76.30% 45.00% 13.70%
Pedro Strop RP 68 2.91 3.16 3.16 1 0.225 73.90% 51.30% 16.80%
Edwin Jackson RP 31 3.19 2.91 4.34 1.35 0.306 67.40% 45.30% 10.40%
Jason Motte RP 48.1 3.91 3.61 4.76 1.22 0.284 72.20% 30.30% 6.40%
Zac Rosscup RP 26.2 4.39 4.86 4.03 1.46 0.296 81.30% 35.60% 12.50%
James Russell RP 34 5.29 3.9 4.4 1.5 0.336 57.70% 40.00% 7.40%
Clayton Richard RP, SP* 42.1 3.83 3.58 3.43 1.28 0.297 72.80% 59.30% 6.20%
Travis Wood RP, SP* 100.2 3.84 3.4 3.59 1.24 0.3 70.50% 34.50% 9.80%
Jake Arrieta SP 229 1.77 2.35 2.61 0.86 0.246 80.00% 56.20% 11.10%
Jon Lester SP 205 3.34 2.92 3.06 1.12 0.303 71.80% 48.90% 10.40%
Tsuyoshi Wada SP 32.1 3.62 4.34 3.7 1.27 0.284 80.00% 45.10% 6.40%
Jason Hammel SP 170.2 3.74 3.68 3.47 1.16 0.288 72.80% 38.30% 10.90%
Kyle Hendricks SP 180 3.95 3.36 3.25 1.16 0.296 69.90% 51.30% 8.10%
Dan Haren SP 58.1 4.01 4.57 4.65 1.22 0.273 74.10% 28.80% 6.90%

Name SV HLD K% BB% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Hector Rondon 30 8 24.60% 5.30% 19.60% 58.30% 22.20% 7.38
Justin Grimm 3 15 32.80% 12.80% 14.60% 55.50% 30.00% 1.88
Pedro Strop 3 28 30.00% 10.70% 17.30% 50.60% 32.10% 2.33
Edwin Jackson 0 0 17.20% 9.00% 22.50% 56.10% 21.40% 0.82
Jason Motte 6 9 16.50% 5.30% 19.50% 50.90% 29.60% 1.44
Zac Rosscup 0 6 24.60% 11.00% 14.50% 52.60% 32.90% -1.36
James Russell 1 8 13.50% 6.10% 13.50% 57.10% 29.40% -2.37
Clayton Richard 0 2 12.20% 3.90% 20.50% 54.30% 25.20% -0.49
Travis Wood 4 3 28.20% 9.30% 18.00% 46.00% 36.00% 2.09
Jake Arrieta 0 0 27.10% 5.50% 22.90% 54.80% 22.20% 15.50
Jon Lester 0 0 25.00% 5.70% 21.40% 49.50% 29.20% 6.71
Tsuyoshi Wada 0 0 22.80% 8.10% 20.40% 46.20% 33.30% -0.91
Jason Hammel 0 0 24.20% 5.60% 18.70% 48.60% 32.70% 4.62
Kyle Hendricks 0 0 22.60% 5.80% 18.70% 55.80% 25.60% 3.83
Dan Haren 0 0 18.00% 5.30% 18.80% 47.90% 33.30% 4.78

*If they were outside the top 550 pitchers on the player rater, they will show up as #N/A

Analysis

Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young (deservedly) in 2015 and I see no reasons to expect any regression in 2016. He does everything you can ask a pitcher to do: get lots of grounders, lots of swings and misses, limit hard contact, and don't issue many walks. That is a sure recipe for success. He belongs in the top 10 fantasy starters and probably in the top 5 after Kershaw, Scherzer, and Sale. I'm not going to say he is going to put up a ridiculous 1.77 ERA again and have an historic second half run like he did, so I will give him just a little regression to a 2.0-2.2 ERA or so. That still puts him in the same ranking.

Jon Lester seems to like pitching in the NL. He put up a great season of his own. He wasn't as dominant as Arrieta, but he still provided fantasy owners with an ace-quality performance. I expect more of the same in 2016, with a drop in ERA down to 3.2 or so, given that he was a little unlucky last year to have an ERA of 3.34.

I'm going to skip pitchers that are gone now (Haren) or are too far down the depth chart and don't have enough upside to be relevant (Wada).

Jason Hammel slots in as the 5th starter, which is actually low for a guy with his skills. He could be a #3 on many teams. Despite great K%-BB%, SwStr%, and WHIP, he was hit very hard when hitters did make contact. That worries me because it is hard to explain. He should be more successful given those stats I mentioned. Given that I can't explain why he was hit so hard I'm going to project him for a 3.5 ERA this year and predict that he will have more value than most think. He should be a mixed league-relevant starter that is ownable, not just streamable in 2016.

Kyle Hendricks has a similar story to Hammel. He had a 3.95 ERA but a 3.35 FIP and 3.26 xFIP. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the velocity or swing and miss stuff of Hammel, so I'm not as optimistic about him dropping his ERA significantly, but on the other hand he does have a good ground ball rate. Considering those statements, I'm going to give him a 3.6 ERA in 2016. Not quite as good as Hammel, but better than he was in 2015.

I'll cover John Lackey, the newest member of the rotation, in my Cardinals preview, but I'll just say here that he is so consistent and reliable and should be owned in every league. He isn't flashy and doesn't have any upside left, but he gets the job done and delivers lots of quality starts.

This bullpen is pretty simple. Hector Rondon is the closer and is a top 15 option and will get lots of opportunties with this loaded roster. Pedro Strop is a top 10 middle relief option with great strikeout ability and he should rack up the holds again this year. Beyond that, there isn't much: Rex Brothers, Adam Warren, Trevor Cahill, and Justin Grimm are all here, but none have huge upside.

Carl "Carl's Jr." Edwards Jr is the top pitching prospect in the Cubs system. He was moved to relief in 2015, so his fantasy value may be very limited unless they move him back to starting. He has a nasty moving fastball and good curveball, but has some control issues and isn't considered strong enough to handle starting. Pierce Johnson is a near-ready starter that has three good pitches and good control and some scouts give him a #2 starter ceiling. He could be called up this season to fill in, but isn't worth stashing in most leagues due to the low upside and 50 overall grade.

Breakout

Addison Russell

There are lots of options on this loaded young team, but I'm going with a guy that didn't put up big numbers last year and someone people might have lowered their expectations on. He plays that most premium fantasy position and has the pedigree to take a big step forward in his first full season in the majors.

Breakdown

Jorge Soler

I mentioned all my concerns up above. He's got big plate discipline issues and a very real risk of hitting 0.220 or losing playing time to Zobrist or Coghlan. He has a pretty good ceiling, but the floor is very low and I'm betting my money on the floor.

Check back soon for the next team preview as we keep moving up the standings. Tschus!