Baseball by the numbers: Forecast is for average

PECOTA and Fangraphs projections for the Cubs and White Sox aren’t anything to get excited about.

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New Cub Swanson is projected to perform between his 2022 and ’21 levels, but in his case, it’s a dip from a career year.

New Cub Swanson is projected to perform between his 2022 and ’21 levels, but in his case, it’s a dip from a career year.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

Strictly by the numbers, projections for the 2023 season aren’t all White Sox and Cubs fans could wish.

Projection systems suggest the answers won’t be enough to satisfy fans. The PECOTA system at Baseballprospectus.com projects the Sox at 79-83, a step down from the 81-81 last year from a team that had been expected to be a World Series contender. PECOTA has the Cubs at 76-86, just two games better than the 2021 team.

It’s a similar story at Fangraphs.com. Projected standings and playoff odds pages find the Sox at 80-82 with an 18.6% chance of winning the American League Central. The Cubs are projected at 75-87 with a 4.2% chance of winning the National League Central.

But Opening Day is a time for hope, and it’s not unreasonable to hope healthy seasons from Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn, a comeback by Yoan Moncada and an influx of Andrew Benintendi can turn the Sox’ offense into a powerhouse.

Likewise, Cubs fans can dream of continued progress by Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner, that Dansby Swanson can produce at the same level as he did last year in Atlanta and that Seiya Suzuki can make a leap forward in his second U.S. season.

Team projections are based on projections for individual players. Each player’s output is projected and his value folded into team totals. Season simulations yield many possible outcomes. Listings on the main pages are 50th-percentile projections, closest to average results.

A look at Moncada’s page on Fangraphs won’t show you his best possible projections. You’ll see average results, and those will be weighed down by his 2022 collapse when he hit .212/.273/.353 with 76 weighted runs created plus and 0.9 WAR

In 2021, Moncada had a 4.0 WAR as he hit .263/.375/.412 with 120 wRC+ — 120% of the major-league average 100. Any projection would forecast a bounce back toward his earlier form, but not a complete recovery.

So it goes with the Steamer system, one of several projections listed at Fangraphs.com. Steamer lists Moncada at .247/.327/.406 with a 109 wRC+ for a nice, but not complete, comeback.

New Cub Swanson also is projected to perform between his 2022 and ’21 levels, but in his case, it’s a dip from a career year.

Swanson projects at .249/.311/.416, 105 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR after .277/.329/.447, 116 and 6.4 with the Braves in 2022. The year before, Swanson hit .248/.311/.449. His wRC+ was only 99 and his fWAR 3.4 — his highest WAR before last season.

Let’s look at a few more Steamer projections for the Sox, listing batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage/wRC+/WAR:

Benintendi, .268/.338/.414/116/2.4; Jimenez, .271/.330/.490/132/2.7; Vaughn, .264/.327/.453/122/2.1; Luis Robert, .282/.329/.471/126/4.0; Tim Anderson, .285/.320/.423/111/3.3.

There’s reason for hope, especially if Jimenez, Vaughn and Robert stay healthy enough for their projected 31, 23 and 24 home runs, respectively.

Cubs projections include Bellinger, .235/306/.413/102/2.1; Happ, .248/.332/.425/114/2.8; Hoerner, .279/.334/.410/109/3.5; and Suzuki, .261/.349/.464/128/2.7.

None of those average expectations need put a damper on fans’ hopes before a game is played. Half the fun is seeing who breaks past the averages.

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