2018 Steamer Projections Show Big Improvements for Zobrist, Russell, Schwarber

Steamer, which has been the most accurate offense projection model in recent years, has already released their 2018 projections.

Though less complex than ZiPS and PECOTA, Steamer’s methodology achieves this accuracy by essentially telling a computer to predict the next season by inputting those statistics that are the most meaningful (e.g., age, league averages, homers, walks, etc).

Steamer doesn’t weigh peripherals (e.g., plate discipline metrics), nor does it include qualitative information (e.g., mechanical changes) in its model. Excluding human nature from any predictive model is a huge limitation, one that will be studied extensively as baseball statistics continue to evolve. But despite its limitations, the model is justifiably respected because of its accuracy.

If you, like me, are a huge data nerd who wants more information on accuracy modeling, take some time to read this piece by Tom Tango.

Once you’ve finished scratching that itch, it’s time to see how Steamer thinks Cubs batters will do next year. I’m encouraged.

Steamer believes several Cubs hitters will get better overall in 2018. At the top of the list is Ben Zobrist, whom the model thinks will rebound in 2018, drastically improving upon his underwhelming 82 wRC+ by a full 20 points.

The next three hitters most likely to produce better numbers are Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, all of whom Steamer projects will be at least 10 wRC+ points better in 2018. Of that trio, Heyward and Russell are projected to be roughly league average hitters (99 and 96 wRC+, respectively), which could be enough for around 4-5 fWAR.

Middle-of-the-order bats are also subject to improvement. Schwarber is expected to produce 12 percent more runs than an average hitter (wRC+ 112) next year because of a strong .348 wOBA. Even Anthony Rizzo is projected to produce more runs in 2018, raising his 2017 wRC+ of 133 to 141 next season.

But when there are improvers, there will also be regressors. Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras are all projected to produce at least 11 percent fewer runs in 2018. The reason for these numbers going down is mostly attributed to sample size and previous minor league seasons.

For example, Contreras was on pace to lead the Cubs in homers last year, but Steamer thinks the catcher will only hit 20 bombs in 2018. That’s probably because his minor league power numbers were much lower. Even with the drop in wRC+, Steamer believes Contreras will still be a well-above-average hitter with a 110 mark.

Happ, like Contreras, should still be productive in 2018 even with a projected dip in offense. While Happ probably will play multiple positions once again, he could make a formidable centerfield team with fellow outfielder Almora, who is projected for a respectable 92 wRC+.

The 2016 MVP will continue to put up top-tier numbers, says Steamer, even though the system thinks Kris Bryant will produce seven percent fewer runs. Still, it’s hard to get upset over a 139 wRC+ projection.

As the offseason hot stove heats up with many names whom we just discussed, remember to factor in all seasons — not just 2017 numbers — like Steamer does. There’s a reason guys like Russell and Schwarber are still projected to be highly valuable players; don’t let their recent performances completely overwhelm their entire portfolio.

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