With the Cubs’ season set to start today, I have five predictions I’ll make before the first pitch:
1. Ryan Theriot won’t regress very far.
I know a lot of people around Cubs blogs don’t like Theriot, and there’s a good reason for it. A lot of Cubs fans massively overrate the guy’s abilities, to an annoying degree. But his 2008 season, where he got on base at a .387 clip, wasn’t a fluke. His numbers might decline a little, because he’s probably not going to walk significantly more than he strikes out again. But for the last two years, Theriot has hit 21% and 23.2% of his balls in play for line drives. Last year his .340 BABIP was more or less in line with what you’d expect based on that line drive number, but in 2007 his .289 BABIP was 40 points below where you’d expect it to be. If Theriot’s BABIP had been about what you’d expect, in 2007, he’d have OBP’ed .353. He should do about that next year – maybe higher if his seemingly-improved patience wasn’t a fluke. We may have to accept that while Theriot doesn’t do a lot of things well, he gets on base at a decent clip for a shortstop.
2. The Cubs will win the division by close to ten games.
The Cubs are just more talented than anyone else in the division. They may not win by double digits, but if they don’t, it’s because they slack off at the end with a big lead. I honestly don’t think the Central will be much of a race heading into August.
3. Kevin Gregg will stick at the closer’s spot if he stays healthy.
Carlos Marmol will win the closer’s job on the Cubs some day. But it won’t be this season. Last year, prior to August 13, Gregg had a 2.29 ERA. Several bad outings after that – and after he hurt his knee – inflated his ERA. When he’s healthy, Gregg is a good pitcher, and it’s likely the Cubs won’t move away from him unless he goes on the DL.
4. Geovany Soto won’t experience much of a sophomore slump.
Soto’s numbers last year were great, and he might fall a little short of those, but that’s a testament to the high bar he set, not to his talent. He’s legitimately one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball, and his peripherals don’t suggest he’s going to fall off much. In fact, he may improve rather than regress, because he’s still young.
5. Ryan Dempster will remain valuable.
Dempster isn’t going to have an ERA under 3 again. But last year wasn’t especially lucky. He allowed a .288 BABIP. Average is around .300. .290. I didn’t believe the Dempster-as-starter experiment was a good idea, but he proved me wrong. He knows how to pitch, he has good stuff, and he’ll put up solid numbers.
Update: MB21 informs me in the comments that average BABIP for a pitcher is about .290, not about .300. I regret the error and blame it on the strict deadlines this blog keeps.