Ostrowski: Don't bet on defensive skills falling for young Cubs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell won a gold glove last season and figures to be a key to a strong Cubs defense again.

      Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell won a gold glove last season and figures to be a key to a strong Cubs defense again. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
By Joe Ostrowski
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 4/9/2017 8:57 AM

History is working against the Chicago Cubs in more ways than one. There hasn't been a repeat World Series champion in 16 years, but that's become the norm in sports.

There have been dynasties in football and hockey, but teams haven't gone back-to-back in a while. It has been 18 years since the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons. The Patriots last won back-to-back Super Bowls 12 years ago.

 

When the time came for prognosticators to make their baseball picks, those that went against the Cubs had to give a reason they were picking against the most-talented team in the game.

Time and time again the team's defense was brought up. They can't possibly repeat their 2016 defensive performance because well, um, that doesn't happen.

Pick a defensive metric. Any metric. Whether it's defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating, or defensive efficiency rating, all the data screams that last year's Cubs defense was the best in baseball by a very wide margin.

Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez all finished in the top three at their given positions in defensive runs saved. Baez had 1 fewer DRS than Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Both are four-time all stars and gold glove winners, each logging over 900 more innings than Baez in 2016.

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Albert Almora is a defensive upgrade over Dexter Fowler. That was clear when the young outfielder robbed Matt Adams of a home run in the Cubs first win of the season. According to Statcast, Adams gets a homer 90-percent of the time on that play. Almora was credited with two DRS in that game.

So how exactly is the Cubs defense going to get worse with this young core? Russell, Baez, and Almora aren't even close to the prime of their careers, ranging from 22 to 24 years old.

The answer may depend on Joe Maddon's lineup card. Center field, right field, and second base have been a guessing game and those lineup cards will have plenty of late defensive replacements.

Cubs opponent's batting average of balls in play was only .255 last year. The second lowest BABIP was Toronto's .282. History shows that teams with such a low BABIP see a sharp increase the following season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

However, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta are still in the starting rotation. Hendricks induced soft contact 24.9-percent of the time, the highest rate in baseball. Arrieta's 22.9 soft contact rate was fourth best.

Maybe this team is just that good defensively and Kyle Schwarber roaming the outfield won't hurt that much. Betting against the young and still improving Cubs seems like a bad bet.

• Joe Ostrowski is a co-host of the "Hit & Run" baseball show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on WSCR 670-AM The Score with Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter@JoeO670.

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