The 2023 Cubs and the art of exceeding expectations
MESA, Ariz. — The sounds of baseballs popping into mitts filled the air at the Cubs’ facilities at Sloan Park.
Baseball is near.
And so is the time for people to predict what the season ahead will look like.
Projections, predictions, outlooks — they’re all littering social media at this time of the year. One of the more popular ones, PECOTA, has the Cubs finishing third in the NL Central behind Milwaukee and St. Louis, with a 77-85 record, which would be a 3-win improvement from last year.
“I think there’s definitely years that the projections haven’t liked us or haven’t liked us as much as we might,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “But ultimately our job is to prove those wrong.”
So how do the Cubs do that?
“I think what I’ve learned throughout my days as a player and even as a manager, you take one day at a time,” manager David Ross. “We’re trying to win that game.”
The Cubs can outperform projections simply with time. Another year means another year of experience and more time for a player to adapt and learn. If Justin Steele takes the next step in his development, what does that do to the rotation and, subsequently, the bullpen? If Cody Bellinger returns to some semblance of the offensive player he was early in his career, what does that do for the team’s lineup?
That can go a long way in changing external expectations.
“I think we have a lot of players that have potential to break out to exceed their projections,” Hoyer said. “I think that’s how you get to where we need to be offensively — have guys that maybe bounce back from years that weren’t as strong as they had hoped to young guys taking the next step.
“I think we have a lot of guys that have a chance to take that [next] step. We probably need that to a certain extent.”
At the end of the day, though, exceeding expectations will come down to doing what the Cubs are building their team around.
That means pitching, defense and focusing on the intangibles.
The Cubs made an emphasis in those areas this winter, signing players with Gold Glove pedigree — like Dansby Swanson and Bellinger — and former World Series winners like those two, Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer.
The defense boosts a pitching staff that is reliant upon contact and more balls in play with better defenders should equate to more outs. The winning mentality that the free agent signings bring benefits the young players who were part of a successful second half in 2022 that saw them win 39 games.
“Our staff has really good command,” Hoyer said. “I think we’re gonna really catch the ball and that’s certainly the hope is that our run prevention in general exceeds expectations. I’m never gonna sit here and say why we’re gonna outperform a certain projection system. Just that I do think we should have pretty good run prevention this year with the improved defense. I do think we’re gonna throw a lot of strikes. We don’t have a strikeout pitching staff but certainly we should limit our walks and hopefully the balls in play we can convert to outs.”