FG on Fox: The Historic Significance of the 2016 Cubs Lineup

The Chicago Cubs won 97 games last season, went to the National League Championship Series, and had one of the top prospects in baseball debut with outstanding success. Many teams might look at such a season, nod their heads with approval, and try to simply maintain a semblance of that high level of achievement when planning and making moves for the following season. The current version of the Cubs, however, are in win-everything mode, and they seem desperate to improve upon a 97-win season. With an aggressive Theo Epstein, deep-pocketed owners, and a clear window to make a run at a long-absent title, the Cubs have already made some of the biggest acquisitions of the 2015 offseason.

The biggest, of course, is Jason Heyward, a top 15 player by Wins Above Replacement during the 2015 season. With his eight-year, $184 million contract, he joins Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant as the young core of a team that could challenge for World Series titles for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to proclaim the Cubs as favorites to win one of the strongest divisions in baseball after this move – they did, in essence, turn one of their rivals’ best players into one of their own – but that idea is cemented by the fact that they now have three of the best 20 position players from last season by WAR. Take a look at the top 20 position players by WAR, with each player’s 2016 team:

Top 20 Position Players by WAR, 2015
2015 Rank Name Current Team 2015 WAR
1 Bryce Harper Nationals 9.5
2 Mike Trout Angels 9.0
3 Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 8.7
4 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 7.4
5 Joey Votto Reds 7.4
6 Manny Machado Orioles 6.8
7 Yoenis Cespedes Free Agent 6.7
8 A.J. Pollock Diamondbacks 6.6
9 Lorenzo Cain Royals 6.6
10 Kris Bryant Cubs 6.5
11 Jason Heyward Cubs 6.0
12 Andrew McCutchen Pirates 5.8
13 Buster Posey Giants 5.7
14 Chris Davis Free Agent 5.6
15 Kevin Kiermaier Rays 5.5
16 Anthony Rizzo Cubs 5.5
17 Matt Carpenter Cardinals 5.2
18 Jason Kipnis Indians 5.2
19 Curtis Granderson Mets 5.1
20 J.D. Martinez Tigers 5.0

The Cubs head into next season with three out of 20 of this past season’s best players, and that’s the kind of statement that forces everyone to sit up and take serious notice. Having two position players of this caliber is rare enough for a team in a given year; having three is a foundation on which dynasties are sometimes built.

If we assume that all three players will stay healthy and produce at around the same level next year, each will be in the top 20 or better for position players (per Steamer projections on FanGraphs, Rizzo, Bryant, and Heyward are all projected to be top 10 players, in fact). This got me thinking: what is the track record of teams that have this level of talent in their lineup? Have they accounted for a disproportionate number of World Series victories, even if we don’t take into account the strength of their respective pitching staffs?

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Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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Radermecher
Member
Radermecher

I have the Nationals taking it all,in 2015.Thats a LOCK.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest

As a Nationals fan, this is all I can think about, and I am sort of prematurely sad for the Cubs.

cornflake5000
Guest
cornflake5000

Five Thirty Eight has them having a 15% chance to win the WS… so chances are they won’t win.

I do wonder how the Nationals would have done last year with Maddon as their manager instead of Williams.

Also, as statistically inclined as the Cubs’ front office is, they have also placed a premium on high character guys.

Obviously there’s no guarantee, but this is the best postion the Cubs have been in in my lifetime. That’s all I can really ask.

Ross
Guest
Ross

Enjoy Dusty Baker.

Sincerly, every Giants, Cubs and Reds fan who ever lived, ones who have died, ones who haven’t been born yet, and the Pope.