With the recent signing of Kerry Wood, it appears that most of the Cubs rebuilding is complete, at least for the 2012 season. Matt Garza could still be moved, however with the Yankees recently acquisition of Michael Pineda, there is one less suitor on that front.
Thus, with most of the winter moves completed, what can we expect from this team in 2012?
Well, if you ask the players, they remain confident and believe the Cubs can contend.
Per Ian Stewart, "There's been a lot of teams that have started the season with question marks that have gone on to be good teams, so there's no reason we can't do that here."
Even Theo Epstein is not totally giving up on the 2012 season and thinks "we might surprise some people".
However, after last year when Jim Hendry was quoted as saying “we fully expect to be in contention in the National League Central", prior to the Cubs finishing 5th in the Central, I remain skeptical.
Thus, I thought I would take a look at the Cubs current roster and try to get a feel for what to expect for the 2012 season, i.e. how many wins can we realistically expect from this current group?
To do this, I decided to apply Bill James' Pythagorean expectation formula, which uses a team's runs scored and runs allowed to predict a team's total wins. For example, using the Cubs 2011 runs scored of 654 and runs allowed of 756, the formula predicts 69 wins, or 2 less than the 71 wins the Cubs ended up with, which is well within a reasonable margin of error.
So, to apply this to the 2012 season, I first had to find projected runs scored and runs allowed for the 2012 Cubs. Thus, I turned to one of my favorite sites, BaseballHQ.com, which puts together their first projections in December and updates them regularly for each significant transaction.
A couple tweaks were needed as BBHQ only projects ER for pitchers and their total IP were a little high. Thus, I calculated runs allowed based on the Cubs 2011 ratio of ER to Runs (91%). In addition, I removed some of the fringe pitchers to get the 2012 IP down to around 1450 (the Cubs had 1434 IP in 2011).
With those tweaks, I came up with projections of 665 runs scored and 736 runs allowed. Applying the Pythagorean expectation formula gives 73 wins (72.8 to be exact) or about the same as 2011.
For a team going through a major rebuilding, I think most fans would be OK with 73 wins in 2012, with the expectation that that total would increase going forward. Its OK to try to be optimistic, especially when its the Cubs Convention and you're trying to drive up fan support and ticket sales, but I don't think we should realistically expect to contend in 2012 and, if they do surprise some people, it would probably mean they finish above .500.