By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — There’s a number for us to consider for the Cubs as the new season sits less than two weeks away: 900.
That’s a number of runs that could be in play for the team to score in 2017. The 900-run mark is certainly a big number, as it projects to just shy of 5.6 runs per game, but it’s not without context.
That’s a magical figure on the mind of the Cubs’ “geek squad” of sabermetric experts. Manager Joe Maddon gave that group of bright minds the think-tank assignment of projecting the Cubs’ best lineups for scoring maximum runs. Specifically, Maddon was interested in the projections with slugger Kyle Schwarber as the lead-off hitter.
“This is just another tool in the tool box,” Maddon said of using analytics. “We felt in Tampa that we had some better options. We had a lot of discussions about (metrics). It was more nouveau when Andrew (Friedman) and I were talking about it then. Now everyone is doing it. The edge is going away. From my perspective, for me, it helps. Just adding another layer to it helps. You would be a fool not to try. So I think it has definitely helped me.”
Maddon wouldn’t reveal the exact number the analytics department projected for a Schwarber-led lineup at the top, but he did confirm it was more than five runs per game. He also acknowledged this: The statistical gurus project the Cubs to score more runs with Schwarber leading off than they scored with Dexter Fowler atop the order in 2016, when they scored 808 runs en route to a championship.
The Rockies led the National League with 5.22 runs per game last season, while the Cubs averaged 4.99. The Red Sox led the majors with 878 runs, an average of 5.42 per game.
The Cubs’ franchise record for runs in a season is 998, recorded in 1930. That figure was inflated by a lively ball that MLB decided to use in order to attract more fans during the Great Depression.
For now, Maddon wants to put his group in the best position to be successful and challenge his dynamic young hitters.
“They gave me a sheet with different scenarios,” Maddon said. “It was pretty heavy. It was good. Dexter was awesome, but with Schwarber’s power potential, the home runs coming out of that spot with extra at-bats (could help). You also have the natural rebounding of Jason (Heyward). He will be a better hitter. We talk about bearing down on defense and pitching because these (offensive numbers) are going to get better. They have more experience. All of these things set up the right way, we should have a better offensive year, especially against right-handed pitchers.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.