June 26, 2019


There has been a recent debate on how well the Epstein Cubs Era is fairing this season. It seems the position depth has fallen off (and it is short by carrying an extra pitcher in the bullpen).

There are two independent factors at play on why the Cubs do not have a Dodger like minor league pipeline of quality starting players. First, is the ability to identify talent. Can your scouts and front office have the ability to see whether a high school or college player has "major league stuff." Second, is the ability to develop the talent's skills to major league levels. More people side on the the second factor as the reason that the Cubs farm system is devoid of talent. We have harped for years about the inability of the Epstein crew to draft, sign and develop a major league starting pitcher for the Cubs.

Looking at objective figures, is this true?

Between 2000 and 2011, 11.2 percent of minor league baseball players made it to the major leagues.
That seems to be the standard for which teams should be judged.

In regard to rounds prospects have been picked, a study showed the percentages of getting to the majors:

1st round: 66%
2nd round: 49%
3rd -5th rounds: 32%
6-10 rounds: 20%
11-20 rounds: 11%
21-40 rounds: 7%

The distribution seems to be clear: the best chance is to hit on your first 5 round picks every year, which would equal a 12.5% percentage hitting the major leagues per draft year.

What has happened in the Epstein Era drafts:

In 2012, only #1) Almora CF and #8) Bote SS have made it to the majors out of 43 picks.
In 2013, only #1) Bryant 3B and #2) Zastryzny LHP made it to the majors (with only Bryant a full time starter) out of 40 picks.
In 2014, only #1) Schwarber C and #3) Zagunis C made it to the majors (with Schwarber starting to lift his platoon status) out of 40 picks.
In 2015, only #1) Happ 2B made it to the majors (but now he has been demoted to AAA) out of 40 picks.
No one from the 2016, 2017 or 2018 drafts have made it to the Cubs major league roster.

If you only count 2012-2015 draft classes as the litmus test, only 7 of 163 selections made it to the Cubs major league roster (4.29%).  If you only count full time starters, then only 2 of 163 selections made it to the Cubs major league roster (1.22%).

Clearly, the Cubs have underperformed the 11.2% standard for prospect to major league promotion.

Adbert Alzolay was signed as a amateur free agent in 2012. He has spent more than 6 years to get his chance on the Cubs major league roster. That is a long time (the maximum time limit) to control a minor league prospect. As of this writing, he had a good first long relief outing, and is expected to spot start against the Braves. He would be the first Theo signed pitching prospect to potentially stick on the roster (fingers crossed).

When you factor in the pool of amateur free agent signing across baseball (international), the objective standard actually falls to around 10% promotion rate. With all the Cub international signings, the team's success rate is probably below the 4.29% above.

Epstein's Cub prospect development and promotion rate is 62 % below the average MLB standard. If you score only 38% on your test paper, most would call that a failure.

June 21, 2019


Major League Baseball has admitted that the baseball this season is juiced.

Steve Stone had remarked that the exit velocity off the bat this season would lead to a pitcher dying after getting hit with a line drive. Home Runs are screaming out of the ball park at a record rate. 

From Yahoo Sports:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that the baseballs have contributed to this year’s historic home-run rate.

Manfred told David Lennon of Newsday the baseballs have less drag due to the “pill” in the middle of the ball.

The mention of drag there is more important than the “pill” at the center of the ball. Robert Arthur of Baseball Prospectus is among the many analysts who have critically look at the baseballs over the past couple seasons. In April, he concluded the drag on the baseball was extremely low. 

What does that mean? As Arthur explained, the baseball flies a lot farther:

“[D]rag is incredibly important in determining how likely a hitter is to knock one out of the park. As baseballs become more aerodynamic, they travel further given a certain initial velocity. A deep fly ball that might have been caught at the warning track can instead go into the first row of the stands. A 3 percent change in drag coefficient can work to add about five feet to a well-hit fly ball, which can in turn increase home runs league wide by an astounding 10-15 percent.”

Arthur compared the low drag to the numbers he got during the 2017 season, when the home-run rate spiked. A record 6,105 home runs were hit that season.

That record is on pace to be shattered in 2019. The league is currently on pace to hit 6,614 home runs.

This season, 16 players have already hit at least 20 home runs. Last June 21, only four players had hit 20 home runs. In 2017, it was just seven players.

Manfred did not say whether the league planned to correct the issue moving forward. Following the home-run spike in 2017, the balls seemed to fall back to normal. The home-run total dropped back to 5,585 in 2018. Still high, but nowhere near the record.

If something is going to change again, it would fall on MLB to make it happen. MLB owns Rawlings, the company that makes its baseballs.

Baseball thinks its heyday of attendance and national attention was during the steroid era. There were house ads with star pitchers saying "Chicks love the long ball." Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth's records were turned to dust.

But in a statistic driven historical game, traditionalists are appalled that MLB would be tampering with its sacred baseball.  Will there now be another new asterisk in the record book after this year is concluded?

June 19, 2019


The story line this morning is the myopic chant that the
Cubs should have never traded last night's Sox hero, Jimenez, to
the hated White Sox for SP Quintana.

There is gripe that Quintana was not the solid #2 starter that the
Cubs got in the trade, but Q has amassed a 3.9 pitching WAR since
his mid-2017 acquisition.

Jimenez may turn out to be great, or OK. Jorge Soler was sent to
KC for a closer (Wade Davis) but Soler was an injury prone
underachiever since he got to the Royals. This year he seems to
getting better: .245 BA, 20 HR, 52 RBI (third in the AL).

But you have to remember the fan debates that wanted the Cubs
to trade the new favorite, Schwarber, to the White Sox for Chris Sale.
That never happened. Schwarber has yet to blossom into the
.300 hitting power monster Baby Bambino. Sale continues to be
one of the best pitchers in the AL. (A 14.5 pitching WAR since he
arrive in Boston in 2017).

The Cubs traded Gleybar Torres, another top prospect, to get
Chapman from the Yanks (which was the move that won the Series).
Chapman was an expensive rental because Torres has 4.9 WAR
in only 190 games.

Trades are not won or lost when they are made. And they are not

evaluated based on one game against the team that traded you.

The Cubs picked up Quintana because he was reliable and cheap
($10 million/year). We know that the Cubs are in a huge budget
brick wall so finding a reliable starter for under $10 million is
impossible. (Chatwood still costs $13 million/year). 

The bottom line is you cannot say at this moment  it is a bad trade
even when your former Number One prospect comes back to
bite you.

June 4, 2019


The Cubs first round draft choice was a college starting pitcher.

MLB.com stated:

27) Cubs: Ryan Jensen, RHP, Fresno State

This is the biggest surprise of the first round so far, as Jensen was ranked No. 99 on our ranking of the top 200 Draft prospects. There's a lack of college pitching in this Draft, however, and we may see more teams push some college arms up their Draft boards, as the Cubs appeared to here. Jensen has one of the best fastballs in the college class, usually working at 94-98 mph and maintaining his velocity into the late innings. The secondary stuff is inconsistent, as is his control, and he doesn't have a real big frame (6-foot, 180 pounds), so he could be a reliever.

It is surprising that the Cubs reached for a third round prospect in the first round. It is another small frame pitcher who projects to be a reliever.
First round arms are supposed to be starters (unless you are a dominant career closer like the White Sox Burdi) because all relievers are failed starters.

High velocity throwers are nice, but can they pitch to make outs?

The reason the Cubs picked a college pitcher: to try to fast track him to the majors. The minor league system is devoid of any immediate help for the pitching staff. Could Jensen's velocity be enough to be a late season call-up to bolster an overworked bullpen? It is doubtful. But the Cubs window for a second championship run is closing fast with the improvements in their own division rivals.

The Cubs in the Theo era have NEVER developed their own starting pitcher. The first round choice is already pegged for relief duty by scouts. 

It appears that the Cubs cannot solve their pitching problems by spending any money. Kimbrel and Keuchel are unrestricted free agents, but the Cubs are not thought to be interested in either. Ricketts has said he would not allow the Cubs to go over the luxury cap (where the Cubs payroll was on Game 1). The front office has been squeezing nickels out of dimes to supplement the roster. When the Indians gave up on Carlos Gonzalez (he was hitting .210), the Cubs picked him up for a prorated league minimum (from part of the payroll savings of not paying Zobrist who is on the restricted list). This is like trying to find lost change under the sofa cushions in order to buy a pizza.

Do not be surprised if the Cubs front load more pitchers in this year's draft because that seems to be the overriding need for the system.