Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

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Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

When a team has a front office friendly to advanced statistics like the Cubs have, the benefits of such a perspective are expected to come in the form of savvy trade and free agent signings.

But as a pair of the team's pitching prospects discussed at a panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, the data-reliant approach goes well beyond the GM chair.

For right-hander Dallas Beeler, a 2010 draft pick, the differences in the scouting information made available to him before and after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reigns of the organization were undeniable.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Beeler well versed in humility

"In 2011, I was in Peoria and Tennessee," began Beeler, "We would go into games and look at a guy's stats and say 'He's hitting this average, or he's hitting this average over the last 10 games, or this many home runs, or had this many stolen bases."

But when 2012 rolled around, Beeler and other Cubs hurlers found themselves with a lot more information to digest.

"This past year, we'd have a guy -- a video guy -- who would come and go over the opposing team's entire lineup, go through their last 10 games and would find their strengths, their weaknesses, where you should pitch them and in what counts, their stats, if they like steal early, etc. It was a lot more in-depth."

2011 fourth round pick and right-handed relief prospect Tony Zych hardly had any time to get used to the old Cubs way of doing things, but was still struck by the amount of scouting information available under the new regime.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to big leagues

"There's so much that goes into everything," said Zych, who claimed that he spent so much time reviewing video that he was eventually instructed to step back from it entirely for a while to regain his focus.

With that information in hand, the level of familiarity with opposing hitters that Cubs minor league arms enter into each at-bat with is a lot more extensive than it was prior to Epstein's arrival in Chicago.

"It helps me a lot because I can know what to throw in certain situations," said Beeler, "Last year it would be like 'I know this guy can hit, he's hitting .310, but I don't know what he does with this count. If I get in this count with him, what does he look for?' Now, we get all the pitch-tracking, so we get the percentages."

As Zych can testify to, the sheer volume of data, video and reports can be a bit much. But as these pitchers try to work their way toward realizing their major league dreams, the extra assistance is appreciated.

"I try to use everything they give to me," said Beeler, "If they give it to me, why not use it? It not going to hurt me."

Breaking down how Cubs look at the Justin Verlander situation

Breaking down how Cubs look at the Justin Verlander situation

Theo Epstein’s embrace-debate management style means the Cubs are constantly running through different scenarios, trying to balance their win-now urges against what should be a very bright future in Wrigleyville.

The financials, the human intelligence and the analytics are all factored into the equation, which leads to this question for Epstein’s cabinet: Is there a point where the Detroit Tigers kick in enough money and the prospect cost becomes so low that Justin Verlander makes sense for the Cubs?

The Cubs haven’t definitively answered that question yet or completely ruled out the idea, a team source said Tuesday, cautioning that the defending World Series champs are still more likely to add a reliever before the July 31 trade deadline than acquire a frontline starting pitcher.

“Always looking to make the team better,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 7-2 win over the White Sox kept the Cubs in a virtual first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. “Always. That’s what a GM and a president does. But I like our guys.”  

Verlander would obviously benefit from a move to the National League and feel energized in a pennant race. The Cubs could rationalize this as an immediate boost and a long-range solution while preparing for a 2018 rotation without Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.

Imagine the buzz from Kate Upton’s fiancée walking into the clubhouse and making his first start at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform. Verlander and Upton have been spotted enough times at Chicago Cut Steakhouse that his no-trade power might be the easiest hurdle to clear in a deal of this magnitude.

Verlander’s overall numbers are ordinary this season (5-7, 4.50 ERA, 1.444 WHIP), but trending in the right direction. The Cubs would go into it knowing that they wouldn’t get the same guy who won 24 games and American League MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011.

The Tigers also can’t just give away a franchise icon who finished second in last year’s AL Cy Young voting and has a 3.39 ERA in 16 career playoff starts

The Cubs are trying to see around corners and anticipate what the team will look like in 2018 and 2019 – when Verlander will make $28 million guaranteed each season – and what might be available in trades and on the free-agent market during those transaction cycles. Verlander is also owed the balance of his $28 million salary this season and has a $22 million vesting option for 2020.

Even if the Tigers pay down some of that commitment, that’s still a ton of exposure with a guy who has roughly 2,500 innings on his odometer and will be 35 years old around the time pitchers and catchers report to spring training next season. That’s also when the Cubs will begin the second half of Jon Lester’s $155 million megadeal – for his age-34, -35 and -36 seasons.

After stunning the baseball world with that blockbuster White Sox trade during the All-Star break, Epstein talked about how Jose Quintana’s reasonable contract – $8.85 million next season plus team options for 2019 and 2020 worth $22 million combined – creates room for another star player.

As great as Verlander has been throughout his career, are the Cubs really ready to pour that money back into a player who was born in 1983? And meet Detroit’s asking price in terms of prospects?

And go against the buy-low philosophy that attracted the Cubs to Arrieta, as well as the ageism that makes them reluctant to reinvest in their own Cy Young Award winner? And potentially close off opportunities to sign free agents from the monster class coming after the 2018 season?

Probably not, but the Cubs haven’t shut down the Verlander discussion yet.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs even up Crosstown Series with White Sox

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs even up Crosstown Series with White Sox

Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Jordan Bernfield (ESPN) and Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times) join Kap to talk Game 2 of the Crosstown Series.

Later, the group previews Bears camp and what's going on with the Cavaliers.

Check out the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: