Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

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Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

Information is Theo Epsteins most valuable currency.

It will be traded this week in Milwaukee, where general managers and owners will gather for their annual meetings. Deals will be advanced, maybe even closed. There could be a new collective bargaining agreement. Commissioner Bud Selig might have to mediate the Epstein compensation issue.

Once Epstein left the Boston Red Sox, he got out from under the bad contracts given to Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. But as the Cubs new president of baseball operations, hes now on the hook for the roughly 72 million still owed to Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano.

This is an organization thats been paralyzed by the wrong long-term commitments. But really the entire industry is still trying to figure out: How do you pay for future results?

So as the Cubs look at past performance and prepare for the winter, will Carmine have a seat at the table?

Way too much has been made of that, Epstein said of the Red Sox computer model. We developed in Boston a program that was simply an information-management system. Every team in baseball has (one in some form).

Every business in the modern world (has) an information-management system that they use to gather their information, consolidate it, analyze it, dig deep. (They) use it as a resource to sort of balance certain variables and not make decisions but inform decisions that the company ultimately has to make.

General manager Jed Hoyer is not a stats geek. As a Division III player out of Wesleyan University, he was good enough to spend one summer sharing an infield with future big-leaguers Mark DeRosa and John McDonald in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

People try to paint us in different corners, Hoyer said. Its about information, whether its scouting (or) quantitative (or) medical (or) background. (The) key is to really get all the information together. No piece of information is too small.

At that point you can make a determination and take the best guess whether that player has good years left. A lot of its about old-school, baseball scouting and figuring out what a guy has (left). A lot of its about using quantitative analysis to figure out where that guy is in the curve of his career.

Youd be missing out on so much if you just focused on the quantitative part of the game. Where I am on the scale is hopefully something that youll never figure out, because I want to be right in the middle.

The war between traditional scouting and sabermetrics has already been fought. Everyone considers both viewpoints. Its just a matter of degrees. So the battles will never stop.

That tension could be felt from the dugout to the front office. The four managerial candidates brought into Wrigley Field had to go through game simulations and explain what theyd do and why in certain situations.

As part of the interview process, they also had to meet with the media afterward. Each man was asked some version of the question: How do you balance statistical analysis against going with your gut?

Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin said bring it on (after a wandering explanation in which he mentioned leveraged indexes and replacement value).

Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum has been portrayed in the media as someone who understands data and uses spray charts, but he seemed to downplay that idea (which could just be part of his low-key public persona).

Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux already works for another young Ivy League executive (general manager Jon Daniels, Cornell University, class of 1999).

Statistics (are) art, Maddux said. You can make some things out of them, but theres a lot of real stuff to them also. Bad numbers can be a little deceptive, but good numbers dont lie. So you use all the information that you can, but when it comes down to it, you got to trust yourself and trust your players.

Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. whose big-league career stretched from 1988 to 2007 witnessed firsthand the information explosion.

It doesnt tell the whole story, Alomar said. There (are) also a lot of gut-feeling decisions youve got to make. But if you have a stat (thats) a flashy number (where) you think: Oh, this guy is doing very good against this other guy, you can use that during the game in a key situation.

But we cannot just depend on stats alone. I dont like to become a fantasy manager. I want players to be able to manager themselves. The goal for a good manager is to have players that are able to manage themselves on the field and be team baseball players, not fantasy baseball players.

For Epstein and his inner circle, its time to start putting the pieces together.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”