Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein


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.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

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