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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

MLB Source: Cubs ‘got fat and happy’ after World Series, culture must change

Fact: The 2019 Chicago Cubs wildly underachieved, finishing with an 84-78 record and finishing third in the NL’s Central division. Fact: The Chicago Cubs didn’t fail because they didn’t spend enough money. The Cubs were 2nd in all of baseball in payroll finishing behind only the Boston Red Sox. Both of those teams failed to make baseball’s postseason.

Fact: The Cubs front office has done a lousy job acquiring players since winning the 2016 World Series and they have done a poor job in developing quality, big league caliber pitching through their minor league system.

But, it is also a fact that former manager Joe Maddon allowed his comfort level with players interfere with how much he held them accountable and the result was a team that paid little attention to detail and spiraled out of contention. That’s the mess Maddon left the Cubs.

The reasons the Cubs are struggling are not mutually exclusive. There is no singular reason why they have seen their window of contending for another World Series start to close. But, for people to blame everything on either a lack of spending by ownership or a lousy job by the front office misses a main factor in the Cubs decline.

Wait- if this is a bad thing, how do we explain certain long-term trends involving baseball players?

QLE Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:47 AM | 37 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cubs, fat, underperformance

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. TomH Posted: January 21, 2020 at 07:10 AM (#5917718)
isn't this so typical of our culture today; we mix up actual facts with what we personally declare as facts, even though they exist mostly in our own minds; as if my judgment is irrefutably correct.

Actual facts: The Cubs won 84 games, fewer than expected by most. Their payroll was very high. They have not brought in many great players recently.

Author-perceived facts: He knows Maddon's motivations. The Cubs paid little attention to detail *because of* Maddon's actions. And those details led to their poor record. Any of those statements could be true, and they are reasonable points to discuss. As long as you don't declare them as facts.

I put much blame on our political culture. And that's a fact that I blame them :)
   2. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 07:13 AM (#5917719)
It seems an awfully big stretch to make me out to be the living metaphor of Cubs fortunes....
   3. The Duke Posted: January 21, 2020 at 07:58 AM (#5917723)
Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through baseball life, Chicago
   4. asinwreck Posted: January 21, 2020 at 08:00 AM (#5917724)
The wording of this story makes me wonder what part Theo Epstein played in greasing the skids for Terry Francona. This has a fried chicken and beer taste to it.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:08 AM (#5917730)
they have done a poor job in developing quality, big league caliber pitching through their minor league system.

This is another fact.
   6. PreservedFish Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:15 AM (#5917733)
They deserve to be fat and happy! Take it easy, Cubs fans! Enjoy yourselves! Your century of misery ended. Don't get all huffy and entitled so soon after such a miraculously wonderful year.
   7. . Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:22 AM (#5917736)
The wording of this story makes me wonder what part Theo Epstein played in greasing the skids for Terry Francona. This has a fried chicken and beer taste to it.


Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
   8. . Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:23 AM (#5917737)
isn't this so typical of our culture today; we mix up actual facts with what we personally declare as facts, even though they exist mostly in our own minds; as if my judgment is irrefutably correct.


It's the internet. Form is driving substance, in an almost perfectly McLuhan-esque way.
   9. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:24 AM (#5917739)
As documented extensively in Gonfalon - they've actually done a poor job developing talent period.... at least, over the last 3-4 years.

The drafts have literally been #### - outside of the 1st rounders, all of whom beyond Bryant look like complementary players at best - David Bote is the latter round pick to even make it to the big leagues. Granted, final grades not out on most of those drafts - but there's really not anyone you're gonna find as any kind of real prospect.

Add to that - FA signings since Zobrist/Lester have really just been different orders of magnitude of disaster. The success since that first big buy have yielded a light-hitting gold glove in RF, a SP you hope will continue his last 2/3 of last year, rather than the first 1.3 seasons, another SP who should be blasted into the sun at first opportunity, a closer who threw about 20 total innings for 20 million, ANOTHER closer who... well... let's hope isn't on that path (or - if he keeps coughing up game winning homers, maybe you hope he borrows Morrow's jeans or something)....

The really frustrating part is that other than Morrow - who anyone with a brain could have predicted would be perennially injured - it's hard to say that the Heyward/Darvish/Chatwood signings were bad ideas. But - they didn't work out.

Poor scouting and player development + big FA signings that range from disappointing to disaster.... and this is what you end up with.
   10. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:29 AM (#5917741)
They deserve to be fat and happy! Take it easy, Cubs fans! Enjoy yourselves! Your century of misery ended. Don't get all huffy and entitled so soon after such a miraculously wonderful year.


Well, this is year 4 A.T.... but sure, the glow of 2016 remains and it shouldn't be overlooked that unlike prior iterations of potential streak-breakers, the 2015-2019 Cubs belong in the pantheon of pre-WW2 Cubs iterations that were once a dominant NL force.

Still - new Cubs fans are born every day who haven't ever had the chance for that sweet sip of fall champagne!
   11. Jose Is Absurdly Chatty Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:33 AM (#5917743)
The 2004 Red Sox had already won a second World Series by this point. Theo has clearly lost his skills.
   12. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 09:37 AM (#5917746)
The 2004 Red Sox had already won a second World Series by this point. Theo has clearly lost his skills.


No, he's still quite capable of signing expensive OFs who disappoint tremendously and SPs who subsequently blow up real good :-)
   13. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: January 21, 2020 at 11:32 AM (#5917782)
The wording of this story makes me wonder what part Theo Epstein played in greasing the skids for Terry Francona. This has a fried chicken and beer taste to it.


First thing I thought, too. At least in the Red Sox case there actually WAS fried chicken and beer, this one is all vague.

Kaplan tried to push this same thing on TV the other day, but he had three guests with him on the panel who would have none of it. He's an unhinged Cubs fan and he might very well be angling for a job with the new Cubs TV channel.

   14. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: January 21, 2020 at 11:52 AM (#5917791)
it's hard to say that the Heyward/Darvish/Chatwood signings were bad ideas


Chatwood was a bad idea to begin with. His FIP was usually bad and they already had Mike Montgomery. Certainly not worth a 3-year commitment.
   15. McCoy Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM (#5917798)
What little things did Maddon let slide that resulted in losses? The Cubs before Maddon were generally atrocious when it came to fundamentals or at least for a couple of decades. I don't really recall the Cubs being as atrocious when it came to fundamentals under Maddon's watch. The issue that seemed to plague the Cubs is pretty much the same issue that plagues every good team that doesn't win it all in a season. "crappy" bullpen and untimely slumping with the bats.
   16. McCoy Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:05 PM (#5917803)
Darvish had question marks going into that FA bidding season. Both Arrieta and Darvish were expected to get big contracts but both had the potential to backfire on a team. So the question becomes did the Cubs properly assess the risk to their budget.

I was never a fan of Heyward's but I didn't expect him to turn into a pumpkin immediately. I believe I viewed it sort of like the Soriano contract in that you were paying for the here and now, the backend was going to be an albatross, and the Cubs had to achieve something now to make the signing worthwhile. 2 out of 3 ain't bad.
   17. . Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:10 PM (#5917805)
It's really the sign of a flawed character that Epstein can't just let Maddon move on and get the credit and accolades he deserves while the Cubs get a fresh start with a fresh voice. Instead, he keeps stalking him like a weirdo. The guy picked Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, to hideous results, until Maddon fortuitously fell into his lap that winter.

And the Athletic backstabbing story last spring with all the silly, new agey ideas like players keeping diaries on days when they don't play ... what a dick.
   18. Itchy Row Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:30 PM (#5917811)
The drafts have literally been ####
Drafting literal #### does seem suboptimal.
   19. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:41 PM (#5917814)
Chatwood was a bad idea to begin with. His FIP was usually bad and they already had Mike Montgomery. Certainly not worth a 3-year commitment.


Well, despite my stated preference he be disappeared somehow -- I always admit that I loved the signing at the time (and indeed, was talking him up as the offseason target prior to the end of 2017).

Yes, I was dazzled by spin rate. He had good velocity and a very good curve, which I thought would thrive outside of Colorado. He had a good prospect pedigree. His home/road splits also lent evidence to the idea.

....and it was spectacularly wrong.

That's beyond signing him so early - and clearly, misjudging the market... It seemed like a fine deal when they jumped on him... and then - the bottom fell out of the market, literally, within a month or two.

Darvish had question marks going into that FA bidding season. Both Arrieta and Darvish were expected to get big contracts but both had the potential to backfire on a team. So the question becomes did the Cubs properly assess the risk to their budget.


It's not entirely clear who would have been the best choice - I suppose the Phillies got an innings eater while Darvish missed most of the year - but the Phillies paid ~30m for 175 IP of 4.25 FIP and a 104 ERA+.

The best choice in hindsight would have been to pass on both... but then - they needed another SP and in particular, one who might possibly be viewed as a front-end option.
   20. Greg Pope Posted: January 21, 2020 at 12:43 PM (#5917815)
the new Cubs TV channel

What's the cheapest way to get this? I have DirecTV, but a low priced package that doesn't include the sports stuff. To bump up to the next tier would be something like $25/month. I don't think DirecTV offers the new network as a standalone option.

They say that they're partnering with YouTube TV and Hulu TV, I think. But again, not as standalone options.

Any way to just pay to simply stream the new channel?
   21. Moses Taylor, glorified meat shield Posted: January 21, 2020 at 01:14 PM (#5917828)
Kaplan tried to push this same thing on TV the other day, but he had three guests with him on the panel who would have none of it. He's an unhinged Cubs fan and he might very well be angling for a job with the new Cubs TV channel.

Believe it or not, but Kaplan already makes a shitton of money from NBCSN - and he just signed a huge extension, probably using the Cubs network as leverage. He's a buffoon though.

It's really the sign of a flawed character that Epstein can't just let Maddon move on and get the credit and accolades he deserves while the Cubs get a fresh start with a fresh voice. Instead, he keeps stalking him like a weirdo.

I have no idea what this means or is referring to.

What little things did Maddon let slide that resulted in losses? The Cubs before Maddon were generally atrocious when it came to fundamentals or at least for a couple of decades. I don't really recall the Cubs being as atrocious when it came to fundamentals under Maddon's watch.

Last year, I think the Cubs really regressed in quite a few fundamental areas that were talked about throughout the year - defense in general, baserunning and running into outs on the bases, etc.
   22. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: January 21, 2020 at 01:18 PM (#5917832)
The best choice in hindsight would have been to pass on both... but then - they needed another SP and in particular, one who might possibly be viewed as a front-end option.

Yes, the real issue is the lack of in-house options which forces them out onto the FA market to address roster deficiencies instead of using FA judiciously on the players they like the best. Hopefully Alzolay can buck that trend.
   23. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: January 21, 2020 at 01:43 PM (#5917851)
Yes, I was dazzled by spin rate. He had good velocity and a very good curve, which I thought would thrive outside of Colorado.


I think Theo was dazzled by it too. But the spin rate shouldn't have obscured the fact that Chatwood consistently walked far too many batters after 300+ post-TJ innings. Spin rate data is worth looking at when taking a flyer on players you otherwise have small sample size data on - relievers, amateurs, - but for a veteran with enough data this should be of secondary importance. Epstein is so interested in getting out in front of everyone with new metrics that he risks overvaluing their importance. The result is that he may not be behind the curve, but he eats up his budget too quickly. Pioneers are the ones with arrows in their backs.
   24. Zonk Hasn't Learned his Aspirational Lesson Posted: January 21, 2020 at 02:18 PM (#5917870)
Yeah... like I've always caveated - even when I'm complaining about Theo - I've been on board with most (though not all) the moves when they occurred... so I'm not saying I'm smarter or would do better than he would. I lean on the fact that I pay money to be a Cubs fan - he gets paid to make me happy (well, he gets paid to make the Ricketts happy, but I presume our happiness is factor in that!)
   25. Jeff Francoeur's OPS Posted: January 21, 2020 at 02:57 PM (#5917878)
The Cubs have paid Heyward about $100MM for 6 WAR — and there’s about $80MM left on the contract.
   26. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: January 21, 2020 at 03:10 PM (#5917882)
The Cubs have paid Heyward about $100MM for 6 WAR — and there’s about $80MM left on the contract.


So what you're saying is that he's probably good for another 4.8 WAR if precedent holds?
   27. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 21, 2020 at 03:23 PM (#5917886)
The Cubs have paid Heyward about $100MM for 6 WAR — and there’s about $80MM left on the contract.

Is there any precedent for what Heyward done? An above average hitter just turns to absolute crap at age-26, with no catastrophic injury?
   28. Walt Davis Posted: January 21, 2020 at 03:43 PM (#5917894)
Writing off Chatwood is a bit extreme. He walked about 4.5 guys before arriving. The walk rate went nuts in 2018. In 2019 it was back to his normal (with a small bump in K-rate). His ERA+ last year was 119, the FIP+ was 104. That at least is what we paid for although 2018 was so bad he was correctly only given 70 innings in 2019. He should be in the mix for 5th starter. In 2018, he deserved to be fired into the sun; in 2019 he didn't even deserve to be sent to Iowa. (Exactly how you can have a FIP of 4.28 while walking more than 4 and not striking out the world is best left to a discussion with Mr. FIP.) The fundamental issue with the Chatwood signing is whether he "deserved" 3/$39 to begin with and why Theo misread that offseason's market so badly. He did the same last offseason with his plain silly Descalso signing.

As to the Cubs 2019 doldrums ... it was mainly worse than "expected" because Zobrist, Russell and Almora were completely useless. (Ian Happ was useful but only for 156 PA.) 2B and CF ended up near replacement level and I don't think anybody thought this team was good enough to overcome something like that. (And was it PECOTA that put us at 500?) Still, just 1 game out of first in late August, we went 11-17 from there. In 2018 late August, 4.5 games ahead we went 16-14 which would normally be good enough but the Brewers got hot while the Cubs ran out of gas. It's those Sept collapses that give the impression of complacency and there have been few managers in the expansion era that have survived back-to-back Septs like that (whether it was their fault or not).

Not sure why Theo is taking heat for this article (not that I've read it). It's critical of him at the beginning, notes the team needs shaking up but isn't getting one. Regardless, it has been a bad offseason for Theo. The 2B and CF holes are still there, we may not have a decent 5th starter (and Lester is old), we haven't added anything to the bullpen while losing our most effective reliever in Cishek (on a measly 1/$6 contract), still no Javy extension (only 2 years control left). It's not looking like a good 2020.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: January 21, 2020 at 04:36 PM (#5917922)
Is there any precedent for what Heyward done?

It's baseball, there's precedent for everything. And his hasn't exactly turned to "absolute crap." It was in 2016 and it was bad in 2017, he's been basically league average the last two years. Heck, he had 1.9 oWAR in 2019 thanks to playing more CF.

Heyward had 32 Rbat in his 3 years before joining the Cubs. For ages 23-25, Rbat between 24 and 40, 1400+ PA, expansion era .... Heyward is 2nd by dWAR to Paul Blair. Only 26 names, somewhat surprisingly only 10 of them have positive dWAR in these years. Blair and Heyward are well ahead of the rest so he is a pretty rare player.

Heyward's age 26 was so terrible, I'm just gonna skip that for now and look at these guys ages 27-29. I have no idea who might have been affected by injury (unless I just know). Three of the 26 didn't play at all at ages 27-29. Five, plus Heyward, collapsed pretty badly -- Carmelo Martinez (1.1 Rbat), Loney (-3), Blair (-3), Asdrubal (-4), LeFebvre (-12) and Heyward (-13). Asdrubal eventually got his bat back, Blair held off his total offensive collapse until age 31 but a 56 OPS+ in 1400 PA after that. Loney had an atrocious age 28 but was fine at 29-30.

I have a vague idea that LeFebvre did have a major injury but I don't see it in his playing record. He missed a couple of months in 68 but was out there every day after that. He missed some more time in 69, off and on. He played on for a few more years in MLB then several years in Japan.

So Heyward is the worst by count in this comp group (LeFebvre would be worse by rate). This comp group would miss anybody similar who wasn't full-time from 23-25 so there might be some others there. But being "worst" isn't as dramatic as it sounds necessarily, at least as long as we ignore 2016. He's averaged about -4, Loney and Blair about -1, Carmelo about 0 -- he's been a little worse than those guys. And the relatively small group of 26 over 60 years suggests it's just rare for this sort of bat to be full-time for 23 to 25. Makes lots of sense for Blair, Heyward and the IFs. But Gallo and Incaviglia are in this group; Chili Davis, George Bell, Bobby Bonilla; Morneau and Hosmer. It's a really weird group of players.

I'll only add that Heyward has always been an odd hitter. Although his overall production (Rbat, OPS+) was pretty stable from 22-25, he was all over the place in terms of the shape. At 22, he had a 210 ISO. At 23, he was kinda stable -- ISO down to 170 which is odd but not that unusual but he cut his K-rate by about 1/3 while his BABIP slumped badly. At 24 he maintained the low K-rate and the BABIP came back but his ISO cratered to 113. At 25, he had a BABIP spike. He was a GB machine at ages 20, 21 and 25; he was league average at 22-24. On the Cubs, his BABIP has been at 281 which is bad while the ISO has been low -- neither of those surprising if you've seen his swing since he came to the Cubs.

He seems to have always been messing with his approach from one year to the next so maybe it's not a surprise he eventually tied himself into knots.

Going forward of course things look even more disastrous, at least by bWAR. His dWAR is down to 0 and he's not adding runs on the bases anymore either. He's still barely adding enough of that stuff to bring himself to average overall but it's unlikely that will last much longer. Statcast still likes him but even they don't put him in the elite class anymore. On the conditional bright side though, his deal was front-loaded so he's only owed 4/$86 at this point.

   30. . Posted: January 21, 2020 at 04:39 PM (#5917926)
One has to wonder whether Heyward made subtle adjustments after getting hit in the face, that eventually became big problems.
   31. Itchy Row Posted: January 21, 2020 at 04:52 PM (#5917932)
Heyward has gotten better offensively each year he's been a Cub.

Carlos Baerga had 54 Rbat between 23 and 25 (and 9 more at 26) so he doesn't fit in Walt's list. Baerga did turn to somewhat absolute crap about nine months older than Heyward did. I remember he had knee problems, but I don't think there was a catastrophic injury.
   32. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 21, 2020 at 04:53 PM (#5917933)
One wonders whether Heyward made subtle adjustments after getting hit in the face, that eventually became big problems.

I find that hard to credit. Heyward was hit on 8/21/2013 and broke his jaw. He returned of Sept 20 and put up a 137 wRC+ the rest of the season. In 2014 he was at 109. In 2015 he gets traded to StL and puts up a 121. Only in 2016 does he crater.

   33. bfan Posted: January 21, 2020 at 05:05 PM (#5917942)
Heyward has gotten better offensively each year he's been a Cub.


That is true. When you start as a corner OF at 68 OPS+, there is nowhere to go but up. 4 full years now as a corner OF, who has yet to hit 100 OPS+ for a season (which is league average for every hitter, including pitchers).
   34. The Yankee Clapper Posted: January 21, 2020 at 05:06 PM (#5917943)
The Cubs have paid Heyward about $100MM for 6 WAR — and there’s about $80MM left on the contract.
Heyward’s OPS & OPS+ have gone up every year since his first as a Cub. Better extend him now before he gets too expensive.
   35. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 21, 2020 at 06:05 PM (#5917969)
who has yet to hit 100 OPS+ for a season (which is league average for every hitter, including pitchers).

This is incorrect - pitchers are removed from league totals when figuring the baseline for OPS+. The pitchers-included average OPS+ in the 2019 NL was 94.
   36. Walt Davis Posted: January 21, 2020 at 06:09 PM (#5917971)
(which is league average for every hitter, including pitchers

Nope. Pitcher hitting is not included in the (park-adjusted) "baseline" OPS that goes into OPS+ calculations. That's why the average NL team has an OPS+ around 94 every year.
   37. bfan Posted: January 21, 2020 at 06:11 PM (#5917972)
My bad, he is worse than average when considering all hitters, while playing a corner OF spot.

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