While I was out for a walk recently, I had two ideas for an article. Neither had to do with the Cubs, but both had to do with player development. When I got home, the third feature was reaching Twitter. I decided to begin a new periodic feature called Cubs Minor Matters. When something is under the umbrella of the minor leagues, and I have an angle that isn't being floated, I might just roll with an article. (As an aside, I'm not sure how much I'll be writing in the off-season. It would be nice to have an article or two per week, but I'm not sure when the mood will strike.) So this week, I'll talk about bunting, the Brewers, and Rocky Wirtz.
Despising bunting is all the rage. As numbers back it up, I have no problem with it. If I were in charge, even if a situation called for bunting, I would be very tempted to switch away from it if the defense is expecting it. I'd like to see numbers (per player, including bunt attempts) that resulted in strikes, outs, sacrifices, hits, or hits plus errors. For a player who is good at bunting (there are probably a few, but nobody is running numbers that get published), I'd be more willing to accept it than guys who are bad at it. Then, there are pitchers.
What does this have to do with development, you ask?
The Atlanta Braves are in the process of replacing their general manager, the recently-dismissed Frank Wren. The Braves have had a nice long run as a good team, but are being hampered by the Washington Nationals being a better-run team, by the looks of it. One of the Braves problems recently has been that they have had an inordinate number of good pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery the last few years, some of them more than once.
It sounds like they might hire from within, which begs a question. What will the new guy do differently than the former guy? If you admit what you are doing isn't working, you should have specific things you want to improve on. When the new people came in to replace Jim Hendry, upgrading the farm system was about as main of a directive as there was. Of course, there was a similar directive a few times before. Which leads back to bunting.
If you have a new bunch of decision-makers coming in, one of the things that should be pushed by fans and media alike is "How should we be judging you?". Of course, the answer long-term will be "Wins and losses." However, leading up to that, there should be steps along the way.
While there will forever be arguments about the "dual tracks" claim by Theo Epstein and crew early on, with Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, an improved pitching staff, and the impending arrivals of Addison Russell and Kris Bryant, the major league club looks quite a bit more young and lithe if nothing else than the team had with Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Castro in November 2011.
I wish, though, that there were proper metrics to gauge system development, other than some annual assessments by scouting services every off-season. People can point to batches of numbers from experts and claim that proves pretty much anything they want it to. If Atlanta wants to upgrade their (insert facet of baseball operations here), then so be it. Nobody has to give away a trade secret or anything, but if the new people in Arizona, San Diego, or Atlanta are going to be judged, how about coming up with a methodology for deciding if they are getting it done? Other than wins and losses, which tends to be a trailing indicator.
On the other side of the pitching injury spectrum is Milwaukee. I'm not a fan of much of what they do development-wise, but that's fine, mostly. I want them to stay a generally middling team, and most of what they do on the development side leads them there. However, their pitchers generally stay healthy. That, for them, is a very good thing.
I'm not sure how they are avoiding injuries like they have (that would qualify as a protect-able trade secret), but getting bumped to Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League likely wasn't in their plans. The affiliate has rights every two years, and Nashville was tired of getting middling talent too often. In return the Brewers were upset they weren't given a heads-up on not getting renewed, as they didn't want their home games in the mountains.
If their pitchers in Triple-A are extended/exposed more due to higher altitudes, more injuries could result. They seem happy in the Florida State League, which shelters pitchers. Colorado Springs won't. Will the Brewers' trade secret hold up at higher elevation? We should know in two years, when affiliations are available again.
Speaking of affiliations, it sounds that the Cubs' top four affiliates might be streamed live next season. That's a very Rocky Wirtz thing to do. Wirtz took over the decision-making with the Blackhawks a few years ago, and one of the first things he did was televise all the Blackhawks home games. This flew in the face of his late father (Dollar Bill Wirtz, who purportedly threw around nickels like they were manhole covers) who didn't air home games.
With WGN showing Blackhawks games to all of Chicago, people realized that games in the United Center looked like a rather cool place to be. As they had a really good team at the time, everything has been mostly on the upside for the city's NHL team the past few years.
With South Bend having its artificial surface removed (which took the better part of four hours, by my Twitter accounts. Plenty of rollable rug still available. Call the team if you have a need), it sounds like they are upgrading the cameras to HD quality in anticipation of airing the games on MiLB.TV. While I might not be making many road trips, I might not want to. I might have to quickly upgrade my fan network this off-season.
And, by upgrade, I do mean start.
Which is another reason my articles might be more sparse this off-season. Because my readers want to know which guys in South Bend will make it to Wrigley. If my readers want to know, I'd better develop a metric to figure it out.