Few people have had as big an impact on the Cubs rebuild as pitching coach Chris Bosio. When he joined the Cubs as pitching coach before the 2012 season I thought he was just part of the package that came with Dale Sveum. However, long after the Sveum era, Bosio is still here and his value is apparent not only in the pitching staff, but all over the Cub’s roster. Considering one of the recurring trends of this offseason’s acquisitions appears to be cost-effective pitching depth with a lot of potential upside, I thought it was worth taking a look at Bosio’s impact on this team.
In the early years of Bosio his job was getting established pitchers ready so they could be flipped for younger talent. He did this incredibly well. Let’s take a look at a few deals where Bosio likely influenced the return the Cubs were able to receive.
Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks. In 2011 Dempster wasn’t having a great year. His ERA wound up at 4.80, about a point higher than it had been in 2010, and while his FIP was 3.90, indicating that some of that was simply bad luck, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering if the 34-year-old starter was beginning to decline. That off-season the Cubs hired Chris Bosio, and while I can’t be certain that Bosio’s responsible for what happened next, suffice to say Ryan Dempster’s 2.25 ERA over 16 starts certainly improved his trade value at the 2012 deadline. After a bit of back and forth with the Dodgers and Braves, Theo-Jed found Dempster a new home in Texas, and the Cubs landed “All He Does Is Get Guys Out” Kyle Hendricks in return. Dempster’s last 69 innings that year in Texas resulted in an ERA over 5 and the Cubs wound up with a Cy Young candidate in 2016 who doesn’t become a free agent until 2021.
Matt Garza suffered a stress reaction in his elbow in 2012, killing his value at the trade deadline so the Cubs held onto him in the hopes that a little bit rest, relaxation and some Bosmosis could restore his value in 2013. Once again, a few months with Bosio seemed to pay dividends. Garza, who was not particularly known for being a a first half guy, started 2013 with a 3.17 ERA and wound up bringing in quite the haul at the trade deadline. While Mike Olt didn’t exactly wind up being the first-round draft pick third baseman many people thought he would be, it’s worth remembering that he was one of the top prospects in the Rangers system at the time. (In the end, I think everything ended up working out okay at third base for the Cubs. third base for the Cubs). The bigger impact of this deal wound up being the smaller pieces - Carl Edwards Jr. & Justin Grimm, who both wound up being key bullpen pieces for the 2016 Cubs. Edwards may wind up being the Cubs’ closer of the future with a fastball that can hit 98 and an ability to avoid being flustered in big spots.
Speaking of closers, it’s worth looking at the rehabilitation of Hector Rondon. Thanks to the Deputy’s reliever nicknames regular readers of BCB know that Hector was the Cubs’ choice in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft. Rondon worked with the Cubs pitching coaches to add a hesitation move to the top of his motion and expand his repertoire of pitches to become an effective closer in 2015. While a late season injury seemed to keep him from being a shutdown eighth-inning guy in the 2016 playoffs, he’s already demonstrated the ability to make adjustments and then excel after struggles. It’s also a perfect example of how the Cubs built their current team. From the CSN link above:
Rondon’s story is the story of the Cubs during the rebuilding years, how they became the biggest story in baseball. It’s calculated risk, good scouting, effective coaching and a relentless attitude. From the rubble of fifth-place finishes in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Cubs found a lights-out closer.
Once upon a time Jeff Samardzija was going to be the future of the Cubs rotation, but his stuff, while occasionally electric, has never really been that consistent (something the Giants found out in the second half last year). You all know this story pretty well: Shark got a little ahead of himself in terms of his contract negotiations and insulted a couple of teammates in the process, so when the Cubs had a chance to package Shark with Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney, Shark and Hammel went to Oakland for the rest of 2014 and the rest is history. Here are a couple of interesting Bosio notes -- 1) Both Shark and Hammel were having outstanding starts to 2014, which probably boosted the package the A’s gave the Cubs. The A’s were in “win now” mode and parted with a phenom in Russell. 2) While Shark’s numbers in Oakland weren’t as good as his numbers in Chicago, they weren’t awful. Hammel fell off his traditional second half of the season cliff, though and wound up coming back to the Cubs anyway.
In 2013, much to the chagrin of Shark, Scott Feldman, also having an excellent start to his year under Bosio (see the trend?) was shipped to the Baltimore Orioles along with Steve Clevenger for a pair of pitchers who hadn’t really quite lived up to expectations: Jake Arrieta & Pedro Strop. This deal has been called the “Cubs Trade of the Decade” and for good reason: a Cy Young award and two no-hitters later, Arrieta is one of the Cubs’ three aces and the only Cubs pitcher to win both of his starts in the 2016 World Series. Strop is an elite set-up man with absolutely nasty pitches and Feldman was demoted from the Astros’ rotation to the bullpen and then traded to the Blue Jays, where he posted an 8.40 ERA in 14 games as a reliever.
While almost all of the above trades get celebrated every time someone does an article on Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and/or the Cubs rebuild, the part that gets overlooked, or footnoted, is that there is a common theme to all of these deals - pitcher X looks slightly (or substantially) better than he is under Bosio, gets traded for more than you would have thought a few years ago and the deal winds up being a coup. In fact, when it’s a deal for a pitcher it’s like a double coup, because often that pitcher was under performing wherever they were and they get Bosioed and look even better than they were. The ability to bet on your ability to get above average returns on pitchers is something that the Cubs have taken time of throughout the rebuild and was pretty evident in the last off season, and even when it doesn’t work out (I’m looking at you, Brian Matusz) it doesn’t really cost a lot.
In fact, a pitching coach is a pretty spectacular place to have hidden value. This Baseball Prospectus piece does a fantastic job of looking at the value added Bosio could be credited with for four players (Arrieta, Feldman, Hammel and Paul Maholm) and concludes that Bosio’s coaching and style is probably worth an additional win for each pitcher per season. Those players are easy to look at because of their immediate time with other teams to compare, but as this Tribune piece notes, its pretty easy to see Bosio’s impact up and down the rotation and for what it’s worth this isn’t unique to his time with the Cubs. While I can’t find the specifics of Bosio’s contract, this article seems to indicate that 2017 could be a contract year for him and that other teams know exactly what we have in Wrigleyville.
I think it’s safe to say that Cubs fans, and the Cubs’ newest crop of pitching acquisitions like Brett Anderson, Eddie Butler, Wade Davis, Brian Duensing, Alec Mills, Williams Perez and Koji Uehara would love to see the Cubs’ front office figure out a way to keep the Bosio advantage on the North Side of Chicago.
Get it done, Theo.