Members of the Cubs front office spent 45 minutes answering fan’s questions at the Cubs Convention this morning. The session was moderated by Len Kasper and featured Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Randy Bush and Scott Harris. The atmosphere was relaxed with a few jokes here and there including this gem from Theo about Bryce Harper,
Kid: "Theo when do you think I can get my Bryce Harper jersey?"— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 13, 2018
Theo: "Ask Kris Bryant he seems to have quite a few."
However, that was about as close as the conversation came to discussing position players because there was another dominant and recurring theme: pitching.
Of the 15 questions asked by fans, 12 of them related to pitching in some way, whether it was the pursuit of possible starters like Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, the struggles the bullpen had late in the seasons, the trend of super bullpens and how statistics like spin rate are monitored and relayed to players to improve their performance. Even questions that weren’t directly related to pitching, like the pace of the off season, seemed to come back to the pursuit of pitching. I’ll relay some of the specific answers below.
With the premier free agent arms still unsigned it’s easy to forget that the Cubs made moves on the starting pitching front early. Hoyer was clear that the front office identified targets like Tyler Chatwood and Drew Smyly early and pursued them successfully. They obviously didn’t close the door on pursuing another arm, but it was a good reminder that the front office is aggressive and persistent about pursing their pitching targets.
The era of the super-reliever is upon us. Epstein and Hoyer were both upfront that the money dedicated to bullpen arms is on the rise and they added two fantastic arms in Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow this off season. Hoyer acknowledged that there were some struggles later in the season and particularly in the NLCS, they expressed confidence that players like Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Wilson will bounce back in 2018 while tipping their hat to the Dodgers approach in the NLCS.
Epstein was also clear that while super bullpens are a trend the pendulum can swing too far in that direction. He stressed having a balanced approach and starters who can pitch through the third time in the order.
While the Cubs have been rumored to be chatting with Greg Holland, Epstein expressed confidence in Morrow as the closer. Specifically, he discussed Morrow’s statistics and projected he would do well in that role. You can take a closer look at those stats in this piece.
One interesting question about how Statcast technology like spin rate is implemented at Wrigley Field highlighted the importance of the coaching staff in relaying all of the new statistics and information to players in ways that can help them improve their pay on the field. All the information in the world isn’t particularly useful if the players don’t know how to use it.
The front office discussed the importance of their coaching staff in this area, highlighting the work of Mike Borzello and others. They also stressed the importance of new hires Jim Hickey and Jim Benedict. Here at Bleed Cubbie Blue we’ve discussed the Jim Hickey hiring a lot but Benedict was a bit under the radar. Benedict comes to the Cubs as part of the Marlins continued shedding of salary and talent. He’ll be a “Special Assistant to Baseball Operations” and has a solid track record turning around pitchers who are struggling. You can read more in this Bleacher Nation piece.
It will be interesting to see if this pitching theme continues through the weekend. It’s certainly be dominant so far.