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Cubs Pipeline Alchemy: Peg Board

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A different way to look at how a team builds a farm system.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps you’re familiar with the peg board game. The board is filled with pegs, except for one empty spot. Regardless the size of the field of the board, the goal is to get the board down to only one peg remaining. Good luck with that. Basic knowledge of this game that many children have become familiar with is a key part of grasping how I assess talent.

Imagine a peg board in a bit of a crossed-T form. In the center, you have a field in the 4X4 or 5X5 range, and similar fields to the left, right, top, and bottom.

Also, imagine I’m sitting down at my computer to watch a college game with a pair of starting pitchers that may represent the ability to retire hitters in the Midwest League.

Imagine it’s one of those California-heavy conferences, and both squads are tossing their Friday guys.

I pay as close attention as needed to the commentary on said starters. And, as noted, I’ve never watch/heard either throw. For my purposes, listening often works better. Especially with a competent announcing team.

***

The home starter has a bit of draft buzz, and has 94 in the tank. The road guy is a bit lower with velocity, but has a bit more of a repertoire.

The game plays out as it does, and no, I didn’t watch the entire game. Usually, the first two frames will be enough. However, if any of the players intrigue me enough, I might check a box score/game log after to see what I missed. Either on offense or pitching.

***

I’ll invent a narrative. However, you’re smart enough to realize that any narrative for a fake game is purely contrived. In a game against a team that bounces in-and-out of the Top 25, 94 fires a three-hit shutout over seven innings. However, just as likely, he could have been tagged with a brutal 2-1 loss.

However, we’ll go with 11 Ks and a walk against a team that is NCAA tournament bound.

Where do you put the peg?

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The top quadrant of the board is for really good games. The bottom quadrant is for clunkers. The middle quadrants (yeah, I know you’re only supposed to have four quadrants, but I’m a rule-breaker) are for if he has a middling game against a solid opponent, a weak opponent, or a very, very mediocre game, regardless.

I’m putting this in the top category, and I want to watch him pitch again.

***

His opponent?

He pitched gamely, but was done in by some shoddy defense. He also needed to “pitch around” a few hitters, which made his W/K numbers look weaker than deserved.

He pitched into the fifth inning, and was pitch-counted at 85, in a game he trailed 2-0 at the time. The reliever spiked his number with a walk and a two-run double.

***

This peg goes in the “mediocre against a good opponent.” And, yes. I want to see him pitch again, as well.

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“I don’t care about college baseball. I’m not going to watch a college game between two teams I have no attachment to.”

And, you are in the majority.

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A bit more than a week ago, when I started to write this, the Cubs lost a frustrating game to the Cardinals. Which, apparently, set loose the hell-hounds of Twitter. Because baseball fans crave stress. Or drama. Or teams playing poorly against mediocre pitchers.

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The reality is, as you consider the peg board, any pitcher can have a great (or lousy) outing against any opponent. But, then, you know that. The peg goes in the appropriate square.

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The same night the Cubs lost to St. Louis, the pipeline went 1-3. I was pretty much ecstatic, as Cory Abbott (South Bend), Keegan Thompson (Myrtle Beach), and Duncan Robinson pitched brilliantly. Only Robinson’s side won, in large part due to bullpen failures. However, the peg for all three starters went in the top field. That relievers in two of the games misfired? Unfortunate. Pegs in the lower quadrant for them.

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My reality is, far too many baseball fans say “He sucks” about far too many players.

Recently, the Cubs released corner infielder Joey Martarano. A two-sport player in high school, Martarano chose football at Boise State out of school. In his college freshman season, a coaching change allowed the Boise State football brass to permit Martarano to play baseball in the summer, since the Broncos didn’t have a baseball squad.

Martarano was dinged one too many times in football, and eventually chose baseball. He did fairly well in short-season ball, but didn’t hit like a corner infielder at the Midwest League level.

The Cubs had more enticing options this spring, far less close to the Rule 5 thresholds. And draft picks will be starting their pro careers this June. Martarano was considered disposable.

***

See? It’s possible to explain why a person was released from a pro contract without getting dismissive.

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As you watch games at any level in the future, feel free to use the peg board idea as a tool. I’m much more fascinated by baseball commentary that informs. Whether or not you’re a scout.

If the Cubs hitters truly are facing a wider zone than the opposition, that’s a valid assessment. However, to be accurate, less partisanship leads to more effective analysis.

Any pitcher with MLB ability that is throwing multiple pitches for strikes at varying speed levels, and avoiding the center of the zone, might be useful on a given night. Regardless his incoming numbers. This applies at any level of professional, college, or high school ball, adjusted for talent levels. I remember a specific game that you never saw where a prep pitcher was far worse than the favored opponent. But, nobody could square him up. Eventually, the closer came in, and the high school team advanced beyond where they should have.

Upper quadrant.

And, yes. It works for hitters, as well.

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Baseball fans tend to be too rigid for my preference. At least, to watch the same game they are. Which is why I tend to prefer minor league games.

A starting pitcher I’m unfamiliar with is a blank slate. Maybe, by the third inning, I figure out I have heard him pitch before. Or not. But, I can learn to assess expected production rates from certain college conferences at certain MiLB levels. I’m more about learning about baseball than getting morose about a tough loss in sub-40 degree weather. I’m happily in the minority.

When I have a new player to get to know, whether on the Cubs totem or not, I get to learn about baseball. Which is a lifelong avocation. Also, why I’m more intrigued by people floating baseball ideas than those using dismissive epithets. Even if they are accurate.

When you assess a pitcher’s latest outing, feel free to discuss the opposition with respect, and note their strengths. It seems preferred over raging against a player because of his uniform. It also seems more educational. Which quadrant of the board are you placing the peg?

Think for yourself. Ask questions. Be nice to others.

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