Theo Epstein and the should-be 80 win Chicago Cubs

Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Veras (31) throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs should have been a .500 team in 2013.

You read that right. The Cubs should have won 80 games last year. That may seem like a stretch if you watched the games, especially down the stretch, but a simple explanation demonstrates the team wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked at times last season.

One of the most glaring holes in the Cubs roster was a relief corps that ranked as the third-worst in save conversions amongst Major League Baseball clubs, blowing 40% of such chances.

Chicago blew 26 saves in 2013, as opposed to the Rangers’ 11 – which ranked tops among the 30 big league clubs – while converting 81% of these opportunities. Simply put, that’s how you win.

When you’re leading late, you’re supposed to win those games. That’s what separates good teams from those who act as cannon fodder for the rest of the league. If you take just half of those blown saves and add them back into last year’s record, Chicago would have finished 79-83 – a definite improvement from a dismal 66-96 record that was the final tally for the North Siders.

Although he continues to draw fire and criticism from fans and members of the media alike, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have done a great deal to address these shortcomings this offseason.

The first move of the offseason was adding another left-handed arm to the relief corps, seeking to lessen the load on the dependable arm of James Russell, who was at many times, the lone left-hander Dale Sveum had last season. The signing of Wesley Wright appeared insignificant when compared to the Mariners inking Robinson Cano to a 10-year mega contract, but it was an important first step.

Last night, Epstein and Hoyer added another crucial piece, signing reliever Jose Veras to a one-year, $4 million deal with a $5.5 million option for 2015. Veras has spent time at the back-end of several bullpens during his career, including the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers – meaning he spent time with two teams in the National League Central, a division he will now see more often.

Last season, Veras split time between the Astros and Tigers, and while he is known for being on the bitter end of a David Ortiz home run in the postseason, he pitched well, posting a RAA of 5 with Houston and 1 with the Tigers, meaning he was, on average, better than a commonplace reliever.

His 3.14 SO/BB ratio with Houston is also a promising statistic that pops for Veras – it was the highest such mark of his career.

What this all comes down to is that the team is improving. It’s taking time, but the front office is assembling the necessary pieces to contend, all while promoting a deep farm system that has talent nearing big league-ready.

They’re not breaking the bank (see the Mariners), they’re not inking a plethora of 35-and-older players (Yankees) and they’re not sitting pat while on the edge of contention (see Cincinnati and Baltimore).

Addressing the weakness is the biggest step forward the organization has taken – and no one seems to have noticed.

Topics: Chicago Cubs, Jose Veras, Theo Epstein, Wesley Wright

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  • Michael Pegarsch

    what about the fact that the lineup was/is abysmal?

    • Cubbiemacg

      Did you not read the article? Besides the first half of the season the cubs did have some offense but all those blown games in the latter innings would leave a disheartening feeling on any hope. I believe June first we were only 6.5 games back

      • Michael Pegarsch

        yes i read the article. Our best hitter hit .250 last year. That is terrible. Improving our bullpen will win us some games, but Nate Shierholtz should be hitting 7th in a respectable lineup not in the 3 hole. Compare our lineup to any team in our Division and we do not compare. We have zero player that can compete on the level of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto Brandon Phillips, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and really many others. If you go position to position with each to team in teh NL Central we lost almost every position every time. How can we expect to win 80 games if we cannot and will not score runs. We finished 28th in baseball in runs scored. Sure I read the article but the article failed to mention only the White Sox and Marlins scored less runs than we did. Sure our bullpen sucked, but our lineup was worse. We finished 28th in hits, 27th in RBIs, 27th in batting average, and 28th in OBP. That is abysmal. And our rotation is worse than it was last year. Shark and Wood will be solid at the front. Arrieta has yet to be consistent at the major league level. Edwin Jackson might have been the worst pitcher in baseball last year. And who will be the 5th starter? Chris Rusin? That’s a joke. Villanueva should remain in the bullpen where he is proven to be more successful. I did more than read the article… I actually looked at the Cubs roster

        • Michael Pegarsch

          Maybe you don’t believe in the old fashioned stats like AVG and OBP, that is fine. The Cubs still finished 26th in all of baseball in offense (-99.4) and 21st in overall Wins Above Replacement (16.9) according to Fangraphs.com… Once again abysmal

      • Michael Pegarsch

        The bullpen is improved, but the Cubs had a lot more issues than the bullpen last year. Every position has big If’s to answer before we have a respectable lineup. IF castro can bounce back, IF Rizzo can produce over the length of 162 games which he did not do last year, IF Barney can be even a bellow average hitter that would be an improvement, IF they have a 3rd basemen? Valbuena and Murphy are replacement quality players they do not make us a better lineup… Maybe it’s Olt IF he can see. IF Junior Lake can do it from Opening Day to the end of the season. He never hit for power in the minors, so don’t expect more than 15 homers from him in a full season, where major league pitchers will adjust to him. Ruggiano and Sweeney could make an okay platoon for an American league team hitting in the 9th spot of the lineup.IF Welington Castillo can handle a larger work load witthout the help of a guy like Dioner Navarro. (Who if you look at the numbers was the second best hitter we had last year supporting the fact our lineup was terrible. Your backup catcher should never be the biggest threat in your lineup under any circumstances.) IF Shierholtz can have another solid season, and hopefully he does.

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