Chicago Cubs: Science could explain the team’s actions this offseason

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The reckoning Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein promised is happening.  Just not in the way most of us thought it would.

To say the Cubs haven’t been aggressive in the free agent and trade market is a massive understatement.  When the top pitcher signing is 27-year-old Jharel Cotton and there haven’t been any positon player additions, “quiet offseason” takes on a whole new meaning.

Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and soon Josh Donaldson have or will sign huge deals.  Nicholas Castellanos has said he would re-sign with the Cubs for anything close to a fair offer.

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Top Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who would have addressed the Cubs’ need in center field and atop the order, reportedly signed for three years at just over $7 million a year. Yet Chicago has spent $4.3 million signing these under-the-radar guys this winter.

Is it really about money?  What about the salary threshold tax penalties of exceeding the threshold two seasons in a row?

As long as the Cubs stay below the second tier threshold it’s all just financial penalties.  Sure, there’s a case to be made as Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation made recently.

But c’mon now, the Cubs are in the middle of a window of contention.  Do they really think it matters if they win another World Series?

Well if it isn’t just money, what are the Cubs doing?  I think there could be another reason for the slow offseason.  Science.

Could the club be banking on technology, metrics and analytics to power the current team to higher levels of performance?  Perhaps, and we’ll start with pitching.

Chicago Cubs: Pitch lab looks at mechanics, pitch mix and grips

I’m not a science guy.  I won’t try to explain what I don’t understand myself, but I’m pretty sure some kind of “Shall we play a game” computer stuff is locomoting what the Cubs are doing.  Before the 2019 season, Evan Altman at Cubs Insider did a good job of laying it all out and how it works.

So is this what is behind the signings of low-cost pitchers that have shown signs of potential but have sagged at some point?  All the while passing on free agents with proven MLB success?  Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic (subscription required) thinks so.  The plan seems to be to create a pitching roster built by Rapsodo machines, Edgertronic cameras and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara’s pitch-grip indexes.  Sounds all a bit Frankenstein-ish to me but, hey, as I said I’m not a science guy.

Chicago Cubs: Can hit labs fix what ails the line-up?

The performances of first-round picks Albert Almora, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber have ranged from disappointing to barely satisfactory. Not the kind of assessment you want from first-round picks.  Add to that David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Tony Kemp and Robel Garcia and what you have is some really underperforming players wrapped around your elite core of players.

Enter Rachel Folden, founder of Folden Fastpitch, who has been on the cutting edge of hitting biomechanics and analysis for both fastpitch softball and baseball.  Folden is now the lead hitting lab tech for Rookie League Mesa.  And that’s not all.  The organization already revamped much of their minor league staff.

While Folden and the rest of the staff will be focused on minor league player development, by being based in Mesa they will also be visited, I’m sure, by some of those named above.

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The Cubs aren’t revolutionizing anything here either. As Sharma pointed out, the Dodgers, Astros and Yankees are ahead of Chicago in the use of this level of science.  There is a technology arms race and the Cubs are sprinting to catch up.

Will it impact the big league club in 2020?  That is the bet Theo and the front office are making.