Chicago Cubs: Don’t blame player development (too much) for collapse

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Javier Baez/ Chicago Cubs
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Comparing the contributions Chicago Cubs players to other contenders

Players drafted and developed during Epstein’s reign have amassed around 53 WAR, mainly in the form of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. The Houston Astros, who were on a similar tank-and-rebuild path during this time, drafted and developed players who have accumulated around 99 WAR.

So far, so unimpressive, but the above numbers leave out international signings. Here, the Cubs crushed it. Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Eloy Jiménez and Gleyber Torres have produced about 49 WAR, while Houston’s sole important international contributor was Yuli Gurriel (13.1 WAR).

[I’m getting the domestic farm system production numbers from the Baseball Reference draft tool. I obtained international signing information from MLB Trade Rumor’s Transaction Tracker.]

Add it all up, and the Epstein player development operation was almost as good as the Astros, with the WAR score being 112-102 in favor of the Trashcans. The Dodgers, another well-regarded franchise, edge the Cubs 105-102 over the same period. (Similar to the Astros, the majority of the Dodgers’ WAR is domestic; their main international production came from Hyun Jin Ryu.)

The wood has a few knots, though. The Dodgers never had a better first-round pick than 18th during this period, while the Cubs drafted in the top 10 until 2016.  Torres and Jimenez produced their wins with other teams, though bringing back Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana, respectively, in trades. The Cubs have infamously failed to develop a top-flight starting pitcher since Lon Warneke. Or, OK, maybe Big Z.