It’s no secret that the Cubs have struggled to draft and develop pitching, so it’s nice that they have been willing to spend freely to fill in the gaps. Sahadev wrote about the team’s struggles in December (subscription required, h/t Fangraphs), with a pretty remarkable chart.
The problem with this chart is pretty simple: contenders are not particularly interested in developing “MLB-quality” pitching, they are aiming for good pitching. Note the quality and rank order of teams on the list. In general, contenders tend to have fewer innings available for pitchers that are not expected to be good, but could surprise. Case in point, if Cub draftees Zack Godley (2013, 10th round) and Paul Blackburn (2012, supplemental round) had pitched the same number of innings with the Cubs instead of the Dbacks and A’s, the team would rate out right in the middle, at 15th instead of 30th on this chart. Would that make you feel any better about the Cubs’ pitcher development? It really wouldn’t move the needle for me.
This doesn’t seem to be a new issue for Epstein. If we set the bar for a decent career at 6-7 WAR, the Red Sox under Epstein produced only Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz, and Justin Masterson. (Lester was drafted in 2002, pre-Epstein). That’s not terrible, but it’s a pale shadow of what they accomplished on the positional side of things.
It is pretty remarkable that Tyler Chatwood has, at the moment, signed the second- largest pitcher free agent contract of the offseason. Chatwood’s upside has been covered pretty exhaustively around the web, so allow me to make the opposite case:
- There have been cases of pitchers getting better after leaving Colorado, but it is by no means a given. On the one hand, we have Drew Pomeranz, Jason Hammel, and Juan Nicasio (if you squint). On the other, we have pretty much everyone else, notably Ubaldo Jimenez and (for our purposes) Eddie Butler.
- Here is a list of K-BB% laggards over the past two years, minimum 300 innings. It is much better to be on the non-Chatwood side of that list.
- Much has been made of Chatwood’s elite spin rate, however, the same force that causes breaking pitches to move less at Coors should also cause them to spin faster (or more accurately, slow down less during flight).
I don’t hate the signing, and hope it works out. It is definitely more comforting now that he will be competing for the fifth spot. Every year since they became competitive, the Cubs have shelled out to build on their young core: Lester, Heyward, Quintana, and now Darvish.
State of the Farm
If you are worried about the Cubs having given away a lot of positional talent to fill-in pitching gaps over the last two years, never fear. According to the KATOH projection system, the Cubs have not one, but two better prospects than Eloy Jimenez. Those two are, of course, Victor Caratini and Charcer Burks.
It’s typically not that difficult to figure out what projection systems are “thinking,” but this one has me scratching my head. Eloy made it to AA and raked as a 20-year old, while Burks was only decent there at 22. The former must grade out as a complete statue in Clay Davenport’s defensive ratings.