Lessons To Be Learned

I guess I am writing this to the future owner of the Chicago Cubs, Red_sox_win whoever they may be.  Last night, I watched the Boston Red Sox win their second championship in four year.  The Red Sox, like the Cubs, were thought to have been a cursed team, incapable of winning a World Series.  How do the Red Sox look now?  Scary.  Scary because with the amount of talent they have on that team, who knows how many titles they can still win?  While the Cubs have officialy gone 99 years without a World Series, current Cubs management still scratch their heads and try to figure out how to end the longest drought in sports.  So it is up to you, the future owner of the Cubs, to start stealing plays out of the Red Sox book.

I read an interesting article from Sports Illustrated baseball write Tom Verducci and I cut it out so I could refer to it when the Red Sox won the World Series.  If you want to read the whole article, click here, otherwise, I have pulled out the most relevant information for Cubs fans.

What About The Pitching?

It’s a saying as old as baseball itself; pitching and defense win championships.   If Cubs management should realize anything, to win a World Series, you must have the best pitching.  You can have all the sluggers you want, look at the Yankees, but if you do not have pitching and defense, it won’t matter.  The Red Sox pitching staff had the most wins, the second lowest ERA (only San Diego’s was lower and the Boston staff faced much better hitters, only six more teams had fewer walks, and they gave up the least amount of runs. They had phenomenal starters, (Beckett, Schilling, Matsuzaka) great set up men (Okajima was unbelieveable), and a dominant closer in Jonathen Papelbon. Boston not only had the pitching, but the defense behind it.  They finished second in fielding percentage.  While the Cubs pitching staff was vastly improved from 2006, walks continue to be a problem.  Only six other teams gave up more walks than the Cubs. 

Patient Hitters

I can’t tell you how many times I saw the Red Sox draw walks this post season.  They made every pitcher work their butt off to get each and every out.  The Red Sox ranked six in MLB in average (the Cubs were 13th), but were second in OBP, on base percentage plus slugging, (the Cubs were 18th), and the Red Sox drew more walk then anyone in baseball (689), while the Cubs were 26th (500).  Most bullpens in baseball are garbage.  Get the starting pitcher to get his pitch count elevated, knock him out of the game, and beat on the bullpen.  Watching the Cubs swing at every garbage pitch that Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez threw in the Arizona series made me sick.  I saw Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz take numerous walks, allowing their teammates to drive in runs. 

Moneyball

I know old timers don’t like it, but I believe that the numbers don’t lie.  According to Verducci’s article;

Since taking over as G.M. in 2003, (Theo) Epstein has introduced an emphasis on advanced statistical analysis; for instance, he believes so strongly in how minor league track records project to big league performance that he expects that within a batter’s first two years in the majors he will lose 10% off his OBP but add 20% to his slugging percentage.

Many of Epsteins free agent aquisitions have helped the 07 Sox win the Series, and the players he has let go haven’t come back to bite him.  Out of all the players from the 2004 team, only Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Doug Mirabelli, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin are still with the team.

GM’s need to make smart decisions.  They need to keep a core group of players, find the right pieces to complement your core, and have young players from your farm system contribute.  You don’t sign a player on the down side of his career to multiyear contracts (Jaque Jones).  Cubs fans need to realize this is not 1969 or even 1984.  You have to be changing your lineup to stay competitive.  Just because you like a guys "hustle: doesn’t mean he should be an everyday starter (Matt Murton, Ryan Theriot, etc).  Jason Kendall cannot be your everyday starter at catcher, Ryan Theriot cannot be your everyday starter at shortstop, Jacque Jones cannot be your everyday centerfielder, and Cliff Floyd cannot be your everyday right fielder, and Kerry Wood is not your closer.

Build Your Farm System and Find the Right Type of Players

There are a lot of great players on the free agent market and a lot of young talent.  But one thing you never know is how they are going to perform under the amount of pressure it takes to play for teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees.  Verducci writes;

Epstein also has placed a premium on finding strong-willed players for the demanding Boston market. His drafts have produced fiery All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon (2003), Dustin Pedroia (2004), Clay Buchholz and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the first Native American of Navajo descent to make the majors (2005), as well as pitcher Justin Masterson (2006).

"We have to look for the right kind of guy," Epstein says, "one with a lack of fear, a high degree of self-confidence, guys who are motivated by winning and playing the game the right way, not the peripheral things that go with individual attention. And Dustin Pedroia is such a perfect example of what we’re looking for, you could put him on the cover of our player-development manual. Here’s a guy who gave up his [college] scholarship so that someone else could play."

You read that right.  Pedroia gave up his college scholarship so his Arizona State team didn’t have enough scholarship money to sign a top junior college pitcher. 

"I did it because I thought he could help us get to the World Series," Pedroia says. "I told my parents just after I told the coaches. I knew they had put some money away before I got my scholarship. We lost in the super regionals, but it was definitely worth it."

Just because a guy has good numbers, doesn’t mean he has the mental strength or the guts to play in a town like Chicago.  The Cubs need to look closer at the mental composure of their players as well as their physical gifts. 

Who Cares?

Imagine if any of the Cubs had made this comment;  "who cares?" if the Red Sox don’t get to the World Series. "It’s not like it’s the end of the world."Why should we panic? We’ve got a great team."

That was Manny Ramirez after the Red Sox went down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series, still having to face CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.  The point was, relax, have fun, play to your ability.  That’s the key.  When players try to do too much, when they try to win it by themselves, when they play over their ability, that’s when a team falls apart.  People criticized the Cubs after losing to the Dbacks, saying that it looked like they didn’t care, that there was no passion.  The problem was there was too much passion.  They tried to hard and in doing so, lost all concept of the strike zone, grounded into double plays, and lost their composure over and over again.

There is nobody on this team that is responsible for the 99 year streak without a championship, and they need to realize that.  So do the fans.  It’s just a game, have fun, see what happens.  I would love to see a championship come to the Cubs in my life time, but unless we take a look at how the Red Sox were able to turn it around, I might not see it. 

Go Cubs!

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