Cubs

Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

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Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

Information is Theo Epsteins most valuable currency.

It will be traded this week in Milwaukee, where general managers and owners will gather for their annual meetings. Deals will be advanced, maybe even closed. There could be a new collective bargaining agreement. Commissioner Bud Selig might have to mediate the Epstein compensation issue.

Once Epstein left the Boston Red Sox, he got out from under the bad contracts given to Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. But as the Cubs new president of baseball operations, hes now on the hook for the roughly 72 million still owed to Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano.

This is an organization thats been paralyzed by the wrong long-term commitments. But really the entire industry is still trying to figure out: How do you pay for future results?

So as the Cubs look at past performance and prepare for the winter, will Carmine have a seat at the table?

Way too much has been made of that, Epstein said of the Red Sox computer model. We developed in Boston a program that was simply an information-management system. Every team in baseball has (one in some form).

Every business in the modern world (has) an information-management system that they use to gather their information, consolidate it, analyze it, dig deep. (They) use it as a resource to sort of balance certain variables and not make decisions but inform decisions that the company ultimately has to make.

General manager Jed Hoyer is not a stats geek. As a Division III player out of Wesleyan University, he was good enough to spend one summer sharing an infield with future big-leaguers Mark DeRosa and John McDonald in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

People try to paint us in different corners, Hoyer said. Its about information, whether its scouting (or) quantitative (or) medical (or) background. (The) key is to really get all the information together. No piece of information is too small.

At that point you can make a determination and take the best guess whether that player has good years left. A lot of its about old-school, baseball scouting and figuring out what a guy has (left). A lot of its about using quantitative analysis to figure out where that guy is in the curve of his career.

Youd be missing out on so much if you just focused on the quantitative part of the game. Where I am on the scale is hopefully something that youll never figure out, because I want to be right in the middle.

The war between traditional scouting and sabermetrics has already been fought. Everyone considers both viewpoints. Its just a matter of degrees. So the battles will never stop.

That tension could be felt from the dugout to the front office. The four managerial candidates brought into Wrigley Field had to go through game simulations and explain what theyd do and why in certain situations.

As part of the interview process, they also had to meet with the media afterward. Each man was asked some version of the question: How do you balance statistical analysis against going with your gut?

Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin said bring it on (after a wandering explanation in which he mentioned leveraged indexes and replacement value).

Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum has been portrayed in the media as someone who understands data and uses spray charts, but he seemed to downplay that idea (which could just be part of his low-key public persona).

Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux already works for another young Ivy League executive (general manager Jon Daniels, Cornell University, class of 1999).

Statistics (are) art, Maddux said. You can make some things out of them, but theres a lot of real stuff to them also. Bad numbers can be a little deceptive, but good numbers dont lie. So you use all the information that you can, but when it comes down to it, you got to trust yourself and trust your players.

Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. whose big-league career stretched from 1988 to 2007 witnessed firsthand the information explosion.

It doesnt tell the whole story, Alomar said. There (are) also a lot of gut-feeling decisions youve got to make. But if you have a stat (thats) a flashy number (where) you think: Oh, this guy is doing very good against this other guy, you can use that during the game in a key situation.

But we cannot just depend on stats alone. I dont like to become a fantasy manager. I want players to be able to manager themselves. The goal for a good manager is to have players that are able to manage themselves on the field and be team baseball players, not fantasy baseball players.

For Epstein and his inner circle, its time to start putting the pieces together.

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.