Cubs Institutional Problem

Bullpen Brian

Take a look at what Theo Epstein terms the Cubs’ institutional problem with plate discipline and on-base percentage.

As a quick reference point, the Cubs led the National League in walks in 2008. So it’s easy to see how drastically the number of walks have fallen in just four years.

Meanwhile, the Cubs’ .302 on-base percentage last season was the worst mark in all of baseball, and the fourth consecutive year it dropped from the previous season.

Epstein is trying to right the ship by instilling an organizational-wide focus on ‘grinding-out at-bats’ and developing the bulldog mentality the Red Sox’s lineup became noted for during his reign in Boston. 

The headline move with correcting the problem thus far was Epstein’s decision to replace highly respected hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo with James Rowson midway through last season. Additionally, a newly created position of assistant hitting coach was filled by Rob Deer at the Winter Meetings.

Like most things with the Cubs these days, the turnaround won’t happen in one season. Certainly the club can show improvement in the next couple of years, but reaching the goal will take improved performance from the Cubs’ lowest level minor leagues all the way up through the major leagues.

Epstein is sure to keep a more focused plate approach as a pressing issue throughout the entire organization. It appears to be one of his most strongly held beliefs in creating and maintaining a championship caliber team.

Even the slightest improvement in this area next season could be a keg factor in avoiding consecutive 100-loss seasons, and that’s definitely worth taking a few extra pitches.  

–For a closer year-to-year look at the graph see the bullet points below.

  • A lot was made of Kosuke Fukudome’s patient plate approach upon his arrival in 2008. His keen eye for the strike zone appeared to rub off on his teammates, at least for one year. Four Cubs drew 70 or more walks that season (Fukudome 81, Aramis 74, Theriot 73, D-Lee 71) and Mark DeRosa just missed with 69 free passes.
  • In 2009 only two Cubs topped 70 or more walks: Fukudome 93 and D-Lee 76. Knucklehead Milton Bradley (66) likely would’ve topped the mark had he not been suspended for the final two weeks of the season for acting like a disgruntled clown…reads: conduct detrimental to the team.
  • The real drop off happened the following season when the team’s total plummeted by 113 walks. Fukudome led the team for the third straight season despite playing in 16 fewer games than the season prior. However, not a single Cub eclipsed 70 or more walks. ‘The Fuk’ ended with 64. Geovany Soto was second with 62 and D-Lee’s register just 52 walks while missing significant time due to injuries (109-games).
  • The 2011 season walk totals are somewhat skewed thanks to Carlos Pena. When he wasn’t busy striking out Pena was making headway in setting a new club record for first basemen with 101 walks. But after Pena it was basically hopeless for the rest of the Cubs. Fukudome finished second on the club with 46…and that’s despite playing just 87 games with Chicago before being traded to the Indians on July 28. Soto 45, Aramis 43, and Starlin Castro 35, rounded out the top 5.
    Good heavens.
  • Although there was a slight uptick in walks last season, the Cubs had but one player reach more than 50 walks–David DeJesus with 61. Now the kicker…Soriano was second with 44 and LaHair third with 39. No wonder the Cubs had the worst on-base percentage in baseball (.302).
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Cubs Institutional Problem

  1. Looking at stats alone, Epstein promised post season competition in 2014. Judging from all his moves so far, this Winter he, will be able to keep his ego in tact with more moves before 2014, and recognizing farm development.

    Epstein has given up on 2013 with a few, one year contracts, seemingly just to put a team on the field. He could have, and should have done much better.

    Any Cubs post season competition in 2013 will be an accident, and not anything Epstein has orchestrated.

    He certainly went out of his way to increase the offensive punch with the addition of Nate Schierholtz. The Cubs have plenty of .260 hitters. What a waste. As you say, OBP! No help, there.

    Epstein has kept his concentration on pitching so far, this Winter. Most often, the higher the ERA, the better with a couple of exceptions.

    I think Theo wants to say, ‘See, I told you’ in 2014. Ego.

    If I went to my boss right now, and told him not to worry because, in 2013 I’ll be cultivating everything for 2014 but, I’ll have numbers for you, then, He’d laugh me out of the building. Who’d be paying my overstated salary in 2013?

    I worry about the Cubs paid gate in 2013. The enthusiasm seems lost, and may reflect right there in 2013.

    Finally, back to OBP, the Cubs need some hitters much closer to .300 to punctuate the line-up, and so far the Cubs have some new pitchers.

  2. Hey, Dave. Interesting thoughts.

    However, I think your criticism of Epstein is unfair to this point. This organization has made many positive changes under his direction.

    In just over a year Epstein has revamped the front office, beefed up scouting, signed key international players and instilled an organizational-wide ‘Cubs Way’ from the low-level minor leagues to the major league level.

    Most importantly, Epstein has given the Cubs direction by putting a plan in place for sustained success, which quite honestly hasn’t happened here in more than 100-years.

    He’s paying attention to building from within, being more efficient and spending money more wisely. All positives.

    If your job was to re-tool this franchise, your boss, Tom Ricketts, would be understanding in realizing you don’t turn a 101-loss team around in one offseason. It takes time and patience. Prospects can only develop so quickly, the right free agents only come along so often…there are, as Theo himself likes to reiterate, no shortcuts.

    Of course it’s fair to disagree with some of Team Theo’s moves this offseason, that’s your opinion, but if Epstein could have done better I like to know how…

    On top of that, fielding a competitive team isn’t what I believe stokes Epstein’s ego. He could’ve stayed in Boston if that were the case.

    Rather, Theo wants the challenge of rebuilding a busted franchise…he wants multiple championships in Chicago, and I believe he wants to accomplish his goal as quickly as possible.

    The bottom line is there’s still a ton of work to be done. But just because the offseason has been littered with meh-moves doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made.

    Baseball has always been about pitching first, and Epstein has invested well in both the Draft and free agency to fill those needs as best as possible for 2013.

    The offense is still dreadful of course. But there’s promise on the horizon with guys like Soler, Almora and Baez…if each pans out as expected.

    Poor attendance will be an issue next season for sure, but that’s to be expected. I have no doubt Wrigley will be a sold out venue again in the coming seasons.

    We have to remind ourselves to enjoy the journey from pretending to contending…and if the success last as long as we hope it will, that’s worth waiting for.

  3. I understand what you are saying. However, the fans do not really care about front office moves or, coaching moves within the organization. Fans come out to the ballpark to see the results of those moves on the field. Only time tells if, the internal rebuilding process gets a plus or, a minus. So, the sustained success you refer to is only a ? right now. There is no short-cut in time for these internal moves to be proven.

    As for on-field talent, it is less complex, as there is much out there, some of the time, every year. There are some short-cuts in that context. When those short-cuts are available, take them.

    Epstein has used an old adage that we have been programmed to believe is a wise statement. It is not. What might be more wise is, to recognize your path, be willing to change your path, and recognize a viable short-cut when it presents itself. Don’t cut your mind off from any possibility.

    You have inspired me to possibly take a second look, and be less harsh.

    You are featured as an ‘Extraordinary Cubs Blog’ on my Cubs page.

  4. I always appreciate a voice of reason! And thank you for sharing the love on your Cubs blog :)

    It seems we just share different opinions on the matter of Epstein’s plan.

    Although the fans may not care about organizational changes, that doesn’t lessen the importance of them. Without these improvements sustained success is not achievable, which the previous Cubs regime proved.

    The fact the Cubs are on the brink of signing Edwin Jackson (a slightly above average pitcher) to a 4-year, $52M deal suggests the Cubs are, in fact, willing to get better at any opportunity…which in this case appears to be slightly extending themselves for just an ok-type pitcher.

    From my perspective the Cubs under Epstein’s leadership have not only recognized change in the organization is not only needed, but necessary (top to bottom).

    What I’d hate to see is Epstein fall victim to the massive spending that created a roster gridlock in Boston.

    Meanwhile, when I’ve researched franchises that have successfully rebuilt in the recent past I’ve found common ground in the timetable of roughly 4-5 years to reach a competitive postseason level.

    As a larger market, and with an owner willing to spend, the Cubs are fortunate that it may only take 3-4 years. I think that’s worth the wait, and I think many Cubs fans will feel the same way if the results are as good as we think they can be down the road.

    Nonetheless, I look forward to bouncing some more opinions off one anther. It’s always more fun that way.

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