Good read over at Grantland today by Rany Jazayerli regarding how the Chicago Cubs are rebuilding – they are doing it by acquiring offense.
Draft and trade for top offensive talent and pick off pitching at the margins or later through trades with your surplus of bats. From Jazayerli:
This flies in the face of more than a century of conventional baseball wisdom, which states that (1) pitching wins championships, and (2) a team can never have too much pitching. The Cubs’ approach is completely counterintuitive. It’s also completely right.
It may be true that it’s difficult to reach the playoffs without an elite pitching staff. (It’s equally hard to reach the playoffs without an elite offense, but never mind.) It may even be true that good pitching beats good hitting in the playoffs, although the evidence to support that is surprisingly sketchy. But the sport’s pitching obsession has one fatal flaw: Pitchers aren’t reliable. Young pitchers get hurt, and fail to develop, and lose the strike zone overnight. Trying to build around young pitching is like trying to hold water in your hands: It’s impossible to keep some of it from leaking out over time. The more resources a team invests in it, the more resources the team will squander. It’s a fundamental law of the sport.
Rather than accept this attrition as the cost of doing business, the Cubs are trying a different way, which involves two simple principles:
1. Investing a preponderance of their draft-and-development resources on hitting.
2. Taking advantage of the unpredictability of pitchers by cheaply acquiring established major league pitchers with upside.
Regarding the first point: Here’s a list of the Cubs’ last four first-round picks, all selected in the top 10:
2011: Javier Baez (no. 9 overall)
2012: Albert Almora (no. 6 overall)
2013: Kris Bryant (no. 2 overall)
2014: Kyle Schwarber (no. 4 overall)
Focusing on first pillar in the new Cubs’ way, while the first round has supported this narrative, the numbers don’t quite support this as their overall strategy, particularly in the draft. True, they avoided pitchers with their first overall picks since 2011, they almost took exclusively pitchers the rest of the draft. For instance, in 2012, they took outfielder Albert Almora but then rattled off seven consecutive pitchers with their picks. In 2013, they wisely took Kris Bryant with their second overall pitch then selected pitchers for six of the next seven picks. This year they took Kyle Schwarber from Indiana fourth overall but then went pitching heavy in 10 of the next 11 picks.
The Twins operated very similar to this. In 2012 the first pick was Byron Buxton (current health status notwithstanding) then a plethora of arms with seven of the next eight picks. This year, the first pick was Nick Gordon but then they leaned on pitching for eight of the next nine picks. In 2013, the Twins deviated from this by picking Kohl Stewartin the first round but also took position players with four of the top ten selections.
Pitching is a war of attrition and the Cubs are definitely obtaining numbers, they just are not focused on one pitcher commanding a high bonus. And given the history of top prospects blowing out arms and whatnot, that’s likely a smart decision.