Just last week, I read a post about the possibility that the Rays and Royals had stumbled upon a new formula for the usage of starting pitchers. I even used it as a springboard to a post of my own, though I lamented the lack of supporting evidence and historical data, not to mention the failure to cite the strength of the bullpens in question.
The author of that original post was a gentleman named Cork Gaines, who is an expert on the evolution of whales (which is actually pretty flipping cool) when he’s not writing about baseball. He’s also a Twitter name-searcher who keeps a clip of Mike and Mike discussing his name at the ready (though the tweet containing said video was summarily deleted). The self-importance exhibited is perhaps a little questionable, but not owning it is even more so.
Gaines has apparently written for Yahoo (but, really, who hasn’t?), Deadspin, and The Hardball Times, but I learned of him through his work at Business Insider. I had been unaware of BI prior to that aforementioned post, but was clued in to another of their posts earlier this evening by tweet that described said work as “pretty f@#%ing horrible.” I mean, how can you not want to click after such a ringing endorsement? Were I a better man, I’d have walked away. But, like Alice, I climbed down the rabbit hole to find:
The flaw in the Cubs’ unorthodox rebuilding plan is coming back to haunt them, another Gaines piece.
I don’t think I could make up something so Wittenmyerical if I tried. And I sorta did in a post that went up today, though I toned down my original headline in order to avoid coming off as too click-baity. Heck, I even discussed the very “flaw” to which Gaines is referring — the lack of MLB-ready pitching — on Episode 59 of the Wrigleyville Nation podcast, which you should go listen to after reading this.
It’s absolutely true that the Cubs are dealing with a thin rotation and that they’ve got little help waiting in the wings, but it’s also true that they’ve got a nice crop of guys pushing their way up through the lower levels of the minors. You know, that’s that system that was ranked #1 in all of baseball recently. With scores of players across several levels, you’re going to draw from more than your top 10 prospects to build a team.
This may well be an exercise in futility and one that exposes me as the bitter, jealous little man that I am, but I simply could not pass up the opportunity to lob stones at this article from the front lawn of my fragile glass house. Maybe one day I’ll get big enough to have a small-time blogger call me out, but for now I’m going to do the calling.
They seemed ready to become a serious World Series contender last winter when they added two of the biggest free agent prizes in pitcher Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon. But their plan has a flaw and it is being exposed in a big way. After being swept over the weekend by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs have lost five in a row.
Okay, first things first: no one — at least no one who hadn’t received a partial lobotomy — felt that the Cubs were World Series contenders. The prospect of winning 85 games was a stretch and many, present company included, had pointed out several flaws in the team. Furthermore, to make a conclusion from a 5-game sample size is irresponsible at best and downright idiotic at worst.
And then you’ve got the fact that the 5 games the Cubs lost came at the hands of the Dodgers and the Cardinals, both first-place teams with decidedly fewer question marks from an organizational standpoint. But, you know, never let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.
Their starting pitchers gave up 17 runs in 23.1 innings during that stretch.
This is true. It’s also true that the bullpen allowed another 7 runs in 18.2 innings, though it seems that leaving out mention of the relief corps falls outside of Gaines’ SOP. There’s no argument that the pitching wasn’t great over the 5-game stretch he draws from, but that’s hardly the story of the minor skid.
You see, over the course of those same 5 games, the Cubs offense mustered exactly 6 runs. The put two men across the plate only twice, while recording single tallies two more times and being shut out once. So where’s the flaw now, Cork? If you’re going to point out flaws in pitching, perhaps you should use a stretch during which the rotation actually cost the Cubs games.
And about that selective sample size? Why don’t we expand it a bit to include the four games prior and, just for feces and laughs, Tuesday’s win over the Mets. That’s fair, right? 10 games and a 5-5 record. Well, in the games the Cubs won, they allowed…carry the 2, add the 1, those two zeroes don’t increase the total…3 runs. Wait, that can’t be right. Yep. Three whole runs. In 5 games.
In wins over the Twins (who are great at home), Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at Wrigley, and the Mets, Cubs starters allowed only 2 runs over 31 innings. And that means the ‘pen allowed only 1 run in the remaining 14 innings over my carefully-selected sample size. See how easy it is to make the numbers say what you want?
There is still hope for the Cubs since they are just 1.5 games back in the Wild Card. But they can’t afford any more injuries or struggles from their starting pitching.
I agree that losing one of the top 3 guys in the rotation would be devastating, but since when has that not been true for any team that’s not the Cardinals? Would the Giants have won the World Series without Madison Bumgarner last season? How about the D-Backs back in the day without either Big Unit or that guy who eviscerates national baseball coverage for ESPN now?
The problem is not a lack of depth in terms of the rotation, it’s the lack of pushing freaking runs across. Even in those wins I mentioned, the Cubs only scored 18 runs, 8 of which came in one game against the Twins. In the month of June, they scored 5 or more runs only half a dozen times, while they’ve scored 2 or fewer runs on a baker’s dozen occasions. Not a typo.
In general, I try to avoid peeing on those who are swimming in the same pool, so speak. I’m by no means a great analyst of the game, and I admit to no shortage of homerism when it comes to covering the Cubs, but I also know how to look at the bigger picture and I try to avoid absolutely manhandling stats in order to bend them to my will.
My fear is that people — some of whom will be casual Cubs fans who will see it linked on Yahoo or some such — will read that Business Insider post and take it at face value. At the end of the day, I’m not upset about the point the author is making so much as I am the way he’s making it, with little to no substantive reasoning to support his assertions.
It’s no different from the media-fueled attacks on Jon Lester’s inability or lack of desire to throw to first base, which I have railed against from the start. The number of times a pitcher throws to a base and the number of steals he allows do not necessarily have a direct correlation, and they may actually be inversely related. Please stop with the nonsense of jumping to a conclusion based on so tripe that spilled from John Kruk’s piehole during a broadcast.
Speaking of bad decisions, I read the comments — I know, don’t — after the Gaines piece and just sank deeper and deeper into Wonderland until I found a Lester/Ross basher and tried to reply. Stupid me and my desire to educate the mouth-breathers. Anywho, that’s just about enough of my self-righteousness for the night.
In closing, I’d just like to once again point out the danger of writers, particularly those with access to a broad national platform, putting out for consumption ideas that have only the flimsiest of factual foundations. Not everyone has the access to or the desire to interpret their own data; they’re going to assume that a guy with a loud voice knows what he’s talking about. I mean, people actually listen to Mike North and nod approvingly.
The Cubs are indeed a flawed and imperfect team, but they are that way primarily because they aren’t fully formed yet. Gaines saying their pitching is the biggest worry is like wondering why your kid is getting C’s in English when he’s flunking Math. I’m sorry for the diatribe, folks, but stuff like this really gets my panties in a nasty twist.
This all caught me on a bad day too. Burying a good friend probably doesn’t set the stage for the most level-headed emotional responses to narratives that were conceived with only half of one’s rear end. But I promise to end this on a more light-hearted note.
Since Mr. Gaines was kind enough to share that video with some of my online friends earlier, I thought it only fair to repay the favor. Enjoy.