The Rundown: Cubs’ Pitch Lab Provides Significant Advantage as Recruiting Tool, New Starters Excited to Pitch in Chicago, Rockies OF Opts Out

It appears that the Cubs’ Pitch Lab may be one of the more successful recruiting tools in all of baseball. Perhaps it was the difference-maker when the team brought in a number of reclamation projects on one-year deals. In reality, starters Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams, Kohl Stewart, and Shelby Miller, and reliever Brandon Workman could have signed anywhere. And in at least Arrieta’s case, possibly with more favorable terms. It may have been the team’s pitching infrastructure that sold each of them on coming to Chicago.

All of those pitchers have something to prove this season and each can benefit from working with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and the rest of his staff. Arrieta said he had several conversations with Hottovy, assistant pitching coach Mike Borzello, and bullpen coach Chris Young before re-signing with Chicago. Add assistant GM Craig Breslow to that list, too. He’s the mastermind behind the highly-praised pitching infrastructure.

‘Yeah, [the Pitching Lab] interests me a lot, and there are a lot of changes for the good,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘I think advanced analytics are very important, [but] I still think baseball is learning how to implement those into the game more effectively.”

Though not a physical structure, per se, the lab was designed to thoroughly observe and analyze pitchers and, more specifically, each pitch they throw. The coaching staff combines endless volumes of video and data to make subtle or major changes designed to improve performance. Although the lab isn’t limited to pitchers acquired via trade or free agency, it does help the front office target the right types of additions by targeting the specific strengths of those pitchers.

Trevor Williams is also hoping to find his old form by getting into the lab.

“A change of scenery is sometimes always good, different eyeballs are sometimes good,” Williams said. “Even day one after we signed, getting some information from [the coaches] on what they see. Tomorrow I have a bullpen and pitching lab [scheduled], so I’m excited to get into that and learn more, and grow as a pitcher.”

Many of the pitchers vying for spots in the rotation and/or bullpen were brought in for very specific reasons and with the intent that the pitching infrastructure can help build on their strengths. Stewart has legitimate top-tier stuff and there may be no better success story than Adbert Alzolay, whose new wipeout slider could one day land him near the top of the team’s rotation. Rowan Wick is another shining example of Chicago’s deep analytical work with its pitchers.

The organization has made significant use of the lab since its implementation, especially considering their staggering losses in terms of pitching development just three seasons ago.

“For us, it’s absolutely become a critical component of our development apparatus and also of our big league infrastructure,” Breslow said earlier this winter. “I think it represents an opportunity to push development across all levels, [and] enables us to give real-time feedback to what we’re seeing and what our pitchers are feeling.”

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

If you’re a Giants fan, this is just plain hurtful.

Spring Training News & Notes

Mariners president and CEO Kevin Mather issued an apology on Sunday night after he was criticized for remarks he made during a Zoom call with a local rotary club earlier this month. The disparaging remarks concerned two foreign players with the Seattle organization who experienced difficulty communicating in English. Mather also came under criticism in 2018 when he and two other team executives were accused of sexual harassment by multiple female employees.

Minor League outfielder Julio Rodriguez, one of the players mentioned by Mather, offered a witty social media response to his boss.

To quote Mather: “Rodriguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson is stepping down as a special advisor for the Yankees. The 74-year-old former slugger said he just wanted to ease into retirement.

Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond became the first MLB player to opt out of the 2021 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Desmond opted out last season, too, and will likely be a free agent if he decides to play next year.

Clayton Kershaw says he has no plans to retire anytime soon. The 32-year-old finally won his first title and the Dodgers are currently favored to repeat.

Johan Quezada, a Cardinals pitcher who comes in just three inches short of seven feet, hopes to become the right-handed Randy Johnson.

The Pirates may be the worst team in baseball right now and GM Ben Cherington knows it. “We know there’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be hard. We ought to embrace that.”

White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn hopes he can be part of a leadership triumvirate that includes fellow starters Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Giolito.

Carlos Rodón said returning to the White Sox with an opportunity to win a spot in the starting rotation “was almost a no-brainer.”

Seeing ex-Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor in a Mets uniform may take some getting used to.

Extra Innings

Here’s hoping the Cubs will extend Kris Bryant soon. Even if they do not, let’s hope he has the type of season that silences his many critics.

They Said It

  • “I think it’s business as usual. I think everybody in this clubhouse is preparing to win ballgames during the course of the year and compete for playoffs.” – Zach Davies
  • “We’re not trying to corner the market on control/command, guys. I think it seems that way with [us] getting Zach Davies this winter and then adding Trevor Williams. I love guys who throw 97. But I do think our infrastructure has done really well with these guys.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “One thing we’ve been really successful with as a pitching infrastructure is taking guys that can throw multiple pitches – three, four pitches – and have command. Williams’ command is really excellent. So, when you look at the success we’ve had with, obviously, Kyle Hendricks, but even a guy like Alec Mills, we’ve really been able to game plan incredibly well with a guy like Trevor Williams.” – Hoyer

Monday Walk Up Song

After the Storm by Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins – I love when soul artists lean on the genre’s smooth legacy, and there may be no finer 70s-inspired tribute than this song. Bootsy is a legend and, hey, it looks like we’ve finally escaped that obscene polar vortex.

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