Monday, March 9, 2015

Cub Fans Need to R-E-L-A-X

As the Cubs competitive window inches open I can feel the stress of expectation in some fans. A simple look at twitter following a Cactus League loss or a Javier Baez strikeout and it’s clear that after years of losing, Cub fans are eager to watch a winner. As painful as it may be to heed advice from someone wearing green and gold, Cubs faithful need to follow Aaron Rodgers’ lead and “R-E-L-A-X”.

The 2015 Cubs will be a much improved ball club. After three years spent tearing down the organization to build it back up, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are finally at the point where they can worry about the big league club. They told us the plan the day they held their first press conference, and haven’t wavered from it since. This organization needed more than just a rebuilt roster. It needed rebuild facilities in Mesa, Chicago and across the minor league system. It needed a rebuilt farm system that had failed to produce meaningful big league talent for decades. It needed a rebuilt international scouting department that could focus on the wealth of talent outside the country’s borders. It even needed e-mail and a few people that speak Spanish. This was one of the largest teardowns of an American professional sports franchise that I can remember. And it was absolutely necessary.

The Cubs brass told fans they would be active in free agency when the time was right, and the 2014-2015 offseason   proved to be that time. The addition of veterans Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel give the Cubs some much needed veteran presence, but they are still an incredibly young team. The Cubs front office has identified a player’s prime as 27-32 years old. And most of these Cubs have a while to go before reaching the lower end of that age range. Point being, that the Sporting News may be at least a couple years premature in their prediction of the Cubs reaching the promise land.

That got me thinking about the average age of World Series winning teams. While doing some research I came across another Sporting News article. One that was written three years ago, but had some very relevant information as it pertained to my questions.  In the piece, Bo Mitchell from Sports Data figured the average age of starters for each position for Championship teams over a 25-year span (1986-2011). As expected, the Cubs are still kids compared to these averages:

Average World Series winner: 28.6
Cubs projected starter: Miguel Montero: 31.2

First Base:
Average World Series winner: 29.1
Cubs projected starter: Anthony Rizzo: 25.2

Second base:
Average World Series winner: 27.9
Cub’s possible starters:
Javier Baez: 22.1
Arismendy Alcantara: 23.1
Tommy LaStella: 26

Third Base:
Average World Series winner: 30.1
Cub’s possible starters:
Mike Olt: 26.2
Kris Bryant: 23.1

Short Stop:
Average World Series winner: 27.9
Cubs projected starter: Starlin Castro: 24.4

Average World Series winner: 29.9
Cubs projected starter:
Dexter Fowler: 28.4
Jorge Soler: 23
Chris Coghlan: 29.3
Denorfia: 34.2

Starting Pitcher:

Average World Series winner: 29.6
Cubs projected starters:
Jon Lester: 31.1
Jake Arrieta: 29
Jason Hammel: 32.2
Kyle Hendricks: 25.1
Travis Wood: 28
Edwin Jackson: 31.2
Tsuyoshi Wada: 34
Jacob Turner: 23.3
Felix Doubront: 27.1

Average World Series winner: 29.8
Cubs projected closer: Hector Rondon: 27

While age, by no means, determines the success of a team or player, it’s a pretty good gauge for when most players reach their statistical peak. As you can see, the Cubs are very young, coming in years below the average age of a World Series starter at nearly every position. This is not to say the Cubs youngsters can’t put together an historic year and over perform their projections. Or that this particular group of players won’t be ahead of the curve when it relates to adjustments to life in the big leagues. What it does is point out just how silly the timing is on championship predictions as we head into 2015, especially considering this core is likely to be together for years to come.

The Cubs farm system has been evaluated by many experts as historically strong. The promotions of Alcantara, Soler and Baez last season is the tip of the iceberg. Over the next two to three seasons the team will call up more highly touted prospects in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and CJ Edwards. All of these guys will play a prominent role in the organization, either as Cubs or used in trades and sent elsewhere. What the Cubs have that previous top ranked systems rarely do, is major market money. This will allow the Cubs to fix any holes from prospects that don’t pan out, or buy the pitching that is needed to compliment the young talented core of bats.

This is year one of what the team is planning on being a long, consistent string of competitive seasons. This year is the Cubs learning to crawl before they can walk. There will be growing pains, disappointments, slumps and losing streaks. There may not be a playoff birth. This isn’t the Cubs of the ‘80’s where the competitive window is open for one season then it’s back to the cellar. Over the next 5-10 seasons this team will have chances to do something great. However, this season it is not World Series or bust. So don’t let the stress get to you. Instead, enjoy a much improved team learn how to win on a consistent basis. That’s something Cub fans have rarely been able to do.

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