Saturdays are usually lazy days for me. I tend to get some things organized for school, set my fantasy football rosters, and run errands. Thankfully, this past Saturday was an errand day that allowed me to listen as Craig Breslow, Cubs assistant GM and VP of pitching, joined hosts Bruce Levine and Matt Spiegel on 670 the Score’s Inside the Clubhouse.
It was a very enlightening conversation that covered the Cubs’ pitch lab, prospect development, and getting players to buy in to new concepts. Breslow went into detail about how the Cubs are using technology and waxed philosophical about how data has changed the way the game is taught and played.
“The pitching lab in professional baseball has become legend,” Breslow said. “Everyone kind of describes their pitching infrastructure a little bit differently; that speaks to some of the technology and data that’s utilized a little bit differently.
“How I would define the pitching lab is an infrastructure, and a kind of physical structure, that collaborates across multiple departments and enables us to pursue, fairly aggressively, initiatives that will allow us to optimize our pitchers either through pitch data, through pitch delivery, or even potentially gleaning information about usage and location.”
Baseball scouting has always relied upon the eye test and that’s still the case today, it’s just that those eyes are much sharper as high-speed, high-def cameras can clearly capture each instant of a pitcher’s mechanics. When combined with real-time feedback, coaches and players no longer need to rely simply on intuition when determining what caused a given result.
“There are certainly examples, and fairly well-documented examples, of grip changes that have been employed and very targeted instances with particular pitchers,” Breslow explained. “We also have the opportunity to explore the biomechanical component of the delivery and the ways that those are inextricably interconnected is a frontier in which I think we are gaining better understanding.”
Over the past two summers, the results of the pitch lab have been significant, especially in the bullpen. Cub fans have seen pitchers like Rowan Wick, Ryan Tepera, and Adbert Alzolay take off at the major league level by developing new pitches or better sequencing their existing repertoire.
“For us, it’s absolutely become a critical component of our development apparatus and also of our big league infrastructure,” Breslow said. “I think it represents an opportunity to push development across all levels, it enables us to give real-time feedback to what we’re seeing and what our pitchers are feeling.”
He mentioned that the pandemic was sort of like a “silver lining” as the Cubs streamlined their development process and formalized communications that allowed the staff to coach remotely. Those changes allowed for what he called a “proof of concept” that lets the Cubs track data, goals, and initiatives while measuring the organization’s own methodology and process.
I kept thinking all summer while watching pitching prospects post videos of themselves online that they were going to take a huge step in their development this year, much more so than hitters. Breslow apparently had some of the same thoughts and said he’s looking forward to seeing how all that individual work will translate to improvement in game situations.
It’s been clear for several years now that the Cubs have had issues when it comes to developing pitchers and the organization has talked publicly about the need to adopt a more aggressive philosophy. With Breslow heading up an infrastructure that is more streamlined and almost more detailed and individualized, we may soon be able to start talking about homegrown pitchers as a strength.