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.
There will be plenty of competition in the rotation when the #Cubs start Spring Training. How will they find the right five? Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and co. won’t be afraid to push the envelope. https://t.co/a4GXirwCjH
— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) February 6, 2021
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
- Per Katherine Acquavella of CBS Sports, Jed Hoyer earned a D- in his first offseason leading the Cubs. I’d hate to see his grade had he not traded for Zach Davies and signed Arrieta, Workman, and Joc Pederson. Acquavella graded the Reds and Brewers higher, so I’d say there is a little anti-Cubs bias at play. Let’s circle the date and come back to this in September.
- No two pitchers are exactly alike, but Davies is almost a mirror image of Kyle Hendricks, showing the same soft-spoken demeanor and ability to challenge hitters by consistently hitting his spots.
- With that in mind, Hoyer said he is not necessarily trying to build a rotation of strictly finesse pitchers.
- In fact, the rotation could be strong enough that Alec Mills may end up being the odd man out. Mills is hoping to open some eyes this spring and secure a spot as a regular starter.
- Williams is excited to pitch for the North Siders, and not just because his father is a lifelong Cubs fan.
- Hoyer and his staff believe Williams can return to his 2018 form, the hurler’s most successful season with the Pirates.
- The COVID-19 protocols the organization has deployed for the upcoming season are much more extensive than last year. In 2020, the Cubs made it through the entire regular season without losing a player to the infectious disease.
- Gordon Wittenmyer believes closer Craig Kimbrel will perform much better if he is in the midst of a controversy concerning his role with the team.
- Kimbrel had a strong September and hopes to start this season on a continuation of that run.
- Jason Adam is expected to pitch in high-leverage situations this year. The reliever registered a 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts across 13.2 innings last season.
Odds & Sods
If you’re a Giants fan, this is just plain hurtful.
— 竜党な人👣 (@kinderg32321315) February 21, 2021
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.
To quote Mather: “Rodriguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined. He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”
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.
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.”
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.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 22, 2021
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.