While I studied microeconomics and researched for this post, it seems the rest of you were watching the the Home Run Derby. Based on the reaction on my Twitter timeline, I'd guess it was a pitcher's duel, at least during the 1-0 Scott Frazier win over Giancarlo Stanton.
Not only did the Derby take like 14 hours, but it was too boring to even keep up with. Jose Bautista hit 10 HRs in the first round, but outside of that and a few other good showings, it was pretty lame. A lot of guys hit 2 or 3 homers in a round (except Puig, who hit zero!). It makes me yearn for the days of Sosa, Bonds, and McGwire.
I have a suggestion for next year. Everyone in the HR Derby gets tested for PED's prior to the event, and if they're clean they can't play.
— Ryan Davis (@NotTheCubsWay) July 15, 2014
Which brings me to the greater point: offense in baseball. Where did it go? It all changed so quickly. I'm only 28 years old, and I can actually remember a time when people discussed a need to raise the mound to help the pitchers. It wasn't all that long ago.
My personal opinion (which no one asked for) is that I don't care if players use PED's. It's on them if they get caught, and they know the repercussions. Cheating in one form or another has been a part of the game since the beginning, so why get upset about it?
No, this is just about the disappearing act of offense and how it changes the landscape of Major League Baseball. People used to talk about starting pitching like it was nearly impossible to find. A staff like the Cubs had in 2003 was a freaking unicorn.
At a time when the league-average ERA was 4.28, those 2003 Cubs starters put up a combined 3.69. But now in 2014, the current average ERA for the NL is 3.69. That's a big change in the landscape of baseball in a relatively short amount of time. Check out these yearly average hitting numbers from baseball-reference.
The shift began in 1993, when runs per game (RPG) goes from 3.88 to 4.49 in just one season. After that point, it was a gradual rise to 5.00 RPG in 2000, and a league-average OPS of .773. All that is in a league where the pitcher bats, by the way.
Compare that to 2014, when the RPG is 3.99 (more than one whole run lower) and the average OPS is .697, a drop of 76 points. The difference in those numbers is hard to grasp, so I'll try to bring some more shocking stats.
Chicks dig the long ball, right? In the year 2000, forty-five players hit 30 or more home runs (and fourteen hit 40 or more). In 2013, just fourteen hit 30 or more home runs (and only two hit 40 or more). Everyone wanted to see dingers in the early 2000's, and no one cared what was behind it.
And of course, this all applies to the current state of the Cubs. Doesn't it always? Back in the day, teams used to try to stockpile pitching in the minors. After all, it was so hard to find. And it's been the major criticism of the Cubs front office so far; they really don't have many top pitching prospects.
But the Cubs (and most teams, really) haven't had trouble finding decent-to-good starting pitching. Take into consideration that 28 qualified starters in MLB this year have an ERA under 3.00, and 55 have an ERA under 3.50. In 2000, only 4 starters had an ERA under 3.00, and 9 were under 3.50.
Only 25 starters in 2000 had an ERA under 4.00. By current standards, there weren't even enough number 3 starters to cover the top of every rotation. If the trends in baseball continue, all things being equal, teams should be more worried about the availability of good hitters and less worried about finding quality starting pitching.
Not only is there nearly six times the amount of good starters in the majors now, but long term investments in pitchers are riskier than ever (thanks to the elbow injury epidemic). The Cubs have done very well with short-term deals that they have typically attempted to flip to other teams for prospects. Going forward, maybe they continue signing those guys but not to flip.
If they could build a core of three starting pitchers, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that they go into every off-season looking for two starters on short term deals. The risk is extremely minimal, and the reward is very high.
The Cubs have cornered the market on hitting in a way that smart teams used to do with pitching. They have a stockpile of young, talented hitters on the verge of the major leagues. It's been well documented; they have 4 hitting prospects (Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, and Russell) in the top 20 in all of baseball.
Of course, this doesn't even include Soler, Almora, and Schwarber, all of which have a ceiling of “potential All-Star.” This puts the Cubs in a tremendous position as they decide how to build their Major League roster. They could sign free agent pitchers (like Hammel, Feldman, and Maholm) to maximize value, trade prospects for an ace, or something in between.
The more the Cubs build a massive amount of depth in quality hitters, the more teams will come calling to pry them away. Guys with power potential like Bryant, Baez, and Soler are few and far between these days. If only half of the Cubs top 10 hitting prospects pan out, they will have a modern day murderers row within a few seasons.
When fans complain about the way that the Cubs front office does their business, the biggest reason is that its members don't fully understand what is happening. Theo and Jed don't just do business the way it's been done in the past. They find the market inequalities and exploit them.
The Cubs front office has noticed the big trend in baseball and they've molded their plan around it. Hoarding a large portion of the next generation of hitters puts them in the driver's seat. And it may pay off in a really big way.
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