The Chicago Cubs Are the Worst Organization at Developing Pitchers (Kinda)

jeff samardzija beardYahoo’s Jeff Passan undertook a study aimed at determining which organizations are the best at developing pitchers. To do so, Yahoo “tallied the pitchers who debuted between 2008 and 2012 and tied them to the team with which they arrived. Then we compiled their Wins Above Replacement, via Baseball-Reference, with that first team only.”

Within those relatively limited (and potentially misleading, depending on whether a guy was acquired as a AAA top prospect after “developing” in another organization, for example) parameters, the Chicago Cubs fared horribly.

As in, the worst in baseball horribly. And by a country mile horribly.

For the pitchers who qualify under Yahoo’s rules, the Cubs’ total accumulated WAR is negative five. The next worst team is the Angels, at negative 1.8, and then the Astros at negative 0.1. Those are the only teams in the negatives. The top of the leader board has teams like the Dodgers, A’s and Rangers, who’ve accumulated 47.9, 35.7, and 33.4 WAR, respectively from their homegrown pitchers. Let that sink in for a moment, and wrap your head around how nightmarishly bad the Cubs’ “homegrown” pitching has been in the last five years.

A notable bit from Passan:

The teams without a single standout, meanwhile, found themselves buried toward the bottom. It’s inconceivable to think a team could go five years with a negative WAR from all of its homegrown pitchers, but that’s exactly what the Houston Astros (-0.1), Los Angeles Angels (-1.8) and Chicago Cubs (-5) did. Negative WAR essentially means the three teams would have been better off going to Triple-A and getting a replacement-level player – a bum, a scrub, a jabroni, whatever you care to call him – and plopping him on the major league roster. Jeff Samardzija was the Cubs’ only pitcher to post more than 0.2 WAR in the last five years – and he needed 1.6 WAR last year to boost his career total to 1.7.

You can see more of the methodology in Passan’s writeup, and you may have occasion to take issue with it. But, given how the last five years have played out, it’s hard to argue that the Cubs’ pitching situation – with respect to new pitchers who’ve come up through the ranks – is really ugly. And, sadly, it doesn’t look much brighter in the next two-ish years, either.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

28 responses to “The Chicago Cubs Are the Worst Organization at Developing Pitchers (Kinda)”

  1. butlerdawgs

    What’s somewhat sad is that I feel that a lot of the “homegrown” pitchers the Cubs have thrown out there were AAA guys that were filling in for an injury at least on the starters side of things.

    1. Boogens

      Well, if the Cubs really were just throwing AAA guys out there their WAR should have been 0 instead of 5.

      1. Boogens

        Oops, -5, I mean.

  2. Devin

    Even with a WAR of nearly 50 from their “homegrown” pitchers over the past 5 years, the Dodgers have only made two playoff appearances in that time, while the division rival Giants have won two titles with a 9.7 WAR. What can we glean from this comparison?

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      That teams with a lot of homegrown pitching make the playoffs about half the time?

      1. @cubsfantroy

        That’s what I got out of it, Doc.

    2. bbmoney

      Well for one thing…that the time period looked at is too short.

      Doesn’t include a couple of other home grown Giants pitchers who…I don’t know have been ok….TIm Lincecum or Matt Cain. A couple of guys who have been pretty darn good other than Lincecum in 2012 that is….but I’ll take two Cy Youngs and two WS.

      1. hansman1982

        ya, the handicap that hurts the Cubs also hurts other teams.

        It’s kind of a “here is a list of teams that are going to be in on free agent SP big time in the next couple of years ranked in reverse order” ranking.

  3. Timothy Scarbrough

    That method really doesn’t the question.

    1. cjdubbya

      I think you accidentally the whole thing.

  4. MightyBear

    Something’s not right about that chart Passan had. The Miami Marlins had a 5.7 war and their best pitcher was Chris Volstad. I know he had a good year in Miami but wow.

  5. 1060Ivy

    So what you’re saying is that the Cubs need to tank another season and grab more prospects and trade away any existing talent for prospects, specially pitchers!

    One issue with the analysis is that groups 2 distinct questions: A)To what extent did the Cubs just draft poorly? and, B) To what extent did the organization not develop the prospects that it selected?

    Recall an assessment that concluded the Cubs have the least amount of drafted prospects in the MLB, so I’m not surprised that Cubs drafted pitchers have the lowest WAR in MLB.

  6. cubfanincardinalland

    Kind of misleading. James Russell is certainly a pitcher a lot of teams would love to have. And Sean Marshall was an excellent pitcher the Cubs developed. Starters has been ugly.

  7. GDB

    A strange way to look at this issue, which raises a lot of question marks about the data chosen.

    Why limit it to pitchers making their debut in the last 5 years? Why not include home-grown pitchers from before that period that were producing? i.e. For the Cubs sake, including Marmol and Marshall would have us well into positive WAR (over 15 WAR between them), but they debuted in earlier seasons so aren’t included.

    Some thought could also be given to the draft picks received by teams immediately preceding and during this spell. e.g. David Price debuted in 2008, but the Rays only had him because they were terrible in previous years so had the number 1 pick.

    Again, its not uninteresting and I think the Cubs have been one of the worst at developing pitchers, but I end up worrying more about the article’s methodology than the results it provides…

    1. bbmoney

      Completely agree. Too many confounding variables and too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions.

      That said, we all already knew the Cubs haven’t really developed much in the way of pitchers lately, specifically starting pitchers.

  8. Edwin

    The Cubs have struggled at developing pitching lately, but I think the study is misleading about how bad it’s been.

    First off, developing “homegrown” pitching isn’t the only way to get a good pitching staff. The Cubs got a lot of production from players like Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. They also got contributions from trades in Harden and Garza. And they were able to develope some talent like Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Randy Wells, who don’t show up due to the Debut cutoff.

    It’s another way of pointing out how the Cubs drafted bad, but no shit. The Cubs weren’t spending top money in the draft, they drafted later in rounds due to winning in 2007/2008, they lost picks to signing top FA like Soriano, and they didn’t do a good job of figuring out how to get more picks like the Rays/Red Sox.

    Yes, the Cubs have not made good draft picks when it comes to pitchers(or hitters), and they haven’t had much of any talent come up in the last couple seasons. The study is right that the Cubs have been bad at developing pitching talent. But there’s more to it then just making bad selections/bad minor league developement.

  9. Patrick W.

    Was Carlos Zambrano just not considered for the exercise?

    1. Patrick W.

      Please note, I immediately realized my stupid mistake.

  10. Patrick W.

    Nevermind… stupid question… I’m an idiot.

  11. ETS

    Next time I have to explain WAR to someone and they ask what is a replacement player, my response will be “a jabroni”.

    1. wvcubsfan

      Could you please explain what “a jabroni” is?

      1. Cubbie Blues
        1. wvcubsfan

          Sorry forgot the SARCASM tag.

      2. hansman1982

        It’s a Mawg…

  12. Edwin

    I think the study would be better if it looked more at where teams were drafting, how many pitchers teams were drafting, signing bonus paid to pitchers, things like that.

  13. DaveY

    The current focus on pitching by Epstien and Hoyer reminds me of when Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch ran the Cubs. They focused on pitching too under the theory that you always need more pitching and if you had any holes in your lineup due to lack of position player prospects you could fill those holes by trading away any excess pitching. Oddly, they ended up mostly trading position players to fill position holes( 2b Bobby Hill for 3b Aramis Ramirez, 1b Hee Seop Choi for 1b Derek Lee) and pitching prospects for pitchers(A package of mostly pitching prospects, including Dontrelle Willis for Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement, Jon Garland for Matt Karchner, Kyle Lohse and another pitching prospect for Rick Aguilera and Scott Downs).

  14. Marc N.

    The only two I can think of with real upside in those years are Cashner and Samardzija.

  15. praying the cubs get ready to win

    Henry traded away some pitchers. Dontrelle Willis for example.