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olt bomb in actionPitching is gold in baseball. An ace pitcher is, and always has been, the most valuable commodity in the game. However, in today’s MLB, there is an asset that’s become nearly as precious, arguably more so: power. With the explosion of home runs at the turn of the century, many started taking power for granted. Thirty home runs and .500 slugging percentage were numbers that were barely acknowledged.

In 2000, power peaked and we witnessed 1.17 home runs per game, a league average .167 ISO [Brett: Holy crap.] and 67 players hit 25 or more home runs. Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen power numbers dip to their lowest point since the early nineties. In 2013 ISO fell to .143, home runs were only hit at 0.96 per game rate, and there were only 30 players who hit 25-plus homers.

While people who grew up watching eighties baseball may scoff at those numbers, the fact is, the power surge we saw from 1994 changed the game. It’s unlikely that baseball will shift back to a more speed-oriented philosophy. Yes, game-changing speed is nice (see: Hamilton, Billy), but it’s power that front offices covet.

That isn’t to say that suddenly slugging has overtaken on-base skills as the strongest corollary for scoring runs. The St. Louis Cardinals were 13th in the NL in home runs, but first in runs, which lines up with their NL-leading .332 OBP (of course, being tops in the NL in doubles, and posting an insane (and record-shattering) batting average with runners in scoring position (.330), helped as well). No, it’s not that power is the key to a strong offense, it’s that power, specifically home run power, has become harder to find than ever over the last 20 years, making it all the more desirable.

Just how much is power coveted? Mark Trumbo, who plays spotty defense wherever he’s positioned and possesses a sub-.300 career OBP, netted the Los Angeles Angels two solid pieces for their rotation in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs (and there is a very good chance Skaggs could be much better than solid now that his mechanical issues appear to be a thing of the past).

Trumbo delivered such an impressive return for one big reason: the Diamondbacks wanted a power bat to team with Paul Goldschmidt. And Trumbo has combined for 95 home runs over the past three seasons, tying him for fifth most during that time span. Add in the fact that Trumbo is just 28 and has three more seasons of team control left and it’s clear why the Angels were able to extract so much value from a player who possesses just one skill.

Power is why a soon-to-be 42 year old Raul Ibanez, who slugged 29 homers last season, still finds work. It’s why Marlon Byrd, who combined for 22 home runs from 2010 to 2012, was able to snag a hefty three-year deal from Philadelphia after hitting a career-high 24 home runs last season. And it’s why the once seemingly untradeable contract of Alfonso Soriano actually brought the Cubs a very intriguing prospect in power pitcher Corey Black.

Power is what makes the lack of elite pitching in the Cubs system a little easier to swallow. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are proving to be two of best power-hitting prospects in baseball. In addition to those two elite talents, there is the power potential of Jorge Soler, a slimmed-down Dan Vogelbach (for those worried his weight-loss will sap his power, one scout told me he was the same size in high school, when he built his reputation for hitting the ball insane distances, but now is stronger and more flexible), and a seemingly healthy Mike Olt. Of course, there’s also the raw 17-year-old Eloy Jimenez, who draws comparisons in size and style to Soler. Add it all up and the Cubs have the largest stable of power hitters in all of baseball.

Not only do those players possess the ability to hit 25-plus home runs consistently at the major league level, unlike Trumbo, they have at least one more tool that projects to be average or better. To top it off, they’re young and cost-controlled. It’s a collection of power hitters that leaves opposing front offices drooling at the opportunity to acquire such talent if any were to hit the market (and just to be clear, there’s a near-zero chance that Baez or Bryant would be available, but the others could likely be had for the right price).

(This doesn’t even touch on bats that aren’t known for their power that could be used in trades sometime in the future like Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva and Jeimer Candelario. It’s quite remarkable that not only have the Cubs built a farm system that’s clearly among the best in all of baseball in just a few years, but they’ve created so much depth that making an aggressive trade or two won’t knock them too far down those rankings.)

The dearth of power we’re witnessing is not confined to the professional ranks. Talk to any scout who spends a significant amount of time watching amateur baseball and they’ll share how offense, and power in particular, has become nearly non-existent, especially at the college level. Bryant’s power display last season was the primary reason he shot up draft boards and power is one reason the Cubs could go with a bat in the draft for the fourth straight summer.

While many are focused on the college arms (Carlos Rodon, Tyler Beede, Jeff Hoffman and a few others), along with high schoolers Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken*, it’s not out of the question that the Cubs go with a bat yet again. North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner is a possibility, but there have always been questions about his bat and he certainly has never offered much in terms of power. There are other non-pitchers who will definitely intrigue the North Siders, but it is power bat Alex Jackson who could entice the Cubs to surprise many and steer clear of an arm. The catcher/outfielder out of San Diego appears to be one of two high school bats (along with shortstop Nick Gordon out of Orlando) on whom the Cubs have narrowed their focus, as things continue to evolve and they determine who to take with the number four pick in June.

*Kolek came into the season as the best high school arm, while Aiken has recently shot up draft boards. Both are in the argument to be the number one pick, a spot once assumed to be locked down by Rodon. However, Kolek looking like a Jonathan Gray clone (with a touch less command) and Aiken being a lefty with a plus breaking ball and a fastball that has ticked up to the mid-90s has vaunted them into the conversation at the top. Add in the fact that Rodon’s velocity has dipped and his command has been anything but sharp this season and we get mass confusion at the top of the draft. However, teams still have two and a half months to figure things out, plenty of time for things to work out on their own.

The bottom line is, the accumulation of power hitters gives the Cubs the opportunity to fill holes on the major league roster via trade. The obvious area to shore up would be starting pitching, but the combination of the Cubs finally building some legitimate pitching depth in the farm (the list of arms who could pop up in 2014 to go along with the already established C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson is long) and some interesting names possibly hitting the free agent market next offseason doesn’t make trading for an established top of the rotation starter an absolute necessity.

Of course, the latter requires that those pitchers (among them, Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, James Shields and Jon Lester) not sign extensions with their current clubs, and that the Cubs change their recent course of action of predominantly avoiding big-money free agent bidding wars.

When you lose as much as the Cubs have over the past few years, it’s unlikely it was due to a deficiency in just one area, so it’s not just pitching that could help this club. Over the next year, it’ll become clearer just where the depth built in the farm can be most useful to the Cubs in the trade market. If Anthony Rizzo or Starlin Castro don’t develop into the hitters many thought they could be, taking some pressure off Javier Baez and Kris Bryant to produce at a high level immediately upon their arrival to Wrigley, those assets could be used to acquire a veteran bat.  How the trade market evolves over the summer and into the offseason will be one of the more interesting things to keep tabs on for Cubs fans.

Yes, 2014 likely won’t be much fun as far as the Cubs record is concerned, but there will be Javier Baez’s ascension to the bigs, the continued progression of the minor leaguers (especially the pitchers) and which sub-30, impact players on other teams may become available for a collection of prospects. The combination of the trade assets and a possibly pitching-rich free agent class should make next offseason much more interesting for Cubs fans than the last four months … and possibly the next six.

And, in the meantime, who doesn’t like watching some moon shots? With the game continuing to change, fans are likely to appreciate the Cubs’ stable of young power even more in the coming years.

  • Jim

    Good analysis. In short: “Chicks dig the long ball”.

    • Funn Dave

      I laughed.

  • Kyle

    It is always great to zig when the league zags.

    Once we find some OBP to go with all this power, the offense should be pretty good and could be truly great.

    • Chad

      Exactly. Homeruns are nice, but if they are all solo shots that’s not too good.

      • ssckelley

        Solo shot or not I will still take a player who has the ability to drive himself in with one swing of the bat.

        • Chad

          A mix would be nice. Guys that can get on in front of the big hitters. I would rather have a solo shot than a double any time, but if it is a double followed by a homer that’s even better.

  • farmerjon

    Have I mentioned how much more I enjoy comments from “Optimistic” K

    • farmerjon

      *Kyle

    • Kyle

      I really haven’t changed. This is nothing I haven’t said before.

      • farmerjon

        You have your cycles…just like all of us ; )

        • Kyle

          I really don’t. I’ve mentioned how I like the fact that we’ve been stockpiling power when it craters league-wide many times over the last two years.

  • Bill

    Jason McLeod was mentioning during the game the other day how the new bats being using in college (and some high schools) understate a players power making the job of scouts more difficult.

    He mentioned how in the past, the metal bats made it difficult to correctly forecast a player’s true power because the bats inflated their numbers so much. Now, you are seeing the same with the new bats because they don’t have the spring a MLB wood bat has. He says, when you see someone like Bryant hit so many HR’s with these numbers, those are monster numbers. What’s difficult is figuring out who are guys who could have MLB power but they aren’t showing it in HS/College because the dead bats are understating their true power.

    On the flip side, he said pitchers got hurt by the metal bats, so they tended to nibble at the corners. Today pitchers are able to challenge hitters with fastballs more over the heart of the plate and not get punished as much, because the ball doesn’t carry. McLeod said the challenge is to determine what pitchers stuff will translate well in the bigs. Challenging hitters with fastballs over the heart of the plate might work in college, but you are going to get hit hard trying to do that often in the bigs.

    I’d love to listen to a long interview with McLeod. I really think he’s the brains of this operation (regarding player evaluation), a true gem in the organization.

    • Blackhawks1963

      Odds are good that Jason McLeod becomes some team’s General Manager next winter. He’s learned at the feet of Theo and everything you read about the guy is the highest of praise.

  • itzscott

    If the Cubs are to be awed by their power when all these prospects finally arrive, the one thing that could throw cold water on everything (figure it to be since we’re talking about the Cubs) is baseball using a “live ball” vs a “dead ball”.

    With a dead ball, a statistically significant number of those flyballs become caught at the warning track as opposed to going over the wall.

    • Chad

      “statistically significant”? Can I see that research. How can you determine if they woudl have gone out or not with a dead v. live ball? Is it 3 feet short of the fence or 5, or 10? You don’t know.

  • Funn Dave

    I always love Sahadev’s articles. I like how in this one he goes beyond the obvious benefits of power (which has been one of our strenghths the last couple years) to show how it can benefit the organization & potentially provide some much-needed pitching.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Sahadev is the bee’s knees.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        In the cat’s pajamas.

        • CubFanBob

          on the snake’s hip

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    So just how many power bats does a lineup need. Wouldn’t Baez, Bryant, Soler and Rizzo be sufficient? I was listening to the broadcast when we played the Reds and they bought up the subject that Hamilton might potentiaally steal a hundred bases this year. I mean getting him on base from the leadoff is equal to a double or triple in most cases. That’s whats facinating about the Turner kid. If a guy with that kind of speed had good pitch recognition and could hit .250 and draw a lot of walks it would be a great weapon. I could see taking Jackson if he could stick at catcher, but where would he fit into the plan in the outfield? Or do you simply draft him as an asset to be traded for pitching later? But then again how many years in a row can you pass on pitchers when you have a high pick? I know that drafting pitching is risky, but at some point that risk needs to be taken as that is the most likely mode of finding a TOR guy without going to FA.

    • ssckelley

      It seems like you are assuming 100% of these prospects are going to make it. I would rather the Cubs draft what they see is the best player available no matter what position they play than try to project these prospects and what their lineup might look like in 2017.

      If they draft a guy like Jackson, or even Gatewood who right now is a shortstop, and they advance to a point that they are ready for the majors but have a road block then that creates a nice commodity to have in the trade market. You can fill a need at another position with these assets.

      • Chad

        Or if he is good enough of a short stop he could make Castro a trade candidate which could bring in a significant haul of prospects. The braves used to do this with catchers all the time. Trade a great catcher for prospects because the guy behind was equal or better. It’s a great system in my opinion.

        • ssckelley

          Yep, I agree, when I mentioned trade commodity my thinking was either the road block or the prospect could be traded depending on which player is the better trade chip. Usually in most cases the MLB player will get a better haul while the prospect they usually have to include other pieces with in order to get a MLB player in return.

          Plus we need to keep in mind that the FO is envisioning these prospects to keep coming to Chicago in waves. This is what a good farm system does, not just produce one time and then be done.

          IMO, keep the power coming. It would be fun to watch the Cubs simply outslug the other teams. :D

          • Chad

            Obviously it depends on the piece you need. If you need a ML caliber SP you will likely have to use prospects to get that player, but if you have the excess in ML quality players you can stock your system with prospects that you need. That helps keep the waves coming while making the ML team better.

            I don’t care what the cubs do in the draft, I trust the FO, but I would like to see a front line pitching prospect whether it be the draft or through trade in July.

    • CubsFaninMS

      Woody:

      You’re getting into the same mode of thinking that many people do (and we all do at times). Generally speaking, teams draft the greatest player at the top of the draft, in spite of the MLB team’s need. Our front office is all about accumulating asssets. If you draft Turner at #4 even though your scouts are praising Beede, Hoffman, Jackson or Gatewood, you’re taking a huge risk in drafting for need in that scenario. By the time a Jackson or Gatewood is close to the majors, you may have a Rizzo or Olt with a year or two left on his contract that you can trade for a potential top of the rotation prospect, or young major leaguer. You also have to deal with this scenario: Olt never becomes a solid major leaguer, Rizzo gets injured, Baez does well, Bryant is a bust. Worst case scenario, but suddenly you DO have a need for power. Accumulate and develop the greatest assets possible and negotiate with other teams and use free agency to fill in the pieces. I like their plan. Unless Turner cranks it up a few notches, he’s not worthy of a #4 selection (perhaps a Top 15-20).

      • Funn Dave

        “You also have to deal with this scenario: Olt never becomes a solid major leaguer, Rizzo gets injured, Baez does well, Bryant is a bust. ”

        You’re going to make me cry!

  • C. Steadman

    I wonder why the Cubs aren’t looking at Gatewood more than Gordon. To me, Gatewood is a clone of Baez. Scounts have raved about his power and bat speed. He hit 13 homers at Citi Field at a home run derby, yes with a metal bat but at age 17.

    • ssckelley

      I would be shocked if the Cubs were not looking at Gatewood, just about everyone is projecting him to be a top 10 pick.

      • C. Steadman

        Oh I’m sure they took a look at him, but Gordon has been mentioned more than Gatewood in regards to the Cubs, like Sahadev mentioned above.

        • ssckelley

          I was surprised Sahadev did not mention Gatewood.

          • C. Steadman

            It’s not just Sahadev…Mooney left Gatewood off his list, which was composed “according to multiple sources familiar with the team’s thinking”.

            http://www.csnchicago.com/cubs/mlb-draft-cubs-identifying-targets-no-4-overall-pick

            • ssckelley

              You are bumming me out. I forgot Mooney wrote that piece and I remember asking the same thing after I read that.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Why would that bum you out? If the Cubs don’t like him at four, they don’t like him at four. Lots of good options.

                • ssckelley

                  Because based on everything I have read on Gatewood get me excited. I have been pining for Jackson and Gatewood for quite awhile.

                • C. Steadman

                  This is why I’m wondering…I wonder what the Cubs don’t like about him if he has many of the same attributes as Baez…I definitely trust the Cubs scouting department more than myself. I’m just curious to why Gatewood isn’t being considered as much as Gordon.

    • MattyNomad

      I had the same thought run through my head the other day. I dont really see any standout quality with what would be, yet another shortstop in an already crowded infield. I like the power Gatewood possesses, but I think Gettys has stood out a bit more in my mind. Seems like the toolsy type we could use as the speedy/leadoff type in the future.

      Either way, I see the Cubs taking another power bat regardless of which arm is on the board. If its true that power is as rare as it is nowadays, and this draft is deep enough to get 1st round pitching talent in the 2nd round….its completely stupid not to.

      • MattyNomad

        Draft the bats, then buy the arms. The more I think about it, I just fall in love with the plan. Exploit the market to have the first choice of a declining talent, then use your financial muscle to buy the [riskiest?] talent to develop. On on the backburner, we gather sheer numbers for pitching knowing that a couple could prove to be diamonds in the rough. With the majority of all other clubs playing it the other way, we could argue that the Cubs have had first pickins’ at some of the highest ceilings the MLB will see since the 90′s [As far as power is concerned]

      • ssckelley

        Many high school players get drafted as shortstops and end up playing another position, in high school you usually put your best athletes at short. Honestly I thought the same thing would happen with Baez, he may get moved because of a road block.

    • Norm

      From Keith Law’s latest Draft ranking:
      19 Jacob Gatewood
      Analysis: Gatewood looked like a top-10 pick after showing huge power all last summer, but high swing-and-miss rates this spring, plus questions over whether he’ll remain in the infield, have his stock sliding.

      From Chris Crawford @ MLB Draft Insider:
      #12
      Several area guys told me that I shouldn’t have Gatewood on my top 25, and I get it, the hit-tool is going to take a lot of work to get to anywhere close to average. But I just can’t drop him out of the top 12. If I don’t like what I see in person in a couple of weeks, that will change.

      • C. Steadman

        Thanks Norm, that’s exactly what I was looking for!

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I was checking out the lineup for the game on CSN against the Angels. Almora is the DH and V-Bomb is playing first. I’m looking forward to seeing those two guys play. Also Lake is in the lineup too. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his hot streak going.

  • Darth Ivy

    I found a video of Epstein reading this article

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dJolYw8tnk

    • DarthHater

      [img]http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3789/12860319963_ffd1ed887c_n.jpg[/img]

  • jp3

    Meh if we’re still not winning next year it could still be entertaining watching a team similar to the Rockies in their hey day…. Would be fun anyways

  • bnile1

    Brett

    I would also have included Rizzo who’s also iin the same boat as the others, and Lake who has big time power potential and is also in his early twenties. You could also have included alcantara who’s got 15020 hr power in a middle infielder with speed.

    Personally I like the idea of drafting impact players as opposed to pitchers, Reality is a guy like vogelbach for example, if he reaches his potential as a prospect will be worth a big time arm in return. To me it’s all about the grade. If and arm is the best grade, you take them, if they are about the same take the position guy. IMHO

    I also have no opinion about who they should draft right now, it’s kind of lke a mock draft before the college season in FB. After the season, that’s when the information will be available to make an informed choice. IMHO

  • MaxM1908

    Random Cubs Power Prospect: “Do you Cubs fans want to know the horrible truth about the rebuild or do you want to see me hit some dingers?”

    Cubs fans: “Diiingggeers!”

    • Darth Ivy

      Can we be best friends?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Heh.

  • http://www.draftday.com udbrky

    Those that worry about Vog losing strength while losing weight have an outdated view on fitness. Plenty of people lose weight while gaining strength. If you’re really overweight, it’s very easy, gets harder as you lose, and have to cut more and more calories, it’s harder to increase strength, but it can be done.

  • clayman06

    Just because GMs are paying more for power hitters, in no way indicates that power is becoming MORE important… year after year studies show that higher payrolls do NOT correlate to more wins; indicating that GMs are not always paying for the right players.

    • Kyle

      That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Higher payrolls definitely still correlate with more wins. The correlation has weakened in the last two decades, but it’s still definitely there.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Also, part of the reason why the correlation between payrolls and winning has decreased is that teams have to outbid each other for numbers of years when signing FAs. (Alternatively, a team has to offer more years than a prospective FA thinks that he’ll get on the open market.) As such, you get teams with over-the-hill players signed to help a team win 5 years ago: but still getting big dollars.

        As for the value of power increasing, that is almost tautological when we add that run-scoring is decreasing. After all, as run-scoring decreases, the expected number of wins given the same run-differential increases. In 2003, a LFer hitting 30 HR was probably outhomering the opposing LFers by 5 HR. That’s pretty good: that year, teams average 0.22 wins per “extra” HR they hit, so that’s about 1 win right there. In 2013, a LFer hitting 30 HR would probably out homer the opposing LFers by 11 HR. To sweeten the pot, teams averaged 0.26 wins per extra HR. So, 30 HR from the LFer last year was worth nearly 3 wins over what the *average* (again, not replacement) LFer provided.

        That is value right there.

        • clayman06

          Very well stated… To your point about payroll and contract length, the contract is meant to reflect what the market values (or specifically, what that team values) so I don’t believe those skew the payroll argument in an unfair light… plus, for every over-the-hill, overpaid player, there is a significantly underpaid up-and-comer, stuck in his rookie contract, that balances out that equation

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Ah, but balance cancels out correlation! The fact that the correlation exists despite a factor working against it means that, in one sense, the correlation is “more true” than annual payrolls indicate. To an extent, we have to accept that when you give a 30 year old an 8 year contract, you often are spreading 5 years of salary over 8 years. So in a way, the team was giving the guy “too little” during the peak years and “too much” for his non-peak years: thus dampening the correlation in two directions.

            The Phillies are a good example. They tied up Rollins, Utley and Howard on long-term deals a while ago. Those guys provided a ton of value (particularly Rollins and Utley: good hitting middle infielders add a ton to run-differential) for the first few years, and that helped the Phillies be a really, really good team from 2007-2011. Right now, the Phillies are still paying for that 2007-2011 team. If we recognized that all the $$$ being given to those guys *now* was to win back then, then the correlation between $$$ spent on (say) the 2011 teams and how well they did increases. This year’s Phillies team is going to be awful despite the high payroll: but if we remember that much of this year’s payroll is deferred payment of the 2011 (and earlier) team, then the Phils actually are spending much less for this bad team.

            This is not just a special-pleading case for the Phillies: all the teams that lock up players past their prime are contributing to this to an extent. The Phils just represent a good example because they’ve got multiple guys being paid in 2014 to be good 3+ years ago.

  • brains

    i was just triangulating rizzo’s projected output at our several stat sites. if he hits the optimistic predictions it’s going to be a huge boon for the cubs.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    I find it interesting no one mentioned why the power numbers dropped. When players could get away with juicing anyone was capable of being a power hitter. Look at photos of Sosa when he was skinny.

    Now you have on base guys and RBI guys and a few who can balance it all out. Power is now like good pitching in that you have a change in supply so buying a power hitter will cost you.

    Regards,
    5412

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Juicing is only part of the story, and actually an unsatisfactory one in some ways: we’ve got more pitchers throwing 90+ than ever before, which is just as much evidence for juice as power is.

      A really big culprit is a major tactical shift: people figured out that ground balls beat power because a smoked ground-ball rarely goes for much more than a single. Individual pitchers have gone to pitches that induce grounders, and teams have begun seeing pitchers who are naturally better at inducing grounders than are others. Remember, the tactic embraced by pitching staffs during the power-heyday was to try to strike out batters: and to a degree, that just played into power hitting.

      Another big culprit is the proliferation of detailed heat-charts. Pitchers now have better information than ever before about where in the strike zone they can get guys out, or at least minimize fly balls. There is no analog of this for batters to use against pitchers, so the Red Queen effect hasn’t kicked in yet. Add to that the fact that the strike zone is a bit bigger than it was 10 years ago (when it was basically non-existent for pitchers not named Maddux, Glavine or Martinez, it sometimes seemed), and the odds are not in the batters’ favors.

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