There haven’t been too many glaring mistakes made by the Chicago Cubs’ front office in the Theo Epstein-led era, which began following the 2011 season. The wins, of course, are too easy to find and too numerous to count. But the gaffes, they are fewer, farther between, and less impactful.
We just got the semi-annual reminder of one, as D.J. LeMahieu once again terrorized the Cubs, who traded him (together with Tyler Colvin) to the Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers in December of 2011. Even at the time of the deal, especially with the Cubs rebuilding, I was totally on board with taking a chance on Stewart’s talent, and I didn’t see LeMahieu sticking as a big league bench player, much less the star he’s become.
Epstein’s front office was wrong on that one, and so was I. Given where the Cubs are now, especially in the infield – and given LeMahieu’s extreme home/road splits – I don’t know that anyone should be beating themselves up too much. A new front office came in, probably missed a thing or two in the quick evaluation process, and made a bad trade. It happens. They’ve made four great trades for every one that you could question.
We’re about to be reminded of another front office mistake, and one of the more humbling mistakes of my own brief career as an armchair analysts. Tonight, Edwin Jackson will start for the San Diego Padres against the Cubs, and he’ll do it on the Cubs’ dime, playing out the final year of the improvident four-year, $52 million contract inked in the winter before the 2013 season.
At the time, while it certainly didn’t seem to anyone that the Cubs were about to be competitive, it did seem like the Cubs needed to start the process of adding pitching if they wanted to be competition in 2014/15/16. And, since you can only get guys when they’re actually available, it seemed to make plenty of sense to add the guy who had only just turned 29, and was open to signing what was, at the time, viewed as a very reasonable deal. I was very enthused by it.
Well. You know how that went.
Jackson, for as hard as he worked and as well-liked as he was, simply never pitched well for the Cubs. Those 2013 and 2014 seasons were deeply disappointing, and also a hard lesson for me in not becoming so slavishly devoted to advanced statistics. Routinely, when it came to Jackson’s results, I was ignoring what was right there in front of my face. I defended Jackson’s performance for months – years, really – as little more than baseball flukiness, due for a rebound at any moment. That rebound, of course, never came, because I had forgotten the all-too-obvious part about pitching well: the walks and strikeouts don’t really matter if the batters can consistently rip the ball. (And when the pitcher in question was never a huge strikeout/low walk guy in the first place, he’s living on the edge of a knife – let each of those rates take just a small hit, add in a lot more hard contact, and the compounded impact on results can be enormous.)
In that way, from a personal standpoint, I actually look back fondly on Jackson’s frequently frustrating time with the Cubs, because I learned so much about pitcher evaluation, the relationship between performance and results, and how to adjust much more quickly to the possibility that you are wrong.
When this season ends, Jackson’s salary will shift off the books, which will help the Cubs going forward. I look forward to that.
For Jackson, tonight excluded, I hope he finds a way to rebound his career. Although he has twice flirted with a no-hitter with the Padres this year, his overall numbers are as ugly as they ever were with the Cubs.
I’d say the obvious, sarcastic thing about him finally helping the Cubs – i.e., with a poor performance tonight – but I know that it would probably serve me all too right if Jackson then managed to toss a 10-hit, 5-walk, 3-strikeout shutout against the Cubs.