The Cubs’ long overdue organizational overhaul is now well underway, with changes already announced in the dugout, bullpen, front office, and throughout the minor League system/developmental structure. Indeed, the only thing they haven’t yet changed at the corner of Clark and Addison is the roster, but on that front, I think we’ve all seen the banana on the wall.
Among the highest-profile changes of the winter was the creation of two new roles – the director(s) of hitting and pitching – and the filling of those roles with the bright minds of Justin Stone and Craig Breslow. We’ve already gotten to know Breslow a little bit, given that he was a Cubs pitching target as recently as 2017 and had since been brought on as the Cubs Director of Strategic Initiatives. But Stone is a little less of a known quantity.
With that said, I’m not here to introduce you to Stone. Instead, I want to share Sahadev Sharma’s latest at The Athletic, which accomplishes that much and so much more.
In fact, consider it something like Part 1 of your homework for today:
As the Cubs continue to make changes behind the scenes, Justin Stone, a key figure in the way player development has changed over the last half decade, emerges from behind the curtain. https://t.co/8Auvmg2ZDV
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) November 26, 2019
While Stone’s background – including some deliciously hush-hush consulting work for the Cubs back when Andy Haines was with the team – is plenty interesting and available in Sharma’s post, I found the subtle expansion on his role even more intriguing.
For one, Stone describes his job in a little greater detail, describing his desire to remain in the front office and off the field/out of the clubhouse, while helping those same coaches get the experience and knowledge they need:
“When I had these calls with coaches, I made it clear right away that I have no interest in coaching,” Stone said. “I’m in the job that is suited for me. I want to know what their coaching goals are and I want to help them check off some of the boxes that maybe they don’t right now and help them advance their career.
Whether that’s with us or another team, they’re going to need to have certain areas in their skillset that they may or may not have right now that they’ll have to be proficient in.”
But even more interesting is the role Stone played in the recent swath of developmental changes up and down the Cubs minor league system, which Brett discussed right here. I’m not going to spoil Sharma’s piece, so be sure to check it out, but in short, Stone appears have driven the pairing of a traditional coach with a computer nerd at every level of the Cubs minor league system. That’s such a beautiful long-term plan – as is his explanation for why it’s important – I could hug him. I’m very happy the Cubs have this guy. Be sure to read Sharma’s piece for a lot more on Stone.
But don’t stop there!
While the Cubs’ bullpen coach will never have as much of a long-term impact on the Cubs organization, it’s still an important role. Indeed, it’s probably one you’ve taken for granted, because Lester Strode has held it down successfully since 2006.
Lester Strode was #Cubs bullpen coach from 2006-2019, serving under 2 owners (Tribune/Ricketts), 2 front offices (Hendry/Epstein), and 6 managers (Dusty, Lou, Quade, Sveum, Renteria, Maddon).
During his watch, the Cubs bullpen …
3.88 ERA (10th)
22.6 K% (5th)
.234 AVG (3rd)
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) November 26, 2019
Strode will be missed, no doubt, but there’s a new guy in town and his name is Cubs Bullpen Coach Chris Young (it was really lucky they found a guy who already had that name, right?).
Young, as you might know, was the Phillies’ pitching coach in 2019, but was let go after just one year when Gabe Kapler was dismissed. And although Young will tell you he’ll succeed in his new, more reduced role after learning from those failures, I’ll add that I’m happy the Cubs were able to bring in a pitching-coach caliber mind for a non-pitching coach caliber job, regardless of how successful he was in the past.
It’s kinda like hiring former big league manager Andy Green as the bench coach, or playing Jason Heyward in right field instead of center … their skills play up. Does that analogy work? I’m not deleting it.
With a second-year pitching coach and first-year manager set to take over/continue running the Cubs, more first-hand experience is welcomed. And make no mistake, Young has quite the background, having spent three seasons in the Astros front office, as well as time as a scout with the Padres. And Phillies GM Matt Klentak hired him because of his general savvy with data and game-planning.
Consider this Part 2 of your homework, courtesy of Sharma:
Chris Young knows his tenure in Philly didn't end well. “I am incredibly well aware of my shortcomings and the areas in which I struggled in my one year on the job.” His willingness to admit mistakes & openness to change gave him another opportunity. https://t.co/STlsSa0ONN
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) November 20, 2019
Aside from Young’s background, I dig his ability to both identify and take responsibility for his mistakes (he really opens up about his shortcomings in a refreshing way), and his self-awareness.
I also think he’ll get on just fine with his new pitching coach, Tommy Hottovy, who offered some perspective on Young lack of success in Philly.
“When you’re tasked with being a pitching coach and trying to do a lot and implement new things,” Hottovy said, “if you don’t have the infrastructure around you to help, it can be really hard to do all of it. Are you helping a player more by digging into the pitch data for two hours and trying to come up with a game plan to help them succeed or is it more important to talk to a guy for 30 minutes and see how they’re feeling that day? Both of them are information gathering, both of them are working for the player. But for one guy, the conversation is way more important than another player who thinks, ‘Why is he not spending two hours digging in on information for me?’”
You should absolutely read more about Young at The Athletic. Sharma does such a good job prying importance responses out of him, including the job of a modern bullpen coach and how that might look different than what a long-time stalwart like Strode may have done.
Again, the Cubs are lucky to have both of these guys and I think they’ll be better for it, both in 2020 and well beyond.