Epstein on Baseball’s Future and His Own, Pitcher Health, Suzuki’s Beef, Wick’s Velo, and Other Cubs Bullets
It is Fat Tuesday, which means I get to eat anything I want, right? That would probably be a more meaningful sentiment if I hadn’t just spent the long weekend also eating anything I wanted …
- Theo Epstein, in his role as a consultant for the Commissioner’s Office, has been making the rounds over the past week to talk about the new rules coming to Major League Baseball this year. In one of those interviews, at 670 The Score, Epstein was asked about if and when he would return to a front office:
Epstein, 49, also left open the possibility that he could return to lead a front office in baseball when the time is right.
“I’m not even 50 yet, so I got some years ahead of me to get back in,” Epstein said. “I think I’m in the right role right now. I really appreciate the commissioner for giving me a seat at the table for this important issue.”
- That definitely sounds to me like a guy who wanted to step back from the extreme grind of leading a front office, work on something he believes to be very important to the future of the sport, and then get back into a front office sometime thereafter. I can’t help but wonder, specifically, if he wouldn’t like a chance at leading an expansion club. He’s been in charge of two of the most storied organizations at the time they broke their “curse,” and I would think just leading any other old organization wouldn’t necessarily be the next great challenge for him. Expansion teams don’t come around very often, and that might be the kind of exciting opportunity to entice him.
- Among Epstein’s comments on the new rules to 670 the Score, by the way:
“I agree with (the) premise (of the rules),” Epstein said. “It is the sensibility of Gen-Z doesn’t necessarily match up with the pace of baseball, and to some degree, the nature of baseball. Just with growing up on iPhones will shorten your attention span a little bit. I know just from watching my own kids, they like to skip to the end, skip right to the action, not necessarily invest three hours and 10 minutes – which is the average length of a major league game – into something for a reward.
“The game has changed a lot over the last 20 years, without any real intention behind it. It’s just been natural evolution, optimizations pushed by organizations, front offices, in some cases, people like me, pushed by the players themselves, just trying to get better. That has led the game down a path that nobody would’ve necessarily designed.
“It’s clear the time is now to step in and just be intentional about some hopefully subtle rules changes that will really improve the amount of action, the amount of athleticism and the pace of play.”
- That all makes sense, though there’s one part embedded in there that I want to highlight: it’s that part where he said, to some degree, the very nature of baseball may not match up with the sensibilities of Gen-Z (roughly ages 10 to 25 right now). I do think about that a lot. The fundamental nature of a sport like baseball – the very things we around here love about it as a product worthy of our time – simply might not be it for younger people who’ve grown up in a very different world, with such a different set of entertainment options (and entertainment delivery options).
- Now, you can’t paint with TOO broad of a brush, because a generation of humans are not all exactly the same. Of course many of them do and will love baseball. I suppose I just wonder to what extent improving the pace of the sport is going to do enough to attract and retain younger fans. I do think it’ll be good for retaining marginal older fans – the people who generally like baseball, but who have started to maybe not watch as much or follow it as closely. But younger fans? As an entry point into the sport? Not as sure about that. I think your best path there is still going to be getting more kids to play baseball and physically go to big league (or minor league) games.
- One other interesting point Epstein made in a different appearance: MLB’s data indicated that pitchers stayed healthier in the minors when subject to the pitch clock (presumably because they knew they would not be able to pitch at max effort on every single pitch). It would be interesting if this bears out in the big leagues, as I know arm health has been a stated pitcher concern of the clock.
- I don’t know how it’ll ACTUALLY translate at the plate – because we know there can be pros and cons in baseball to bulking up – but dang Seiya Suzuki does look so much more massive this year than last year:
- Suzuki told the Sun-Times that he’d added a whopping 20 pounds of muscle since last season. Normally I would scoff at that level of GAINZ in a single offseason, but, I mean, look at the guy. (The stated goal of the added muscle is to improve bat speed, first step movements, and season-long durability, for what it’s worth.)
- Rowan Wick has been working with weighted balls this offseason as part of a velocity program (Sun-Times). Even if he doesn’t add MPH, just being able to sustain his 95-96 mph stretches for longer (and more consistently) could equate to more success. Not that it’d be a surprise, but the Cubs found Wick’s best success last year came when he was sustaining the higher-end of his fastball velocity. It’s a big year for Wick, 30, who is going to have the opportunity to grab some of the late innings, and who needs a bounce-back after inconsistencies last season.
- This is a different visual angle to hint at the proliferation of tanking (or competitive imbalance, if you wanted to be more charitable):
- Interestingly, though, when you look at 100-loss teams, it doesn’t look like quite as recent of a thing, though the consistency has obviously ticked up the last few years:
- Number 37 in your hearts:
- This caught stealing throw is wild. Just some casual whip from the catcher:
- Frank the Tank in his new gear:
- This is just awesome: