To say I’m thrilled to contribute to BP Wrigleyville this season is a massive understatement. And in honor of my new position and to establish my sabermetric bona fides, I’d like to share with you the chart I pitched to Rian that got me the job…
KRIS BRYANT, 2015
|WRC+||Is This Good?|
That was 15 hours well spent.
(And now that the word is out that I’m using my new BP account for this kind of proprietary statistical analysis, I’d like to say hello to everyone in the Cardinals’ front office. Hope Mozeliak’s liking the article so far, guys!)
Thanks to this new gig, I’m going to be writing more about the Cubs this summer than in any other year of my life. And one of the first things I realized is that this is coming at a time when my opinion of the Cubs as an organization and my baseball worldview have been completely upended.
To be clear: this is a very good thing.
For most of my life, the one thing that the Cubs have been remarkably good at was selling their fanbase on the concept of belief. This is, after all, a team that inspired a documentary called We Believe, regularly directed its telecasts to show fans holding up signs proclaiming “It’s Gonna Happen,” and spent the 2005 season urging fans to buy “BELIEVE” bracelets.
Which turned out to be a much better sell than their second choice of “ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE.”
And yes, that bracelet was signed by Neifi Perez.
Even as a cynical snark generator, I’ve still prided myself on having some sense of faith in this team no matter how little they’ve done to deserve it. And the Cubs have been eager to help me demonstrate that belief, especially if it costs $29.95 (plus $8.50 shipping and handling).
Unfortunately in most years, whatever I had belief was usually entrusted to the hands of someone like Larry Himes, Ed Lynch, or Jim Hendry. This did not end well.
Fun Fact: In 2006, Hendry traded Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis. Later that year, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion. Suddenly everything made sense.
(Incidentally, the first draft of Dawkins’ book was a single page reading “I just watched Juan Pierre bat with runners in scoring position. Nietzsche was right.”)
So most of the time when I wrote about the Cubs, I would use lines like that as a way of emotionally covering myself. On one level, I always hoped the Cubs would end up doing well. But I was always prepared for things to fall apart and ready to fire away when they did.
And that’s what’s fundamentally different about going into 2016. I still have the same underlying sense of belief that I’m going to see the Cubs win it all. But this year, I’m believing because it’s logical.
Man, that feels weird.
Historically, logic and the Cubs do not go hand in hand. This is the point in the article where your father launches into a rambling diatribe about the College of Coaches and Brock for Broglio and PK Wrigley hiring the damn Director of Concessions as General Manager…
(Although to be fair, during most of Wrigley’s ownership, the only consistent performer at Wrigley Field was the Frosty Malt.)
The fact that logic underlies this sense of belief is perhaps the Theo Epstein regime’s most amazing achievement. In the span of four short years, suddenly every position on the team’s player personnel side–from the GM to the scouting director to the manager–is filled by one of the smartest people in baseball. Seemingly out of nowhere, the Cubs are a model for developing a skillful core of young players and exploiting the hidden inefficiencies in the game.
It’s invigorating to realize this. And a bit scary too.
Because once I start to legitimately believe in this team, I realize that doing so requires genuine emotional commitment.
When the Cubs were chasing competence, I could always go into the season hoping for the best but also maintaining that emotional distance so I wouldn’t get hurt in the end. (Having just re-read that sentence, it appears I’ve accidentally set my autocorrect to “Nora Ephron.” My apologies.)
Anytime the team had a minor screw-up such as starting the season 0-14, it was no sweat at all to go from “It’s gonna happen” mode to rolling my eyes and repeating the “same old Cubs” mantra. It was a natural defense mechanism and, quite honestly, way too easy to activate.
But those Cubs aren’t here anymore. And an unexpected side effect of that transformation is that my sense of self-preservation isn’t there either. I’m about to watch an entire season of Chicago Cubs baseball without a defense mechanism.
Here is where I should quote someone who knows what he’s doing…
“The target’s going to be bigger and I want us to embrace the target. The pressure is going to be possibly greater and I want us to embrace the pressure. The bigger target, the greater pressure–I think–equals a grander chance for success. So I’m all about that and I definitely will bring that to our guys’ attention.”
God, I love Joe Maddon. He’s the only manager in baseball who’s intelligent enough that he can split an infinitive and make it sound like it’s the verb’s fault.
As certain past Cub teams have shown, there are two basic responses to the weight of enhanced expectations:
- Embrace the target
- Punch the broadcasters
For the first time in their history, it appears the Cubs are going to choose option one.
This is one of the most reassuring reasons to believe in the 2016 Cubs–their leader knows exactly what’s coming and is choosing to meet it head on. And as a fan, it’s time to do that as well.
For years, I’ve been wishing to see a Cubs organization that did things the way competent teams did. An ownership that hired intelligent baseball people, gave them money, and got out of the way. A front office that embraced a modern team-building philosophy and created a pipeline of young players who formed a strong foundation. A manager who was not a slave to convention and who knew how to put every player in the best possible position to succeed.
All of sudden, every one of those things has happened. If the cost of becoming a model organization is that I have to emotionally commit to the Cubs with no strings attached, it’s time to get used to that brave new world.
And the best part about looking at the Cubs in a completely different way this baseball season is that there’s a realistic chance that I’ll also get to write about a different ending.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports.