The New-Look Cubs Look to Rely on Defense More Than Ever

During this off-season, the Cubs have seen a complete overhaul of the team’s starting rotation. Carlos Zambrano’s days in a Cub uniform are over, and it seems as if Matt Garza’s days are waning as well. The new front-office has made several notable, although low-key additions to the rotation.

The team traded fan-favorite Sean Marshall for Travis Wood, flipped the aforementioned Carlos Zambrano for Chris Volstad, then added Paul Maholm to the mix. All three recently-added pitchers represent bounce-back candidates, and pitchers who maintain minimal risk while holding an abundance value within their respective contracts.

All three of the additions also mark a change in the Cubs philosophy. Gone are the days of the high-octane starting rotations of the early 2000’s, littered with flamethrowers such as Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, and Carlos Zambrano. Now, the only pitcher whose fastball velocity is above 91 mph is Matt Garza.

With the marked decrease in velocity, comes the decrease in strikeouts. Only Garza and Ryan Dempster held K/9 rates over 6.5 last season. Cubs’ teams in the near future will see starting pitchers pitch to contact, forcing their defense to make plays and convert outs.

The only problem is that the Cubs stand as one of the worst teams in the league at converting hits into outs.

Over the past three years, the Cubs are the eleventh-best team in all of baseball at getting to balls in play. The Cubs’ range is not in question. The team hosts one of the more athletic middle-infields in baseball, and the athleticism has furthermore increased with the additions of Ian Stewart, Anthony Rizzo, and David DeJesus.

The issue with the Cubs’ defense is that they are frustratingly vulnerable to errors. Over the past three years, the active roster has yielded the most Error Runs (that is, committed the most amount of errors compared to the league) in all of baseball.

Much of this is due to Starlin Castro, who has the ability to make some spectacular plays, however he’s made a total of 56 errors during the two seasons he’s been in the league. Of course, there is always room for improvement in his fielding, especially since he will only be 22 years old next season. However, much of the team is on the wrong side of 30, and a noticeable fall of athleticism could coincide with the team’s rise in age.

Next season’s Cubs team will certainly be a new-look one. For the first time in a while there is actually zero hope for a team that is mostly rostering league-average players, while reserving hope to trade the players who succeed, and possibly netting the team some young talent.

The success of the starting rotation (especially the back-end) hinges on the success of the defense; if the defense can convert outs, then the team will do well. If it cannot, the team will be abysmal. That’s such a simple philosophy, but it is an idea that has been lost on recent Cub teams.

Ray Firnbach, Jr. is an avid Cubs fan and also writes his own blog, The Unfortunate Cubs Fan. Ray will add another statistical view of the game to the CCO with his contributions.

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