No Matter the End Result, The Cubs Assembled The Perfect Roster
Hiding amongst the crowd Theo Epstein sported a fake mustache at Wrigley for game 1 of the NLCS to disguise himself amongst the home faithful. However, there is nothing to hide about the boy genius brilliance Epstein has given those very fans to cheer for. Inheriting a dumpster fire in the fall of 2011, Epstein has transformed yet another franchise into the darling of the league and a team on the cusps of breaking a curse he was integral in breaking for the Red Sox twelve years prior. With three rings already on his fingers Epstein assembled an opening day 2016 Cubs roster sporting 22 of the 25 players which he added since his arrival and have fit the mold of the most dominant team in baseball. What is not only impressive is the 103 wins, but the fact that the Cubs roster is the most well put together puzzle assembled in the twenty first century.
On paper the Cubs do not have a weakness and frankly watching them they don’t have one either. In this past offseason they added Ben Zobrist to play second base, Jason Hayward to play right field, John Lackey to be their fourth starter and at the trade deadline acquired Aroldis Chapman to be their closer. 2015 World Series Champion Ben Zobrist batted a .272/.376/.831 and a 4.2 OWAR along with a positional change to left field after the injury to Kyle Schwarber leaving room for the human gif machine, 23 year old Javier Baez to take over at second. Baez posted a 2.0 DWAR and is 9/24 with 3 RBIS in the 2016 playoffs thus far.
WAR: Wins Above Replacement
OWAR: Offensive Wins Above Replacement
DWAR: Defensive Wins Above Replacement
RBI: Run Batted In
ERA: Earned Run Average
WAA: Wins Above Average
OBP: On-Base Percentage
In Epstein’s first offseason he made a move to trade the Cubs 2008 first round pick Andrew Cashner and another minor leaguer to the Padres in return for a first baseman he drafted while GM of the Red sox in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, Anthony Rizzo. In Cashner’s six year career he has a combined WAR of 2.1, while Rizzo in six seasons has a combined WAR of 21.7 with the last three seasons all being above 5.0.
Later in 2013 Epstein traded a current back up catcher Steve Clevenger and bullpen pitcher Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Scott Feldman has a career WAA of -3.5 meaning he has costed his teams 3.5 wins below what the average MLB reliever has costed in that time frame. Jake Arrieta on the other hand in his four seasons with the Cubs has a WAA of 13 along with the 2015 Cy Young award. Along with Arrieta, Strop has been a staple in the bullpen with ERA’s in his four years ranging from 2.21 to 2.91 and saving 6 games along with having a 2.1 WAA for the Cubs.
In the summer of 2014 Epstein unloaded Starting pitching to the playoff contending A’s for a 20 year old shortstop. The highlighted starting pitcher Jeff Samardjzia went on to post a 4.96 ERA in 2015 with the White Sox and the other pitcher Jason Hammell re-signed with the Cubs the following offseason and has a combined WAR of 2.9 the last two seasons. The 20 year old short stop was Addison Russell the phenom All Star who drove in 95 runs this season and whose DWAR of 2.7 ranks second among Major League short stops in 2016.
In 2013 Epstein unloaded a different starter for the 2016 ERA leader Kyle Hendricks. He trimmed the remaining 13 million from veteran Ryan Dempsters contract sending him to the Texas Rangers for the now 26 year old Hendricks. Dempster only played in the majors for one more season while in three seasons Hendricks is 31–17 with a 2.92 ERA highlighted by his 2016 ERA of 2.13.
In the 2013 draft Epstein selected Kris Bryant second and not only is he the only player from the top ten of that draft to have played in the big leagues thus far, but he is also a two time all star and the 2015 Rookie of the Year. The twenty four year old led the National league with is WAR of 7.7 in 2016 and runs scored with 121. His 2016 performance of 39/102/.295 is amongst the most dominant in baseball and is likely to rank higher in the MVP voting than he did placing eleventh in 2015 while hitting 26/99/.275.
To further bolster the rotation Epstein added postseason legend Jon Lester and veteran John Lackey to accompany Arrieta, Hammel, and Hendricks. The 32 year old Lester has a career postseason ERA of 2.57 and in his two years with the Cubs is 30–17 with a 2.89 ERA and a WAR of 8.4. Lackey has a career postseason ERA of 3.22 and had a WAR of 2.5 with the Cubs this season.
The Cubs achieved great balance between it’s offense and starting pitching by having four of the top ten in OBP (Fowler 6, Bryant 8, Zobrist 9, Rizzo 10) along with three of the top ten in ERA (Hendricks 1, Lester 2, Arrieta 10). The Cubs also finished eighth in Bullpen ERA and first in bullpen BAA. In July Epstein acquired 103 MPH throwing multi time all star Aroldis Chapman who posted an astounding 1.01 ERA in twenty eight appearances with the team.
The final piece to Epstein’s puzzle came with the hiring of manager Joe Maddon before the 2015 season. Maddon is sixth amongst active managers in win percentage and has made the playoffs now six times in his thirteen year managerial career including a trip to the World Series with the Tamba Bay Rays back in 2008. Maddon, for his achievements, has won the manager of the year title three times including in 2015 with the Cubs and is a strong candidate for his fourth this season as the Cubs posted the most wins in the majors. A notorious player manager, Maddon has implemented regulations such as informing the team of the starting line-up the night before to better prepare veterans and youngsters alike for their next day preparation as well as being described as current and former players as extremely positive and optimistic.
The Cubs are currently in a 2–1 series deficit in which only 29% of teams in playoff history have returned from. After being shutout for two games in a row they face a challenge of doing what no other team to do that has done, and that is to come back and win the series. Despite these advertises the Cubs well equipped to prove the number’s wrong and capture their first world series title in one hundred and eight years.