Cubs threaten to join 21st century


Care to read some tea leaves? Paul Sullivan:

Sabermetrics once was considered a four-letter word in the Cubs organization, where scouting reports trumped statistical analysis almost every time.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, a former scout, surrounds himself with veteran scouts who share his views on analyzing players through someone's eyes.

But things may be changing.

New Chairman Tom Ricketts told fans at the Cubs Convention he expects the organization to use sabermetrics as a tool more often for player decisions and evaluating opponents while still valuing the human component.

The Cubs didn't hire a full-time numbers cruncher until Chuck Wasserstrom was named manager of baseball information after the 2003 season.

"We've always done more than people thought," Hendry said. "… We've always factored that in. But I'm always going to be a scouting guy first. You can skew statistics to frame it the way you like it.

"Some statistics that a lot of people think are always vital to making decisions, they should be a part of the equation, but not the be-all, end-all. … You factor a lot of stuff in, not just ‘Oh gee, that guy has a high or low on-base percentage.' "

According to the numbers, Hendry seemed to make the right moves when he signed free agents Milton Bradley and Aaron Miles last year. Bradley led the American League in OBPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with the Rangers in 2008, while Miles hit .392 in day games with the Cardinals, which made him a perfect fit for a team that plays more day games than any other.

But both flopped badly with the Cubs.

The Cubs made only two significant free agent signings for this season, giving Marlon Byrd and three-year deal and Xavier Nady one year.

Cubs scouts like what Byrd and Nady can bring to the offense, and their personalities were also a factor because improving team chemistry was a priority.

For the record, the signings of Bradley and Miles were both regarded with (at best) a collective "meh" from the sabermetric community, Bradley because of his injury history and Miles because Hendry apparently believed that his one good season said more than his four crummy ones.

And what of Byrd and Nady, the Cubs' new outfielders?

Byrd is 32, and he's been an average hitter in his career (below average for an outfielder).

Nady is 31, and he's been slightly better than average in his career.

The Cubs' other outfielders, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome, have become huge disappointments.

I don't know ... There's something to be said for consistency. There's also something to be said for tacking in a different direction when what you've been doing isn't working. But Jim Hendry admits that he'll "always be a scouting guy first." I wonder if the Cubs would be better if he just went back to being a scout, period.

Anyway, a random comment about sabermetrics tossed off by the owner might mean nothing. Or it might mean he'll be looking for a new general manager before long.