News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 30, 2013

AMEY TAKES AIM: In good hands, Cubs' future looking bright

Andy Amey
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Our topic today is “regression to the mean” and how it relates to major league baseball.

There’s a scientific way to explain this, but I’d have to look it up and I’d probably upset mathematicians everywhere by doing so anyway, so let’s keep it relatively simple.

The batting averages of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano currently add up to a number in the .730 range, and if all were having normal seasons that total would probably be .800 or more — maybe closer to .900, in fact.

This tells me that the accomplishments of the Chicago Cubs this year, meager as they’ve been so far, could have actually been greater, or that perhaps a hot streak by those three players — and with them the team as a whole — is coming.

Whether it comes or not, however — and the likelihood of trades in the next month or so make any kind of second-half predictions pretty risky — my belief that the team is heading in the right direction hasn’t changed at all.

The Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer-Dale Sveum-Chris Bosio leadership group was something I’d looked forward to anyway — the bar hadn’t been set very high by their predecessors — and I was more convinced almost immediately last season because of one player: Soriano.

Was his signing a few years ago — and with a no-trade contract — a horrible decision? Definitely. Had he been a defensive liability? Very much so. Was I ready to run him out of town? You’d better believe it.

But I watched a few games last year, and suddenly saw him making some plays. You don’t have to be very good to play left field — has there been a good defensive player there since early Barry Bonds? — and Soriano was no longer out of place out there. I went from hater to fan pretty quickly.

Why the improvement? Well, apparently the Sveum coaching staff worked with him.

Or, to put that another way, the previous coaching staffs didn’t work with him, or probably anybody else. My suspicions that Lou Piniella had been stealing salary for doing nothing were confirmed.

With one very notable exception, I’ve approved of the player acquisitions the Cubs have made. The low-budget guys like David DeJesus, Paul Maholm, Nate Schierholtz, Scott Feldman and Ryan Sweeney have been serviceable, intelligent major league players.

I also, in some perverse fashion, liked the way the Cubs brought up the so-called phenoms from the old administration — Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters — and gave them enough rope to hang themselves last year.

Jackson might still make the majors someday — he’d be a nice throw-in for one of the upcoming trades — but Vitters is the perfect indictment of the old scouting system: a so-called power hitter but without the physical attributes to do that job (I’ve seen ballerinas who weren’t so delicately built).

I’ll admit that I’m mystified why anyone would pay big money for four years of Edwin Jackson, who seems to let any kind of adversity turn into a big inning (million-dollar arm, 50-cent head anybody?). Frankly, I’m perfectly willing to have the Cubs stay out of the free-agent market altogether (or haven’t you noticed how the Angels have done the past couple of years?).

But otherwise I’m excited about the Cubs’ future, either with the roster they have right now (and on the way) or with a couple of new pieces they might pick up in the next few weeks.

And if that regression-to-the-mean thing really works, one of the players we might want to move is Kevin Gregg (right after he’s the only Cub at the All-Star game).



Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at 812-231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by email at andy.amey@tribstar.com; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at 812-231-4321. Follow TribStarAndy on Twitter.