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Did Joe Maddon really deserve to get fired by the Chicago Cubs?

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The Chicago Cubs announced that Joe Maddon will not be managing the team next year. The announcement was made just before the final game of the season, after the Cubs missed out on a playoff spot. After winning the world series just 3 years ago, the Cubs seemed to be in a position to build a dynasty with a young team and one of the best managers in baseball. So what went wrong for the Cubs? Was Joe Maddon at fault for their decline?

While the Cubs had a young lineup when they won the world series, they have not had a core of young pitchers. So they have had to rely on acquiring experienced veterans via trade and free agency. This is down to a specific drafting strategy by the Cubs front office that was credited with their world series victory in 2016. During their rebuild the Cubs concentrated on Drafting hitters as their development is seen as more certain. It is hard to criticize this policy too much given that it lead them to a world series title. However, it is difficult to maintain long term success without a group of young pitchers.

The Cubs now have an ageing rotation with Kyle Hendricks being the only one of their five frontline starters under the age of 30. There has been very little pitching talent come through the Cubs’ farm system in recent years and there is a lack of top pitching prospects currently in their farm.

Maddon had to rely on aging starting pitchers over the last couple of years. Often these veterans only have a limited amount of productive seasons left when they are acquired. Jon Lester , Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish have been very inconsistent over the past three seasons. So, when you look at their starting rotation it is hard to say that they have underperformed given the longer term trends.

Maddon left behind in the bullpen revolution

It is hardly Joe Maddon’s fault that his starting pitchers have been unable to perform consistently. However, teams such as the Brewers and Athletics have won a lot more games over the past two years without a stellar rotation. You clearly do not need Cy young contenders to be a good baseball team and you can definitely get into the playoffs without one.


Starting rotations have become less important with the shift in the way bullpens are used. Teams have managed to get around budget constraints, that do not allow them to pay big name starting pitchers, by using their starters for fewer innings and using more relief pitchers, particularly in close games.

The number of holds a team has is one way to see how much a team is prescribed to this strategy (it is not perfect because it will not count relief appearances when a team is behind in a close game). The Rays and Athletics lead in this category, two teams who have used their bullpen heavily and performed better than their rosters suggest. The Cubs languish down in 21st place, they have the second least holds out of teams over .500.

The Cubs clearly are not part of the bullpen revolution. Joe Maddon was once seen as an innovative idea that did things differently but the use of the Cubs’ pitching staff was relatively old fashioned compared to most teams in the league. However, Maddon would have had more opportunity to be more creative with the bullpen if his group of relief pitchers was more reliable.

This ultimately comes back to Theo Epstein and the front office. They failed to adequately bolster their bullpen in the offseason and tried to fix it with the midseason signing of a declining Craig Kimbrel. Maddon may not be leading trends in baseball anymore and he has a tendency to over manage certain situations, but he does not deserve the blame for the Chicago Cubs failing to meet expectations.

A combination of short term planning that squandered valuable prospects and an old-fashioned roster construction means that the Cubs have been caught up and even overtaken by their divisional rivals.


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