Craig Breslow – Picture via the Connecticut Post

Craig Breslow, the Cubs assistant GM and Director of Pitching, appeared with David Haugh and Bruce Levine this morning on “Inside the Clubhouse” on 670 The Score. It was a great 14 minute chat about pitching development, Hayden Wesneski, and the process of what the Cubs do.

When asked about how the development of a pitcher is so much more essential these days. Bruce Levine talked about the idea of getting a guy through 5 innings to get a win is passe (out of date). When asked for his thoughts, Breslow responded by saying the following.

“There is quite a bit more creativity in terms of how you piece together a game, how you construct a roster. Some of that is driven by constraints that teams are dealing with. I also just think we have a much better understanding for pitch profiles and characteristics and the types of pitches that will be successful against certain types of hitters in the aggregate and for also how long they might be successful. You know, we have heard about the effects third time through the order, and certain pockets of hitters and swing profiles may match against pitchers.” 

Breslow added,” Once you kind of remove the constraints of trying to get 200 innings out of your starter or trying to have your starter pitch into the 7th or 8th inning to collect a win. You can just kind of approach this backwards. What we are trying to do is limit the number of runs that are scored against our team. Then you can just approach this with a greater level of creativity and optimize matchups throughout the game.”

Breslow also talked about the value of a defensive catcher and what they bring to the game and the pitching. Here are a few key sound bytes from that answer.

  • A catcher tends to pair better with a certain pitcher.
  • The key relationship is the catcher knowing a pitcher’s strengths and getting the best out of those strengths
  • The focus of that relationship should be on the pitcher and not the opponents’ strategy.

When asked about how a new pitcher comes into the system (like Jordan Wicks and Hayden Wesneski) and what the Cubs actually do to help that pitcher.

Breslow said, “It is very much a collaborative cross departmental initiative where we’ve got tons of background on a player and we’ve got tons of data. For the most part, we have a pretty good idea about what development opportunities may exist, be they drastic in magnitude or quite simple. There are certain guys that you acquire because you think that they are close to being big league ready. They are near optimized. They just need some additional experience and many opportunities that didn’t exist in their previous environments. And then there are others that you think you can materially improve based on changing a pitch profile, adding a pitch to a repertoire. There’s a combination of understanding of where a player is when they arrive in the organization, and we do that through a pretty comprehensive assessment. It starts in the training room and moves into the weight room and ultimately ends in the pitch lab where we’ll collect as much information about a pitcher as we can.”

He also countered that structure by adding, “But what we don’t have a great sense of until we get the player in our system and have a chance to talk to them is more subjective nuance.”

He then listed a few topics, historical in nature, about that pitcher’s pitch history.

– What a guy has tried before

– What a guy may feel strongly about

– What is his intention or about preserving certain pitches

– Why a guy throws a certain pitch

He went on, as he tends to do, “Once we work through that, we have had success in tweaking pitch profiles by adding depths to breaking balls, carries to fastball. The success feeds on itself in that we’ve got some credibility in establishing relationships and trust with our pitchers. One thing that is a credit to broader organizational efforts is we’ve got a pretty good idea when we take a suggestion or recommendation to a pitcher just how likely it is that it’s going to work. If we think about the magnitude of any initiative is the probability that it works times the impact or magnitude of the improvement. We’re pretty good at identifying both of those ahead of time so that when come to a player we can do so with transparency.:” 

He concluded by talking about the lab and the approach with it.

“Much has been made of the emergence of technology and the ability to collect data in ways that we hadn’t before. A lab is only going to be as successful as the pitcher who walks into it and the support staff around them. Much of our effort has been directed toward making sure we are a cohesive unit. It’s impossible for me to handicap what we think we know relative to other organizations, but we’ve been pretty effective in creating alignment and continuity across the organization in terms of what we think is important, explaining to our pitchers and our staff why we think it is important, and getting behind it directionally.”

Breslow did briefly added some thoughts on Wesneski but did not go into much detail other than to talk about opportunities. 

It was a cool interview to listen to. 

When it was over, Bruce Levine wanted more info and almost begged to do an hour next time. That would be some hour! 15 minutes just doesn’t cut it!

If you would like to learn more about how the Cubs actually do this in the field, check out this article from a couple of weeks ago.