The Cubs made a smart and timely hire this week by tabbing former Cardinals’ draft director Dan Kantrovitz as their new VP of scouting.
Kantrovitz, a St. Louis native, worked in Oakland’s baseball ops department before joining the Cardinals to run the draft for three seasons (2012-2014.)
If we assign credit or blame to the person in charge of the draft, then Kantrovitz deserves admiration for his work in St. Louis. Under his leadership the Cardinals drafted an impressive list of pitchers.
Plus: relievers Mike Mayers, Kyle Barraclough and Rowan Wick. (Wick was drafted as an outfielder; the organization later repurposed him into pitching.)
Position players chosen in St. Louis by Kantrovitz while in St. Louis included outfielder Stephen Piscotty, catcher Carson Kelly, outfielder Oscar Mercado, first baseman Luke Voit and third baseman Patrick Wisdom.
Kantrovitz left the Cardinals in 2015 to rejoin the Oakland A’s as assistant GM. His contract expired after the 2019 season. According to Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold, the Cardinals and Kantrovitz recently had discussions to explore his potential return to St. Louis in an advisory role.
But Cubs were more aggressive in their pursuit. They offered Kantrovitz a prominent position as the head of scouting. The hiring was part of an ongoing shakeup of Chicago’s key front office staff by president of baseball ops Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer.
“Many scouting departments are trying to find the right way to balance traditional scouting and more model-driven analytical approach,” Epstein told reporters at the annual GM meetings held in Arizona. “It’s not always easy to do and something we struggled with, with a finished product and how all that gets balanced on draft day.
“Dan is as qualified as anyone in baseball to do so. He’s scouted extensively and has done so for many years and also, he’s one of the top quants in the game as well. He builds his own models and understands it on a granular level. Not just relating to the research and development department, but being a part of it. And not just relating to scouts, but being one. He brings a real unique skill set and set of experiences to the position.”
This was a strong hire by the Cubs.
The successful recruitment of Kantrovitz was praised extensively by ….
Cardinals GM Michael Girsch?
“(Kantrovitz) has got an analytics background and he’s been out scouting from 2006 until today,” Girsch told Sahadev Sharma, who covers the Cubs for The Athletic. “He’s been out scouting not just elite college talent, but young international raw talent with raw tools. When he was with us, that’s how we run our draft room, combining all the resources we can to get the right answer. He had success with us and was part of building that in the mid-2000s and was the scouting director from 2012-2014. I think he’s exactly the kind of guy that has a background in doing that and is going to be an annoyingly good fit for the Cubs.”
If Kantrovitz can fix the Cubs’ most glaring organizational failure — the chronic inability to scout, draft and develop pitching — this move can change the Cubs’ future. And not in a way that the Cardinals, or their fans, will like.
The Cubs have done a horrendous job of drafting and developing pitchers, and the incompetence was the No. 1 reason for the club’s hazardous payroll inflation. The Cubs went over $200 million in payroll for 2019, and already have a guaranteed $185 million committed for 2020.
Instead of growing their own pitching, the Cubs front office has tried to compensate for the extreme shortages by been buying pitching at premium prices.
In 2019 the Cubs invested $128.3 million payroll dollars on their big-league pitching staff. That includes an outlay of $85.4 million on their five-man rotation, and nearly $43 million 42 on relievers.
The Cardinals have done an outstanding job of building their pitching staff around a steady supply of drafted-and-developed talent. That acumen has produced plenty of good pitching at cost-efficient prices.
As Travis Sawchik wrote at FiveThirtyEight.com:
“Since Theo Epstein was hired to lead the Cubs baseball operations in October 2011, the Cardinals’ drafts lead baseball in pitching wins above replacement produced (29.2 WAR), while the Cubs rank 25th (2.2 WAR).”
The 2019 Cardinals ranked fifth among the 30 MLB teams (and No. 2 in the NL) in overall team ERA.
According to Spotrac, which tracks team spending, the ‘19 Cardinals funded their entire big-league pitching staff at a cost of $54.7 million. Their starting rotation — which ranked No. 2 in the majors with a 3.15 ERA after the All-Star break — accumulated only $26.8 million in salaries.
Or to put it another way:
The Cubs spent an average of $17.1 million per starting pitcher in 2019.
The Cardinals’ rotation averaged $4.46 million per arm.
Overall, the 2019 Cardinals paid their pitchers an average salary of $2.88 million.
The Cubs’ pitching salaries averaged $6.4 million per man.
Girsch and the Cardinals will have many reasons to be annoyed If Kantrovitz can draft wisely, change the way the Cubs do business, dramatically lower the cost of pitching, ease the top-heavy salary burden, and significantly expand the team’s payroll flexibility.
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