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updated: 1/15/2012 12:15 PM

Cubs' approach coming into focus

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  • Just like Day 1 at the Cubs Convention, team President Theo Epstein received huge ovations again Saturday from fans at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago.

      Just like Day 1 at the Cubs Convention, team President Theo Epstein received huge ovations again Saturday from fans at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago.
    Associated Press

 
 

School was in session Saturday at the Cubs Convention.

So what kind of school was it? Old school? New school? School of rock?

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Actually, it was more like school of rock star, with new Cubs President Theo Epstein kicking off the day by hosting an overflow "Behind the Scenes" session during which he drew another standing ovation.

More important, we're starting to get a clearer idea of the philosophies guiding the new regime, led by Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting-and-development boss Jason McLeod.

For his part, Epstein didn't want to compartmentalize the new Cubs when asked the "school" question by session host Len Kasper, the Cubs' TV announcer.

"Rather than to call the Cubs new school or old school now, I would hope that an honest assessment would be that you could call us thorough," Epstein said. "And call us inclusive. We have to take a broad view of the baseball landscape.

"This is hard. There are 30 teams out there trying to answer the same question: 'What's this player going to do going forward?' The teams that answer that question better than the others are the teams that are going to win."

When Cubs owner Tom Ricketts fired GM Jim Hendry last summer, he said he wanted a new front office with a more "analytical" approach.

That probably wasn't a good choice of words, because the Hendry regime "analyzed," too.

In fact, if you think of those old Venn diagrams from your school days, you'd see -- believe it or not -- a lot of overlap between the Hendry Way and the Epstein Way.

Epstein and Hoyer talked an awful lot Saturday about those intangible, non-quantifiable things such as character, chemistry and hustle. Some of the biggest cheers came whenever Epstein, Hoyer or new field manager Dale Sveum promised fans that every player would run every ball out.

Hendry was more of a "scout's guy," while Epstein and his crew are perceived to be "stats guys."

But Epstein talked a lot about having good scouts and trusting their eyes in addition to reading the spreadsheets.

Said Epstein: "I've always felt, from my very earliest days in baseball, that the clearest picture of a player is not just looking through the statistical lens, because that only tells you part of the picture. And not only looking through the scouting lens, because that only tells you part of the picture.

"But put those lenses together, like you do at the eye doctor, and look through both of them, and that's when you're going to have a real sharp picture of a player."

It's becoming pretty evident where that Hendry-Epstein diagram doesn't overlap. The new regime will make much more extensive use of advanced stats and value some important ones, such as on-base percentage.

Epstein said he wants to have a team that finishes first in on-base percentage, not last. Valuing OBP seemed to be more of a random thing in the past, and it almost seemed lost on the Cubs that the 2008 division winners finished first in the league on OBP, walks and runs scored.

The Cubs also are entering into a partnership with Bloomberg Sports to develop an information management system that will allow teams to find all the important information about a player, whether it be statistical or medical, with one click on the computer.

"There's going to be a next frontier," Hoyer said. "Let's make sure we're the ones who find it."

Unlike many organizations, which sweep out all of the old staff, the Cubs kept many from the former front office, including assistant GM Randy Bush, who served as interim GM after Hendry was fired. Hoyer went so far as to call Bush the Cubs' "secret weapon" over the winter for all the transitional help he provided.

"They've made everybody feel comfortable, that they're a part of the process, that they could be part of a vision going forward," Bush said. "It really has energized everybody because all people want to know is that they're included and that they are needed and respected. They've done a great job making the people in the building feel that way. There's an awful lot of energy."

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