Baseball

And of course on the day I was just bitching about the nickel and dime and middle of the road moves the Cubs have engaged in this season, they go and get what was one of the best bats on the market, trading for Detroit’s Nick Castellanos. Of course, this is on the same day, even hour, their “contemporary” Astros get Zack Greinke. You see what I mean, folks?

Anyway, there’s no question Castellanos lengthens either the lineup or the bench, depending on what his role is that night. Castellanos is only having an ok year, with a wRC+ of 106. However, he’s been murdering left-handed pitching all year, to the tune of a 166 wRC+ this season, with a 51.7% hard-contact rate. Even if he only starts against lefties, he’ll bring that to the table and take any of Schwarber, Heyward, or Garcia out of the lineup (with Happ moving to second, if that’s a game we want to play) and that’s an upgrade.

If Castellanos gets more playing time than that, it still removes any temptation for Almora (more on him in a second), or Garcia (though I can’t see Happ getting THAT much time at second base), less Happ, or less Schwarber I guess if that’s the way they want to go. At the very least it puts some of those guys on the bench on a given night to give Joe Maddon some pinch-hitting options other than Victor Caratini or Willson Contreras, whichever wasn’t starting.

It’s not without some concerns. When Castellanos plays and moves Heyward to center, or out of the lineup completely with Happ in center, that’s a legitimately terrible defensive outfield. Again, the Cubs mitigate some of this by being the best ground-ball generating team in the league, but any fly ball that heads out over the heads of the infielders is going to have their pitchers swallowing their tongues. Castellanos gets a break in going from the gargantuan outfield of Comerica to Wrigley…as long as the sun and wind don’t cause him to asphyxiate (no guarantee there).

As for knock-on effects, either Happ’s call-up was short-lived and he’s headed back to Iowa, or Albert Almora is. AA has been simply woeful at the plate going on two months now, and maybe the only way to save him is to give him the ABs in Iowa he never really got in the first place. That seems the most likely move.

Even made more so by the acquisition of Tony Kemp, who can play center and left and second base, though none all that well. Kemp isn’t completely helpless with the bat, though it feels like this is the pinch-runner-in-big-games thing they love, except they aren’t going to be playing in any big games, are they (chuckle, chuckle)? Kemp’s BABIP is in the toilet this year, though that might because he never, ever hits a ball hard. Still, last year he put up a 107 wRC+, and with any slice of luck he can at least not be a giant sucking sound at the plate for whatever ABs the Cubs deign to give him. Again, strengthens the depth….but by a measure you’ll need a magnifying glass to see. Kemp probably thieves the defensive replacement role from Almora as well.

As far as David Phelps, what he provides other than the opportunity for Seinfeld Steinbrenner jokes, I’m not sure. Two years ago he was really effective with the Marlins, when he was striking out nearly 12 hitters per nine innings. But he’s been less so with Toronto, and ouchy. His fastball has lost some serious juice this year, which has caused him to with far more cutters and curves. Neither is generating any results that are going to cause tumescence anywhere. He’s a guy. That doesn’t mean he won’t get more usage than he should, because that’s just how things work around here.

As for what’s going away, neither pitcher the Cubs gave up for Castellanos would be considered anything more than a lottery ticket. Both Paul Richan and Alex Lange have not lit it up at High-A, though they’re only 22 and 23, so they have time to figure it out. At best they were two seasons way, more likely three. On the one hand, you wonder if the Cubs should be giving up on any pitching prospects at this point. On the other, given their track record, they might as well cash in on every one because they’re likely not going to do shit.

As for flogging Carl Edwards Jr. to San Diego for Brad Wieck…it’s just sad. You could see it with Edwards, he was so close to being a real thing. And he clearly wanted it pretty badly. And maybe that was the problem. He couldn’t handle it not working, because you could see him go into a sulk when the slightest thing didn’t go his way. Then he pitched scared, and wildly, and that’s how we got here. It just wasn’t ever going to happen here for him, and it’s best for everyone to move on. I just wouldn’t trust the dude who gave up a ton of homers in San Diego to do much for you.

At least there are more options now. At least they haven’t given up. Now get your head out of your ass and let’s go.

Baseball

The first few days of Chicago baseball haven’t lacked for intrigue, that’s for sure. And while I’m tempted to wade into the Cubs start and project not only how their first four games already mean the organization is a failure, but the entire city one as well, I’ll try and stay out of that for now. Let’s give it two more at least. Still, there was a curious cross-section of pitchers trying to improve their control over the weekend.

Let’s start on the Southside. There’s still a lot of hope for Lucas Giolito. After all, he was the prize of the Adam Eaton deal, and with Michael Kopech REHABBING SO HARD, BRO, there’s more focus on the starters who are here. Giolito flashed some decent control in his cameo with the Sox in 2017, but as is one of our favorite turn of phrase around here, couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo last year.

For Giolito to become anything like he’s promised, he had to make some changes. So his changes were to try and simplify his delivery. What the Sox and Giolito are calling it is “shortening his arm swing.” When you watch Giolito, his arm now stays behind his head before coming forward to release. And while one start is hardly anything to base a statement of “he’s been saved!” he also did just toss his best start in the majors on Sunday. While there’s still a long way to go, both Giolito and the Sox have been encouraged by what his new motion has done for his pitches, even if he didn’t always get the results in Arizona.

There’s another pitcher, on the other side of town, who had serious control problems last year. His name is Tyler Chatwood. He won’t get the opportunity to start much this season, but he still could have a role to play. But in order to play that role, he needs changes, too. And for him as well, it seems to be a simplifying of his delivery. Here’s a pretty complete summation by Sahadev Sharma from February about what Chatwood was doing and what he’s trying to do. And if you watch Chatwood this season, everything is a bit smoother. It’s not as herky-jerky, this guy is hearing voices style. Everything at least appears to want to work in the same direction for the same cause instead of the four limbs each trying to play a drum solo method of last year.

Are the results there yet? No, no they are not. There were some encouraging outings in the spring but Saturday in Texas was…well, less than optimal. Still, Chatwood’s search for control has led to simpler and smoother.

There’s yet another pitcher that needs help with his command/control. His name is Carl Edwards Jr. And he’s the infuriating one, because it’s so easy to see what he could be. And his answer to trying to find greater control was…this?

Instead of simpler and smoother, we got far more complicated, based on goofiness and timing. And what do you know, it didn’t work, and he’s already abandoned it. How could both Chatwood’s and Edwards’s answer to their control problems be right? Sure, every pitcher is different, every pitcher’s problem is different, but this seems wildly inconsistent. I’m just a drunk with some thoughts, but it seems to me if control is the problem, you’d want simple as possible so that a pitcher could fall into it as quickly as possible and thus be able to repeat it as quickly as possible, which is the base for command. Instead, Edwards gave us Kabuki theater for the deaf.

While Edwards’s command has always been a problem, I would suggest the larger one is in his head. Here are Edwards’s splits from last year by leverage, according to FanGraphs:

Season Leverage K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
2018 Low Leverage 14.14 3.86 3.67 0.64 35.5 % 9.7 % 25.8 % – – – 1.43 .394 80.7 % 2.23 2.72
2018 Medium Leverage 12.18 6.26 1.95 0.33 32.2 % 16.5 % 15.7 % – – – 1.21 .224 91.8 % 3.01 4.11
2018 High Leverage 6.75 5.91 1.14 0.00 17.8 % 15.6 % 2.2 % – – – 1.41 .267 46.7 % 3.63 5.95

Not that a 3.86 BB/9 mark is all that good in low leverage, but you can at least work with it when you’re striking out almost four times as many hitters. But the bigger the situation, the worse those marks get. I’m not sure that’s something you fix via motion. Feels like something you fix by smoking weed, honestly.

Same thing for 2017:

Season Leverage K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP BABIP LOB% FIP xFIP
2017 Low Leverage 11.10 4.44 2.50 0.37 30.9 % 12.4 % 18.6 % – – – 0.99 .208 100.0 % 2.83 3.76
2017 Medium Leverage 13.21 4.11 3.21 0.59 40.2 % 12.5 % 27.7 % – – – 0.72 .122 80.2 % 2.64 2.77
2017 High Leverage 15.09 9.53 1.58 2.38 35.9 % 22.6 % 13.2 % – – – 1.85 .333 44.9 % 6.69 4.50

While the Cubs front office has been really good at telling you why it’s not their fault lately, more and more eyes have been focused on their inability to produce any pitcher, starter or reliever, from their own system. Edwards was acquired by trade, but would count. Basically, it’s only Kyle Hendricks. Hector Rondon was a Rule 5 pick of theirs, but isn’t here anymore. Anyone else?

Those questions will only get louder if Edwards doesn’t find it one day, and their handling of other pitchers continues to be all over the map.