Baseball

When you absolutely have to have a Cub do a kind of adorable yet still annoying gender reveal, David Bote is your man. And he might be the man for the Cubs at second and occasionally third and short, because there’s always a chance that Nico Hoerner stalls out in Iowa and there’s a much bigger chance that Jason Kipnis and Daniel Descalso are still dead. And while he causes more teeth-gnashing amongst Cubs fans for someone who came from basically nowhere and has been fine, if the Cubs had to turn to him it really wouldn’t be the end of the world. And then there are too many who mistake one ultra-dramatic home run for career-long success. There’s so much noise around a bit-part player. Let’s study the star man.

David Bote 2019

127 games, 356 PA

.257/.362/.422

.336 wOBA, 106 wRC+

12.4 BB%  26.1 K%

-1.4 Defensive Runs

1.5 fWAR

Bote had a pretty weird year last term. For one, he was a righty who couldn’t hit lefties, which doesn’t make any goddamn sense but it’s what we’re dealing with. Against right-handed pitchers he had a 115 wRC+, and against southpaws it was 80. Which was the complete opposite of what he did in 2018. So hey, if he could split the difference!. Also, he really started to hit after Joe Maddon had moved him out of the everyday lineup in the second half. And Maddon stopped playing him against lefties in the second half, giving him only 30 ABs against them. Which he did crush, but it’s only 30 ABs so who knows?

It wasn’t hard to figure out where to attack Bote though, as he couldn’t get to high fastballs nor lay off curves in the dirt, which doesn’t make for a very good combination.

Bote graded out as fine at second, though hardly superlative. But as the Brewers proved with the old-dog mobility of Mike Moustakas, you can kind of cover that up with shifts if you’re so inclined. The Cubs didn’t shift as much because Baez covered half the Earth anyway, but it might be something they try. Bote also graded out higher than you’d expect at short when Maddon finally figured out that Baez was dying of exhaustion, which might be something to consider if Hoerner isn’t up for a while.

YES! YES! YES!: For Bote to be more than just scenery, or slightly above scenery, he’s going to have to figure out how to hit a pitch above his waist. We know he has serious power low in the strike zone, and it’s something of a mystery why pitchers keep throwing him pitches there. But even just up in the zone, not above it, and Bote has been pretty much helpless. His desire to catch up to pitches there has made him susceptible to curves that tease being there and then gleefully dive for the sanctuary of his toes and his whiffs. If that continues to be a gaping hole, then this is his limit. If he shortens his swing a bit and can get there, than his plus-on base skills play even better.

And fuck, if you take simply his .362 OBP last year, put it in the nine-spot ahead of Bryant in the leadoff spot, he’ll score a fair amount of runs you’d have to believe. Really, you could do a whole lot worse as a placeholder for Hoerner, however long that might be.

You’re A B+ Player: Bote can’t close up that hole at the top of the zone, pitchers actually read a scouting report every time and his already too-high K-rate for a supporting cast member goes up. And he loses walks, which is what’s keeping him above water overall. Hoerner never claims the second base spot, and we’re left watching two corpses try and ooze their way toward competence between Kipnis and Descalso and Ross has to euthanize them in the 6th inning of some game in July behind a big blue curtain (assuredly sponsored by Sloan). At 27 when the season starts, it’s hard to picture how Bote improves that much but there is some room. He also watches his glove deteriorate and can’t even claim breaking even in the field.

But no matter what, he’ll be part of the Cubs pregame highlight reel for the next five years.

Dragon Or Fickle?: I’m higher on Bote than most, mostly because of the walks and the passable glove and occasional power. I don’t think he’ll completely split his ’18 and ’19 and be useful against both handed pitchers, but I also think there’s a decent chance he’s not an abortion against either as well. If he can just take high pitches the other way for singles enough to not have to see curveballs or get fastballs lower, he could end up being a real weapon. He’s clearly a player you don’t want to be in the lineup every day, but you’d rather see him than Descalso or Kipnis. If Hoerner can claim what’s rightfully his relatively quickly, then having Bote cycle in at a couple spots two or three times a week is ideal. And that’s probably what you’ll get.

Baseball

Jose Quintana has probably lost his chance to win over Chicago Cubs faithful now, given that the return for him has washed up on the shores of Comiskey Bay. It’s hard not to cast longing eyes at Eloy Jimenez’s bat, even if I’m skeptical that Dylan Cease will ever have enough control to be as effective as the stuff promises. And even if Q had one more season to create a legacy, you can certainly see a scenario where that season will be shipped somewhere else. Let’s take a look at Q, and where it went wrong for him this season.

2019 Stats

31 starts   171 innings

4.68 ERA   3.80 FIP

8.00 K/9  2.42 BB/9  1.39 WHIP

44.5 GB%  38.1% Hard-Contact rate . 12.1% HR/FB

107 ERA-  3.5 WAR

Tell Me A Story: I hadn’t really looked at Q’s season closely until now, and what’s kind of weird is that even with the last third of it being so bad, it was still a way better season in terms of WAR or FIP than 2018. Which I’m having a hard time reconciling. It might have to do with luck, as Q was laced with a .326 BABIP this year whereas he had .282 one the previous season, both of which nestle comfortably 20 points either side of his career norms. So while his ERA was markedly better in ’18, what the underlying numbers are telling us is that it probably shouldn’t have been. Q cutting his walks and homers significantly this year also speak to that.

Q came into the season saying he wanted to use his change-up more, and for the most part he did. He had never used it more than 6% of the time in previous seasons, but was up near 12% this time around. He got gun-shy with it at times early in the year, but overcame that. The problem was it became less effective as the season went along, and was pulverized by hitters in September where everything went wrong. The whiffs-per-swing rate on it in the season’s final month was a paltry 16%, and hitters ran up a .462 average against it. The problem was that it lost its sink as the season went along…

That’s one reason Q’s September looked so horrible, with an ERA nearing 6.00. Another was that in the last month, when the Cubs really needed him, Q had a BABIP of .447. And that’s with his contact numbers remaining the same. I can recall off the top of my head two starts, against the Nats and the Padres, where he couldn’t get his defense to make an out if they had that Bugs Bunny glove.

But still, Q gave up way more hard contact this year than we’d seen in the past. Then again, that was the story for most pitchers this year. There was a change in approach from Q, who went to a sinker more this season than ever before and also tried elevating his fastball more when he did throw it. Q used to try and Lester it by burying his four-seam on the hands of righties, but maybe he didn’t feel he has quite the hop on hit anymore to get in there. The zone-look on his career and this year’s fastball due bear that out.

Which makes you wonder where he goes from here, as it’s unlikely that his fastball is going to pick up a tick in his 30s. He’s a pretty smart pitcher, so you’d have faith he’ll come up with something. As September showed, hitters could just start leaning out and taking balls on the outside corner wherever they wanted, which is noted by the 43% pull-rate hitters had in that month even though Q was concentrating most of his stuff on the outside corner.

Contract: $11.5M team option for 2020, $1M buyout, then free agency in 2021

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Even if the Cubs would rather move on from Quintana or upgrade in the three or four spot, to be more kind, picking up his option is a no-brainer. Even half-dead fifth starters make more than $11.5M, so Q remains an absolute bargain. He would have some trade value simply due to that, and then add whatever bounce-back an interested team would anticipate on top of that.

There are obviously big warning signs. The decreasing velocity and the inability to get inside on righties. His durability isn’t what it was, as he hasn’t come near 200 innings in the past two seasons. That was one of the draws. The WHIP and contact numbers are headed in the wrong direction.

Still, the Cubs need an upgrade in the rotation even with Q in it. Moving him along means they would have to fill two spots, and Q as a #4 or #5, which is what he was really supposed to be this yea before Hamels got hurt and basically was, it a good spot to be in. If the Cubs can find one other starter to slot ahead of him and Lester and up among Hendricks and Darvish, they’ll be just fine. If Q can find a way to get inside on righties or find a way around not being able to, he’s an excellent candidate for a return-year.

The urge to upgrade is reasonable. The path to doing so isn’t so easy, and considering what he costs and what the Cubs might have to spend, having him slot at the bottom of the rotation is nowhere near a death sentence.