Baseball

There’s such a defeated feeling when talking about on-field matters with the Cubs. They don’t seem too interested in making the actual play on the field all that inspiring, so why should we feel all that inspired about it. Cubs Insider’s Evan Altman kind of nails it here, where the Cubs haven’t chosen any path this or last offseason and hence it’s hard to get excited about a team that’s sitting in the middle of the sidewalk like a tired and whiny toddler.

But you know, it’s better than talking about what size tomato I’d throw at Tom Ricketts these days, so I’m going to try again before we actually get to spring training, which is very close. I’ve gone over how the lineup could actually be good, even really good, if Ian Happ can be more what his numbers look like after his last week of the season than just being what he was before that last week. It’s not a great idea to have an entire team’s offensive fortunes hinge on a barely third-year player, but this is where we are.

The rotation…should at least be solid. Everyone hates Jose Quintana, which makes me empathize with him because hey, been there, but he’s a solid piece at worst. Darvish and Hendricks are good, if not better than that, and Lester is at least going to take the ball and sweat. But even with his contact-rates against starting to turn ugly, it’s hard to believe the Lester will go through another season with a .347 BABIP against. He should be, basically, fine, especially as a #4 starter.

So the Cubs have a hole at #5. And I’m fairly sure what they’re going to do is the very easy, uncreative, stuff Tyler Chatwood there and pray he doesn’t walk a marching band to first. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially with teams most likely carrying 13 pitchers for the whole season with the rosters going to 26 now.

The Cubs should use that fifth day as an “opener” day, because it keeps some pitchers as available the rest of the schedule which the Cubs will need. I’m looking at the model for this, which is Tampa. Granted. Tampa has to use an opener and be creative in their usage because they might actually not be able to afford a whole rotation whereas the Cubs simply won’t afford one. But hey, again, here we are.

So last year, the Rays used Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, as multi-use and multi-inning weapons out of the pen. The first two has more than 10 starts, and sometimes were just used as starters but sometimes just once through the lineup. Basically, what we’re looking for is two or three guys who can throw 100 innings, both from the bell and out of the pen. And the Cubs have these guys.

I’ve bleated on about Chatwood, and the only way the Cubs could keep Adbert Alzolay healthy is to use him for no more than 100 innings. But using him as a simple one-inning guy also seems a waste. Duane Underwood Jr. is another candidate, as he threw 100 innings combined last year between Iowa and the Cubs, though he very well might be the definition of a “4A” guy. Alec Mills or one or two other punters the Cubs trot out in Mesa/out of their system might find success merely burning through a lineup once.

It would also be how you sequence this. Lester is unlikely to pile up six and seven-inning starts, so you might want to slot him between Darvish and Hendricks for the season (if you assume that Darvish is going to gobble up the innings, which you shouldn’t). That way your multi-inning pieces can get a couple days between Lester’s start and that fifth slot that is nebulous at this point. But they have enough to get through that fifth spot by just throwing shit to the wall.

The whole roster is going to need creative use to maximize what it is even to just get to July 31st and force the front office into some decisions. Heyward can’t play against lefties, but then really Schwarber shouldn’t either (though you can get away with it), so who the fuck is gonna play the outfield then? When do you use Bote? What happens if Hoerner isn’t ready? Now my head is spinning.

One of the (few) disappointments with Joe Maddon was that he was pretty straight-laced when it came to managing a pitching staff. Starters, then set-up guys, then closer. Sure, he didn’t have a problem shuffling the lineup and rotating guys in and out, and that’s cool. But it would kind of suck if the Cubs punted Maddon aside only to bring in Ross to be as boring, especially when they clearly have a hole they need to cover up.

Here’s hoping.

Baseball

That’s a touch harsh. The Cubs have been playing much better at least since the Pirates were here, though it hasn’t always felt like it. There’s a frustration they didn’t sweep this series as they did the Marlins, but despite Zack Greinke‘s ballooned ERA and HR/FB rates he’s still Zack Greinke and sometimes he’s gonna put it on ya. Robbie Ray should have been easier fodder, but the Cubs got there in the end no matter how uncomfortable it might have been. Which is good, because the fireworks show that is the Dodgers roll in here, and if you were watching the Cubs’ pen through your eyes before, just wait for that Kyle RyanCody Bellinger matchup in the 7th..,.

Let us away…

The Two Obs

-Good Tyler Chatwood starts are in some ways even more infuriating than bad ones. Anyone who says they can’t understand why the Cubs signed Chatwood is just being willfully ignorant, an asshole, or both. It’s clear what caused the brass to play a hunch. He was easy 94-95 today, that two-seam was boring in on righties and everything had sink. Nine groundouts of his 18 outs, and a couple double-plays after walks that had the Wrigley faithful groaning (probably a touch unfairly). One start does not a revival make, but this is what the Cubs thought they were getting. If Chatwood can keep this going, there are some really creative possibilities going forward. But we’ll have to wait on that. At least Lester’s return isn’t as desperate as it might have been yesterday.

-On the other side, I can’t imagine the Cubs are ok with Yu Darvish throwing just two pitches. And if they are, it would be strange. According to the charts, it says Darvish deviated between his cutter and his fastball, but they look awfully similar. He’s only combining that with his slider, which he only occasionally choking back to make into a curve. His splitter has disappeared. And when he can’t locate his fastball, which he hasn’t really all year, there’s nowhere for him to go. He still held the Cubs in but he’s capable of so much more of a repertoire.

David Bote got the game-winner today off of a breaking pitch. Wonders never cease.

-We’ll have to do a deep dive on Kris Bryant this week, because I’m struggling to remember when he’s strung hard-hit balls together.

Anthony Rizzo had two hits and he’s still got an unsightly average, and on the broadcast even Jim Deshaies was compelled to mention his BABIP. But his line-drive rate is down, though his hard-contact rate is up. He’s also going the opposite way far more, perhaps sick of the sight of the shift gobbling up anything he has to offer. Maybe April just isn’t his thing.

-So much for worrying about Kyle Hendricks. And so much for him trying to integrate a curve. Maybe later, Cerebral Assassin.

Onwards…

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.