Cubs

Cubs arent going to panic with LaHair

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Cubs arent going to panic with LaHair

MESA, Ariz. Cubs reliever James Russell was shagging fly balls at Wrigley Field last September when Dale Sveum approached him with a question: Whos this big left-handed guy?

The Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach had noticed Bryan LaHair swinging away in the cage. The way Russell remembered it on Thursday: Thats as far as the conversation went.

LaHair doesnt have much of a Q rating or a track record in the big leagues (195 at-bats), but hes definitely made an impression on the new people in power. The Cubs manager doesnt say much, but he had a clear message for anyone waiting on top prospect Anthony Rizzo to take over at first base.

Thats the world we live in (theres) competition, Sveum said. Were (not) going to go with Bryan forever and ever and ever. Hes got to play well. As long as he (does), its his job, but its not like anybodys going to panic after a month if hes not playing well or even two months.

Right now its a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A, and let him be comfortable instead of moving him up and down and all that stuff. Its Bryan LaHairs job and its not his to lose.

The guys earned the right to have it. And hes earned the right for me to have a lot of patience, too, if things arent getting off to a good start.

At the winter meetings in Dallas, while the national media drove the speculation that the Cubs were after the big-ticket items, Theo Epstein sat in his hotel suite and explained that he would be comfortable with LaHair as their first baseman.

The skeptics still thought the Cubs would go hard after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder (whos tight with Sveum from their time together in Milwaukee). The Cubs president of baseball operations said that he doesnt believe in the concept of 4A hitters.

But this front office also clearly believes in the 22-year-old Rizzo as a future foundation piece in the lineup and the clubhouse.

Two Cubs executives general manager Jed Hoyer and scoutingplayer development head Jason McLeod were instrumental in drafting and developing Rizzo with the Boston Red Sox before bringing him to the San Diego Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal.

Hoyer has repeatedly said that he made a mistake in rushing Rizzo to San Diego last season. Rizzo struck out 46 times in 128 big-league at-bats, while hitting .331 with 26 homers and 101 RBI in 93 Triple-A games.

If Rizzo starts to get on a roll like that in Iowa, the fans and media are going to start wondering when hes coming to Clark and Addison. At this point, Sveum doesnt envision LaHair playing the outfield.

Im not going to put anything in his head that way, Sveum said. Hes our first baseman and thats the bottom line. If anything was to happen somewhere along the line, well cross that bridge when we get to it.

The 29-year-old LaHair, who played winter ball in Venezuela, is coming off a season in which he generated 38 homers and 109 RBI and was the Pacific Coast League MVP. People might start asking: Who is this guy?

(Hes) tearing the cover off the ball no matter where he goes, Sveum said. Some guys whether its something clicks with swinging the bat or somebody tells them one little thing and all of a sudden it all comes together. Unfortunately for some kids, it comes a little bit later, but the fact of the matter is I think its clicked for him right now.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Anthony Rizzo
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. are close to their career marks, too.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."