Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta plans to come back strong after Cy Young year

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta plans to come back strong after Cy Young year

Jake Arrieta ended his victory lap by receiving the National League Cy Young Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s New York chapter, amid a blizzard that dropped 26.8 inches of snow on Central Park.

Record-setting and historic are words used to describe both Arrieta’s season and Winter Storm Jonas and maybe even his arbitration payday.

But the Cubs shouldn’t have to worry about Arrieta getting too comfortable or digging himself too much after a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, an unbelievable second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA) and that complete-game wild-card shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

To be honest, Arrieta talked like a No. 1 starter and carried himself as an ace even when he had to make a detour to Triple-A Iowa after getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season.

Arrieta earned his reputation as a workout freak, doing yoga and Pilates, studying nutrition and kinetics and leaving no doubt he will report to Arizona in optimal physical shape.

“Pro NY weekend to finally conclude the ‘15 season,” Arrieta tweeted last week. “Time to turn the page! Ready to work on this 2016 campaign.”

[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The immediate question is whether Theo Epstein’s front office and Boras Corp. will settle on a one-year deal around the $10.25 million midpoint or push this to a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for the middle of February.

The Cubs filed at $7.5 million while Arrieta’s side countered at $13 million. Epstein has never taken an arbitration-eligible player to a hearing, either in his first four years running baseball operations on the North Side or his nine years as the Boston Red Sox general manager.

The bigger-picture question is how Arrieta responds to accounting for almost 250 innings during his breakthrough year, or 92 more than he threw in the big leagues in 2014.

“There’s unknown in pitching,” Epstein said. “There’s not too many certainties when you start thinking about pitching in general. So I think we’ll just be smart about it with how he goes about his spring training and how we try to manage his workload early in the season and ease him into it.

“But I think the fact that he was able to throw a ton of innings last year and stay healthy throughout the whole season is a really good sign for him handling a significant workload (again). We’ll just try to be really smart about it and keep him really fresh for the most important time of year.”

Arrieta made the Cubs feel invincible as they piled up 97 wins and made it through two playoff rounds, but 2016 will be about seeing what sort of price they will have to pay for that success.

[MORE: Cubs: Dexter Fowler plays the waiting game in free agency]

“It was something that was uncharted for me,” Arrieta said. “To now be at that point, I feel like I know how to handle it. My body (should) respond very well to a similar workload this season. I’m just looking forward to getting close to that mark again this season.”

Speaking in general terms, Scott Boras also admitted this would have to be a concern during his media session at the general managers meetings in November, when the super-agent was feuding with the Miami Marlins about the Jose Fernandez situation and Matt Harvey’s innings-limit controversy was still fresh in the minds of New York writers and Mets fans.

“I’m not an orthopedic surgeon,” Boras said, not talking specifically about Arrieta, who unlike Fernandez and Harvey is not recovering from Tommy John surgery. “But when you talk to the doctors that do this, they’re always going to tell you that once you get 30 or 40 innings above where you were the year before – and you’ve never been there – there’s always a concern.

“The percentages of it are that some are just fine with it – and they weather it and they go through it – and some are effected by it. The exactness of those percentages vary from doctor to doctor, but that’s certainly what they tell us.”

[RELATED: Cubs invite Albert Almora and Duane Underwood to big-league camp]

Boras would also tell you that his data shows the hardest thing for a major-league pitcher to do is get beyond the fourth year. If you’re healthy and effective at that point, the agency’s numbers project a 10-year career.

Arrieta – who will turn 30 next month – is in the right place at the right time. He came across as someone who appreciated the journey to the top, giving credit to his teammates and taking the newfound fame in stride.

Now the Cubs will find out how many bullets are left in Arrieta’s right arm.

“It’s just kind of the unknown,” Arrieta said. “Not having gone over 200 innings before in my career…it is a significant jump. Regardless of how you prepare and how good a shape you’re in, there are certain things that are difficult to prepare for. But having that workload already under my belt, I think moving forward I’m going to be very capable of handling it.” 

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."