Cubs

Cubs: Joe West's cowboy act still bothers Joe Maddon

Cubs: Joe West's cowboy act still bothers Joe Maddon

ST. LOUIS — Joe Maddon hadn’t heard from Major League Baseball’s New York headquarters by the time he met with reporters before Tuesday night’s rivalry game at Busch Stadium.

“Not yet,” Maddon said. So MLB officials might as well put this on his tab after the Cubs manager spent roughly half of a media session that lasted 10-plus minutes criticizing the way umpire Joe West handled the end of Kyle Hendricks’ near no-hitter.

West started trending on Twitter after ejecting Maddon in the ninth inning of Monday night’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman had already started warming up in the bullpen when Jeremy Hazelbaker led off with a home run, which led to catcher Miguel Montero checking in on Hendricks.

When Montero returned to home plate, West tapped him on the shoulder and told him to go back out to the mound, and then warned it would count as a visit. Instead of rolling with the stall tactics, Maddon felt like “Cowboy Joe” became a distraction from a brilliant pitching performance.

“Absolutely,” Maddon said. “I mean this: St. Louis fans are really, obviously, intelligent baseball fans. The way they reacted to Kyle coming to the plate (in the seventh inning), I’m certain that had he pitched a no-hitter, they really would have given him like a St. Louis reception.

“(It’s) having to take him out of the game properly. He would have left the field in the right manner. So that was so unnecessary what occurred. There was a detraction, I thought, in regards to what the moment should have really felt like for everybody.”

West argued that an umpire has the power to count a catcher walking out to the mound as a visit, saying he’s done this before when Tony La Russa managed the Cardinals.

“Of course you can,” Maddon said. “Technically, there’s a lot of things you can do that aren’t done. Technically, if you ask a player to go speak to a pitcher from the dugout — which you do almost every night with every umpiring crew — (then it’s a visit). Technically, if you relay information from the dugout to a player to the mound, that could be considered a trip. Absolutely, if that’s what you choose to do.”

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Have you seen this rules interpretation before?

“No,” Maddon said. “That’s what I’m saying — it happens all the time. It’s just a method. Let’s give you the full monty right here: We needed time for Aroldis, only because this guy’s pitching a no-hitter. It’s a four-run lead. I don’t want Aroldis just to get totally amped up yet, because it wasn’t necessary.

“I.e., if (Kyle) walks the first guy and the no-hitter’s still intact, Aroldis is still not in that game. So you don’t want Aroldis to get to that level until it’s absolutely necessary. So there’s an 0-2 pitch that goes in the seats, it becomes necessary.

“(Aroldis) was close. Needed about 60 seconds. That’s not an exaggeration – 30 to 60 to get him properly ready for the game. That’s all we needed. That’s why I wanted the guys to go and talk to (Kyle).

“I would have taken the slow walk out there. He would have walked in. The game would (have ended) and nobody would have been wiser for it — or less than for it. That’s exactly what happened. There’s no other explanation.”

Maddon got in West’s face and made an appearance on the mound, leaving the ball in first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove and killing enough time for Chapman.

“My only resort was to do what I did to make sure that Aroldis got ready,” Maddon said. “That was absolutely a conscious thought on my part. I will not deny that.”

With the Cubs on the verge of clinching the division, and the Cardinals going through a bridge year, this rivalry needed a little drama and some more entertainment value.

“The fact that I got thrown out of the game — I don’t care,” Maddon said. “Big deal. It’s just something that I had to do in the moment based on an inappropriate reaction by the umpire. That’s it.

“It’s normal protocol. I’m not asking for anything extraordinary. I think any manager ... I’m almost certain the other 29 would have done exactly the same thing. There’s no question.”

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

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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
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

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."