Cubs

Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

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Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

Thursday, March 11, 2011Posted: 8:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX The Cubs are two weeks away from Opening Day and everyone wants to know what Mike Quade will do with the rotation, how his lineup will fall and who will play second base.

The daily speculation misses a larger point about the Cubs manager. Quade wouldnt have reached this point if he was inflexible. He wouldnt have survived 17 seasons managing in the minors if he couldnt adapt to his surroundings. He kept his dream job because of how he handled his personnel.

The thing about Q is he knows youre going to need all 25 guys, Jeff Baker said. He made it very clear that hes going to keep everyone involved.

With so many jobs already decided at this point in camp, second base is one of the final frontiers where the media can second-guess Quade. The Cubs are not about to trade for Michael Young. They like their internal options in Baker and Blake DeWitt.

Quades position is that both deserve a serious look and will get opportunities. In the end, he says, Players usually make those decisions for you.

Baker turns 30 this summer and realizes how quickly you age in this game.

He was an All-American at Clemson University and rose quickly through the Rockies system. He was given 299 at-bats in Colorado in 2008 and hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He doesnt want to only face left-handers in Chicago.

Obviously, Id like to be an everyday guy, Baker said. Everyone in here wants to do that. No one aspires to be a utility bench guy. But at the same time, if thats what my job is, Ill go out there and try to do it well.

Baker, whose father is a retired U.S. Army colonel, was born in West Germany and grew up all around the world. He makes friends quickly and moves easily through the various groups in the clubhouse. He wont complain and will do whatever he can to help DeWitt, a former Dodgers first-round pick with something to prove.

Greg Maddux the front-office assistant who once played with DeWitt in Los Angeles recommended him in the Ted LillyRyan Theriot deal last summer. DeWitt is only 25 and serious about his craft. The Cubs believe he has potential to grow offensively, especially through his work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

Im going to give it everything I have every day, DeWitt said. If that turns into 400, 500 (at-bats), whatever, it doesnt matter to me concentrate on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

DeWitt is hitting .171 this spring, while Baker is at .394. Quade prides himself on being someone who looks inside the numbers, but he doesnt even have to do that to know thats not a big enough sample size.

Good teams always have players that exceed expectations and their career numbers. Maybe the Cubs will hit on a second baseman, but that position will not make or break the season. That depends more on Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and what looks like an improved bullpen.

Between 2004 and January 2012, the Cubs will have paid Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena close to 184 million combined. They invested their money in corner infielders, not to mention the outlay for Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.

Baker and DeWitt fit this team at this moment. Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years. We know it wont be Mike Fontenot again on April 1.

Until then, the questions will keep coming. Will Soriano have a bounce-back year? Can Starlin Castro hit leadoff? How good can Geovany Soto be? The answers will be revealed across the next six months.

This lineup is evolving, Quade said. Maybe I accidentally put a lineup out there that just wears the baseball out and I dont have to change. But I think that realistically well have to mix and match and then performance matters.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Why Chicago Cubs starters Jon Lester, Alec Mills are two of MLB's best pitchers

Why Chicago Cubs starters Jon Lester, Alec Mills are two of MLB's best pitchers

Usually when GMs, managers and fans get ready for a baseball season, any consistent production from the Nos. 4 and 5 starters is a luxury. In the Cubs’ case, it’s been an embarrassment of riches through two turns of the rotation.

Through 10 games, the Cubs are 8-2, good for the best win percentage in the National League. One huge reason for that has been the team’s incredible starting pitching. Kyle Hendricks set the tone early when he pitched a complete game shutout in the very first game of the season. Now, the Cubs’ starters lead MLB in ERA (1.95), batting average against (.156) and WHIP (0.780). They’ve done all that while also throwing 60 innings, second only to the Indians who have thrown 70 innings.

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At first glance you’d probably think, yeah, that makes sense with Hendricks starting the season the way he did, and Darvish getting back on track with six innings of two-hit ball in his second start. But surprisingly the only two clunkers came in Hendricks and Darvish starts. In fact, the analytics say Jon Lester and Alec Mills, the Cubs’ last two guys in the rotation have been two of the most impressive starters in MLB.

Let’s start by looking at the ERAs of all starters who have at least 8 IP, since the name of the game is keeping runs off the board. If 8 IP seems like an arbitrary cutoff… well, it is. But it seems like a fair number to assess quality pitchers who have made two starts in this shortened season with short leashes on pitchers. Among those pitchers, Lester and Mills each rank in the top-10 with ERAs of 0.82 and 1.38, respectively, according to FanGraphs.

So how are they doing it? Neither is a power pitcher who relies on strikeouts. In fact, Lester’s four punchouts place him tied for fourth-fewest in our split of SPs who have thrown more than 8 IP. Mills’ seven strikeouts (tied for 10th-fewest) aren’t much better. These guys succeed by keeping guys off the base paths, and not allowing hard-hit balls.

Looking at batting average against, Lester and Mills move into MLB’s top-five, according to our FanGraphs split, with each pitcher holding batters under .120. Since we’ve already established that neither guy is a power pitcher, when we filter further to just show BAA on balls put in play it should come as no surprise that Lester and Mills rise to No. 1 and No. 2 in all of baseball with .118 and .139 marks, respectively.

Great defense, like Javy Baez’s tag in Monday’s game, certainly helps the pitchers’ stats. But the starters also make things easier on the defense by inducing poor contact, regardless of whether the ball is hit on the ground or the air. According to FanGraphs, Mills ranks second in MLB by inducing soft contact on 33.3% of all balls put into play. In addition, he’s 11th in MLB with a 54.3 ground ball percentage. Lester ranks ninth by getting hitters to make soft contact 26.5% of the time, although he’s 11th in the league in getting batters to hit fly balls 47.1% of the time.

In the end the result is the same, with Mills and Lester combining to only allow four extra base hits in 24 IP. So although they aren’t typical “dominant” pitchers that teams like to make their aces, Mills and Lester have been two of the most effective starters in the game.


RELATED: How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

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Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong among Cardinals to test positive for COVID-19

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USA TODAY

Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong among Cardinals to test positive for COVID-19

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong are of the seven St. Louis players and six staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week.

Six of those players gave St. Louis permission to disclose their names. In addition to Molina and DeJong, the club announced Tuesday pitchers Junior Fernández and Kodi Whitley, first baseman Rangel Ravelo and shortstop Edmundo Sosa tested positive.

The Cardinals released statements from Molina and DeJong:

"I am saddened to have tested positive for COVID-19, even after adhering to safety guidelines that were put in place," Molina said. "I will do everything within my power to return as soon as possible for Cardinals fans, the city of St. Louis and my teammates. As I recover, I request that you please respect my privacy and family in my absence from the team."

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"I am disappointed to share that I have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, even though I followed team protocols," DeJong said. "I will approach my healing as I do all other things in my life — with education, commitment, and persistence. I look forward to re-joining the team soon and ask that you respect my privacy at this time."

The Cardinals' reportedly have no new positive tests on Tuesday. The tentative plan is for them to resume play against the Cubs this weekend.

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