When Joe Maddon looks out from his spot in the home dugout, the Cubs manager sees five potential Gold Glove winners all around Wrigley Field, a defensive makeover that has become part of the identity for a team with World Series ambitions.
“That’s legit,” Maddon said before Wednesday night’s crisp 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, “without trying to oversell our guys.”
All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo is already playing at that level and has the eye-popping offensive numbers to help win that popularity contest: “For sure,” Maddon said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Jason Heyward has already won three Gold Gloves and is living up to his defensive reputation — while underperforming offensively — in the first season of a $184 million contract: “Right field is spectacular,” Maddon said.
All-Star shortstop Addison Russell “should be,” Maddon said, given his range, explosiveness and steady up-the-middle presence during his second year in the big leagues.
“I think if (Willson) Contreras played enough, he’d have that opportunity to be considered, too,” Maddon said, praising the rookie catcher with a rocket arm who has gone 5-for-14 in throwing out runners (while veteran Miguel Montero is only 2-for-50 in those situations).
Javier Baez makes highlight-reel plays all over the infield: “If Javy played every day, he would,” Maddon said, agreeing with the idea that there should be Gold Glove recognition for super-utility players.
“I’d love that,” Maddon said. “I love the Super-U everything. That should be a position on the All-Star team. There should actually be somebody voted as that guy. I’ve thought that since 2009 with (Ben) Zobrist. The fact that we have so many guys that have played varied positions well — that’s got to start happening in other places (with) other organizations.
“It’s so beneficial game in progress, the things that you can do, whether it’s the pinch-hit, accelerate your defense, make it stronger for the last play of the game. We’re able to do all these different things because of the athleticism and the adaptability. Of course, Javy really sets that up.”
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Meaning an All-Star third baseman (Kris Bryant) or an All-Star second baseman (Zobrist) can move to the outfield and the Cubs don’t feel like they are sacrificing anything defensively or playing anyone out of position.
“We’re almost spoiled everywhere,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel said after shutting down the Angels for seven innings. “The guys go out there, and they play nine hard innings for us and they take hits away. As long as we’re in the zone, throwing strikes, putting the ball in play, guys are going to make plays.”
The Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. FanGraphs also measures this group as the leaders in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Above Average.
“Addison is just playing with so much confidence now that you’re actually seeing how good he can be,” Maddon said. “‘KB’ no longer pats the ball. Dexter (Fowler’s) just playing deeper and now is considered a better center fielder.
“I think just through natural progression maturity-wise, some guys have just gotten better because they’re good. We’re making the routine play routinely, and we’ve made some pretty spectacular plays almost all around the field.”
Along with current coaches Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello, ex-manager Dale Sveum helped design the game-planning system that once relied heavily on defensive shifts. Maddon had also been an early proponent of shifting as Mike Scioscia’s data-friendly bench coach with the Angels and the small-market manager for a Tampa Bay Rays franchise trying to compete with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
“We don’t shift, obviously, nearly as much,” Maddon said. “But, again, I think that’s a product of the league and the teams in the division that we’re playing against, not necessarily that we don’t want to.”
The Cubs don’t need to get by with gadget plays and smoke and mirrors.
“They’re young, athletic,” Maddon said. “They work. They care. Our coaches do a great job in the prep. We keep everything simple. You’ve heard me say that a thousand times. I really think a big part of our success is the simplicity with which we do things out there. There’s nothing complicated, I promise you.
“So if everybody likes us in the metrics, whatever, that’s great. I just think from an old-school perspective — technically — I really like the way we mechanically are moving. The feet have gotten better. The arm strokes have gotten shorter. Addison’s arm has gotten stronger. I’m seeing all these different things this year.”