Cubs

Family weighs heavily on Loopers mind

Family weighs heavily on Loopers mind

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Posted: 7:34 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Braden Looper has made it clear that theres only one team he wants to play for in 2011.

Its not like playing at Wrigley Field is some lifelong dream. Its just the reality of his wife and three children living in Chicagos south suburbs. The Cubs fit what Looper wants to be as a husband, father and a pitcher.

Its not about the money, because the 36-year-old Looper has made almost 25 million in his career, according to the Baseball-Reference.com salary database.

Its uncertain if the Cubs will ultimately have enough room on their pitching staff for Looper, but he made strides during Sundays 7-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He scattered five hits and allowed one run across 3.2 innings to earn the victory in front of 12,346 fans at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Not bad for a guy who hadnt started a game since Oct. 2, 2009 and spent last summer coaching his kids Little League team.

He was on target, bench coach Pat Listach said. Its a nice competition for the fourth and fifth spots. Weve got a few guys involved and hes keeping himself right there in the running.

Looper already proved how serious he is about family by sitting out last season, when he didnt receive an offer he liked. He doesnt want to drag them all across the country.

Looper worked out this offseason but didnt really throw all winter. His agent knew it had to be the right situation, and a minor-league deal came together in late January.

Physically, Looper feels good, and he says his right arm is basically caught up to where it needs to be. Hes waiting for his kids to get out of school for spring break. He knows that while there are trade-offs being away from home this much, there are also perks in having your dad play in the big leagues.

Everybody where were at is either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, so theyre real excited, Looper said. My sons excited to be able to come to Wrigley Field and run around. (But) well see what happens. We got a long ways to go. I think today was a good, positive step in the right direction. Hopefully we can make more positive steps.

Looper has made 30-plus starts and won at least 12 games in each of the last three seasons hes pitched, a wealth of experience that shouldnt be discounted. Hes willing to share, even with the younger pitchers hes competing directly against.

Whether Im talking to (Andrew Cashner) on the side about pitching or his routine between starts, Looper said, whether its whoever you can fill that name in with whoever you want Im always going to be that way.

If I cant play and be part of whats going on in other peoples lives and help them get better? Thats what its all about. Yeah, were here to win. Yeah, I want to start. But if you cant do the other stuff, its not worth doing it.

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

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

It’s been another quiet offseason for the Cubs.

January is almost over and the Cubs have yet to commit a single guaranteed dollar to the big-league roster. After exceeding MLB’s luxury tax threshold in 2019, Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to get under the figure in 2020 and reset penalties entering 2021.

Barring any major surprises — i.e. a core player getting dealt before Opening Day — the club will return largely the same team from last season. That group has plenty of talent, but there are some question marks, like second base and center field.

A fan made waves at Cubs Convention last Saturday, reciting the definition of insanity to Epstein and Jed Hoyer during a baseball operations panel. With a similar roster in hand, why should fans expect anything different from the Cubs in 2020?

For Epstein, part of the answer lies in the continued development of homegrown players like Ian Happ.

Happ was supposed to be a key cog for the Cubs in 2019, but he was sent to Triple-A Iowa at the end of spring training after striking out 14 times in 52 at-bats. This followed a 2018 season in which he sported a 36.1 percent strikeout rate.

“He was striking out 30 percent of the time and we decided to send him down, because what we were seeing with Ian Happ, in our mind, wasn’t the finished product,” Epstein said Saturday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “We believe it’s the same way with a lot of our hitters, that’s there’s tremendous talent in there, but it wasn’t manifesting in major league games — which is all that matters — the way we needed it to.”

Happ was reportedly upset with the move, but his strikeout rate dropped to 26.3 percent with Iowa. After the Cubs recalled him on July 26, he posted a 25 percent rate in 58 games (156 plate appearances), slashing .264/.333/.564. He recognizes the demotion was beneficial.

“I got a lot of at-bats. I used it as a learning process,” Happ told NBC Sports Chicago Friday of his Triple-A stint. “To be able to come back and have success, it was a good way to finish the season."

Happ ended the season on a high note, slashing .311/.348/.672 in September with six home runs. He was tremendous over the season’s final eight games: .480/.519/1.200, five homers and 12 RBIs.

“Just being more aware of the ways guys were gonna pitch me,” Happ said regarding his hot September. “There’s some tweaks. For me, it was more about handling different pitches and when to use two different swings — when to be a little bit more defensive, when to put the ball in play. It led to results.”

Cubs players have been criticized in recent seasons for a seeming unwillingness to shorten up at times to put the ball in play. Their 73.8 percent contact rate in 2019 was last in the National League, though Ben Zobrist’s personal absence contributed to the low figure.

Happ posted a 71.7 percent contact rate, up from his 63.5 percent rate in 2018.

“He went through a really difficult stretch in Iowa, making significant adjustments to his approach and his swing and as a person, growing from some failure,” Epstein said. “When he came back up towards the end of last year, his strikeout rate was under much better control, he had much more contact ability.

“He wasn’t driving the ball quite the same, and then by the end of the year, he had maintained that better contact rate, was starting to drive the ball again, and it looked pretty dynamic and pretty promising for the future.”

It’s not a coincidence Happ made strides with Iowa. He got to work on his swing in an environment where he played every day. This wouldn’t have been the case in the big leagues, especially if his struggles lingered.

Happ started each of the Cubs’ last six games; he said it's huge for his confidence knowing he'd be playing every day. 

“It’s huge, it’s huge. I think that’s what everyone’s striving for in this league, is be able to [play every day],” he said. “For me, after that stretch and being able to finish strong and look back on a solid year, that’s big moving forward.”

The Cubs roster may look the same, but there’s plenty of room for internal improvement. Pitchers will continue adjusting to Happ, but he’s a better player for what he went through last season. He can take what he learned and carry it into 2020.

“So now, same player on the roster — and I understand the definition of insanity — but to expect Ian Happ to grow from what he’s gone through and benefit from the coaching that he’s gotten,” Epstein said, “and the lessons that he’s learned and the adversity that he’s gone through, and go out and be a productive player for us next year in a certain role, I don’t think is insane.”

“It’s just about sticking with the process, understanding that that’s what worked and that’s what you want to do,” Happ said. “It’s not always easy at the beginning of the year at Wrigley. It’s cold, it’s windy. The results don’t always show up. But if you’re true to the process and you keep going, by the end of the year you’ll be at a good spot.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

davidrosscubsconap.jpg
AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.