Cubs

Jackson aiming to bring winning tradition to Cubs

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Jackson aiming to bring winning tradition to Cubs

At a charity event in December, Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins said he thinks he would earn 30 million a year if he was in his prime during today's crazy free agent market.

Edwin Jackson isn't quite worth that -- 52 million over four years, to be exact -- but he was still one of the main draws at the 2013 Cubs Convention.

As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look to build the Cubs into a serial contender, they settled for making incremental moves in free agency to help improve the club. But then Jackson came along and the front office felt he was the right player at the right time.

For Jackson, a guy who has put on six different uniforms in the last five seasons, the appeal of a four-year contract was too much to pass up.

"It's always a pleasure knowing you have a chance to have stability," Jackson said Saturday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. "You don't have to worry about moving around, and also, you get to gel with guys for a long period of time. That definitely helps you guys learn each other and it's imperative to a winning team. It helps you play better."

Jackson, who doesn't turn 30 until September, has already been traded six times in his career and granted free agency twice.

He's been on so many different teams in such a short time that in a Saturday panel with fans, new Cubs TV broadcaster Jim Deshaies actually likened Jackson to "the Kevin Bacon of baseball. But instead of six degrees of separation, you only need three to find a guy who played with a teammate of Jackson's."

Jackson says he has a "collage of jerseys," but may have finally found a home here in the Windy City.

"Chicago is a great city," Jackson said. "For us to be able to come out and try to change the tradition around the Cubs organization, I think it could be a lot of fun.

"My family and I, we love Chicago. Being on the North Side, playing at Wrigley, I can definitely picture myself being here for a long time, having a lot of success and helping bring this organization up to a winning tradition."

Of course, most baseball fans know Jackson has already spent parts of two season in Chicago, pitching for the White Sox at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, sandwiched in between a pair of trades.

But there's no question as to where Jackson's loyalty lies.

"I'm definitely looking forward to pitching on the good side," Jackson said Saturday, much to the delight of the fans. "I'm coming from the bad side -- the dark side -- and now I'm on the North Side. This is one of the greatest fan bases in the game and you see the turnout this weekend.

"It's been one of the greatest fan fests that I've been to...I feel great. There's a lot of energy. I'm excited to get the season started and experience it from the home side of things, instead of the visiting side where everybody is heckling me."

Jackson made the All-Star team in 2009 and already has one no-hitter to his name -- which he called the best and worst game of his career, as he also walked eight batters in the process. He carries a 70-71 lifetime record with a 4.40 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over more than 1,200 innings.

He brings gritty playoff experience to a team in the midst of rebuilding, having already won one World Series with the Cardinals in 2011 and appearing in another with the Rays in '08. Jackson was also a key part of last year's Washington Nationals team that led Major League Baseball with 98 wins in the regular season.

But that doesn't mean Jackson's going to be giving any rah-rah speeches in the locker room anytime soon.

"I'm not coming into a situation assuming I have to be a leader," he said. "You don't necessarily have to be vocal to be a leader. You can lead by actions and I'm definitely one of those guys. I'm not necessarily the most outspoken guy, unless I need to be.

"When there comes a situation to provide information, I can definitely fulfill that role. I'm just coming to play and have a lot of fun with these guys and try to win a lot of ballgames."

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
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."