Cubs

Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

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Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
5:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. During what could have been his last night on the job, the media found Mike Quade to be in a particularly good mood.

Sitting behind a desk after Game 161, Quade defused any tension around Carlos Zambrano. If Zambrano glared at teammate Bobby Scales for his defensive mistakes, or sulked when pulled for a reliever, the manager said he didnt see anything.

Quade speaks in rapid bursts and his defense of Zambrano came quickly. He had already set the press conferences tone by teasing one reporter who always asked about the upcoming starting pitchers.

Whats the rotation look like for the rest of the way? Quade said, laughing. The rotation is Dempster and Ill see you guys next year maybe.

Yes, Ryan Dempster did start the final game of last season and should get the assignment for Opening Day 2011. And Quade eventually earned two guaranteed years on his new deal.

But as executives, scouts and agents gather inside the Walt Disney World complex this week for Major League Baseballs annual winter meetings, some of those same questions linger.

The Cubs' rotation has volume, but not definition, and the bullpen could use a right-handed piece. Those will be areas to monitor when the market officially opens Monday at the Swan and Dolphin resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Four years ago, Jim Hendry was rushed from the meetings to an Orlando-area hospital with chest pains, but that didnt stop the general manager from signing Ted Lilly for 40 million.

That worked out for everyone, as Lilly delivered 47 wins and more than 700 innings in three-plus seasons. It wont be easy to replace that sort of production, much less Lillys accountability and refusal to make excuses.

Budget constraints likely wont allow Hendry to make a huge splash in free agency. Forget Cliff Lee and the nine-figure contract a bidding war with the New York Yankees will generate.

From there, the drop-off is steep toward back-of-the-rotation types not unlike Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva and Casey Coleman. It will force the Cubs to ask themselves: At what price are any of these pitchers better than the ones we already have?

Some linked to the Cubs Jake Westbrook (St. Louis Cardinals), Jon Garland (Los Angeles Dodgers), Javier Vazquez (Florida Marlins) have already found riches elsewhere. The same thing has happened to a shrinking market for first basemen.

Adrian Gonzalez trade talk has dominated the run-up to the meetings. Lance Berkman is heading to St. Louis and Aubrey Huff will remain a World Series hero in San Francisco. It would be shocking if Paul Konerko doesnt re-sign with the White Sox and join Adam Dunn on the South Side.

All that could drive demand for Carlos Pena a Scott Boras client even higher.

The Cubs have a reported interest in Brandon Webb and the one-time Cy Young Award winner seems to fit the profile of what theyre looking for value and upside though theres inherent risk with someone whose right shoulder hasnt allowed him to pitch since April 6, 2009.

However, when the 2011 staff takes shape, it will not be listening to Larry Rothschild anymore. Look for the Cubs to announce the hiring of their new pitching coach this week. Theres a sense that an internal candidate such as Mark Riggins or Lester Strode will be promoted.

Maybe a new voice can help Gorzelanny and Wells gain focus and confidence. Quades presence helped young pitchers like Coleman and Andrew Cashner relax during the final six weeks of last season. Even Zambrano seemed to benefit from a fresh start.

(Quade) did a good job he deserved it, Zambrano said. Hes very professional (and) very respectful and hopefully we can do a lot of good things for him next year.

No one knows if Zambrano has figured it out yet. Internal improvement isnt guaranteed, though its also not unreasonable to think it could happen. It wont help sell tickets this winter, but the man in the dugout will be more convinced than the fan base. He owes a lot to those players.

This has been all about the pitching, Quade said that night in Houston, near the end of his 37-game audition. Those guys on the bump have been special this entire time. Im day to day.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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."