Cubs

Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

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Lost Marmol tries to forget the past

MESA, Ariz. This was last September, when the Boston Red Sox were in the middle of an epic collapse and no one knew who would wind up running the Cubs.

As reporters crowded around his locker at Wrigley Field, Carlos Marmol laughed off the uncertainty about who might be the closer in 2012: You want somebody else?

Theo Epstein waved goodbye to Aramis Ramirez, Marmols closest friend in the clubhouse and the godfather to his daughter. The new president of baseball operations also traded away Carlos Zambrano, who called out Marmol during last seasons WE STINKS! rant.

Yet there was Marmol on Monday at Fitch Park, back for his 13th year in the organization, ready to close again. He laughed when asked what life is like without Zambrano around.

Its different, Marmol said. He was a good guy, though. Hes got his own problems. Thats not my business. I try to take care of my business. Everybody has to take care of their business."

Except in St. Louis, a reporter joked, referencing Zambranos meltdown after Marmol blew a save against Ryan Theriot and the Cardinals last June.

I dont know, man, Marmol said. Everybody says whatever they want to say. Just keep it quiet. I dont care what anybody says.He apologized to me. I dont know why, because I didnt hear anything he said. I dont read the papers. It doesnt bother me.

But last season, something got to Marmol, who led the majors with 10 blown saves and lost the closers job at one point. He says hes shed about 10 pounds and will stop experimenting with a cut fastball.

I got a little lost, Marmol said. Im trying to forget about the cutter and everything from last year.

The Cubs want Marmol to focus on his strengths, the devastating slider that can completely baffle hitters (and keep their fans on edge). First-year manager Dale Sveum told him to get rid of the cutter, while new pitching coach Chris Bosio is stressing a simple adjustment, the right way to align his shoulders.

All of this is trying to push Marmol back to where he was earlier in his career, an All-Star setup man in 2008 and a dominant closer in 2010. The eye-popping numbers from that year 38 saves in 43 chances, 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings pitched earned him the big contract heading into 2011.

It was a nice story, the 16-year-old kid the Cubs signed out of the Dominican Republic who at first resisted the idea of being converted into a pitcher striking it rich.

Marmol says the 20 million contract didnt get in his head: No, I dont worry about money. I try doing my job and stay away from thinking about (that).

Marmol will earn 7 million this season, before his salary jumps to 9.8 million in 2013. The economics obviously arent the same, but all winter long, Epstein focused on acquiring potential bounce-back players coming off disappointing years.

This isnt a complete change of scenery. But maybe listening to a few new voices and using the short-term memory essential to any closer will make all the difference.

To be honest with you, I lost a lot of confidence, Marmol said. But its a new year, (so) forget about that. (Were here now).

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.

What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

There was plenty of "Willson Contreras: Future MVP?" discussion during spring training.

Any time a player in his age-25 year season hits 21 home runs with a .276/.356/.499 slash line at a premium defensive position (catcher) despite missing about a month with a hamstring injury (as Contreras did in 2017), the baseball world takes notice. The notion that he might one day garner MVP recognition was nothing to be laughed at.

Through the first few months of 2018, Contreras did much of the same. He had a small drop off in power, but he still had his moments and was solid overall. Over a three-game stretch in the beginning of May, he went 10-for-15 with three doubles, two triples, three home runs and 11 RBIs. He was the first Cubs catcher with five triples before the All-Star break since Gabby Hartnett in 1935. He even started the All-Star Game — and became the second player in MLB history (after Terry Steinbach) to homer in his first career All-Star at-bat after having homered in his first career MLB at-bat (back in 2016).

But instead of cruising along at a performance level about 20 percent better than league average, something happened.

Here are Contreras' Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) numbers from the past three seasons  (100 is league average, any point above or below is equal to a percentage point above or below league average):

Here’s that breakdown in terms of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage:

But what caused the downturn in production? 

There were some underlying characteristics of his work, particularly a mixture of significantly higher ground-ball rate, lower average exit velocity and bad luck on balls in play which led to the decrease in production.

Also notable is that after the Midsummer Classic, the hits stopped coming on pitches on the outer third. Dividing the strike zone into thirds (this doesn’t include pitches outside the zone), this is what his batting average and slugging percentage looked like:

Granted, it’s not a significant sample, but it’s there.

One non-offensive thing that sticks out is his workload.

*missed 29 games in August and September with hamstring injury

It was the most innings caught by a Cubs receiver since Geovany Soto logged 1,150.1 innings in his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. Three other catchers besides Contreras logged at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in 2018: Jonathan Lucroy, Yasmani Grandal and Yadier Molina. While they combined to fare better prior to the All-Star break, it wasn’t nearly as precipitous a drop as Contreras suffered.

Lucroy, Grandal and Molina combined to slash .255/.322/.416 before the All-Star Game and .239/.317/.405 after it.

That could possibly have a little something to do with it though.

There’s no way to be entirely sure and to what extent each of the things listed above affected Contreras last season. Could it have been something completely different? Could it have been a minor nagging injury? A mental roadblock? Too many constant adjustments throughout the season? The questions remain. A new voice in newly appointed hitting coach Anthony Iapoce might be just what Contreras, who is entering his age-27 season, needs to get back on track and reestablish his spot among the best catchers in the major leagues.