Cubs

Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena

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Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 5:08 p.m. Updated 6:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Pena made direct eye contact and thoughtfully considered each question. He speaks in full paragraphs and certainly doesnt sound like a mercenary.

But this is business. Scott Boras, baseballs most powerful agent, described it as a pillow contract, the one-year, 10 million deal that could give Pena the platform to command three times that as a free agent.

In return, the Cubs receive a left-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove first baseman without having to make a long-term financial commitment.

I dont know if that was a technical term, Pena said Thursday with a laugh. But I dont even care what they called it. It was more just (being) happy to come to this city. When I put this uniform on, Im like, Hey man, Im here. This is my ballclub. This is my team. This is where I belong.

Before Pena had even arrived for his first day of work at Fitch Park, this arrangement led to wild speculation that Albert Pujols will be the Cubs first baseman in 2012. Some 2,300 miles away in Jupiter, Fla., Pujols reported to Cardinals camp on Thursday and reaffirmed that he wont discuss a contract extension until seasons end.

I havent even given it enough attention for it to be amusing to me, Pena said. Im here, Im a Cub today and Im just going to embrace that.

Pena will turn 33 in May and averaged 36 homers and 102 RBI across the past four seasons in Tampa Bay. But fans will look at his .196 batting average last year and wonder how far hes regressed.

Thats not me, he said. It wouldnt be intelligent on my part to carry that piece of luggage on my back (and) let it be the number that identifies me. Its not even an issue. Thats in the past. (I) know the type of player I am, so I pretty much erased that out of my mind.

Pena, who studied engineering at Northeastern University, is an analytical type. He traveled to Dallas last month to spend a week with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who broke down his swing and encouraged him to keep it simple.

The Cubs are in trouble if Pena, who dealt with plantar fascia last season, doesnt stay healthy. On Thursday he worked out at first base with Tyler Colvin and Jeff Baker, two players with limited experience at the position. He should be a resource to anyone in the clubhouse.

Hes one of the best around, (both) on and off the field, said new Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who played with Pena in Tampa Bay. Hes always open and very, very positive. Hes just a guy who lights up the room.

The Cubs do not have a long-term option at first base, unless they fully commit to converting Colvin. You can look at Penas one-year contract as motivation or distraction, but he gets rave reviews as a teammate.

Thats a character issue, manager Mike Quade said. Whether he had a one-year, a one-week, a 10-year (deal), I think you get the same guy.

Pena dodged a question about whether he would sign another contract with the Cubs if everything broke right, saying its foolish to look too far into the future, that it will only hurt the team. Hes found a place in Chicago, but good advice would be to rent, not buy.

Still, Pena came across as genuinely excited about this opportunity. Hes looking forward to seeing 40,000 fans on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, even if its a one-time deal.

Thats going to be intense, Pena said. I cant wait to feel that type of energy, man. I keep on hearing (about) it. (But) until I experience it, I wont know exactly what (they) mean. I read about it (and) players tell me about it. But when I feel those chills myself, thats when Ill understand what being a Cub really means.

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

Small sample size: A look at Cubs' early-season statistical pace

Small sample size: A look at Cubs' early-season statistical pace

As the Cubs put the finishing touches on a sweep in Miami, they are now roughly 1/10 of the way through the 2019 season.

If they had their way, they obviously would've preferred to boast a better record than the current 8-9 mark through 17 games, but things are trending in the right direction for most of the club. (Playing a three-game set against the hapless Marlins will certainly help the good vibes.)

But since the Cubs got out to a 1-6 start, they've gone 7-3 and now have a +18 run differential, good for second in the Naional League.

That puts the Cubs on pace to win 76 games with a +171 run differential. For perpsective, the 2018 Cubs won 95 games with only a +116 run differential.

A lot can happen over the 90 percent of the season that remains and The Small Sample Size crowd is out in full force in April, as usual. By themselves, none of these stats really mean anything or tell us much beyond "Player X is off to a hot start" or "Pitcher Y is struggling." 

But that doesn't mean we should just ignore the stats and pace some players are on. Where's the fun in that? 

So let's take a look at some of the early-season stats surrounding the 2019 Cubs:

Javy Baez

El Mago has been red-hot of late, collecting 11 hits in his last 18 at-bats. That currently puts him on a season pace of:

229 hits, 143 runs, 48 doubles, 57 homers, 152 RBI

You can bet he'd finish near the top of NL MVP voting once again if he maintained that pace all year long. (However, he'd still probably lose to Christian Yelich, who picked up right where he left off last season and is currently on pace for 77 homers and 222 RBI. Seriously.)

Baez is the poster child for the small sample size claim. He was hitting just .232 with a .735 OPS as of Saturday morning, and his season pace would've looked a whole lot different had this article come out then. He's in the midst of an upswing, so these numbers are skewed. 

However, with the way he's driving the ball to the opposite field right now and turning singles into doubles, don't be surprised if he approaches the 83 extra-base hits he put up last year.

Willson Contreras

On pace for: 57 HR, 114 RBI, 86 BB, 143 K

...and that's in only 448 projected at-bats. 

Those would certainly be NL MVP caliber numbers from a guy some expected to challenge for the award after his blistering stretch in the middle of 2017. Contreras was so hot that he actually might've approached 30 homers and 100 RBI that year if he hadn't hurt his hamstring and missed a month.

If he stays healthy, his record-setting start to 2019 helps make those benchmarks seem like a possibility once again.

Contreras won't maintain his 1.224 OPS or .766 slugging percentage all season, but he looks like a completely different hitter than he was last year, when he hit just 7 homers in the first half and had only 10 all season.

Jason Heyward

On pace for: 38 HR, 105 RBI, 133 R, 95 BB, 57 K

To put those in perspective, here's Heyward's season average in each category during his first three years in a Cubs uniform: 

9 HR, 55 RBI, 62 R, 46 BB, 73 K

So even with a serious regression from his hot start, it wouldn't take much from Heyward the rest of the way to top his 2016-18 average stat line. 

The power is definitely eye-catching, but the walk-to-strikeout ratio is particularly noteworthy. His command of the strike zone is a huge reason why he's been able to hit .353 with a 1.052 OPS in the first 1/10 of the season.

Heyward has looked so good, he's now hitting fifth in the Cubs — a spot that once belonged to...

Kyle Schwarber

On pace for: 29 HR, 57 RBI, 48 BB, 181 K

Schwarber is in the midst of a tough stretch right now, so these numbers look off — especially the strikeouts (he's whiffed 12 times in his last 5 games). The power is still there, but the RBI total remains low and even the walks are suspiciously below his standards.

Schwarber has a career 13.4 percent walk rate and drew free passes at a 15.3 percent clip last year. This season, he's all the way down to 8.8 percent. 

Daniel Descalso 

On pace for: 86 RBI

Where is everybody who mocked the Descalso signing over the winter? In hiding right now, probably. 

The veteran has been exactly as advertised in the early going, with a professional and advanced approach at the plate. That includes a 7-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position (plus 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position and two outs). 

Descalso has been having some great at-bats, but there's no way those numbers will continue at their current pace all season. So don't bet on 85+ RBI, especially when he's only on track for 419 at-bats.

Ben Zobrist

On pace for: .379 OBP, 86 BB, 67 K, 48 R, 0 XBH

Zobrist turns 38 next month, but there's no way he suddenly lost all of his power. This is a guy who put up double digit homers every season from 2008 through 2017 before hitting only 9 last year. Age may be catching up to him a bit and sapping some of his slug, but he still hit 28 doubles last year in 455 at-bats.

He continues to keep his strikeouts and walks nearly even, as even with a 2-strikeout performance Wednesday night, Zobrist still has more free passes than whiffs this season. Between his 86-walk pace, the .379 OBP and the fact he spends most of his time in the leadoff spot in the Cubs order, it's surprising he's only scored 5 runs so far. That should change once Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo start heating up.

Speaking of...

Bryzzo

We don't need to worry about a pace for Bryant and Rizzo. Everybody knows they're struggling. 

This is the only stat you need to know:

Just wait until these guys start hitting. This Cubs offense is going to be a force to be reckoned with all year. (Unless, you know, they "break" in the second half again...)

Now, on to the run prevention...

Pitching stats are not as much fun to project out over a full season simply because they don't play every day and the small sample size carries even more weight (especially for relief pitchers). 

But here are a few fun pace stats for some Cubs arms:

—Cole Hamels is on pace for 29 wins and 0 losses.

—Jose Quintana is projected for 276 strikeouts in 200 innings. (His career high in whiffs was 207 in only 188.2 innings in 2017.)

—Jon Lester is on pace for only 29 starts, which would be the first time he failed to take the ball at least 30 times in a season since 2007.

—Brad Brach is on track for 95 walks in 67.2 innings. He's never walked more than 38 batters in a season (and that came in 79.1 innings in 2015). 

—Kyle Hendricks is ticketed for 133 runs allowed...but only 76 of those would be earned. The Cubs defense has done him no favors to begin the year.

—Pedro Strop is projected to lead the Cubs in saves with...10. He is the only Cubs pitcher to pick up a save through 17 games and he has just the 1 (from April 11 against the Pirates).

—Steve Cishek is on pace for only 67 appearances — a pretty big step down from the 80 games he pitched in a season ago.

—Brandon Kintzler is projected to give up only 58 baserunners in 76.2 innings (48 hits, 10 walks) while striking out 86 batters. He has never finished a season (in which he's made at least 10 appearances) with more strikeouts than innings pitched and his career-low WHIP was 1.065 in 2013, when he surrendered 82 baserunners in 77 innings.

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CubsTalk Podcast: Todd Hollandsworth gives an outside perspective

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: Todd Hollandsworth gives an outside perspective

Former Cubs TV analyst Todd Hollandsworth talks with Luke & Kap and gives an outside perspective on the 2019 Cubs.

—Holly talks about being in the the TV booth and on the road every day with the Marlins. (0:46)

—Todd shares his thoughts on the 2019 Cubs and how the team was built through the draft. (1:51)

—Holly breaks down Jose Quintana's recent run of great starts. He Also talks about Yu Darvish and if what we saw Monday was for real. (4:03)

—Todd talks about the N.L. Central. Draws similarities to the N.L. East. He says the Cubs still win the division - IF they pitch. (5:37)

—Holly shares his thoughts on former Marlin Christian Yelich and his dominant start to the 2019 season. (8:05)

—Todd talks about the "Yelich" trade and how the deal has worked out (so far) for the Marlins. (11:09)

—Holly discusses Javy Baez sliding into second base and the replay review system in MLB. Where do they go next? How can MLB fix the problem with aggressive base-running vs. being too cautious when sliding. (13:17)

 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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