Cubs

Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching

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Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
5:47 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mark DeRosa was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, but played like a blue-collar guy from New Jersey, and that style endeared him to the fans at Wrigley Field.

The disappointment when he was traded off that 97-win team almost made it seem as if the utility infielderoutfielder should one day get his own statue at Sheffield and Addison.

Chris Archer is aware of the love DeRosa received during his two seasons on the North Side, and wants to prove that the front office made a smart decision in dealing for three minor-league pitchers from the Cleveland Indians system on New Years Eve 2008.

Next year the Cubs will likely cut payroll from the approximately 145 million they started with on Opening Day, as chairman Tom Ricketts told Bloomberg this week. That means they will have to develop young arms from within.

Twenty-seven-year-old Tom Gorzelanny (7-9, 4.28) feels he has already done enough to belong in the 2011 rotation, and he may be right. But on Friday afternoon he looked like someone who hadnt pitched in more than three weeks after a line drive bruised his left hand and fractured his pinky finger.

Allen Craig the fifth batter Gorzelanny has faced since Sept. 1 drilled a 3-2 fastball into the left-field bleachers. That two-out, three-run homer in the first inning set the tone in a 7-1 victory for a St. Louis Cardinals team that could be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by the end of the weekend.

I just wasnt in a groove and couldnt find it, said Gorzelanny, who reported no health issues after giving up seven runs in 3.1 innings. Im not going to worry about: If I have a good start, I hope I make the team. Because then Ill have a terrible start if I think (like) that.

All season long, you get questions about that. (Its) the last thing on my mind. Im worried about my next time on the mound. Thats it.

The fastest way for the Cubs to get back to the postseason will be through the accelerated development of their young pitchers.

Archer, who will turn 22 on Sunday, could be the next big thing. He started his fifth professional season by going 7-1 with a 2.86 ERA at Class-A Daytona. He earned a promotion and began his time at Double-A Tennessee by throwing 31 13 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

Considering that this season the Cubs incorporated 18 rookies and 11 making a big-league debut Archer will be someone to watch at spring training next year in Mesa, Ariz.

It gives you hope, he said. You know that theyre willing to use the younger players. And it definitely gets you excited and makes you even want to work harder (to) try to get there.

In front of the Cubs staff, the right-hander threw a side session on Friday at Wrigley Field. He is nearing his innings limit and will not play in the Arizona Fall League, though hes available to pitch for USA Baseball at next months Pan American Games qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.

A combined 15-3 record with a 2.34 ERA made Archer the organizations minor league pitcher of the year. In 2008 that award went to Mitch Atkins, who this week was designated for assignment and outrighted back to Triple-A Iowa. The next season it went to Casey Coleman, who will start Saturday against the Cardinals (79-74).

Thats not to say Atkins is finished or Coleman has a spot locked up. Its just difficult to make these projections.

The Atlanta Braves selected Adam Wainwright in the first round of the 2000 draft and traded him away as part of the J.D. Drew deal. Wainwright, 29, first pitched out of the St. Louis bullpen before developing into an elite starter.

Wainwright allowed one run across six innings Friday and won his 20th game of the season in front of 36,553 fans. The Cubs (69-84) have now scored three runs in their past four games. Up next theyll see Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and a San Diego Padres team thats built on pitching and fighting for first place in the National League West.

This aint the Yellow Brick Road, manager Mike Quade said. Im telling you right now this is going to be a tough task these next few days. (The) veterans know it and the kids are going to find out. Were going to have to scratch and scrape and do everything we can to try and stay in games.

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."