Cubs

Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Friday, May 28, 2010
7:08 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer some of your questions about Bob Howry, Freddy Garcia, and more!

Question from Kendra - Morris, IL: Steve....why in the world would the Cubs ever re-sign Howry? Are they looking to really get the bullpen's ERA to explode?
Steve Stone: I believe sometimes organizations will take a shot on a veteran pitcher who also happens to be a pretty good guy who was well liked the first time around with the team, and figured their other guys weren't getting the job done. They will take a shot, if it doesn't work out, most of what he is being paid is being paid by Arizona, and for them its a no-lose situation. You cant trust a pennant chase which is the way the
Cubs see this year playing out to rookies like Samardzija and they would rather add a veteran. There is no doubt his stuff is not what it once was, they are just hoping what he can give is better than what they have.

Question from David - La Grange, IL: Steve, do you think it's a good idea to bring up Andrew Cashner and pitch him as a setup guy?

Stone: So far the Cubs fancy him as a starter; I believe he would be very effective at the tail end of the bullpen. He will get to the majors, as far as the role is concerned, I am sure he would be as good a right handed setup man as they have. Bear in mind he has been used in the minors as a starter.

Question from Chris - Chicago, IL: Steve, a two-part question. First, do you see Freddy Garcia continuing to have quality starts through the rest of the year, and second, if Garcia does falter, can Daniel Hudson step in and be okay?
Stone: I think Freddy's stuff is a little short but he is long on heart and not afraid of anything. That being said, your 5th starter is usually there for a reason and cant throw as consistently well as the first 4 guys ahead of him. I cant tell if he will last all year but I think he is still a good addition. Over the long haul, I don't see his stuff stepping up. As far as Daniel, he is throwing it as well as he has all year and certainly will be one of the alternatives turned to if and when the situation dictates.

Question from Mike- Naperville, IL: Steve, should the White Sox consider sending Gordon Beckham to Triple-A?

Stone: If you have been watching, he has been hitting a whole lot better. He will be a very good player, but currently he is going through the growing pains that all but a select few go through. Mauer and Pujols didn't go through any, and are part of a small club who had big first years and continued on without any bumps in the road. He is a good
solid player, will hit a lot better than he does now, and I don't think sending him to the minors when he is getting every day bats in the majors would help him at all.

Question from Jay - Batavia, IL: Steve, what's your opinion on Sabermetric stats? Do you buy them at all?
Stone: I really believe that computers have a place in baseball and all of the stats currently employed by the computer people have some validity to them. One of the things a computer will never be able to do is tell you the size of a guys heart, quantity of intestinal fortitude he has, and will he be the same player for a contending team as he will be for a 4th, 5th, or 6th place team. There are a lot of players who thrive on teams that wont win. Put them on teams that can and will win and you will find that they just don't seem to play the same. When you look at the stats, they can only tell you what a player has done, what he has done in certain situations, what he has done against pitchers and other things computers do. It cant tell you if this guy is a pitcher, will he beat the Yankees in September if he is traded to the Rays or Boston?

The computer can only speculate on how a player will respond which is why very good scouts with experienced eyes should always have a place in the game and always be counted on heavily while evaluating a player. During my major league career, I played on some very bad teams, some very mediocre teams, some teams who were in it for a while who fell out and some exceptional teams, and I can tell you there are a lot of players that excel on those teams that end up 3rd 4th and 5th and because of that their stats look good, many of the Sabermetric categories, they are traded to teams that are in the race and they suddenly dissolve. That is where good old fashion scouting, knowing backgrounds, understanding his nightlife habits, which types of pitches he cant hit if he is a hitter, how difficult it is to get out quality hitters in a key situation; all of those things are difficult. A mixture of all the tools we have at hand now in baseball makes, to me, the most sense. There are a lot of young baseball executives raised with the idea that Sabermetrics is absolutely the way to go. I prefer a combination of good old world baseball evaluations along with the new world of computers. That combination seems to be able to get it done. Taking a look at good scouts sees what it does when the Twins have 5 everyday players that they developed for their own system and brought them to the major leagues.

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."