Cubs

What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

400141.jpg

What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. It was 71 degrees here at first pitch, and from behind home plate you get a postcard view of the mountains. The San Francisco Giants are still celebrating their first World Series title in 56 years, and theres no better time to imagine the possibilities.

The Giants did it with pitching and defense and just enough offense, the brand of baseball the Cubs are trying to build on Mike Quades watch.

Maybe the Cubs will eventually fit that vision. But after Tuesdays 3-2 win over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, theyve committed nine errors through their first three Cactus League games.

Quades going to start cutting off fingers one at a time, pitcher Ryan Dempster joked. You better start making plays or youre not going to have a glove hand.

There are several takeaways from the Giants run to the World Series that you can apply to the Cubs.

They drafted and developed high-end starters like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They assembled a deep and versatile bullpen that was among the National Leagues best. They thrived without getting many returns on Barry Zitos seven-year, 126 million deal, showing that huge long-term contracts dont have to be crippling.

They did it when no one expected.

Pitching and defense is how you win championships, Dempster said. Anybody sees it as motivation. You dont have to be picked on somebodys preseason board to be the World Series champ.

San Francisco also finished with a fielding percentage (.988) that was tied for best in the majors. The Cubs committed 53 more errors than the Giants in 2010 and graded out as one of the leagues worst defensive teams. But its still too early for the manager to panic.

Get them out of the way now, Quade said. If I start raising hell after Game 1, first of all, it goes against who I am. And second of all, I dont know if you can lose 60 guys at once, (but) its possible.

The Giants came together at the right time. They spent only 37 days in first place last year, and lost 515 games of manpower to the disabled list. They needed the Cubs to win three of four games in San Diego during the final week of the season. They finished two games ahead of the Padres in the National League West.

Ex-Cubs Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa will soon be getting World Series rings.

Im still waiting for that bottle of champagne, Dempster said. Its crazy when you think about it.

So much can happen between now and October. Dempster went three innings on Tuesday and is feeling good. Todd Wellemeyer, who was released by the Giants last August and watched them on TV back home in Kentucky, threw two scoreless innings.

Wellemeyer thinks he might get his ring in April. Hes a non-roster invitee who figures: If these guys dont have a spot for me, maybe one of the other teams will.

Those are decisions for another day. On a gorgeous day in Scottsdale, the Cubs were reminded of the Giants, and how the Green Bay Packers didnt need to win their division to win the Super Bowl.

Its such a thin (line), Quade said. You just got to get in the tournament and then you dont know. Things fell into place for them. Its a good lesson for all of us.

Theres plenty of reasons to look around and say, Why not us?

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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

cubs-stl-pod-525.jpg
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."