Cubs

Whether or not David Price is right, Cubs need more pitching

david-price-1022.png

Whether or not David Price is right, Cubs need more pitching

David Price doesn’t have to be sold on the idea of Chicago. The biggest free agent on the market this winter is intrigued by the chance to make history and be part of the Cubs team that finally wins the World Series after more than a century of losing.

Price won’t have to take the same leap of faith Jon Lester made last December when he signed up with a last-place team for six years and $155 million.

The Cubs won 97 games during the regular season, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in an emotional wild-card game and eliminated the hated St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round before slamming into the New York Mets and getting swept out of the National League Championship Series.

To go on a longer run in October, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands the Cubs will need to add at least one frontline starting pitcher to the 2016 team.

But simply signing Price at any cost won’t be a slam-dunk decision for a franchise with a checks-and-balances system, some financial restrictions and a stockpile of position players to trade from this winter.

“I’m not sure what direction we’re going to go,” Epstein said during Thursday’s year-end news conference at Wrigley Field. “Free-agent pitching is a necessary evil at times. And it’s only evil because it’s inherently risky. But it’s necessary because you can make such an impact with your starting staff right away by fishing in those waters.

“We did it last year. We’re glad we did. We’ll certainly take a hard look at all the free-agent starters this year. We’ll just have to balance our short-term interests, our long-term interests, our financial picture, our roster and payroll strategy going forward.

“I’m not going to rule anything out or rule anything in, except to say that whether it’s through trade or free agency, we’d like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta]

The Cubs could try to rekindle trade talks from the July 31 deadline with the San Diego Padres (Tyson Ross) and Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco) and move a talented middle infielder like Starlin Castro or Javier Baez to reinforce the rotation.

Maybe Jeff Samardzija wants to come home and work with pitching coach Chris Bosio after such a disappointing season with the White Sox. And since the Cubs love their old Boston Red Sox so much, how about John Lackey switching sides in the rivalry with St. Louis?

The Cubs also know this class of free-agent pitchers is so much deeper than just Price. Jordan Zimmermann — a two-time All-Star with the Washington Nationals who grew up in Wisconsin and has strong Midwest roots — will be a person of interest.

The Cubs aren’t a superpower yet and probably can’t compete financially if the Los Angeles Dodgers decide they want Price and blow past $200 million.

Remember, the Cubs needed the Masahiro Tanaka savings to help finance Lester’s megadeal, rolling over $20 million into this year’s payroll, which left them with middle-of-the-pack spending power, or roughly $120 million.

“We have not sat down as a group and finalized our budget or what this all means,” Epstein said. “But what the team accomplished this year should help. We all have an aggressive mindset. And we’re even hungrier now after getting close — but not getting all the way there.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Price — who will start a must-win Game 6 against the Kansas City Royals on Friday in the American League Championship Series — cannot be tagged with a qualifying offer after a midseason trade from the Detroit Tigers to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Price loves Joe Maddon, who managed him while he won a Cy Young Award with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. Derek Johnson — the minor-league coordinator who once helped recruit Price to Vanderbilt University — is leaving the Cubs organization to become the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Relationships and connections help, but these deals usually come down to years and dollars. The Cubs saw surging TV ratings, almost three million in attendance, four home playoff games and new revenue streams at the under-renovations Wrigley Field.

“We’ve talked about how we hope to someday become must-see TV and a really entertaining product,” Epstein said. “I don’t want to sort of get ahead of ourselves, but I think there’s a lot of interest in seeing this team play, whether it’s at Wrigley Field or on TV.

“That can only help with the TV deal down the line. But we just don’t know exactly what those numbers are yet. We hope to get a better idea as we all sit down together as an organization.

“Obviously, the 2016 payroll is not going to be as big as the 2020 payroll as we look at it because of the TV deal and everything else.

“Whether it’s (chairman Tom Ricketts) and the business-side guys — or us in the front office — we want to do everything that we can to improve the club.”

So even after an unbelievable season that surpassed everyone’s expectations, the Cubs are still in a sense right back where they started, making a No. 1 starter the No. 1 priority and trying to find the missing pieces to a World Series team that would live forever in Chicago.

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."