Why Joe Maddon and the Cubs are not concerned with velocity dips from Jake Arrieta, starters

Why Joe Maddon and the Cubs are not concerned with velocity dips from Jake Arrieta, starters

Step off the ledge, baseball fans.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs are not concerned with Jake Arrieta's low velocity early in 2017.

In fact, it actually may be by design, at least in part.

Across the board, each one of the five Cubs starters has seen a dip in velocity the first two times through the rotation this season.

Arrieta has seen the biggest drop, going from an average of 93.6 mph on his fastballs in 2016 to just 91.4 mph entering Saturday's start.

[RELATED — Jake Arrieta fires back at questions about his velocity]

Maddon said before Saturday's game he wouldn't be monitoring the radar gun at the bottom of the giant video board in left field throughout Arrieta's outing.

"Honestly not at all," Maddon said. "I kind of like where he's at quite frankly because delivery has been better and his strike-throwing has been better. I would much prefer 91, 92 and an occasional 93 located than a 94, 95 out of the shotgun. It's a much better way to go."

Arrieta sat at 91-92 mph for most of Saturday's outing, but actually dropped to 88 and 89 mph in his last two innings of work. He finished with five strikeouts in 5.2 innings and gave up three runs and two homers, though the 24mph wind blowing straight out helped contribute to the longball.

"I thought he ran out of gas there at the end," Maddon said. "The velocity wasn't as high, but the location was good and the movement on the fastball was very good, the breaking ball was good. I thought he pitched well."

Led by pitching coach Chris Bosio, the Cubs have also devised a pitching plan for every pitcher  namely their starters —​ designed to keep them strong and fresh down the stretch.

That's why the starting pitchers made their debut so late into spring training and the Cubs were extra cautious after last year's World Series run that saw guys like Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks pitching into late October/early November for the first time in their career. Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) aren't getting any younger, either.

The Cubs can also afford to play things safe in April with an American League-style lineup, the game's best defense and a deep bullpen packed with current or former closers helping supplement the work of the rotation.

[MORE - Kyle Hendricks shrugs off notion of rust in second Cubs start]

Plus, Maddon and Co. already have eyes set on another long postseason run and are working toward that already, even in mid-April.

The Cubs woke up Saturday morning with the lowest ERA in baseball (2.47). Yes that's a small sample size, but something's clearly working even with a dip in velocity.

"Jake was throwing harder in spring training. So was Kyle," Maddon said. "These guys are going to get back to that number, but I want them to be at that number locating the ball like they can with that kind of movement. That's what they do.

"Jake's been really good. It's been fun watching from the side. Even though the number is not as hot [on the radar gun] so far, the hitters' reaction has not been good. I'd much prefer bad hitter reaction.

"Velocity is a beautiful thing, but my goodness, these guys, if it's not thrown in the proper spot, these hitters will get it."

Last season, Arrieta struggled to get his mechanics right after ending 2015 with the most superhuman run (0.75 ERA in 15 second-half starts) the game had ever seen en route to the National League Cy Young Award.

Arrieta was still the toughest pitcher to hit in the league last year, but walks became an issue and Maddon routinely pointed to a lack of fastball command as the main cuplrit.

As Arrieta saunters his way toward free agency and the first  and possibly only  megadeal of his career, his fastball command and cross-body delivery have fallen in line in the early going.

"Most of the time, I'm not concerned about physical mechanics going awry, but last year with him, I was," Maddon said. "I thought he was off mechanically the way he was starting, even with his posture with how he started.

"That was leading to spinning off the ball, turning off the ball, being awkward. More than trying to back off [velocity] at any point, I never really considered that. So right now, his posture and how he's starting is really good. He's repeating his delivery.

"That's what I love, man. He's on balance with his finish and the ball is going where he wants it to go with killer movement. The velocity is coming back  you watch. That's not the issue. I much prefer he continues to dot the edges with movement as opposed to try to throw the ball harder."

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu have to be kidding me (Sorry, couldn't resist). 

The Cubs were expecting Sunday's rehab start to be the beginning to an end of what has been an extremely disappointing 2018 season for their $126 million man Yu Darvish. Darvish was scheduled to start Sunday for the Cubs single-A affiliate in South Bend, IN, but after just one inning Darvish was checked on by the trainers and eventually pulled before the 2nd inning started. 

According to Steve Greenberg, Darvish asked for an MRI on Monday which likely closes the door on him returning to the Cubs in 2018.

The frustrating thing about Darvish's rehab is that in his two rehab starts, the 32-year-old pitcher has had excellent stuff, touching 95 mph in Sunday afternoon's game before being pulled. 

At this point in the season, it seems unlikely Darvish will be able to return to the Cubs rotation for the regular season. And it would be incredibly risky to roll with Darvish in the playoffs, who even when healthy hasn't shown he's deserving of a postseason roster spot. The Cubs do have options at starter in the minors like Duane Underwood or James Norwood, and despite his shortcomings, Tyler Chatwood is an option out of necessity now.  

Drew Smyly, who looked like a possibility as a late-season addition, is still not quite ready to come back and be an effective rotation piece at the moment. And with Mike Montgomery heading to the disabled list earlier this week, the Cubs were hopeful Darvish would be healthy by the time rosters expand in September. 

Luckily, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Hendricks have all looked stellar recently and hopefully can continue their success on the mound as the Cubs continue to fight past injuries to maintain their grasp on the NL Central. 

But Theo Epstein said himself last week that if Darvish didn't perform well during his rehab stint, that was essentially his 2018 season. Don't expect to see Darvish returning to the mound until 2019, Cubs fans. 



Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 48th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 48th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 48th homer of the season came off of the St. Louis Cardinals on August 19, 1998, in a 6-8 loss.

With two-outs, Sosa sent a deep shot off of Kent Bottenfield.

The home run was even more special for Sosa, due to it coming against the Cardinals and Mark McGwire, his home run adversary for the year. 

In the game Sosa went 2-for-4 with two RBI, the exact same stat line McGwire finished with.