Why Joe Maddon doesn't need an iPad in Cubs dugout


Why Joe Maddon doesn't need an iPad in Cubs dugout

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon snapped his fingers, a reminder about the rhythm of the game and how you need to have a feel for the moment that can’t be found on an iPad in the dugout.

“That’s why I have that card in my back pocket,” Maddon said.

It’s always about the players. Maddon could have signed into Netflix and watched episodes of “The Office” during the games Jake Arrieta pitched in the second half of last season and still looked like a Manager of the Year.

But the Cubs are also an organization, packing up the Sloan Park clubhouse on Wednesday and leaving Arizona as a World Series favorite built around old-school talent evaluations, under-the-radar scouting finds, a sophisticated game-planning network, the Ivy computer system and the personality of their progressive manager.

Yet by the end of spring training – even one as colorful as Camp Maddon – the Cubs manager didn’t have much practical interest in Major League Baseball’s new marketing agreement with Apple that will equip coaching staffs with iPad Pro tablets. Commissioner Rob Manfred also told The Wall Street Journal that the deal coincides with laptops, tablets and smartphones no longer being prohibited in dugouts. 

“This might sound nuts to you, but it might slow down the process,” Maddon said. “Those things are wonderful to access information. But when you need it very quickly, I think you almost have to wait for artificial intelligence to take over where it actually moves at the speed of your thought.

“I really should know in advance of the moment based on the information I gather prior to the game – and then all the information I want on that card in my back pocket during the game – because it’s so fast.

“If I have to start typing on stuff or pushing buttons…that’s where the piece of paper has it all over the computer in that moment.”

[MORE: Jake Arrieta ready to put his game face on]

Maddon is 62 years old, but he carries himself like a much younger man. He already keeps an iPad Pro in his office, using it to control his speakers, send e-mails and check his Twitter account.

Maddon remembers doing all the grunt work himself as an Angels coach in the mid-90s, getting to the ballpark around lunchtime for a night game and studying the stat sheets to prepare for meetings with players.

Maddon then spent nine years managing a small-market Rays team influenced by Wall Street thinking, at a time when the entire industry began to embrace Big Data.

“I’m not denigrating Apple or anything else right now,” Maddon said. “I’m just telling you that when you’re trying to get something done quickly in a dugout, I want to believe that all stuff should be in place prior to, and I’ve been doing this for a while.

“I’m not putting it down. I’m just curious as to the relevancy and how it actually does (work) in the course of the game.

“I got to see it to know that it’s going to actually benefit me in the dugout, whereas I’m pretty comfortable with my system right now.

“That’s the old-school component of me just bleeding right now.”

[MORE: How Cubs see Neil Ramirez contributing to bullpen]

Maddon also actively seeks out information from “The Geek Department,” posing questions and testing theories, trying to fuse his observations after all those years as a scout, minor-league manager and hitting instructor.

“I’m into trends,” Maddon said. “Beyond the big bucket of information everybody talks about – the larger sample size – which everybody is so into. I am, too. But I also like the small bucket of trends. Tell me what’s trending right now. I need to know that also, because people change.

“The number is a number – I understand that – but during the course of the season there are trends that you have to pay attention to. A guy makes an adjustment – all of a sudden the guy’s just good. When a bad guy gets good and a good guy gets bad, you got to know that, like now.”

That combination of people skills and intellectual curiosity helps explain why the Cubs went from being a last-place team to a 97-win playoff contender last year. You can’t look everything up on an iPad.

“That’s the kind of stuff you try to compile before the game begins,” Maddon said. “If you’re waiting for it happen, you’re way behind.”

19 for '19: What should expectations be for Kris Bryant Comeback SZN?

19 for '19: What should expectations be for Kris Bryant Comeback SZN?

We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.

Next up: What is a reasonable expectation for Kris Bryant Comeback SZN?

Kris Bryant's Comeback Tour is officially upon us.

The former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP missed 60 games last year due to a shoulder injury and even when he was on the field, he was a completely different player. 

He initially hurt his shoulder on a headfirst dive into first base in Cincinnati in mid-May. He left that series hitting .305 with a .427 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage (1.010 OPS). 

Even more encouraging, Bryant looked to be addressing his biggest weakness — strikeouts. In 185 plate appearances, he struck out just 15.7 percent of the time which was well below his career line of 23.8 percent. His previous career-best in that category came in 2017 (19.2 percent) and if he continued along that line for the rest of 2018, it would've marked the fourth straight season in which he reduced his strikeout percentage.

Alas, that was not to be and Bryant struck out 28.7 percent of the time after suffering the shoulder injury and hit just .252/.338/.382 (.721 OPS) with 5 homers and 28 RBI in 63 games.

There's no saying Bryant would've kept those numbers going all season without the injury, but he was on pace for 34 homers, 100 RBI, 121 runs, 100 walks and 59 doubles - all of which would either set new career highs or approach his previous best marks.

If he stays healthy in 2019 (admittedly a big "IF"), that seems like a very fair stat line to expect of Bryant over a full 2019 season: 30+ homers, an OPS north of .900 and approaching 100 walks. He also will probably hover around 110+ runs and come near 100 RBI depending on where he hits in the lineup (which will probably be in the 2-hole, but there's a legit case to be made that he should lead off).

Bryant confirmed over and over again this winter that his shoulder is just fine and he's proved it so far this spring, with a couple of homers while playing both third base and the outfield. 

He also has a little chip on his shoulder, soliciting more talk from the haterz to fuel his Revenge SZN, speaking openly about the state of baseball's free agency and even sparking a war of words with all of St. Louis. 

Injuries are impossible to predict, but there's nothing indicating a healthy Bryant is anything less than an MVP candidate.

-Tony Andracki

In the time since Bryant became a mainstay in the Cubs’ everyday lineup, there have only been three more valuable position players in baseball: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Before an injury-shortened 2018, Bryant had started his career with 6.1-, 7.8-, and 6.7-win seasons. He has, quite frankly, been the best third baseman in baseball since being drafted.

That’s why the only real way Bryant can “improve” on 2018 is staying healthy. With two actually-working shoulders, he’s not only a legitimate MVP candidate, but a legitimate MVP frontrunner.

Normally, guys with an ISO north of .200 (what FanGraphs qualifies as ‘Great’) come with a lot of strikeouts. In 2017, Bryant’s last full season, there were 48 guys with ISO’s above .200 and 550 PAs (the number generally accepted as an appropriate sample size). Of those 48 guys, Bryant was Top-20 in ISO (19th), lowest K% (19th), highest BB% (6th), and highest OBP (4th). He’s lived up to his 70/80 power grade while arguably outperforming his 50/55 discipline grade. Basically, there aren’t many better pure hitters in the game.

If we wanted to nitpick, Bryant’s defense could improve. After flashing serious leather during his first two seasons, Bryant was replacement-level in the field during 2017, and bad in 2018. Say what you will about the reliability of defensive numbers, but it’s hard to spin a negative DRS. His statcast numbers paint a similar, albeit slightly more forgiving, picture.

Still, it’s hard to judge Bryant’s defensive prowess on 2018. He’s been a net-positive in the field during every season he’s been healthy, and it stands to reason that a shoulder injury -- even one on his non-throwing shoulder -- would impede his defense in some way, shape, or form. Now, if a healthy Bryant puts up monster numbers at the plate all year and is still bad in the field, then maybe it’s worth a discussion.

For now, Kris Bryant Comeback SZN depends almost entirely on health. Even in a shortened season that was by all accounts disappointing, he was still 25 percent better than the average league hitter. If the shoulder’s fine, he’s in the MVP conversation.

-Cam Ellis


The complete 19 for '19 series:

19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Cardinals Scouting Report with Chris Rongey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Cardinals Scouting Report with Chris Rongey

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by Chris Rongey, host at 101 ESPN in St. Louis, to take a closer look at the arch-rival Cardinals. The pair discusses the ramifications of the rumored Paul Goldschmidt extension (2:30), the pressure on the Cardinals to get back to the playoffs (6:30), the potential of Jack Flaherty (10:30), and Kris Bryant's inflammatory comments about St. Louis at Cubs Convention (13:45).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player: