Cubs

Fantasy Baseball in Math Class? Maddon Offers Unique Perspective On How MLB Can Grow

Fantasy Baseball in Math Class? Maddon Offers Unique Perspective On How MLB Can Grow

You’ve seen the tweets - the ones that take TV ratings from big baseball games and throw them next to a random Warriors game from late March, just to make a point. It’s not a groundbreaking narrative: baseball’s struggle to retain younger fans continues. According to some of the latest Nielsen Ratings research, MLB ranks 2nd among the four major sports when it comes to drawing interest from the 18-24 age group. On the surface, not so bad. And while the “Baseball Is Dying” argument is a heavy-handed one, it’s not hard to see that the NBA is quickly gaining ground - especially among the younger generations. 

“The NBA is definitely attracting a younger audience, there’s no question about that,” Joe Maddon said. “The fact that there’s the glitz and the color and the speed -- I don’t even know what the allure is, quite frankly. I don’t know. I think the spotlight on it and the way it’s promoted appeals to the younger generation.”

Maddon was quick to defend the length of the game, saying he didn’t think the two were correlated at all. (For what it’s worth, a 2018 study revealed that the average NBA game lasted 2:13, while the current average run time of a MLB game this year is at 3:06.) Instead, Maddon pointed to how the NBA’s stars are marketed. 

“I do agree in the sense that I think we could do a better job promoting our players, no question,” he said. “I would not disagree with that. We have so many interesting stories to tell among our groups and I don’t think the fans - the young fans- really get to know that possibly as well as they know NBA players. Even in the NFL, I don’t think you know those players - plus they wear helmets so you can’t see their face. All that stuff matters.” 

Much of the issue lies in MLB’s approach to digital media. There are restrictive (bordering on archaic) rules in place about the use of their footage on all the various social media platforms, and their official website makes searching for video highlights a chore. Contrast that with the NBA, whose Twitter presence has quite literally become its own subculture. Here’s what commissioner Adam Silver had to say on the subject back in 2018:

"We promote the posting of our highlights. The highlights are identified through YouTube's software, and when ads are sold against them, we share in the revenue. We analogize our strategy to snacks versus meals. If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they're still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings"

For his part, Maddon tries to find time to skype into different school classes as often as he can. That face-to-face interaction is something he feels MLB lacks. 

“ When you can connect faces and voices, even though it was through technology, you will be attached,” he said. “I can’t even imagine me growing up having that opportunity. I can’t even imagine that, how I would have taken to that. I don’t think we utilize technology well enough to connect with young kids. To me, that’s the more practical and important way to get them involved with and wanting to be baseball fans.” 

A more off-the-wall idea Maddon threw out was incorporating fantasy baseball into school curriculum. Math classes could offer a gentle approach into the world of analytics, and teachers could give students roles as GMs, Ass. GMs, and scouts of their own teams. 

“They don’t have to play the game, it’s not about playing the game,” he said. “This NBA group you’re talking about, the ones that love the NBA, they’re not there to play the game, they’re there to watch the game. And the enjoy all the components of it. 

“You’re not necessarily needing to attract people who play the game, as much as people who are interested in the game. We do have the most intellectually stimulating game of all, by far. So teach them the game. It doesn’t have to happen more quickly, they just have to understand it better.” 

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.