Cubs

Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

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Miller: Reducing sacks on Cutler starts with short-step drops

Every die hard Bear fan knows the number 104. Its not the local radio dial number to the SCORE or ESPN, but plenty of Bear fans have heard 104 during many broadcasts. 104 is the number of sacks Bears quarterbacks have registered the last two seasons. Jay Cutler has felt the brunt of most of them, but 104 sacks is an astronomical number which does not even include the number of hits the quarterback position has received.
So whose fault is it? Is it the quarterback himself or the offensive line? How about the receivers not getting to the right spot on time or Mike Martzs play-calling, or maybe Lovie Smiths fault for hiring his buddy Martz?
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the Bears are committed learners, sustaining 104 lessons which they are destined never to repeat. There is a culprit for each and every one of those 104 sacks. When the answer is formulated, you make a change for a more positive result. The Bears have done just that by removing Martz from the equation.
My next few articles will focus on play calling and scheme giving you a clearer picture of Mike Tices game plan to create more positive plays. Positive plays allow an offense to stay on schedule creating more manageable down and distance situations. The probabilities and percentages for success are in the offenses favor when this occurs. Lets start with:
The Quick Passing Game
The quick passing game can be either one or three-step drops. They are quick hitters for modest gains of three to five yards, but if you have talented receivers they can take short routes the distance by making a defender miss a tackle.
One step drop: Normally are wide receiver screens, bubble screens, one-step slant routes or "no-look" passes. Essentially, the quarterback is taking a one-step drop (right handed quarterback's right foot) away from the center, creating separation from the line of scrimmage enabling a throw. The offensive line utilizes fire blocking rules, which is firing off the line of scrimmage at the defender with a good punch block. The punch block is the offensive lineman using both hands to pushpunch the defender square in his chest plate, preventing the defender the ability to get his arms up to knock down the pass.
Example: A run play maybe called in the huddle, but when the quarterback starts his cadence at the line of scrimmage, he may notice off coverage on his receivers, and that a safety has rotated down into the run box making running the football difficult for a positive play. The quarterback instead elects to utilize a no look pass to one of his receivers. The quarterback may then use a code word for fire blocking or say nothing at all because most run plays are fire blocking rules unless the quarterback knows he has an offensive lineman pulling. By using the code word he ensures all are on the same page and thus telling the offensive line, we are changing the play. The quarterback signals the receiver, letting him know, "Im throwing you the ball."The receiver then simply squares up to the quarterback to receive the throw. It is now up to the receiver to take advantage of the positive look situation presented by getting up field for three of four yards after the catch; potentially more if he makes the defender miss.
Three steps: Hitch routes, slant routes, quick out routes, tight end stick routes, and hot routes. More timing is involved, but these are quick-hitting plays that can have huge rewards. For example, if a slant route is hit with timing, a five yard pass can become ten yards hitting the receiver on the run. Fire blocking rules still apply for the offensive line. Tight end stick routes are an assured five yards versus almost every coverage, provided the tight end and quarterback read the coverage correctly. This crucial quick game tight end route was essentially non-existent along with the entire tight end position under Martz tenure. The Y stick route is a great route especially in the red zone.
Three-step routes are also perfect plays for max Protection (eight-man blocking) to ensure the pass gets off without the quarterback getting hit or sacked. They are great early down (1st2nd) calls for positive plays to stay on schedule, leading to more manageable 3rd and short or medium situations. Mike Tice is just playing the percentages where Martz did not. It is much easier to pick up a 3rd and 4 than a 3rd and 10, which Martz found himself in repeatedly due to a sack on second down from calling a seven step drop.
Next up, we will get into the intermediate passing game (five-step drops), deep pass game (seven-step drops), movement plays (200300 series which is roll out game for Jay Cutler), then run and play-action (100 series). They all can be great for the Bears with Tices new approach. It will then be up to the players how great of an offense they want to be.

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."

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."