Cubs

St. Edward tackling its assignments

St. Edward tackling its assignments

Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
12:05 PM

By Erik Jacobsen
YourSeasn.com

St. Edwards defense provides a lesson in what teamwork is all about.

The Green Wave entered the season lacking size and experience on defense, but that hasnt stopped the unit from becoming the areas stingiest squad, statistically speaking.

Going into Saturdays showdown against Mendota (6-4) in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs, St. Edward (8-2) boasts a defense that is holding opponents to 10.7 points per game. The 107 points allowed by the Wave this season is more than 50 points fewer than the next area team.

Those accomplishments seem even more impressive when it is taken into account that St. Edwards defense returned only four starters from last season and primarily uses a group of 12 players who average about 180 pounds.

So what is the key to success? Coach Mike Rolando says it is all about the players understanding the teams system.

All the guys are very coachable, Rolando said. They understand their assignments within the defense and they dont try to make too much happen. They understand that their job may not be to make tackles, but to contain or to not let receivers behind them.

The big thing is they understand each others roles and they count on each other to get the job done. Theyre not selfish and they dont go outside of their own discipline to try to make plays.

Rolando admits that the defense was a big question mark coming into the season.

Senior defensive tackle Derek Porto, junior defensive tackle Evan Finnane, senior linebacker Jon Keokanlaya and senior safety Sam Pozezinski were the only returning starters for the unit, meaning there would be several new faces at every level of the defense.

It didnt hurt that the incoming junior class was fresh off an undefeated sophomore campaign, but questions still remained.

Any time you make the leap from the sophomore level to the varsity level its a huge disparity in the speed and the physicality of the game, Rolando said. We were hoping theyd be able to play at this level, but when they make that jump you just never know.

It didnt take long for the juniors to assert themselves and take on leading roles.

Junior linebackers Luke Duffy and Mark Sink rank as the teams top two tacklers with 90 and 79, respectively. Junior defensive end Zack McQueen has a team-high seven sacks while junior cornerback Ryan Johnson and junior safety Sean Richmond are tied for the team lead in interceptions with two apiece.

We knew that our defense was going to mainly be made up of juniors, said Sink, the son of Hampshire defensive coordinator Rod Sink. We knew we had to step up and play big and play for our seniors. We didnt want to let them down.

Junior cornerback Matt Brockner (44 tackles) is another key piece to the puzzle along with Finnane, who is the only junior on the team in his second varsity season. Finnane has 54 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles.

Given the production of the Class of 2012, its safe to say defense wont be a major concern going into next season.

Luckily were at this point where were in November and were not thinking about next year yet, Rolando said. But in the back of your mind you do catch yourself thinking That (junior-dominated defense) does bode well for the future.

Rolando adds that the success of the juniors is in part due to the leadership provided by the teams seniors, who also play an important role.

Keokanlaya (73 tackles), Porto (four sacks) and Pozezinski (11 pass deflections) have all stepped up their games this season. Meanwhile, senior defensive end Kevin Danikowski has taken his game to a whole new level.

Danikowski didnt get much playing time last season, but he doesnt come off the field this year. In addition to his 64 tackles and five sacks on defense, he also starts at offensive tackle.

Senior linebacker Bobby Waclawik (58 tackles) is yet another important contributor for the Wave, which gets a boost from the scouting and preparation of defensive coordinator Marc Rusinko and the rest of the coaching staff.

Coach prepares us well, Porto said. We always change things up depending on what the offense on the other team does, and we watch a lot of film to get ready.

St. Edward allowed a season-low 69 yards in last weeks win against Chicago Uplift, which marked the first playoff victory in program history. The Wave hasnt allowed more than 29 points in a game this season, and in its eight victories it hasnt given up more than 14 points.

Along the way St. Edward held three opponents scoreless, including back-to-back shutouts in Weeks 2 and 3. Not since 1984 had the program accomplished such a feat, which proved to be a sign of things to come for a Wave team that is setting the bar higher than ever this year.

We strive to get a shutout every game, Keokanlaya said. We want to set an example and play hard-nosed defense every time out.

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."