Steve Stone's mailbag: What's wrong with Jones?

Steve Stone's mailbag: What's wrong with Jones?

Monday, July 26, 2010
3:15 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about Andruw Jones, Jim Hendry, and more!
Brian W, Lake Bluff, IL- Could you analyze Andruw Jones' swing? It looks to me like he's trying to hit a home run every time. I would like to see more at-bats like the one he had right after his 400th home run when he let the ball get deep into his stance and he singled to right field.

Steve Stone: I think you analyzed very well, I think he is more concerned with hitting the ball out of the park more than anything. I don't really believe that he has any intention of even hitting 250 this year. I think he wants the home run stats and his ability to hit them has always been there. When you pull every pitch, you have a low batting average. He still is a vital part of the team because Quentin does get injured and when he goes down, Andrew plays very well. I don't think you will find him being a right or center hitter. He will always try to do what makes him money and that is hitting the ball out of the ballpark.

Sam K, Buffalo Grove, IL - Steve, regardless of whether or not the Sox make a deadline deal to improve the team, what aspect of White Sox baseball needs to improve the most in August and September in order for them to win the division?

Steve Stone: Well, this year you have a number of polls and it depends on how the guys respond to the holes they have. Most teams have various holes. For the White Sox over the long haul they would like to graft and develop their farm system a little bit better and Buddy Bell has taken over the minor league system and has done a good job down there. Now Doug Laumann and his scouts have to draft well. I believe you will see one of the products Chris Sale, to come in not as a starting pitcher but as a situation left hander out of the bullpen. Look for him out of the club this year. At 43 years old, even though Omar is in remarkable shape, you wonder how much he will have left when division titles are won and loss. Hopefully it will be a lot. I think Kenny is trying to address the left-handed run producer though those guys will be very expensive if he is interested in Prince Fielder for a year and two months until he becomes a free agent. Adam Dunn has been out there for some time and we will have to see what Kenny decides over what youngsters he wants to give up or would he entertain the idea of giving up Carlos Quentin. When healthy he is a destructive force but when not healthy, you have to watch out.

Jake G, Lincolnshire, IL - Who do you see as a possibility for the Cubs first baseman next year? I know it most likely won't be D-Lee, so who else is there? I do not see this team spending anymore money on a big contract, and a guy like Josh Vitters is not ready for the majors next year.

Steve Stone: Josh Vitters has to prove he can both field and hit before you can consider him major-league ready. I think you can use Xavier Nady at first. they will go downhill defensively from Lee but they do need financial flexibility and with Ted Lilly and Lee's contracts running out, that's about 22 million of flexibility. That depends on who they trade them to this year and can you get something back from him that you can try to
plug in this year. I think Lilly would have higher value than Lee because he makes less money and left handed starting pitchers are very valuable. All of these who are in the Cliff Lee deal who might be interested in some of the other pitchers who are talked about like Ben Sheets of the Oakland Athletics, I think would be more than an acceptable replacement for a lot of the guys and might bring them a lot in return.

Editor's note: Steve answered this question before news broke that Josh Vitters has a broken finger and Ben Sheets has a strained right elbow.

Evan L, Woodstock, IL - What do you take from the confidence that Tom Ricketts has shown in Jim Hendry? Does he truly believe Hendry is his guy, or does he not want to fire him and have to pay the final two years of his deal? Will he 100 percent be the Cubs general manager come December?

Steve Stone: All I can go by is the same thing you can go by, and that's the word of Tom Ricketts. The near future of Jim and that is that Jim Hendry is the general manager of the Chicago Cubs and will be going forward. I don't know how far forward. I know he has won division titles, I know he has had three shots at the playoffs. That is a good resume for postseason play. I consider from 2003 on, Jim Hendry in his eighth year of the Cubs; he has spent or obligated around a a billion dollars in those years, maybe a little less or more. But, I do know those expenditures are similar or a little less than what the Red Sox have used. The Red Sox have two championships and the Cubs one series playoff win over the Braves. The last two years have been somewhat disappointing and I think that Tom has said he has a belief in Hendry and you have to take his word that that's what it is. Jim is on the verge of hiring his third manager and usually GMs get two managers. So in hiring his third, this is one where he can't make a mistake. We will have to wait and see who he decides to manage his team and how well it works out.

Lucas M, Valparaiso, IN - What is your take on the lack of home runs in baseball? Is it pitchers getting better, batters getting worse, non-existence of steroids, or something completely different? Do you see this as a good or bad thing for baseball, and will anything dramatic be done to the game after evaluating this season like how they lowered the mound after 1968?

Steve Stone: I don't believe they will do anything with the mound, in fact if they save the pitchers' arms, they will raise it--but there are a lot of pitchers dominating this year. There are some reasons you can't overlook: better steroid testing, no amphetamines. In years past, a guy could drink a lot the night before and then take amphetamines. Now with testing, not many would do this. It was recently announced MLB will test for HGH in the minors, and that testing will make it to the majors. Baseball miracles won't happen quite as often; like guys who spend five or six years in minors who have never had double-digit home runs then hit 30 in a year will not happen. Baseball is a beautiful game when played as designed. When you do have to play the game the right way, it shows you just how nine men can operate as one, everyone has a job as the pitcher releases the baseball. In the slugball era, a lot was discarded because homeruns were so prevalent and consequently a lot of beauty was lost. The whole chicks-dig-the-long-ball era will go the way of the Dodo bird, which is extinct as testing gets better and the beauty of baseball is understood.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: