Why isn't Vitters playing everyday?

Why isn't Vitters playing everyday?

When the Cubs called up both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, we sort of expected the Cubs to play both of them somewhat regularly.  There was also a cryptic tweet by Carrie Muskat that said that "(Vitters) will play against RHP"

What exactly did that mean?

  • It couldn't mean that he would only play against RHP because Vitters himself is a RH hitter who holds his own against righties, but excels vs. lefties.
  • So may be it was a typo and she meant he would just play against LHP...or
  • maybe it just means that Vitters will indeed play against RHP, meaning he won't be in a strict platoon.

So far, Vitters has started one game and it was against a left-handed starter, so the fears are that maybe the second bullet is correct, with Vitters in a strict platoon with the increasingly unpopular Luis Valbuena.

Valbuena is a LH hitter who plays solid defense, but it's by no means Gold Glove quality.  He's also struggled to hit over .200 since being called up.  Valbuena is a decent player, but whether he was an everyday player, even before the call-up was always very much in doubt.  A solid LH bat who can play all around the infield?  Yes.  An everyday 3B?  Well... you'll find few people who would say that's a realistic ceiling for him.

Josh Vitters, on the other hand, has a ceiling that most scouts would describe as an average everyday 3B.  It's very likely he's not near that ceiling right now, but neither is Valbuena.

So why not play Vitters and let him get experience?

The biggest concerns for Josh Vitters, as we all know, is below average defense and poor plate discipline.  At the plate, he is the polar opposite of Brett Jackson in that he has a fluid swing to go with excellent hand-eye coordination -- a combo that is both his strength and weakness.  It is a strength in that it allows Vitters to make contact, sometimes very hard contact, very easily.
It is a weakness in the sense that it gives Vitters the confidence that he can hit just about anything (which he pretty much can).  The problem, though, is not whether he can hit everything a pitcher can throw at him.  It's whether he should be trying to hit some of those pitches in the first place.

Vitters will help a pitcher out not just by swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, but by making contact with pitcher's pitches that are on the fringes of the strike zone.  What I mean is that, after watching Greg Maddux for so many years, we all know there are certain areas where pitchers like to throw strikes.  Those are areas where good hitters may still be able to make contact, but they're also not able to drive the ball the way they would like.  Maddux made a living of throwing strikes (or at least close enough to get the call) in those zones.  Now, most pitchers, even at the MLB level, cannot pitch with that kind of precision, but Vitters has a tendency to turn every pitcher into Greg Maddux by expanding those small fringe areas of the strike zone just enough to get himself out.  In other words, he increases the pitcher's margin for error on his location outside the zone rather than waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake in the zone and give him a pitch he can drive.

To be fair, Vitters has improved in that area, though we have to keep in mind that he's doing it in AAA, which is filled with fringe MLB pitchers who lack the kind of stuff, movement, and command to make Vitters pay consistently for his aggressive approach.  The PCL is also a hitter's league, so while Vitters' numbers would be impressive in an MLB setting, they aren't as eye-opening in the PCL.

It's likely here that this isn't as much about the Cubs wanting to play Valbuena as it is trying not to expose Vitters too much right away.  There are average MLB pitchers who can carve Vitters up right now, so the Cubs are simply trying to limit his exposure and trying to find match-ups where they think he can succeed.  The guess here is he will indeed play against LHP but I will add a word to Muskat's tweet and say that he will also play against some RHPs.

So don't take this out on Valbuena.  The Cubs know exactly what he is, so there isn't much to lose throwing him out there at his age and seeing if he can become an adequate MLB'er who can play some long term role with the team.  Vitters, on the other hand, has the potential to be more, so the Cubs will do what they feel is best for his development as a hitter as well as working to improve his defense.

Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Josh Vitters, Luis Valbuena

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  • Yeah, it doesn't make sense. You're either exposing him to MLB pitchers or you're protecting him from them. One or the other. This business of splitting the difference is foolish. To give a prospect like Vitters one pinch-hit at-bat in one day, you put extra pressure on him.

    Valbuena's jumped the shark, for sure. But I think one reason that Dale likes him is that Valbuena has been relatively clutch as a hitter. For a guy playing tug-of-war with the Mendoza line, he sure has a lot of RBIs. Still, who cares? The more important goal is to see what Vitters does against big league pitchers, and to get a full portrait of that, we need to see the adjustments he makes both from AB to AB but also from day to day.

  • In reply to Taft:

    I think they're just trying to put him in situations where he can succeed. Giving him a taste, finding out a bit more about him, and getting some big league coaching. I think they feel he can hit AAA guys all day, but he won't succeed doing what he's doing against MLB'ers, so they're just taking as small development step here without overwhelming him at the same time.

  • You summed it up with the whole not wanting to expose him too much comment. This F.O. likes to give guys pretty much a whole year at AAA. With the current state of this team, they might as well call him up early and see what he's got. Yet protecting him as much as they can.

  • In reply to Bill:

    Exactly, I think they're trying to balance this well and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him return to AAA to start the season next year and come up around the AS break.

  • Excellent summation John. But like felzz said "That was Ross Starting-pitcher-#10-for-the-bleeping-Padres Ohlendorf." Me thinks Vitters should've been in the line-up as that guy clearly qualifies as one of the "some RHP's".

    Taking the same theory/strategy with B-Jax.... shouldn't Sveum move the free-swinger down in the line-up to lessen the pressure/exposure on the kid?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Yeah..have to admit I don't get Vitters not playing last night.

    Funny thing about BJax though is he was very disciplined in the minors. Not sure what's happening here. He's getting overwhelmed right now.

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    John,
    No argument with your analysis. I just took a look at Vitters minor league stats. And it is very apparent that he started slow when he was moved up a level but during the 2nd half of the season or the beginning of the next season at that level he mostly excelled. Which I believe makes for a good case for playing him on a regular basis for the next two months. Maybe it's just me, but I think a lot of people are selling the young man short. He has progressed steadily since he was drafted at the age of 17. He has worked hard and continues to work hard to improve his fielding. I don't know if you read Patrick Mooney's Cubs Insider column yesterday but it highlights Vitters work ethic at taking extra fielding. What I really hope for is that Vitters, Jackson, Rizzo, Castro, and Castillo all make it as good to great players. That will form the core of a good team for the next ten years, especially if you can keep adding young talent to the core. Which I now, finally, believe is the philosophy of our management. Overall I am extremely optimistic for the future, I just get a little impatient when I think Sveum may slow it down.
    In any event I really enjoy reading your work and I like reading the comments of the well informed readers. If I appear to be too negative at times feel free to slap me around, metaphorically of course.

  • In reply to Dafoxx:

    He has definitely made some strides and has adjusted to how more experienced pitchers have approached him. He has done that better than Brett Jackson has so far. I also agree he's really learned to work hard and doesn't take his talent as much for granted as when he was a kid (not a knock, most of us do that when we're 17!)

    I can see the sink or swim argument but it seems the Cubs feel differently. But as a fan, I'm like everyone else. I want to see the kid play.

  • Vitters back in the lineup tonight but BJax gets the night off. Looks like Superman is back as well!

  • In reply to cowboy2024:

    Awesome...looking forward to the game tonight. Just hope it doesn't disappoint as much as the last two have.

  • I understand the approach, but I disagree with it. Maybe it is me, but it seems that what an over-confident swinger needs is a wake-up call from "average" pitchers. No, you don't want to completely demoralize him, but perhaps seeing first-hand that his over-confidence in his ability to make contact isn't justified would make him more receptive to teaching....and spur him on to be more disciplined with pitch selection.

    And honestly, if it doesn't, there's not much hope for growth.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    That's an interesting take and you could be right. Maybe the kid's gloves treatment isn't always the right approach.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    its hard to tell the makeup of the players from our side. they may believe that is what BJax needs. It seems they are trying to pick spots for Vitters, which in and of itself is not a bad strategy. And I think both will be back in AAA next year. Remember, Trout hit .220 last year in about 150 ABs and I think everyone agrees it was good for him. He has the makeup to learn from it and do what was needed. Lets hope Vitters and BJax do as well.

  • I am just going to say it because it is obvious from what we are seeing day to day with this franchise.

    We are going to be a very bad baseball team for quite a spell. We are going to watch alot of palyers come and go and I expect that we will see several of our younger players not make an impact or be part of our long term future.

    Not sure how long it will last, because I expect that we will have to dip out toes into the free agent pool to close the gaps, but there are no near term (1-2 years) impact players coming through our system.

    Right now, it's a mess and I expect it will stay a mess until we either see some of our young talent mature and develop (risk) or the organization decides that adding payroll in the form of free agents will help to right ship.

    At this time, Castro appears to be the only certain, young ML talent, and some holes have been exposed in his offense this year. If it turns out that this is the player he will be, we will need his defense to be plus.

    Rizzo is part of the LT strategy and he appears to have turned the corner, however less than 150 major league PAs in 2012 is not enough to proclaim that he has arrived.

    I have warmed up to Barney but only because on his glove. His offense will always be bordeline.

    Castillo may be a keeper at catcher, but it is too early to tell. I think we may end up valuing his defense more than his glove.

    Shark and Wood may be keepers in the rotation LT, but neither are front line pitchers who can anchor a staff.

    The rest are either ST Cubs or players who have yet to prove they belong.

    That being my belief, we will need impact bats in the OF and at 3B to generate the championship caliber offense that looks like it may only be coming from 1B in the future. In addition, a #1 starter will need to found to anchor the staff.

    Looks like we may be needing to add some high $ free agent contracts for some of these holes between the growing pains of today and the beginning of our next run at a championship.

    Holy cow, right now, we are bad.

  • In reply to JK1969:

    Ha! Yeah...not a great team right now. You can only hope we have another player takes a step forward the way Rizzo has this year. This is going to be slow at the beginning but I'm hoping it comes together quickly after a couple of years.

  • I don't know about this one, John. I wasn't in favor of a call up at all this year. Vitters is still pretty young and I'd have liked to see him show more progress with his plate discipline and walk rate in Iowa before he was called up. However, that ship has sailed. Now that he's a major leaguer, let him sink or swim. The sooner he sees major league pitchers attack his weaknesses at the plate, the sooner he will be forced to make adjustments.

    Feel the same about Jackson, btw. I didn't want to see him called up because his contact problems were atrocious in AAA, but now that he's here, he needs to play every day.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That's kind of what I was thinking. Let MLB pitchers show him how they will attack him, put it in the bank, and work to re-adjust. I think a guy like Vitters needs to see it live rather than be told or shown on video.

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    What if, at the end of the day, Theo and Jed see has value as being, solely, a good right-handed pinch hitter and are putting him in a position to show he can do that.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    You're kidding, right?
    A kid ranked as the Cubs #11 prospect, hit .300 with 17 HR & 63 RBI in 100 games at the AAA level...and you think the FO are grooming him to be a pinch-hitter???
    Do you really believe teams attempt to develop pinch hitters in their farm system?
    All I can say is God help us if that's the thought process coming from our esteemed FO!

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    In reply to AdolphoPhillips66:

    They didn't groom anyone. They inherited him. Big difference. And #11 prospect in a middling system is hardly high praise.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Jim Hendry's legacy lives on. Unproductive player development system, under-performing Major League roster with an annually maxed out payroll. He and his staff sure were good judges of baseball talent. At least everyone agrees Hendry is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.

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    The development is the part I think was sorely, sorely lacking. It seems -- and, admittedly, I'm not a Cubs insider -- that promotion under Hendry was based simply on stats. There was no attempt to smooth rough edges and make them capable major league players. It's far too soon to say that has changed but, given the records of the all the people in charge, I'm hopeful that it has.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    My point is, why would they even bring him up if they viewed him as a pinch-hitter? Down the road, if Vitters shows he can't handle MLB pitching, then I could see them either trading or DFA him, but not using a roster spot for a 22 year-old just to use him as a PH.
    Vitters has steadily progressed through the system and shown progress at each and every level.
    They need to see what they've got here before deciding to go out and get an MLB-ready 3B. To get a true assessment, he needs to start regularly. If he struggles for 2 months, I agree with John that you may see Vitters back in AAA to start 2013 with another chance at mid-season.
    I'm not a prospect guru like John is, but I would guess many organizations would love to have that AAA slash-line from their #11 prospect.
    Granted the previous leadership did not value development as much as a hot streak. But to be fair, other than Simpson in 2010, the Cubs top pick from '06 through '09 are MLB players now and I don't think there's much argument that Baez & Almora will be someday. The old regime's problem was not having individual development plans for all of their prospects. If you had a hot week or two, you were bumped up immediately and not forced to slump, make adjustments, and recover. This FO has specifics they are tracking on each player and will not promote until the player demonstrates progress.
    In my opinion, this re-build and suspect system is causing many of us to discount current players such as Barney & Vitters. Barney is a winner and I've already heard that most teams value him higher than the Cub fans do. I think the FO knows what he means to this team.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Would they really invest the kind of coaching and development time, though? If they thought that, I'd think they'd give him the Cardenas treatment.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    True. I'm going on the assumption that the call on playing time is coming from Theo, and he must have a good reason for the platoon. I'm just trying to figure out what that reason is. But, you're right, it doesn't quite fit.

  • Both Vitters and Soriano are in today's lineup, per Carrie Muskat.
    Let's continue to look for improvement......even if it's 10 steps forward, 9 steps back.

  • Perhaps the FO does not see Vitters in the Cubs future and wants to protect his trade value by not exposing him to situations that he may not succeed. We know the boys value defense(Stewart & Valbuena) and a patient approach, both are not strengths for Vitters.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It's not out of the question. Kind of like Lahair...though that didn't work out too well as far as trades.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It could be that the coaches are working with Vitters on defense and pitch recognition while still trying to get him into games to see if he carry those things over into games. With the wonders Dave MaKay has worked with Soriano I would love to think that the infield coaches can work with Vitters on his defense.

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    Just looked up his splits. This has to be playing into it. In Iowa -- a hitters league, as has been said -- he was slugging .625 against lefties and .459 against righties. A pretty substantial dropoff in terms of power. The OPS (1.002 vs. .805) is almost 200 points lower. So maybe there is something in his swing/approach that keeps him from hitting righties effectively, and they want him hitting against lefties while he learns what a major league curveball is.

    Who knows. I'm looking for a logical reason when, maybe, the reason is: this front office is making a mistake here.

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    John, where do you think the Cub system ranks among all MLB right now? I believe BBA had them rated 14 or 15 in pre-season.
    Given the arrivals of Soler, Almora, Villanueva, Vizcaino, etc., I would guess it would be ranked higher now.

  • In reply to AdolphoPhillips66:

    Bleacher Report has them at 20th overall and 5th in their division, not counting Houston.

  • I thought it was a mistake to bring up Vitters this early. It's cool he was hitting better, taking more walks, but I wanted to see him do it consistently and for longer. If they were trying to expose him to major league pitching so it could reinforce what he needs to work on, only to send him back down to start in Iowa next year, then okay. But I don't get the idea that's what it is. It seems like it's that Vitters and Jackson weren't this FO's picks so they aren't being cottled the same way Rizzo was. Hate to think that's true as I usually give the FO more credit than that.

    I would have stuck with Valbuena at least until September. I seem to be the only one who's not writing him off. His batting average is low, but rising, and he's good in the clutch and has a good glove.

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