Another September rolls around and once again the Cubs are nowhere near contention. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to keep watching. The cynical side of me says to watch to see if they hit 100 losses which, despite the Cubs history of losing, has only happened twice. I could also sit back and root for the Cubs to lose and root for that draft pick, but as much as I want the high pick, when game time rolls around I become a fan and any rational thought to what's best for the Cubs future goes out the window.
So here are my reasons for watching. Feel free to add some of your own...
- Starlin Castro's improving approach at the plate. Castro has struggled since the all-star break, hitting an uncharacteristically low .250. However, he has walked 15 times compared to 12 before the break despite half the number of PAs. August, in particular, has seen his walk rate increase. He's drawn 11 free passes this month alone. It's not Barry Bonds-like, but we're looking at a 9% walk rate, which is above the MLB average. If Castro can maintain that rate over a season and go back to hitting .300, we're looking at a .360 OBP over 600 PAs. Add the extra power and defense he's added this season and we could be looking at a monster breakout next year.
- Brett Jackson is always going to strikeout. That's a given. It's something that Cubs fans will have to live with. But the Cubs do need him to improve. After striking out 23 times in his first 12 games, he's cut it down to 14 in the last 12 games. That's still not great, but we're talking about a pace in the 180s range. Given everything else he provides: speed, power, true CF defense, and good patience at the plate (12 walks in those last 12 games), that would be an acceptable number.
- Like Castro, Anthony Rizzo struggled in August, hitting .252/.300/.342. However, it could have been worse, and that's where we've seen the improvement with Rizzo. In San Diego, the more he struggled, the harder he swung, the longer his stroke, and the lower the batting average. This time around we've seen Rizzo take some pitches the opposite way and he's worked his way out of the slump, hitting .320 in those last 7 days of August. Yesterday we saw his first HR in over 3 weeks. The signs are there that this time around, Rizzo can make the adjustments needed after pitchers adjust to him. If he keeps adapting, they're going to run out of things to try on him.
- The emergence of Welington Castillo as an everyday catcher. Legit everyday catchers are hard to find and while it's true Castillo is still working on his receiving/game-calling skills, the rest of his game is beginning to blossom. Castillo is hitting .266/.317/.468 in 101 PAs. Given 500 PAs, he projects to have 20 HR power. Add that he's a menace to base stealers around the league and you've got yourself a solid building block. Castillo already has some of the raw tools you just can't teach and while it will take time for him to become an all-around receiver at the plate, he should start to improve that part of his game with some experience and coaching. The ability is there for him to be a solid, everyday catcher.
- Can Chris Volstad actually become relevant to the Cubs 2013 plans? Volstad has been putting up acceptable peripheral numbers all year (currently a 4.28 FIP), but an unusually low strand rate has blown up what otherwise could have been some solid performances earlier this year. Granted, that wasn't just about bad luck. Volstad seemed to fold up like a lawn chair the minute he faced adversity. Perhaps I'm putting this too simply, but the 6'8" Volstad needed to grow up. There are a lot of pitchers can do well when things are going their way, it's the guys who can adjust when things aren't going right that eventually have long term success. Sometimes we forget that Volstad won't turn 26 for another 3 weeks so there is still plenty of time for him to learn the nuances of pitching. The Cubs have been patient and if he can build on his last two starts, perhaps that patience will pay off.
- Darwin Barney's errorless streak. You have to hand it to Barney, he's not trying to get this record through the back door. He continues to take chances and tries to make the best play possible instead of the easy, safe one. Barney may not be an ideal starting 2B because of his lack of offensive production . He has actually regressed slightly at the plate as compared to last season (OPS, wOBA, RC+ all down), but his defense has been so good that his overall WAR (2.1) is that of an average starting 2B. The Cubs can do worse, especially with a developing pitching staff, but he's going to have to hit better if he's going to be anything more than a short-term solution.
- There aren't any potential stars -- or probably even starters -- among the September call-ups but the hope is that you can find some role players in guys like Dave Sappelt and Jeff Beliveau. Sappelt has an opening after the trade of Reed Johnson and the below replacement level production of Joe Mather. Prior to the first half of this season, Sappelt has always hit, so perhaps he can add a RH bat off the bench to complement Jackson and David DeJesus. Beliveau, meanwhile, is the last lefty reliever standing next to James Russell after the Cubs have parted ways with Sean Marshall, John Gaub, Alex Hinshaw, and Scott Maine. Chris Rusin will make his case for a crack at the rotation next spring. Adrian Cardenas will try to show he can be the lefty bat off the bench, particularly if the Cubs part ways with Bryan LaHair, which seems a lot more likely now than it did before the all-star break. Tony Campana will try to prove that he can get on base enough to have more than just a niche role on the bench. Anthony Recker will try to work his way in to the catcher's mix, while Miguel Socolovich, Rafael Dolis, and Blake Parker vie for bullpen roles in 2013.
That's all I've got for now...why are you guys still watching?
Filed under: Analysis