Cubs offensive philosophy could be waiting game

Cubs offensive philosophy could be waiting game

If you looked around the Cubs beat this past weekend there was a lot of positivity.

Maybe some in the mainstream Cubs media are taking a page out of our playbook? Or maybe it is just that Sully isn’t around anymore? Either way, when it comes to this team it is kind of refreshing.

Looking around the coverage, you had plenty of optimism surrounding Wellington Castillo, talk of a solid bullpen for next season, an improved defense, and an infusion of pitching depth.

No matter all the potential positives mentioned above, this team isn’t going to improve much next season with the current offense. This Cubs team has slugged, but the overall approach is still maddening. I’ve heard Dale Sveum talking a lot about offensive approaches lately, and in particular he seems to have a thing for the Cardinal way.

"The thing they do is (hit) singles and keep the line moving. They don't worry about three-run homers, and that's the key to men in scoring position is thinking about singles and driving the ball up the middle and not hitting three-run home runs.''

I have no real issue with any way you can be productive offensively and it may be Sveum's way to emphasize situational hitting. Although, I did have to wonder aloud what the front office thought of that approach. I was under the impression getting men on base and hitting three run homers was something those Red Sox teams (Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Sveum were a part of) kind of made a habit of.

You may have the Cubs looking to add some offense through trades and free agency this offseason. However, Jacoby Ellsburry for instance isn’t going to make a drastic difference on his own. Growth from Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Junior Lake are also needed for any real change.

“We definitely have to get Rizzo and Castro going on a consistent basis these last seven weeks of the season,” manager Dale Sveum said.

“The biggest thing, especially with young hitters, is people get on base in scoring position and the light starts flashing about two-run homers and three-run homers,” Sveum said, “instead of just keeping the line moving, so it turns into a big inning with singles and doubles in the gaps (or) down the opposite line.”

Someone (around the team regularly) reminded me today that offensive philosophy really is irrelevant when you have a roster of hitters like this. You can lead them to a take sign, but you can’t help them swing at strikes.

Sveum sees help is on the way.

“Position-player wise, obviously, we have pretty good (bats) coming” Sveum said, “with [Javy] Baez and [Jorge] Soler and obviously [Junior] Lake and [Albert] Almora and [Arismendy] Alcantara”.

“So that’s always nice to be where you know that at a time [of change] all these guys could be here at the same time.”

He shouldn't count on any of those names for next year. The reality is until those kids make it up here, any philosophy is going to have to center around patience, the waiting kind.

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  • I know that the Cubs have a history of high draft pick busts, but I'm banking on the fact that it will be different now. Not just Almora and Bryant, Jim and Randy picks are benefiting from 'Cubs Way' development as well. Look at Szczur and Alcantara, for example. This isn't a good time lose patience. Lake as well.

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    Unfortunately, you are right. We have to wait. 3B is a good example. I don't know which guys between Olt, Villanueva, Bryant, and Candelario will make it or which will not, but I am confident that the long-term answer at 3B is currently in our system. Same for the OF. We have the bats coming, we unfortunately have to live through more helpings of Valbuena, Barney et al while we wait.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think they are all in the system but as for next year? Maybe we can make some minor outside improvements but most of it will have to come from within.

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    I don't know if it is forcing Castro to change his approach that has him hitting so poorly, but he was the hit line-drive and singles to keep the line moving kind of player. I think they may have tinkered too much.

  • In reply to Denvil Farley:

    Yes he was and watching him yesterday it looks like that is where he is comfortable. Sveum does seen to want contradicting theories sometimes.

  • In reply to Denvil Farley:

    I think at some point he's going to have to find a happy medium. He looks a little lost up there and maybe thinking too much. At some point you hope part of the approach at least becomes natural to him.

  • In reply to Denvil Farley:

    They were right to try it. He's a very good hitter naturally. But he was very much "see the ball - hit the ball". Had no plan and chased too many balls way outside of the zone. This sort of stuff is worked out in the minors all the time with guys. Castro wasn't a finished product when he arrived in Wrigley.

    If it had been successful, he could have become a great hitter. But like John said, maybe there's a happy medium because he clearly hasn't been comfortable up there.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I agree here. If, as we've all determined, the problem with the last administration was more development than scouting, than we should really be viewing guys like Starlin (and Lake, Baez) as unfinished and in need of instruction. Makes sense that the guys with the most raw skills would make it based on that alone, but they need to be taught how to play out a game plan.


  • Schedule for the rest of the season

    29 games with Reds, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Braves, Nationals
    16 games Padres, Phillies, Marlins, Brewers

    OBP: Cardinals #2 in the league Cubs #25
    Home Runs: Cardinals #27, Cubs #7
    Runs: Cardinals #3, Cubs #20

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    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. It looks more and more like the Cubs FO is really trying to "time" this first wave to start hitting Chicago around 2015. Then adding a few more players in another wave in 2016. They have methodically removed any and all roadblocks. They have implemented a "Cubs Way" of doing things from the lowest levels and emphasis it as players move up.

    But I think Sveum's comments may have something to do with not letting your teammates down. When we have runners in scoring position, your only job is to get the ball in play. It's kinda funny how a guy like Castillo has seen his avg slip a bit but his OPS go up since the AS game! OPS is where it's at.

    But we still have holes in the lineup. Opposing pitchers know that can throw junk at a guy like Castro or Rizzo because they have no real protection. The Cards are just solid hitters that have all bought into the same philosophy. I think that's what Sveum was trying to pass along...

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Thanks Bobby and I think there is truth to what he said. Just sounded funny when he's talked about slugging so much too.

  • I think the current emphasis on increasing the walk rate will go a long way to both the 2-3 run homers and the 'keep-the-line-moving' singles and doubles. By getting better pitches to hit, putting more men on base, and hitting for the situation, all of the above will happen as a natural result. Batters will swing hard at good pitches while not forcing the issue by swinging at bad pitches. Walks keep the line moving and with RISP, situational hitting should be the goal of mature hitters anyway. It seems to me that much of the current philosophy encourages the most productive results with both slugging and pure hitting.

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    In reply to cubster:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The entire thought process behind "The Cubs Way", from an offensive standpoint, is to not make an out. It doesn't matter how you accomplish that. Walks, HBP, S, D, T and HR all accomplish that goal.

    Now they're still going to make outs, but players schooled in "The Cubs Way" understand that some outs are more productive than other outs. "The Cubs Way" is to drive up pitch counts, get the starter out of the game and get into an opponents middle relief, which is every team's weakness.

  • “We definitely have to get Rizzo and Castro going on a consistent basis these last seven weeks of the season,” manager Dale Sveum said.

    How about not messing with Castro's swing Dale? That'd be a start.

  • Castro needs to rebound in a big way or the Cubs are looking at an enormous setback in their rebuild.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I think he would be fine if he just does what he does. A Renteria type that could hit either top or lower part of order.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Renteria would be a fine outcome. Through 4 1/2 months in 2013 he's been a replacement level player, which cannot continue if the Cubs are hoping to compete. They'll need to move him and start over.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I wouldn't say "start over." They've got unreal depth up the middle of the field. If, for whatever reason, Castro was traded, it would be because the FO has confidence that one of these prospects coming up could perform better (ie Baez, Alcantara, and more).

    That being said, I still don't see them dumping him any time within the foresee-able future.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Castro went through an awful slump in June. Since then, his numbers look a lot like they did in his 200 hit year (2011). .295/.330/.430 (ish). He's also had only one error since July 1.

    He was probably getting over coached and he then had a bad slump, that's all.

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    Reading this article makes me think that there will be a few guys asked to play in winter leagues so that they can refine their approach.

    I don't think Svuem is against 3 run homers. Just against going up there thinking about hitting 3 run bombs instead of just letting it happen organically.

    Most Homers are hit on mistakes. You aren't always going to get mistakes in RBI situations. As a matter of fact they're going to have a lot less of a chance at getting one on the MLB level than at any other level in their careers.

    Like an NFL offense you have to take what the defense gives you. Sometimes you've got to find a way to square up a good pitch and bang it through a hole somewhere.

  • In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    I agree with this. Can definitely see where you're coming from here.

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    In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    And this idea of just putting the ball in play keeps the pressure on the defense of the other team. Make them make all the plays. But then you look at what Darwin Barney spole about just a few days ago about making all the plays on defense when the Cubs take the field as well.

    I didn't realize it but since the AS break the Cubs are like the #2 defense in the whole NL with a fielding % around .982. Other teams are going to know that the Cubs play the type of ball that doesn't make mistakes to hurt themselves on defense. If we continue this with the new guys coming up and put a little more pressure on offense, the "Cubs Way" will be feared by other teams.

    Pretty exciting stuff!

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    hey boca ... That's really good to hear!! All too often the Cubs have suffered from poor defense and other peripherals - like hitting the cutoff man. It also hurts pitchers. An airtight defense helps all the way around! Thanks for the heads up.

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    Yeah the defense was one of the worse part of the team early. Just as bad as the BP and RISP. Its good to see the Cubs improved a lot in two of those area's. Its funny, but the RISP would've been the last thing I'd have thought would be an issue at this point of the three. Go figure. Baseball.

  • In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    Oh agreed, but it did sound like he doesn't want guys looking to drive ball and he's talked about that specifically.

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    They also talked about being selectively aggressive. Svuem many times has said they aren't looking to teach guys to be takers. They want them hitting. Just at good pitches, but the approach changes in RBI situations if you're a run producer. You HAVE to find a way to drive guys in. Heard Zonk talking about that very thing on GN during one of the Cubs cards games. You have to also take into account everythnig he and the organization has said as a whole and than you can interpret things better when they say them. This isn't a complete philosophy its just a part of it. MLB offense has many layers to it. Its clear Cubs want versatile players who can win any kind of game y being able to play all facets of the game including offensively.

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    He specifically said with men in scoring position, not that he is opposed to guys looking for something to drive in other situations. With someone on first you're always looking for something to drive, either to get them in on an extra base hit, or a home run. In those situations it is about working the count to get your pitch. With men in scoring position it might be trying to just see a good pitch and hit it where it is thrown to try to get it into the grass in the outfield.

  • Free swingers like Sori and Hairston had a lot to do with the Cubs low OBP, and the discipline of Barney and Castro definitely needs to improve- but it's gradually improving. All the line-up turnover doesn't help, and the Cubs team BABIP of .277 is near historical lows.... average has been .288.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Barney will never walk much, just because pitchers have nothing to fear by throwing him strikes. His BABIP is unsustainably low, but he's also just been bad.

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    In reply to Eddie:

    Yeah but he has a knack for hitting in big situations. In his career he has it in the clutch. And yes I believe in clutch situations. It isn't all happen stance. Its not barney thats the issue. He contributes to winning in the field and even though its not overwhelmingly at the plate on occasion. You need a little bit of grindy IMO. can't all be superstars unless you're like an all time team like the 20's Yankees, or 70's Reds. Although I'm hoping this team will be up to that level in the near future, but till that day comes you have to use the players you have in the best way and put them in positions to succeed. Like not playing DeJesus against tough lefties, or asking Villanueva to get Votto out ate in the game in a save situation or something ridiculous like that.

  • I don't understand what dale wants I really don't. Can someone please tell me his philosophy towards hitting ?

  • In reply to seankl:

    I need to ask more about that. However yesterday I was told it didn't matter with this group.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Thanks tom, and to make things clear Its not a dig toward dale. Its just I'm a little confused at what he is looking for because castro is that type of hitter but he would have him batting seventh behind murphy.Most of castro's hits are up the middle or right field.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I was actually surprised (and pleased!) when they showed a graphic of where Castro's hits are on yesterdays broadcast. They're pretty well spread out over left, center and right!!
    John, Tom - Is that a reflection of the new 'philosophy' - not being too pull happy? Or is it a result of Starlin's growing maturity as a hitter?

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    If anything Castro is pullign more balls than he ever has. When he is hitting well he hits the ball to centerfield. One of the things they have tried to get him to do is look to pull the ball and drive it with authority when he gets in favorable counts as opposed to just trying to hit singles up the middle with every pitch that comes in.

  • In reply to seankl:

    just to paraphrase Bob Gibson the only thing Dale knows about hitting is he couldn't do it.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    LOL... You mean a career .236 hitter doesn't make a fine Hitting Coach?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    well he did have a 298 obp.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    There are several major league hitting coaches who never made the big leagues. A lot of guys only had a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

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    In reply to seankl:

    My take is he wants a smart team offensively. Versatility will come with the talent development and player acquisition that fits the profile of the organizational philosophy, but for now I think he wants guys to execute off of their advanced scouting reports from both foot scouts and their analytic results. I'm sure they go over all that stuff before every game, and certain guys are not doing it. They're going rogue and trying to be hero's. Its all part of player development. Young kids think they know it all. Its just as true in baseball as it is in life sometimes.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I think Dale (and the organizations) wants his hitters to be aggressive on pitches in the zone they can do something with. Lay off pitches out of the zone and pitcher's pitches. Grinding out at bats doesn't mean trying to get a walk or get the pitcher's pitch count up but rather waiting for a pitch with which you can do something

  • What does the Cardinal offense look like if you normalize their BA with RISP? Seems like they are always at the top of the list in this category, so maybe its not going to regress - but I can't think that a team can continue to score a bunch of runs with singles. How does their OBP% stack up with us / league average?

    If it were switched and we were hitting a bunch of singles but not scoring - everyone would be complaining about low power numbers and that the team is full of a bunch of slap hitters.

    Isn't the trend now OPS? Which doesn't take into account straight average - rather getting on base and hitting for power. Buster Olney is always tweeting about the Card's BA with RISP - its like .300!

    Given their recent swoon - I think they are already starting to normalize - the problem is that they are basically a lock to make the playoffs - since their are 2 WC and the Nationals, Dbacks and every team in the West (except the Dodgers) has packed it in...Go Reds

    Meh - I hate the Cardinals. Everything they touch is gold...

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Cards as a TEAM are hitting .330 with RISP. Craig is hitting an unreal .450 with RISP and Molina is hitting somewhere around .400. You keep thinking, the law of averages will catch up to them sometime.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Haven't the Cards been struggling lately? I think it is already happening.

  • Your best big league teams might hit around 200 HR a year. our avg ML team is more likley around 150. Most teams at best have about 3 25Hr types in there lineup. Ask yourselves how the Pirates win games right now? the 3 run HR lineup(Braves?) also needs good pitching for those days you dont have the long ball . The Pirates dont have a ton of power, they are winning more with pitching and doing the little things. The Cubs almost never seem to. That has to change.

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    I think we all have to remember that just because Sveum talks about situational hitting doesn't mean everyone becomes a punch and judy hitter. It simply means to take those inifinite situations individually and let that help to dictate your approach.

    Look for a pitch to drive when it makes sense and choke up and cut your swing down when it makes sense. It's the count and the game situation that dictate this. If you're down in the count 1-2 and runners in scoring position you need to put the bat on the ball. If you're swinging from the heels your team better be up by 6 runs in the 8th or you're being selfish.

    In reality every hitter is or should be a "situational hitter". If you're not you're kind of a dope.

  • Guys,

    I see a lot of posts here basically writing off 2014 as a year that the Cubs have any chance. Instead, 2015 is the real year to look for Cubbie Comeback time. I may be going out on a limb, but this thinking is just plain wrong.

    We are being premature writing off 2014 so easily. There looks to me, at least, that there is a mini-wave of new faces that could make a significant impact from the MILB ranks.

    In pitching alone, there are Arrieta, Grimm, Cabrera, and Rusin who could reasonably make the team out of spring training.
    All guys with the potential to positively contribute to a good staff. And then there is Zych, Rosscup, and possibly Hendricks and Vizcaino who have the chance for promotion by July, and still be able to make major contributions to next year's team.

    Offensively, Olt, Lake, and even Vitters have a chance to start the season with the Cubs, with guys like Baez, Alcantara, Cszur coming up by mid-season.

    Add this to (hopefully) positive improvement from Rizzo, Castro, Castillo, and Samardzija, and this team very well could be significantly better next year than it is now.

    I'm not saying that every one of these guys I've mentioned are locks to contribute next year. Obviously that won't happen, but they all have a chance to contribute next year, and potentially in ways similar to J. Lake this year.

    I don't see why the Cubs couldn't have a year like the A's are having this year. Meaning legit wild-card contender, outside shot to win the division.

    Let's not be so quick to write off 2014. The transactions that the FO has made this year show me that 2014 is expected to be a big jump in quality next year.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I would agree with what you're saying for the most part. But we appear to be in a tougher division that the AL West. Not saying 2014 playoffs is out of consideration. Blown saves/shoddy BP work kept us from being a .500 club. But IDK if playoff contender is how I would describe 2014. Competitive and seeing progress would make me happy. If we are better than expected, then I could totally see Epstoyer doing a deal or two to make us better and try to push for a playoff spot. But really, I think it's 2015 before we are real legit.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    You make good points. It might be stretching it to say we can win the division in 2014 with the quality teams we are competing with. But replacing what we had in the bullpen at the beginning of this year with the likes of Strop, Gregg, Parker, Rosscup (maybe), and Zych (maybe) looks like a huge upgrade to me. I know, I'm drinking too much of that blue koolaid, but I still feel good about 2014. A lot of good things have to break our way, of course, but stranger things have happened. Just not to us....yet....;-)

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Well it's hard to think we're playoff bound after the following win percentages:
    2010: .463
    2011: .438
    2012: .377
    2013: .444

    I hope the Cubs turn the corner and become a winning team but it doesn't look like they have the players to do that in 2014. Still you never know who they'll acquire in the offseason. It will likely take some luck with budget free agents because ownership hasn't shown that they're willing to spend big money yet.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    definitely expect to see a better product on the field in 2014.

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    In reply to HefCA:

    I'm with you. I see no reason why they can't be in competition for a post season spot next year.

  • I would like to see Watkins get a few starts in the next several weeks. Nothing against Murphy but I believe Watkins has a better chance of helping the Cubs in the future.

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    I definitely think having someone other than Sully be the Cubs beat writer is bound to help. Dan Roan and company on Ch. 9 are just as bad. Yes, the Cubs are hard to watch at times, but I take this as a year of growth (fingers crossed). I am not ready to write off the 2014 season right away. Would love to contend next year and usher in a sustained period of first class Cubs baseball done the right way.

  • I think 2015 might even be pushing it.

    That's when the prospects are supposed to get up here. With as many as four everyday players that are rookies there's going to be some tough games/stretches to watch.

    Pittsburgh isn't going anywhere and they have a Top 10 farm system with top prospects ready to come up soon.
    St. Louis isn't going anywhere and they have a Top 5 farm system with top prospects ready to come up soon.
    Cincy has an ok farm system but their big league club is in good shape for the foreseeable future with a solid core of Votto/Phillips.

    Of course teams that are supposed to do well sometimes underachieve (Nationals/Angels just this season).

    The Central is going to be a dog fight in 2015.

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    Non-thread related post:

    I've set up a another Fantasy Football League on Yahoo. It's called Cubs Den Fantasy Football. It's an 8 team league. Roster set up is 1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 Flex, 1 K, 1 DST. Scoring is PPR. It's free to join. All you need is a Yahoo ID and be over the age of 13. The league will draft tomorrow night "ONLINE" at 10 pm. If you wish to play but can't make the draft, Yahoo can auto-draft for you based on BPA. Just copy and paste the link below to join.

  • Would anyone be opposed to bringing in Mark Reynolds? I know that he was just recently released by the Indians, but he is not a bad player, and as a matter of fact, he would certainly be an upgrade to our current situation at third base. He owns a lifetime .330 OBP and a .465 SLG%. I know he's a low-average hitter, but he does take walks and he is more than capable of hitting the ball out of the ball-park. He also takes walks as well.

    He just recently turned 30, so he's still got a lot of time left. We all know that the Cubs need offense (though they are okay in the home-run department.) If he were to succeed, he could be the 3B heading into next season (if Olt is still not ready), or he could simply be used for the rest of the season as a stop-gap.

    I'd rather see the Cubs give him a shot than see them trot out the 37-year-old Cody Ransom.

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