Fixing the Cubs RISP problem

Fixing the Cubs RISP problem

CSN's Patrick Mooney writes that Dale Sveum is unhappy about the Cubs performance in so-called clutch situations,

“You hate to keep beating it up, because the players hear it. But the bottom line is when you hit .220 with men in scoring position, in those close games you just can’t add on. You get people out there, and you lose by two, you lose by one. The ‘cyber’ people don’t say it’s a big, big stat. But it’s a big stat. It’s timely hitting that’s going to end up winning a lot of games for you.”

Though I use advanced metrics in my analysis all the time, I don't know if I'd label myself a "cyber" person (Dale obviously meant to say "saber").  But there is a semantics issue here.  RISP is obviously important to everyone, including "saber guys".  But when it comes to statistical analysis, they are only concerned with measuring that which can be controlled by the individual player.   Everyone agrees hitting with RISP is important, the debate comes when you ask people whether you can do anything about it.

Despite leaning toward the side of advanced metrics, I do try to keep an open mind about old school baseball wisdom.  So I asked myself, can RISP be improved?

Why, yes.  Of course it can.

Here are my solutions:

  1. Get better baseball players that hit better all of the time, not just with RISP.  This, however, is primarily controlled by the front office.
  2. Get on base more.  Ok, well, this doesn't fix the problem, but it lessens the impact of it.  There are roughly 40 plate appearances per game.  Even if you hit .220 with runners in scoring position, you're better off if you're getting on base 14 times (35% of the time), then you are getting on base just 12 times (30% of the time).  That's two potential extra chances for your team to get that hit with runners on.  Even if it's just that 22% chance in each situation it's still better than not having those extra chances at all.   Again, this is partially controlled by the front office.  They need to get better OBP guys, but the coaching staff has some impact here, though the greater impact may come from the minor league development staff -- and at least there is good news coming on that front.

But let's address the question of trying to do this with the current personnel.  Is that possible?  Well, in trying to keep an open mind here, I'll say maybe.

  1. Do some players stay more focused while others tighten up in pressure situations?  Given human nature, I think that's likely but we're talking about professional ballplayers, so the range probably isn't as large as it is in the general population.  Let me give you an analogy of what I mean.  Perhaps we can make a loose comparison of choking in the clutch to stage fright.  They at least both involve trying to perform in a high pressure situation.  But here's the thing, you don't expect actors to experience stage fright -- at least not to the degree that you or I might.  There may be some variance from one actor to the next, but in general you have to believe most actors are reasonably comfortable performing on stage.  I don't think Matt Damon performs better on stage than Ben Affleck because he deals with stage fright better.  Matt Damon performs better because he is a better actor.  Similarly, while we may realize from our own point of view that, "Well, yeah, this is a pressure situation, I can see a ballplayer tightening up".  But, like the actors, these players are professionals who work and thrive in this sort of situations.  Are some players more comfortable and relaxed in pressure situations?  Probably.  But I suspect that the degree of variance from one ballplayer to the other in that regard is minimal and not a large factor in the RISP equation.  The simple factor of being a better hitter in general is the more important factor.
  2. What about approach?  Can players affect their performance with RISP because of a better approach?  Again, I do think this is likely.  A player who makes contact at a high rate, for example, is more likely to drive in a runner home from 3B with less than two outs than a player with a low contact rate.  The question then is, "Can a player change his approach with runners on base?"  To some degree yes, but it isn't easy to change your approach from one at-bat to the next, much less from pitch to pitch.  You can ask Adam Dunn to shorten up and try to make contact with a man on 3rd, but he isn't ever going to do it as well as say, Mark Grace.  And who is to say that it would be desirable for Dunn to even try?  It stands to reason that the short-stroke, contact oriented version of Adam Dunn is an abysmal hitter anyway (think about it, would he even be an MLB level player with that approach if he used it all the time?  So why would he ask him to be that hitter in an important situation?) Much as we don't care to admit it, he may be better off with his normal approach of trying to hit the ball hard somewhere -- or not at all.  Again, it may just come down to talent.  A more talented/versatile hitter can probably alter his approach on the fly and have success, but in general, why would you ask an average hitter to become something entirely different than what made him a major league player to begin with?  Even more to the point -- why would you expect fringe ballplayers to have consistent success in any situation -- RISP or not?

So while I believe there may be some control over how a player performs with RISP  in how he manages stress or whether he can tailor his approach to the given situation, I believe it is a lot less than we might think.  The same goes for being able to improve that particular "skill" of hitting with men on base by improving  approach.  There may be some wiggle room, but at some point, unless the hitter is gifted and versatile to begin with, you need to have some balance or you risk taking away from that player's strength as a hitter.

Maybe Dale Sveum can squeeze blood out of a turnip here and re-tool his lineup into a run-producing, RBI machine.  But I doubt it.

The easier said than done solution is to just get better hitters.  You can at least try and diversify your lineup with hitters of different talents and, preferably some combination of those talents.  Get guys who get on base;  get better baserunners who are more capable of advancing an extra base once they're on; get some hitters who make more consistent contact,  and some who might make less frequent -- but harder -- contact that is more likely to result in an extra base hit.   In other words, give the Cubs the MLB equivalent of the lineups we see in Daytona, Tennessee, and Boise.

Give Dale Sveum a better lineup and my guess is that the RISP problem will disappear.  Better yet, combine that with good pitching and defense and you'll have a lot less close games to worry about in the first place.



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  • John, I agree with your second point entirely. However, in the first point, I would have to add that some people who are professional actors or BB players get stage fright in pressure situations and some don't. Some with the stage fright do better because of it and some don't. The stage fright doesn't control the person but how the person reacts to it influences the outcome. What I'm saying here is that the manager knowing his players should be able to discern which respond well to pressure and which don't. He can then try to get them to the plate at the right time.
    Thanks for all the work you put in. Reading Cubs Den is my only hobby right now.

  • In reply to cubster:


    I think it's the same principal. Whether you call it stage fright or how you respond to it -- if you get to a certain level, the professional level, the odds are you manage it very well or you would have never made it that far. The variance on how well that's managed is probably not all that significant from one ballplayer to the next. The much bigger factor is still hitting talent.

  • 'Get better hitters'. So, what positions would we now swap for better hitters?

  • In reply to jaykaysr:

    There are no good hitters to swap in right now on this roster. Is that a trick question? :)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think he meant, what positions should be targeted for upgrade via free agency, trades, etc? 3B, 2B, OF?

  • Sorry to change the subject, John- but do you happen to know if there's any way for us to watch the Arizona fall league games online?

  • In reply to MikeyB:

    There wasn't as of last year and I haven't heard of any changes. It's pretty bare bones out there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I could swear I saw some AFL games on the MLB network last fall. But I certainly may be mistaken.

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    John, fantastic job of breaking down the whole RISP issue. There is nothing here, for what it's worth, that I disagree with.

    I do think it's odd how nobody ever talks about what additional steps opposing teams take when there are runners in scoring position. This is the other half of the equation, things like working around a tough hitter, bringing in a top reliever, or simply not giving in as one might if his team were ahead 6-0 with two outs and nobody on base.

    You could make a good argument that teams should have a lower average hitting with runners in scoring position than they do overall. This is especially true if the team in the field is superior to the team at bat. The Cubs are hitting just .238 as a team overall, and it seems logical to me that their batting average with runners in scoring position would be even lower. If it were .260, I would say the Cubs were performing abnormally well and would doubt they could sustain it.

    It's disturbing that Sveum can't grasp this. Add to that his malapropism, and I have little confidence in this guy going forward (I have been on the fence on this, but am now crossing over to the dump Sveum contingent). Does he understand the nuances of how sabermetrics work?

    If he doesn't, I don't believe he can be on the same page with the front office. And I think he's hurting the rebuilding process or whatever you want to call it.

    For example, is he sending clear messages to his hitting coaches or to individual players on issues like being selective at the plate? Does he understand that this isn't black and white (in other words, does he think you're either aggressive at the plate or your not?)

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    The stuff you talk about early on is observational and it's subject to interpretation. For example, are the Cubs pitchers really not working around tough hitters or is there command not good enough to do it well?

    I think Sveum actually understands and uses sabermetrics, but I think he is the kind of guy who understands it on an intuitive level, not an intellectual one (I'm not saying Sveum isn't smart, here,). We're used to seeing analysts who deal with sabermetrics on a purely intellectual level -- you won't find many managers who do it that way, maybe Joe Maddon of Tampa is one.

    I also think he is nuanced and doesn't see things in black and white. I think he understands there is a range that goes from Luis Valbuena to Welington Castillo to Junior Lake in terms of selectivity as much as we all do.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    The major league average with runners in scoring position this year is somewhere around .254, I believe. If Sveum grasps sabermetrics, why would he think the Cubs' average should be higher than it is. Again, I'm surprised it isn't lower.

  • This begs the question: The Cardinals have historically high average with RISP, something in the .340's. Is there something about the players that they put on the field and/or some approach that the coaching staff is using that is worth emulating? Or, is it just luck?

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    In reply to SouthBender:

    I think John's post addresses this in detail.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    I think luck plays a role but you are right in questioning whether it can ALL be luck.

    I don't think it is because the Cardinals have better hitters who are better suited to have success in those situations.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    The players that they put on the field are better.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    go look and see WHERE they hit the ball in RISP situations. Craig, Molina, etc, hit the ball where its pitched. Paul Konerko, another excellent run producer, is the same way. Thats a good starting point.

  • interesting points. In the end it all does come down to talent, but the approach can make the talent more efficient for sure.
    Having just played the Dodgers, let's take the top 5 hitters from their team- Crawford,Puig,Gonzalez,Ramirez and Kemp(DL) and compare them to the Cubs hitters. There is not 1 Cub hitter that could top any one of the 5 from the Dodgers. Case closed. We are essentially void of impact ML hitting talent at this point. Maybe Rizzo and Castro turn around, but those are probabilities and not birds in the hand.

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    In reply to Cuyler:

    Certainly the approach matters, but it also matters when there is nobody on base.

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    Changing points some, but that analysis is exactly why I think it is foolish for the Cubs to spend $10mm a year or so on Choo -- we are really bad in many areas and while we do believe certain players will get better (Rizzo, Castro) and hope others continue to develop (Lake, Jeff S.), it is just hope. We need to many things to go correctly to make the playoffs even with Choo that it seems a foolhardy bet and not worth the 2nd round pick.

  • Let's put this another way: The Cubs have a lower average with RISP than they do without. The Cardinals have a higher average with RISP than without. So are the Cubs underperforming with men on base, or are the Cards underperforming with the bases empty? Or is the converse true?

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    That's a question that's not easy to answer quickly. There are a number of factors, the primary one ofnis just everyday statistical variance.

    Another (smaller) factor may have to do with approach. Cubs hitters tend to be free swingers, so as a pitcher, you can try and get them to chase pitches out of the zone in that situation, causing more swings and misses and weak contact.

    Cardinals hitters are just more disciplined in that situation. You'll see them take those pitches -- or at least foul off the borderline ones, and wait for the pitchers to make a mistake. Eventually, they do and then the Cardinals hitters are good at capitalizing on it.

    But again -- it comes down to most of it being talent and luck and of the small part that isn't how much of that is actually teachable. I think to some degree it is, but a lot of that has to be done at the developmental level -- and it still has to do with how the talented the player is to begin with.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This is true - they are more disciplined because they are better hitters and are better hitters because they are more disciplined.

    I think teams who wait for a pitcher to make a mistake and foul off pitches in the meantime do perform better with RISP. For the most part, however, I think the Cubs' overall average and their average with RISP are both affected by this poor approach at the plate.

    So again, if Sveum understands this stuff, then he would not be surprised that the Cubs, lacking in plate discipline, would struggle with RISP just as they struggle overall to hit for average.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That makes no sense. If the Cardinals are doing something with RISP that enables them to hit better then why don't they do it ALL THE TIME??

    The Cardinals are lucky this season. 2013 RISP BA is .327. 2012 RISP BA was .264. 2011 RISP BA was .290. 2010 .270.

    In those seasons they were near the top in Total BA as well as RISP BA. Clutch does not exist. The Cardinals are also near the top in contact% while the Cubs are in the bottom third.

  • In reply to jgod42:

    That is basically what I said. Read the responses again...

    "There are a number of factors, the primary one is just everyday statistical variance."

    That's just another way of saying luck.

    "Another (smaller) factor may have to do with approach...but again -- it comes down to most of it being talent and luck."

    And by talent, I just mean better hitters.

    And then, in a separate response to the same extended question,

    "Same as before, much has to do with statistical variance (luck). The same basic team hit .264 with RISP last year and if you look at the Cards vs. the rest of the league, it's a huge statistical outlier. It's one of those years."

    So if that doesn't make sense, then we both don't make any sense. Don't be so quick to react -- read through the entire response.

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    In reply to SouthBender:

    The Cubs' batting average with RISP is close enough to their actual average that I think it is where you would expect it to be. As for the Cardinals, I think it's logical that better teams would outperform their actual batting averages just as poorer teams might underperform, the same as might be true with individual players.

    In the end, however, RISP is mostly about chance.

  • Also, the Cubs have a lower average with RISP than they do without. The Cardinals have a higher average with RISP than without. So are the Cubs underperforming with men on base, or are the Cards underperforming with the bases empty?

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    Same as before, much has to do with statistical variance (luck).

    The same basic team hit .264 with RISP last year and if you look at the Cards vs. the rest of the league, it's a huge statistical outlier. It's one of those years.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    Aw crap. I hate when I double post. Anyway, thanks for the interesting perspective. It's always good to talk baseball with folks far more knowledgeable than I am.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    Ha! No worries on the double post. Thanks for the good questions

  • All of this crap reminds me of pharmaceutical commercials with so many disclaimers that only on idiot would ever buy any of these life threatening nostrums. ERISP is not teachable even if we had a good teacher which we don't. Sveum reminds me of a defense attorney.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    If you think "all this is crap", then why bother to read and comment?

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    In Tom Tango's book: "The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball" he has a chapter "Woods, Jordan,... Spiezio?",devoted entirely to this topic. He approaches it from a dryer, strictly analytical perspective (consistent with the rest of the book), but he reaches a similar conclusion.

    "Clutch" is moreso an anomaly and in any important situation you should play the better overall hitter as measured by wOBA or whichever advanced hitting statistic you deem most relevant.

    This is especially relevant because the Cubs hired Tom Tango as a consultant and... Sveum might have some reading to do this winter. There seems to be a statement per week by Dale or his players that flies in the face of commonly held "Cyber" theory. i.e. Rizzo's view of the 2 hole or this RISP talk.

    In Boston, it was my understanding that Francona was micro-managed in many ways by Theo's front-office. Who to play, batting order, etc. Either that isn't happening here, Dale doesn't understand the talking points, or it is happening and I haven't seen it.

  • In reply to Theo Einstein:

    That is a great book -- and yes, very dry. That said, I cannot hope to match Tango's analytical ability and conclusions from a purely statistical standpoint, so I tried a different approach :)

    Completely agree with Tango, though we took different roads to get there.

  • In reply to Theo Einstein:

    Agreed. My heart sank when I read Rizzo's and Sveum's comments. You would think more baseball people would be familiar with at least the take-home points of Tango's book, especially on the Cubs. I have trouble, though, imagining Sveum making it through the first chapter.

  • John ... I'm not sure if this is relevant to your post (though you did mention it) but I saw on last Sunday's game the stat the the Cubs are among the 5 worst teams in MLB in going from 1st to 3rd.

    I guess we're aware the Cubs are pretty lame in the stolen base category but that stat surprised me. Thoughts? Is overall team speed also lacking on this team?

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Yes. And I touched on baserunning briefly, but I agree that is also a factor in run production. Much easier to drive in a guy from 3rd than 2nd.

    The Cubs don't have a single player that I would consider a better than average runner other than Junior Lake right now -- and maybe Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija ;). The next tier may be Castro, Barney, and maybe Schierholtz and they are average runners at best. Need to have a better baserunning team.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Has Castro speed regressed, or is he just getting bad reads on pitchers and balls. I remember him being a pretty good baserunner 2 years ago.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    Castro's speed has never been very good. He has definitely added a little weight and may have lost a step from when he was 19, but he was always given credit for having speed he didn't actually possess. His speed has never been more than average.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    Castro has always had average running times -- even as a thinner 20 year old. I think perception was that he was fast, but that was never really the case.

    Where Castro may have been a better baserunner was underway -- in going from 1st to 3rd, for example, but we haven't seen him hit the ball well enough this year to do that.

    I think he's lost some of his raw speed simply by maturing and filling out physically. His baserunning skills are decent, but they will have to improve to compensate or he will be a below average baserunner overall.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John you make great points but I have to ask, can we also say that him not going from 1st to 3rd is his fear of making a mistake. I ask because when I look at him play its like he thinking to much on basic plays but is flawless on non basic plays.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    I think its a combination of bad reads and added size, He was never a burner so he needs to pick his spots. When he first came up he was thin but since then he has added weight as he got older.

  • In my opinion I don't care how many times you get on base if you can't get hits with men in scoring position then you will have a tough time scoring. I like obp but behind the obp guys are guys with 90-100 rbi's on the year, those are the successful teams. look in our own division, choo and votto are on base machines, but if phillips and bruce are not there then they probably won't score as many runs. St louis has craig, driving in runs behind carpenter and beltran. Again I think obp is a good stat and you need players like that but without the phillips,craig,miguel cabrera the obp guys are just going to be stranded.

  • In reply to seankl:

    The two are related. The more OBP people in front of you, the more RBI situations you have and more likely you are to drive in 100 runs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I get that, but we are talking about talent. With what the cubs have in the lineup the number of RBI situations really doesn't matter. What I'm really saying is we can walk three times in one inning and not score one run because of the talent level. I remember earlier in the year we walked a bunch of times in one game but when it came down to getting men in we hit pop ups and double plays.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Talent is a factor, but if you walk 3 times in one inning, even a lesser talent is far more likely to get an RBI than he is with nobody on.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, only the cubs can do that.

  • If there wasn't something to one's ability to hit with risp, a 270 hitter would hit 270 and 200 hitter would hit 200 etc. Some do, but many try to hard, get nervous, become to aggressive or lack usual confidence.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I don't agree. If you take a hitters (or teams) ability to hit with bases empty or RISP over a large sample, they even out given enough time. If it were a case of nerves or confidence, then that large variance would remain constant regardless of sample size.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Does it always even out? Seems many are easy outs in pressure situations.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Pretty much. There will always be outliers, but in general it evens out whether you talk about teams or players.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Sure, you may find some variance among individuals, but I would expect their average with RISP and overall to be similar over the course of their career. And this should also be true for teams, which may have some players overperform their norms over the course of a year and others underperform.

  • The more I hear Dale talk and watch him manage, the more I believe he is not the guy for the job

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    In reply to Ike03:

    My only hope is that his comments are a result of his being passive aggressive or just because he feels he has to give an answer but doesn't know quite what to say - leading to unfortunate comments such as his saying that Travis Wood is the best pitcher in baseball earlier in the season.

    For example, he may be out of answers for the Cubs' struggles, so he may bring up his frustrations over their inability to hit with RISP. So even though deep down he knows why this is and isn't surprised, he has to give the media something so he cites this as a problem.

    If this is the case, then it's more a question of his not being media savvy.

  • Also another problem is the team makes bad contact. Cubs are dead last in Babip at .276. That takes a team that is hitting .236 to .260 if it normalizes.

    Id like know their babip w/ risp.
    Also it seems like if u take every position the Cubs have on the field, they would only have a below average hitter at 2nd and SS (measured by Runs Created). The cubs must of had bad production from their pinch hitters too.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    Interesting point as well.

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    What ever happened to "hit it where it's pitched?" The Cub players are so pull happy. Castro was this type of hitter, now he grounds to short on pitches on the far outside (balls) that he us to go the other way on for hits. The FO expects him to be an OBP and power guy...that is what he is trying to be and these are the results we get. Before that Barney was an opposite field hitter, but now is trying to be a power guy...lower average, more ground outs to short and fly outs to the left side. The same thing happened with Theriot, manager wanted more power out of him and he tried to pull everything, I average dropped and weak outs went up.

  • In reply to Nick Johnson:

    In Barney' s case his lack of power was a bigger problem. The defense cheated.

  • In reply to Nick Johnson:

    I think Castro goes to RF as well as anyone on the team. I don't see him hitting it back up the middle with authority the way he used to, however. I understand trying to add power by making hitters more pull conscious, but agree you have to let hitters do what they do best. Castro is going to have to pick his spots to pull better.

  • In reply to Nick Johnson:

    Nick ... a couple of weeks ago I happened to see a Castro spray chart on WGN and was pretty surprised (and pleased!) to see he nearly evenly divides his hits in all three zones!
    I suspect the kid is just getting hammered on everything this year. I won't say it's not deserved - but he does use the entire field!

  • Could it be that situational batting is emphasized less in the Cub organization than others? Are the Cubs too focused on maximizing the number of pitches seen, even in an RBI situation? I got into a discussion here the other day about sacrifices to score a runner and I was basically told that was old school thinking, that giving up yourself was never a good idea, although I was talking about a hitter in the 2 spot.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That is old school -- especially from the #2 hitter, a spot that new schoolers believe should be for the best hitter on the team. I'm not a big believer in bunts unless it is with a pitcher or with certain bottom of the order hitters in certain situations. In general you don't want to give away outs since you only have 27 to begin with.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I hear what you're saying about the 27 outs, but many times all it takes is scoring one run to win a game. Scoring runs count more than not wasting an out. That's one part of sabremetrics I'll never buy into.

    When you play chess, sometimes you have to sacrifice a queen to win, and sometimes in baseball you have to use similar tactics. That's why baseball is the thinking man's sport. If we could have traded 2 outs to score a runner when we needed to, how many more games could we have won this year?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That discussion the other day was with me. I guess I am new school in thinking that wasting outs is rarely a good thing (pitchers excluded). But now we are in an entirely different discussion. Changing a hitting approach with runners on base and sacrificing a player into scoring position are very different things in my opinion. One is good, one bad. I am old school in thinking that a hitter should change his approach with RISP, especially with two strikes. I do want guys to shorten up their stroke (hell, I wish guys would still choke up on the bat) so to give them the best chance of putting the ball in play. Strikeouts don't help you in that situation, and unless there is a guy on first, then even a groundball isn't going to turn into a DP, but it might get a guy from 2nd to 3rd, or a guy from 3rd to home.

    One part of the old school approach that I will never buy into is putting an inferior hitter in the 2 hole just because he is a good bunter, where he will get dozens of extra plate appearances over the course of a season and essentially just make more outs, instead of a just putting a superior hitter there and giving your team that many more runners on base in a season. I don't think any chess rationale can convince me of that strategy :)

  • In reply to mjvz:

    It isn't wasting outs if it scores a run or advances the runner into scoring position, in most cases. Most baseball players believe this as well, because you always see the player who just "wasted" an out get congratulated for good team play when he returns to the dugout. Sabermetrics focuses more on the individual's play than a team's.

    I am not advocating putting in an inferior hitter into the 2 spot. I was defending Beckert who wasn't an inferior hitter at all because you seemed to say as much. Beckert was an outstanding contact hitter who rarely struck out. To me, a strikeout is a wasted out.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Sacrificing a piece a major piece in chess is not ideal. Much rather sacrifice your pawn -- and when we're talking baseball pitchers as hitters are the equivalent of a pawn. Anyway, in chess, in any given instant, it increases your probability of winning or you wouldn't do it.

    In baseball, it's been shown you are more likely to score with a man on first and no outs than you are with a man on second and 1 out, so on average, you aren't giving yourself a better probability of scoring. That said, there are certain situations when the bunt can be called on, but I don't like it as a general rule.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    But if you can push that runner over to third with two outs, then you greatly increase the odds of scoring him with a wild pitch, passed ball, drop third strike, error, or even by stealing home.

    And unlike chess, all sacrifices only involve one out, not losing a major piece. I was just using a sacrifice in chess to allude to similar strategy in baseball.

    You wrote a nice piece on increasing scoring with RISP, but you didn't mention a sacrifice. I thought I'd bring up an major element of small ball that was overlooked.

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    In reply to SFToby:

    Yes, If you have a runner on third, less then two outs, If you get a pitch you can drive you should swing, I don't care I it's the fist pitch. What, you're suppose to take the best pitch you might see so that you can be down 0-1 in the count? I don't believe in the sac bunt, but I think trying to bunt for a hit with runners on is definitely a thing to incorporate. One thing I haven't seen all year from this team is the fake bunt and swing. There is absolutely no mystery in what the Cubs are doing... take pitches then swing for the fences.

  • John, I know you know a heck of a lot about baseball and you have tried to offer some solutions to the cubs problems, But I'm at the point where I think some drastic changes need to be made. One: I grant you that Sweum hasn't the people to work with but I'd like to see a new manager who's tough and will sit a player immediately when he doesn't focus on the game, is good at developing players and isn't so tied into the platoon system that he ignores the player with the hot bat; Two, I know Theo and company tend to want to develop players in the minors more, but as it stands the cubs are not competing on a major league level. Bring up some of these minor league players. Let them have a chance to make a difference. Baez may be ready. Trade Castro and Barney for a top notch catcher and another player that fills a need. Bring up Alcantera. I'm not convinced that Rizzo is the first baseman they need but keep him until one of the minor leaguers like Vogelbach is ready - maybe in 2015. Start some of the outfielders we have hopes for this next year and see if they make the grade. Maybe this isn't the route to go but I'm tired of watching poor baseball and from the way the fans are disappearing so are they.

  • RISP is an interesting topic. John, you basically state that the Cardinals outrageously good year RISP is a statistical outlier, a year of good luck. And to a large extent I agree. Fangraphs has an interesting article on Allen Craig's historically good run hitting with RISP. Thought it might be interesting to the thoughtful readers of this site.

  • In reply to JerryMartin28:

    Very good article. Thanks for the link.

  • I do think there is a tendency for hitters to tighten up or try to do too much. Rizzo as an example seems to change his approach particularly late in games with runners on base. He will see alot of pitches early but late in games he's swinging on first pitch.

  • Maybe your best read yet John.

    This is why I want to give Dale two more years. He is flat out right. The Cubs don't have enough "professional" hitters. I'd say Ransom is one. Schierholtz is on the verge. Maybe Valbuena is on the verge. Am I missing anyone?

    I'm a coach so I have a soft spot for other coaches probably, but I want to give Dale a chance. I'm relying on you for info. here. Didn't hear his entire comment. If the comment was directed toward the entire team, and not an individual, he's making progress.

  • In reply to Kodak11:

    It was for the team -- and he was careful not to put down his player, in my opinion, when he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You hate to keep saying it because the players hear it"

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • Johjn i know you don't like bunting but it really seems absurd to pinch hit Watkins for the pitcher then have him sac bunt which happened the other day. I don't know if Watkins was bunting on his own but you not only gave up the out but wasted a pinch hitter.

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    I would add 2 more factors:
    1) reading the defense. Our coaches have done I'd say a very good job of setting defensive shifts for each opposing batter, but I wonder how much time they've spent with our hitters showing yh thd other guys' shifts and teaching them how to hit past it.
    2) I'm probably in the minority on this, but IIRC one lesson from moneyball is that thetes

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    ... There's not a lot of advantage to giving up an out to move a runner up one base, yet it keeps being done because its always been done that way.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    when runs are at a premium like 2-1 game i would be willing to give up the out to get a run. Not all situations are equal.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Depends who is up and who is on deck.

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    Sorry again about the typos, I should just not try to comment from a phone.

  • It's not just about talent, it's about situational hitting.

    If you have a 1-2 count, nobody out, and runners and 2nd and you swing for the fences? Have we seen Cub players do that in this situation? Yes.

    You want a more controlled (contact) swing and to generally shorten up in that count and situation.

    Indeed, asking a guy like Adam Dunn to shorten up may be a disaster. What about Junior Lake however? Or Castro?

    1-2 count, no outs, guys on 2nd and 3rd, do you try to nail a dinger or do you try to protect the plate and make contact?

    Talent is important, but situational hitting, or rather, having a "situational hitting strategy" is something that it "seems" a lot of players are still clearly missing at times.

    That's not talent. That's smarts and coaching.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    That's fine -- not saying players shouldn't shorten up. In fact, I said that approach is part of the problem, and that good hitters (i.e. Mark Grace) do shorten up (Adam Dunn isn't a good hitter) -- but you still need better hitters out there shortening their swings. You can shorten your swing all you want, but if you stink, you stink. The Cubs need more hitters that don't stink.

  • Pressure coupled with RISP is practically impossible to measure.

    Lets say you're up 6-0 in the 8th inning (or even down 6) with a man on 2nd. There's little to no pressure involved.

    There's more pressure involved down 2-0 with no one on base.

    Even if the score is close, say 0-0 in the 1st with a man on 2nd. I wouldn't say that's more pressure than down 2-0 in the 8th inning with no one on base.

    The pressure filled scenarios would be when a game is within 3 runs in the 7th inning or later. I'm sure there has to be a stat for that.

    Even then...what percentage does that account for in the grand scheme of things within a game? RISP average doesn't take into account the pressure filled situations vs. the less/non pressure filled ones.

    You're also usually facing better relievers in later innings as opposed to Hector Rondon types so even then the late inning stat is skewed.

    The pressure that a pitcher feels has to somehow be thrown into any potential equation because it is not a constant.

    Also...home/road splits.

    The possibilities are endless. For the stage fright example, that assumes every performance is the same. Someone would probably feel more comfortable working with familiar faces in front of a small crowd of their biggest supporters as opposed to a packed house with a tough critic who gave you a past bad review in the audience. There's way too many variables to measure in either example, most have been unnaccounted for.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    That's all well and good, but where are the facts on this? You can assume pressure and say there are different situations -- but where are those differences statistically given an appropriate sample size? I'll save you the trouble. There really is no correlation. Given enough ABs, averages with bases empty and runners on even out.

    Over past 3 years to show two so-called Cardinals clutch hitters with runners on and 2 outs/...

    Yadier Molina? Clutch hitter? .295 overall/.282 runners w/2outs....287 leading off an inning.
    Allen Craig? .300 overall/.308 runners on w/2outs....325 leading off an inning.

    Where's the correlation? Those are just two "clutch" hitters but you can look up hitter after hitter, look at a 3 year split and you'll see that while there is some random variance, they pretty much even out over time.

    It's mythology or maybe the romanticism of that hero who comes through when the pressure is on, but it's just not grounded in fact. The stats don't bear it out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thats exactly my point. There are no facts that prove anything. It's just speculation.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    No. That is the opposite of your point. That is the opposite of speculation. There are facts and stats to prove there is no statistically meaningful difference between how hitters hit in different situations. When you look up players (or teams) batting averages and batting averages in particular situations. the fact is they even out over time. I gave you a small sample of two hitters just to illustrate the mythology of the so-called clutch hitter, but you can read Tango's book or any larger study.

    Now if you are saying there's no proof that pressure affects a batter, then I agree. Nothing out there shows that it does. All we have is stuff that show that there is no correlation.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Pressure coupled with RISP is practically impossible to measure." is my point.

    The opposite of my point would be "You can measure pressure and RISP easily."

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    If you are trying to say there is no proof that pressure affects batting average, then I agree.

  • Guys, the Cubs have the second worst batting average in baseball, runners on or not. 13 points under the NL league average at .238.
    They need to get some better hitters.
    Alan Craig has been very good, but also very lucky. The vast majority of his hits with runners in scoring position have been singles, many bounced through the infield. The cardinals will crash and burn this season, overrated.

  • Cardinals numbers have never been this clutch before, so I agree. Just one of those things -- and yes, big part of it is just luck.

  • I'm on board with Sabr metrics and I think they're really great for the game but I don't agree with one principle that gets thrown out there; the 'clutch does not exist' principle. I grasp what they mean because clutch does not exist on paper. Clutch does exist in the dugout. The conversations batters have before their AB's and what they're thinking up there cannot be measured. To me, a player is "clutch" if he's able to change his approach with RISP on a pitch to pitch basis. Aramis was so good at that. The Cubs just don't have good at bats with RISP and its hard to watch. They get set up. They get into holes. They don't have that guy with the nose for the RBI. I'm disappointed in Rizzo because he looked like that guy last year. When Luis Valbuena is the guy you want up there in a big spot you're going to have a losing record. I apologize to Luis for saying that. I like Luis.

    Next year this team is still going to be really young. I propose that along with a couple of better players they bring in a new hitting coach who's not necessarily high profile, but a guy with a solid big league resume. I'm not necessarily calling for James Rowson's head. If he stayed I'd ultimately be fine with it and I know Rob Deer has a presence there but here's my rationale.

    Hitting coach is an important job. I'm not trying to minimize it but let's be honest. By the time a hitter reaches the big leagues he's already had literally dozens if not hundreds of guys that have "taught" him how to swing the bat. There aren't a whole lot of things a hitting coach could tell a guy that he hasn't already heard. Where a hitting coach earns his money is during the game going over scouting reports and helping hitters guess which pitch they're going to hit. For instance, let's say there are two on and none out and Rizzo is in the hole. The other team is likely to bring in tough loogy to face him with men on base. Hitting coach says, "Ok, this guy likes his slider first pitch. Good spot to ambush." Translation: He's most likely going to throw a get me over slider, hit it in the gap. I know it's ultimately up to the hitter to pull the trigger. Here's where the clutch part comes in. Do you let that get me over slider come in and stand there like a trophy for strike one? Do you swing late on a fastball and hit a weak pop up to short? Or do you lay off the fastball? Do you hit the get me over slider over the fence?

    Now here's the question. As a young player, are you more likely to have the right approach if Mark McGwire, John Mabry, or Don Mattingly say, "Hey, look for a first pitch slider and hit it hard."? Again, I'm not trying to throw dirt on James Rowson but his playing career ended at age 21. I think the value of a big league career is not to be underestimated in a coach. I'm not saying James Rowson doesn't know hitting or doesn't deserve respect, but I think it's time for a new guy. Of the 10 best teams this year (STL, PIT, CIN, LAD, TEX, DET, ATL, OAK, BOS, & TB) only the Rays have a hitting coach with no big league time. That is either a coincidence or it is worth noting.

    Lets face it, the players may really like him and he may be really good at his job but the bottom line is Castro has regressed under his watch. Rizzo has not gotten to where everyone thought he would. Those two guys have got find a way to blossom regardless of what new players or coaches come in. A new hitting coach may be a good start. It certainly couldn't hurt.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Nice post. I agree w/ a lot, but maybe not your main point.

    Here's an instance: in baseball, runners on second base have to see if they can pick up the signs from the catcher. Is the catcher only laying down one sign? Outs plus one? Number of innings plus one? Blah, blah. Before the game the players need to know which hitters are interested in that information if you steal it from the other team. Some people don't like to guess. I'm not saying they don't want to know what the pitchers throw. They just don't like to guess each pitch

    In my opinion, clutch hitting is not so much "shortening up" as it is fouling off recognized borderline pitches until you get something you can put a good swing on. Players get better at that with age of course. Cubs don't have a lot of age. I'm not too concerned with it right now. I just don't want to see anyone fired. Only time or different ballplayers will heal this problem.

  • Excellent article John. This is why I love Cubs Den. At the end of the day, if it's not something that can be taught or analyzed in any statistically functional way, then you have to just have to chalk it up to luck and simply a product of having better players.

  • In reply to Denim Dan:

    Thanks. Funny how things seem to work out that way in the end.

  • John, I think you should write about this and the possibility of the Cubs going after him. I think it'll spark a very lively debate.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Have been in contact with 3 scouts about Tanaka. Still waiting to hear back from one of them. The short version: He's good.

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    In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Most relevant to the debate: is there any money to get him?

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I don't see why not. We aren't the Rays and have lots of money coming off the books.

    Or are people going to pull up the same tired excuse of "Soriano didn't work" as if that cursed every potential big contract for the rest of eternity.

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    In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Soriano has nothing to do with this.

    Epstein has been very up front that the money available to spend is not close to what he thought it would be.

    AND this is a Japanese FA, meaning (IINM) that a posting fee will be required just to put in an offer, and the final contract itself will be huge.

    The Rangers dropped $108Million on Yu Darvish and Epstein himself ended up paying Matsuzaka way more than he was worth.

    And Hey, I realize Matsuzaka was considerably older than this guy. I'm not saying he won't be or he's not a good player.

    But the Cubs are currently crying poverty, the renovation deal still has potential roadblocks, and some are predicting the Cubs cannot count on a new TV deal resembling the recent megadeals.

    Not to mention the recent report that the Astros this year have made the most single-season profits in history.

    If the Astros can make that much money from cutting salary, even with AWFUL attendance, I'm quite sure that Ricketts has taken notice.

    I mean, we just just loose DDJ to save around $6M.

    If we need that 6 million that bad, what evidence suggests that there's $110+M (minumium) to sign this guy?

    Again, I'm not saying I don't want him. I'd LOVE the Cubs to get a 34y/o stud pitcher. I'd just be surprised if this is an option.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    My comment wasn't specifically at you, but anytime someone brings up spending money you see the "Oh didn't we learn from Soriano!!!" comments.

    While it will cost a lot the article suggests it wouldn't take Darvish money to go after him.

    DDJ didn't have much future with the team, it's wasted space if you could save money on him, why not?

    We had a $80 million offer on the table for Sanchez just this past off-season. We had talks with Garza for an extension. The money will be there.

    While the Cubs won't get the billions the Angels/Dodgers got for the TV deals, they are going to get something. I wouldn't be shocked to see a Cubs channel. That's going to be significant money.

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    In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Fair enough.

    And for the record, ( I should've mentioned it) I was estimating the theoretical contract near Darvish's because of the rate at which contracts seem to go up every year, not because I think they're equal.

    By the time this guy signs, it'll be 3 years since Darvish signed, so I figured if this guy was a Darvish clone he'd be getting more in the range of 140-150M (including posting fee).

    But that's just semantics :p

    Good point about the Sanchez deal, though. I had forgot about the money they were ready to give him.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    We're in the same boat though as far as wanting the Cubs to win. I understand your concerns about not wanting to get hopes up for someone, then the Cubs don't persue him or bow out early.

    There's over $40 million coming off the books from this season (Garza/Feldman/Marmol/Baker/DeJesus/Stewart/Hairston/Camp/Clevenger/Moscoso/$3 saved from the Sori deal) to next season. I don't know the plans for the payroll I'd assume they won't be penny pinchers.

    I know we have to pick up other players for the ones lost but it's mostly going to be inexpensive options, like Arrieta/Rusin for rotation spots instead of the $20 million that Garza/Feldman/Baker cost this season.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Yes...that's probably the least of my worries.

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    In reply to Giffmo:

    Talked to a couple people I trust on this -- sounds like the Cubs are very in on him. (So cool, I sorta kinda have "sources!")

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    My biggest fear on him right now is the second we sign him he'll develop Cubs Pitcher Disease and schedule a visit to Dr. Andrews.

  • John, I'm curious to see what your stance is on guys who perform well under more extreme clutch situations, like the playoffs, or guys with a knack for coming up with game winning or walk off hits. Do you subscribe to the belief that those players have that clutch factor, or is it just a small sample size if they are outliers?

  • I'd like to add just one thing to the RISP conversation. The lineup, as John said, just isn't good enough to expect even an average RISP position. One thing we have to account for is who is up next when someone is up with runners on. The pitcher 1) knows who is next, and 2) is going to be bearing down to prevent that hit. When the pitcher isn't exactly fearful of the guy on deck, he doesn't have to do anything more than pitch to his strength on the present hitter. If he walks him, ok. Not so with the Cardinals lineup. That pitcher isn't going to want to add to his jam by walking the first guy. Just my 2 cents and I guess all this has been said in one form or another, but that's my summation of the Cubs' problem.

  • One thing I'm surprised by is how large the base sizes need to be in baseball in order to measure an impact. A starter could get 500 AB's and we could still chalk things up to luck or variance. In some fields, a base size of 30 is enough to draw conclusions.

    2013 .254 .254
    2012 .255 .255
    2011 .255 .254

    These are the numbers for all ML hitters. And while it doesn't disprove that specific hitters don't deviate from the norm, it does prove that, as a group, there is no difference.

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