Castro and Arrieta mental game key to Cubs future

Recently I was having an issue watching Cubs games.

Not surprising? Well it had less to do with what was happening on the field, and more of a mental issue. I found myself overanalyzing everything. I couldn’t just simply watch the game anymore. Then one game recently, I sat so close to the action it hit me that I was just watching guys play baseball. With all the outside stuff surrounding the game, that is something that is too easy to forget.

These are mostly kids playing a kids game.

There is so much about this game that still can’t be measured. I love statistical analysis, it can help predict future performance of a player. However, it can’t figure in the mental factors that can be game changers.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, half of the game is 90% mental. Too many times, a talented player may not be able to perform up to his abilities due to too much pressure of living up to expectations or a new contract.

Take Starlin Castro and Jake Arrieta for example. Here we have two gifted players. One, who had gotten too inside of his own head, (maybe with help from others) the other maybe feeling a little more comfortable with a fresh start.

Ultimately, the difference in a talented player succeeding can be attributed to his mental approach. In both Castro and Arrieta's case these players seem to grasp that now. Castro for one has looked much more like the all-star edition of late, and the changes haven’t been mechanical, but mental.

“I was thinking too much, especially thinking about hitting, thinking about defense, thinking about everything,”

“In the beginning, if I missed in the first at-bat I’m done — 0-for-3, you know,” he said. “But now if you miss in the first at-bat, you have three left. Keep positive every at-bat.”

Castro is letting go now and he says he is trying to live his baseball life one at bat at time. Some have put the blame on too many voices in his head earlier in the year. It sounds as if his manager realizes his player needs a comfort zone.

"There have been a lot of things (said) about seeing a lot of pitches and walking more and on-base percentage," Sveum said.

"We've talked about this probably 20 times this year about this whole subject. As much as anything, it is kind of why I thought I would get him in the (leadoff) lineup spot where it is one spot he is the most comfortable and had the most success. So far he has been driving the ball better and swinging the bat better in that spot."

Whatever the case, the kid looks comfortable in his own skin again. He looks more confident and the dynamite charging, barehanded play he made in the ninth flashed that confidence. I have doubts he would have made that play a week ago.

When it comes to Arrieta, the mental block could have been not living up to the lofty expectations in Baltimore. He has always had the tools, now he is trying to refine his approach.

"It's a power arm with a power slider," Sveum said as he described Arrieta's attributes. "He's a big guy (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), good athlete. He can do things on the mound that he is probably still learning against big league hitters … how to get ahead (in the count) and not step on his own feet, as well.

The walks are the biggest thing we've just got to cut down. With that kind of arm and ability, you've got to make them put the ball in play." Said Sveum.

When the Cubs acquired the former top prospect, they had hoped a change of leagues and scenery could allow him a reset of sorts and unleash his potential.

"Overall I think I was good. I would like to be better at first-pitch strikes," he said. "Be more aggressive right out of the gate.” "I have developed some comfort here," says Arrieta.

That comfort could be huge. Arrieta and Castro showed us yesterday they could be a big piece of the puzzle moving forward if they can stay out of their own way.


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  • fb_avatar

    Good article.

    For everything I've said over the last year, for the last few days Castro has looked like Castro again. (Do miss his smile, though.) I hope this continues, because the Cubs are a much better team when he's spraying line drives all over the field than when he isn't.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Exactly. For whatever reasons - Castro is starting to look like the Castro we saw for a couple of years - at least at the plate. AND his defense has been much improved over the last month or so.

    Baez may indeed be the 'All-Star Infielder' SS from the Cubs in a few years, but Castro is the 'All-Star Infielder' SS we have now.

    And I like Arietta. He's got potential to be at least as good and consistent a rotation guy as E. Jackson (as a floor) and as good or better than Shark. He's just got to throw hard srikes and not get too cute.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's downright fun to watch Castro play when he's having fun out there.
    And equally as frustrating to watch when he's struggling and angry with himself.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Thanks Mike, I'm with you Castro is fun to watch when he's spraying it.

  • That barehanded play he made in the 9th was pretty sweet. Sure it was 7-1 in the 9th, but the talent is obviously still there. Great play.

  • Tom, what are your thoughts about recently DFA'd Daniel bard? The Red Sox connection is obvious and he's still relatively young at 28. I know he's been horrible but seems like a guy we might consider picking up. Of course 40 man is gonna be crowded over the winter too...

  • In reply to Cubswin2015:

    Chris Cotillo reported last night Cubs were discussing it. I'm all for it. Why not? Some of these ate going to work out.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I agree. He proved he could pitch in the big leagues. A change of scenery might be just what he needs.

  • I have had the impression that Starlin is not an intense thinker in general. As has been said in this blog a number of times, he seems much more an instinctual player. Hopefully we all let him be what he is even if that means an occasional mental lapse like the pop fly where he didn't throw home quick enough. He may play at his maximum level in that way.

  • In reply to cubster:

    Agreed. I think he's smart bur more intuitive. Let him be him.

  • We had a guy named Roy Smalley, who never neared his potential because he couldn't play in front of fans. With an empty park he was better than Marty Marion, but when the fans showed u he was a doofus. Expectations are the bane of athletes it seems. Some guys are at there best when the heat is on them. Starlin can be one of those guys. Arrieta has great stuff but, asalwauys it's about strikes. So much is nmade of SOs which are hard outs to get. Pitching to contact is what made Jenkins the best of all Cub pitchers. Hitters stink. they get themselves out at least half of the time. Just get it in play and you'll wind up in the Hall.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    True, especially if you can pitch to the *kind* of contact that you want. Maddux and Glavine were so fantastic not because they struck out a million guys, but because their control/command was so good. They'd put it in the strike zone (barely) and say "Good luck hitting that anywhere but at someone." They also induced a lot of weak contact because of their abilities to change speeds so well. While I don't think Hendricks will be as good as Glavine or Maddux, I like that he seems to be able to dictate to batters the kind of contact he's going to give up (qualifier: I haven't seen him pitch, just making that comment based on John's write-ups and others' opinions of him).

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    I think his stuff does play well to pitching to contact low in the zone. I really like the way he has looked at Wrigley. I always thought K Wood cheated himself by trying to K everyone.

  • Castro's AB in the 8th was great. Went down 0-2. Fought back to 2-2. Foul off a pitch or two and then hit a fly ball to right for a Sac Fly.

    If he can have a strong finish, FO and fans alike will breath a bit easier.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I would say that at bat was ok after the first two extremely wild swings he took.

  • fb_avatar

    Arrieta pitching like a top of the rotation guy could very well initiate the start of success in our rebuild.
    I feel like Arrieta or Vizcaino are the key to any success in 2014.

    As for Castro, I'm glad to see him out there being himself again. Trying to tight-cast individuals into a formatted system will always leave some margin for error. Messing with success cost Starlin 2013. But he's showing signs of life and the team will be a little better next year, as he'll continue to develop.

  • 5 spots left in my Yahoo fantasy football league drafting online tonight if anyone's interested.

  • League ID # 55300, league name 1 running back +.

  • I don't care if Castro never walks again in his career. He just needs to do what comes naturally and swing the bat. Brenly used to comment that he had such great hand/eye coordination that he could make contact almost every time. But then he started taking strikes down the middle, get tense, and swing at that slider in the dirt--ground ball, ground ball, ground ball--when he hit it.

  • In reply to JayPea:

    Problem is he can hit everything. I would like to see him pick out a drive able ball out now and then. I think maybe some of that stuff did sink in.

  • I think the plan is coming into focus. Or maybe it's the Kool Aid. But I really like the young pieces we are starting to acquire . I like Arrieta as a starter more than Ejax. I know we have a large investment in him but I don't think he's going to be a good starter. But, all is not lost. Maybe we can convert him into a closer. He has good velo, and would only have to bring it for 1 inning.

  • For castro I think this was a good lesson for him and to figure out how to deal with failure Not physically but mentally. Next year he will have slumps but I think he will learn how to minimize them.

  • I find it funny how quick we are to muse on the mental states of players and how it affects their game and yet we are so quick to chalk up strong RISP performances to a by-product of a statistical pattern or aberration. If you accept that a player's mental state has something to do with performance then you must allow for the possibility that mindset can also change at certain key moments of a game that can lead to a heightened awareness or mental acuity.

  • In reply to CoolerbytheLake:

    Absolutely it does. I just dispute that a hitter can be even better than he is in those situations. I dispute clutch in a way but not payers who aren't good in pressure situations. Make sense?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Just to be devils advocate here Tom.

    The definition of "clutch" IS being good in critical pressure situations. So you're last sentence is by definition saying the same thing.

    So you are basically saying that a player CAN be worse in a pressure/critical situation than his talent/past performance would indicate BUT not better than his talent/past performance would indicate in the same situation.

    A bit like saying you believe in heaven but not hell if you ask me.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Maybe so. I just think good hitters hit in pressure or not and I think some can falter more if they think too much. Am I crazy for that?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    No I don't think you're crazy Tom, I just think that your logic is incomplete.

    You agree that a players mental situation can affect his performance.

    You even agree that a "change of scenery" can give a player a fresh mental aspect which allows him to play to his talent.

    Wouldn't it stand to reason then that a player who is able to maintain mental focus no matter what the situation, be it a critical pressure in-game situation or off the field stuff that can affect a player (such as a manager or trainer having you question your approach) would thus be able to perform better in those situations?

    There is absolutely no question that some people crumble when the bright lights are on them. I think by the same token there are people/players who excel when in critical situations. I agree with you that players can't play above there talent level. I however think that there are players who can maintain mental focus in pressure spots which allows them to use their abilities to their fullest. In my mind, that ability to focus is what separates those players which are labeled "clutch".

    Also....Reggie Jackson

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Ok I see your point. If you are talking about players maintaining there focus under pressure I buy that.

  • Is it me or does castro walk more now than before ?

  • In reply to seankl:

    Castro's walks divided by at bats:

    2010 .057
    2011 .049
    2012 .052
    2013 .040

    Last 28 days .055
    Last 14 days .060
    Last 7 days .083

    So yes, he is walking more, but only just recently. Still a small sample size. As is his resurgence.

  • Man this is why writer's write, I've made a few post on here periodically always in general saying the same thing. That I thought Castro was super talented and would still have a great career but he needed to be traded to reset his thinking just like the Arrietta situation. Never once did I explain what I was saying near as good as it was stated in this article. Now however maybe I won't have to even try anymore as maybe Castro found a way to clear his mind and still stay in Chicago. Whoohoo best of both worlds if that is how it works out.

  • In reply to bigbluebear2929:

    Thanks. Short form points work here all the time too. That was my biggest fear concerning Castro. He would click again as soon as he was gone.

  • Darwin Barney shouldn't play again for the rest of the season.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    I'm ok with that.

  • Hey, John, do you want to re-up in my fantasy football league this season?

  • wish I understood Sveum love affair with Barney. Game on the line full bench to pick from and let 215 hitter bat. One of the reasons for 58-79.

  • Managers tend to overvalue defense. Sveum certainly does.

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