Thoughts on Cubs progress, Rizzo, Olt, and Lake

Thoughts on Cubs progress, Rizzo, Olt, and Lake

Yesterday I gave you my thoughts on Starlin Castro, who I am hoping has started the journey from raw physical talent to a more polished, mature player.

But he's not the only one.   There's a real feeling among Cubs fans that the entire team is making progress.  It certainly didn't seem that way early on when the Cubs were making baserunning mistakes, key errors, hitting poorly with RISP, and taking their usual hacktastic approach.  Lately, however, it feels like a switch has been flipped.  And it's not just the eyeball test, Baseball Prospectus today calculated which teams are getting the most improvement from their core players and the Cubs are near the top.

We're not asking for a miracle in 2014, we just want the team to improve and play better baseball -- particularly when it comes to the young core.

Anthony Rizzo and LHPs

One of those core players is Anthony Rizzo, whom I believe has improved as much as Castro this year.  There was a lot of angst about his Opening Day in which he faced Francisco Liriano and struck out 3 times, looking horribly doing it.  But as we pointed out, Liriano makes the best lefties in the league look horrible.

Yesterday I sent out a series of tweets about Rizzo and his recent performance against LHP.  For all the knee jerk reactions to his Opening Day performance, it's been eerily silent since then.

That's because since that 0 for 4 start, Rizzo is hitting a cool .500 vs. LHP.  He's hit the ball the other way and yesterday he did so with more authority.  If he's going to go oppo like that, then he's going to continually beat that exaggerated shift and we'll see him hit for a better average than what many were projecting.

But here's another interesting thing about Rizzo vs. LHP.  He's actually not bad -- when he's at home.  He's only been a disaster on the road.  Although we don't have a particularly long track record yet, there is a startling difference.

Take a look at these numbers:

  • At Home vs. LHP:  .283/.350/.500
  • On Road vs. LHP:  .132/.200/.213

That is absolutely ridiculous.  And while it isn't uncommon for young players to do better at home where they have played more games than in any other individual park, I've never seen such a pronounced split on home vs. road.

Adding to the strange factor is that the split is much more balanced vs. RHP,  In fact, he's a little bit better on the road...

  • At Home vs. RHP: .256/.353/.436
  • On Road vs. RHP: .262/.347/.450

Given their sample size, it's pretty even across 3 of the samples but like the old Sesame Street song/game says, "One of these things is not like the other".

And so while, Rizzo's approach has improved this year vs. LHP, there is some evidence to suggest that maybe he's been better than we think.  You'd have to think that performance on the road just has to improve as he gains experience and a better comfort level away from the Friendly Confines.

Olt and Lake let their bats do the talking

Ballplayers want to play.  If they don't, then they are in the wrong profession.  While Lake was a little vocal about it yesterday, Olt has remained largely silent.

Yesterday, both of them would have made Teddy Roosevelt proud,

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

Both players HR'd with Olt hitting one that nearly went high enough to go into orbit while Lake put a more traditional trajectory on his shot and launched a rocket onto Waveland Ave.  Olt also hit a big single and each player put up solid ABs.

While I've been okay with the platoon situation, I want to see those guys play as much as anyone -- but I don't think there's anything wrong with gradually working them in.  Lake in particular has outplayed his platoon partner (Ryan Sweeney) but Olt's partner Luis Valbuena has played his usual solid baseball -- good ABs and good defense.  It's tough to sit a popular veteran who not only helps the team win, but exemplifies the type of approach and culture the team is trying to instill in it's younger players.

That said, Olt is a much more talented player than Valbuena and if the Cubs are going to improve they need to work him into the lineup as the season goes on.  Perhaps Valbuena can steal some ABs at 2B.

But for all the talk, there's only one real way to get your manager's attention and that's to go out there and quietly do your job when you get the opportunity.  Both players did that yesterday and both will be rewarded today.  Lake and Olt are both in the starting lineup against a tough RHP in flame-throwing Gerrit Cole.  This is another wonderful, though challenging opportunity for them to make a statement at the plate.  If these guys can hang in against Cole's nasty stuff, they can hang in on pretty much any RHP in the game.

Today's Lineup

  1. Bonifacio, 2B
  2. Kalish, LF
  3. Rizzo, 1B
  4. Schierholtz, RF
  5. Lake, CF
  6. Castro, SS
  7. Olt, 3B
  8. Castillo, C
  9. T.Wood, SP



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  • If Rizzo can hit lefties consistently at .250-.260 he will have a very successful career as .28 or better hitter with excellent power and obp numbers.

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    Wow, you read my mind.

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    It's interesting how the line up is split in the middle, first four hitters are lefty and then all righties to finish it out. I would have thought Ricky would mix it up a little but we'll see how this works out for him.

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    In reply to Zachary Myers:

    Remember that Bonifacio is a switch hitter so he could be considered a righty also, but your point still remains valid. Not much creativity will be needed for the Pirates in regards to pitching changes.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    only the 2, 3, & 4 hitter s are lefty. Bonifacio is a switch hitter

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Yeah he is but he's going to hit as a lefty until he sees a reliever. I just think that mixing it up can keep the pitcher from getting too comfortable.

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    Yesterday felt like a turning point. They got outhomered but, because they did a good job of getting on base and keeping the line moving, managed to win the game.

    I also think Strop is getting unfairly criticized. No, he didn't have his best stuff but with the big lead he threw strikes and let the hitters get themselves out instead of nibbling and walking guys and that's when disaster really strikes.

    They played that game like a winning team does.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree it felt like a turning point yesterday, but I think today's performance will determine if it truly was. If the Cubs can follow a night game win with a day game win against a good team and a very tough pitcher, I'll feel they're starting to really turn the corner.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think we can say the same for Hammel. Wind was blowing out and they got their HRs -- but the Cubs pitchers didn't help them out. Fergie Jenkins would have been proud.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Totally agree. I also loved him "throwing his first baseman under the bus" at his press conference yesterday. (Apparently Rizzo congratulated him on his first NL win after the game.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think the veteran has to have a little fun with the youngster in that scenario...

  • I wasn't crazy about platooning the young players, but I've slowly come around, partly from reading this blog. Also, it's nice to make these players understand that they're not entitled to at-bats, purely because they have raw talent. Rather, playing time is something they have to earn, in the clubhouse, in how they approach the game. And especially in the quality (not necessarily the outcome) of their at-bats. In basketball you have to teach young players to value a possession by not taking bad shots or turnovers. In baseball, those players have to value their at-bats, taking a smart approach by incorporating what coaches have told them. That's how you graduate from platoon to big league regular.

  • In reply to Taft:

    This is really well said, Taft.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I had a completely idiotic post on Opening Day, so this gets me back to .500.

  • In reply to Taft:

    If you can consistently bat 0.500+ here,.... you will have done well Taft. :D

  • The really exciting thing for Rizzo is he made an adjustment. PIT took a look at his spray chart from last year:

    and rightfully so, shifted their defense.

    Rizzo has become more selective on those pitches away and hitting them opposite field away from the shift vs pulling them into the shift for a GO:

    Let's hope he keeps it up!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I thought one of the most encouraging things I had seen in a while was his stroking the ball into left field the other day.

  • Interesting too that Castro is back in the 6th spot. He only had 1 hit yesterday.

  • In reply to John57:

    I doubt that had anything to do with it. Castro made pretty solid contact for the most part.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Castro looks great at SS.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Plus I think they like having Emilio and Kalish at the top of the order.

  • Anyone know what Arrieta's pitch count was? I see he's done after 3 2/3 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K (runner on 1B is his).

  • Pedro Alvarez should be intently watching and learning from Rizzo.

  • Junior Lake has been lucky so far this year. 36% K rate and .416 BABIP is not a recipe for long term success. Don't be so quick to dismiss Ryan Sweeney who has had a better approach at the plate (both this year and last), but really unlucky .143 BABIP. Also it is 8 games, look at last season stats and see that Sweeney is currently the better player. Lake is exciting because he is fast and powerful, but he strikes out way too much.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Yes, I have the same concerns with Lake. Plus, his decision to go public about his desire for more playing time suggests that he either doesn't know about his peripherals or doesn't care. Which is fine; confidence is great. But by the same token, I'm glad Lake's back in the lineup because a guy like Gerrit Cole can teach the kid a lesson in humility. Lake may be a great player some day, but he's not there yet. If he gets schooled by Cole, maybe Lake will apply those lessons going forward.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Dont look at K rate & BABIP from 20 some AB's. With a long term look, their fly ball rates are one of the reason Lake has a high BABIP, very few flyballs and a lot of hard hit balls. His BABIP was high last year and was pretty high in the minors. That being said I like him lower in the lineup because he will give you inconsistant AB's but for the most part he has been pretty productive. Where as Sweeney has over 2000 big league AB and its shows he is a 5th OF on a good team and possible platoon on a bad team and thats about it.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Right, when Lake connects, he tends to hit it pretty squarely, meaning he should have a fairly high BABIP. The question is whether it will be high enough to make him a valuable player in spite of the strikeouts. As you say, it's a very small sample size, but if Lake really wants to earn his way into a full-time starter role, he'll need to cut down on the Ks going forward. Otherwise, when his BABIP comes back to earth (currently, it's 40 points higher than it was last year), his average is going to suffer considerably. The good news is that while Lake's BABIP is unsustainably high, he's been striking out at a higher rate as well. (36 percent of his PAs this year, as opposed to 27 percent last year). As long as both of those stats regress toward the mean, Lake should be OK.

  • In reply to Taft:

    I think it is a calculated movie by RR today in regards to starting Lake and Olt against Cole. It's win win for him imo. If they do well it gives him a reason to start them against righty's. If not, it judtifies bringing them along slowly and picking the right spots. Although imo, the first week was about getting everyone involved.
    Not sure about the decision today to not stagger the lefty righty hitters more though. But this lineup is the ideal one if everything breaks right.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    I'd love to see Sweeney playing instead of Schierholtz though. We stress how we want OBP, so why prefer the guy with a .312 career OBP over the guy with a .335 career OBP? Sweeney would also provide a hell of a lot more range in RF than Schierholtz does. And he's a year younger just for good measure

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Sweeney doesn't have the arm for RF though. Schierholtz is borderline. Junior Lake actually has the best arm on the team.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Let me clarify, Lake has the "strongest" arm. Not necessarily the "best" His accuracy, or lack thereof, is what keeps him out of RF more than anything else.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    how strong your arm is is overrated. Range is so much more critical in making outs. Every metric agrees Sweeney has been a better Right fielder than schierholtz in his career.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Show me the metrics that says Sweeney throws out (or prevents base runners from advancing) better than Schierholtz. Otherwise, that's a false statement and proves my point.... His inability to make the throw from RF to 3B is exactly why Sweeney is NOT a RF'r.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    First of all, a throwing arm is way less important than range in the outfield. Second of all, go to the fangraphs fielding section for both players. For their careers, Schierholtz ARM rating is -1.7 runs, and Sweeneys is 6.0 runs in right field. So there you go. Schierholtz UZR in 3815 innings is +16, Sweeneys in 2286 innings is +26. Scheirholtz DRS in RF is 9, Sweeneys is 16.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Schierholtz provides more power. Sweeney had a slight uptick in his power last year compared to the rest of his career, but he still has below average power, and he has not yet hit the ball with any authority in ST or to start the regular season either. Sweeney is a 4/5th OF. Schierholtz at least has some value as a platoon corner OF (although he is better suited to LF than RF) and they are no doubt showcasing him for a possible trade at the deadline.

  • Hey John, not sure if you have any control over this, but is there any way you could make it so that links open up a new tab, rather than the same page?

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    instead of left clicking with your mouse you can right click and choose open in new tab

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Not on myiPhone. Would be nice john to not have to copy and paste. I like the links.

  • can you set the default options to always open links in a new tab?

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    Hold down on the link on your phone and it should open the option to open in a new tab or copy link URL. At least using Chrome on my iPhone it does.

  • In addition to Rizzo and Castro improving at the plate, I think we can add Barney. His current line is .214/.421/.635 while at first glance it doesn't look too good, but the .421 for OBP is good. Also he seems like a different hitter this year hitting more line drives and fewer pop ups. We will have have to see how he does going forward. I am guessing the ave will go up and the OBP will regress but still he might be making it harder to get rid of him considering his GG glove.

  • In reply to John57:

    Agreed - Barney will never been a 0.300 hitter,.... but his walk rate so far this year has been quite good.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    And while RR gets some flack for his platoons, it shows that he's not opposed to bench a regular like Barney who has been a starter for years. I think we should approach RR the same way we reserve judgment on players like Rizzo, Castro, Olt and Lake until a larger sample size is established. Every single day I feel I read comments about his line ups. As Taft pointed out, let things play out a bit and let the young guys earn their spots. If nobody's developing mid may, then address it. For now, relax and enjoy the fact that baseball is here again!

  • In reply to John57:

    Barney currently has a .250 BABIP. That's not from weak contact either. He's hit the ball on the screws for the most part, but right at people. I expect, if he maintains this new approach, his BA most definitely will go up.

    While that OBP isn't sustainable, he has drawn 5 BB's so far in just 19 PA's vs last year, he had 36 BB's total, for the year.... So he is definitely showing signs of improvement.

  • Exciting to see the great batting approach both Rizzo and Castro had last night.

    Rizzo was very patient and willing to hit the ball to the opposite field (which I think he needs to continue) while totally negating the Pittsburgh shift.

    Even though Castro went 1-4, it seemed like each at-bat was a good one. He seems much more relaxed now than last year, and more willing to go with the pitch.

    If these two guys continue to hit like they are capable of, it will be a big boost to the Cubs season.

  • John,

    I think I would really like today's line-up of you simply replaced the name "Schierholtz" with "Bryant" :)

  • In reply to travelguy:

    It is a nice lineup -- we'll have to wait for Bryant, though!

  • Baez just hit a 2-run homer for Iowa. Was looking like a rotten day for that squad until just recently. Now Szczur, Alcantara and Vitters have all collected hits, besides Baez.

  • Sade news to hear Avisail Garcia is out for the year. Really like potential

  • In reply to seankl:

    his potential.

  • Last week everyone was saying how early it was to be down on the team. Now a week later we are flying high. Lets just take it one game at a time and see where people end up.
    As far as development of Olt? What has developed? Two years ago he was untouchable, then a year later he can get moved. He only has 20 AB and didn't hardly play any 3b this spring so it is very difficult to see any progress or development in my eyes.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Agreed for the most part. If we were preaching to be patient with early struggles, we have to not get overly anxious with the early success as well. I'll be more judgmental about a month from now.

  • The team looks really good right now. If they can be consistent in the pen throughout the year they'll compete.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    the bullpen has looked really good (except wright & veras) my big question is who will be sent down when Arrieta is ready in 2 weeks or so? I think Grimm will go down so he can be a starter, but who knows at this point. Then Fujikawa & Vizcaino will be migrating north so some guys will have to be moved to make room.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Well - Schlitter and Russell just stunk up an inning,.....


  • Castro directs the ball right through the gap! That's situational hitting. It might be early still but I'm calling it now...He's back!

    Bonifacio has been a huge spark for the whole team, and I suspect morale is much better with Rick Tiki Tavi running the clubhouse.

    My only worry with Rizzo (along with everyone else) has been his his hitting vs LHP, so IF he has that in his arsenal now, between his very good defense at 1st base, and his power, he should be a perennial All-Star caliber player and middle of the lineup hitter for the Cubs.

    I have no problem with losing if it means it makes the Cubs a legitimate and consistent championship contender as I truly believe that mediocrity, i.e. just missing the playoffs, is a killer under the current MLB talent acquisition structure (the CBA), but if winning means establishing our core at the expense of mediocrity for a year, that's ok with me as long as it means that the Front Office is ready to build on it next year at full throttle. If they aren't then they should still sell off at the trade deadline no matter our record. If they are then let the core continue to succeed, bring up the first wave in the 2nd half (Baez, Villanueva, Alcantara, Vitters, Vizcaino, Hendricks, N. Ramirez, etc.) and then position the team to be a legitimate contender in the offseason. Once we make the playoffs, their should be no going back, so we better be ready for the long haul.

  • Can some one explain the safe call made on Castro's slide into home? I was watching at a noisy lunch spot and I couldn't hear the explanation. Did Castro knock the ball out with his foot? Thanks!

  • In reply to svelocity:

    I'm at the game and he looked out to me. Apparently, the ball beat Casto by a wide margin, but the catcher never really had possession of the ball. By the time he got a good grip on the ball, Castro had slid into his glove but the ball was still in his bare hand. Safe at home.

  • He's been decent until today, but I thought Schlitter could throw in the mid-90's? I've seen nothing higher than 92-93

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    I thought Snider should have ben rung up on that 2-2 pitch from Schlitter, but that was a good at bat and the Pirates just keep hitting the ball hard that inning.

  • Just watched the Cubs pitching staff implode once again giving up 5 runs in the 7th to go behind 5-4. Once again the manager pulls out a guy just over 100 pitches after giving up a hit and striking out 9. They will be lucky to win a series all year with this relief core and don't count on there bats doing much. The announcers are just too nice and won't say what is really on their minds. Seen way too many of the same ole thing year after year after year. When Banks said the Cubs will shine in 69, he was talking about 2069 and not 1969. Lets see if anyone is around to see if this prediction comes true.

  • In reply to Greg:

    Wow. Trolls like you sure disappear when the team is playing well and pick times like this to come out from under your rock. If the Cubs pull this game out, you'll disappear again until another bad game.

  • In reply to Greg:

    I don't know why the last two managers love Russell so much.

    And I thought schlitter has been used too much already.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    This Cub manager was playing the odds based on the success Russell had with Pedro Alvarez although limited. Good major league hitters will adjust and he knew Russell wanted to get ahead with the first pitch which he hung over the middle of the plate. I just think he should have left Wood for a few more hitters and quit babying these pitchers when they hit the 100 pitch mark.

  • In reply to Greg:

    Thanks. I agree on pitch count. 9 strikeouts sounds like he was doing fine

  • All I can say is you must be a new Cub fan or just another fan who just does not understand the game there current talent level. I have been following the Cubs for over 50 years and if you want to keep dreaming and put your head in the sand that is your business. I won't be disappearing anytime soon since there will be plenty more bad games to comments on, if I wanted to waste my time but I will not. If your feeling really lucky go to Vegas and bet on them.

  • In reply to Greg:

    So what do you propose will fix the team? What do you think the plan should be?

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    be more negative

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Unfortunately its not a quick fix and should have started a long time ago. Its has not been the curse of the billygoat but the curse of poor management. I do not blame the current players I point to their management as the issue. They need scouts who can find talent and get players drafted and signed. The good teams (Braves, Cards, RedSox, etc.) have talent rich farms and just reload while the Cubs have wasted time and money trying to buy a championship in hopes to appease the fans a few short years ago. They became cash strapped when they handed out long term contracts to aging or one or two tool players. Defense wins championships in all sports and pitching is defense in baseball. They gave Castro a long term deal after one year of success and you saw what he did last year when teams adjusted pitching to him and he was not able to adjust. The Cubs farm teams need to improve and be the feeder to the major league club sprinkled in with a few proven major leaguers when the time is right. Unfortunately the time is not right and there is going to be growing pains along the way this year and you can only hope guys like Castro and Rizzo will improve and be consistent. You can live with Castro hitting around .300 but his defense needs to dramatically improve. Rizzo needs to produce when men are on base consistently or be willing to take the walk. If they do not improve they will not even be worth using for trade material let alone help the team win. They also need a catcher who knows the opposing players and how to call a game. The definition of insanity is expecting to improve and continuing to do the same things. The talent level is just not there yet and this is going to be another long year, in my opinion. When you see the team improving you will see the GM adding a few proven major league pieces.

  • In reply to Greg:

    IMO, the definition of banality is repeating that Einstein quote ("insantity is....") ad nauseum in the mistaken belief that it makes you sound as smart as Einstein. What the Cubs current management is doing now has never been tried by the Cubs before, certainly not in the last 50 years, so the quote makes no sense in this context. As for the rest of your negativity, it just comes across as an emotional rant. Do you even know how much this front office has expanded their scouting since taking over? Have you followed their draft choices since 2012? Have you noticed that their farm system is now ranked ahead of the Cards' and the Braves' and on par with the Red Sox' Have you followed the talent they've been acquiring in trades? Are you aware of Castro's advanced fielding metrics? (Are you aware that he missed almost all of Spring training? Have you seen Castillo's defensive WAR and his rapid improvement? The talent level isn't there yet, but the core is young and there is more on the way. You're emotional negativity is better suited for the comment boards on Try it. The trolls will love you. You'll be much happier there.

  • I've really enjoyed those Captain Obvious commercials they've been playing on TV lately...

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