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.
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.
- Bonifacio, 2B
- Kalish, LF
- Rizzo, 1B
- Schierholtz, RF
- Lake, CF
- Castro, SS
- Olt, 3B
- Castillo, C
- T.Wood, SP
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