After getting Sveumed, the young core is back on track with Renteria

After getting Sveumed, the young core is back on track with Renteria

Yesterday we got both a moral victory and the real deal.  Not only did the Cubs get a win but they got a big performance from the core and a couple of relief pitchers who could join that group by season's end.

What made last year so difficult was not just that the Cubs struggled once again -- most of us expected that.  But it was the regression of the core -- specifically Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo that was of greater concern.

I tried to give then manager Dale Sveum the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible.  I did this despite a run differential and a Pythagorean record that suggested they should have been better.  But those things aren't as important as the development of the young core and that was Sveum's biggest failure.

Despite the Cubs front office desire to bring in a more new school type manager, Sveum was cut out of an old school, tough guy cloth. He is the kind who believes that players today are too soft and that his main job was preparation, particularly from a mechanical, nuts and bolts standpoint.  Sveum had the managing style of an auto mechanic, keep the parts well-oiled, make an occasional adjustment, tinker around with the engine, and then the car should run fine by itself.

And what's more, he didn't appear to be a particularly good mechanic.  The bunting tournaments, while fun, did nothing to prepare the team during the season.  The mechanical adjustments he made to Anthony Rizzo created more pop-ups than base hits and the heavy handed approach to changing Starlin Castro made the young shortstop more tentative than disciplined.

In some respects, Sveum was right, but his style was far too dispassionate, too disconnected from the realities of today's game.  It's not a one size fits all environment.  You have different players that come from different backgrounds, different cultures -- they aren't machines that come with the same instruction manual.  Managers like Joe Maddon and Tony Francona understand that, Sveum did not.

Rick Renteria seems to understand that as well.

While you may not like his lineups or strategic moves, that stuff is secondary to getting the core back on track.  That is why Renteria is here.  What you hope is that he gets Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo going again, while also developing some new core players.  That is more important right now than whether he should have bunted here or put the wrong guy in relief.

As far as getting Castro and Rizzo back on track, so far so good.  Castro is not just hitting, but he's hitting the ball with authority again.  The tentative swing is gone, the little dinks and dunks to RF have become more of a plan B then his main plan at the plate.  Castro is doing less thinking and relying on those instincts that made him such a promising hitter early in his career.

I would be thrilled if Castro could just maintain the .308/.339/.471 line he holds today.  I believe he can maintain that .340 ish OBP because he's done it before (in 2010 and 2011).   He doesn't have an outlandish BABIP right now, it's at .322 -- about 20 points lower than it was in his best two seasons, so I don't think this is a fluke.  And while you may think a .340 BABIP is high -- I disagree.  It comes with the territory for .300 hitters because they tend to make hard, line drive contact (Castro's line drive percentage is up to 24.2% from 19.9% last year) and some, like Castro, have the bat control to hit it to all fields, making it difficult to position the defense and anticipate where those batted balls are going.  As an example, the top 10 hitters in the NL last season averaged a .362 BABIP.  Castro is nowhere near that and he's putting up great offensive numbers.

As for Rizzo, he has dispelled fears that he cannot hit LHPs.  He's hitting ,387/.474/.613 against them so far.  And like Castro, Rizzo is hitting more line drives again, up to 25.7% compared to 19.6% this year.  When it came to Rizzo, Sveum tinkered with his swing, lowering his hands to try and get him to generate more power -- but it also caused him to pop-up with much greater frequency, not to mention an increase in strikeouts.  The punchline here is that Rizzo's ISO stayed constant and his slugging went down by about 50 points.  So much for that adjustment.  It did some harm and it apparently did no good at all.

Rizzo appears to be going back to his old style and hitting the ball with authority again.  His natural strength will ensure that he hits HRs in the 25-30 range this year and it won't cost him in terms of more strikeouts and a lower batting average.  He doesn't need to cheat to have power, just let the kid's talent for hitting take care of those things.

I also like the way Renteria has used his bullpen.  The Arizona game aside, he has slowly increased the responsibility for his young power arms.  Hector Rondon is the new closer, Justin Grimm is getting high leverage innings as well, and Renteria even put rookie flame thrower Neil Ramirez in a key situation last year.  Ramirez responded with a 1-2-3 8th with a one run lead, displaying a 95-96 mph fastball and a hard 86-87 mph slider, both of which were located well and generated lots of swings and misses. The fact that he quickly responded when given the opportunity likely means Ramirez will get more chances to pitch in those high leverage situations.  Renteria has also brought Wesley Wright back after a slow start that had me doubting the signing (I'm happy to be wrong here).  Wright is getting the high leverage appearances right now that used to go to James Russell.  The Cubs cannot afford loyalty for the sake of loyalty here -- they have to improve their bullpen and if that means displacing Russell and Jose Veras from their roles, then so be it.

Of course the one criticism you hear most is that you would hope that he would take the same approach with Mike Olt and Junior Lake -- but really, is it any different?  Like the relievers, Renteria has brought them along gradually, trying to build their confidence before placing the burden of central roles on them.  If Rondon and Grimm can play their way into increased roles over veterans, why shouldn't Lake and Olt?  Despite the insistence that they should play everyday, I have yet to see one bit of evidence that proves that is the best or only way to develop players.  And I feel this is especially true of players who still have holes in their games the way Olt and Lake do -- why set them up to fail?  I applaud Renteria for trying to put them in positions where they can succeed and not playing them just because the other guys are struggling too.  They seemed to do just fine in spring training without playing everyday -- now suddenly it's hurting their development because they're struggling now?  I don't buy it.  If they hit the way they did in the spring, they'll be playing everyday soon enough.

So while the Cubs had a horrible April, I'm pleased overall with Renteria.  Yes, he's made questionable decisions.  Rookie managers will do that, but when it comes to developing the core players, he's light years ahead of his predecessor. There's no way around it right now, Dale Sveum was a mistake and a bad fit for the Cubs. Renteria may not have them winning yet, but he has the young core back on track.  And he's doing it by showing confidence in them as ballplayers.  He's making baseball fun again. Nothing is more important right now than development of the core.  That is how this team can most quickly take that step forward in the near future.  And Renteria has taken the approach that the best way to take those first steps toward respectability is to treat all his players with respect.

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  • Castro and Rizzo are the core of the team and still fairly young.
    This is a (re)building year so things will be up and mostly down.

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    Good article. I'd much rather see games won by the core than the short term pieces and so far this year, unlike last, that seems to be the case. With the first month over there are a few questions I have.

    1. Are Cubs afraid to move Castillo up in the order? Seems like he should be batting somewhere in the middle. And good reason for this? Sveum did it too.

    2. I know BP arms are important. But we need young starting pitching more than anything. Especially at the upper levels. Why not see if Grimm and Ramirez can start at some point? The eye test tells me they both could be #3 borderline 2-type guys. That talent seems wasted in the BP. We have plenty other big arms in the minors. I want to see if they can start.

    3. Lastly, why is Ryan Sweeney still getting the bulk of starts in CF? He's been terrible since day 1 this year. Building value? Seems like a good 4th outfielder at most.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Good questions.....
    1. Castillo doesn't have the patience or contact ability to play further up in the order...but that doesn't explain Junior Lake's presence up there
    2. Tough call, right? Both were so-so starters, but look like excellent bullpen guys. Bird in the hand, or one in the bush? Daniel Bard is an example of a failed conversion...it ruined him. Of the two, I would probably try Grimm first....he was AL Rookie of the Month last April, after all
    3. Sweeney is a professional hitter. I am dubious he can hit for power, but he should hit for average...he'll come around there.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    lake in the 2 spot will get him more fastballs to look at

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I would rather have Wellington behind Castro the Nate or Olt. And if a guy is hot you gotta put him in spot to drive runs in

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Olt has shown next to nothing.

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    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    I've re-written 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' for us Cubbie fans, it goes like this:
    Take me out to the ballgame
    take me out to the crowd
    Buy me a vodka and soda too
    getting drunk is all you can do
    When you root, root, root for the Cubbies
    If they don't win it's the same
    As it's been, again and again
    at the old ballgame!

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think it would be a mistake to try and convert Grimm and Ramirez to starting. They were somewhat successful at it in the minors, but both are primarily 2-pitch guys, which makes it really tough to see a lineup through the second time, let alone third to go deep in games. I think that showed in Grimm big time in the minors and his time in the majors in Texas (even though he was rushed there).

    Not to mention, the bullpen is really in need of these guys. They will provide very good value in the pen, and with the rotation full this year (Shark, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, Arrieta) they wouldn't get much of an opportunity. If you set their timetable back a year or a little less to stretch them out and change their entire mindset, you put them behind Kyle Hendricks and just ahead of Pierce Johnson and CJ, so that creates a lot of congestion that would probably put them back in bullpen roles by the time they get called up anyways. So I think you might as well let them settle into this role that they're having success in, and turn them into "core bullpen" pieces (if there is such a thing).

  • In reply to nmu’catsbball:

    Im with you. Ramirez especially looks suited to the bullpen. Shutdown middle releif pitchers have value as long as they continue to be shutdown releivers. If Viz, Grimm, Ramirez , Rosscuo , etc can become solid shutdown RPS, you can get by the early months with 6-7 inning starters.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think Castillo should bat 6th. I think his approach is too inconsistent. I like Valbuena in that 5th spot, but I know I'd get flack for that (we can put him at 2nd base for those who want Olt in there). In other words, I think their best chance is with the OBP guys at the top: Bonifacio, Kalish, Rizzo, Castro, Valbuena, and then Castillo. Then you can stick Olt, Lake, or Schierholtz toward the bottom for now.

    Ramirez had shoulder issues as recently as last year. Wouldn't start him yet -- if at all, but Grimm has a better shot once they call up more young BP arms.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I don't think Grimm has the stuff to be more than a 4/5th starter and I don't think Ramirez has the command to consistently eat innings (and he had the shoulder injury last year as well). I wouldn't be opposed to trying Grimm in the rotation at some point, but I think the team has enough 4/5 starter types on the horizon that it should leave them in the pen where they have a better chance of being effective.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Well, he might have the stuff, but the command is questionable. When Grimm started last year, his biggest problem was his Changeup, which was hammered. He ditched that offering upon move to bullpen, and also added 1.7 mph to his average FB per Pitch Fx (to 93.6 mph). His biggest problem as a starter was he gave up a ton of HRs, mostly off that low 90s fastball.

    Cubs were seemingly going to give it a try heading into ST, but changed course. It's probably worth another shot maybe.

    RE: Ramirez, with his shoulder problems, his so-so minor league record as a starter, and the fact he has looked REALLY good in ST and so far in majors, I would leave him in bullpen and forget starting......

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Good points from everyone. Just thought I'd ask and see what the general consensus was.

    Maybe we'll be able to land some impact pitching through the draft and international markets. We have a lot of intriguing arms but we need a few sure-things in there.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think that Ramirez has the stuff and command to be a better-than-3 starter. But with his recent injury problems last year, I would prefer to let him relieve at least this season, and perhaps next year also.

    I think Grimm has the pitches necessary to be as good or better, and I was quite disappointed when they moved him to relief. He is likely to do well there, but making him a reliever to help the current team is like putting lipstick on a pig. It really doesn't help much.

    After this season is over, I hope they try to stretch out Rondon as a starter. He was considered to be an extremely good starting prospect prior to his injury. I like giving him two full years to rehab, but then I would like to see him as a starter. It worked well for Dempster, and seems a good way to rehab starting pitchers.

    And I think there is one other in the minors that could make an excellent starter. I was hoping they would move Rivero to the rotation this year, and I strongly hope they do so this winter. He, also has the combination of pitches that can serve him well as a starter.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    How many times have you seen Ramirez pitch?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    We sure need pitching and more hitters.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I don't think Grimm's fastball is good enough to be a starter (not enough movement). In the pen he gets by with velocity, but the pitch itself is pretty straight and hittable, if he is starting he is starting he loses a little velocity and the pitch becomes an average offering at best.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Good comments throughout. My two cents on the BP situation: I think Grimm will get the opportunity to start when , unfortunately, the Cubs officially become sellers at the deadline. They will likely be looking to fill at least two spots in the rotation. Ramirez may join him, but he will get some competition from the guys currently stretched out at Iowa.

    On a side note, I kind of like the BP rotation they have going right now. They have been able to exchange a few guys with options with the AAA club which has keep the bullpen fresh. Having young guys in the BP essentially allows you to carry more than 25 guys. It really helped early in the year with those extra inning games.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    what are the cubs going to do with Wada? Could be very flippable 4-1 with an ERA I think 0.67

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I don't think we get much for him at this point, but I bet he is the first call to fill the rotation if there is a trade or injury. If he continues the wizardry at the major league level then I think he could get flipped. He's not a long term piece and unless he proves he has MLB stuff, he isn't a short term piece either.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Minor league guys aren't flippable.

  • In reply to VroomVroom:

    sure they are... we've been buying them for 2 years...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Which ones?

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    I have been pleasantly surprised with Castro in the cleanup spot the last 5 games. He has had the opportunity to get base hits and contribute in clutch situations and has capitalized on it.. He seems to have taken to it and watching him swing and get on base, he has a smile that was rarely seen the last 2 years... It looks like he is having fun again.

    Rizzo i think will eventually start getting better pitches to hit once they realize they cannot walk him every time. I think once we get Bryant and Baez up in the next year or so, Rizzo would be the perfect #2 batter ala Votto and a good tablesetter for Castro, Baez, Bryant and Castillo going forward

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    Agreed. I think he's more comfortable with being put in opportunities where he needs to put the ball in play rather than get on base.

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    not sure you can waste rizzos slugging in the 2 spot. he should be no higher than 3

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    In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Look at the 2 hole hitters that Tony Larussa used with StL (Edmonds, Walker and Will Clark to name a few). There is a reason that Pujols, McGwire and Co. were seen driving in runs.

    A doubles hitter with good OBA and can still get you 25 to 30 HR's is a gift from the baseball god's in the 2 hole if you have a line up with enough pure bashers behind them to do damage. Right now? No way I would bat Rizzo 2nd because there is not the heavy hitters behind them. But you add a matured Baez and Bryant in to that line up and it flat kills.

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    I don't think that Castro sticks in the cleanup spot long term, but he definetly seems more comfortable later in the lineup (he looked good at #6 earlier in the year). It may work out very well when the youngster come up to have him comfortable to hit in the 6 hole as Baez and Bryant will likely occupy the 3 and 4 spots.

    I don't see Rizzo as a #2 hitter. Rizzo has much more power than Votto and can hit for a much higher average. I was thinking a good ceiling comp for Rizzo would be Giambi. Giambi in his early 20s was a little more athletic than Rizzo is now, but I think Rizzo's body will hold up a bit better considering his doesn't have the misplaced muscle from the roids. I know he started hot last year also, but he seems like he can put up a .280 average with close to .4000 OBP. Am I just drinking the koolaid?

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    Much more power? Votto hit 37 HRs in 2010, 24+ in four other years. But I agree with the point. I don't think Votto or Rizzo should be hitting 2nd.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    I think when Castro is going well, he will look comfortable, and be successful, no matter where he put into the order.

    When he is going poorly, as he was last year, he will look bad no matter where he is placed.

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    In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    Votto's career average is .313 and his slugging % .959. If Rizzo has more power and can hit for a higher average I, for one, will be thrilled!

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    In reply to Matt McNear:

    Sorry, OPS is .959 (Slug% .523)

  • John
    With a 1/2 day today & not wanting to do work I started perusing Catsro's stats a bit via fangraphs & trying to see a hint of difference between 2013 & 2014 & the one thing that stands out is his First Strike % is significantly lower. From 59% in '13 it is down to 45% - 14% less than all of last year.

    Now doing a little further investigating & checking out what might be the significance of that but this is what Castro did on the 1st pitch compared to last year.

    Swing at 1st pitch: 2013 = 9% of the time 2014 = 15%
    Faced 1-0 count: 2013 = 41% of the time 2014 = 54%
    Faced 0-1 count: 2013 = 50% of the time 2014 = 32%

    The big difference is over 50% of the time this year, Castro is getting ahead in the count on the first pitch as opposed to being BEHIND in the count 50% of the time last year.

    BTW he is hitting better after an 0-1 count this year (.714 ops) than he did after a 1-0 count last year (.683 ops) so the conclusion could very well be... he is just a damn better hitter than he showed last year (duh).

    Dont know how significant (& how sustainable) it all is, but it looks like a big difference so far.

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    Good stats, GFD. When Sveum took the bat out of Castro's hands on the first pitch, it hurt him terribly. Now pitchers can't just dump that first pitch in there with a FB and throw breaking pitches on the outside for the next two pitches.

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    In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    Interesting stats, thanks.....

  • You have to be pleased that Rizzo and Castro have seemed to come back around, small sample size of course. Also have to be pleased that the Cubs are in most games. I think the record will improve if Arrieta(sp.) is healthy. With as bad as the moustache was and as bad as Jackson has been, it's hard to have a respectable record when 2 out of every 5 games you're starter isn't giving you much of a chance to win.

  • Perhaps Sveum wasn't a mistake, but instead was put in place specifically to make the team fail for a couple of years to get better draft picks and keep salaries down. By God, Theo is a devious rascal!

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Sveum did get us Bryant and one of the arms from this June's draft.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Ha! I don't believe he would jeopardize the development of the core for that. I think he needs to be on a veteran team.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    But conspiracy theories are so much more fun.

  • In addition to your critique of Sveum relative to Castro and Rizzo, I ultimately fault Sveum's apparent inability or unwillingness to adapt in the face of abundant indications that his tweaks were counterproductive.

  • In reply to Good Captain:

    Agreed.

  • In reply to Good Captain:

    plus not having a coach in a significant position who spoke Spanish sends the wrong message in todays game. we have 8 guys from the DR , most in MLB...

  • I have nothing to say, John. It's a good, well-written analysis of lame brain Sveum. He was gosh awful for so many reasons. Not everyone who has spent time in Boston is golden. He was fool's gold.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Yeah, he was a terrible fit. I think he may do well on a team that's established already. His no-nonsense style might work where he doesn't have to develop players, just prepare them to go and let them win the games.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Thank you. In retrospect, it looks like it was a poor fit.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I thought Sveum did well his first year and Castro and Rizzo did pretty well with him in 2012. Unfair to put their 2013 struggles entirely on him. Plus I really liked the way he had the team playing hard, especially in the first half. The air came out of he ballon after the sell offs when the FO left him hardly nothing. And I seem to recall many here singing his praises. I get that the core didn't develop on a linear upward trajectory, but the level of crapping on him on his site today is unbecoming.

  • One thing that disappointed me the most about Sveum was the way he called out people in the media from time to time. Ricky seems like a guy that would talk to you face-to-face if he has something to say. It doesn't do much for a guys confidence to get called out in the post-game interview after a bad game; especially our young core guys. Its about getting to know how to motivate each individual; something Renteria seems to understand far better than Sveum did.

  • That's exactly what Renteria was saying to the media shortly after he was hired, when he was asked about how he planned to handle the younger players. Makes you wonder if that was one of the reasons management was not happy with Sveum.

  • Definitely. Not the way you handle player issues. You can lose your clubhouse quickly like that.

  • Yesterdays game was amazing...Rizzo was awesome, Castro was awesome, Castillo played really well....except that the Cubs won. How are they supposed to lock-up the #1 pick if they do that?

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    The performance of Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija and Castillo and the development of arms who can play a role going forwarde are the most important thing to me right now where the Cubs are concerned, along with the progression of prospects at the MiLB level.

    And John, I completely agree about the slash line for Castro. If he can put up OPS numbers right around .800 then I can live with the smaller gap between average and OBP. I'd like to see at least an .050 spread, but hopefully he will get there. You a never going to have a lineup of grinders top to bottom and maybe you don't even want that. Besides, Castro has been patient this year early in the count from what I've seen.

    As for Rizzo, it will be huge if he can continue to be the walk machine he has been so far this year. Imagine what he'll do with that approach when he gets some real protection behind him!

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    Eternal optimist here, but with Arietta back I feel good about the SPs 4.5 out of every 5 days. If RR has the pen situation sorted out and the younger pitchers continue to thrive.... limiting runs could be on the upswing. Bonifacio, Kalish, Rizzo, Castro, Valbuena, Castillo, Schierholtz, Olt could grow into an MLB lineup. Not the 29 Yankees yet, but a big May and June from Baez... envision the Cubs on a 12 wins in 14 games run, or a winning month this summer. I can see it.

  • In reply to Louie101:

    I like the idea,.... but can I have some of what you are smoking?

    :D

    But - indeed - this team is closer to being good than it's current W-L record would indicate.

  • As for. the bullpen, take your time on the DL, Senor Veras.

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    In reply to mutant beast:

    Seriously.....we might have 4 better options right now in the minors. Vizcaino, Rivero, Parker, and Hatley......

  • In reply to Zonk:

    At least. Cervanka might be a better option right now than Carlos Marmol redux.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Actually, You might want to add Cabrera and Cervanka to the list.

  • It's heartening to see the progress that is happening with the Cubs now. There are a lot of Cubs fans who might finally now recognize the developmental skills that Renteria brings to the team and halt their criticism of him. He's just what the Cubs needed and you have to tip your hat to the Cubs management for recognizing that and hiring the right guy to accomplish those development goals that will bring the World Championship to the Cubs fans in the next couple of years!

  • In reply to toboyle9:

    Well said. They got it right this time.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. & I expect Renteria to keep learning the fine points of strategy as it applies to his players and the league so he can remain here through the better times ahead. Smart guy and good communicator: probably a whole lot tougher than people want to give a guy with a smile credit for.

  • In the "for what it's worth" department....

    In games through 4/30,

    1. Cubs batters saw 3923 pitches, and Cubs pitchers also threw exactly 3923 pitches! This comes out to approximately 16 pitches per inning.

    2. In games where Cubs hitters saw more pitches than their opponents, their record was 7-7 / .500. In games where Cubs pitchers threw more pitches than their opponents, their record was 2-10 / .167. Of course more pitches implies more runners, runs, etc., so it's important not to confuse correlation with possible causation, but it is clear that more pitches seen by the team (not necessarily by each batter), the better.

    2. In games where the Cubs drew more walks than their opponents, their record was 6-3 / .667. In games where their opponents drew more walks, the Cubbies were 2-12 / .143 (3 ties and a 1-2 record).

    3. In the 9 games in which the Cubs both drew fewer walks and saw fewer pitches than the opposition, they won exactly one (4/11 vs. Cardinals).

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Great stuff. Thanks for doing that research.

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    Two walks for Baez in the first half of today's doubleheader...maybe he's calming down?

  • In reply to Matt McNear:

    If Baez is calming down, then I'm going to have to calm down. We have an inverse relationship that way :)

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Haha! I'm with you!

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    In reply to Matt McNear:

    Just to scare you guys, I'll bring up Brandon Wood again.....BOO!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If you are both calming down that isn't inverse. One of you would have to be calming down and the other calming up :)

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Too soon to panic on Alcantara? Today he has earned a Golden Sombrero in game 2, and it's only the 6th inning.....

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    Let us not forget that the new Cub FO gave Sveum the manager's job, he didn't force them into that decision. If his hiring was the wrong move, they're as much to blame as he is.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Yes, I think the FO made a mistake on that hire, but at least they didn't compound it and fired him after just 2 years -- that's pretty quick for this FO.

  • One further thought....

    With approx. 16 pitches per half inning, or 5+ pitches per out perhaps it makes some sense to think of a walk as a rough equivalent to a fielding error in terms of "adding an out" and extending an inning, at least in terms of increasing pitch counts.

  • RR does deserve some credit for this. I do think Castro is maturing some. First two year in league he did well. Then I think his ego got to big and developed a attitude. I am little old school but when Castro had the fro look his attitude and focus wasn't there now he looks like a ball player and is focused. I also believe Emilo has helped a bunch too.

  • More being Devil's advocate here than anything, because I'm fine with RR so far.

    But what if he had managed his way into a few extra wins?

    Pythagorean numbers say the Cubs should be 12-14, right? If they had played to that level so far, I'd have to think the fans would be much more excited and confident. Would the players be too? How about Samardzija? Would that affect their performances?

    I don't really have answers here. It was brought up that the in-game management is secondary, and I still agree. But I wonder if these things can be more important in a microcosmic sense and if they could have a short-term but lasting impact.

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    I think the bullpen has been the cause of the discrepency with the record. The Cubs have blown 3 (I think) ninth inning leads and then lost the game. MLB teams on average win 95% of the time when leading after 8 innings. If the Cubs win those or even 2 out of 3 they are right in line with their expected record.

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    I love Ramirez exactly where he is. Or maybe flat out closer. His only two appearances so far have been great (I loved the Braun K). Man I hope he's up for good and not sent down when Arrieta comes up for the Cards. Great article John. You created a new phrase, "Getting Sveumed."

  • In reply to Dan Schmidt:

    I assume Schlitter will be the first sent out when Arrieta is activated, but the team can't keep carrying 13 pitchers either. Eventually Rosscup or Ramirez will need to go down. Rosscup would be the most likely since they really don't need 3 lefties.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    10 or 11 is all any team needs.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Rosscup is the most likely, though Russell is the most deserving. So it goes.

    13 pitchers is 1 too many at least, but I think the problem is this: Who would we bring up that won't trigger a 40-man roster move? Watkins to me is the only option, and not a particularly enticing one.

  • With all the young middle infielders on the way and with Castro hitting some again, should we look at packaging Castro, the Shark, Schierholz in a blockbuster trade?

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    No.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Agreed. I don't think you trade Castro at this stage unless somebody just plain knocks your socks off with some completely lopsided return.

    He's hitting like Castro again and looks to be the >0.280 BA / >0.320 OBP guy we remember from a couple seasons back, his defense appears to have improved somewhat, and he's on track to hit >20 HR from a SS position. Baez may (indeed) make that level of production look low if/when he is ready for a regular Wrigleyville job - but he ain't there yet.

    Sending Castro off at this stage is not the right play IMO.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    It would be a knock your socks off trade or you don't make it. We are deep in middle infielders, but our outfield is a weakness. Our starting pitching is a weakness. What if we could get to top young starters, an everyday outfielder on same level as Castro in return? So we add two starters for one, strengthen the outfield, then move up Baez. Or make a trade just for Stanton from Marlins...3 for 1. Either way, we get better.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Good point.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    Deals like that are basically impossible during the season because every team has a full 40 man roster. People always like to throw out proposals like what if we gave a team x,y and z in return for n. but what they don't take into account is the team acquiring x,y,z are not just getting rid of n, they also have to get rid of o and p to make room for the 3 they pick up.

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    I cannot think of any player that should yield Castro AND Shark. That is insanity.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    No one said one player in return...

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    In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    A package makes even less sense.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Why? You don't even know the package...a couple top young starters, an outfielder with a bat equal to Castro. As far as one player, Stanton from Marlins for all 3. What will the conversation be if Castro and Rizzo slump soon and finish with seasons like last year? Edwin Jackson is pitching better, perhaps he can be moved. Hard to make trades when guys are playing poorly...

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    You need to think harder.

  • Great article and makes me like RR better. Btw is it me or does Lake swing at the 1st pitch 90% of the times. He has a ton of power.

  • In reply to rockyje:

    Lake reminds me of Pedro Cerrano. He can crush a fast ball but looks like a blind man trying to catch a butterfly trying to hit a curveball.

  • In reply to lets go cubs:

    Trouble with the curve...sounds like a movie.

  • John:

    As usual, great analysis and very optimistic - which we will all
    need this year.
    As to Sveum ... he was a major mistake by the FO. Should have been obvious that he had terrible communication skills.
    Swallowed his words, poor eye contact, condescending,
    But to the credit of the FO, they recognized the mistake and fixed it.
    Excellent point John - that RR's player development skills are vastly more important than his game management skills - which he can improve.

  • Wow, it's way too soon to assess what Renteria has done. Sure Castro and Rizzo have rebounded, but do you really want to attribute that to Renteria? Nate, Castillo, Lake, Valbuena, Sweeney have all regressed. Do you attribute THAT to RR?
    This team is better on paper than yet the results are the same. Do you blame RR for the poor start? It's only April.

    I wasn't that fond of Sveum's overall performance, but I couldn't fault his handling of Rizzo/Castro as the reason they faltered. Development of kids is not going to be linear. There are going to be rough periods. Last year was one where the league found some holes in Rizzo/Castro's game. And they didn't adjust.

    Castro just spaced out at times and was sat. Rizzo really deserved to be moved out of the 3 slot. But both got their pantaloons ruffled because of it. I guess I'm old school...If you are going to space out publicly, then you can be disciplined publicly. Nothing wrong with it. Ask Andruw Jones.

  • In reply to xhooper:

    Castillo has not regressed. Also valbuena hasn't been that bad, he has a .377 obp

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    I just can't get behind Valbuena. That OBP is not sustainable. He'll never be more than a .220 hitter and if you ain't hitting 25+ bombs, its hard to justify a .220 hitter in any MLB line up.

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    In reply to TTP:

    The alternative is Barney.

    Barney's hitting .136 with a .255 BA.

    How can anyone not be behind Valbuena right now?

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Barney is not only alternative: Bonifacio at 2nd. Lake in CF. Kalish in LF. Olt at 3rd.

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    In reply to TTP:

    Lake's BA is almost exactly what Valbuena's is, except his OBP is awful and his approach is embarrassing.

    And it's not just the plate where he has no plan. At least twice a week he makes a defensive decision that makes you wonder what the hell he's thinking, if anything at all.

    Leave Bonifacio in CF. Lake is terrible.

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    In reply to TTP:

    Also, I disagree that his OBP is unsustainable.

    Bizarrely high BAs are often unsustainable, but his OBP is a result of a strong approach and not getting himself out.

    I agree with John that Valbuena has value in that he has the approach that this FO looks for and promotes.

    It would be nice if we could go all Frankenstein on our infield and transplant Valbuena's approach and Barney's defensive focus into Castro. He'd be an MVP candidate!

    alas, not so much.
    (I'm pretty happy with Castro anyway this year.)

  • In reply to xhooper:

    Great points.

    To say Renteria is the right man after a month is absurd.

    I don't get how it's Svuem's fault because the plan Theo wanted to implement didn't work.

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    Is it sad that I refuse to judge any manager till he has 500 games under his belt? Not saying I was a fan of Sveum but I do like his hard nosed style on the right team. The Cubs were just not the right team.
    I do give a disclaimer on Quade for the 500 games rule. Some guys are better teachers than managers Quade was one such guy. He should have stayed in AAA but hind site and all that jazz.

  • Really good article, John. So far I'm giving Renteria an A, Rizzo's getting an easy A, and I'm giving Starlin a B/B+ simply due to a handful of bonehead plays in the field that have hurt us. I'm also a really big Neil Ramirez fan thus far!

  • Sveums' greatest accomplishment as a manager was keeping the criticism on himself vs on James Rowson and Rob Deere where most of the screw-ups can be blamed....

  • One last thought on Rizzo.

    He had a stread last year where he went about 42 at bats without striking out, and was hitting everyone in sight, including left handers. He then stunk for the rest of the year in many respects.

    I think he has turned the corner, but I can't rule out that this is just another streak.

  • Call me crazy but I have a strange feeling like the Cubs are gonna get hot sooner rather than later. The weather gets warmer, bats get hotter. While are record may not show for it, I believe the Cubs where really competitive in a lot of games in the first month. It looks like they have turned a corner mentally and are enjoying playing baseball again. Anything can happen!

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    In reply to sdwyer11:

    OK.

    You're crazy.

  • Sweeney's probably out for a while, who's coming up?

  • i will bet Szczur we need someone that can play CF

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