The Walking Dead: Cubs Need to Draw More Free Passes

The Walking Dead: Cubs Need to Draw More Free Passes
Starlin Castro's plate approach is indicative of the Cubs as a whole.

Thanks to the DVR, I've been able to watch all the shows I never have time to catch live.  Sure, this comes at the expense of my writing or family time, but this is television we're talking about.  It's what makes our country 'Murica instead of just the United States.

Because of the DVR, I can wait until 10:20 on Tuesday nights to start watching Sons of Anarchy, at which point I can skip the commercials and then catch up to the show during the final segment.  I can stockpile several episodes of Bates Motel, Resurrection, and Game of Arms (yeah, you read that right) before holding mini-marathons when the kids are in bed.

I can even foil my wife's best-laid plans to record shows about hunting for houses, dresses, and voices by recording the entire Breaking Bad series marathon over a several-day stretch.  And in a bittersweet 80-minute stretch on Monday night, I finished the last 2 episodes of The Walking Dead.  All who arrive survive, huh?

But in the midst of all these shows, there's one thing you'll almost never find on my DVR: sports.  I just can't abide the notion of watching a sporting event that's already taken place and can count on three fingers the number of times I've done it.  Actually, one of those times was in the age of the VCR, one was a case in which I knew I'd miss a good chunk of the game and watched the recorded version in order to catch up, and the other was a case in which I'd already seen the game live but had recorded it just in case.

All three of those cases involved IU basketball and two were games against UK.  Long story short, I've never DVR'ed a Cubs game.  And since The Man took away the capability to stream video on our computers at work, getting anything better than a live box score is basically out of the question.  Well, that, and the fact that not working for 3 hours every day is probably not great for career advancement.

As you can imagine, this results in me missing the subtle nuances of the game, not to mention some of the stats and commentary that add to the appreciation of baseball.  It also means missing, for the most part, the running dialogue on Twitter, though I can sneak a peek once in a while.   In fact, from Monday's opener came this nugget:

From among the Cubs' 4 walks, the aforementioned impatient duo collected 2.  That might just sound like a sarcastic little jab, but Sahadev's too smart to just toss off some baseless snark; no, this is actually quite pithy and more revealing that it may appear on the surface.

To wit, in his last 618 plate appearances, Welly has walked only 51 times.  That comes out to only once ever 11.89 PAs, or, roughly 3.24 games.  And if you think that's bad,Castro's patience makes Castillo look like the paragon of virtue.  Over his past 2,617 PAs over 4 seasons, Starlin has taken only 140 free passes.  That equates to one BB every 20.15 times he steps into the batter's box, or once every 4.33 games.

But that's just two players right?  Well, sure, but the Cubs' overall inability to draw walks has been pretty alarming over these past 4 seasons.  Consider that they've finished no better than 22nd in MLB in any year since 2009, averaging only 2.76 BB/game in that stretch.  The chart below is telling:

Total Walks/Per Game walks (MLB rank)

2008 - 639/3.95 (2)

2009 - 592/3.66 (9)

2010 - 479/2.96 (22)

2011 - 425/2.62 (29)

2012 - 447/2.76 (27)

2013 - 439/2.71 (22)

Just in case my super-swanky* homemade chart doesn't jump out at you, we can see that the Cubs are down more than 1 baserunner from walks alone over the past four seasons, as compared to the two prior to that.  Of course, all the baserunners in the world mean little if you can't drive them in.

So here's to hoping that Renteria, with Bill Mueller by his side, can become a little more like the leader of the ragtag bunch of survivors from TWD, that he can turn the Cubs from democracy to a Ricktatorship.  And what better place to start than Castro?  Don't get me wrong though, I want to see a return to Castro's aggressive plate approach.

In fact, Castro's walk rate was better in his rookie season (every 17.45 PAs) than in any subsequent season, culminating in his worst-ever result (every 23.5 PAs) last season.  Perhaps this is over-simplifying things, and I'm sure some of the sharper baseball minds out there might not agree, but getting back to a see-ball-hit-ball, see-bad-ball-don't-swing-at-ball mentality might be all Starlin needs to get back on track.

Of course, having more dangerous hitters in the lineup won't hurt either.  The Cubs drew 48 IBBs in 2008 but haven't drawn more than 29 over either of the past two years.  While that's a small number on paper, it speaks to the lack of fear pitchers have when facing the Northsiders.

Not included in those stats are the times a hurler pitches around and hitter and "unintentionally" walks him.  But let's be honest, there's really no one in the lineup right now to command that kind of respect.  Can Rizzo or Olt be that guy?  Maybe.  More than likely, those special players have yet to arrive at Wrigley.

But despite the lack of runs, the Cubs put up some good at-bats against Francisco Liriano on Monday; they made him work and saw a lot of pitches, drawing walks and putting men on base in the process.  It's a work in progress, to be sure, and there's no set destination.  This, as fans of TWD well know, is a very good thing too; Woodbury, the prison, and Terminus haven't worked out so well heretofore.

In the super-short sample size from the season opener, it appears that the Cubs have a better overall approach.  Now if we could just do something about hitting with RISP...

*I just have to share this, due to my love of the FX show Justified and my distaste for all things UK.  In the episode that aired on 4/1, Wynn Duffy (played by Jere Burns of Dear John fame and sporting eyebrows that would make Uncle Leo's magic-markered mistakes jealous) remarked: "Swanky?  Paris is swanky.  Lexington is pigshit."

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  • There were two relevant items this morning: (a) STATS, Inc. having cameras at all NBA arenas plugged into computer algorithms that let it develop all sorts of new stats, without having to watch everything (thereby eliminating your need for streaming) and (b) the Boomer Minute that several baseball teams have coaches who are actually defensive coordinators (which basically gets down to the debate on why have batting coaches if the players don't listen to them).

    I was going to bring up the bad RISP, but noted first you said "Of course, all the baserunners in the world mean little if you can't drive them in." I don't think that the Cubs can wait for opposing pitchers to force in runs with walks.

    And, of course, the bad approach goes back to you know they could get Soriano out with a curve ball low and away. I don't know if the current hitters have that approach, but at least that player's approach is not in Chicago.

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    My colleague, AJ Walsh, also mentioned a desire to check the PitchFX for Olt's ABs on Monday, believing that Liriano may well have gotten the benefit of the doubt. It's no secret that the human element of umpiring gives that benefit to the more established players/teams. Greg Maddux is a prime example of the expanded strike zone for good/great pitchers. Don't get me wrong: he's an all-timer. But the Cubs' reputation may well hinder them at this point. And since baseball is a game of millimeters and milliseconds, a very small difference in perception can mean quite a lot when extrapolated over a 162-game season.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    There was a debate on one of the chicagonow.com Cubs blogs a couple of years ago about PitchTrax and QuesTec, where I had found a description of how they worked, and one needed to be a scientist on Nova to figure it out. I noticed that while Fox started with FoxBox, they only use it in the World Series, but Buck and MacCarver never seemed to comment on outside balls called as strikes. Compare that to Hawk who usually fumed, until it was Mariano Rivera, in which case he said "well, you have to give it to him."

    But since you mention Maddux, Glavine got away with low and away much more obviously, and unlike Soriano, those weren't swings.

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    It's interesting to see how advanced methods of tracking are changing the game, or at least the way we perceive it. What used to be shooed aside a human error and just a part of the game is now being picked apart and analyzed to a great degree. I'm still undecided as to whether I feel this corrupts the soul of the game or strengthens its integrity.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    I share some of your doubts, especially with replay and Renteria already becoming the Lovie Smith of challenges, leading some to say that everything should be reviewable in New York, which would make the game about 8 hours. They could automate everything and get rid of the umps, but who wants to watch that? Next they will be like the Marathon and NASCAR and put transponders in the uniforms to verify that the runner touched the base. However, it was also reported that the "area play" is not reviewable, because they don't want too many second basemen to be killed.

  • In reply to Evan Altman:

    "neighborhood play" seems the more appropriate term.

  • In reply to jack:

    I wish they would just do league office thing on replays. Also, I love all these advanced ways to measure things within the game. Yet, I don't want it to get inidated. I think there is a charm about the game that can only involve human element.

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    I can sort of get the neighborhood play, but there are some of those you see in which the SS isn't even in the same zip code. But there again, the inexact nature of baseball is part of the allure.

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