Cubs - one man's opinion of the most useful tool Theo should look for in his players

Cubs - one man's opinion of the most useful tool Theo should look for in his players
It's never too early to begin praying to the baseball gods.

According to Baseball Prospectus, and it should come as no surprise given that over half the teams have built new retro-parks which borrow shamelessly from Wrigley Field, the Cubs' home park index is very near 100 both offensively and defensively.  For the uninitiated, 100 is league average. 

But as we all know, the Friendly Confines is only friendly part of the time.  In fact, only around 30% of the time is Wrigley an 'average' park.  On a seasonal day in mid-June or early September, when wind is minimal and the bleacher bums are forced to keep their t-shirts on, both men and women.  There, on the mound, good pitchers dominate and Cubs bad pitchers struggle.  At the plate, big dogs eat, and scrappy white players (SWP) should keep it down and hard.  Baseball as it is meant to be.

Forty percent of the time, though, the place plays like Petco Park with hemmorroids.  Think an April day, grey and cold, chilly mist, and a howling wind off the lake cutting through the meager hooded sweatshirt you brought to the park.  The type of day Burt Hooton pitched his no-hitter.  On days like these, Superman combined with Godzilla, the Incredible Hulk, and Glenallen Hill couldn't belt a ball through that wind over the fence.  On days like these, it is damn frustrating to watch year after year of power-laden Cub lineups swing for the downs and hit massive drives over the shortstop's head.  Lately, the frustration has compounded, as our heavy legged fielders chase futilely after opposition hits.  Doesn't this seem like a problem to you?

Why have we had so many power teams, that are ill-suited to their own home park at least 40% of the time?  Is it true that chicks dig the long ball?  It always seemed to me that one Cubs administration after another has convinced themselves that power is the way to go.  Everyone is in love with the warm-weather Wrigley, the bandbox of lore, the one that coughed up the 26-23 win over the Phillies, the 23-22 loss to Mike Schmidt's  Phillies, the 18-16 win over the Reds, the 21-0 defeat to Rennie Stennett's Pirates.  The Ryne Sandberg game.  These are the games Wrigley is known for.  But it always seemed redundant and ridiculous to me.  On these days, yes, the big dogs eat.  So does Ryan Theriot, and Darwin Barney.  The YMCA's are full of guys who got their cup-of-coffee with a NL club, and got their only jack in a mid-summer game at Wrigley Field, with the wind whipping straight out and a Ray Burris or Kyle Farnsworth dealing for the Cubs.

My point is, the notion of getting big guys to "take advantage of" the warm weather Wrigley, when a) it is only 30 percent of the time and b) anyone with a stick could go yard when the wind is blowing out is pointless.  Remember, this is the same park that produced the "double no-hitter", and even though it was dead-ball baseball, I suspect it was due more to conditions than to how loosely wound the ball was.

And, now, I am going to assume the uncomfortable position of defending Andy McFail, to a certain extent.  During his tenure, the Cubs minor leagues turned out at least two guys who were purported to be "five-tool guys", Corey Patterson and Felix Pie.  They seemed to sign more "athletes" at that time.  We know how it turned out: both guys suffered in the Cubs' farm system, where they were encouraged to swing hard and often, and by the time they arrived in Chicago, they had zero plate discipline.  By the time they came here, these supposed "five-tool" guys did not possess at least one of the tools - hitting for average - and even though getting on base is not one of the "tools", they couldn't do that, either. 

But they both had one important tool that even today might mean one or both of them would still be around, if only they'd learn to lay off a curveball.  This tool is impervious to temperature and wind.  This tool helps us in the two most glaring areas of weakness the Cubs have - defense and baserunning.  I refer to, of course, speed.

How do you feel when we play a team with guys at the top of the order that, once they get on base, are a threat to steal a base, take extra bases, and then when we bat, watching these guys run down drives in the gap?  Guys like Nyjer Morgan, Andrew McCutcheon, and Michael Bourn just KILL us, all the time.  Sure, so does Pujols and Fielder and Ryan Howard.  But unlike the big boys, Bourn, Morgan, and McCutcheon are sticking it to us two ways.  It is no wonder that their team's pitching staff ERA's go down as their team defense improves. 

When the wind blows in, and runs must be manufactured, would you rather have guys like Carlos Pena and Alfonso Soriano, popping up pitch after pitch, or quick guys?  When the wind blows out, the ball flies all over the yard, and getting outs from the opposition is at a premium, wouldn't it be nice to have agile infielders and speedy outfielders?

Yes, unlike Patterson, Pie, and Joey Gathright, I would prefer that my speedsters can hit and get on base.  That's the Theo Way that he is going to put in writing and insist all Cub Farmhands follow.  But a guy can be as sound and fundamental as can be, and still be slow and ineffectual.  (Hi, Marlon!)  I hope that the New Regime looks for speed as a prime consideration in all drafts and acquisitions, considers the few guys on the roster now that have speed, and shows others (yes, you, Aramis), the back of the hand.

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  • "new retro-parks which borrow shamelessly from Wrigley Field" basically only in having a brick backdrop behind the plate, and one could argue that when the seats behind the plate were brought forward a couple of rows, Wrigley ended up emulating them.

    It is a good point that one should build a team based on the theory that the lake breeze is going to blow in, and the lake is not close enough to Wrigley to have an experience like hitting into McCovey Cove.

    Of course, the only semblance of small ball around here was the 2005 White Sox, but I don't think Cubs fans will go for that until they have had a sufficient number of Bud Lights, even if Castro and Barney can get on.

  • In reply to jack:

    How old are you, Jack? Do you remember when Pittsburgh, Philly, St, Louis, Cincy, and Houston all essentially played in the same park, built with the same symmetrical multi-purpose template? It was the same dimensions within a couple of feet of one another? Most importantly, the power alleys were 20+ feet longer than Wrigley. Now, all these teams play in "quirky" little parks with reduced capacity, asymmetrical layouts, shortened power alleys. Great American plays MUCH smaller than Wrigley, as does PNC. The others all play at league average, which is a far cry from how cavernous the early 70s era parks were. This is totally influenced by Wrigley and Fenway.

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    Yes, I remember when all those teams played in bowls that were essentially football stadia. In fact, Oakland still does. Apparently Annaheim converted its from multipurpose to baseball.

    Of course, Fenway is the most quirky for having the green monster, and no other park has that. The most quirky thing today is Houston, with the yellow line going up and down all over the place (which cost them a HR in the White Sox World Series) and the hill in the back, which may be Crosley Field inspired, but certainly not Wrigley.

    I wasn't referring to Wrigley being quirky, but how most modern parks emulate the backdrop. The only thing demonstrated quirky is the weather. You tell us how it is quirky in dimensions or anything like that.

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