Bounce Was Also The Run DMC Song On The Beavis & Butthead Album

This has to be the dullest Cubs’ spring training in my lifetime. Of course, when I think of the days when there was a picture of Mark Prior’s calf every day in the Tribune, I tend to look skyward and thank whatever god I believe in that day (today it’s George Carlin, as it is most days. Then again, George would never waste his time with either the fortunes of a baseball team or my emotions, but lets just go with it) for sparing me such needless drama.

So in that vacuum, we writers have to toss anything and everything into it to have something. This week, it’s Jon Lester’s new approach to try and throw to the bases.

As you know by now, the Cubs are trying to get Lester to bounce the ball to first. I’m not exactly sure why. It could be that he’s used to throwing on a downward trajectory from the mound to the plate, so from level-ground to….well, the ground is similar enough that it will work. Or it could be just about giving him a new target, just changing the sights enough so that he doesn’t get the shpilkes looking at the ground. It could just be silliness to keep them occupied during the spring or to screw with the press because really, why wouldn’t you?

At this point, I don’t know why the Cubs are even bothering. Maybe it’s something Lester actively wanted to work on and this was the idea they came up with. Maybe it’s just enough of a placebo to make him feel like he made an effort. At the end of the day, Lester has been a highly effective pitcher without being able to throw to the bases. He was a playoff stud in 2016 and 2013 without really having to do it. This just isn’t something that’s mattered all that much. Only going by memory, admittedly, I can only think of games against Billy Hamilton where it’s really mattered. And I’m just going to go ahead and get a little wild here and suggest that the Cubs won’t be seeing Billy Hamilton too often in any game that really matters.

I suppose the fear is that some team in the playoffs who wants to is going to send four or five straight hitters to bunt on Lester. Except which team has four or five hitters that are even capable of it? It’s not exactly easy to perfectly place a bunt so that only the pitcher can field it, and finding one or two guys who can do it is a challenge. Especially when Willson Contreras springs out from behind the plate like he’s charging No Man’s Land, and the challenge gets harder. I just feel like if an opponent were going to do that, we would have seen it already.

And we’ve seen teams try and get cute on the bases with Lester. Then David Ross or Willson cuts them down either behind them or trying to steal. So then every time a runner tries to get a lead from a base with a distance that gets them a first down, they get real tentative knowing that something might be coming for them. Again, this just hasn’t been much of an issue, despite the weirdness of seeing a runner 30 feet off first base.

My only fear with the four-square approach to throwing to the bases is the danger it’ll put Anthony Rizzo in. An airmailed throw doesn’t really call for Rizzo to have to move into the basepath. He jumps up or just waves as it goes by. Neither does the running toss that Lester usually opts for when he fields a grounder cleanly. But a bounced throw, depending on where he has the throw hit the ground. could cause Rizzo or Baez or Russell at second to back up, try and avoid a short-hop. And at first base, that’s a real problem. Ask Cliff Floyd. Ask Derrek Lee. I really don’t want Rizzo moving into the path of runners any more than he has to, even if he is the size of a tight end.

This seems like a thing for the sake of a thing. And that’s maybe all it will turn out to be. There doesn’t appear to be much gain.

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  • Boring Spring Training? Clearly you haven't been following Joe's "put the art back in baseball" campaign.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Maddon's "genius" in this area does induce some varied responses. The obvious, and unquestionably good, is the money raised for charity. Then we get into the inspiration it provides to the players. That is debatable. I'm sure Lester is less impressed and influenced than Zagunis. Then there are those truly inspired by art in any form, and if it works, cool. Everyone has their own tastes and motivations regarding art and inspiration.

    "Dave's not here."

  • Fangraphs came out with its team defensive projections for 2018 and the Cubs are ranked second. For me, there are only two interesting things about this year’s Spring Training, and Javy’s daily defensive excellence tops the list, just ahead of Happ leading off. May as well just give Baez the gold glove now.

    https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-angels-appear-to-have-baseballs-best-defense/

  • Man I miss J.A. this time of year!

  • Me too. Site is pretty boring with these types of articles. And maybe it was humor, but unless you want to permanently lose me as a reader, keep the religion out of sports.

  • Maybe Michael could do a once a week update on the system prospects and whether their arrows are pointing up or down based upon their performance in the back half of spring training games. Yes, their are people that leave the park when the starters do, but their are also fans interested in finding out who has a chance to ride the Iowa shuttle and contribute when the phone rings. Those guys not only get MLB minimum for their time in Chicago, but likely a partial share of the postseason team pot that would dwarf all of the MILB career earnings. So spring training isn't boring for them, or for the fans who understand that there are 150+ players in the Cubs organization, not twenty-five. DeLaCruz, Court, Bode-- there are fascinating stories in the desert if you bother to look.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    I'll be coming out with some pieces soon. I've been sick for the past week and simply haven't been up to writing anything. I am just now getting over it. Unfortunately it is like the 4th time I've been sick this winter and I needed to take off work again, which meant I needed to put my plans to fly down to Arizona on hold for this spring. Hopefully I will be able to make it down to Mesa for part of instructs in the fall.

    Stephanie is down in Mesa right now, checking out the backfields and snapping a bunch of great pictures of the Minor Leaguers for us to use this season.

    I should have a piece ready for tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight. And I'll be back to contributing regularly moving forward.

    I have to get my writing arm ready for the regular season! I've got daily MiLB recaps that I need to be ready for. I've got to set a routine for either late nights or early mornings so I can get the recaps out in a timely and consistent manner.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I knew something had to be going on. It’s not like you to be gone his long. Thanks for your articles here. Been scouring every inch of BN & Cub dot com articles getting my Cub fix on... I actually have their top 30 prospect tab open just about all of the time :o)

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Of all the prospects lists released this winter I like the mlb.com one the best. It aligns most closely with my own takes, a few exceptions of course. Jim Callis has always done pretty good work.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Feel better. Really enjoy your insights into the guys developing through the system. Its a shame you can't get down to John Arguello Way this spring as I know there's so much more to see on the back fields than the few moments late in a spring training game.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    Not to take away from informative and provocative articles that you guys do provide, but this is the one site that I actually come to read the comments. The great discussions, the respectful debates...it’s unheard of on internet. I would love to see a daily article, even if it is super brief, that would serve just to start the conversation. “Is Ian Happ our new leadoff man?” would hardly even require any copy and there would be well over 100 comments.

    Just a thought. And again, thank you guys for the posts you do put together. We all really appreciate your work.

  • In reply to good4you:

    I've tried to create articles under a 1000 words... I just can't. It's not who I am as a writer.

    But thank you for the feedback. We are absolutely planning to roll out additional content.

  • Nothing wrong with a boring Spring Training IMO. Means that the roster is stable, everybody appears to be healthy and on track, and fate has not dealt us any surprises starting up 2018.

    Now if we can just keep Zobrist and his back healthy, and if Almora and Heyward can start to make more contact - I think we're going to be seeing the guys starting off the season much more solidly than in 2017.

  • Get to watch a new stud pitcher added to the team. New closer. Guys coming into camp in great shape with awesome attitudes. I don't get it. The team is as good now as it has ever been. For most Cubs fans, this is a very exciting spring. I know I'm pumped. Controversy does not equal excitement.

    For Cub fans of 40+ years, believe me, this is one of the most exciting and epically awesome spring camps this year.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Yes. Totally agree.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I think the malaise comes from the fact that we know little can truly be gleaned from these performances. Sure it isn't completely meaningless, but we've seen enough Cactus League heroes fail to translate the success up north to know better than to shift perceptions much based on it. We also never fully know what guys are working on, and so the results are artificial in all sorts of ways. the previous seasons has also shifted the focus from just doing well in the regular season to now doing well in the postseason. It has made spring training a bit of a formality as we wait for the games that count.

    This is an exciting and well put together team. The biggest hope right now is that no one gets hurt, and that isn't very exciting.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    No, the health is just one part of the ST picture... There’s so much more, as others have suggested.

    Yes the roster is almost all set... But there’s battles for PT, roles, last BP, bounce backs from poor seasons, new players, how the MiLB players are jockeying for their spots, top prospects progressing/performing against competition, individual stories, etc., etc... Not to mention the expectations are high. I’m amped for every article, interview, highlight, TV & radio talk coming out of Mesa.

    Guess it’s just a couple of us that feel this way...?

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    No I don't think you are alone, but I don't think there is much that is being determined by playing these games. The front office has talked about how they like that there aren't a lot of position battles (Jed Hoyer's interview with the Athletic the most recent example). That guys are just getting their work in on a normal time and not rushing to try to win spots. There are things happening, but it does feel a bit empty since we have seen how ephemeral spring training success can be.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I'm stoked for the season, and if ST excites you more power to you but I just don't share that excitement. The 25 man roster is set and the numbers are virtually meaningless so all you have is hype and while that was fun for me for the first few days, it wore off quickly. I think this team is starting off the season second only to Washington in the NL and I'm champing at the bit to see if they can't be better than that, but for that I need numbers and Spring Training numbers are, by and large, meaningless. I don't think there is anything wrong with feeling either way about it but I think we all have to understand that we all have different views.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I don't think anyone cares about the ST won-loss records (I know I don't), but ST is much more than reading box scores or the outcome of the games played. If you can wrap your mind around that then it's not a huge leap in logic to understand why a lot of people are stoked during ST.

    How do the players look? Have they come in prepared? Who will be leading off this year? Who wants to? Yeah, we get it. If player X hits a homerun in a spring game it doesn't count. But real baseball is right around the corner. What Cub fan isn't totally stoked about that?

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I would never try to take away anyone's joy. If you love ST than so be it, it is not only your right but we all dig what we all dig. Also I am stoked about real baseball being just around the corner, to me that what "pitchers and catchers report" day means. I countdown to that day because it's the start of something that's been sleeping all winter. After that though my enthusiasm wanes. I'm with you that things like players being in shape or out of shape are intriguing, so yeah I certainly pay attention that way, but those things aren't necessarily predictors of anything. Sometimes you can look back at spring training stats and see the start of a trend, but more often than not those numbers mean nothing when we get to the season. Don't mistake my lack of excitement for ST as a lack of enthusiasm for baseball. My spreadsheets for all 30 teams are ready. I've studied ZIPs and Pecota and pretty much every other predictive stat system you can think of. and I've started to think of win totals for the teams. I do follow what's going on in Cubs camp from a standpoint that I want to know how enthused the team is and interviews with our top players are always welcome. I guess all I'm saying is that outside of injuries nothing that happens in camp is going to change one way or another what I think of those projections, or even my own, and it's almost painful having to wait.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I follow you. I have no problem with your overall outlook or anything like that. I even can understand Sam's point of view from someone who writes about the Cubs. Maybe not a whole lot to report about with this team-focused, low maintenance group of players.

    But man, for Cubs fans, there is no more exciting time than now. It is so palpable. A person would have to be under medication if he/she was a Cub fan and did not feel it. These are special times. We are very lucky to experience them.

  • Since this is all about metrics, I'm surprised that in advocating "bounce" nobody has called a physicist to analyze the approach vector, and how true the departure vector is to mirroring it, both in the horizontal and vertical planes. Analyze the paths with radar and lasers.

  • In reply to jack:

    It'd be interesting to read, but far beyond my paygrade as a social studies teacher to find out.

  • In reply to Mike Banghart:

    I didn't mean you or the other bloggers (unless any of you are nerd enough to want the challenge) but Theo's or Joe's staff. The baseball ops dept. must have money for that.

    As Sam points out, he doesn't know why the Cubs are telling Lester to do that, but whoever is telling Lester should have a sound analytic basis for doing so. On the other hand, I'm content with the Christmas Carol "Jon Lester Throws to First Base Underhand."

  • In reply to jack:

    Actually, lasers are used to groom the fields. Had a chat about a year ago with one of the groundskeeping crew about field upkeep. Very interesting.

  • In reply to jack:

    A little late on my reading but:

    https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/the-physics-and-timing-of-the-infield-bounce-throw/

  • Living in the area, this is my sixth spring training, and this year has quite a different feel. I don't know if it's success "hangover" or not, but the Cubs have put some barriers between themselves and their ST fans:
    1) metal detectors and security search on the back fields (3-6).
    2) very short practices (10am-noon max) on the MLB fields 1 & 2.
    3) MLB players are not really interacting with the fans (except for the first few days after pitchers and catchers reported). If a player wishes, he can completely ignore the fans at fields 1 & 2. On the back fields, ignoring fans is more difficult, although not impossible.
    4) I'll be going to my first game on Saturday, and I'm curious to see if the players are more interactive on the path from the conditioning areas to the stadium.
    5) Maddon is much less interactive. Although I've not been to every practice (I avoid home game days because of parking and the crowds), I've yet to see him interact with a fan. While Theo has been chatting with fans, Ricketts is nowhere to be seen (in marked contrast to the past).
    6) Things seem to be pretty set in stone--the roster, every game is a sellout, the practice music is more tepid, etc. The overall impression that I get is that ST is now something of an afterthought to be endured. Hope that doesn't have a carryover effect to the start of the season.
    7) "John Arguello Way" is still there, and I have fond memories of chatting frequently with him as he pointed out one prospect or another. Maybe that's the real difference....

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