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.