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The Chicago Cubs have been an aggressive team at the plate for several years. It’s a bit strange, because it’s not as if the personnel – and coaching staff – hasn’t changed, but since leading the league in walks in 2008, the Cubs have been trending hard in the other direction, including finishing in the bottom three in 2010 and 2011.

So far this year – in an exceedingly small sample size – the Cubs have been about middle of the pack in walks taken. But new manager Dale Sveum knows he’s got a relatively aggressive lineup, and knows, if nothing else, he’s got to make sure his guys understand that they need to be patient, and wait for their pitch.

“It’s one thing to be aggressive, but you don’t want to be swinging at [first] pitches that you can’t hit out of a ballpark,” Sveum said, according to ESPN’s Doug Padilla. “You don’t want to swing at down and away on the black, something you’re going to hit a single on the other way. That’s not what you’re looking for when you’re swinging at the first pitch.”

Sveum isn’t saying a single the other way is a bad thing, but instead is saying that, if his players are going to pull the trigger on the first pitch, it better be the kind of pitch they can really drive. Sveum thinks his guys haven’t done a great job of that this year.

“A lot of times when you’re aggressive early in the count, you have two anxieties,” he said. “One, you don’t like hitting with two strikes. Two, you really think in your mind that’s going to be the best pitch of the at-bat and guys who take it for a strike it kind of ruins the at-bat for them because it’s like, ‘God, I just took the best pitch of the at-bat,’ and they kind of get flustered the rest of the at-bat.

“Sometimes too early in the year when you are aggressive in the early part of the at-bat, you want to do a little too much and you are just swinging at pitches that aren’t quite balls you can drive out of the ballpark. So far early we have done a little bit of that.”

It’s been easy to see – a number of times, Cubs batters have flailed wildly at a first pitch out of the zone, leaving me with the impression that they’d decided, before the pitch, that they were going to swing. It’s one thing to be fooled by a first pitch breaking ball in the zone, at which you swing and miss. It’s another thing to swing at a ball that starts low and off the plate, and finishes even further off the plate. That tells me you just wanted to swing.

  • BD

    Their plate discipline has been a little too good in the 9th inning.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Haha.

      Aw … now I haz a sad.

  • TWC

    whoops… posted a comment in the wrong place.

  • Matt

    I was always a pretty patient hitter myself. My general rule was to be ready to hit every pitch, but when I didn’t have any strikes, make sure the pitch was one I could really drive before swinging. If not, go ahead and let it go by. You get 2 more chances after that first strike, that should be enough.

    • DocPWimsey

      I know it’s a lot to do for your team, but could we vivisection your skull and put pieces of your occipital lobes into Cub players?

  • DocPWimsey

    “…. leaving me with the impression that they’d decided, before the pitch, that they were going to swing.”

    It does seem like the Cubs have a lot of “guess” hitters, doesn’t it.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Yup. And I know that sometimes, it makes sense to guess. But not as frequently as these Cubs seem to do it. Well, at least not as frequently as they’re wrong…

      • johnbres2

        the Castro 3-pitch at-bat to end the first game vs. Brewers was hauntingly bad (as shown by my still thinking about it 3 days later!). First pitch was an I’m-swinging-no-matter-what Soriano-esque flail at a ball low and out of the zone, and then standing still as two strikes went right down the middle past him. This clearly seemed a case of a guy getting flustered. I know he is their best hitter and all, but that was a chance totally blown by the budding star.

        • Cubmig

          It may also be that Castro believes he can hit any pitch, no matter where’s it’s thrown. Last season he had Brenly (and probably all of us) talking up how Starlin was able to turn bad pitches into hits.

          • TWC

            It would help if he swung at the damn pitches then (yes I’m still pissed about Monday night’s game).

          • SirCub

            All the more reason to be patient early in the count, and defensive late in the count. Which is like, the opposite of what he did.

  • JR

    I’m really relieved to hear that Sveum has noticed that and his explanation for why guys do it sounds spot-on. It seemed to be what Castro was doing on that first pitch in his last at bat Monday night. And all the Cubs pretty much seem to be swinging away early in the count, which hasn’t worked out too well for them. Sounds like Sveum is on top of it but the philosophy change will take some time to implement.

    Good point about 2008 — I loved how patient that team was at the plate and I’m not sure what happened. Do you think it is/was Jaramillo? And any insight into how he and Sveum match up philosophically and how they are working together?

    • ty

      No matter how they spin it or try, two hitting coaches will have big differences unless Dale stays tight with the skipper role. One thing we see this year is the Mgr. actually conversing during the game with his bench and pitching coach. Remember Torre and Zimmer during those great Yankee years. Quade stood alone inning after inning and rarely shared or asked for any opinion from Listach or Riggins.

  • Mark

    Thats been my biggest gripe this year is swinging early in the count at pitches you cant do anything with.Hitting with runners in scoring position 7-43 so far this year.

    • Matt

      The thing that annoys me more than anything is when a player grounds into a double play on the first pitch thrown to them. To me that should be an automatic 1 game suspension.

      • DocPWimsey

        I would not even specify “double play.” I’d talk to a guy that hits the first pitch for a ground ball of *any* sort, even if it’s a single or a rare double. You’ve got 3 strikes: make the pitcher elevate the ball so that you can drive it. Heck, give him a chance to just flatout hang one. Home run and double rates on flyballs really have not decreased much: what has changed is the number of grounders. If you want to party like it is 1999, then lay off the sinking pitches with less than 2 strikes.

        (Of course, I realize that this requires that you can *recognize* the sinker: the pitcher’s job is to make the sinker look like a normal fastball.)

  • ETS

    So do we need to replace Jaramillo? I’ve never found him to be particularly patient, but he did have some TX teams that could hit. I always assumed we brought him in specifically for Sori.

    • Ol’CharlieBrown

      I’ve always kinda felt like Jaramillo had a lot of success in Texas because of the batters he was working with. Seemed like he had guys that were good enough hitters to follow his aggressive approach and be successful. Whereas the Cubs hitters aren’t a bunch of quality major league batters who can mash the ball.

      I’m tired of seeing a Cubs player come to bat with runners in scoring position, two out, and they promptly ground out to an infielder on the first pitch they see. The Cubs appear like guys who need to work the count, be patient, and wait for a pitch they know they can get good contact on. This also helps to wear down the opposing pitcher mentally and physically. An exception might be for a guy like Soriano or even Castro who may be better off trying to rail one of the first fastballs they see instead of getting deep into a count and being fooled by low and away sliders or other pitches of that nature.

  • Drew

    In the couple games I’ve seen, it seems like they’ve taken a ton of “two-strike swings” in counts that don’t call for one. Seems like some of them are scared shitless of hitting with 2 strikes and would rather just get the bat on the ball early in the count.

  • SouthernCub

    I’ve been able to see 4 games thus far, and I’d have to say that if Marlon isn’t the worst offender, hes right there. 1st or 2nd pitch swinging……..its been frustrating to watch thus far, to say the least.

    • hardtop

      he looks really confused.

    • Cubs style

      Agreed, Marlon is irritating as hell to watch hit. His approach has always been bad, but he’s lost at this point. His bat speed looks bad too. Cubs would be lucky to get salary relief at this point for him.

      • ETS

        cut em. Jackson’s bat speed and plate approach are just fine ;)

        • Cubs style

          In a perfect world, but Jackson won’t be up till midseason for contractual purposes. But I would still love to see their other outfielders on their current roster play more than Byrd.

  • Cubmig

    From the looks of the first-pitch swings that have been taken, it looks like Byrd is not the only guilty party—–but I agree Marlon takes the cake in that regard. “Aggressiveness” at the plate has become a contagious disease!

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