Another Kind of “Protection” and Other Bullets

anthony rizzo cubsSometimes I make pretty pictures and write pretty poems over at the BN Facebook page. That’s why you should “like” it.

  • In the way only he can, Jon Greenberg praises(?) the rebuilding process, and preaches(?) patience for the upcoming season. As an almost aside, Greenberg makes a fantastic point about roster construction that I hadn’t considered: “A Cubs official told me Sveum changed from the first season into the second. When I suggested that losing does that to a manager, he agreed. I also think that the lack of talent and the losing has hampered Castro and Rizzo’s development. It doesn’t help that opposing scouting reports are focused solely on those two. It showed in 2013.” The point here is about advanced scouting and prep work. If a lineup has almost no one in it that scares you as a pitcher or as a team, you will be able to spend an inordinate amount of your preparation time focusing solely on the one or two guys that might possibly be able to hurt you. And if those guys happen to be youngsters, they’re going to be behind the 8-ball in performance and development from thing one. There are only so many hours in the day for opponents to prepare – wouldn’t it be nice if they had a ton of guys to heavily focus on, rather than just the guys in their early-20s who are still trying to develop?
  • (Please note: this is an entirely separate point from the bevy of other reasons it’s a good idea to have quality veterans on the roster to pair with the youngsters – leadership, off-field adjustments, in-game performance, more runners on base can improve results at the plate, etc.)
  • Gordon Wittenmyer asked some Cubs players and Theo Epstein about Michael Sam coming out, and how that would be received if it were a Cubs player. Each of the Cubs asked essentially took the same course: it doesn’t really matter, because what matters is playing baseball. Epstein went a bit further, and explained that accepting a gay teammate would put you on the right side of history, because when we look back in however many years, it’s going to be clear what was right and what was wrong. Jeff Samardzija said that, while in the minors, he had a teammate that came out to the team, it was kept private, and everyone simply focused on playing baseball.
  • Welington Castillo is already getting specific instruction on pitch-framing, which has been perhaps the one remaining below-average aspect of his game behind the plate.
  • Jose Veras is very excited to be a part of the Cubs, per, and, although Rick Renteria has said he’s the closer, Veras isn’t taking any role for granted.
  • It sounds like Chris Bosio is still very much a fan of pitching prospect Kyle Hendricks, who was the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2013. Hendricks will be among the most interesting stories in 2014, having long outpitched his “stuff,” and battling against a scouting perception that he’s simply overwhelming inexperienced hitters with polish and command – which, alone, won’t do the trick at the big league level. Still, Bosio’s comments in that piece from Paul Sullivan suggest the Cubs’ pitching coach doesn’t agree with other folks’ perception.
  • Tim Sheridan got some great pictures of Cubs players working out yesterday, and perhaps the best news of all? The Stache is back!
  • Jeff Sullivan investigates the largest discrepancies in current fan projections for players in 2014 and projections from Steamer. Interestingly, only two Cubs show up on any of the lists, and it’s two pitchers, both on the “fans are more pessimistic than the projection system” list: Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta.
  • Eno Sarris nerds it up (in a good way) on the issue of pitchers getting batters to swing AND miss – in other words, it’s great if you’ve got a pitch that no one can hit, but if they almost never swing in the first place, how useful is it really?
  • I don’t know why this happened, but it’s incredible:

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

43 responses to “Another Kind of “Protection” and Other Bullets”

  1. cooter

    Brett, that’s what I was bitching about yesterday. If we want to rely on our prospects for the future we need to spend a little money now on some vets to take the pressure off and keep the pitchers honest. IT TAKES MONEY TO MAKE MONEY!

    1. brainiac

      you are right, and everyone who played baseball growing up knows this. it’s the strange internet trend of judging players based upon a single number (WAR) and *not* watching baseball that leads to these rote speculations that all the team needs is to add numbers, not experience, to win.

      1. cooter

        Yah, more and more baseball is played on stats instead of things like who’s hot and who’s not. I think that trend will eventually back off and we’ll get baseball players and managers playing the game instead of scientists.

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Except that the “hot-hand” has repeatedly been shown to just represent expected fluxes due to chance and variation in the quality of the opponent: baseball is, after all, a probabilistic game. GMs are not going to “back off” because the managers who stuck to the “hot hand” idea tended to lose whereas managers that ignored those in favor of long-term stats tended to win. It’s sort of like hoping that this warm-blooded fad will go away and cold-blooded animals will dominate ecosystems again: that battle is long over!

    2. David

      agreed… that’s why I thought Granderson would’ve been a good pick up.

  2. David

    Veres looks like a bad a$$. Need some intimidation in the bullpen this year.

    If I had the time and the $$, I would head down to Ariz to hang out – then head over to Vegas and bet on the over for Cubs wins – 65.5.

  3. brainiac

    i’ve been talking common sense baseball prep and the need for veterans for months on here now. everyone knows who’s ever been to a game, but the new generation of internet-only numbers baseball has confused the basement dwellers about how games actually work.

    and lest not forget that i was an almost singular voice praising sveum at the end of the season when everyone else was dumping on him. i often agreed with his decisions, he just had nothing to work with. and then players started acting up, which makes him look bad. you can kick a snowball before it rolls down hill but you can’t reverse the whistle that caused the avalanche. the guy was a good coach and a scapegoat. i’m not saying he was tony “dark lord steroid” larussa, but if he had a decent team he would have done just fine.

  4. Kyle

    Interesting thought, but I’m not sure I buy it. This is the big leagues. I have to imagine you scout everyone and prepare for everyone. You don’t cut corners just because a guy has a .700 OPS instead of .800.

  5. Javier Bryant

    Is Baez on the 40 man? He’s not listed on

    1. bbmoney


      1. Javier Bryant

        Thanks, for some reason I thought he already was. I guess they’ll trade Barney to open up a spot on the roster then, haha.

        1. bbmoney

          Yup. They didn’t need him on the 40 man to protect him this offseason, and as soon as they want to see him in Chicago I’d imagine they’ll move / waive just about anyone they have on the 40 man to get him there.

  6. Rich H

    There is something to say about the mental side of the game that is hard to put numbers on. I am not talking about the tired “chemistry” and hustle arguments but the idea that a person struggles more when they become “the man”. Every year we see young guys take a step back when it becomes their turn to be the focus of the offense or pitching staff.

    Regression for young players is part of it. So is too many voices and too much pressure. In the NFL the talking heads call it “slowing down” the game. When mentally you get to the point that 5 seconds seems like a lifetime and there is a calming poise to the decision making. Some people never get to that point but some take that step. This is the year we find out with Rizzo, Castro and maybe Lake if they can get to the point that they are acting and dictating instead of reacting and always seeming behind.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      And every year we see young guys take steps forward in those situations. This is expected without the arm chair psychological explanations. There is no need to invoke character or pressure: this would happen if they were just all a bunch of machines.

      1. Rich H

        But you see just as many guys take a step back and not just for the Cubs. Think of how many times over the last few years that Pit was playing above expectation till July when injury and expectation ended up making them fall off the pace. It took time for their young players to deal with the expectation of being good. Now we view them as a beast for years to come because guys like McCutchens and others have showed that they can take that step to live up to the top billing.

        1. bbmoney

          “But you see just as many guys take a step back”

          Isn’t that the point? You’d expect to see some guys take steps back and some guys take steps forward. There’s no reason to try to put a ‘pressure’ narrative on it. Guys just naturally have good years and bad years because of randomness, injury, or any number of factors other than them feeling the ‘pressure’.

          As far as Pittsburgh goes, sure you can read that narrative into it if you want…but it’s just that a narrative. I don’t think suddenly having expectations had anything to do with it. They just weren’t that good and had a couple of hot starts, and frankly at least one of those years had a much tougher second half schedule. For every Pittsburgh that ‘needed’ to get used to the expectations there is a Baltimore in 2012 that didn’t need seasoning or an Oakland the past two years that didn’t.

          That’s just my take at least, I don’t have any statistical prowess to back it up. I’d leave that to Doc if he’s got something.

      2. Mike

        Cool story Doc. Are you saying that character and pressure (or ability to handle said pressure) have nothing to do with a player’s progression? Gonna call BS on that one bud.

  7. woody

    I have been saying it over and over about Rizzo basicly batting alone in the middle of the order. Has been my pet peeve. So we do it all over again!

  8. Cornish Heat

    How does the opposing team’s advanced scouting that is squarely focused on one player hurt that player’s development? If anything, it’s a challenge for that one player that should only make him stronger. That is player development.

  9. DocPeterWimsey

    I have to call BS on the scouting argument. You can scout Castro or Rizzo *only* when one of those two guys is batting. It’s not a situation where a scout can say “Well, Barney’s an automatic out: so, I’ll go make further observations on how Castro handles sliders.” Castro is not batting then: the only guy on whom a scout can tally observations is (in that case) Barney. Now, maybe the scout can go void his bladder or bowels without hurting his team’s chances of beating the Cubs, but he cannot improve his team’s chances of getting Castro or Rizzo out.

    Even the modern digital scouting is not going to be affected by this. They digitize the pitch sequences for all of the batters in order to construct redblue zones. Half the reason they do this is to study how the pitchers are doing, so it’s not like they delete the Barney video in favor of digitizing the Castro and Rizzo videos. (Assuming that they do it the way that we do, it’s not a huge time investment, anyway.)

    If there is an advantage, then it is only tacitly implied by Greenberg’s comments: opposing pitchers might spend more time studying heat charts for Castro and Rizzo than they do two comparable hitters on other teams because the heat charts for so many Cubs batters seem to lack red zones. However, even there, the *age* of the other hitters is moot. The Cubs have run plenty of mediocre veterans out there over the years: whether a guy is 23 or 33, if he has a small red zone, then he has a small red zone. Indeed, it will be easier to ignore for a veteran than for a youngster because there still is some probability that a younger player’s red zone is going to change.

    So, Greenberg needs to rephrase the entire argument. If you have a lineup with multiple good (big red zone) hitters, then the opposing pitchers *might* have to reduce the appropriate time needed to memorize heat charts. The veteran aspect has no bearing on the basic premises behind the argument, and might even work against it: veteran’s heat zones might change less than youngster’s heat zones, and thus a pitcher probably does not need to invest as much time studying them.

    1. Rich H

      I think advanced scouting does spend more time looking at the guys that can do the most damage on a team. Not glossing over any player but getting a better book on the top guys. Just look at what happened when Rizzo was batting against that exaggerated shift after April. His numbers went down fast and he never adjusted.

      I am not saying that scouts don’t have books on everybody just that those books get deeper when someone is viewed as the one guy that you do not want to beat you.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        Again, the time element is irrelevant. They collect data on Rizzo when Rizzo is batting. They cannot then say “instead of charting where Barney is going to hit the ball, I’m going to get more data for Rizzo.” You can get data for Rizzo when and only when Rizzo is batting.

        In a way, this is sort of like the argument that adding a no-bat, good glove guy to a team full of good-bats, no-glove guys is a net gain. If you put Darwin Barney on the Yankees, then maybe he gets to more grounders than Kelly Johnson does. However, he does nothing about the grounders that Derek Jeter doesn’t reach. Just as Barney cannot field balls hit to the other side of the infield, scouts cannot collect data on Rizzo when someone else is batting.

        1. Rich H

          I do agree with you Doc but you are missing one entirely different part of advanced scouting. When I said that scouts get a deeper book on guys that they view as a threat you seem to think they are not watching everyone else. I am saying they are paying extra attention to the guys that do the serious damage.

          A few years back I was lucky enough to sit in a section at Busch Stadium with a handful of scouts. I was able to spend some time between innings talking to the guys about this player and that player and watched how they went about their business when the game was on.

          When certain players were up or a ball was hit to them I noticed that all the chit chat and camaraderie stopped. All eyes were on the situation and every guys was taking notes. That does not happen for every player but for key guys it is every time.

        2. Pat

          I think the suggestion is not that scouts spend more time compiling the data for one player over another, I agree that is not likely. I think what is being suggested is that the opposing pitchers, once having received the advanced scouting reports, spend more time studying the reports on the guys who are more likely to do damage. I think this is entirely plausible.

          1. sethdiggs

            Pat, you beat me to it.

        3. sethdiggs

          That applies to data collection, which I suppose you could say would be consistent among opponents if you consider being compelled to focus on who’s in the box at any given point in time. To me, that seems irrelevant. What does matter is what is done with that data and if, as the article suggests, opponents have the luxury of being able to hone in on only the formidable players. The less threats your opponent has, the more attention can be paid to them. In general, I thought that particular point in the article wasn’t meant to be earth shattering but just something to consider.

        4. Jason P

          In addition to the time spent by scouts at the game, don’t teams dig into video of opponents’ past at bats? If the Cubs lineup was full of good hitters, might there be less of a focus into the video of past Rizzo AB’s? Considering that unlike Football, basketball, and hockey, there isn’t always time off between series, I have to think that the time element is a very real thing.

          Pitchers don’t have a week to memorize precisely how they want to pitch each and every hitter.

  10. Kyle

    I’m reminded of the story in Men at Work. How do you pitch to Starlin Castro? Hard stuff up and in, breaking balls low and away. How do you pitch to Anthony Rizzo? Hard stuff up and in, breaking balls low and away. How do you pitch to God? Hard stuff up and in, breaking balls low and away. He’ll know it’s coming, but if you hit your spot, you’ll get Him out.

  11. TommyK

    You can’t praise the rebuild and say it’s important to have quality veterans while developing players. If that’s true, this season is set to be an unmitigated disaster. There are 0 quality veteran hitters on this team.

    1. brainiac

      yeah we just have to admit that “the plan” isn’t a plan at all. it’s a minor league draft and a PR campaign for the owners. the end. there are too many inconsistencies with the “rebuild” to say there’s a purposive design here. most of you rely upon a strange combo faith and abstract numbers. they don’t go together unless you’re a pythagorean.

      1. aaronb

        Agreed, it’s basically a propaganda campaign to slash payroll without fan backlash.

      2. sethdiggs

        Can you elaborate on these “inconsistencies?” Aside from the Jackson deal and the pace of the whole thing, if you want to call that an inconsistency, I don’t see how what they’ve done, i.e. inaction due to the necessity aligning all the variables, is inconsistent.

  12. brainiac

    i can’t imagine that this is how theo envisioned the prime of his career when he signed that contract.

  13. Patrick W.

    So if it’s true that opposing pitchers could give extra focus to Rizzo and Castro because the other hitters were less intimidating then it’s also true that they both played better before Soriano was traded?

    1. Sacko

      I’m with you Pat on that comment..I mentioned it at least 5 times last year and not to be smart about it…In addition I mentioned it had to be difficult for those 2 taking the field everyday knowing they are gonna get their asses kicked. Sori did even better when he went to the Yanks.
      Veteran ball players or not somebody else has got to be on the field to help those 2 out.
      I’d think those 2 would shine on a better team.

  14. CubChymyst

    That gif is hilarious.

  15. bushybrows74

    Were you going for “hacky” or just “ignorant” with that tired, cliched critique?

    Do the quotes exempt this statement from the commenting section name calling standards?

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