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Respecting Zobrist While Hoping for More, Tseng as Hendricks, and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

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  • It’s been a rough year for Ben Zobrist, both in terms of his results at the plate, and in terms of the myriad injuries that have probably played a major role in those numbers. But, as you’ve no doubt noticed – and sometimes lamented – Joe Maddon continues to insert Zobrist into the lineup with regularity, and into a prominent spot in the lineup (essentially always in the top four).
  • That’s largely because there is a belief that Zobrist *will* hit well again this year, but it is also because Maddon believes it has an impact on the other side, because of the perception of Zobrist’s ability (ESPN): “I still think he is who he is from the other side. There’s that perception. Imagine me being in the other dugout. I’m paying attention to where he’s at all the time. The cache that he’s built up matters.” Hmm. That’s certainly an interesting, and different perspective on the placement of a struggling bat. In all candor, it’s one that I’ve gotta mull before I’d react to, because my gut response is neither to immediately say I totally can see it, nor to immediately say I can’t believe it. I suppose, as I mull, I do recognize that, if you’re on the other side and you know Zobrist has had a dinged up season and could be healthy at any time, you do risk him being HIM if you’re too aggressive.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
  • The counter to that is that there has to be some recognition that this is a 36-year-old player who dealt with a wrist injury, after which he’s had 205 plate appearances and hit just .194/.284/.278. That’s neither a small sample nor an acceptable line for a guy seeing prominent at bats. I’m not saying the answer here is to bench Zobrist, but I do think there has to be a realistic accounting for how effective the Cubs believe he can be the rest of this season, and weigh that against other players’ starting opportunities. Those are questions, you’ll note, that get a heckuva lot trickier whenever Addison Russell returns from his foot injury.

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  • Zobrist says he feels healthy now and is able to put in his regular work (ESPN), which he hadn’t been before. So, then, it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that we see an invigorated and effective Zobrist from here on out. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .259/.355/.315 in August, which, well, you can see the positives and negatives in there.
  • Jen-Ho Tseng’s manager at AAA Iowa is comparing him to another righty who passed through Iowa recently: Kyle Hendricks. In the Des Moines Register piece, Marty Pevey is careful to note that Hendricks fully commanded his whole arsenal of pitches, though both pitchers rely on excellent control of a low-90s fastball (well, at the time Hendricks was in Iowa, anyway) and good offspeed pitches. I can certainly see the similarities in overall style, though a couple things to point out: Tseng is actually a year younger than Hendricks was when he first reached AAA and has a better strikeout rate than Hendricks did in that partial season (Hendricks blew up when he returned to AAA to start the 2014 season). But Hendricks’ walk rate was always super elite (in the 5% range), whereas Tseng had a 6.4% rate at AA and then a 7.6% rate so far at AAA. Hendricks also always had a super elite groundball rate, whereas Tseng’s was actually troubling at AA this year (39.4%), but has been very solid at AAA (52.9%).
  • In any case, the point here is less about comparing the two pitchers – Kyle Hendricks is something of a unicorn in the world of soft-tossing, high-command pitchers who reached high-level big league success – but more about reminding us that, a year after falling off the map in 2016, Tseng is very much back on the radar as a possible rotation piece in the next couple years for the Cubs. And it’s not as if this year is coming out of nowhere: Tseng was the organization’s pitcher of the year in 2014, and before that was signed to a significant bonus out of Taiwan.

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  • I am dying:

https://twitter.com/flippingbats/status/899988436249182209

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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.