Joe Maddon, Trust, and the Value of Data Implementation and Other Bullets

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Joe Maddon, Trust, and the Value of Data Implementation and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

joe maddon theo epstein jed hoyerWe’re going to do a pre-Spring Training live stream tomorrow night at 8pm ET/7pm CT here at BN. And when I say “we’re” I mean me … and Luke! With all the prospect ranking stuff flying these days, and the minor league season around the corner, it felt like a good idea to buddy up for the chat. We’ll see how it goes functionally, but it should be a lot of fun, and you’ll be able to watch here. Get your questions and comments ready.

  • Being that we’re knee-deep in projection season, it’s appropriate that Bill Petti wrote an extensive take on the proliferation of data within the game and how teams are actually able to use it, given the need for “translating” that data. Therein, he references a really interesting anecdote from Gabe Kapler, who played under Joe Maddon with the Rays. Here’s a snippet of Kapler’s data-related story: “When I went to the Rays, Joe Maddon hit me everywhere from first to ninth. I remember the days I hit in the middle of the lineup. I was flattered and, frankly, surprised. But after a few months of comfort in the organization, I felt more certainty about where I was slotted. I knew that wherever I was in the lineup, I’d be in a position to succeed. I understood that my perceived weaknesses were negated by solid match-ups on a day that I hit fourth. I knew that if I was called upon to pinch run or play D, it was because I gave the club the best chance to win that game. It didn’t happen overnight. I trusted our data and I trusted Joe Maddon.”
  • In other words, Kapler is underscoring another of Joe Maddon’s skills: the ability to translate data and organizational philosophy for players in a way that makes them more likely to understand their role/approach, and to get them to fully buy in to that role/approach. You can have the best data in the world, and you can determine how to best implement that data, but if you can’t make it work at a human level, you won’t get the best possible results. Given Maddon’s interpersonal skill – the trust he develops with his players – and his apparently unique ability to fuse that skill with modern analytical thought, there may be one more subtle advantage that Maddon brings to the mix this year for the Cubs.
  • (None of this is to say, by the way, that Dale Sveum or Rick Renteria didn’t also have this skill set (though some comments about the end of Sveum’s tenure suggests he wasn’t the right fit in that regard), and Renteria by all accounts was an excellent communicator. All I’m saying is that, when it comes to this very specific skill, Maddon appears to have it in spades.)
  • looks at the prospect projections (from FanGraphs) for prospects in the NL Central. The long and the short: Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are far and away projected to be the most impactful prospects at the big league level in the Central this year (and Addison Russell, if he played a full year, would be up there, too). From there, it’s a lot of interesting depth pieces around the division.
  • An interesting look at the Cardinals’ rotation’s pitch mix, and how it has played against the other teams in the NL Central. When facing the Cardinals, the Cubs could see an extra dose of breaking stuff.
  • Jeff Sullivan writes about batters’ responses to the extreme shift over the past couple years, and I’ll highlight something in his conclusion: “Still, bunting does seem like the way to go. Assuming shifts aren’t actually outlawed, they can be beaten by bunts or by hits the other way. But it’s extremely difficult to get most guys to hit the other way if they’re used to pulling the ball. The all-fields approach is probably something that will just have to be developed from lower levels. It might be too tough to change players who’ve already established themselves in the bigs. The bunting? There, there’s no excuse. There needs to be a lot more bunting. But I think we’ve figured this for years. They’ll get the message someday.” With apologies, you’ll see me espousing the same bunt schtick again in 2015 that I did in 2014: extreme shift with no one on? BUNT. Runners on base and nobody out? DON’T. BUNT.
  • A great read on the 20-year anniversary of the Puerto Rican dream team that played in the Caribbean Series (the MLB players were on strike at the time, as you may recall, so there was a huge turnout in PR).
  • I still don’t understand what the Yankees were thinking this offseason with their rotation. I know they’re trying to get away from old, expensive additions year after year, but they’ve really got to suck it up and grab James Shields if they want any shot of having even an average rotation in 2015. Look at the ZiPS projections – it’s Masahiro Tanaka (who has a partially torn UCL, mind you), and then a bunch of average or slightly below average. That sounds right when you look at the arms, and I didn’t even lay into the lack of depth, which is also a problem. Clearly the Yankees plan on leaning on their offense (which could be decent if Carlos Beltran comes back to form) and their bullpen (which could be fantastic).

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Author: Brett Taylor

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