Expect the Cubs to Pull Starters Early Again Next Year and Other Bullets

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Expect the Cubs to Pull Starters Early Again Next Year and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

kyle hendricks chicago cubsToday is Festivus. And I’ve got a lot of problems with you people. Let the airing of grievances begin.

  • We’ve talked about “the third time through the order” issue many times over the past couple years, with the general principle being pretty simple: generally-speaking, pitcher performance drops dramatically the third time he faces batters in a given game. Last year, the Cubs aggressively took on the issue by more quickly hooking starters after they’d faced the order twice and got into even a whiff of trouble. It’s unequivocally the right approach, but you’ve got to have a bullpen that can support (1) eating a ton of innings, and (2) being called upon frequently in tight spots in the middle innings. It was clear that Joe Maddon was feeling out his bullpen in the first few months last year to this end, and, by the end of the season, things were running like a finely-tuned machine (helped, of course, by the fact that you’re more comfortable with letting guys like Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester go deeper into games late in the year). The Cubs appear to be building their bullpen even more to that end this year, what with the healthy volume of super utility pitchers. I think it will not only improve pitcher performance, both in the rotation and in the pen, but it could also help limit starter innings, especially in the early going, so that they can be more fresh down the stretch.
  • Speaking to all of that stuff, David Laurila interviewed a bunch of managers about this third-time-through-the-order business, and it’s a fascinating read. As you’d expect, there is no paint by numbers for this kind of thing, in large part because different pitchers are impacted by this phenomenon in different ways. There’s also so much that varies game to game – how fresh is the bullpen, what’s the matchup look like, how much has the starter worked the past couple innings, etc. – that you can’t have a precise strategy laid out just yet. Still, I think, generally, we can acknowledge that (1) pulling non-dominant starting pitchers right around the time the third time through the order rolls around is ideal, and (2) we will probably see the Cubs doing it a lot in 2016.
  • Kyle Hendricks in 2015, by the way, may have been the best example of how you can make this strategy work excellently. Consider that, in the third time through the order last year, batters hit a whopping .329/.374/.520 off of him. And yet, Hendricks posted brilliant overall numbers last year (3.95 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 3.4 WAR). How does that compute? Well, when you limit those third-time-through plate appearances dramatically (just 164, as opposed to 287 and 285 for the first two times through (when Hendricks was typically dominant)), it makes sense. The hope, of course, is always that a guy like Hendricks could become a starter who can see more success the third time through the order, but, if that isn’t going to happen, we’ve now seen that the Cubs can still use him (and the bullpen) in a highly-effective way.
  • I love minor league baseball for so many reasons, not the least of which is their unique ability to do crazy promotional days.
  • The renovation at Wrigley Field isn’t the only major construction project coming to Wrigleyville at some point in the future – there’s a significant development in the works for the block on the southeast side of Addison and Clark, which would dramatically change the look and function of that stretch of businesses on both Addison and Clark (including, sadly, Mullen’s on Clark, which is one of my favorite game day bars). It’s still not certain when construction may start, and it’ll take 16 to 24 months, according to that DNAinfo article, so it’ll be a while before everything is in place. But once that’s complete, together with the Cubs’ work outside of the ballpark, Wrigleyville is going to look and function in a fundamentally different way. It’s time to start adjusting.
  • Mike Axisa writes about Sammy Sosa’s Hall of Fame candidacy, with the big question at this point not being whether he’ll ever reach enshrinement – but instead being whether he’ll soon fall off the ballot for lack of support. You know the story with Sosa’s candidacy: he’s hurt badly by the perceived connection to PEDs and, probably, the bat-corking incident. For me, though, I think Sosa is hurt most by the shortness of his peak, as well as by the limited range of his elite skills, and he falls just short of Hall of Fame status in my book. That doesn’t mean I can’t now look back fondly on many of my Sammy-related memories, and it definitely doesn’t mean I don’t want to see him brought back into the Cubs fold somehow. It just means I don’t think he’s quite a Hall of Famer.
  • If you missed it last night, there’s a big change on Fox national broadcasts that may be of interest to you.
  • The Cubs are selling six-packs of tickets for certain set dates, so if the previous flex packs were too big for you, this might be an option to get tickets before individual tickets go on sale at some point next year. I suspect getting tickets to your preferred games on that day are going to be a lot tougher this year than in years past.

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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.