The Second-Half Cubs Have Been Extremely Good Over the Years, and You Can Largely Thank Joe Maddon for That

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The Second-Half Cubs Have Been Extremely Good Over the Years, and You Can Largely Thank Joe Maddon for That

Chicago Cubs

In case you don’t remember, Joe Maddon took over as skipper of the Chicago Cubs just as the tides were turning back in 2015. And although the first half of his first season went well by Cubs standards (47-40, .540 winning percentage), it didn’t hold a candle to his second-half: 50-25, .667 winning%.

Impressively, that trend has held true for three straight seasons with the Cubs:

2015 First half: 47-40, .540 w%
2015 Second half: 50-25, .667 w%

2016 First half: 53-35, .602
2016 Second half: 50-23, .685

2017 First half: 43-45, .489
2017 Second half: 49-25, .667

In each of his first three seasons as manager of the Chicago Cubs, Joe Maddon has led his team to at least 49 wins in the second half. He snuck into the Wild Card game with 97 wins in year one, and won the division with hot finishes in each of the last two seasons. And even when he was the manager of the Rays, Maddon’s club seemed to always perform better after the break.

In 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2014, the Maddon-led Rays closed with a better second-half winning percentages than they posted in the first half. And in two of the four years his clubs failed to improve in the second half (2010 and 2013), they finished with a record above .500 anyway.

Needless to say, such a finish for the Cubs again this year isn’t out of the question. It’s one of Maddon’s biggest strengths, and for a variety of reasons, he seems capable of repeating it.

At SportingNews, Jared Wyllys discusses Maddon’s second-half super powers – “Since 2015, the Cubs have been the best second-half team in baseball” – and tries to determine just how he does it. According to Maddon, it’s all about rest. “We avoid fatigue early,” Maddon told Sporting News. “That’s been intentional.”

Although maximizing rest for key players is probably not the *only* bit of Maddon’s second-half secret sauce, it is no doubt a major component.

You might have noticed over the years that Joe Maddon not only loves to give his starters regular rest – perhaps more so than most teams – but that he also likes doing it just before or just after off-days, so that player automatically gets a two-day breather, at least. Obviously, given the extremely talented and versatile roster he’s been handed, that sort of aggressive resting is easier for Maddon than many other managers, but you can’t fault a guy for recognizing an idiosyncratic strength and exploiting the heck out of it. As Wyllys explains, Maddon’s rotating lineups might cause some fans a headache, but they often are the secret to his success.

But it’s not just about forcing guys out of the lineup for their own best interest. Maddon has created a culture of openness and honesty that, I’m guessing, isn’t available in every clubhouse. Sporting News reports that one of the first things Joe Maddon told newcomer Jesse Chavez, famous for his rubber arm, is to be honest about when he needs a break. For guys like Chavez, trying to extend a career, or even youngsters like Ian Happ and Albert Almora, who are trying to prove their worthiness and compete for playing time, being open about needing a break could be tough. But if you trust your manager to put you back in there when you say you are ready, then individual players will all get their time off and on, and be better for it.

I really don’t want to sell that point short: if *everyone* is being honest about when they need a break (a very challenging culture to cultivate given the incentives at play), then everyone will get his time, and everyone will perform better. Moreover, if other teams are not doing that as well, the Cubs’ rise in the second-half, relative to other teams, can be even greater. Wyllys has many more comments and thoughts on it at Sporting News, so check it out.

And to conclude …

For the extremely optimistic among you: if the 2018 Cubs finish as strong as the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Cubs, we’re talking about 104 or 105 wins when the regular season ends. You obviously can’t count on such a dramatic finish – the team has started off 5-4 in the second half after all – but clearly Joe Maddon does something very well under the hood.

And, hey, a mid-season addition or two (Cole Hamels, Jesse Chavez) doesn’t hurt, either.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami