Jed Hoyer jumped on 670 The Score today to discuss his team’s slow start to the 2019 season, the bullpen, the offense, the urgency, Willson Contreras’ pitch framing, and a lot more with Bernstein and McKnight. We covered his comments on making a bullpen addition like Craig Kimbrel (i.e. don’t get your hopes up) here.
You can catch the full interview at 670 The Score, but until then, here are the highlights alongside some thoughts of my own ….
- Jon Lester has a good feel for what’s going on in the clubhouse, so if he says there’s frustration – whatever the source (pressing, bad results, etc.) – there’s probably some frustration. With that said, since the sample is so small and the Cubs have blown three games they otherwise could’ve won, the apparent pain is probably disproportionately high. I can understand that, but it’s also hard to ignore that at least part of the fault there is on the front office who stressed the importance of a fast start all winter. Slow starts do happen, but they hurt more when you’ve been repeatedly told it cannot happen this year.
- But, again, the “good news” is the Cubs should’ve won 4 of the 5 games they’ve played so far. It’s easy to lose sight of that, but the Cubs did put themselves in a position to win way more often than not. HOWEVA, Hoyer reminds us that it’s not easy to put yourself in a position to win, so when you do get there, you really need to close things out. The marathon of the season will help with normalization, but those losses are banked and can’t be given back.
- I will say, from my perspective, that the offense has looked great so far this year and even the rotation hasn’t been as bad as it seems. This is really all falling on the bullpen, which, sadly, is what we were worried about. And more sadly … doesn’t have an obvious immediate solution beyond hope.
- Hoyer made a stray comment about guys who were injured in Spring Training (Pedro Strop, Xavier Cedeño, etc.), but then also said guys were dealing with illness, citing Brad Brach, which we knew, and Steve Cishek, whose bout of sickness came late in the spring but didn’t seem to be serious. I don’t think Cishek’s performance last night is related, he had a good start to the year (4Ks, no hits, no walks in 1.2 IP), but any illness this spring probably makes you wonder when a guy’s mechanics go sideways.
- Along the same lines, Hoyer has liked what he’s seen from Brandon Kintzler so far and acknowledges that you might see more of him, because playing the hot hand in the bullpen is sometimes as important as whatever roles were initially set. In my opinion, flexibility is probably the best quality for bullpen management. Indeed, it sounds like Hoyer believes Kintzler has played himself into a bigger position with good early results, which, well, isn’t something I expected or wanted to hear at the outset of the year (relative to the performance of other relievers, I mean), but here we are.
- Yu Darvish did a lot of good work with Tommy Hottovy this week (more on that soon), and tonight’s game is an important one for him, given his first start of the season, but it’s a balance. The challenge will always be balancing the importance/urgency of the next appearance with not pressing too hard, which doesn’t really make you a better player. Hoyer said that applies to a number of pitchers on the team, and that getting over that hump is important: “We need to escape the rut and get back to enjoying ourselves.”
- Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are traveling with the team more this season than they have in the past.
- Although you can break down a pitcher or hitter’s struggles more quickly because of the technology we have available today, you still need a bigger sample to really understand what’s going on with a team at large. For example, Hoyer pointed to slow starts for obviously good teams like the Red Sox, Astros, and Yankees as evidence that five games is too soon to freak.
- … but I’m already kinda tired of hearing that. Had the Cubs lost their four games in unrelated, unusual, or non-frightening ways, I’d agree. Sometimes, you just lose games. But the ONLY reason they’ve lost those games is because of the very thing we already feared was the team’s biggest weakness. When your biggest perceived weakness is your biggest actual weakness, it’s not necessarily something you can count on coming around just because the sample gets bigger.
- Contreras has been working on framing all Spring and still goes back to watch video (I believe specifically with that in mind) after every game. It’s too early to tell how well it’s working – and the extreme wildness of the Cubs pitching staff clouds the progress further – but he’s been diligent with his work and should have the skills to improve. For what it’s worth, I (Michael) feel like he’s looked much better receiving the ball this year, and has looked more more subtle with his framing. It’s way too early to tell, but I bet we see improvement for him this year.
- Hoyer wonders how can series-by-series lineups and a little more structure – when the players asked for both – be a bad thing? And then said a little adversity early in the season might be a good thing! He says it’s not fun and they don’t wish this is what was happening, but it can be a learning experience. We’ve heard this before. These aren’t rookies anymore, though. These are veterans and multi-year players with plenty of experience. They don’t need adversity in the same way to learn things. Or, to put it differently, was the end to 2018 not adverse enough for this particular message to sink in?
- Jed Hoyer was very happy with David Bote’s extension and thinks it’s a win-win for both sides. He believes that a guy like Bote, who ground his way though the Minors, made the Majors, and was in a position to request that sort of extension is such a good story, and I totally agree. Definitely a win-win. And on the extensions all over baseball, Hoyer believes it’s the negative free agent process, not a lack of interest in spending money, that’s spurred the extensions throughout the league. I think those two things are pretty well connected, but I bet Hoyer would agree with that anyway. He believes players have looked around and have decided that if they can get the right value at home, it’s worth avoiding all together.