Although I don’t think it’s necessarily worth getting into a perpetual back-and-forth between the Cubs and Joe Maddon – what went wrong the last couple years, why did they separate, what could have been different, etc. – I do think there’s a lot of value in getting as complete a picture as we can. Clearly, the front office drove a whole lot of change this offseason at the managerial and coaching level, and I think it’s useful – in a forward-looking way – to understand what they saw happening behind the scenes in 2018 and 2019 that drove the change, and that could be different in 2020.
To that end, you can revisit Joe Maddon’s comments on how he felt the front office started to maybe get too involved the last couple years, and you can then revisit Theo Epstein’s intimation that it was because front office felt like they had to get more involved. Adding a player level, Javy Báez recently spoke about a lack of preparedness early in games, and a lack of togetherness for various activities that may have had a deleterious impact on player performance (maybe something to do with the whole being less than the sum of the parts?).
Báez’s comments were not explicitly about Joe Maddon, and every player to a man has nothing but good things to say about Maddon. Báez just wants to hold himself accountable. But it’s fair to point out that part of a manager’s job is to notice things like what Báez was describing, and rectify them as best possible, even if doing so runs counter to your longstanding hands-off approach.
So when Maddon offers this up as his defense to the preparedness question, it kinda feels like confirmation of the issue rather than a real denial:
Maddon, on Javy Baez saying he wasn't ready to play: "I never recognized that from him. He's one of the best players in baseball. I don;t know what that's all about, quite frankly."
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) February 19, 2020
Javier Baez thought he and some teammates weren't always physically ready at first pitch last season.#Cubs front office believes more pregame on-field work would've helped spark the team.
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) February 19, 2020
Maddon on Baez’s admission pic.twitter.com/c7kVM4nIE6
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 18, 2020
I mean, sure, maybe this was just an idiosyncratic Báez thing – or maybe he’s being too hard on himself – but it’s also pretty darn possible, given all that we know about the complacency concerns, that some discipline and consistency and structure and teamwork was in order, but it just wasn’t Maddon’s thing. An extremely talented team won only 84 games and fell apart down the stretch. There *might* be something to that beyond just injuries and bad luck.
Having been so successful with his methods for so long, it’s hard to blame Maddon for not wanting to completely change gears on the fly (even if, in hindsight, it’s clear the Cubs needed it as far back as 2017). It’s also hard to blame Maddon for not wanting to be too hard on himself publicly when he’s got a new group of players to lead, who need to really buy into his methods (because they absolutely, obviously can work in the right situations). Still, it’s a little discouraging for Maddon to dig in his heels as though everyone else attached to the organization had failed in some ways the last couple years except for him.
Even Maddon himself went on to point out that the biggest problem for the team seemed to be on the road at night (they could *never* win on the road at night) … but, again, he talks about it like someone else has to figure out what was up. You were there, man. What was the difference in the preparation? Was there a difference? I’m genuinely curious of the Cubs have figured this one out:
“I would take a poll on that and see how many of them would say they were not ready,” Maddon said, per The Score. “I did not recognize that, and if you see our home and road records, our difficult time was on the road at night. That was a really awkward breakdown of the season. We were way over .500 at home. Did we have a different method at home than we did on the road?”
Yes, that’s the question. I just wish there had been an answer last year. I certainly hope there’s an answer this year, whether it’s preparation or something else.