What It Looks Like When a Cubs Position Player Stagnates, Jed's Good Trade, and Other Cubs Bullets | Bleacher Nation

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What It Looks Like When a Cubs Position Player Stagnates, Jed’s Good Trade, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

I’m still trying to get my feet under me after yesterday, and the weeks that preceded it. I know we can get a little overwrought and maudlin in these situations – “it’s just sports, folks” – but, first of all, it’s OK to feel what you feel. That’s just a life thing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your feelings are bogus, and also don’t do that to yourself. It only makes it worse. Second of all, for me, once I get past the feelings, it still takes me a hot minute to actually plant my feet in whatever new world has sprung up around me. Doing a set of normal Bullets, for example, just feels so bizarre when there’s so much changing in this organization, and the way we fans will experience it. To say nothing of, you know, the pandemic that is still a thing.

All right … let’s try this out …

•   Maybe there are some lessons to be learned from how things played out with Albert Almora, the first draft pick of the Theo Epstein era, who was non-tendered this week. Bryan dropped a note on Almora’s adjustments in the big leagues – or, more precisely, his inability to adjust to the pitchers clearly making a very obvious adjustment – and it got me digging in a little more:

•   That is, of course, not a bizarre situation – most hitters come up better prepared to hit fastballs than MLB-caliber breaking stuff. What’s striking with Almora is just how extreme and linear and obvious the league’s adjustment was … and how Almora never improved. Consider his whiff rate and his expected wOBA against breaking pitches:

2016: 34.0%, .215
2017: 39.0%, .212
2018: 39.3%, .223
2019: 35.3%, .214
2020: 40.9%, .158

•   Those are just such terrible numbers (particularly the xwOBAs), and completely stagnant despite the fact he was seeing those pitches more and more each year. Almora could always hit fastballs and changeups, but as pitchers learned (1) how to better locate those pitches to take advantage of his contact ability and poor pitch recognition, and (2) to just throw him more curves and sliders, his offensive trajectory tanked. Maybe there’s a one-neat-trick to helping him better recognize and attack breaking pitches, but that’s outside the scope of my knowledge, especially when it’s five years in a row that look like that. The Cubs had reasons to keep Almora up with the big league team because of his glove and because they convinced themselves he was a righty bat who could hit lefties, but you just wonder if he could have been developed better.

•   Compare Almora, for example, to Javy Báez – another righty Cubs hitter people think of when talking about crushing fastballs and struggling against breaking pitches – who was just as brutal against breaking pitches in his first few years, but who eventually started abusing them in his breakout 2018 and 2019 seasons. Maybe that’s just a credit to Báez, specifically, and a debit to Almora. But, again, I just wonder if there was something else in the way the two were developed as prospects (Báez got a taste of big league pitching in 2014, and then was sent to AAA in 2015 to work on things before returning to the big leagues for good).

•   Oh, and your early look at a guy who fits that Almora profile? It’s Nico Hoerner, who has destroyed fastballs (and never, ever misses them) in his first two partial big league seasons, but has been humbled by breaking pitches. He didn’t whiff a ton against them, but his expected wOBAs were atrocious. Heck, his average launch angle against breaking pitches in 2020 was NEGATIVE 3 degrees. When he got a breaking pitch this year, if he swung, Hoerner was pretty likely to put it into play on the ground. That’s not good, and it’s another example of pitchers taking advantage of his contact ability. Now, will he get a chance to go work on it more in the minor leagues, or are the Cubs going to risk the Almora route? Also, a reminder that Hoerner has had almost no minor league experience. He got a taste in 2019 because of injuries (and, I suspect, because the Cubs wanted him to see how big league pitching would attack him), and then he stuck with the team in 2020 because there was no minor league season. Hoerner starting the year at AAA should be the expectation right now, not a surprise.

•   As for Kasper’s replacement, all the talk yesterday from the Cubs and Marquee was about a search process, and despite rumors to the contrary, Marquee is denying that Chris Myers already has the job (though he does have *A* job with Marquee):

•   Jed did a good trade 10 years ago:

•   Seriously, though, I still remember when that trade happened (BN was about two years old at that point), and Kelly was the big name by far. And Fuentes was this huge upside youngster. Rizzo, by contrast, was viewed as a possible solid future bat at first base, but he’d been a 6th rounder out of high school three years earlier, and had yet to set the minor leagues on fire. Yet we now know from Theo Epstein that it was Jed Hoyer who insisted that Rizzo be in the deal, instead of the guy Epstein was pushing. That guy, Lars Anderson, was actually a consensus top 100 prospect at the time (Rizzo was not), who *had* been lighting up the minor leagues at the time. Yet Hoyer insisted on Rizzo. That’s a win, eh?

•   Watches, writing utensils, baby gear, and more are your Deals of the Day at Amazon. #ad

•   Our latest pod:

•   I won’t embed all of this thread because it’s so long, but it’s worth going over to Twitter to check out the calls if you want to have some memories:

•   The White Sox got Kasper, but also, there’s still this:

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.