Tanking is Actually Hard, How Opposing Pitchers View the Cubs, Martinez Released, and Cubs Bullets

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Tanking is Actually Hard, How Opposing Pitchers View the Cubs, Martinez Released, and Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

I’m off to get dose number two of the vaccine today, and I’m very happy to participate in squashing the pandemic. This is the single most impactful thing I can do as an individual – and it’s so dang easy compared to locking myself in a room for a year – and I’m really excited to have it done. Once that full immunity kicks in, I’m getting fully back to doing whatever I want. Yes, I’ll still follow all the rules and mandates in place, but I trust the science: at full vaccination, my odds of becoming a transmission point for the virus are exceedingly low. So I’m going to live my life. Do as you will for yourself, but if you get fully vaccinated, my advice is to live your life, too. The science supports it. Your mental health deserves it.

•   At 6-9 (on 4/20), the Cubs have a terrible record, but obviously we know that it’s three games under .500, and baseball seasons are so very long and vacillating on the record. But here’s the thing: even if the season ended today, the Cubs would have only the SIXTH worst record in baseball. There are so many very, very bad teams in the league this year, and then you have other probably-not-quite-THAT-bad teams like the Yankees sporting a worse record than the Cubs. The point there – and you’ll probably hear this from me a lot this year – is that it’s going to be very “hard” for the Cubs to finish with a bottom five record, even accounting for a trade deadline sell-off, if it happens.

•   Tanking for draft picks in MLB is not nearly as impactful as in the NFL or NBA (the “better” part of tanking in baseball is trading for prospects), but I will say that, historically, the track record of landing a future star is quite a bit better if you’re picking in the top five than anywhere after that. If the Cubs were going to suck this year anyway, yes, we’d very much want to see them in the bottom five records. I’m just saying, it’d be really tough to get there without even more horrifying struggles from individual players (AND a big sell-off midseason). At the moment, it’s still more plausible that the Cubs could compete in the NL Central. But let’s check back in a few weeks …

•   Opposing teams and scouts are mystified by how the Cubs’ offense has declined so much over the last five years, because obvious answers like “slowing bat speed” are apparently not the answer (good, frustrating read at ESPN). It’s a combination of a lot of things, including the Cubs simultaneously seeing fewer and fewer pitches in the strike zone (it’s gotten extreme since 2016), chasing more, and also doing less damage with pitches in the zone when they do get them (which is LESS THAN HALF THE TIME). To that end, one anonymous pitcher spotlighted something we already know to be true, but it lands even more when coming from an opponent: “They don’t grind you out the way they used to. It’s just an easier lineup to pitch to.”

•   You already know most of that, and you already know the terrifying decline in production against fastballs that we discussed this weekend. But how about bringing together that, the chase stuff, the “all the same type of banana” stuff, and ALSO the extreme hit-by-pitch tendencies? As two other anonymous pitchers put it to ESPN: “Throw them up and in and then down and away. That’s what you do with any hitter, but especially the Cubs.” “Don’t let them extend their arms. Everyone but Rizzo is the same. You can jam them. All the righties and even Jason Heyward from the left side.”

•   So, then, if the MO for the vast majority of your hitters is that they can be particularly well-attacked in the traditional up-and-in, down-and-away mode, then (1) you’re going to see a lot of HBPs as an artifact of the approach, (2) you’re going to see a lot fewer pitches in the strike zone, and (3) you’re going to make game-planning AND execution so much easier for opposing starting pitchers. Again, none of this is brand new information to you with respect to this group, but hearing it from opposing pitchers just … really cements it for me.

•   Some minor league releases, which happens throughout minor league spring training as the rosters are taking shape:

•   Bryan is right that Eddy Julio Martinez is the big “name” there, and I remember his pursuit very well. The Cubs paid up big to sign the outfield prospect out of Cuba, but unfortunately this is always the statistically-more-likely outcome. The timing of the pandemic no doubt sucked for Martinez, now 26, but he’d gotten a crack at Double-A in each of 2018 and 2019, both times failing to show an ability to make hard contact. He was always able to make a LOT of contact, but if at Double-A you’re already in the zone of being a guy who doesn’t take walks, doesn’t hit the ball hard, and constantly puts the ball into play for a .250 BABIP, it’s hard to see it improving without a really massive overhaul physically and mechanically. Best of luck to him in whatever comes next. He did hit pretty well in Mexico this past winter, so it’s likely he’ll get a shot to continue his professional career somewhere at some level.

•   Speaking of international Cubs prospect signings, I’m not making some big comment here, it’s just something I hadn’t checked on in a long time: since August 28, 2019 (about half of a normal season), Gleyber Torres is hitting just .229/.318/.371 (91 wRC+). He has also rated negatively on defense and on the bases in that time. Torres is still only 24, and there are going to be ups and downs (like I said, even though it’s been a very long period of time, it’s only about a half-season of PAs), but I didn’t realize he’d been so not-valuable for that stretch.

•   Great Obvious Shirts moment on Sunday Night Baseball:

•   Indoor gardens, personal protective gear, home gym stuff, and more are your Deals of the Day at Amazon. #ad

 

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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.