A Really Nice Moment for Happ, Báez Hot, Williams' Night, Pitcher Injuries, and Other Cubs Bullets

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A Really Nice Moment for Happ, Báez Hot, Williams’ Night, Pitcher Injuries, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

That rocket. The one that went to space for a few minutes. It had to be shaped like that, didn’t it? Just had to.

•   It’s no secret that it has been a very long, very rough stretch for Ian Happ, dating back into the second week of September of last year (whether or not related to the foul ball off his eye). Since then, he’s hit just .177/.286/.297 with a 65 wRC+, and it’s been a pretty steady course. The walk rate is solid, as it always is (12.0%), but the strikeout rate is elevated, as it always is (29.8%), and the power is not there (.119 ISO). The .237 BABIP might reflect some bad luck, but is also reflective of an increased groundball rate (51.7% just won’t do much for you in the shifting era) and not nearly enough hard contact (31.7%). This year, his expected wOBA (.295) is higher than his actual (.283), but let’s be honest – even if he were seeing results at the expected number, that’s still rough (235th in baseball among qualified hitters).

•   That’s why it was nice for a moment to see Happ come through last night with the game-winner. We’ve talked a lot about what the second half of this season should be, but I have failed to mention a really big part of that: trying to get Ian Happ right. You would love to go into the offseason with some confidence that Happ can be one of your primary outfielders to open 2022. Can he do enough in August and September to get you there? With his track record, I actually think the answer is yes. But some serious (and explainable, sustainable) performance turnaround will be needed. Without Happ locked in, you could conceivably head into this offseason feeling like the Cubs have all three outfield spots available to a new starter (or should, anyway). Also third base. And shortstop. And first base. Cool, cool, cool, cool ….

•   More on Happ, his future with the Cubs, and his own thoughts on his struggles here at NBCSC.

•   It was just a couple nights earlier that St. Louis Cardinals closer Alex Reyes was getting some spotlight for being the first pitcher in history to convert his first 24 save opportunities. New record. Great stuff. And then last night, in his next appearance, the Cubs handed him the first blown save of his career. So that’s kinda funny.

•   The errors are piling up, which ain’t great, but over the past month, Javy Báez is hitting .303/.357/.566 with a 145 wRC+. The .429 BABIP is elevated, but he’s absolutely smoking the ball (average exit velocity: 93.8 mph). The strikeouts are not good, at 35.7%, but he’s actually walking at a 7.1% clip! Remember at the start of this stretch, how it seemed like Báez was just up there taking pitches to take pitches? And then was just guessing, badly, after two strikes? I still don’t know exactly what that was about – it was clearly an intentional approach – but there has absolutely been an improvement in his performance since then. He’s seeing pitches well. He’s diagnosing them earlier. He’s accepting walks. He’s crushing the ball in all directions. It’s been a really good month.

•   Kris Bryant’s hamstring fatigue was discussed here, but I wanted to mention a separate, broader point that David Ross made, which was really interesting (and, in hindsight, obvious): the Cubs keep track of how much running guys do throughout the year – yardage, amount of sprinting, etc. – so they can monitor that part of the workload. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have done something like that from a technical perspective. All just anecdotal and coaches paying attention. But now? You could just have a big database, using the in-park radar and data, and log throughout the season exactly how much yardage each guy is accumulating (at different speed/effort tiers, too), which could theoretically allow you to protect against more injuries (and would also explain why guys get pulled a little more quickly). Interesting thing on that? A reporter apparently asked who the Cubs’ “all-purpose yardage leader” was, and Ross mentioned that Bryant “was getting up there” thanks to his time in the outfield and at the All-Star Game.

•   From Michael on Trevor Williams’ performance last night: “I think he was probably a little bit better tonight than his final line would suggest (he did net 13 whiffs in his 5.0 innings), especially for a guy making his first start since the end of May, but there’s nothing to write home about, either. I suppose it doesn’t really matter either way. Even in a market starved for starting pitching, there isn’t enough time for Williams to build up enough value to become a worthwhile trade chip. And at this point, given his additional year of team control via arbitration, I’m more interested in seeing what he’s got down the stretch as the Cubs plan for next season.” Agreed. I would also point out that Williams’ velocity was down 1 to 1.5 mph across the board last night (not at all unexpected given his time off, but another reason not to believe he’ll be a part of the trade market in just nine days).

•   A clean, two-strikeout inning from Dillon Maples last night (low-leverage) in his second appearance back from the IL (the first appearance was also scoreless with all groundballs). The spin rates were still maaaaaassively down (and the pitch movement along with it), so that’s just going to be a reality he has to deal with. Not a ton of time or appearances left before the Trade Deadline if the Cubs decide they want to clear an extra 40-man spot for the second half while seeing if there’s a team out there that wants to take a chance on the arm. If it’s me, and I’m a rebuilding club looking to take a flyer, the 350+ RPM drops in spin rate have me wondering if it’s just not worth it, given the implication and his past struggles with control.

•   Great read from Ken Rosenthal on the relationship between sticky stuff enforcement and pitcher injuries (remember the concerns about that?). It’s not yet clear if we’re seeing a spike in injuries (which I would add is going to be confounded by the shortened 2020 season, by the way), but the experts Rosenthal spoke with definitely suggest, at a physical level, how it’s going to be very, very possible for serious elbow injuries – and presumably others – to spike. The way pitchers will be adjusting their grips at a micro level could wear down the small muscles around the elbow more quickly, which will then put more of the strain on their ligaments and tendons when they pitch, and that’s how you get serious injuries. So, I guess a huge lesson here for teams: do not let your pitchers throw even a single pitch once they are feeling that fatigue in their arm. That’s especially going to be true for the guys you know were previously using sticky stuff and aren’t now, though it’s always been true for every pitcher:

Mike Sonne, a Ph.D. who works with teams on pitcher biomechanics, agreed with Rocks that there’s added strain on the muscles, and therefore more fatigue.

“A large group of muscles in the forearm, close to the inside of the elbow (called the flexor pronator mass) contract forcefully during the pitching delivery to protect the ulnar collateral ligament (the UCL). If those muscles didn’t exist, the force passed through that ligament would cause a tear on almost every single pitch thrown, according to cadaver studies,” Sonne wrote in a post on his website. “The need for this muscle to contract to protect the elbow is why issues like muscle fatigue have been found to be the biggest risk factor for elbow injuries and Tommy John surgery. Pitchers that throw while fatigued are up to 36 times more likely to have elbow surgery.”

•   The Oakland City Council voted to approve the new Oakland A’s development project! … except they apparently voted on a version that the A’s didn’t actually agree with, so it was pretty clearly just a pressure move to be able to say it is the A’s who are not playing nice. Which is exactly what happened. So everything is back to where it has been for a decade: the city is mad at the team for asking for too much, the team is made at the city for not giving enough. Rinse, repeat. This was supposedly the last-ditch thing before the A’s and MLB seriously start exploring a relocation. We’ll see. I’m just tired of it at this point, and I’m annoyed that it is holding up any plans for expansion and realignment.

•   Anthony Santander, mic’d up during the O’s-Rays broadcast that was called entirely by women for the first time in the sport’s history:

•   I agree with this sentiment:

•   Wanna watch it again:

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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.