Hendricks Concerns(?), Rivas and Effross Debut, Schwivas Platoon, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Hendricks Concerns(?), Rivas and Effross Debut, Schwivas Platoon, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

We lost a particular remote about a month ago (“we”), and its absence has driven me crazy ever since. I knew it was *SOMEWHERE* but I just could not find the dang thing. Worse, nobody in the house seemed to be remotely bothered by it (ba dum tsss), since it was not a remote we were actively using right now. But, I mean, it was still missing! Don’t you want to know WHERE IT WENT?!?! Anyway, I took a step back yesterday and did some critical thinking on the possible journeys that remote could have taken, rather than just looking in all the obvious places, obsessively, for days. That made me remember that The Littlest Girl loved walking around with the thing and handing it to one of us, which, in turn, made me think about checking her toy bins, just in case she stashed it many moons ago without anyone noticing. AND BOOOOOOM I FOUND THE DANG THING AT THE BOTTOM OF A RANDOM BIN. I felt like the biggest champion, you have no idea.

That all came after the Cubs got smoked by the White Sox, so it certainly was well-received for that reason, too …

•   Are we worried about Kyle Hendricks? I mean, that’s the obvious question for folks after the typically-steady veteran was blown up by the Sox, and has seen his season ERA climb to a BY-FAR career worst 4.43 (8% worse than league average). I’ll spare you at least some of the drama and note that, yes, he’s earning these results, and it’s not a matter of bad luck. His strikeout rate is way down, his walk rate is up, and the rate at which he’s giving up homers and barrels is scary up. The question with Hendricks is not whether he can bounce back from this year organically by way of natural result regression (doesn’t look like it); instead it’s a question of whether there are mechanical/health issues that will improve for next year, when the Cubs will need him to be the guy he usually is if they want any hope whatsoever of competing.

•   At 31, as a command/control guy, you wouldn’t necessarily expect this to be reflective of normal aging and Hendricks’ results falling off a cliff as he loses just a touch, but it’s also not something you can ignore completely. Although his velocity is normal for him, the command is not – and at that velocity, we know his margins for error are tiny. Always have been. And it is, of course, possible that command (repeating the mechanics perfectly on every pitch, over 70+ pitches in a start) will wane as the guy gets older.

•   If you want an excuse to hope on, though, there is plausibly one available. Or a set of them, actually: Hendricks is now pitching for an obvious loser for the first time since he was a rookie, just saw his long-time teammates all go out the door, and (after adjusting to a new baseball (remember that?)) he’s pitching after a pandemic season that easily could’ve messed with his body’s sense of a normal workload. Yeah, that last one is going to be an excuse for all players this year, but that’s why we talked about it so much back in February and March – because it’s real! The good news is that, for the vast majority of Hendricks’ starts this year, he’s been his great, usual self. It’s just that he’s had a handful of outings where he has gotten absolutely destroyed, and it’s crushed his overall numbers. For three months in the middle of the season, Hendricks was fantastic. The bookends, however, have included those bomb-out starts. Maybe it was the new baseball at the beginning, and now maybe it’s the other stuff. Maybe. But I think, because of the thin margins for error in his game and the aging, you have to at least be a little concerned.

•   On a happier note from yesterday’s game, that was a perfect debut for Alfonso Rivas. Not that the first baseman’s results were perfect, although they were great – I mean that it was a pretty perfect representation of his game. Single up the middle on a hard grounder, slapped a double down the line in left, drove a would-be double to the gap in left center (caught). He is always hunting for barrel-able balls (even if on the first pitch, as was the case for his first hit), he’s not going to hit for a ton of power, he’s going to be able to slap line drives all over the field, and he’s going to work great at bats.

•   As he put it after the game (Cubs.com): “That’s kind of been my game – be a hitter first, rather than just start launching balls. That’s something I take pride in. I’m really focused on every pitch – strike zone discipline and all that stuff.” There are great qualities there, but it’s also why there are questions about how the production will translate at the big league level. It’s not hard to imagine that the style and approach translate to a guy who can do in the big leagues what he has done in the minors – hit for a high average, take a ton of walks, rarely strike out, and post a very playable .285/.385/.400 slash line. It’s also not hard to imagine the better pitching and defense cutting into the average and the walk rate, and then the lack of power starts to become a bigger problem, especially for a first baseman who can maybe chip in a little in the corner outfield spots. It’s a tweener profile – you’ve gotta REALLY hit at a crazy line drive clip to make it work – but it’s definitely intriguing, and I’m very glad the Cubs just went ahead and called him up, getting that 40-man/Rule 5 decision out of the way.

•   The Cubs’ only run yesterday came on a Frank Schwindel homer, by the way, so you can start thinking about a Schwivas platoon next year, right?

•   I don’t entirely kid about that, either. With Anthony Rizzo parked there and doing so well for so long, the Cubs haven’t really been in this spot for quite a while – the spot where you can kind find these tweener guys to give a shot at first base. Guys where everyone already kinda knows they can provide offensive value in some way, but they can’t realistically contribute at any other spot. There are ALWAYS guys out there like that, and I think we kinda forgot about it because Rizzo was (rightly) locked in for nearly a decade. Don’t miss me: I’m not saying Schwivas could provide the same overall value as Rizzo did at his peak. But could Schwivas PLUS whatever player the Cubs brought in with the saved payroll space? Yeah, maybe. Just keep an open mind.

•   Meanwhile, the big league debut for reliever Scott Effross didn’t go quite as well yesterday. The sidearming righty, who earned this opportunity by completely reinventing his delivery a couple years ago and then grinding before dominating in the upper minors, just looked off. David Ross referenced “nerves” after the game, and that’s certainly what it looked like. A little over-throwing, a little extra wildness, etc. Effross was a guy on whom the Cubs were going to have to make a 40-man/Rule 5 decision, so it makes sense to bring him up and give a look at the big league level (especially against lefties, where he might struggle more). Let’s see how outing two goes, now that he’s got that first one under his belt. You’d love to have a funky arm angle like that available out of your bullpen, but there has to be more.

•   So many debuts:

•   Sergio Alcantara fouled one off of his right ankle yesterday and ultimately left the game. It’s been called a contusion for now, so we’ll see if he hits the IL or if it’s just a day-to-day thing. With David Bote and Nico Hoerner already out, there were more starts available for Alcantara at the moment. It’s been a very mixed year for Alcantara, 25, who raked at Triple-A coming out of the pandemic, but who hasn’t translated that success at the big league level over 162 intermittent PAs with the big Cubs. I suspect Alcantara is on that border of being kept on the 40-man all offseason (will need to dig in more after the season on how/why he wasn’t getting results), but either way, he’s out of minor league options now, so he’d have to make the big league team out of Spring Training or be exposed to waivers. That’ll probably impact the 40-man decision in October/November.

•   Ninja air fryers and blenders, Anker headphones, and more are your Deals of the Day at Amazon. #ad

•   I had to watch it a couple times:

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.