How Sampson Does It, Sparkling Rotation, Learning and Developing, Maddon Miffed, and Other Cubs Bullets

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How Sampson Does It, Sparkling Rotation, Learning and Developing, Maddon Miffed, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

It was one of those mornings where the stuff just built up on me and I had to keep pushing back the Bullets. But here they are for your read during lunch …

  • Adrian Sampson, who’ll start Game 2 of today’s double-header (after prospect Javier Assad, more on him here), just keeps on producing this season, despite not having the kind of track record that would leave you comfortable that this was “real.” It’s just not common that 30-year-old pitchers without impressive results or peripherals throughout the minor leagues (or Korea!) suddenly start posting really solid big league numbers for more than a few weeks. Yet Sampson is doing that, and when you watch him, he looks really capable. Not a stud, necessarily, but he looks like the results he’s getting: a solid 5-ish inning starting pitcher who doesn’t let himself get blown up thanks to a diverse pitch mix that is well-commanded. It’s average stuff, at best, but that plays if you’ve got a lot of it and can put it where you want.
  • What I’ve been waiting for this whole time was an indication that something fundamentally changed with Sampson from last year (his first in the Cubs org) into this year, which could (1) explain his improved results, and (2) provide some comfort that it could continue for a little while. Well, thank you, Sahadev Sharma, because he shared this at The Athletic: it turns out Sampson and the Cubs started a process of re-working his entire arsenal last year when he first arrived in the organization. Some grips were ditched, some pitches were added, some were scrapped, etc. It was hard to tell from the outside because it was a longer-term process, and because we can’t really “see” pitch grip changes.
  • The whole article is a great read on not only Sampson but on the process of making these kinds of changes at the margins for a guy who was always soooo close to being a serviceable big leaguer. If you can slightly improve six things, then suddenly a guy who might stall out at Triple-A can succeed in the big leagues. And then when THAT stuff is locked in, you can start doing the extra little stuff that helps you stay in the big leagues:

“When you know (your strengths) and you know what you can work on, you can start making minor tweaks,” Hottovy said. “If I want to go up and away to a lefty, can I throw my four-seamer that has a little more tail or a little more carry? If I’m going away to a righty, can I have a little more cut-carry? That’s tough to do and it may not look like big adjustments, but if you can make minor things and make the ball do that little extra bit at the end against a hitter, it helps it play.”

How is Sampson able to execute these slightly different movement profiles on what amounts to the same pitch, according to the data?

“It’s mindset, finger pressure, how I grip the ball,” Sampson said. “Everything is a little different with where I want to go with the ball.”

And because Sampson is able to take in so much information and utilize it so well, he can, as Hottovy called it, “start adding on layers.”

“Now I know what my strengths are, but how can I play that against each hitter?” Hottovy said. “How can I start to match that fastball to each hitter based on the information I’m looking at? Some of that information can be overwhelming and we always want our guys to trust what they do well. Guys like Sampson who have the strength to execute fastballs to all four quadrants, that information is really helpful because he can use it to his advantage.”

  • Instantly, I am more confident that Sampson could remain a capable big league pitcher for several more years, if he stays in good health. To be sure, that doesn’t mean he WILL continue to have big league success; it means only that now I can better see that what he’s been doing is probably “real.” And more tangibly, it makes me think there is no 40-man decision to make on him: he’s older, yes, but he’s got minor league options left, and the Cubs will need depth starters and swing-men next year, even if that’s what Sampson winds up being on a good team (he could be a heckuva good one!). Just a great, great read from Sharma.
  • Speaking of Sampson’s success, the Chicago Cubs have one of the best starting rotations in baseball confirmed:
  • Although this is mostly teammates just being good and kind to each other, there’s a kernel of a reminder in here that veteran pitchers can have a direct impact on the development of emerging pitchers:
  • Speaking of which, here’s Kyle Hendricks talking about how pitching development has improved so much in the Cubs’ system (Cubs.com): “It’s been awesome to see kind of the turnaround there. The value in that can’t be overstated, just being able to home grow your guys, bring them up. And the [comfort] factor they have of knowing the organization, knowing the people they’re coming up with, I think that’s a huge part of it. But it just speaks volumes to the [player development and scouting] people we’ve brought in, the people at the top, and identifying these guys that we’re going to be able to develop. The whole system behind the pitching really has taken a 180, and it’s just super cool to watch.”
  • And speaking of which, Tommy Hottovy dropping something I kind of forgot about in the context of the Cubs having so much emerging pitching talent this offseason:
  • The lockout! It would have been even worse timing if it were this offseason instead of last, given how much of the Cubs’ important 40-man talent is in such key developmental phases. That comment obviously came in the context of Adbert Alzolay, who pitched in Arizona last night, but it’s applicable to every young pitcher on the 40-man (positional guys, too, obviously).
  • Speaking of guys who’ll be on the 40-man come the offseason, and with whom the Cubs wouldn’t have been able to work in another lockout situation, Brennen Davis is back in South Bend to continue his rehab tour:
  • Still waiting to see today if Davis to South Bend and Alexander Canario to Iowa means a South Bend outfielder is getting the bump to Tennessee. Stay tuned.
  • In the meantime, Greg Deichmann no longer appears on the Iowa Cubs roster, so he must’ve been the outfielder bumped for Canario.
  • Please, please, please wind up being correct about this being no big deal:
  • Cubs clearance:
  • Honestly, I assumed Yadi Molina would talk around bailing on his team, but at least he just laid it all out – his basketball team’s championship was more important than being with his long-time baseball team in August of their divisional race:
  • Old friend Joe Maddon spoke about his exit from the Angels, where he’d originally made his bones, but was unceremoniously dumped earlier this year after one long losing streak (TB Times): “It’s like, once that happened, I dissolved my affiliation with them,” Maddon said. “There’s no emotion anymore. There’s no anything. It’s like to me they don’t even exist, organizationally …. The infrastructure needs to be improved. There’s a lot of things that need to be improved there. [Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani] can’t do it alone, obviously. It’s the non-sexy stuff that has to get better. It’s not just bright, shiny objects — they have that. They need to do the infrastructure better in order to get to where we had been in the past. That was my goal, to get the Angels back to where we had been in the past. That was it. Nothing but pure intentions. I was an Angel. They had every ounce of me. And now that’s done.”
  • Maddon went on to decry the evolution of the “middle manager,” who doesn’t actually get to make many decisions, since everything is already decided for him in advance by the front office:

“It’s at the point where some GM should really just put a uniform on and go down to the dugout, or their main analytical membrane, he should go down to the dugout,” he said.

“That’s something that should be done. Because they try to work this middle man kind of a thing. And what happens is when the performance isn’t what they think it should be, it’s never about the acquisitional process. It’s always about the inability of coaches and managers to get the best out of a player. And that’s where this tremendous disconnect is formed.”

  • I would expect Maddon is mostly talking about his most recent stop in Anaheim, but it’s not as if there wasn’t some beef on the way out the door with the Cubs. He was and is one of the best managers of this era, but the fit was strained with the Cubs by the end, and I’m not sure anyone could’ve succeeded with the Angels of the last few years, given the rest of the organization.


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.