Alzolay Channeling Darvish, Leiter as a "Lefty," Bellinger's Realistic Great Outcome, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Alzolay Channeling Darvish, Leiter as a “Lefty,” Bellinger’s Realistic Great Outcome, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

I get really affected by the rapid changes in weather/pressure – I feel it badly in my sinuses – so this time of year, where you’re constantly yo-yo’ing, is particularly brutal. Sinus headaches aplenty. Got that pressure going today, and it is very annoying.

  • This is great to read: Adbert Alzolay has already become something of a mentor to younger pitching prospects in camp. It’s what he learned by watching veterans around him – not only getting down your routines, but also specifics like working with grips (via the Sun-Times):

“He’s telling me what he learned from Yu Darvish years ago,” said (Ben) Brown, the Cubs’ No. 7 prospect, “and now he’s passing that knowledge on to me and the younger guys who are here. He’s been awesome. Adbert’s been a really great teammate and really great to get to know.”

Alzolay remembers how much the veterans helped him as a prospect. Any question he had he’d bring to Kyle Hendricks. And in big-league camp in 2018 and 2019, Alzolay made it his mission to observe the routines of pitchers who had been around longer than him. Talking with Darvish, known for throwing almost a dozen different pitches, changed the way Alzolay thinks about pitching.

“Darvish would tell me all the time, don’t get used to throwing with just one grip,” Alzolay said. “Because he’s like, ‘Every day it’s not gonna be working the same. So, if you’re playing catch, you’re feeling good with a ball in your hands, try to spin the ball, do this, do that.’ ”

  • Yu Darvish, still contributing to the Cubs. Keep passing down that wisdom, gentlemen. And, hey, if Alzolay wants to develop seven or eight usable pitches, even in relief, that’d be just fine! (I kid, but it’s funny to think about how many different things he’s worked on the last few years: four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, slider, slow curve, spike curve, changeup, and, yes, he is currently tinkering with a sweeper.)
  • When Mark Leiter Jr. transitioned into the bullpen last year with the Cubs, his performance took off, and he became one of the team’s most reliable relievers. A huge part of that was his success against lefties, which was, in turn, because of his dominating splitter. It turns out it was a pretty stereotypical starter-turned-reliever story, where he and the Cubs agreed that, as a reliever, he could just attack-attack-attack with his best stuff. That meant relying heavily on the splitter. “I used to save it,” Leiter told The Athletic. “As a starting pitcher, I’d only use it with guys on base. Something for when I really needed a strikeout I’d pull it out. I’m pretty sure the numbers would say it was good even in ’17 and ’18. But it was a matter of using it more but also having the right mindset of a reliever. You don’t have to give in, guys are more aggressive. You don’t necessarily have to set guys up, you can just attack them.”
  • Of note for spring camp competition purposes, Leiter’s splitter – a true forkball – is death on lefties (31.9% strikeout rate, 0.82 WHIP, .525 OPS against, as noted by Sahadev Sharma), which could mean that, if the Cubs don’t add another sure-fire lefty here during Spring Training, you might best think of Leiter as part of the in-house “lefty” reliever competition.

Cubs: Cody Bellinger, OF

We’re generally steering away from offseason acquisitions on this list, because, while the sight of them in a new uniform might be interesting, most of them are just getting ready for the season. But forgive us if we read a little extra into Bellinger’s spring performance, just given how unique it was for a recent (and still young) MVP to be non-tendered. We won’t know if Bellinger will make good on his one-year deal, but perhaps we’ll get a window into what changes he and/or the Cubs make to get him back on track.

  • There are other guys whose performance could swing the results for the Cubs just as wildly as Bellinger, and there are plenty you could describe as “interesting.” But given the extremes of his career, the fact that he’s still so young, and now being on a new club, I would find his situation particularly fascinating even if he weren’t on the Cubs.
  • Michael wrote this week about how nice it is to see Bellinger projected around average at the plate this year by ZiPS (which would make him plenty valuable for the Cubs, given the defense in center field), and I wanted to add what the realistic upside looks like: .253/.334/.456/113 OPS+. That’s Bellinger’s 80th percentile outcome projection at ZiPS, which means that it is how the system sees a “very good, but realistic” Bellinger season going. That would obviously be a huge win, and would go a long way toward helping the Cubs surprisingly compete.
  • While I was there, though, I couldn’t help but notice the guys on the Cubs who project for an even better OPS+ (it’s very similar to wRC+) at their 80th percentile level: Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, Patrick Wisdom, Matt Mervis, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Rios, and Christopher Morel (tied). I think you could argue that some of the names being on there actually paints a relatively sour picture for Bellinger, if his 80th percentile outcome is, for example, 10 points of OPS+ lower than Eric Hosmer’s.
  • Stray praise for Justin Steele:
  • Win, win, win, win:
  • You’ll have to head over to Twitter to see the full thread, because it’s very long. But it’s worth the read from Rays reliever Ryan Thompson on the ugly realities of the arbitration process from the player perspective. It’s useful to see exactly how it can go (and why it doesn’t always make a lot of sense):
  • The Mets had an absurdly spendy and active offseason, so don’t mistake this. They did a ton. But I keep seeing how they are one of the “most improved” teams from this offseason, and I’m like … wha? The entire offseason was lateral. Every move was retaining or replacing a guy with an equivalent guy. I don’t get it. And it’s certainly not like I’m criticizing a team for moving laterally from 101 wins(!). I’m just saying that to call them “most improved” is really bizarre. What, are they going to win 110 games?
  • Important Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos is one of the slowest pitchers in baseball, averaging over 25 seconds between pitches with no one on base, and averaging over 30 seconds between pitches with runners on base. He talked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his work to get under the allotted times under the new rules (15 and 20 seconds, respectively), and it sounds like he and the Cardinals are really brushing it off, but it sure seems like it would be a big change to me. I wrote last year about which pitchers could be most impacted by the timer, and thankfully no Cubs pitchers were all that close.

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.