February 24, 2019


Last season, Joe Maddon used 152 different line ups.

He used to text his players the night before the game what the line up would be.

This year, he says he will change this routine. He will now text line ups for the entire series. But this does not mean the Cubs are changing to a set, regular line up.

Yahoo Sports writes that that is not going to happen. Maddon doesn't want a stable lineup with 7-8 regulars playing every day. Theo Epstein doesn't want it. Jed Hoyer doesn't want it. The "Geek Squad" doesn't recommend it. And the roster doesn't allow for it. In theory.

If the Cubs have a 3-game set beginning on a Monday night in boring ole St. Louis, for example, Maddon or new bench coach Mark Loretta plan to text players on that Sunday night to let them know what the projected lineups would be for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The whole "set lineup" narrative got a lot of traction last year as an ill-informed potential reason for why the Cubs lineup may have struggled or why some young players took a step back. It picked up steam the day after the Cubs were stunned in that National League Wild-Card game. Some players have quietly complained to management that they do not like the day to day uncertainty of the line up.

"Part of it is developmental, part of it is match up. Some of it's trying to put you in a situation to make you look better. It takes time for young players to understand it. I think veterans get that a little bit better. Even though a veteran might want to play more often, he understands his role may be in this and it might be the best thing for him. It just takes time," Maddon said.

Part of the problem is that Maddon likes a roster with players playing multiple positions. This gives him more flexibility to find better hitter match ups. But playing multiple players out of their natural position does hurt their defensive metrics. Last season the Cubs took a large set back in the team's overall defense.

Also, the Cubs still do not have a traditional lead off hitter who can get on base for the run producers in the second, third and clean up spots. Stat gurus now quibble with the notion of the old school lead off hitter being important in line up construction, but baserunners are still key in even a home run centric era.  

Players are creatures of habit. If they know they are going to bat second every time they play in the field, it is one less thing to worry about. But Maddon has his players batting anywhere from lead off to 9th. 

The Cubs do have fielders that deserve a regular, everyday spot in a set line up: Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, Baez and possibly Zobrist (if Russell does not make the club). The rest of the line up can be in a regular platoon situation.

For example:

1. ______________
2. Bryant 3B
3. Rizzo 1B
4. Baez SS/2B
5. Contreras C
6. ______________
7. ______________
8. ______________

If Russell stays, he is a shortstop batting near #8, possibly sharing time with Bote.
Happ and Almora could platoon in CF.
Heyward, depending on his start, would be in RF platooning with Zobrist or even Bryant.
Schwarber has LF to lose, but he could platoon with Happ and Zobrist as well.

But you can set a "regular" portion of the line up (two through five) quite easily, but Maddon is stubborn in his ways.

February 23, 2019


Major League Baseball has formally announced the implementation of a 20-second pitch clock to be tested during Spring Training games. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported minutes prior to the announcement that it’d be made today. Per the league’s announcement, there has been no decision made regarding the potential implementation of the pitch clock during the upcoming regular season, though Passan tweeted that there is a “very real possibility” of that happening.

Early in Spring Training, as players adjust to the latest pace-of-play tactic put in place by commissioner Rob Manfred, there will not be any ball or strike penalties for pitch-clock violations. By the second week of games, umpires will begin to issue warnings, and eventually, umps “will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.”

Notably, the pitch clock comes with numerous restrictions. It does not apply to the first pitch of a plate appearance, and the pitcher need only start his motion before the clock expires rather than deliver the actual pitch. Hitters will be required to be in the batter’s box by the time there are five seconds remaining on the clock, and the clock will reset when the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher.

On pickoff plays, the clock will reset when the pitcher once again receives the ball from the infielder to whom he threw. The clock will also reset if pitchers feint a pickoff motion or step off the rubber with a runner on base. Mound visits will also cause the clock to reset. If an umpire calls or grants time, the pitch clock will not be used on the following pitch (unless time was called to swap out a ball thrown in the dirt).

Manfred has the ability to unilaterally implement the pitch clock for the 2019 regular season even if he does not come to an agreement on its implementation with the players’ union. However, Passan notes — as does today’s release announcing the clock — that the league will continue to negotiate with the players in search of an agreement on the matter.

>>> I have real problems with the proposed pitch clock.

1. It does not speed up the game because the biggest waste of time is the batter getting out of the batter's box, adjusting and re-setting. By giving the  batter 15 seconds and the pitcher then only 5 seconds to start his delivery is nonsense because the catcher can't relay the signs in hurry with 5 seconds to go.

2. Pitchers can beat the clock by stepping off the rubber when a man is on base. That will become a common strategy which adds time to the game.

3. If an umpire calls time (like they have been conditioned since the beginning of time), the pitch clock is not used on the next pitch. This is a glaring inconsistency within the rule itself. It then rewards slower play.

4. The idea of an artificial ball or strike because a pitch was not made is a mockery to the essence of the game.

5. The rule is too complex and will be ripe for abuse by batters and umpires.

If the Commissioner really wants to speed up the game, have the ball live whenever the pitcher has it in his possession. That means he can throw it if the hitter is out of the batter's box adjusting his equipment. Mark Buerhle used to throw consistent 2 1/2 hour games because he got the ball and threw it in a rhythm that the batter had to adjust to.

February 22, 2019


The Cubs bumping up to the luxury tax threshold which Ownership refuses to surpass, the Cubs have to go to battle with the guys they have under contract.

The lack of flexibility and the vacuum of AAA talent has painted the Cubs front office into a corner.

How trapped are they?

This year, very.

Next year?

The following contracts are set to fall off the books for 2020:

Hamels SP $20 million
Zobrist IN $12 million
Chisek RP $6.5 million
Kintzler RP $5 million

A total of $43.5 million will be freed up next season.

Is that a lot?

Probably not.

If you add in the exit of Joe Maddon's $6 million salary, the net figure probably goes up to $48.5 million.

The problem is that the Cubs have been in a cycle of constantly rebuilding their pitching staff because the Epstein-McLeod scouting machine has failed to draft and develop a quality starting pitcher. They don't have the pitching prospects to make veteran trades so they continually have to overpay for relief pitchers. This off-season the Cubs had to lurk around the discount bin to land Brach.With Morrow's return uncertain, there seems to be the likelihood of a closer-by-committee bullpen.

February 19, 2019


To be objective, the Cubs stumbled into spring training.  The off-season story lines were less baseball and more "sand in the ice cream" moments for fans.

After months of educated speculation, Tom Ricketts finally admitted that the Cubs had no money to spend this off-season. As some critics retorted, he really meant to say he had the money but would not spend it. His answer lacked credibility. Ownership set a hard line payroll and operations budget. Theo Epstein could not knock down that wall. From one calculation, Epstein has booked $376 million in unproductive contracts. That was the knock that got him booted in Boston, bad dead money deals (Crawford, Gonzalez, etc.) The one thing die hard fans, who know the championship window is short, is that your team cannot spend any money to fix last season's problems.

Another family stumble and subsequent bumble was Daddy Ricketts racist emails. A baseball business that prides itself on being inclusive (because everybody's money is green) was extremely slow to address the Joe Ricketts story. And when Tom Ricketts addressed the media, he came off defending his father's tactless posts than appeasing the public's negative reaction to the story.

Piling on to the narrative was the fact that the Cubs have partnered with the most right wing extremist media company, Sinclair, to launch the new Cubs network. There is a partial "guilt by association" splatter when the new cable channel was announced by the business operations folks like Crane Kenney. But Kenney came off clueless with the changing dynamics of cable and entertainment distribution. He is still following the failed Dodger model. Yes, the team got its money but the cable partner got burned at the stake. Other cable operators in LA refused to pay the carriage fees for a Dodgers only channel. So, less than half of the coverage area can see Dodger games. And that number is shrinking because people are revolting from high cable bills (mostly unwanted sports add-ons) by cord cutting.

Besides the political incorrectness with Sinclair, the "sales pitch" of the new regional sports channel was a thud. An introductory rate of "only" $6 per month per subscriber was received as a greedy slap in the face. Lost on the Cubs is that their former home, Comcast, is the largest cable provider in the metro area. Comcast could probably say it will not carry the new Cubs network because it has its own sports channel (featuring White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks). Comcast is not going to push away its current subscribers to a $100/month cable bill just for the Cubs sake.

It is possible that the revenue projections and "investment" outside the baseball team have come to haunt the Ricketts. They bought the team with the largest debt in baseball history. That has to be coming due. They over built around Wrigley Field. They are pushing premium prices for everything around and inside the ball park. It is pushing our the casual fan and families. If the new network was going to be the revenue savior, that will not be the case. The Cubs will have build their own broadcast studios, invest in new programs to cover the 24 hours of time to fill, and to find advertisers who have bolted from TV and cable for internet platforms (Google and Facebook).

Then finally, the Addison Russell long over due press conference came off as an over-coached, lawyered-up, one memorized answer fail. Veteran beat reporters came away scratching their heads. Russell did not appear contrite. He did not sound sincere. His delivery was robotic and terrible. And he refused to admit even the basic allegations. Those who were critical of his behavior believed they had confirmed the worst. Many blame the Cubs for giving Russell a second chance when you are selling the Cubs as "family friendly" entertainment. But Russell is one of "Theo's guys," so management is going out of its way to protect their player, even though Russell has been trending down in production the past two years.

As spring training opened, there was little baseball buzz in Cubs camp as the non-baseball issues dominate the media and sports radio. And the Cubs PR machine broke down and did not handle any of them well.

February 15, 2019


League executives think that they must continually tinker with their sports rules in order to make their product "better."

The NFL went through several seasons tinkering with what constitutes "a catch" to the dismay of most fans.

Baseball has caught the tinkering bug. 

The trial balloons floated this off-season could fill a New Mexico sky.

PITCH CLOCK.  MLB wants to speed up games from 3.5 hours to a more manageable 3 hours or less. The reason is TV. TV wants clear start and stop times for their program blocks. They don't like 4 hour games. Since the action starts on the mound, MLB thinks that putting a pitcher on a 20 second pitch clock would speed up the game. But there is no cause and effect between the time a pitcher receives the ball on the mound on whether the throw will be a strike, ball or hit into play.

The real problem in dragging down the sequence is in the batter's box. After every pitch, a batter gets out of the box to adjust his armor, re-digs a foot hole, and makes several practice swings. A more feasible solution already exists; once a batter gets into the box, the ball is live. The batter should stay in the box for the entire at bat (with the exception of being knocked down). If a batter takes 15 seconds to reset after every pitch, and there are 250 pitches a game, in theory you could save an hour.

BAN THE SHIFT. MLB wants more offense, which means more balls in play. The big data stat gurus can plot the tendencies of every hitter and make comparison predictions on every type of pitch and pitcher. Teams employ the shift in order position the defense where the ball is most likely to be hit. Hitters complain that three fielders on one side makes it unfair, especially if one is in short right field.

But the solution is simple: learn to hit the ball where they ain't. If three players are on one side of the infield, there is a huge hole on the other side. Learn to hit the ball to the opposite field. Bunt for a single. There are many strategic alternatives an offense can employ to negate the shift. But hitters don't think they will get paid for drag bunts or measly singles. They are taught launch angles, hard contact and home run swings.  They have not adapted to the new defensive alignments.

EXTRA INNINGS. MLB wants to end games quicker. It believes extra innings are boring and harmful to bullpens. So the idea is to drastically alter the fundamentals of the game by placing a runner at second base, in scoring position, for each extra inning. Why "gift" a runner in scoring position? Does that make the runner who scores "unearned?"

Other leagues have adopted quick finish overtimes. Th NFL has its strange rule where one team can win the game after the OT coin toss. Hockey adds a short extra period with less skaters, and if that does not work, a shoot-out. Soccer uses the shoot out only after another full period of regular play.

Baseball has always been a timeless game of innings. Only players, not rules, can manufacture scoring on the field. A problem with hitting philosophy today is that managers do not make their players manufacture runs (get a walk or bunt single, steal a base, perform a sacrifice fly) because those aspects of the game do not help an individual player's WAR or contract value. If a team wants to win a close game, you put pressure on the defense by manufacturing a winning run.

THREE BATTER RULE. MLB is fed up with the bullpen specialist. Managers are using one relief pitcher for one batter, then making multiple pitching changes in one inning. It seems like the strategy makes the game drag on. But the manager is paid to win games, and he has to use his roster to get his players the best opportunity to succeed. By forcing a pitcher to throw to at least 3 batters would actually artificially increase the change of injury to bullpen arms (not protecting valuable arms because specialization is now normal with 13 man bullpens).

The obvious way to lessen the impact of bullpen use is to get one's starters to pitch deeper into games. The large bullpens makes it easier to pull a starter in the 4th inning instead of the expected 7th or 8th inning performance. Also, if you want to make the strategy to use pitchers longer in games, mandate that teams can only have 11 pitchers on their staff (5 starters and 6 relievers). Bullpens would then have to be assembled with different roles from closer (1 IP) to set up men (1-2 IP) to real middle relievers (2-3 IP).

For every proposed rule, there is something already in the game to solve the alleged problem.  More rules equate to more confusion.

February 8, 2019


The Great Failure of Team Theo is the lack of development of one starting pitcher.

The Tribune's Mark Gonzalez finds that this is a troublesome development, especially when Theo's Plan B, buy pitching, has hit a fiscal brick wall. The Cubs traded one of the few pitching prospects, Dylan Cease, to the White Sox (with star OF prospect Eloy Jimenez) for Jose Quintana, a quality starter for a team in the position to win now.

Cease was still in low Class A at the time — two full seasons after returning from surgery.

The Cubs have been open about their failure to develop a deep pool of homegrown pitchers despite an abundance of candidates, and they have vowed to push those pitchers harder than in the past.

“We have to re-evaluate what we’ve been doing because it hasn’t been working,” Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of scouting and player development, said last month at the Cubs Convention. “It’s really that — looking at ourselves and looking at some of the things we can do to change that.”

Given the age and cost of their projected 2019 rotation, the Cubs have an urgent need to develop young starting pitchers. Cole Hamels (age 35), John Lester (35) and  Yu Darvish (32) will earn $62.5 million in base salaries, with Hamels scheduled to be a free agent after this season and Lester after 2020 unless he meets certain innings benchmarks.

Cease, one of seven pitchers selected by the Cubs in the first 10 rounds of the 2014 draft, isn’t the only pitching prospect the Cubs have traded for veteran help. They dealt 2013 10th-round pick Zack Godley to land catcher Miguel Montero in 2014. And they traded 2012 supplemental first-round pick Paul Blackburn in a deal for Mike Montgomery in 2016. The result has been a reliance on the free-agent and trade markets to fill out their rotation at a high cost. None of those pitchers have set the league on fire.

We have expressed frustration in the past as half of the draft classes were used on pitching prospects.
The irony is that the Cubs scouting department and minor league coaches are good at drafting and signing hitters as the roster is full of home grown talent. The best prospects are still in Class A, a long way from showing any major league potential.

Some teams seem to have a higher level of competence than others. The White Sox have a ton of quality starting pitchers in their minor league system. Their problem is that they cannot draft and develop hitters (especially under the Kenny Williams GM days).

The only way the Cubs can change this major sink hole is to hire the best pitching development coordinators from a proven major league organization. But that is easier said than done.

February 6, 2019


For the past week, team equipment trucks have been motoring to Arizona and Florida. Spring training begins in about a week.

But about half of the Top 50 free agents remain unsigned. And the prospects of mega-deal long term contracts are fading fast.

The new free agent dogma is actually the renewal of the old ownership system. Way back, teams used to be owned by individuals or families. The baseball club was their sole business. They operated it like a mom and pop store. If they could get by cutting corners (player salaries) to make a profit, they made a profit first.

Small market clubs still operate under that guide line. Low attendance, small fan base, and lower local television deals means these clubs are under financial pressure against signing a player to a large contract. But under the CBA and baseball rules, all the small market teams have enhanced revenue sharing from the league, and extra draft picks to acquire "cheap" young talent to remain "competitive."

General managers now covet draft picks because they can retain a player for six years (three in arbitration) at a relative small cost. The farm system is now the most important aspect of the operations. If you can draft and develop talent consistently, your team can be frugal, competitive and profitable.

In order to do so, teams now "tank" more often to obtain higher "can't miss" prospects. It is okay to tank if you have very little fans to complain (see, Marlins.)

You have now about one-third (1/3) of MLB clubs at the bottom in salary budgets, many whom have little desire but to tank to acquire top ten draft picks.

You have the top four spenders, big market clubs, who are at the luxury cap limit of $206 million. These previously annual big spenders do not want to go over the salary cap because of the financial and draft penalties. To take on a salary like Harper's $30 million/year $300 million total, it could cost a team over the cap as much as another $300 million in penalties over that ten year period. To avoid that, the team would have to off-set or cut $30 million a year for the duration of the contract (which some GMs would classify as three veteran players or four quality relief pitchers in value.)

The rest of the clubs position themselves to spend $100 to $150 million per year. If their division is weak, like the AL Central, they could be in contention most of the season (thus validating their "plan" to their fans). Fair weather fans might return so everybody is happy. But with an average starting pitcher making $10 million, a team could have almost one-third of their payroll in a rotation. That leaves an average salary of $4 million for every other player on the roster. That is why prospects being paid the league minimum ($555,000) are so important as they free up money to sign or retain veteran players (second tier).

Player agents may be late to recognize this new paradigm being the old system before steroid fueled free agency. Teams now have the MBAs, computer geeks and stat analysts crunching big data to find that players over 30 in the non-steroid era are not as valuable or productive going forward. So many teams have been burned by long term, dead money contracts to be gun-shy about signing another player demanding even more money.

It seems that Harper's foray (or folly) into free agent basically ended when he rejected the Nationals pre-free agency extension of $300 million/30 years. Machado has not formally rejected the White Sox $175 million offer, but it seems no one else has topped it. The Phils said they would spend "stupid money," and if that was the case Harper and/or Machado would have had last month a press conference in Philadelphia. Agents must be frustrated by the "take it or leave it" offers from teams (who are giving their best contract first without being pushed and pulled by other teams or the agent.) Free agency is no longer a live auction between teams. It is more like a Priceline value search.