Joe Maddon and the Cubs could take some intriguing strategic paths in the second half.
It's almost the All-Star break, and the Cubs are still broken.
It's the most obnoxious story of the baseball season to date. Everyone has a take. They're suffering from a World Series hangover. Their clubhouse culture is poisonous. They miss Dexter Fowler, they miss David Ross. Their pitchers have just piled up too many innings over the last two years. They can't handle the expectations. Joe Maddon never should have batted Kyle Schwarber leadoff. The front office never should have saddled Maddon with Schwarber as a primary left fielder.
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What would managers and catchers chat about if they had NFL-style headsets?
Last week, it was reported by Teddy Cahill at Baseball America that the American Baseball Coaches Association’s committee on pace of play was considering putting a digital headset in catchers’ helmets, similar to those used by NFL quarterbacks, so coaches could more quickly relay play calls in-game.
Field Marshal Terry Francona vs. Generalissimo Joe Maddon.
Imagine you are Field Marshal Terry Francona, lined up for battle with your 50 divisions behind you. You and your troops have fought well, having just defeated skilled armies from Boston and Toronto. But your nemesis now is Generalissimo Joe Maddon, who has 70 divisions to throw at you. Picture these two armies fighting over seven separate battlefields—first to seize four fields wins. What’s an underdog to do?
Suppose Maddon puts 10 divisions into position for each battle. Francona could mirror his opponent and evenly spread his forces, but he would be outnumbered all along his front. Or, he could do what outnumbered commanders have done for a long time: concentrate his forces selectively.
Breaking down Game 4, which saw the Indians out-play the Cubs and Terry Francona out-manage Joe Maddon.
Game 4 was anything but a managerial chess match at Wrigley Field, as the Indians jumped out to an early lead and broke things open for good in the seventh inning on the way to a 7-2 win that puts the Cubs on the brink of elimination. However, there were no shortage of interesting pregame and midgame decisions on which to chew, including some that could have an impact in Game 5 and, if the Cubs win Sunday, beyond.
In last week’s Lineup Card, I urged the Astros to re-sign Rick Ankiel and test him out again as a pitcher. As I explained, September allows teams to expand their active rosters to 40 men, so experimenting with Ankiel would be less likely to interfere with the “normal operations” of the club. He would also be playing for a team with no postseason hopes. Nothing would be lost for the Astros if he pitched poorly.
Running through the notable quotes of the week that was.
REACTIONS TO EXPANDED INSTANT REPLAY
“I kind of like baseball being pure with the human aspect and the human error of the game. I think the umpires sometimes get undue criticism. There's countless plays every game throughout the year and they may miss probably less than one percent of them. That's pretty good. It seems like the only ones that anybody ever brings up replay with are the ones that are at the end of the game, where they think that's the deciding factor of a ballgame. But there could be a play in the first or second inning that could have directly affected the outcome of the game.”
—Diamondbacks reliever J.J. Putz on MLB’s proposal to expand the use of instant replay in 2014. (Steve Gilbert, MLB.com)
Before we write a post at Baseball Prospectus about a Joe Maddon eccentricity, we always run it through the Joe Maddon Newsworthiness Checklist, adapted from a similar checklist useful to many entertainment reporters. Let's see whether this GIF of Joe Maddon having an actual conversation with a fan in the middle of play during the bottom of the sixth inning of a one-run game Monday applies.
Is Jose Molina a stealth MVP candidate? Ben looks for photographic evidence.
The Tampa Bay Rays were eliminated from playoff contention on October 1st, falling short of their fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, but it wasn’t because of their pitching. The staff’s walk rate fell from 3.1 per nine innings in 2011 to 2.9 in 2012, and its strikeout rate rose from 7.1 strikeouts per inning to 8.5, good enough to set a single-season AL strikeout record. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the same group of pitchers in both seasons, and the strikeout rate rose across the league. But the pitching improvement wasn’t just maturation on the part of the pitchers or another manifestation of the game’s trend toward more strikeouts. There was also a Molina in the machine.
In March, I mentioned the Rays’ Jose Molina signing as one of my favorite moves of the offseason, writing “Molina for $1.5 million (plus an option for 2013 at the same price) might be the best value any team got from the free agent market this winter.” The month before, Max Marchi had summarized Molina’s weaknesses (hitting and blocking) and strengths (framing and throwing) in a piece called “What Are the Rays Expecting from Jose Molina?” LikeMike Fast, Max found that Molina was among the best backstops in baseball at the things he was good at and among the worst where he struggled. But according to Max’s calculations, Molina’s framing skill was so superlative that it made him the best pitch-for-pitch defensive catcher of the past 60 years, which more than made up for his flimsy bat. That’s why the Rays wanted him, and that’s why it looked like they’d gotten a good deal.