The Cubs have work to do, to be sure, but Joe Maddon's arrival is the clearest sign yet that the next era is here.
Any hopes for a surprise run from the 2014 Cubs didn’t last long. By May, most were already counting down to the inevitable moment that Jeff Samardzija would be moved. However, after the annual trade deadline dump, an event that in previous years had led to a sinking feeling, the atmosphere around the team surprisingly got more optimistic.
Chicago brought up multiple highly regarded prospects over the final few months of the season (Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kyle Hendricks), and, regardless of how they performed, people who had been hearing so much about these players over the previous few summers finally got to see them in the flesh. Add in that Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, and a few arms in the bullpen all proved to be major contributors at the big-league level and it’s understandable that doubters were suddenly starting to buy into the turnaround that’s actually been going rather swimmingly (if a little slower than some might have wanted) since Theo Epstein and company came aboard.
Players respond to adversity differently under different managers. We brought numbers.
When Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays two weeks ago, there were immediately rumors that he would be joining up with all of the other 29 teams. (Yesterday, we found out that one of those rumors was true. He’s taking his talents and his back pocket card which drips with analytics to the North Side.) The rumors were understandable. After all, Joe Maddon is a certified genius. He’s gotta be better than that bum in our dugout. (Yes, Joe Maddon is a really smart guy, but so are the other 29 managers. All of them. Yes… even him.)
Andrew Friedman might be the most revered executive in the game--Billy Beane included--and the richest team in baseball just hired him.
On the one hand, Andrew Friedman is one of the only executives with a book written about him—or, at least, a book read by more than the author’s closest friends and relatives. On that hand, he runs a team that, when it succeeds, is largely credited to his genius (and the genius of his front office). On that hand, his Rays have been experimental and at the vanguard of various “trends”—at various times shifting, locking up pre-arb players ever earlier, building around defense, resisting multi-year contracts to relievers, or giving what figuratively seem like literally millions of at-bats to Jose Molina—that have become routine, even over-fished, around the league years later. We tend to see his Rays as the first clinical trial for the strategies that will soon be ubiquitous, so we pay a ton of attention to him. Because of all this, we know a lot about Andrew Friedman, who the Dodgers just poached to be president of baseball operations.
On the other, he has run perhaps the most opaque organization in the game. I once heard about a former Rays intern who was applying for another job. Standard industry practice in this situation is to pump the applicant for information about what his old team was doing, the research, the secrets. Heck, some of the time this fact-finding might be the only reason the interview is even taking place. But this intern wouldn’t budge. Again and again, he told the team that he was interviewing with, the team he was trying to impress, that, well, shoot, he’d love to, but he just couldn’t, not with his non-disclosure agreement, not when we’re talking about the Rays. The Rays were a black box. Their local media, for the most part, never got the Rays, and the Rays never gave them much to get. We know, in some ways, very little about Andrew Friedman.
How have the Rays outfielder's opponents shifted against him with the bunt in mind?
At the end of May, I introduced the idea that some teams were going from playing nearly straightaway to using a full overshift once the count went to two strikes against certain pull-heavy lefties whom they deemed threats to bunt. The idea was that teams would probably prefer to implement a full overshift earlier in the count, but were hindered by the hitter’s ability to bunt for a base hit. This was inspired by the Orioles using a two-strike overshift numerous times against Michael Bourn, and the Pirates doing it a couple of times against both Denard Span and Danny Espinosa.
Judging by research Baseball Prospectus published in January, we know what internet commenters are willing to trade for David Price: not much, because that’s what many of them think it would take to get a deal done. Of course, it’s much easier to mock the uninformed, biased evaluations that lead to proposals like “Price for Ivan Nova and Zoilo Almonte” than it is to put together a package that might make professional trade partners perk up. As BP commenter mblthd quite reasonably observed at the time: