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The pitch lab is great, except when it isn't
Ian Happ's doomed and things are looking up for Pat Hughes and Jay Cutler
If you missed The Pointless Index last week, boy did you miss Internet greatness. You know what? Go back and read it. We’ll wait.
If you haven’t figured out the concept, it’s pretty complicated. Some people, places or things are trending up and some are trending down, and it’s about time somebody kept score.
Ian Happ’s future with the Cubs
Surely, I’ve put Happ in the wrong column, right? After spending much of 2019 in Des Moines, Happ was excellent late in the season with the Cubs hitting .264/.333/.564/.898 and then followed that up with a strong 2020 where he hit .258/.361/.505/.866. He’s also stopped playing centerfield as though he’s trying to follow his own dot on a Google Maps app. He’s only 26. The full-time job in center is his. What could possibly imperil his future with the team?
The Cubs were offering $3.25 million, and Happ wanted $4.1 million. The arbiter sided with Happ and that Garbage Family That Owns the Cubs™ has to pony up just short of a million bucks that they hadn’t planned on.
It was only the fourth arbitration case the Cubs have had since Shawon Dunston won his 1990 case for a whopping $1.25 million. In between, the Cubs had beaten Mark Grace in 1993, Ryan Theriot in 2010 and Justin Grimm in 2018. The Cubs traded Theriot that season and released Grimm before the end of spring training 2018.
Well Ian, it was nice knowing you.
The Cubs Pitch Lab’s Need To Take Credit
For years now we’ve been treated to flowery, overly optimistic features on the nerds and their overpriced Minoltas in the Cubs Pitch Lab. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insisting, or even implying, that the lab can’t unearth some useful stuff. It’s just pretty apparent that the propaganda arm of the Cubs is pretty shameless in claiming that any pitching improvement is due to the pitch lab.
We were told that the lab turned Rowan Wick into a dependable late inning reliever (be nice if they had an oblique injury prevention lab, though), and it turned Brad Wieck’s career around (now might be a good time to remind you that Wieck has pitched 11 innings in two seasons with the Cubs).
Dan Winkler’s improvement during the season last year was credited to the pitch lab as was Craig Kimbrel recovering from a thorough on the mound pants shitting in his first appearance last year. After three appearances in 2020 Kimbrel had an ERA of 32.40. He’d allowed two homers and four walks in just 1.2 innings pitched and opposing hitters were tuning him up at: .444/.643/1.222/1.865. And, to make it even worse, the three teams he’d faced were the less than juggernaut offenses of the Reds, Pirates and Royals.
From that point on, however, Kimbrel struck out 27 hitters in 13.2 innings with a 1.98 ERA and opposing hitters were held to: .130/.273/.174/.447. Is a .174 slugging average against good for a closer? That seems pretty good.
How much of these successes are a result of the tech bros and how much are due to pitchers figuring things out? I don’t know how we’d possibly know. But the Cubs aggressively seek out ways to tell people how great their pitch lab is.
Part of that is that if they can foster a reputation as a place where pitchers can go and “fix” what’s wrong with them, it’ll benefit them in becoming first choice for pitchers in need of a tweak. That can be pretty valuable. Especially since the Cubs haven’t drafted a pitcher worth a shit since Greg Maddux in 1984. Well, maybe they’re due.
But another reason they want to tout their brilliance is that that shit is expensive. It might well just be a Nikon Sure Shot with some stickers on it plugged into an old Betamax, but nobody overpays for anything quite like an early adopter.
Does this seem like a petty complaint? Sure it does. But you can’t ignore that the polo shirts who run the pitch lab have successfully managed to position themselves so that the lab (and them) gets credit for successful Cubs pitchers and avoids any culpability when pitchers flame out.
They hook Dillon Maples up to the machines and tent their khakis when his spin rate makes all the buzzers go off, but when he gets on the mound and can’t hit the catcher or the backstop with a pitch, that’s apparently all on him. And that’s fine. Because in that case they are agreeing that the pitch lab stuff is just a tool, and without a pitcher executing it can’t help him.
But they somehow are seeking herd immunity against that idea.
It’s bullshit, and instead of the media calling them on it, too many of them are far too eager to grab a scoop shovel and help Craig Breslow and his gang of frauds smear that shit all over our news feeds.
I miss the good old days of baseball, when something like offensive improvement was due solely to having a really good weighted bat donut in the on-deck circle.
Tony LaRussa’s White Sox spring debut
Quite a first few days for The Genius. He showed up an hour and a half late for his first press conference and called Covid a “nuisance.” Funny, he managed to get a vaccine for the nuisance before spring training started.
We found out that not only did Jerry Reinsdorf force the LaRussa hire on his general manager Rick Hahn, he decided it would be a good idea to just not tell Hahn that Tony had flunked yet another field sobriety test.
And, LaRussa called Adam Eaton one of his “team leaders.”
Everything’s going great.
Marquee fill-in announces
Because new Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Boog Sciambi has some ESPN duties to fulfill at times during the upcoming season the Cubs are going to need someone to fill in for him from time to time, and last week they revealed three someones who will be picking up the slack.
Chris Myers was no surprise, it’s the role he was going to fill last year before Covid reduced the season by 102 games and Len Kasper’s planned work on Fox national games went poof. The surprise is that Myers isn’t the only fill-in.
Beth Mowins, who has done the NCAA Softball World Series for 20 years, is a regular calling college football and has done NFL games will be the first woman to do play by play on a Cubs’ broadcast.
And, Virgil Patrick Hughes will get a few cracks at doing TV after 25 seasons as the Cubs’ radio voice. That’s pretty cool, as long as you aren’t trapped in your car during those games and forced to listen to Zach Zaidman screaming incoherently into his microphone. Matt Spiegel will do Zach’s regular duties during those games, which include hosting the pre and postgame show, calling play by play of the fifth inning and doing a lot of really loud fake laughing during the rest of the game.
No word yet on whether Marquee’s 2021 innovations will include stool-cam, which would presumably follow Pat into the bathroom for the fifth inning for his “break.” Let’s hope Pat isn’t similarly descriptive in that room as he is when he breaks down both teams uniforms before games right down to their “trousers.”
The Cubs didn’t go into detail about how many games the fill-ins will combine to cover or how many each will get. I think Pat and Beth will both be very good and Myers will give each of his games his trademarked “second worst Fox game on any NFL Sunday” feel.
Speaking of football, CBS announced that dull-as-dirt Rich Gannon is out for 2021 leaving a Jay Cutler sized hole on the network’s number four team right next to Greg Gumbel. Cutler was all set to join Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis on Fox’s third crew in 2017, only to decide to cash $10 million worth of checks from the Dolphins when Ryan Tannehill tore up his knee in the preseason and bug-eyed Adam Gase needed a QB.
Since then Jay’s busied himself hazing his now-ex-wife Kristin Cavallari’s employees at her boutique whatever lifestyle company, and raising and losing chickens.
Jay talked to both Fox and CBS before last season about finally joining the booth, so maybe it’ll happen this time.
Would Jay be any good at it? Probably, but who cares? If it just gave us a few weeks of him mocking Gumbel’s toupee, it’d be worth it. Please make this happen, CBS. The last thing we need is a recycled announcer like James Lofton. So it should be Jay.
Although, if CBS decided they wanted to lure Matt Nagy into retirement for a crack at the job, I wouldn’t stand in the way.
The NBA should not be having an All-Star Game in the middle of a pandemic especially since they gave playoff teams like six days off from the end of last season to the start of this one, but if they are going to have one, Zach LaVine better goddamned well be playing in it.
Our beloved unrepentant chucker, a guy who was a notoriously terrible defensive player even though (and maybe most damningly) he was actually trying to play defense, is now really, really good.
All it took was the Bulls replacing the worst coach in franchise history (I mean, come on, even Ed Badger had a winning record) with a real NBA coach. Oh, and actually, Zach showed a lot of signs last year, even under the mind-numbingly vexing Jim Boylen regime. And, Zach is still only 25 (he turns 26 in March), so the idea that a player that talented, who actually gives a shit, would get good was not insane.
Zach is currently on pace to average more than 28 points, five assists, five rebounds, shoot better than 50% from the field and 40% from three. In NBA history, only Larry Bird and Steph Curry have done that. Is that good? That seems good.
Fernando Tatis’ wallet
The Padres revealed the insane details of Fernando Tatis Jr’s 14-year, $340 million contract. Tatis is one of the three or four best players in the game right now and he’s a ripe, old 22 years of age, so the Padres wanting to lock him up for a long time makes complete sense, and honestly, as crazy as it sounds, short of some kind of tragic injury to Tatis, this contract is completely defensible.
Two things about it, though.
Here’s how the money breaks down per season:
That just smells like the Padres plan is to trade Fernando to the Yankees by 2029 at the latest, doesn’t it?
And second, this is the largest contract anyone whose father once hit two grand slams in one inning off of Chan Ho Park has ever signed. You can look it up.
Over the past three seasons the tiny market Padres have signed Eric Hosmer (a terrible signing at the time and even worse now), Manny Machado and Tatis for a combined $784 million. Tell me again that the Cubs can’t afford to re-sign Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Guys in the best shape of their lives
Spring training is always a time when we hear about how much work players put in, in the offseason (which, you know, is kind of their job) and what terrific shape they’re in and how they’re all due for career years. We got a bonus last week though. Not only are some of the Cubs in the best shapes of their lives, but Sahadev Sharma shared this nugget that was tragically under-reported last fall.
Pretty sure the Alternate Site Pitcher of the Week Award came with a five percent off coupon at participating Mishawaka Subway sandwich shops.