The Cubs’ have had very little to show in their W-L record so far in 2014, in hopes that April will close out gingerly and leave few wounds. A tough schedule could be to blame, but the on field product shows us that the problems lay well beyond the match-ups. The team will surely look to brighter horizons in May.
Much like you, I was displeased when I deduced that the 2014 squad would not be one which would compete on a playoff bound level. However after potentially questioning the rebuild through data analytics, it began showing subtle signs of success under the covers. They’re present and very exciting.
Apr 12, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop
(13) gets a groundout RBI against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
For argument’s sake, I’m certain we can all agree on what the “main goal” of a rebuild is in the modern day MLB – to build a core set of players based on youth, skill, control and affordability through minor league development and selective drafting, who can lead and compliment the skill sets of other “patch” position players (understanding that a team of all Bryce Harper‘s and Mike Trout‘s can realistically never be formed).
With this in mind, we must consider who the Cubs’ ideal candidates are to fill this position. Immediately, both Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro come to mind as the Cubs’ have shown faith in these two players by granting them healthy contracts within the last year.
Lets take a closer look at why Rizzo and Castro in particular are so promising based upon their performances up to yesterday’s date in the last two seasons:
Projected 2014 metrics: .258/.332/.472 – 20.7 K%
April 1st – April 20th, 2013: 62 AB .190/.299/.483, 2 HR – 30.3 K%
April 1st – April 20th, 2014: 59 AB .373/.465/.542, 5 HR – 11.8 K%
Without diving too deeply in to the SABR side of the data, it’s quite obvious the improvement Rizzo has shown when being presented the same situation one year later. You’ll notice a significant drop in K% and improvement in OBP, which indicates a much more refined, mature batting approach. Rizzo had posted four 3+K games in the same time span in 2013, whereas his 2014 K total has yet to even break the sum of those 4 games.
Rizzo is shaking off the “new guy” digs in the batters box and is forcing pitchers to make pitches against him. A refined eye is only the first step towards a powerful, dangerous Rizzo at the dish as his flashes of power and bloated SLG continue to become more common place.
Projected 2014 metrics: .280/.318/.411 – 15.0 K%
April 1st – April 20th, 2013: 66 AB 304/.324/.478, 2 HR – 18.8 K%
April 1st – April 20th, 2014: 67 AB .299/.309/.418, 2 HR – 14.9 K%
Castro’s situation is much more complicated than Rizzo’s as the numbers really don’t show any signs of exponential development. In fact, they actually show Castro regressing slightly except in K%. Castro, being a seasoned MLB player at a young age, is expected to maintain stable production levels and has done so both years. What makes Castro interesting is the way he’s produced these two pieces of data.
Last season, Castro was instructed to take more pitches and make attempts at working counts, which was typically a very un-Castro style of hitting. He relies greatly on his natural ability to be able to square the ball up with the bat, no matter its location. It’s really a blessing and a curse at the same time as making contact with sliders low and away often produce simple groundouts, for example.
Since Renteria has taken control of this team, he’s been allowed to swing more liberally which is conducive to his hitting style. He has in turn been able to naturally fight off more strikes and lower his K% by a great deal, instead of potentially trying to take close strikes and guessing wrong. Castro has maintained his tangible abilities, but now they’re being put to use to also lessen his strikeout totals, which is significantly more beneficial to the team.
Regardless of your beliefs on where the Cubs stand in terms of competitiveness, these two young players are showing tangible growth and development in only one year, most of which is by leaps and bounds. They represent a solid piece of a world series winning core and they continue to improve with time, unlike a lot of significant prospects in the majors today. This season may produce a lot of sorrow and ache, but the better days are coming with every AB and every game these young men play.
Should this trend continue, they should be very interesting to watch come September.