Chicago Cubs: Joe Maddon’s handling of players setting the tone


Maddon handling players with tough love, getting the desired results

The removal of Hector Rondon from the closer role. The benching of Starlin Castro. Pulling Jason Hammel early in his last two starts. The Chicago CubsJoe Maddon hasn’t followed the playbook of past Cubs’ skippers. And for good reason, that playbook didn’t work. There was a time when people questioned hitting the pitcher eighth. You don’t hear much about that anymore. 

When Maddon made the decision to take Rondon out of the closer role, there was no defined “plan B”. But while Maddon is three-quarters analytical, he still uses his gut. He sees the bigger picture and makes the tough choices that some managers may shy away from. The Rondon situation? Hector responded by pitching lights out and earning the job back. Was that the original intent of Maddon? Probably not, but it worked.

When the Cubs were “without a closer”, many began to question the chances of the team moving forward. Many felt that a bullpen by committee wouldn’t work. Well, it did. Rondon, Pedro Strop and Jason Motte have moved around in their roles–none of them ever complaining–and the Cubs incredible run continues.

Castro’s play has been nothing like that of the three-time All-Star he’s been, and the Addison Russell move to shortstop was a foregone conclusion. But I’m not sure many of us expected him to be benched. Traded? Yes. But not sat by Maddon. Was Castro upset? Yes. How did he respond? By making a spectacular play on a foul ball in his first game at second base, then going 3-for-4 in his first start at second base against the crosstown rival White Sox. Again, was this part of a plan that none of us could see coming?

More and more I’m beginning to wonder.

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Hammel was clearly upset with being pulled early from two straight starts, each time with relatively low pitch counts. Maddon and Hammel talked after the first time–no conversation was had after the recent early hook. His starts haven’t been terrible, but since the hamstring issue he hasn’t looked as sharp. He very well could have pitched out of trouble in each of those starts. But Maddon isn’t here to coddle players. He’s here to help the Cubs win.

That doesn’t mean in any way that Maddon is being disrespectful to his players. On the contrary, he seems to be building them back up after their struggles. It seems to have worked with Rondon. Early returns on Castro look good. The Hammel saga can only play out every fifth day, so we will see.

For many years, the Cubs would run the same players out there day in, day out. Regardless of the results. Maddon has shown no fear in changing things up, and as you can see by the current eight-game winning streak it’s working perfectly. He’s shown a knack for understanding the psyche of a player while helping cultivate growth in sometimes unorthodox ways.

Maddon said from the start he wanted to change the culture of the Cubs.

Mission accomplished. In Joe We Trust.

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