About rhackm89

I am a big sports fan, focusing on all 4 major ones. I went to North Central College, graduating in 2015. I have been blogging for about two in a half years and I love it.

The 26th man debate

The new collective bargaining agreement that took effect in December did not touch the idea that the agreement would increase the roster size from 25 to 26 that many thought would be in the deal. League sources said that discussions were underway but the union objected because of service-time implications for September call-ups, but no agreement came about as both sides ran out of time.

The trade-off, still makes sense. Fox Sports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal has argued that the league and union need to revisit this idea partly because an extra man would provide extra depth in an era where player health is a major issue. The roster limit would end baseball’s practice of having a completely different playing field when the postseason chase heats up. The goal is to prevent teams from using all 40 players on a roster in September.

One of the biggest issues with the 26th man is that most teams would fill that spot with a relief pitcher, which would extend games even longer. Any changes would likely come only in conjunction of pace-of-play rules. Service time issues would need to be resolved too.

Under the current system, a player can not be optioned after the minor league season has concluded. Some want a 28 man limit in September and league sources estimate that would give teams almost three weeks to option players, but potential manipulation made the union think again.

Rosenthal concludes by saying that this issue is not easy but not impossible and is worthy of further discussion after the end of the season.

In November, Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci wrote than teams should not be allowed to expand their rosters without limitations on pitcher usage, “it will be the worst thing to happen to the sport since Astroturf and threaten to end the game’s period of record growth.”

Asked if a roster expansion needs a governor on pitching a GM said last fall, “No doubt. It seems like they want to address the lack of offense and they want to address pace of game.” The GM went on to say that a 26 man roster with no restrictions would be counterproductive and that people are too wise to solve September issues at the detriment of the last few weeks of the season.

He cites some interesting stats regarding the use of many pitchers in games. In 2016, teams used 742 pitchers, which was double the number that was needed in 1977. This equates to an average of nearly 25 pitchers per team, that number was 16 in 1986.

It is going to be extremely difficult for the league and union to come to an agreement that expands the rosters from April-August to 26 without any pitching restrictions. Furthermore, I don’t see any solution that has been offered that can work, especially when some starting pitchers don’t make it to the sixth inning or even earlier.

The 40 man roster rule that takes affect in September is too much. The limit should be in the range of a 33- 35 man roster because if it’s reduced too much, the downfall is jeopardizing September call-ups to get experience to see what it is like playing in the major leagues. The best solution to conquer games that go four hours with both teams sending six pitchers to the mound is to enforce the pace-of-play initiatives more rigorously. The league and union can implement some of the pace-of-play initiatives that are in effect in the Arizona Fall League, such as only three-time out” conferences per game. This is what the MLB and union should focus more on in the offseason.

 

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Championship season hangover?

As the MLB season is quarter of the way over, some are wondering whether the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs are dealing with a championship season hangover. No world series champion has repeated since the 2000 New York Yankees and Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated notes that, in the first 20 games the next season, champions have an average winning percentage of .569. However, when you look at the overall season, that number goes down to .535. In other words, the reigning world series champions winning percentage falls off by 43 points. What could be worrisome for some Cubs fans is that from 2000-2015, 7 of the 16 world series champions have made the playoffs the next season.

However, I am not worried about the Cubs not making the playoffs this year, but there are some concerns that the team will have to address in order to make another long playoff run. Two of their starters, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta both have an ERA of almost 5, and while their team ERA is 3.99, the team ERA was almost a run lower in 2016 (3.15)

Part of this is that Cub pitchers accumulated so many innings in 2016 that they may be going through a ‘dead arm period.’ Arrieta pitched 197.1 innings in 2016, Lackey 188.1, Kyle Hendricks 190 and Jon Lester surpassed 200. Another reason why the Cubs are not where they were last year at this time is that their offseason was cut short. Some of the players did not get much rest over the offseason, all the sudden Christmas comes along and it’s time to work out, plus spring training is only a month and a half away.

The defense is a cause for concern as in 2016, the team’s defensive efficiency rating was at .728. The defensive efficiency rate is the rate in which they turned batted balls into outs, was the highest since the 1991 Chicago White Sox. This year has been a different story as that number has dropped to .680, which is in the bottom 5 in the NL.

The Cubs should feel fortunate because other teams that made the playoffs in 2016 have seen their winning percentage drop. Take the San Francisco Giants, who had a .549 winning percentage in 2016, their winning percentage is well below .500, while the Cubs are slightly above .500.

If you look at recent history of teams that have won 100 games in the regular season, most of them lose in either the division or championship series. Yes winning 103 games like the Cubs did in 2016 looked good, but there are perils. Yes the Cubs made it look easy at times in the regular season last year, but they used a considerable amount of energy to get to the century mark.

Remember back in 2006, that team won 83 games, won the division and yes went on to win it all. There is something to be said to playing pre-playoff games in September and the Cardinals did not clinch a playoff spot until game #161 on October 1. Compare that to the Cubs world series championship, they won the division on September 15. As contradictory as this sounds, I would have preferred the Cubs to go through a stretch where they lost 5 of 6 because it can give the team the sense that despite what we have done, we are not unbeatable in a short series.

If the Cubs are to repeat this season, I would argue that going for 100 plus wins will not work. Furthermore, winning between 92-96 games is where I expect the team to finish and playing meaningful games deep into September is what can help accomplish the goal of winning another world series championship. The Cubs are not going through a hangover, but I am not surprised that they haven’t kept up with the 2016 record and I do not expect them to win 100 games, which may play to their advantage in October.

Cubs biggest threat

The 2017 season is not even a month old, but people are asking who are potential threats to the Cubs going repeating as World Series champions. It has been nearly 20 years since a team has repeated as World Series champions and I argue the competition will be stiffer.

Some of the potential teams that could pose a threat include the Los Angeles Dodgers as people may remember they were leading the Cubs 2-1 in the championship series before the Cubs took off. “They’re developing a powerhouse out there,” said team president Theo Epstein. “They’ve got a ton of resources. Andrew and his whole team are really bright and we see them as a team we have to go through year to year.”

The Dodgers have a ton of money and talent including Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, pitcher Julio Urias along with stud Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. The best part of this from the Dodgers stand point is that all of these players are still in their prime years. However, the Dodgers are off to a sluggish start, starting under .500 almost one month into the season. The Dodgers surprised me the most out of any team last season, considering they lost Zach Greinke and the names in the starting rotation besides Kershaw did not really stand out.

The next potential team that could overtake the Cubs in 2017 are the Cleveland Indians. One of their key guys the tribe missed all of 2016 and could have made the difference was Michael Brantley, left-fielder. Add to that, the Indians got Edwin Encarnacion from the Blue Jays and will add to a line-up that should score runs on a consistent basis. The Indians have some unfinished business to do and look for that sense of urgency to be there, assuming they make it to October.

One team that has so much to prove in 2017 are the Washington Nationals, the expectations have been sky-high for a few years, but while they have been in the playoffs, they have not been able to advance past the division series. If the Nationals win their division and I think they should, considering the competition in that division is not real impressive, look out for the Nationals because if they make the playoffs, there will be a sense of urgency to win this year.

I am not going to predict anything in April, but I would not be surprised to see a Cubs-Red Sox World Series in 2017. The Sox got Chris Sale from the White Sox and he has not disappointed. In 37.2 innings pitched, his ERA is not even 1.25, which is better than his career ERA of 2.94. He is an intimidating at-bat and the Red Sox are going to ride on #41 to go as far as he can help take them. Even with David Ortiz retiring, the Red Sox offense will make pitchers throw pitches, as many Sox games end up being 4 hours or more.

One of the most difficult accomplishments in any sport is to repeat as champions, the league knows the Cubs and the game is all about adjustments. What will largely determine whether the Cubs repeat in 2017 or not is who will make the adjustments and whoever does that the best I argue will either dethrone the Cubs or the Cubs will raise a second straight World Series pennant.

Managing Expectations

Cubs fans are all too familiar with the saying, “wait until next year,” and while they will not have to deal with that, the Cubs will have a target on their back this season. In spring training last year, Joe Maddon’s phrase, “embrace the target” was discussed often. I argue that this phrase will come into play even more this year because the team is at the center of the MLB discussion more than last year.

There are some real key questions looming over this team as spring training comes to a conclusion. First, who will be the 5th starter? There are two main candidates, Mike Montgomery and recently acquired Brett Anderson. In the last couple seasons, Cubs starters have logged in some cases over 200 innings a season and in preparation, the team acquired Eddie Butler from Colorado. Yes, his numbers are not impressive, but who having pitched in Colorado can’t say that? The main reason for the Anderson and Butler acquisitions are to provide a backup in case Jake Arrieta needs to skip a start due to fatigue. It is also important to note that Arrieta and John Lackey are due to be free agents after this season.

The splash free agency deal from 2016 signing Jason Heyward to a $100+ million deal did not result in a good season at the plate. In the offseason, Heyward moved to Arizona to work with assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske to work on his swing. Part of his adjustment revolved around his hands being in a better hitting position in anticipation of a fast ball. Last season, Heyward saw a higher percentage of fastballs than in any other season since he made his MLB debut. Despite his ability to work his way into a predictable fast ball count, he often hit a weak ground ball to the infield or ended an at bat with a K. In his first year with the Cubs, Heyward only mustered a .230 batting average, but with his gold glove defense, those bad numbers are somewhat offset.

The biggest surprise from the Cubs World Series win was that the starting rotation stayed afloat. What’s better, 4 of their starters won 15 or more games and 4 of them made 30 or more starts. Those numbers are the definition of consistency when many other teams go through twice as many or more starters in a 6 month season. However, will that success continue into 2017? Perhaps that is the reason why Maddon is looking to insert a 6th starter.

The next question looming over the team is who will be the main catcher? Wilson Contreras made his Cubs debut in the middle of the season and caught more than half of the games from that point forward. How will Contreras be able to adjust to being Jon Lester’s main catcher since David Ross retired? Add to the mix, the “emergency catcher” Kyle Schwarber as he is returning to his catcher duties after his injury catching only 2-3 days a week. Miguel Montero is likely to be catcher in Arrieta starts, but besides that is anyone’s guess.

With Dexter Fowler gone, the decision of who will be the leadoff hitter has been made and that is Schwarber. Yes, he is not a traditional leadoff man, but his presence as the DH in Game 6 and 7 paid dividends. With the many rule changes, the leadoff hitter position has become less of speed and stealing bases and more of patience and running the opposing pitchers pitch count in the first inning.

As with the starting rotation, will the bullpen hold up? Aroldis Chapman and Travis Wood are gone but the team has a proven closer Wade Davis, who played for Maddon with the Rays. Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will not be coming in late in the game but in the 6th or 7th inning and for Strop, that could play to his benefit. Some relief pitchers simply do not excel as much in very high leverage situations and I think this applies to Strop.

I am not a fan of predictions considering in a 6 month span, so much happens that can alter a prediction. With that said, I do not see a team in the National League that can beat the Cubs right now. The only possibilities that could de-throne the champs are the Giants, maybe the Nationals and the Dodgers. Before fans talk about a repeat, lets soak in the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.

Ryan Hackman @rhackman_89