Joe Maddon is going to show us batting orders that we aren’t used to seeing in Chicago.
Some of it looks LaRussa-esque, but it’s been nice to see some willingness to manipulate the traditional batting order. Before the spring training games started, Maddon hinted at the possibility of batting the pitcher 8th in some, if not all, of his lineups. This, of course, isn’t revolutionary ground in the baseball world, but it’s still a pretty scarcely seen approach to the lineup. What’s the advantage to putting the pitcher 8th? It provides an opportunity for a better hitter to finish up the bottom of the order and hopefully get on base before the order starts over. This also provides opportunity for the 3rd hitter in the order – most likely Anthony Rizzo – to hit with more runners on base. Ultimately, the hope is to maximize offensive opportunities later in the game. I’ve always seen it as a better way of looking at the lineup, since it wraps around as you move from inning to inning, rather than just functioning as a static list, or order, that always stays the same.
Speaking of Rizzo, however, Maddon has toyed with the idea of batting him 2nd, which is intriguing. In the lineups in which Rizzo has appeared so far (three), Rizzo has been second in the order twice. It’s likely that this is just an opportunity to see how he responds to batting in that spot, which has often been Starlin Castro’s place in the order, but Rizzo has a higher OBP and he draws a lot more walks than Castro does. For what that’s worth, flipping Castro and Rizzo in the order might be a worthy idea. And, if the pitcher does bat 8th, putting Rizzo 2nd in the order is like treating him as the “3rd hitter” later in the game.
Our starting pitching is going to surprise a lot of people.
I know what you’re thinking: “They signed Jon Lester. Of course.” While that is true, two other starters on the Cubs staff will have as much of an impact, in my opinion. Between Jake Arrieta and a hopeful resurgence of Travis Wood, our 1-2-3 will be nothing to sniff at. Yes, it looks like we’re probably stuck with Edwin Jackson, but the front three in the rotation should more than make up for that. If Arrieta can keep doing what he’s done since coming to Chicago (2.81, 205 Ks vs. 65 BBs, and a WHIP of 1.022), then he’s easily the #2 starter behind Lester. And the argument could be made that he would be the #1 under different circumstances. Wood is a less reliable example, but as has been documented here before, a return to his 2013 form, or at least something pretty close to that means that he could anchor the rotation rather nicely. Lastly, Kyle Hendricks is probably the starting pitcher that I’m most excited to see more of this season. His sample size from 2014 is pretty small, but the numbers are impressive: 2.46, 47 Ks to 15 BBs, and a WHIP at 1.083. These numbers are pretty consistent with how he performed in the minors, so it’s safe to say that he’s likely to pitch similarly in 2015. Leaving Wood out of the equation, Just having a 1-2-3 of Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks is pretty exciting.
My favorite cult-hero Cubs player, if for no other reason than the most popular internet meme for him involves my favorite TV show. That aside, his performance in spring training so far has been fun to watch. He offers the intriguing possibility of manning third base until Kris Bryant is called up, and potentially allowing Bryant greater opportunity to try his hand at LF once he is in the majors. Granted, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that he’ll maintain the level of performance where he currently finds himself even as spring training goes on, but something even fairly close to what he’s done in Iowa would be awfully nice. The potential upside for Olt is that he is a solid fill-in at 3B until Bryant comes up and is able to split time at the corner infield spots, and even potentially perform well enough to force his way into the lineup on a regular basis. The power potential is there, but his average and OBP are still pretty paltry. The fear with Olt is that he fits the mold of the perennial AAAA player a little too well (remember Micah Hoffpauir?). Either way, I look forward to seeing my Twitter feed fill up with Olt memes every time he hits a homerun.
This is your yearly reminder that Spring Training standings are mostly meaningless.
If not entirely. I would go so far as to propose the possibility that they not be kept track of at all, but I can’t see that ever happening. It’s too easy, after 6 games or so without a win, to start fretting and wringing one’s hands. We have had a lengthy offseason of hype surrounding this year’s team, and now that they are (finally!) playing some games, it could be unsettling that they haven’t won any of those games yet. There are a few important things to remember when it comes to the final score in these games though:
The pitchers are not being used like they normally would be. Your starter pitches two, maybe three innings and your closer and setup guy often appear in the middle of the game, rather than at the end (so they can face better hitters). Spring training is often a time to allow minor league pitchers to face major league hitters, so you’re rarely seeing the best against the best, so it’s not a true test of how those two teams would fare against each other under typical circumstances.
The lineup doesn’t look like it typically would. At all. Much of the time, your “starters” don’t begin the game, especially at first (Rizzo has only appeared in the starting lineup three times so far), and they usually make only two plate appearances in a game. It isn’t until close to opening day that you see a starting lineup more like what will appear in the regular season, along with seeing those starters remain in the game.
Players are often working on new things. Hitters are working on taking more pitches, adjusting to a swing that’s seen some tweaking in the offseason, and sometimes managing a different spot in the lineup or position defensively. This is the time for them to experiment with those things in a relatively low risk environment (overreacting fans notwithstanding). Pitchers may be working on a new pitch, refining an old one, or learning a new role on the pitching staff.
In all, it’s very hard to judge game outcomes as much of anything at all. So, please, pay no attention to the standings. They really, really don’t matter.