Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Why I’m Not a Fan of the Current Cubs Roster

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

If you’ve read the blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m a pretty traditional guy when it comes to roster construction. For as long as I can remember, I’ve really enjoyed the front office side of baseball, when it comes to roster moves and designing a complete and competitive roster. That said, I’m sort of an old school curmudgeon when it comes to what I like and what I don’t like, and there are things about this current roster that drive me bananas.

Bloated Bullpens – This one drives me completely insane. I’m a big proponent of the seven man bullpen. The Cubs have carried eight and as many as nine in the pen. That’s insane. There is absolutely no reason for it, especially with this current starting staff that has shown they will consistently work deep into ball games. The bloated bullpen has two main flaws. It takes away your offensive and defensive flexibility in the late innings. Because you’re down a position player, it prohibits a little of the creativity that I would love to see from someone as bright a baseball thinker as Joe Maddon. Second, it prevents you back end of the pen guys from staying sharp because they aren’t needed very often. Take Clayton Richard, for example. In the last seven days, he’s thrown one inning. For the year, he’s under six. This for a guy who has the endurance to throw that in one outing, and he’s considered you long man. How can you expect him to be a long man if he doesn’t have the opportunity to throw long outings? I cannot stand how this pen is constructed.

Three Catchers – This one is just stupid. There is no reason to have three catchers unless one of them is named Kyle Schwarber and if Tim Federowicz has his name changed to Kyle Schwarber, I retract that statement too. Maddon has said that he likes the flexibility that having the extra catcher on the roster gives him, because it means he can pinch hit with a catcher late and not have to worry about being without. I call BS. Too many managers are so afraid that use that backup guy for fear that they will have no one to catch in the event of an emergency, but every team has that guy that can strap on the gear and get behind the plate for an inning or two. You call the pitches from the dugout and finish the game. If you don’t have that guy, you approach someone on the roster you believe can do it and have them practice it every now and then (paging Clayton Richard). To top it all off, Federowicz is not even a good player, so it’s not like you’re holding a roster spot because you’ve got an abundance of talent back there. When Matt Szczur comes back this week, Federowicz needs to be sent down and we need to do away with this three catcher nonsense.


  • The Cubs have outrighted OF Ryan Kalish to Iowa. I’m glad to see he’s staying in the organization as a filler, but he doesn’t have much place on this major league team unless it’s in a pinch.
  • Jason Grimm answered some mailbag questions here
  • The Cubs did Karaoke, even without Munenori Kawasaki and you can watch it here.
  • Pedro Strop said something dumb

Iowa Cubs (AAA) – Lost 5-3 to Reno

  • SP – Drew Rucinski – 6 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 2 K
  • LF – John Andreoli – 1-for-4, 2B, R
  • Dan Vogelbach was named the Pacific Coast League player of the week for last week. He hit .333 (8-for-24) with 3 HR, 2 2B, 8 RBI.

Tennessee Smokies (AA) – Lost 3-2 to Birmingham

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A-Adv) – Lost 5-2 to Frederick

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Organizational Recap – 5/15/2016

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Pirates 2 @ Cubs 1

I find it amusing that, after winning their first game against the Cubs this year, the Pirates are suddenly talking trash and thinking they are good. Take this tweet for example.

Or then you have this story that expresses Gerrit Cole‘s feelings toward the Cubs.

When a reporter posed the question that Cole just shut down the best team in baseball, the Pirates pitcher politely corrected the statement:

“It’s just an opportunity to salvage the series,” Cole said. “I don’t really think they’re the best team in baseball.”

I have a problem with people not giving people that are better than them credit. Know where you stand and answer the question like this:

“They are playing really good baseball right now…really good, but it’s May and there is a lot of baseball left to play. Today we took care of business, something we should have done a better job of in the games we played them before, and we look forward to giving them a run for their money the rest of the year.”

That’s how you answer the question, because right now the Cubs ARE the best team in baseball, from a consensus and from a numbers standpoint. It’s just a fact. Will that change? Perhaps, but right now it is what it is. If you don’t like it, change it.


Iowa Cubs (AAA) – Lost 9-3 to Reno

Tennessee Smokies (AA) – Won 12-4 over Birmingham

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A-Adv) – Won 8-5 over Frederick

South Bend Cubs (A) – Lost 7-6 to Lansing

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Organizational Recap – 5/14/2016

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Pirates 2 @ Cubs 8

For some reason the game recap on MLB.com was not embeddable, so instead you get to star and drool at the recap of Jake Arrieta‘s start.

  • Before the game, the Cubs announced that Miguel Montero was being called up and inserted into the lineup. Personally, I was a little surprised at the move, considering there was a lefty on the mound and Jon Lester is scheduled to start today. It seemed like a good time for Montero to get a little more time in Iowa and then come back, but the Cubs had other plans and Montero had himself an 0-for-3 day. In the corresponding move, Ryan Kalish was designated for assignment. He may accept outright an outright assignment to AAA if he clears waivers (he will) or he may elect to be done with baseball. We’ll see.
  • Jorge Soler went 0-for-3, and is now hitting .174 / .263 / .267. Stop for a minute and look at that slash line for a second. That slugging percentage, especially, is absolutely putrid. He’s not helping this team in any way and I’m beginning to think that being up here is retarding his development. Theo and Co. have said they believe in him and he is here to stay, but I just don’t know that it’s the wise move. Matt Szczur is scheduled to return sometime this week, so we will have to see some sort of move. My guess is that if Soler does not show some sort of life, he has to be optioned.

Iowa Cubs (AAA) – Won 17-2 over Reno

Tennessee Smokies (AA) – Lost 11-1 to Birmingham

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A-Adv) – Won 11-3 over Frederick

South Bend Cubs (A) – Won 6-2 over Lansing

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Organizational Recap – 5/13/2016

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Trying out a new format today. Pardon our dust on the homepage. I am still trying to get the error figured out with why the images are not loading.

Pirates 4 @ Cubs 9

  • I feel bad for wanting Jason Hammel off my baseball team in spring training. That joker is now 5-0 with an ERA at 1.77 after yesterday’s outing. Now it needs to translate to the full season, which he can’t seem to do, but for right now, I apologize.
  • It was good to see Jorge Soler get a hit and a walk at the plate, but he’s struggling bad. I feel that if we don’t see improvement in the next week or so, he’d really be best served with a trip to Iowa to sort some things out while out of the spotlight of a team considered to be the World Series favorite.
  • Last year I dreaded games that David Ross was the starter because he was an automatic out. He’s not an all star, by any means, but watching him play this year has not been torture. He’s carried his role well in the absence of Miguel Montero. Way to go, Grandpa Rossy.

 

Iowa Cubs (AAA) – Won 3-2 over Nashville

Tennessee Smokies (AA) – Won 12-5 over Montgomery

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A-Adv) – Won 8-3 over Frederick

South Bend Cubs (A) – Won 15-2 over Lansing

 

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OUCH! – Take Your Base

Friday, May 13th, 2016

As of this writing, the Cubs lead the big leagues in hit batters and Anthony Rizzo occupies his usual place as one of the league leaders in being hit by opposing pitchers. I will leave it to our sabermetrician friends on View From The Bleachers to quantify the value of leading in that stat. But barring injury, this should be a good thing. More men on base is good.

It seems likely that much of this is due to the Cub’s more patient approach to hitting. I do not notice our hitters standing closer to the plate inside the box. Rather, it stands to reason that some of the Cubs’ higher HBP numbers must be the straightforward result of more hitters seeing more pitches. Other things equal, teams who work the count and see more pitches will be hit by opposing pitchers more often than teams who are not patient. There are things about individual hitters that are not random, of course. For example, Rizzo sets up closer to the plate than most hitters. But even limiting the discussion to Rizzo alone, he will be hit more often as he sees more pitches. We should expect that the same will be true for the rest of the lineup.

Before I elaborate about why this worries me, let’s review the rule and some of its history.

Rule 5.05 (2) provides: That a batter shall become a runner and is entitled to first base when:
“He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;
If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.”
Interesting, eh? When was that last time you saw a pitch that hit a batter called a ball because the batter did not try to avoid being hit? I am not sure that I have ever seen this, personally.

Wikipedia reports that in 1968, during Don Drysdale’s record setting streak of 58 2/3 innings without yielding a run, he hit Dick Dietz. It would have forced a run home from third, but Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz did not attempt to avoid being hit. Wendelstedt, therefore, called the pitch a ball instead of awarding Dietz first base. Dietz went on to fly out and Drysdale’s streak extended another 14 2/3 innings. I have not verified this story, but I will note that I do find other reporting on the relevant Wikipedia page to be inaccurate.
A former source of controversy relating to this rule is what to do if the ball touches the batter’s uniform, but not the batter. I can recall passionate arguments over this in the sandlot when I was a kid. Such arguments were almost always resolved with a “do-over” because none of us really knew the rule. But kids today can google the rules and they will find that the definition of “Touch” on page 150 of the 2016 Rules clarifies that touching the player includes touching any part of the player’s uniform.

The hit by pitch incidents that most grab our attention, of course, are those where there is uncertainty whether the pitcher deliberately plunked the batter. After retiring as a player, the aforementioned Drysdale enjoyed a successful career as a baseball broadcaster. In his broadcasting days – some of which were spent on the south side of Chicago – Drysdale occasionally referred to a plunking as “the one pitch intentional walk”. His humor about this was fairly common among his generation of major leaguers and is part of the old-time color surrounding the lore of intentionally throwing at a hitter. (Cardinals fans like old-timey things. I threw that last bit in just in case some Cardinals fans see this.)
Notwithstanding a tendency among some to glamorize the toughness of the game in years gone by, throwing deliberately at a batter has long been prohibited. Today, Rule 602(C)(9) provides that a pitcher may not intentionally pitch at the batter:

“If, in the umpire’s judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to:
(A) Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher from the game, or
(B) may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager.”

There is no sane argument against policing against deliberately pitching at the hitter. We have all seen what can happen when injury results from a pitched ball. Think of former Cub Adam Greenberg who was beaned in his very first major league at bat in 2005, a fascinating story that I do not have space to re-tell here. Or recall the setback Javy Baez suffered in spring training this year. As he sought to overcome the injury to his thumb, his rehab was extended several days when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Fortunately, the pitch mostly hit the brim of Javy’s batting helmet or it could have been much worse, not that I am saying that he was hit on purpose. I assume he was not.
So far this year, the Cubs have had only a few dust ups involving suspicion of a pitcher purposefully throwing at a batter (and none yet worth discussing here). But controversy is sure to happen sooner for the Cubs than otherwise might be true as the team adheres to its patient approach and, therefore, sees more pitches. Not that other teams will plan throw at the Cubs more often. But as pitch counts pile up, there will be pitches that get away inside.

For reasons that are more visceral than logical, this worries me. But I do not see any way to avoid it. The benefits of patience at the plate so vastly outweigh the risk of injury that I would not want the team to change its approach. Nor do I think there is much the pitching staff can do to protect our hitters either. We do not want to develop the reputation that we come inside for any reason other than to protect the outside of the strike zone.

So it seems to me that this, like so many other things about this team, will come back to Joe Maddon. It will be up to him to guide the team and strike the right balance. I look for him to stick to his motto of last year: “we don’t start things, but we finish them”. With some good fortune, that will be just the right amount of deterrence.

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GirlieView (05/12/2016)

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely, and/or interesting quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2016 Season = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • Look how interesting that move made the rest of the game.
  • I agree. I like the strategic component.
  • Yeah, everytime I think I want the DH in the NL, a game like this happens, and it shows the importance of a good in-game manager. I do think, however, that both leagues should have the same rules, since we have interleague play. ….. It needs to be one or the other, and there’s no way the MLBPA is going to let the league take away the DH.
  • regardless of the weather, it takes the whole game to win.
  • if you are the same William Ocean that sang ‘Caribbean Queen’ please don’t leave us. No more love on the run has long been a motto of mine, and Len Kasper really wants to see you live. Please stay and remind of us of all that was good about the mid-80′s. The Cubs sure weren’t.
  • Sail on… The idea here is to have fun. And we do that. If that is not your thing, happy trails.
  • Sail on. Great Lionel Richie tune. (Damn it, inner Len!)
  • We are better off without Tommy the wannabe priest, Sue the safety nut, and some dude named Dave I barely remember. We may lament the loss of our Johnson’s from time to time, But we won’t miss an ocean.
  • Speaking of missing Johnsons, where’s Dork?
  • It’s funny because Joe “plucked” us into semi-legitimacy. I remember when it was just you, (then) BadMojo, Raker and me…with an occasional drive-by posting from Smitty. Since we’ve been HERE? We’ve been REALLY nice and on our best behavior. All out of our complete (and I mean this) respect for Joe.
  • Speaking of which, I have been part of this family for the last four years thanks to you all. This is the first place I visit every morning and the last one each night, and a zillion times in between. My uncle was the greatest Cub fan ever. He died two years ago at 89 years old. We talked Cubs baseball all the time no matter what season. VFTB is now my uncle.
  • How did Cindy Sandberg stay off that list?
  • This illustrates the difference between “being” and “doing” a Cub.
  • Nice job EVW. All you need now is a triangle mouth.
  • Odd coincidence… I referenced the odd, pervy guy by name in a comment 3 hours ago.
  • coincidence: odd Pervy guy referencing odd Pervy guy
  • All you need now is a triangle……..oh never mind.
  • Going to be a long hot summer, to be enjoyed and savored by me.
  • Arrieta is proving that you can do remarkable things with a good workout routine – what he’s done over the last couple of years has been the result of a ton of work, not drugs, should be applauded.
  • Agree and would add that it is diet too. He avoids foods that contribute to body inflammation. Controlling inflammation works hand in hand with exercise to achieve superior performance.
  • pretty sure the double cheeseburger I just had for lunch will contribute to my body inflation. If only there was a cold sandwich shop with a pedophile spokesman nearby…I too could pitch like Arrieta.
  • To me, Russell especially has matured since last year and looks like he belongs, possibly becoming one of the premier players at the position. And what an absolute steal by the FO.
  • If you do have a boss and she (or he) asks what you are looking at there on your computer thingy. Just state that you found a great site to watch pre-school children change their clothing. They will be so relieved to find that is not the case that your pilferage of company time will go unnoticed.
  • That’s right up there with the strip bar/cubs game excuse.
  • Consistency is a cornerstone of solid advice.
  • I hate it when I get too busy working at work to check in.
  • these are big wins, when the Cubs #4 starter beats the Pirates #1.
  • “It is imperative that Jonathon Niese pitches well tonight against these Chicago Cubs. They can hit and with Jake Arrieta on the mound Niese has to be on his game if we are going to have a chance against Arrieta tonight.” Pirates Broadcasters to start the game. “Jonathan Nephew, I mean Niese will be pitching tonight for the Pirates” Len Kasper.
  • Baez should continue to see playing time almost every day as long as he continues to handle the bat well, and dazzle us all with his defense.
  • Cubs are going to have a nice little problem when everyone gets healthy. The way everyone is hitting, who do you sit?
  • I think you do like Maddon has been doing – play everybody just alternate them in and out. Doesn’t matter who is in the lineup – the team takes no hurt.
  • I think Billy Ocean might be Sue.
  • Nah, Billy had an issue with our having lives and discussions outside of baseball. Sue apparently disliked our caviler attitudes about enjoying a game free of bubble wrap.
  • “Depth is everything in the modern game.”–Theo Epstein.
  • It’s this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and think long-term that makes Theo and Jed so good at what they do.

Lizard

  • So our number 5 starter beat the Nats guy with 2 first names that came into the game with a 0.80 ERA and we are now 21-6. Pinch me, I have never been here before.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to Elijah Knepper for his first 2016 Regular Season Lizzie!!!! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Seymour Butts, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Butts!

Top 10 of the 2016 Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Eddie von White
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. jswanson
5. cap’n realist
5. Sherm
7. Doug S
8. Joe Aiello
9. Sean Powell
10. Brad Lyerla

Chit Chat

  • More travel this week so I wrapped this up on Sunday, while watching the Cubs tied with the Nationals as they begin the ninth inning. (Arietta is off the hook after one of his less impressive starts this season. Still love the guy!) Anyway as usual I will pick up right where I left off so your wit won’t be wasted.
  • Meanwhile, let’s talk favorites. We’ve already listed our favorite individual Cubs, now let’s talk about something a little different. What is your favorite trait of this year’s Cubs? For instance my favorite thing is their patience as a team, working deep into counts and making the pitcher work regardless of the outcome of the at bat. This is a big change. Of course there are many wonderful things about this team, and many big changes from years’ past when we were all here lamenting one “virtue” or another. What are some of your favorite things?
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Three Strikes – You can’t win ‘em all…I guess

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Video Recaps


Strike one – Padres sweep

Coming into the day/night double header, most would have said that the Cubs would be able to win at least one, maybe two of these games. Going into the 7th inning of game 1, it looked as though the Cubs would extend their winning streak to 9 games. The worst part of the rally the Padres put together in the 7th inning of game 1 was that it came with two outs. A bunt single by Travis Jankowski ended Kyle Hendricks’ (pretty decent) day. Pedro Strop tossed a wild pitch, and then Wil Myers drove in Jankowski to close the gap to 4-3, a walk to Matt Kemp, and a homer by Brett Wallace would be all the offense the Padres would need to take game one. In game two, the Cubs wasted a dominant pitching performance by John Lackey. Lackey was pounding the strike zone the entire game, and he really only made 1 mistake the entire game. Unfortunately, Christian Bethancourt made Lackey pay for his mistake and he cranked a solo homer to left field in the top of the 5th inning for the only run in the game. The Cubs still have the best record in baseball (25-8), and they will look to bounce back in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Strike two – Soler Struggles

Soler received two starts today and produced just 1 hit on 8 at bats, while striking out 4 times and leaving 9 men on base. There was certainly a couple of pitches, particularly in the second game, that were called strikes against Soler, and were clearly out of the zone. However, Soler pulled off several fastballs in the zone, and was unable to put the ball in play against left-handed pitching basically all day. I don’t know what the plan for Soler is, but it is clear that pinch hitting, and 1-2 starts a week isn’t something that is working for him. While it may be something that Soler wouldn’t be completely pleased with, some time at AAA may be what is best for him right now. Only time will tell if Jorge is able to turn it around, but he is not showing signs of progress at this point.

Strike three – Lackey and Hendricks Solid

One of the few bright spots for the Cubs on a day where not much went right was the starting pitching. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks combined to pitch 14.2 innings, allowing 9 hits, striking out 15, and walking only 1 batter while giving up 4 runs, with only 3 of those runs being earned. I was very impressed with the way both pitchers battled today. Particularly Hendricks after the rough first inning. It was imperative that Hendricks pitch deep into the first game to allow Joe Maddon to have flexibility with his bullpen for both games. After the first inning, I was doubting that Hendricks would make it through 5 innings, and I thought there was no way he would get through 6. Kyle was able to buckle down, and had it not been for Strop allowing the 3 run homer in the 7th, Hendricks would have only given up those 2 first inning runs. With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel pitching extremely well right now, it will be huge if Lackey and Hendricks can continue to pitch well. As we have seen the last couple of days, it will be important for the Cubs’ bullpen to come in and attack hitters, because both starters pitched well enough to earn victories today.

As a side note: We would like to congratulate Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals on his record-tying 20 strikeout performance against the Detroit Tigers. Scherzer joins Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and former Cub, Kerry Wood as the only men to ever strike out 20 hitters in a game.

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Three Strikes – Rain Out Theater

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Strike One

It is after midnight and the rain steadily continues to fall in Chicago. While this may be a good thing for the flowers, it is not what fans were hoping for as Jon Lester’s start tonight was rained out and will be made up on Wednesday as part of a split double header at Wrigley Field. Check the website, as they say, to see the new times of the games.

Strike Two

Even with no game tonight, it was a great day for Ben Zobrist who was named National League co-player of the week, an honor he shared with the Mets Bartolo Colon. Zobrist had a monster week. His slashline was .360/.455/.880. He went 9-for-25 with four homeruns and drove in 15 RBIs, with at least one RBI in six consecutive games. It’s Zobrist’s first Player of the Week award as a Cub. He won in 2008 and 2011, both as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Strike Three

With the Major League draft just one month away, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Cubs will focus on pitching in this draft. The problem is that for the first time in the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs do not have a high draft pick. In fact, this year the Cubs first pick comes at the 104th overall slot in the draft. This is the price of success folks, and will be a challenge for Theo and Jed’s quest for sustained excellence. We will continue to follow this story.

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Oh, Those Yips

Monday, May 9th, 2016

After the beautiful week of baseball Cubs fans just enjoyed, the image from last week that stands out in my mind is Jon Lester tossing his glove to Anthony Rizzo to retire Francisco Cervelli in the second inning of Wednesday’s game. Lester had made a similar play on Clint Barmes a few weeks earlier during the San Diego series at Wrigley.

Twice in the first thirty days of the season? What are the odds?

My immediate thought was Lester did it intentionally as a technique for coping with his tendency to choke on the throw to first. I am still not convinced that “the toss” on Cervelli wasn’t done purposely for that reason, though the replay does show the ball genuinely is stuck in the web of the glove. However, if you study the various clips of the play that come up when you google ‘Lester glove toss’, you might convince yourself that in the first instant when Lester gloved the ball, he pushed it further into the webbing as he turned and ran towards Rizzo at first.

My goal here is not to stir up controversy about what happened in the Cervelli play. Rather, I am interested in something about which there can be no controversy. Lester has a classic case of ‘the yips’ on the throw to first and everyone in the league knows it. That causes me to want to know what are ‘the yips’ and what is their cause?

Lester, of course, is not the first major leaguer to develop the yips. Most fans recall Chuck Knoblauch’s problem. It almost ended his career. Mackey Sasser, Steve Blass and Steve Sax are other good examples. These were highly accomplished major league baseball players. They had been playing baseball for decades and had overcome many competitive hurdles to climb to the major leagues. As a big leaguer, each was among the most highly accomplished players in the world. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they could not make a simple and basic baseball play that each had performed tens of thousands of time since childhood. There was no injury involved. It was solely in their heads. What a mystery. How is such a thing possible?

When you first see it, it is almost comical. I will never forget Matt Garza’s first home start for the Cubs. I was at the game with my friend Blair Campbell. It was early in the game, maybe even the top of the first. Garza made a nice play to glove a dribbler. He calmly turned to first with plenty of time and promptly chucked the ball into the third row of the stands. It sailed 8 feet over the first baseman’s head.

I spit beer while Blair laughed/blurted, “what the hell”. It was so startling. There were no words. Later, we learned that Garza had been struggling with this problem off and on for some time. I do not recall hearing of it beforehand.

Which is possible. One of the superstitions surrounding the yips has been to avoid speaking of it, at least directly. It is possible that I had missed the news that Garza had the yips because often the yips are spoken of only in whispers.

This is especially the case in golf, where the yips might be even more prevalent than in baseball. In golf, it is the highest breach of etiquette to mention the yips to a player who shanks an iron or can’t pull his putter back to attempt a putt. So too in baseball, when mentioned at all, the yips are rarely called by their right name. That’s why the press does not report that Lester has the yips. Instead, we read about his ‘problem throwing to first’ or his ‘mental block’.

There is a surprising amount of research on the yips. I have read only a tiny fraction of what has been written. But I am confident that anyone would enjoy Sian Beilock’s Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Dr. Beilock is one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychological phenomenon of “choking”. She was on the faculty at the University of Chicago when she wrote her book.

As I understand it, ‘the yips’ are a subset of choking. Choking happens when the brain ceases to operate optimally due to stress. There are a variety of reasons why this can happen. With the yips, the problem is specific. The yips refer to an inability to perform a simple mechanical athletic skill because of a brain malfunction. In the case of the yips, the malfunction is that the thinking part of our brain, which requires a lot of bandwidth, has taken over from the more primitive parts of our brain. In essence, we are thinking when we should be doing.

When it happens, it is mostly involuntary, but there are things that can be done to retrain the brain to address the problem. Dr. Beilock is not writing specifically for ball players, but her advice would seem to apply to Lester. First, she recommends to practice with stress. This helps the brain acclimate to the circumstances so that the stress of the moment is less likely to catch the player off guard. Perhaps, Lester should practice his throws to first with someone yelling in his ear not to screw up and someone else using noisemakers to jar his thoughts.

Second, the player should distract himself when performing what should be a simple mechanical act. She suggests counting backwards by threes, as an example. This reduces the available memory for the front of the brain (the thinking part) and that will allow the more primitive part to take over. Consider a golfer trying to make a smooth stroke with his putter. The front of his brain must be engaged to read the green and calculate the speed, but at the moment the stroke is executed, the primitive brain should take precedence. Counting backward by threes allows that change to happen.

The golfer Tom Watson recommends silently humming to oneself while executing certain golf shots. He liked to hum “Edelweiss’ to himself. He explains that it helped his timing. But maybe without realizing it, he was letting the cortex/medulla of his brain take over the swing?
It seems to me that Lester could learn from this. He needs to think and take stock of the game situation in order to make decisions about where to throw and when, but when he executes the throw, he has to stop thinking and just hit the target. I don’t know much about country music, but there must be a song he could hum to himself just as he begins his delivery of the ball. That has to be much easier than the ‘stick the ball in the glove and toss the glove’ move that he has begun to use (and which won’t work for holding runners, in any event).

Let me conclude by saying that I love Jon Lester and his role in our rotation. I have great confidence when he takes the mound and I am glad that Theo and Jed signed him. His issue with the throw to first can be addressed and that would further solidify his standing as one of the best left-handers in the big leagues.

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