Cubs Arizona Fall League: 11/17/15

After getting rained out on Monday, Mesa returned to action Tuesday, falling 4-2 to Salt River. A few Cubs prospects got into the game with mixed results:

  • 3B Jeimer Candelario (.347) got Mesa on the board early with an RBI single in the first inning, scoring Chad Hinshaw (Angels). He finished 1-for-4.
  • RF Mark Zagunis (.234) was 0-for-3.
  • LHP Rob Zastryzny (5.19) got the start, but gave up three earned runs in 3.0 innings for his second loss of the fall. He struck out three and walked one, giving up three hits.

Mesa hosts Salt River Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Awards Watch: Arrieta’s case for the Cy Young

Arrieta_One-hitter(Photo by Stephen Green)

Not since the 2009 National League Cy Young voting has the league seen three different pitchers each receive more than one first-place vote for the award. That year, Adam Wainwright grabbed the most first-place votes, despite finishing third, while Tim Lincecum collected his second consecutive Cy.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the voting went down in a similar fashion in 2015, as a trio of nominees all put up stellar seasons that would likely make them hands-down favorites almost any other year. Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw looks to make it three in a row and four in five years after another dominant season. His teammate and 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke completed the finest season of his Los Angeles tenure. But at the end of the day, both could be looking up at Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who put up a historically great second half in 2015.


On the entire season, the 29-year-old Arrieta’s final numbers are more than deserving of final consideration as the league’s top pitcher. For starters, he won a league-best 22 games. Before the relevancy of pitcher wins is argued, it’s worth noting the teams he defeated and how dominant he was against them. In 18 regular-season starts against teams better than .500 this season, he went 12-3 with a 1.48 ERA and managed an elite-level 9.0 strikeout-per-nine rate. Here is how he fared against playoff-bound NL teams:


His 236 strikeouts ranked fourth in the National League and his ridiculously low 1.77 ERA trailed only Greinke this season. But it’s also the second-lowest NL earned run average since 1995, and the ninth-lowest in the last 50 years (aside from Greinke and Dwight Gooden, the other six totals were produced by Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver).

The story of Arrieta’s season and candidacy really boils down to his second half, where he was empirically the most dominant starter in baseball history. His 0.75 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break was the best all time, surpassing Gibson’s 1968 season, in which he went a seemingly unsurpassable 11-4 with a 1.19 ERA in 16 starts. In Arrieta’s last 12 starts, he gave up just four earned runs in 88.1 innings for a 0.41 ERA, and struck out 89 batters. The ace highlighted that stretch with a dominating no-hit effort on Aug. 30 against the Dodgers, striking out 12 and giving up just one walk before getting mobbed by his teammates.

One of the many reasons Arrieta was so strong in 2015 was because teams were essentially starting innings with only two outs to play with. He opened a frame on 232 occasions, holding leadoff hitters to a .167/.203/.194 line. Of the 37 hits he allowed to leadoff men, just three were doubles and one was a homer.

And when batters fell behind 0-1 in the count, they hit just .167/.212/.227. That occurred almost 49 percent of the time (11 percent of the time a play ended after the first pitch). Overall, when Arrieta got ahead in the count, batters were just .114/.122/.161.

There isn’t a lot separating these three pitchers, but Arrieta matched Kershaw’s power and Greinke’s command down a historic back stretch of the season. Add in Arrieta’s big-game resume, and his case is difficult to dismiss.

—Phil Barnes

Cubs skipper Joe Maddon named NL Manager of the Year

Maddon_MOY(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was named the National League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America on Tuesday. Maddon received 18 of the possible 30 first-place votes, 11 second place votes and one third place vote for a total of 124 points. St. Louis’ Mike Matheny placed second with 87 points.

Maddon is only the fourth skipper in franchise history to earn Manager of the Year honors, the first since Lou Piniella in 2008. Don Zimmer (1989) and Jim Frey (1984) also won the award, and Maddon joins Frey as the only two Cubs managers to earn the award in their first seasons with the Cubs. Maddon has now earned three Manager of the Year awards in his career, previously winning AL honors in 2008 and 2011 with Tampa Bay.

Additionally, Maddon is one of only seven managers (and three currently active) to win this award at least three times, joining Tony La Russa (four times), Bobby Cox (four), Dusty Baker (three), Jim Leyland (three), Buck Showalter (three) and Piniella (three). Maddon is now the sixth manager (and just the second active) to win the award in both leagues, joining La Russa, Cox, Leyland, Piniella and Bob Melvin.

In 2015, Maddon guided the Cubs to a 97-65 record, the most victories ever by a first-year Cubs manager and tied for the ninth-most wins in the 140-season history of the franchise. The 97 wins equaled the most by any club Maddon has managed, matching his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Maddon led the Cubs to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003, and the club reached 101 total wins in 2015 (including four postseason victories).

Maddon is 878-794 (.525) in 10 full seasons as a major league manager, plus two interim managerial stints, with the Angels (interim stints in 1996 and 1999), the Rays (2006-14) and the Cubs (2015).

Awards Watch: The Maddon Effect

Maddon_MOY(Photo by Stephen Green)

On Tuesday night, Major League Baseball will select its Manager of the Year Awards. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon is a National League nominee, along with the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny and the Mets’ Terry Collins. Earlier this season, Vine Line ran a feature on the Maddon effect, in which we examined the positive attributes the Cubs’ first-year manager brought to the table in 2015. This story can be found in the October issue of Vine Line.

For the past half-century, the Cubs have paraded out a succession of managers with big plans for changing the team’s culture, creating the groundwork for sustained success and finally hanging that long-awaited World Series banner at Wrigley Field.

Leo Durocher came to town after the 1965 season and declared he was not the manager of an eighth-place team. He was right. The Cubs finished 10th in 1966 before vastly improving their fortunes over the next several seasons. Still, his clubs never qualified for the postseason.

Dusty Baker reminded the public that, “My name is Dusty, not Messiah,” all the while asking, “Why not us?” when he took over after the 2002 season. He even handed out T-shirts with “Why not us?” printed on them. The Cubs came within five outs of the World Series in 2003, but we all know how that ended.

Lou Piniella hoped to develop a “little Cubbie swagger” when he replaced Baker following the 2006 season. The Cubs indeed swaggered into the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but staggered out in the Division Series each time. They have not returned to the postseason since.

But this year, the Cubs are undergoing a fresh culture change—if not a complete culture shock—under the leadership of inimitable manager Joe Maddon. So far, the 61-year-old skipper’s plan to turn things around at Wrigley Field has worked perfectly, thanks to his unique combination of charisma, creativity, quirkiness and deep baseball knowledge.

Though the Cubs, coming off a 73-89 season in 2014, were expected to be better this year, many thought they wouldn’t contend until 2016 at the earliest. But the North Siders charged into the lead for the second Wild Card spot in late August and eventually made a run all the way to the NLCS. Throughout the ups and downs of the long campaign, this rookie-laden ballclub played hard, remained loose and even developed a flair for the dramatic.

After being no-hit by then-Phillies ace Cole Hamels in the midst of a lost weekend shortly after the All-Star break, the Cubs picked themselves up off the mat and engineered a 21-4 run that put them squarely in playoff contention. Though it’s nearly impossible to quantify what a manager actually means to his team in terms of wins and losses, it’s hard to deny the Maddon effect is in full force on the North Side.

“He’s different from most managers,” said starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, whose career has fully blossomed this season after a breakout in 2014. “It’s obvious from spending just a little bit of time that his personality, the way that he manages people in general, not just players, the way he approaches relationships, it’s on a different level. And it’s something that really works in an environment with a lot of young players. Everybody responds well to it.”


During his four decades in the dugout, Maddon has learned the rules of the game, but he’s definitely not afraid to break them. This season, he has defied convention in several ways:

He routinely bats the pitcher eighth instead of ninth.

He’ll often cancel batting practice, calling it one of the more overrated exercises in baseball.

He never officially named a closer, even though Hector Rondon has gotten the bulk of the save opportunities. When Rondon struggled or needed a breather, Justin Grimm, Tommy Hunter, Jason Motte, James Russell, Pedro Strop and Travis Wood all picked up the slack.

Maddon took Starlin Castro’s starting shortstop job away from him, yanked Jason Hammel from starts earlier than the pitcher would have liked and moved Wood from the rotation to the bullpen. And he did all this without “losing” any of the players mentally.

“It’s just a calmness at all times,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who played for three different managers in his four seasons with the Cubs. “He doesn’t really show to us that he’s ever worried about anything. That rubs off big time, especially being young, being a young team. Make a mistake? We know he’s made them, but he doesn’t show it.

“There’s no tension. He’s easy to talk to. That’s big for us.”

Off the field, the Maddon stories are legendary. He’s become famous for themed road trips, postgame parties and any number of other creative ideas for fostering team chemistry. While managing in Tampa Bay, he was even known to bring exotic animals into the clubhouse from time to time.

“I tell you, he brought in this great, big python,” said Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, also Maddon’s right-hand man in Tampa. “I told him I wanted no part of it. I’m afraid of snakes. I wanted no part of being near that thing or touching it.”

Late in the season, he continued that theme when he brought a few animals (including a snow leopard and a flamingo) to hang out with the club. And he delivered a little magic to the team by bringing an actual magician into the clubhouse in New York. There were also his usual themed road trips (one with players wearing onesies and pajamas) and something called American Legion week, when Maddon procured a banner and a flag from Billy Caldwell Post 806 American Legion and prohibited players from entering the clubhouse until 3 p.m. for night games. If players arrived before that, they had to wait in the concourse.

The idea was to get the Cubs to approach the game the way they did when they were playing legion ball. In other words, just show up and play. The long-term benefit, according to Maddon, was that his troops would be fresher for the September playoff push.

“[It’s a] tribute to playing baseball the old-fashioned way as well as to our veterans,” Maddon said. “It’s been pretty successful in the past.”

A few days later, the clubhouse whiteboard greeted players with this instruction for arriving at the park the next day: “Game time 1:05 p.m. Use your own discretion. Be ready to play.”

Suffice to say, the Cubs have been ready to play all season long. And, for the record, they finished American Legion week 5-0, with wins over the Braves and Indians.

“I knew quite a bit about him, not much on a personal basis, but I played against his teams for four years,” said Arrieta, formerly with the Baltimore Orioles, a division rival of the Rays. “Going to Tampa, I knew that [Evan] Longoria had a drum set in their clubhouse, and they were always playing loud music, and everyone’s having a good time. We would see their guys in the weight room. The mindset and the attitude they had is something that everyone else kind of wanted.

“Now that I’m a part of one of his teams, you can see why. His attitude and his energy bred so much success because everybody was having a good time and enjoying themselves.

“Winning takes care of a lot of that, but I think the basis for winning and team chemistry starts with that looseness, that attitude of, ‘OK, I know the way we’re going to go out and have success on a consistent basis is to enjoy each other’s company.’ Work hard. Put in the hours. But at the end of the day, we need to enjoy each other.”


Major leaguers love playing for Maddon, but let’s be clear about one thing: Underlying all the fun and games is a serious focus on baseball and doing things the right way. “Respect 90” is more than just a Maddon catchphrase—something he’s notorious for—it’s also illustrative of how he approaches the game. Maddon rolled out that particular gem during Spring Training, going so far as to have it painted onto the Cubs practice fields to remind players to respect the 90 feet between the bases and play hard at all times.

“This is his livelihood,” Martinez said. “What he tries to do is take all the pressure off the players so they can go out there and function and have fun and do their daily thing. Whatever makes them click, that’s what he wants to be done. But he wants it to be done in a fun atmosphere. He wants guys to wake up and want to come to the ballpark. That’s what he’s all about.

“He treats everybody with the utmost respect. In return, he earns respect. It’s never about him. It’s about the team and the players. It’s just been incredible. For me, he’s my big brother. That’s what I always tell him. I have so much respect for the man.”

It’s nearly impossible to find somebody in the game who has a bad word to say about the Cubs manager. But there is one man who won’t be effusive with his praise, and that’s Maddon himself. Instead, he spreads credit for the Cubs’ success around to team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, the coaching staff and the players.

“I’m a part of this whole thing,” he said. “You have to be with us behind the scenes. I didn’t acquire and accumulate all these players. I had nothing to do with that. Zero. I’m a big believer in scouting and development. I was both. I scouted and developed in the minor leagues, and that’s where it all begins. The model Theo and Jed put out there permits you to be successful. It gives you latitude.

“Nobody gives major league coaches enough credit. Our coaches are stellar. I see it. They’re the ones who are teaching these guys. The biggest thing I do is meet with the coaches. We formulate plans bimonthly, primarily. After that, I try to stay out of the way as much as I can. My job is to run the game.”

The key to Maddon’s success is not one single thing. It’s more than keeping the team loose. It’s more than making the right strategic in-game decisions. It’s more than allowing players to have postgame parties and cancelling batting practice on occasion. It’s an ineffable combination of factors that is clearly working for his young and talented team. The bottom line: Maddon is a genuine person, and this is just Joe being Joe.

“I just think Joe’s aura—and it started in Spring Training in what he allows this clubhouse to be—is his best asset,” said Chris Coghlan, whom Maddon turned into a super-utility player this season, in the style of former Tampa favorite Ben Zobrist. “I think his best asset is coming in and giving the freedom and letting everybody know, ‘Hey, you’re going to make mistakes.” It’s impossible to be perfect. When you think about it like that, it’s not like it’s the end of the world. I’m not going to get benched. I’m not going to get scolded for it. It’s like, ‘Hey, man, you duly prepare, do your work and prepare, and trust that it’s going to play in the game.’

“It starts with Joe because whoever the manager is, he’s going to establish the culture. Now, we as clubhouse guys or older guys, our job is to impact the young guys and try to hold them accountable here and there. The whole culture is Joe and, ‘Hey, everybody, do your thing. All I care about is respecting 90, going out there preparing each day and playing. That’s what I care about.’

“That trickles down to us, the same thing. We’re not worrying about all this hoopla and all these little, petty things. It’s just about, ‘How can we put everybody in the best position to succeed?’ That’s it. We try to encourage each other and be there for each other as teammates and as family members for the entire year.”

—Bruce Miles, Daily Herald

Cubs Bryant claims NL Rookie of the Year Award


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was unanimously named the National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America on Monday. Bryant received all 30 of the possible first-place votes for a total of 150 points. San Francisco’s Matt Duffy placed second with 70 points.

Bryant is the first player in franchise history to earn unanimous Rookie of the Year honors and the sixth player in team history to win overall, the first since catcher Geovany Soto in 2008. Outfielder Billy Williams (1961), infielder Ken Hubbs (1962), outfielder Jerome Walton (1989) and right-handed pitcher Kerry Wood (1998) join Bryant and Soto as Rookies of the Year in club history.

The 23-year-old Bryant was a 2015 National League All-Star and led all major league rookies in several offensive categories, including 26 home runs (tied), 99 RBI, 31 doubles and 87 runs scored while placing second with 77 walks.  Bryant is only the second player in major league history to reach those totals in homers, RBI, doubles, runs and walks in his rookie campaign, joining Boston’s Ted Williams in 1939. Bryant this year also set rookie franchise records in home runs, RBI, total bases (273) and extra-base hits (62).

Bryant became only the sixth rookie in franchise history to make the NL All-Star team, the first since both Soto and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome in 2008.  Bryant was the club’s first rookie infielder to make the squad since second baseman Don Johnson in 1944 and the club’s first 23-year-old or younger third baseman to make the team since 23-year-old Ron Santo in 1963.

Overall, Bryant batted .275 (154-for-559) with a .369 on-base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage in 151 games with the Cubs this season. He earned National League Rookie of the Month honors in both May and August, only the second Cubs rookie to earn multiple honors in a season (Soto, twice in 2008).

Cubs Arizona Fall League Recap: 11/14/15

Mesa powered its way to a 5-1 win versus Scottsdale Saturday, with a few Cubs getting into the action. Here are some notes from the weekend’s result:

  • DH Jeimer Candelario (.352) recorded two hits, including a fifth-inning double, to finish 2-for-4. He added a run scored.
  • RHP David Garner (3.48) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, giving up no hits and walking one.
  • C Cael Brockmeyer (.200) went 0-for-4.


Cubs release limited number of hotel packages for 2016 Convention

Lester_JonConventionThe Cubs announced Monday that a limited number of hotel packages have been made available for the 31st Annual Cubs Convention. Individual weekend passes are sold out. Fans can secure Cubs Convention passes by booking a hotel package for the weekend at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers or the W Chicago Lakeshore, located approximately a half mile from the Convention at 644 N. Lake Shore Drive. A courtesy shuttle service will be provided between the two hotels throughout the weekend. Attendees can book hotel packages by visiting or calling the Starwood reservations line at 1-877-STARWOOD and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $191 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $30 each.

The 2016 Cubs Convention will feature Cubs celebrity guests including players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top minor league prospects. In addition, the Cubs Convention features interactive exhibits, a children’s play area, a vendor alley and more.

The Cubs Convention will take place Friday, Jan. 15, from 1-10 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 16, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 17, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. More information will be posted on as details are confirmed.

A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised more than $4 million for Cubs Charities.


Award Watch: Why Bryant is deserving of Rookie of the Year honors

(Photo by Stephen Green)

A constant topic of conversation throughout the 2015 baseball season was the quantity of quality rookies scattered among major league rosters. The baseball world has seen its fair share of hot-commodity prospects make a splash in their debut seasons, but what made this season so unique was the sheer number of young position players immediately thrust into pivotal roles within their club.

In the National League alone, there were seven players who finished with an fWAR of 2.8 or better. Los Angeles’ Joc Pederson tied for the NL rookie lead with 26 home runs; Cubs’ infielder Addison Russell saved 19 runs according to Fangraph’s defensive runs saved (DRS) statistic; and the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera hit .297, the highest batting average of any first-year player with 500 plate appearances. None of those players were listed as finalists for Monday’s award. Instead, it was Giants second baseman Matt Duffy, Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang and Cubs slugger Kris Bryant.

The balanced Duffy did a lot of everything for his Giants club, hitting .297/.334/.428 with 12 homers, driving in 77 runs, swiping 12 bases and serving as a solid defensive player. Kang, who came over from South Korea prior to his age-28 season, provided a little more power and a little less speed, but was essentially the same player offensively, finishing the year at .287/.355/.461 with 15 homers. Both players should serve as key pieces of their respective clubs for the next few seasons. That said, both will likely finish runner-up to fellow nominee Bryant.

Fangraphs calculated the Cubs third baseman to be worth 6.5 wins above replacement, which was not only 1.6 higher than the next-best offensive rookie total (Duffy), but the fourth-best mark for a first-year NL hitter since 1900. It trails only perennial All-Star Dick Allen’s 1964 mark of 8.2 and a pair of eventual Hall of Famers in Mike Piazza (7.4 in 1993) and Albert Pujols (7.2 in 2001).

Bryant entered the 2015 season with more hype than any offensive player since Bryce Harper in 2012. Upon arrival, opposing pitchers approached the 23-year-old as if he’d been around the league for a decade, cautiously keeping balls away and in the dirt. As a result, it took 21 big league games for fans to finally see the prospect with an uncanny knack for driving the ball out of the park hit his first home run. But what took place in the 20 games prior demonstrated Bryant’s plate discipline, as he kicked off his pro career with an .411 on-base percentage, largely behind his 17 walks.

When the home runs started coming, however, they didn’t stop. Bryant wrapped up the season with 26 homers, a .378 on-base percentage, 99 RBI, 87 runs scored and 31 doubles; all best among NL rookies. His 77 bases on balls trailed only Pederson for the rookie lead.

The All-Star also demonstrated his ability push his way through personal slumps. After a tough July that saw him go .168/.270/.368 with four homers, he bounced back to hit .323/.400/.567 with 12 homers on the rest of the season.

Aside from his home run total, which tied him for 11th in the NL, the slugger thrust himself into the league’s elite group of power bats. His .488 slugging percentage and .213 isolated power percentage (ISO)—a statistic that indicates the number of extra bases a player averages per at-bat—were good for 12th.

Weighted runs created is a statistic designed to interpret an individual’s effort and quantify it into runs contributed to his team. Bryant managed to compile a wRC of 103, which ranked ninth in the NL and was a shade below Fangraphs’ estimated mark for excellence (105). His total is about 30 points better than the league-average mark.

There were other facets of Bryant’s game that quietly made him the Rookie of the Year favorite in 2015. Despite his 6-foot-5 frame, manager Joe Maddon regarded the young player as one of the best baserunners on the team. In addition to swiping 13 bases and only getting caught four times, Fangraphs’ ultimate base running (UBR)—a statistic that values base advancement and puts it into the value of runs—estimated Bryant’s heads-up approach was good for 3.5 runs, third among all NL players.

The big question mark entering the season (aside from when Bryant will come up) was where he’ll wind up playing defensively. Given his height, many believed it would be detrimental for Bryant to continue his career at third base. Balls get on defenders quicker there, and it can be more difficult for taller players to get down in time. But he managed to hold his own at the hot corner, finishing with an above-average 3 defensive runs saved despite 17 errors.

What was also exciting about his defense was his willingness and ability to play wherever he was needed. Seven games into his major league career, he was thrust into a start at center field, a spot he hadn’t played since college. In total, he had 98 errorless innings in the outfield, where he could see increased time moving forward.

The 2015 rookie class was one for the ages and one that will likely include All-Stars and award winners for years to come. But based on the 2015 season, nobody stands to receive more All-Star nods and award nominations moving forward than Bryant.

—Phil Barnes

Cubs Arizona Fall League Recap: 11/12/15

Mesa couldn’t get the offense going in a 1-0 loss to Peoria Thursday, but Cubs pitcher Pierce Johnson had a strong outing. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:

  • RHP Pierce Johnson (6.10) pitched 5.0 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking just one.
  • C Cael Brockmeyer (.238) doubled in the sixth inning and singled in the third, going 2-for-3.
  • RF Mark Zagunis (.275) led off the game with a single to right. He added a walk to finish 1-for-3.
  • 3B Jeimer Candelario (.349) went 1-for-3 with a fourth-inning single.

Mesa heads to Scottsdale Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 local time.

Cubs Arizona Fall League Recap: 11/11/15

A trio of Cubs pitchers saw mixed results as the Solar Sox topped Surprise 7-5 Wednesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:

  • LHP Rob Zastryzny (4.70) got the start and gave up two earned runs in the first inning, but he quickly settled down to pick up the win. He allowed just one hit his final three innings and struck out the side in the second. In total, he gave up two earned runs on three hits and a walk, fanning four.
  • 3B Jeimer Candelario (.350) singled to right in the third inning and added a walk to finish 1-for-3.
  • RHP David Garner (3.86) gave up a solo homer in his one inning of relief and struck out a batter. He still managed to earn his second hold of the fall.
  • RHP Corey Black (11.42) surrendered a run in an inning of relief, but picked up his second hold of the season.

Mesa heads to Peoria Thursday, with right-hander Pierce Johnson (8.04) scheduled to start. First pitch is at 12:35 local time.


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