2016 Chicago Cubs - That's What Friends Are For (Video Montage)

An ode to the camaraderie of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Enjoy.
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Friday Notes

  • On June 1st, the Cubs essentially won the division. They had a 99.6% chance of winning the Central at that time.

  • On July 9, the Cubs were in the midst of what was a 5-16 stretch. FanGraphs pegged the Cubs, based on that losing stretch, to only win 96 games (only, lol), whereas they were projected to win 103 just three weeks prior. 
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Aroldis Chapman Is Much Different as a Cub

I was watching Aroldis Chapman throw in Pittsburgh. Like any Cub fan, I was sitting on my futon, eating reeses, and worrying about Jake Arrieta. Well, maybe you weren't eating reeses, but you should have been. As I was stressing about the residual chocolate now on my fingers, I looked up and saw a 104 fastball tail away. I blinked, grabbed another miniature reeses, and didn't think anything of it. I then went on Twitter and found the exact pitch that made me blink. Here it is:

I've never seen a straight-up camera shot of Aroldis Chapman pitching. Wrigley's camera view is slightly off-centered to the right, as is several other MLB tv cameras. In fact, according to FanGraphs, Pittsburgh's camera is the most straight-up shot in the bigs.

Despite the incredible camera angle, I swore I never saw Chapman throw with that much tailing action. I went to Brooks Baseball to see if I was going crazy. Luckily, I wasn't going crazy, at least not going baseball crazy (I am for other reasons, like the Reeses still on my fingers). Chapman has substantially increased his fourseam's tailing action. As seen below, he is throwing 104 fastballs with nearly 1.5 inches of more tailing movement. Wow.

I then thought, "How is this possible?" And so I then looked to see if his release point changes correlated with the increase in trailing movement. He's letting go of pitches further away from his shoulder and closer to the ground. That is, his vertical release point is lower and horizontal release point farther from his body. We can clearly see, based on the images below, that the changes in release point coincide with the increase in tailing movement. 

There might never be another pitcher like Chapman in our lives. I can't imagine trying to hit his fastball. How do MLB players not stand as far in the box as allowed, sort of like Henry Rowengarder (I think that's how you spell his name). 

To sum this all up, Chapman is amazing. He's always been amazing, but he's been even more amazing this year. He's throwing 104 MPH pitches with nearly 5 inches of tailing movement, which might be a result of a lower release point. 

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Life Alert: Don't Let Travis Wood Pitch in High-Leverage Moments

Wood's role in the playoffs will likely be that of a loogy. That is, he comes in for one or two left-handed batters and immediately is pulled out of the game. On the surface, having Wood only face left-handed batters seems like a fantastic idea. He's held left-handed batters to an extremely favorable .206 wOBA this year.  Except, I will surely have a heart attack if he comes into a medium-to-higher leverage playoff game to only face a lefty.

I will have a heart attack if Wood comes into an important part of the game because of several reasons. One, his K/9 against lefties is only 6.54. Two, his BB/9 against lefties is 3.13. Three, he gives up a ton of flyballs (less than 40% of batted balls). These three characteristics, in theory, lead to lots of runs (4.53 xFIP). And his hard hit rate against lefties is 31% (above the MLB mean by almost one point). The question I ask myself is, "Do I want a pitcher who has trouble striking out lefties, controlling his pitches, and inducing weaker contact in a stressful moment of the game?" The answer is, "No, please don't give me a heart attack."

What's the alternative to Travis Wood then? There probably isn't one. Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Joe Smith, or Wood will win the last bullpen spot. All four shouldn't pitch in a playoff game unless the bullpen is exhausted or if the game gets completely out of hand.

There is, however, an alternative to Travis Wood's loogy role: Justin Grimm. Unlike Wood, Grimm strikes out lefties (13.50 K/9 in 2015 and 14.95 K/9 in 2016). His ability strike out so many batters suggest that he will give up fewer runs than Wood against lefties (2.27 FIP and 2.46 xFIP). On the other hand, Grimm also gives up lots of hard contact against lefties (38% rate), except batters don't put many balls in play against Grimm. Wood's raw amount of hard-hit pitches per batted ball is more than Grimm. Bring Grimm into the 5th or 6th inning of a close game to face a lefty or two; don't make me cry by bringing in Wood.

Guys, guys, guys... do you not remember this? 

The Cubs have the luxury of a super-human bullpen. Chapman, Rondon, Strop, Edwards Jr., and Grimm are a monstrous group. If Grimm, for example, comes in the 6th inning to face a lefty, the Cubs not only have a better chance of getting that lefty batter out, but they also have the fortune of using four remaining super-human pitchers to win the game.

Travis Wood can make the roster. That I don't necessarily care. I do care if he comes into a close game. If he does, like I told Cubs twitter, please check in on me, as there is a possibility my health will be compromised during that game moment.
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Thursday Notes

  • Jake Arrieta's twoseam averaged 92.7 MPH against the Pirates yesterday. It was the lowest of the season.

  • Arrieta was throwing twoseams with the lowest release point since mid June against the Pirates yesterday.

  • Despite a relatively weird year for Arrieta, he nearly replicated his whiff rate from 2015 (76.1% contact in 2015; 76.8% contact in 2016).
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Cubs Related Podcast: September 28

Corey and Brendan simply reflect on the Cubs historic season.
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Theo Epstein Extended for 5 Years (Hoyer and McCleod extended as well)

This afternoon, the Cubs announced that the long-awaited Theo Esptein contract extension is finally here. The brains behind the Cubs rennaissance will be in Chicago for another five years. His brain trust, Hoyer and McCleod, signed extensions as well (which is great news in the wake of his recent interviews with MIN to become their GM).

This move really doesn't require much hard hitting analysis on my part. This group, led by Epstein, has created a baseball super-power that is thriving at all levels, so naturally keeping those people in the organization was of major importance.

This is a lovely present for Cubs' fans, as they no longer have to worry about keeping those responsible for the recent success around to help sustain it.

Praise Theo. Long may he reign.
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Wednesday Notes

  • The Cubs 106 wRC+ ranks first in the NL and second in MLB (behind the Red Sox's 114).

  • The Cubs 75.1 UZR is not just first in all of baseball, but almost double that of the second place Giant's 44.9.

  • Kyle Hendricks 33.8% swinging strike rate ranks eighth in the NL.
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