Cubs keeping their eyes on Jackson and Rizzo

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Cubs keeping their eyes on Jackson and Rizzo

Even if Theo Epstein insists that the Cubs will block out all the external noise, that wont stop the fans and the media from wondering: When are Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo getting here?

It will only grow louder on talk radio and the message boards if the Cubs dont get off to a good start. But Epsteins front office is supposed to run things like a corporation, without emotions. So this year an individual player plan was created for every prospect in the organization.

Jackson and Rizzo are near the intersection of the parallel tracks Epstein likes to talk about. In the years to come, they are supposed to anchor the lineup and glue the clubhouse together. So whats left to prove at Triple-A Iowa?

Its kind of a broad word, but consistency in terms of how they approach their at-bats, really the mental focus from at-bat to at-bat, said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. Its kind of easy when you go down to the back fields to lose concentration. Even when you get into Double-A and Triple-A, everyones kind of itching, scratching, like they can feel it, getting to the major leagues.

Sometimes guys, even on the way up, kind of get complacent being there because Im not saying these guys are but you fall into this trap of just kind of biding your time until you get called up. (So its) consistency, mental focus and preparedness every single day.

Epstein said that major-league service time and the financial advantage gained by delaying it will not really be a consideration. It sounds like the Cubs wont be reactionary if there are injuries or trades.

With potential impact young players, we always try to make decisions based on whats best for their development, Epstein said. Theres a certain set of criteria for advancement that we have for each level of the minor-league system and that sort of checklist that goes into how those decisions are made.

So Id like to see players get a significant amount of time at Triple-A, usually a full calendar year, if possible, and certainly Id like to see them check all the boxes (before) theyre advanced up here.

As talented as Anthony and Brett are, there are still some issues left in their development, so wed like to see those addressed before they get up here.

Manager Dale Sveum called Jackson probably the best young player hes seen in camp since he started coaching in the big leagues almost 10 years ago. Its just that there werent any job openings in the outfield.

A 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, the 23-year-old Jackson began this season with only 48 games above the Double-A level. The attention to detail in that player plan is such that the Cubs want to see certain improvements in his baserunning, as far as angles, turns and jumps.

With Brett being the athlete that he is, he can do so many things, McLeod said. Hes probably got a little more power than is good for him, because he knows he can juice a ball. But when you have multiple skills like he does, hes got to learn how to take advantage of and get the most out of all those skills.

Hes a guy that can hit in the top of the order and he can probably hit in the middle of the order. Hes got that kind of power. So (theres) his plate discipline. Approach, again, is way too broad-based of a word. Its (more): What am I looking to do in this at-bat? What am I looking to do in this count? Whats the game situation?

(Its) understanding his strengths and weaknesses, because he can get on base, he can walk and he can steal bases. There are reasons mechanically and mentally why the strikeouts are a little high.

Rizzo is the Cubs first baseman of the future, but then again he had that same label for the Red Sox and Padres. Drafted by these Boston executives, and traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, he knows all about The Red Sox Way the Cubs are trying to recreate.

They just preach winning, Rizzo said. Right when I signed, (it was): Win a World Series. They brought up a ton of talent through their minor-league system.

General manager Jed Hoyer has admitted that Rizzo was rushed last season to San Diego, where he hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. The Cubs dont want to make the same mistake.

With Rizz, its again that mental focus, McLeod said. His, obviously, is a swing mechanics type thing and he likes to tinker a little bit, so its staying consistent with what feels good to him.

I try to think back to when I was 22 years old. I think its a hard thing to not be like always looking at Wrigley and (wondering): Whens my time? Whens my time? Whens my time? So its just kind of more being in the now and every day getting yourself focused.

The idea is that once Jackson and Rizzo get to Clark and Addison, theyre never going to leave.

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

Tony Andracki, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson react in real time to the breaking news that Kyle Schwarber was demoted to the minor leagues. Plus, the trio play around with expansion drafts and who the most indispensable players on the Cubs are.

[RELATED - Inside the numbers on Schwarber's season-long struggles]

Patrick Mooney also goes 1-on-1 with Cubs swingman southpaw Mike Montgomery about the lanky lefty’s role and how he got here.

Check out the entire Podcast here.

Inside the Numbers: Kyle Schwarber's season-long struggle

Inside the Numbers: Kyle Schwarber's season-long struggle

The struggle is real for Kyle Schwarber.

The Cubs demoted their slumping slugger Thursday morning, sending Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa at the same time they put Jason Heyward on the disabled list. 

Let's break down the numbers behind Schwarber's season-long struggles:

.171 

Schwarber's batting average, which was the lowest among qualified hitters in Major League Baseball by a whopping 17 points (Alex Gordon — .188).

In the new age of baseball, batting average has become almost completely useless in telling the story of a hitter's value, especially with home runs flying out of the ballpark.

But to put this average in perspective, Bill Bergen — widely considered the worst hitter in baseball history — hit .170 for his entire career, though he also posted a ridiculous .395 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) thanks to a .194 on-base percentage and .201 slugging.

38

In 2016, the lowest batting average for a qualified hitter was .209 by Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals.

That means Schwarber would've needed to raise his batting average 38 points just to meet Espinosa's mark from last season.

The last qualified player to hit below .200 in a season was Baltimore's Chris Davis in 2014 with a .196 average (but he also had a .704 OPS).

17

Like we said, baseball is a different game nowadays and batting average doesn't tell the whole story.

Despite his MLB-low average, Schwarber actually had only the 17th-lowest OPS in the game, ahead of guys like Albert Pujols, Tim Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez, Rougned Odor and Dansby Swanson. Fellow Cub Addison Russell is one point higher with a .674 OPS.

Schwarber helped his own case by posting a .295 on-base percentage (124 points above his batting average) and .378 slugging. 

13.8 

That's Schwarber's walk rate, drawing a free pass in 13.8 percent of his plate appearances. That's the exact same rate as Anthony Rizzo, who has a .393 on-base percentage. 

Only Kris Bryant is higher among Cubs regulars (15.7 percent) and Schwarber's walk percentage is tied for the 20th-best rate in the majors, ahead of Miguel Cabrera (13.2 percent) and Dexter Fowler (12.1 percent).

189

Schwarber was on pace to strike out 189 times over the course of a 162-game season. That would've come in as the fourth-highest whiff total of 2016, behind Davis (219), Chris Carter (206) and Mike Napoli (194).

But Schwarber has always been a big strikeout guy, whiffing 28.6 percent of the time in his career. That rate is at 28.7 percent in 2017. 

In 2015, Schwrber struck out 28.2 percent of the time and still posted an 842 OPS, so it's not like he can't be successful with this whiff rate.

-7/-7.7

The first number (-7 percent) is the increase in soft contact percentage from Schwarber's 2015 season (15.4 percent) to this year (22.4 percent). The second number (-7.7 percent) is the decrease in hard-hit contact from 39.7 percent in 2015 to 32 percent this year.

So Schwarber is simply not hitting the ball as hard overall this year, even though he's making contact at essentially the same rate.

.849

That's Schwarber's OPS in June, spanning 46 at-bats. He's only hitting .196 in the month, but he has a .327 OBP and .522 SLG thanks to four homers, three doubles and nine walks. 

The decent start to the month has helped raise Schwarber's season OPS from .627 to .673, but it was really the month of May that did America's Large Adult Son in: .120/.232/.337 in 83 May at-bats, good for a .569 OPS.

1.056 

In the first 12 games of June, Schwarber posted a 1.056 OPS thanks to a .250/.368/.688 slash line and four homers. It was that start that helped give Joe Maddon more confidence to move Schwarber around in the order, including hitting third Wednesday behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But since that hot start to June, Schwarber is only 1-for-14 with a double in five games (four starts), sinking his season OPS 20 points from .693 to .673.

.104

Schwarber's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for over a month, from May 10 to June 13. Schwarber racked up 98 plate appearances (84 at-bats) and had 30 strikeouts and six homers (which don't count toward BABIP), so he collected five hits in 48 balls put in play. 

Put another way: Schwarber had three singles in roughly five weeks of play (27 games). That's insanely bad luck, even factoring in the shift teams pull against the left-handed slugger, putting three defenders on the right side of the field.

During that stretch, Schwarber was an extreme three true outcome guy, with half his plate appearances (49) resulting in either a home run, a walk or a strikeout.

Schwarber's season BABIP is .193, a far cry from his .242 career mark. No other Cubs position player has a BABIP under .235 (Zobrist) on the year.

.221/.336/.456

Ending on a positive: This is Schwarber's batting line over the course of his career, including playoffs. That's a .792 OPS, even when factoring in this year's struggles. It also includes 33 HR and 81 RBI.

It also comes over 502 at-bats (590 plate appearances), essentially a full season's worth of action.