Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

You might've heard, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon moonlights as a T-shirt salesman.

The team that leads Major League Baseball in T-shirts just added a new one to the batch Friday afternoon, though the mid-May 44-degree day did not make for great T-shirt weather:

Embrace the Suck is a blend of two phrases Maddon used as rallying cries during the championship 2016 season: "Embrace the Target" and "Try Not to Suck."

It's also a military term that the Cubs have been hoping to employ since spring training ever since Joshua Lifrak — the organization's director of mental skills program in the minor leagues — brought it to the manager's attention.

"[It means] exactly what it says," Maddon said. "... It's been a military phrase for probably the last 20 years. I had never heard about it before. It also includes Embrace the Target, Try Not to Suck — it's a morphing of those two phrases and we've been working with the military in order to be able to utilize it where we can sell it and use it for our team phrase."

Maddon and the Cubs are teaming up with KorkedBaseball.com again to sell the shirt and will split the proceeds with the military as well as Maddon's Respect 90 charitable foundation.

"Embrace the Suck" originated from the U.S. Army and is linked to the Navy Seals. It's also being used as a rallying cry for the Atlanta Falcons as of this week after head coach Dan Quinn used it to refocus his team this offseason following a collapse in the Super Bowl.

For the reigning world-champion Cubs, the phrase is remarkably applicable during the first 40 games of a season that has not lived up to expectations set forth by a team that won 200 games across the last two years.

"The message could not be more appropriate than it is right now regarding the start of the season," Maddon said. "We're embracing the suck, we're trying to continue to move forward. 

"Militarily speaking, I would imagine if you're fighting or in a difficult situation, it's never any good. But nevertheless, you have to embrace the moment somehow."

The Cubs spent last year embracing the target on their backs as the preseason favorite to win it all. They're still getting everybody's best shot as they were in 2016, but the 2017 team has yet to click on all cylinders and is still trying to settle into a groove.

So how, exactly, do the Cubs Embrace the Suck?

"It's never going to be the same path," Maddon said. "To this point, it's not run exactly the way we've liked it to. But again, to really expect utopia on an annual basis in the baseball industry is difficult and not really a good method.

"I want our guys to understand: Maybe we haven't done our best work to this point, but that's a good thing. To really stay focused and understand that the better days are coming.

"More recently, we've had three good days, but it's gonna take a lot more than that to get back to where we want to be. So the concept of embracing the target, try not to suck and then embracing the suck, to me makes all the sense in the world."

Of course, the Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, their first sweep since Sept. 19-21 of last season (also against the Reds at Wrigley Field).

The panic is gone — for now, at least — surrounding a Cubs team that is now 21-19 and has a chance to knock the first-place Brewers out of the top spot in the NL Central this weekend.

"We're over .500," Kris Bryant deadpanned, "so everybody can stop freaking out now."

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.