Saturday, April 23, 2016


2016-The Year of the Cubs?

2016-The Year of the Cubs?

The Chicago Cubs have indicated that they mean business this year. No more fooling around. No more Mister Nice Guys. This is the year.

Last Thursday, one of their pitchers, Jake Arrieta, sent a signal to the rest of the teams in the National League. He threw his second no-hitter, with some run support. The Cubs squeaked by the Cincinnati Reds 16-0. His first no-hitter was against the Dodgers last year. The Reds had not been held hitless in a regular season game for 45 years. They were held off the hit list in a playoff game in 2010, by Roy Halladay, when he was with the Phillies.

Two of the 18 hits that the Cubbies had came off Arietta's bat. In his post game interview, he chatted more about the preparation to get those two hits. The National League pitchers take pride in their at bats, when successful. There is no “Designated Hitter” in the NL, and that is the most significant difference between the two leagues.

Arrieta was not at his best in the game. He walked three batters, and relied on some fine fielding plays to help his cause. “It felt sloppy from the get go. I was a little off my command, but I was able to keep them off balance,” he reported to Joe Kay of the Associated Press.

There were only 16 497 fans on hand in Cincinnati to appreciate the feat. Arrieta got run support off the bat of Kris Bryant. Bryant had two home runs, including a Grand Slam in the 7th inning. Ben Zobrist, David Ross and Anthony Rizzo also homered.

The Cubs are now 12-4 for the season, their best start since 1970. They have a great manager in Joe Maddon, and their GM is Theo Epstein. They spend a good deal of time preparing for games, behind the scene. That's where analysis and scouting become important.

                                                Tommy Hottovy

That's where the expertise of Tommy Hottovy comes into play. Hottovy, now 34 years old, chased the dream of playing in the Major Leagues for several years. He made relief appearances for the Red Sox and the Royals. In 2014, he was in Spring Training with the Cubs, and blew out his shoulder. A graduate of Wichita State University, he majored in finance and had an economics minor. He knew a little about crunching numbers. He had also studied Sabermetrics, a course about statistics and baseball. Last December, he was hired by the Cubs as the Co-ordinator of Advance Scouting, with an emphasis on run prevention.

He travels with the team, analyzing data. His main focuses involve breaking down hitters, planning and sequencing game strategy, defensive positioning, and defending the running game.

I have always marveled at defensive positioning. At a critical time in a game, with runners on base, a batter smacks a line drive over the head of the shortstop into left field, but not terribly deep. Fortunately, the left fielder is playing shallow, and catches the ball easily. Most of the time, there is no luck involved. There is hitter analysis, there is thought given to the type of pitch to be thrown, and the location of the pitch. Occasionally, that might mean the kind of shift that “Big Papi” sees every time he comes to the plate. To his credit, he still manages to get on base.

Hottovy prepares for each individual hitter, analyzing tendencies and preferences. Some hitters always swing at the first pitch. The pitcher needs to make it good, but not too good. Occasionally, batters get on base by hitting bad pitches. Think Vladimir Guerrero. “Sometimes, you make a good pitch, and it's the pitch you want to throw, and the guy hits it. That's baseball. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the hitter,” he stated in an interview with David Laurila with Daily Graphings.

The players trust the workings of the team behind the scenes. It certainly worked for Arrieta. For the rest of the Cubs and the season? We shall see.

James Hurst

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