Dillon Maples scoffs at the laws of physics, unleashing his mind-bending pitch mix as a series of cruel jokes in a one-man roast of opposing hitters. Not that his victims are laughing, though, as his punchlines usually result in punch-outs. I suppose some of them might crack a wry smile as they trudge back to the dugout, shaking their heads in awe of what they didn’t see.
Maples has found a way to weaponize spin rate and is thus required to maintain a concealed-carry license for his pitches. Even David Blaine is skeptical of the sleight of hand Maples is exercises with a baseball. His slider/cutter grip conjures images of Darth Vader’s Force choke, both in its appearance and deadly results.
And if you think I’ve wandered into hyperbole, wait until you get a load of what the stout righty is doing with AAA Iowa.
Maples has struck out a batter in each of his eight appearances, he’s struck out at least two in his last seven outings, and has rung up at least three in this last three. That includes a game in which he struck out four — without allowing a walk or hit — in a single inning. All told, he’s racked up 19 strikeouts in 8.1 innings, which comes to — math is hard, folks, bear with me — a whopping 20.53 K/9.
Dude, no way.
Dillon Maples just struck out the side in the 9th for the @IowaCubs. Hit 99 mph on the radar gun twice. Maples has now struck out 19 batters in 8.1 innings this season. That's 20.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen) May 3, 2018
Wow, yes way. I guess my math was right.
It’s not just the strikeouts, either. Maples has allowed only five hits and, best of all, he’s “only” walked seven. Four of those free passes have come in his last 2.1 innings of work, which is what you might call suboptimal. But that 2.71 K/BB ratio is a full strikeout higher than his career 1.699 mark coming into the season (and yes, I intentionally avoided rounding that number up). Who could have seen this coming?
Well, Maples, for one. Brief though it was last season, his cup of coffee as a September call-up gave him the boost to take his game to the next level. More than just the experience of actually taking the mound in six big league games, he was able to learn from veteran pitchers about what it takes to really succeed in the Show.
“You hear (Kyle) Hendricks talk, and Wade Davis was great as far as talking to him in the bullpen,” Maples shared with me during an interview at Cubs Convention. “Any time he started talking it was just [lip-zipping motion] zip it and kind of soak it in. But all those guys talked about just feeling the ball, you know, feeling your arm out, kind of like a meditation.
“Just feel the ball and know how your body’s feeling that day, feel your hand out in front. I’ve really been trying to do that this offseason. Is it perfect every day? No, of course not. But as long as I’m trying to do that, I know I’m getting better, my feel is getting better.”
Of course, even as nasty as he’s looked in Des Moines to this point, Maples still has a long way to go before he’s ready to come back up to take a spot on the 25-man roster. Those seven free passes work out to 7.56 BB/9, though he’d been at 5.07 before his last two outings. Couple that with more discerning hitters at the next level, though, and you can see why the Cubs would want to take their time with the potential closer of the future.
There’s also the matter of room in the bullpen, which there simply isn’t at this point, at least not for the role Maples figures to play. He’s not a multi-inning type, so his only real opportunity figures to come as an injury replacement should one of the current stalwarts have to sit for a while. Whether it’s in that capacity or as a September move again, there’s no doubt Maples will benefit greatly from sitting with Brandon Morrow for a while.
If Maples can dial in that location and keep the world’s nastiest slutter under control, hitters won’t stand a chance against the back end of the Chicago’s ‘pen. And they already don’t, so basically having two Morrows back there would force opponents to look to the future for hope of a better matchup the next day.
Selfishly, I want to see Maples back up in Chicago because his is the kind of “WTF did I just see?” stuff that deserves to be on the biggest stage. Somewhat less selfishly, I want to see the greatest autographed items of all time to gain a little more value (these bad boys are currently housed at Club 400).
The only people who don’t want to see Maples back with the Cubs are opposing batters. And maybe whoever’s got to catch him.