Spring Training Wishes: Fewer Walks from Maples, Orgy of Bunts from Schwarber and Heyward

Baseball is back! Spring training is upon us and Cubs pitchers and catchers have reported to Arizona. I will be joining them in Arizona for the first time this year since my wife gifted me the trip for my 41st birthday.

As you can imagine, I am quite excited to see Sloan Park and another season of Cubs baseball. I also hope to see signs of progress from a few key players. In particular, I would love to see Dillon Maples painting corners, along with an orgy of bunts from Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward.

We all know the Cubs could really use another elite bullpen arm, and Maples is one in-house candidate. I am a huge Maples fan, have been for nearly three years now. His fastball sits in the 96 mph range with movement and he has a wipeout slider. His 2018 strikeout rate in both the minors and majors was over 40 percent

His walk rate, however, was north of 20 percent. Maples has the tools to be a high-leverage setup man if he can just find consistent control. If he is running a walk rate in the single digits this spring, it’s going to be difficult for me to contain myself.

Meanwhile, on the offensive end I want to see Schwarber and Heyward laying one down every other trip to the plate. With Bryce Harper off the table, those two will be manning the outfield corners for the foreseeable future. A commitment to the bunt would benefit both.

Among the many reasons for Heyward’s failure to thrive since joining the Cubs has been the 20-30 point drop in on-base percentage. Not only does this mean he is making more outs, but it also deprives the Cubs of his baserunning value. Long story short, Heyward needs to find ways to get on base. Given his speed and the excessive shifting he faces, a commitment to bunting for hits in empty-base situations would seem an obvious first step.

In Schwarber’s case, the bunt could be a tool to finally beat the shift that has played havoc on his game. Schwarber hits a ton high-exit velocity, lower-angle grounders to the right side. Against a traditional defensive alignment, many of these would find the outfield. Instead, they are finding the third baseman deep in the grass on the second-base side.

In the process, many teams are leaving the entire left side open for Schwarber. If he could develop a hard, consistent bunt to the third base side and use it in roughly 30 percent of his empty-base at-bats, he could force a more conventional defensive alignment. Long term, I think this could raise his batting average by 10-15 points.

Schwarber did show the bunt occasionally last year, but there is a difference between laying one down for a hit once in a while (which I want to see Heyward use) and bunting so often defenses need to adjust their alignment. I would like to see Schwarber go for the latter, even if it costs him a few home runs early, because I think it will pay dividends.

If any of our readers plan on being in Mesa from March 5-7, let me know. I’d love to meet y’all.

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Moshe Wilensky

Moshe is a weekly columnist, and self-styled financial reporter, for Cubs Insider. Moshe is a Chicago native who first fell for the Cubs in 1984 at age 7. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC where he gleefully watched the Cubs’ 2016 run, interrupted only by the birth of his first daughter on Thursday AC 0000108. He can be reached at moshethecubsfan@gmail.com.

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve thought for quite some time that the left handed sluggers who are getting robbed of singles to right due to the 3B playing in short RF should just bunt down to 3B. They should get a base hit most every time, which you’d think would lead to the defense having to stop the extreme shift against them. Unfortunately, hitters (and teams) are too stubborn.

    1. Can you even imagine a team attempting to shift on Carew, Brett, Gwynn, etc.? Granted, shifting is a team approach – and the pitchers are part of the equation by pitching for that pull effect/outcome. Although the reality is that pitchers don’t hit their spots with anywhere near every pitch. Whether they bunt or not, guys like Rizzo would hit over .300 if he could get teams to stop shifting on him. I’m with you though – they won’t do it.

  2. Moshe

    Enjoy your visit to the Valley of the Sun; may it be shining.

    If Maples and Mekkes can come through this season, it will solve most, if not all, of the team’s relief issues. And perhaps for several yrs to come.

    Interesting suggestion on the bunting. For Schwarber, it could teach him the discipline of seeking getting on base first and foremost; rather than attempting to be the 2nd coming of Adam Dunn or Dave Nicholson.
    For Heyward, he’s going to miss not having Chili Davis as, I believe, Davis was the catalyst for his rebound last season.
    Davis had him return to what he did in 2012 which seems to have been the catalyst for his resurrgence.
    Perhaps the bunting could add to that.

    But, somehow, I doubt that the Cubs have that in mind for either guy.

    1. You forgot to mention Adam Laroche. I liked the Dave Nicholson reference. I saw him on Tv hitting a homer over the roof at Comiskey

  3. You kids today, only on to Maples fir 3 years and your bunting…..

    Maples has been breaking my heart for 5 years. If only….

    Bunting is hard.
    Pitchers pitch to a shift.
    Hitters do not have the time, from a time value standpoint, to reach a competent level. Few pitchers even reach that level and that’s a fundamental skill for them.
    I’d rather they work on a 2 strike approach. Maybe attempt to throw one down, if they see a pitch they can handle, early in the count, to keep ‘em honest.

  4. Don’t wanna hear one more word about the lie that is Heyward’s baserunning. He went 1/2 last yr in SB. If he really is fast, which I don’t believe either, then he’s worse than a bad base runner: he’s a lazy ass. If Rizzo can do it, so can a “fast” guy.

    Get movin’…outta town.

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