Speaking from the Sloan Park locker room Sunday morning, Javy Báez admitted to the media that he and his teammates didn’t prepare well enough prior to games last year. Although he didn’t mention Joe Maddon directly, it’s clear Javy’s words aligned with what we’ve heard from various other sources over the last two years or so. Theo Epstein spoke often about creating more urgency and former bench coach Mark Loretta noted publicly that practice habits and game planning were lacking.
Even with the implementation of several player-sponsored initiatives to be more intentional with their preparation, existing philosophies encouraged players to relax and essentially warm up during the game. Specifically, Báez said he didn’t feel as though he or the rest of the team were doing enough of the optional preparation.
“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of optional things,” Javy admitted. “Not mandatory. Everyone kind of sat back on that, including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good.”
While Javy made it a point to say that the lack of mandatory activities wasn’t bad in and of itself, he made it clear that the Cubs’ lackadaisical performance early in games was a byproduct of poor preparation. Or maybe it was about failing to prepare at all, which can be the same as preparing to fail. That same attitude carried over to the season as a whole, with the Cubs seemingly waiting on their opportunity to step on the gas. As we’ve seen the past two seasons, however, they had nothing left in the tank.
El Mago flat-out said he and his teammates were acting as individuals and were simply not taking the time to get ready for games. That’s a pretty damning statement, folks.
“It was just, I got to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” Javy said. “Once I’d go out to the field for the game, I feel like I wasn’t ready, you know? I feel like I was getting loose during the first four innings, and…I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch. I promise you guys that this year is going to be like that.
Indeed, compared to their 2016 World Series run, the Cubs struggled to start games well and play sharp defense. The Cubs gave up first-inning runs in only 23% of their games in 2016, but that jumped to 33% of their first innings last season. A lot of that was the product of sloppy defense, as they committed the fourth most errors in MLB last year and were surpassed in the National League only by Clint Hurdle‘s lifeless Pirates.
“I just feel like a lot of players were doing the same as me,” Javy told reporters. “They were getting loose during the game and you can lose the game in the first inning. And sometimes when you’re not ready and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready. We weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.
An early run or two might not seem significant, but the team that scores first typically wins the game. A visiting team that goes up 1-0 in its first at-bat has a nearly 57% chance of winning, while the home team hanging the first tally will win just over 69% of the time. Taking four innings to get loose is a recipe for disaster.
“We’re going to make sure everybody is outside, everybody is doing their routine, everybody is getting ready for the team, for the game,” Javy promised.
It’s at least a little troubling that this information is coming to light now, but it had been pretty evident for a while even if players weren’t talking to the media about it. Kyle Hendricks said the managerial change “needed to be done” ($) and we’re already seeing in the earliest stages of spring training that David Ross is getting his team back to basics. Can more structured practice and intense live BP really have an impact?
The newest addition to Camp Rossy: Increased intensity in live BP sessions, with an umpire and no batting cage.
This is Duane Underwood Jr., who ended his session with a pair of Ks.
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) February 16, 2020
Absolutely, but it’s going to take the rest of the players arriving at the same realizations that Javy shared. Just cleaning up some of the silly mistakes that characterized their play last season and showing up ready to play before first pitch should see the Cubs outperforming even their optimistic projections.