Friday Cubs Notes: Pederson Enjoying Newfound Defensive Freedom, Bryant Unchanged as Person, Contreras to Get Heavier Workload

I typically reserve these multi-topic posts for Saturdays, but it made sense to bump this up because I’ll be on the road all day tomorrow and probably won’t put anything out until evening at the earliest. Not that it’ll really matter much with the NCAA tourney taking place all day Friday and Saturday, though our readership tends to remain somewhat steady despite that event’s gravitational pull.

That said, I’m planning on watching basketball until we head out this afternoon, so let’s get this going and make it quick.

Pederson on defensive freedom

Part of the reason the Cubs saw fit to pay Joc Pederson roughly what they’d have owed Kyle Schwarber had they opted to tender him a deal is that the former Dodger plays better defense in left field. And while some of that can perhaps be attributed to LA’s strict adherence to defensive positioning data, Pederson feels the Cubs’ more organic philosophy will help him excel.

To be sure, the Cubs absolutely use data to advise their outfielders on where to set up based on hitters’ tendencies and even the weather. Their partnership with Weather Applied Metrics didn’t yield nearly as much information as they’d planned due to hosting just 30 games at Wrigley last season, but the organization will continue to gain and apply ever-greater knowledge when it comes to how wind and other factors impact ball flight.

In the end, though, it’s the players who have to act on both the information and their instincts. After all, the data can’t predict where a pitch will be thrown or what kind of contact a hitter will make.

“The Dodgers were more, ‘Stick to the card,'” Pederson said. “Willie [Harris] kind of talked to me and said these are all good numbers, but he said, ‘You’re a center fielder. You know how to read the bat. You know the feel of the game. You know if the pitcher is locating.’”

With Jason Heyward as the anchor and Ian Happ getting better with experience, adding Pederson to the mix should result in a few extra outs that might not have been made previously.

Bryant still the same guy

This is one of those ideas I’ve already belabored to the point that I’m almost tired of it myself, but it bears repeating because of all the nonsense that bubbles up every time Kris Bryant is mentioned. By which I mean there are Cubs fans who actually say they hate one of the greatest players in franchise history. Some still believe taking a pitch to the head in 2018 ruined him, even though a small degree of digging thoroughly debunks that myth. Others even go so far as to say that getting married caused his production to dip.

If you are one of the beanball truthers, please click the link above and educate yourself. If you are one of the marriage truthers, please log off and unfollow me and/or Cubs Insider. Then delete your social media account(s).

Rather than proceed with yet another diatribe that will see me preaching either to the choir or willfully deaf congregants, I’ll direct you to a recent Patrick Mooney piece in The Athletic. You may not be able to read it sans subscription, but suffice to say it lays out how the third baseman has simply gone about his business over the last three decades or so.

More specifically, it goes over what’s happened since Bryant was drafted by the Cubs with the second overall pick in 2013.

“Since then, I think the only thing that has really changed is I grew a beard,” Bryant told Mooney. “My stance might be a little wider. My strike zone might look a little differently in terms of what I hit well and what I don’t. But in terms of the person that is in that picture, it’s the same exact one. When I go to bed at night, I know that nothing has changed me since that moment. Since I got a big signing bonus or an MVP award or a World Series or a big arbitration raise or any of that — or a bad season — I’m still the same person.

“At the end of my career — at the end of my life in general — that’s what I want to look back on and be like, ‘This game didn’t change who I am in my soul.’ That means a lot to me and my family.”

It’s okay to be frustrated by the lack of production relative to expectations over the last few years, Bryant himself feels the same way. But if you’re one of those folks spewing vitriol or calling him a prima donna or a puppet of his agent, perhaps a little introspection is necessary.

Willson’s workload

Willson Contreras wants to be in the lineup every single day, but that isn’t really a great idea when he plays such a physically demanding position. It was clear the heavy workload took a toll on him when he bonked in 2018, a consequence he later admitted came from stopping his in-season workouts.

He has rectified those bad habits in the time since and now heads into the season without a backup of Victor Caratini‘s caliber, which means David Ross has little choice but to put him in there almost all the time.

“Willson is an extremely hard worker,” Ross said. “He’s probably in some of the best shape of anybody on our team. He’s in the top of that list. And he’s strong. He’s durable. We’ve got to protect his legs. … Saying that, he’s going to catch a ton of games for us. I mean, that’s just a fact.”

This is a situation to monitor as the Cubs finish up camp and decide who they’ll be taking with them to Chicago. Limiting the bullpen could mean having an extra spot to carry two extra catchers for at least the early part of the season, though that might also create a situation in which one player is essentially taking up a roster spot for no reason.

It’s really more an issue for the second half of the season, when those life-sucking July afternoons beat down body and mind relentlessly.

Pederson’s play in left and at the plate, Bryant’s health, and Contreras’s durability are all factors that could elevate the Cubs back to divisional contention almost on their own. The latter two in particular could almost carry the team, at least for broad stretches. Now we just wait and see how it all works out because the season starts in less than two weeks.

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