I’m the last person on the planet to judge a manager based on their playing career. I was a mediocre high school and college basketball player at best, so I’m glad none of my previous institutions looked at my career stats before they offered me a head coaching job. I just might have been forced to become a full-time writer years ago if they did.
Even three of the great MLB managers of my lifetime, Tony La Russa (career .199 BA), Tommy Lasorda (career .071 BA), and Sparky Anderson (career .218 BA), were subpar major league players. However, as I have watched these young Cubs the past three seasons, I am beginning to wonder who Theo Epstein handed the keys over to in regards to nurturing his young core and hopeful rocks of the club for the next 15 years: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
It is imperative that we take a closer look at the experience the present coaching staff has, but let’s first take a look at who Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have proven themselves to be.
Starlin Castro was a career .310 minor league hitter before the Cubs made him their starting shortstop in 2010. Below is his Minor League line, his 2010-12 Major League line, and then his 2013 year line when management decided he should hit for more power and walk more (yes, the italics is foreshadowing):
Anthony Rizzo was a career .303 minor league hitter before the Cubs brought him up to man first base in 2012. Below are his comparisons versus his present campaign:
Is it just coincidence that two proven young hitters have simply fallen off the table this year? You might say that there is no one hitting around them, and teams have the freedom to not pitch to them. When in fact, the Cubs are ranked 3rd in the majors in doubles, 8th in home runs, and 7th in the NL in slugging percentage (ahead of the Pirates and Reds) when their two supposedly best players are having down years. If Castro and Rizzo were batting .270+ and the bullpen wasn’t giving away games like candy at Halloween, what could have this year become?
I am to the point where I don’t think it is coincidence at all. There is not one proven former hitter sitting on the Cubs bench this year. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the Cubs may have one of the worst groups of former hitters managing the day-to-day hitting of any team in the majors. Let’s look at the three in charge of hitting:
Dale Sveum, Manager
Major League Career: .236 BA over 12 seasons with a 227 BB / 657 SO ratio
James Rowson, Hitting Coach
Minor League Career: .204 BA over 4 seasons with a 56 BB / 201 SO ratio
He never made the big leagues.
Rob Deer, Asst. Hitting Coach
Major League Career: .180 BA over 11 seasons with a 575 BB / 1409 SO ratio
Oh yeah, he led the NL in strikeouts in 4 different seasons.
Should these three truly be teaching great young hitters about the rigors of handling 600 at bats over a 162 schedule? I am a believer in the Epstein plan. I can see it working. Baez, Soler, Almora, Bryant, Vogelbach and Ott. Put that group with Castro, Rizzo, Lake and Castillo, and Cubs’ fans could be partying in 2015 like it’s 1984. However, and much to my chagrin, I cannot imagine this group coming close to reaching their respective or collective potential with the coaching and teaching staff above. The off-season might be too late to bring in someone who will let these kids use their natural talent and get back on the growth trajectory they were on before this year.
I love the plan, Theo. I just think you gave the keys to the wrong guys to drive the bus.