Did Joe Maddon’s Geeks or Gut Keep Kyle Schwarber Out of Monday’s Lineup
If the Cubs’ anonymous team of “geeks” advised Joe Maddon against starting Kyle Schwarber Monday night, I’d really like to see their numbers. And if it was one of the manager’s infamous gut feelings that urged him to opt for Mark Zagunis in left, I’d advise him to up his Metamucil consumption and maybe try a probiotic regimen.
On the surface, the move looked like a simple platoon against a lefty starter for the Braves. But Sean Newcomb doesn’t pitch to traditional splits, walking lefties at a higher rate while also giving up higher slugging to them than he does righties. And wait, isn’t Schwarber a patient hitter who can also slug like a mug? This matchup seemed like the perfect opportunity to build his confidence against southpaws.
Maddon himself indicated as much before the game when he talked about the changes Schwarber has made and the comfort he’s displayed in the box. As evidence, Schwarber has homered in each of the last three games he’s played, including against Red Sox lefty David Price in his last spring game.
“Now, Schwarber is showing a better way to not give in to a lefty,” Maddon said Monday. “His whole stance, everything, is different. I’m curious to see how this plays out.”
Dude, is he just trolling or what? It’s not possible to see how it all plays out if you don’t, like, see how the hell it all plays out. And there’s no better way for Schwarber to show a better way to not give in to a lefty than to let him show a better way to not give in to a lefty. This decision has so vexed me that I’m now repeating myself like a heinie bird flying up its own backside.
Where were we again?
Oh yeah, Schwarber not starting. This isn’t like Opening Day, when playing Zagunis against Mike Minor felt like a more by-the-book call. And Zagunis backed it up by going 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI. But in what felt like karmic proof of the collective questioning of Monday’s choice, Zagunis failing to reach a foul pop off the bat of Ender Inciarte resulted in the Braves leadoff hitter going yard on the next pitch.
Zagunis then went down looking in his first at-bat, though if we’re being totally honest, that’s not something we’re unused to seeing from Schwarber (who even obliged with his own backward K as I was editing this). Still, it provided some more rotten, low-hanging fruit for us to pick and huck in Maddon’s general direction. Of course, he’ll remain unsullied by our fetid fusillade as long as we’re as accurate as Javy Báez and David Bote were Monday evening.
It’s probably a sign of my own pettiness or self-importance that I’m even bothering with this topic in light of the full bedpan the Cubs sloshed onto the floor as they rolled clumsily out of bed and into SunTrust Park. But given all the focus they’ve put on making every game important and displaying a sense of urgency, I can’t help but see Monday’s lineup as a symptom of the bigger ailment rather than some aberrant outlier apropos of nothing.
And this isn’t even about Zagunis, a perfectly adequate hitter with a solid plate approach who deserves a spot on the bench. But that role needs to be applied as such, not as a platoon starter with Schwarber. Beyond their disparate potential at the plate, it’s not as though Zagunis offers some sort of upgrade over Schwarber in the field. While one game certainly doesn’t offer credible proof for comparison, I think we can all agree that Schwarber would have been more proficient out there than what we saw from his replacement.
Alas, I’m neither a geek with access to proprietary algorithms and myriad matchup matrices nor a tenured baseball lifer with a finely tuned intuition. I’m just some schmoe shouting into the void and praying to hear an echo in return once in a while. And since Zagunis ended up doubling twice, I’ve got a feeling that the only sound I’ll hear in return will be laughter.
So I guess try to enjoy the off day. If nothing else, it’ll be a helluva lot less painful than watching whatever hot mess the Cubs have been producing lately.