Theo Epstein: Chicago bar scene has been “an impediment to the Cubs in winning”

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Cubs president Theo Epstein has developed (and will distribute) a pamphlet outlining the way he expects players in the organization to behave. Especially those tempted by the Chicago nightlife.

“It’s been a factor in ruining some careers,” Epstein told the Chicago Tribune. “And I’m sure it’s been an impediment to the Cubs in winning. … The approach we’re going to have is the opposite of laissez faire. We’re not just going to say, ‘Oh, that’s the way it is. This is Chicago. Boys will be boys. I’m sure they’re going to get enough sleep and I’m sure they’ll show up the next day ready to play.’ That’s a failure on the organization’s part. We have to take a very proactive approach in setting a high standard.”

The Cubs still play far more day games than any other team in Major League Baseball. And in a city with 4 a.m. liquor licenses, that can mean rough sleep schedules for athletes who like to go out.

“It’s important for young players to recognize that you need to get your sleep,” veteran outfielder Reed Johnson told the Tribune. “This is your career. This is what you do for a livelihood. You need to treat it that way, especially in our park. You don’t have that extra 10 hours when you wake up in the morning to get ready for that 7 o’clock night game.”

So instead of treating grown-ups like grown-ups and hoping for good decision-making, the new Epstein-led regime is informing players this spring that with a new sheriff comes a new set of expectations.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.