Bill Baer

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The Cubs tinkered with Jason Heyward’s swing

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Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward had his worst season as a major leaguer last year. Once considered the best prospect in baseball, Heyward’s entire career has been underwhelming for many despite a rather impressive total of 32.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. A lot of that value, though, was accrued with his defense and base running, not with his bat. Last year, Heyward hit .230/.306/.325 with seven home runs and 49 RBI in 592 plate appearances. His .631 OPS was the third-worst mark among qualified hitters, ahead only of shortstops Adeiny Hechavarria and Alexei Ramirez. Heyward was even less reliable in the postseason, batting .104 in 50 trips to the plate.

During the offseason, hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske helped retool Heyward’s swing, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports.

No longer would Heyward twist his top hand and wrap the bat around his shoulder. His bat angle would be more vertical, removing the tension from his shoulders. He would lower his hands to be in a more relaxed position and move his lower half first, allowing his hands to work.

Though Heyward is hitless in eight at-bats to start the spring, his coaches and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein are happy with the progress he’s made. Epstein said, “I’ve never seen a veteran player work as much as Jason did this winter, let alone right after winning a World Series and having already signed a long-term deal. It shows how much he cares, his dedication, his pride and his character. He’s the ultimate pro.”

Heyward is entering the third year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, so it behooves the Cubs to help Heyward reach his fullest potential sooner rather than later. Considering the talent elsewhere on the roster, imagining the Cubs with a productive Heyward is scary.

MLB and MLBPA announce modifications of some rules for 2017 season

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Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association jointly announced modifications of some rules effective for the 2017 regular season.

  • As was announced last month, managers will signal to the home plate umpire that he wants to intentionally walk the current batter.
  • Managers now have 30 seconds to decide to challenge an umpire’s ruling and invoke replay review
  • When a manager has used up all of his available challenges, the crew chief can invoke replay review for non-home run calls starting in the eighth inning
  • Replay officials will be under a conditional two-minute guideline for review, though there is room for exceptions
  • Players are no longer allowed to make markers on the field (this was an issue last year in a game between the Mets and Dodgers)
  • An amendment to Rule 5.07 now formalizes the balk rule. Specifically, “A pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.  If there is at least one runner on base, then such an action will be called as a balk under Rule 6.02(a).  If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).” Think of this as the Carter Capps rule.
  • Rule 5.03 has also been amended. It “requires base coaches to position themselves behind the line of the coach’s box closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch.  Once a ball is put in play, a base coach is allowed to leave the coach’s box to signal a player so long as the coach does not interfere with play.”

Nothing earth-shattering here. The intentional walk rule is obviously the biggest and most controversial change as we’ve seen in the last two weeks. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been quite focused on improving the pace of play. Certainly, making replay review wrap up quicker will help in that regard. Even better would be to do away with the challenge system entirely.

The field marker rule was mostly done to address an issue that came up last May after the Mets hosted the Dodgers at Citi Field. The Dodgers wanted to mark certain positions in the grass after determining positions with a rangefinder. The Mets did not allow it and later asked Major League Baseball for clarification.

The amendment to Rule 5.07 provides clarification for special cases like Capps, who’s now with the Padres:

Uh-oh: David Price to get MRI on elbow, won’t start Saturday

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David Price‘s second year with the Red Sox isn’t starting off so well. ESPN’s Jim Bowden reports that the lefty will undergo an MRI on his elbow and won’t make his scheduled Grapefruit League start on Saturday. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal adds that the Red Sox plan to have Price seek a second opinion from Dr. James Andres or Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Per Britton, Manager John Farrell said of Price’s elbow, “We’re concerned.” Price has had elbow soreness in past springs, but not to this degree.

Price inked a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Red Sox in December 2015. In his first season with his new team last year, he went 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA and a 228/50 K/BB ratio in 230 innings.

The Red Sox acquired another ace in Chris Sale during the offseason, but losing Price for any amount of time would still be a big blow to the team’s chances of contending in 2017. Eduardo Rodriguez or Henry Owens would move back into the rotation if Price isn’t ready for the regular season. After that… Kyle Kendrick?