Our old friend Scott Crandall and I used to talk a lot about baseball before he passed away in 2020. We’d spend hours on the phone talking about the post-2016 Cubs and how they never seemed to find the same work ethic or joie de vivre that they displayed during that championship season. Scott often mentioned the loss of Davey Martinez, who left the Cubs for the Nationals in ’17. Our old friend believed Martinez’s departure was the biggest loss of any to the organization.
Scott compared it to the Bears parting ways with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan after winning Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway had a better defense in 2017 but lacked the intensity they displayed the prior season, even with Mike Ditka calling the shots both years. Joe Maddon has always been a laissez-faire type of manager and current skipper David Ross is very similar. To Scott’s point, the Cubs were every bit as good in ’17 but lacked that swagger they had the year prior. We’re still waiting for that vibe to return to Chicago’s clubhouse.
Martinez is in the final year of his contract and you’d have to be completely oblivious to somehow avoid the hot takes regarding Rossy’s job security. The Nationals are for sale, and that leaves “Tippy” and GM Mike Rizzo in baseball limbo. I’m not suggesting the Cubs fire Ross, but would it be too far-fetched to think Martinez might be better for Chicago’s North Side Baseballers? Then again, does it make sense to go back to the Maddon coaching tree?
There is a difference between the two, however. Martinez rarely changes his lineups and makes little use of his entire roster. Ross has no issues running with the likes of Nick Madrigal, Tucker Barnhart, Miles Mastrobuoni, and Mike Tauchman. Perhaps Manager David believes in his weak bench a little more than he should.
Ross also does not have the same relationship with his players that he did when the former core was here. Body language and facial expressions provide evidence of that fact. He doesn’t interact with Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner in the same that he did with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Watch Martinez the next time the Cubs and Nationals play. He clearly has a better rapport with his current players than Ross does, and he demonstrated that same type of kinship while serving as Maddon’s bench coach. And don’t forget, Martinez no longer has Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, or Yan Gomes. Maybe Ol’ Scott was right. It’s also folly to think Ross will manage the Cubs until his retirement. The Connie Mack era is long gone and it is never returning.
There is another angle to think about though it is a huge reach on my part. Phil Jackson replaced Doug Collins as the head coach of the Bulls in 1989 because Jerrys Krause and Reinsdorf didn’t believe Collins was capable of getting Michael Jordan a championship. Jackson took over and the Bulls earned rings in six of the next nine seasons. The connection is tough to make given the Cubs’ front office’s love for Ross, but Krause (and Jordan) initially loved Collins, too. Perhaps Martinez should be next in line for the Cubs. It’s at least worth discussing, and I wish Scott was here to comment.
Midwest Farm Report
Jackson Ferris was on my radar for almost a full year before the Cubs drafted him. In fact, when Hoyer and Dan Kantrovitz selected Cade Horton last year, I was 100% positive Ferris would be their second pick if he was available. Chicago’s system is chock full of good young pitchers with big arms, and Ferris could end up being the best of them. I certainly mean no disrespect to Horton, Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown, and DJ Herz, but Ferris is special, at least to me.
The first video below is what initially caught my attention. Ferris hasn’t pumped the brakes in his short stint as a pro, either, as the second video indicates.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 16, 2021
Call him JacKson Ferris from now on. Ferris strikes out 7 and only surrenders one walk (arm-side miss fastballs) in 3 innings. While the stuff was flashing last night, feels like there’s even another gear or two to unlock. Could see 4-5 pitches in arsenal by the end of the year. pic.twitter.com/espYtMPEF8
— Greg Zumach (@IvyFutures) May 6, 2023
Ferris has made three starts for Myrtle Beach and has a 1.13 ERA with 12 strikeouts in eight innings of work. He sits in the 93-95 mph range with his fastball but he’s still growing into his body. There is also more in the tank velocity-wise for the southpaw, who occasionally hits 97-98.
I do have some concerns with his mechanics. He looks a lot like a left-handed Tim Lincecum, whose fall from stardom was as quick as his rise to back-to-back Cy Young Awards and two no-hitters. The culprit was a big decrease in velocity, which many blamed on his body type and pitching motion. Stacast doesn’t have data prior to 2015, so it’s difficult to find additional clues. Ferris is also much bigger and stronger.
The good news is that the Cubs have more to work with on the technology side than the Giants had a decade ago. Tommy Hottovy and his staff want Ferris to use his power slider to dominate left-handed hitters. They’d also like to add some boost to his 12-to-6 curveball ($) to make it a platoon-neutral offering. Hottovy & Co. won’t make any wholesale mechanical changes, and they shouldn’t have to.
The young man is on a strict innings/pitch limit but should see a slight workload increase as the season progresses. Dreaming of a future rotation that includes Ferris, Brown, Horton, and Wicks is exciting. We all know there is no such thing as a pitching prospect (and yes, I hate the acronym TINSTAAPP), but I believe labwork and advances in biomechanics are changing that.
Big League Chew
The Cubs were spit-roasted on their road trip, going 2-7 against the Twins, Astros, and Phillies. Minnesota missed the postseason last year, but Houston and Philadelphia played in the World Series, so those nine games were something of a measuring stick for Chicago. Things couldn’t have gone worse.
The Cubs beat the Twins 6-2 to start the three-city trip but derailed immediately after. They lost three games in which they allowed double-digit runs, and Chicago was outscored by 30 runs in the final eight games. That includes a 10-1 win over the Phillies on Friday night. The North Siders were 9-2 in blowout games before the trip and entered Tuesday’s game with a 2-10 record in one-run games.
Those losses have subjected Ross to fan ire, but the culprit is the bullpen and a lack of offensive depth. Chicago’s regulars are simply mashing. Check out the wRC+ of Chicago’s best players:
- Christopher Morel 258
- Ian Happ 137
- Patrick Wisdom 133
- Seiya Suzuki 131
- Cody Bellinger 122
- Gomes 116
- Hoerner 105
Teams with that kind of production don’t normally go 2-7 with a bunch of lopsided losses. The bullpen has been horrible, and Chicago’s bench players have been worse. The Cubs lost four of five games in which Madrigal (63 wRC+) started, and the bullpen gave up 28 runs in 25.1 innings pitched on the three-city swing. That’s a 9.95 ERA and a recipe for disaster. Nick Burdi could be a nice gap reliever and he and Jeremiah Estrada deserve a shot at closing.
Hoyer has to give Ross a more competitive roster. Either that or Ross has to stick with his regulars. Back in April, I mentioned that Chicago’s Sunday lineup can’t beat anybody. Those bench players shouldn’t be getting regular playing time, even with injuries, and Madrigal should be sent to Iowa.