Anthony Rizzo has begun leading off for the Chicago Cubs and Joe Maddon’s expert managing has led the Cubs to an insane winning streak. Rizzo, a power hitter who would usually be found in the cleanup spot, the best leadoff hitter in baseball. He’s been hitting home runs like clockwork.
Rizzo, one of the key factors in breaking the 108 year curse, became very accustomed to the role of 4-hitter until, lately when he hit a slump. He was batting under .250 all year, until June when Maddon tried something new. Now, in the last month, he’s been hitting at .356.
Here’s a question: why is this working? Well, we are all sort of wondering ‘what the heck?!’ but there is an answer:
As a cleanup hitter, you’re generally going to have lower pitches thrown to you because higher pitches are easier to hit farther and cleanup hitters generally hit for power. Leadoff batters aren’t trying to clear the fences with every swing, so pitchers have a better mind to throw the ball higher to force a pop-up. Low pitches to power hitters usually end up as ground balls, but they end up as singles to players who hit for average.
So what does this mean for Rizzo? Good question; unable to hit the constant barrage of low pitches, he promptly and quite noticeably slumped to the worst he’s ever been, but when pitchers saw him up first and threw higher, he began to soar. In June, alone he’s hit 5 home runs, 17 RBIs, and 26 hits!
The man batted only .218 in April and an atrocious .192 batting average in May. These stats convinced Maddon that the current situation was not working. Not only was Maddon’s strategy working for the cleanup turned leadoff man, but they were working for the leadoff man turned cleanup hitter.
Addison Russell has also improved in the last month: in this last month, the shortstop has elevated to absolute all-star status! He’s now batting .302! Granted, he has sat out a few games due to undisclosed reasons, but he could still turn out to be the starting shortstop for the National League in Miami in the coming All-Star Game.
Clearly, not only Rizzo has benefitted. In fact, in the last month, the team has been much, much better than usual, for they had a losing record at 21-27. Fortunately for the Wrigley Field Faithful, the defending World Champion Cubbies went 12-9.
For those of you wondering, their winning percentage drastically went up. In April and May, they had a .438 winning percentage, however, in June, it was at a fantastic .571! Maddon’s expert managerial skills this year have thus far proved effective.
Now, just half a game behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers, Maddon’s North Chicago Squad is on pace for a repeat of their previous, historic, drought-breaking year. What does this say about Mr. Maddon? Simply that his mind is incredible.
In his 14 years in baseball management the man has only one American League pennant win, one National League pennant win, and one World Series win, so what makes him great? Just looking at the last month, starting Kyle Schwarber after his being out all season in Game 1 of the 2016 World Series, and inventing the shift against the greatest designated hitter ever, nicknamed the “David Ortiz Shift,” Maddon has a case for most brilliant manager in baseball history. He even out-managed the Cleveland Indians Terry Francona, who turned the 2004 Boston Red Sox into a historic, record and drought breaking, comeback-from-three-down-against-the-Yankees team and the 2016 Indians into the American League champions.
The combination of where pitchers throw the ball to certain batters, depending on where they stand in the opponent’s batting order, expert managing, and the flat-out hard work of two players apparently can turn any losing team into an unstoppable monstrosity. The bats of Rizzo and Russell and the mind of Maddon have turned the Cubs back into their former glory. Obviously, October now holds a very possible promise of Banner #4.