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Inbox: How will new managing style affect Cubs?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Chicago fans
December 19, 2018

Welcome to the Cubs beat. My question is about the "new Joe Maddon" approach this season -- do you think it's necessary? -- Peter H., Tulsa, Okla.Obviously, I can't speak to the day-to-day vibe of the Cubs last season, as I wasn't on the beat at the time. What I

Welcome to the Cubs beat. My question is about the "new Joe Maddon" approach this season -- do you think it's necessary?
-- Peter H., Tulsa, Okla.

Obviously, I can't speak to the day-to-day vibe of the Cubs last season, as I wasn't on the beat at the time. What I can speak to is what has been said this offseason by both Maddon and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. They both seem to think a return to a more hands-on approach will be beneficial not only for Maddon but for the team.
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Now, let's be clear. This probably won't be a drastic, sweeping change. Maddon has said he plans to cut down on his interaction time with reporters -- causing a collective gasp from those of us who thrive on fantastic quotes and stories -- in favor of more time on the field during batting practice. Maddon has stressed that teaching and coaching is his passion, and he wants to get more involved again.
One of the driving forces behind this slight change is the turnover with the coaching staff. Maddon will have a new pitching coach (Tommy Hottovy), hitting coach (Anthony Iapoce), assistant hitting coach (Terrmel Sledge) and bench coach (to be determined), so he wants to help with the transition. Maddon also said during the Winter Meetings that he will get back to working closely with the coaching staff.
"I'm really into coaching the coaches," said Maddon, who added that he plans on having bi-monthly group meetings with the staff. "With the young coaches, that's something also that I think is going to be important to get back into that. The best way I could describe it, I've pretty much put my Minor League hat back on, which I really love to do. The developmental component. The instructional league component. Try to challenge myself on that level. And again, it's kind of fun to think about it."
A lot of the Cubs' focus this offseason has been on finding ways to have the core group take another step forward developmentally in 2019. The team has publicly downplayed its ability to make a blockbuster free-agent addition this offseason, choosing instead to stress the idea of extracting more out of the roster that has already been built.
Along those lines, Epstein also expressed that getting Maddon more involved on the field is an important step.
"He helped transformed this franchise, but he's not content," Epstein said during the Winter Meetings. "He's looking to get better. ... The good news is that this is a situation where the players just want more of Joe. They like Joe. They love the impact that he has on them when he speaks to them and when he's doing real hands-on leadership."

Why do the Cubs remain so loyal to Kyle Schwarber after his mediocre and inconsistent offensive production?
-- Michael K., St. Charles, Ill.

Well, I think you're throwing the word "mediocre" around fairly loosely, Michael. If you look at wRC+ -- my favorite among the all-encompassing offensive metrics -- Schwarber had a 115 mark in 2018. That indicates that he was 15 percent above league average. The jury is still out on Baseball Prospectus' new metric, Deserved Runs Created Plus, but it factors in a variety of elements to paint a picture of what should have happened. Schwarber's 118 DRC+ was actually higher than the 115 posted by Javier Baez.
If you're hung up on batting average, OK. Schwarber hit .238 last season. But haven't we moved beyond average as a means to accurately evaluate a hitter? I will give you this: Schwarber's inconsistency via his splits was dramatic. He hit .241/356/.503 with a 121 wRC+ off righties, but .224/.352/.303 with an 85 wRC+ off lefties. So the key here is maximizing Schwarber's production by limiting the exposure to left-handers when it makes sense.
There are other reasons not to bail on a hitter like Schwarber. For starters, he is 25 years old with three more years of control, and it doesn't look like he's reached his ceiling. And then there's the fact that he improved himself as a defender last season (two Defensive Runs Saved and a 14.0 UZR/150 in 943 2/3 innings in left). I see far more reasons to stick by Schwarber than to move on.

I appreciate the need for depth, but why did the Cubs sign Daniel Descalso (another .230 hitter) to go along with Addison Russell, Ian Happ, David Bote and Schwarber?
-- John L., Colorado Springs, Colo.

Thanks for writing in from the Springs! I have a lot of great memories from Colorado. I finished up high school at Rampart, and I like to give Rockies reporter Thomas Harding a hard time about the fact that he once typed my name in a newspaper prep game recap back in the day. Moving on ...
We're citing batting average again? If you look at his 2018 results, it's clear that Descalso has made some pretty significant changes to his swing and approach.
Descalso's launch angle climbed to 19.1 degrees (up from 12.8 in 2017) last season. His average exit velocity increased (89 mph in '18 vs. 87 mph in '17) and his Barrel rate doubled (10.2 percent in '18 vs. 5.1 in '17). Descalso has a career fly-ball rate of 29.7 percent, but that climbed to 43.1 percent last season. That led to a career high in homers (13) and a spike in homer-to-fly-ball rate (11.4 percent in '18 vs. 6.9 percent in '17). Descalso also saw his walk rate rise.
Descalso offers occasional pop and an air-ball oriented approach for a Cubs lineup that had the highest ground-ball rate (47.8 percent) over the final two months last season. Defensively, he can offer depth at multiple infield positions, too. All of that came with an asking price of $5 million guaranteed over two years. That looks like a solid pickup, in my opinion.
Why did the Cubs get rid of Thomas La Stella? He was a great pinch-hitting option and can play different positions. And they got nothing for him?
-- Bruce, Bolingbrook, Ill.

Descalso's 2019 salary ($1.5 million) is in the neighborhood of what La Stella (a fan favorite and a solid lefty bat off the bench) was projected to earn through arbitration. Chicago had to decide whether it made more sense to tender La Stella a contract or try to find an upgrade at a similar cost. They did the latter through the Descalso signing. And Chicago acquired Minor League righty Conor Lillis-White from the Angels for La Stella. Last year, the 26-year-old Lillis-White had a 3.50 ERA and 98 strikeouts vs. 32 walks in 72 innings between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake.
What are the chances that MLB will increase the roster size from 25 to 26 by 2019?
-- Steve M., Albuquerque, N.M.

Don't expect that for 2019, as that kind of change would need to be collectively bargained between MLB and the Players' Association, but this is one I can get behind. Another idea I like is the concept of a fixed daily roster in the final month after rosters expand to a maximum of 40 players. So, say a team carries the bulk of its 40-man roster in September. Each day, that team must announce its 25-man active roster with the other players being ineligible. I could also get behind expanded rosters at the start of a season, when many pitchers are still building up their arm strength and pitch count. If those ideas are too drastic, you can at least count me in for a 26-man roster for the entire season. I like it. Where do I cast my vote?

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.