By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — Defying convention is what Cubs manager Joe Maddon does best. Not allowing ballplayers to fall into the commonplace and entitled world of playing one position or batting in one spot in the lineup each day is almost a mantra with the 62-year-old baseball Yoda.READ MORE: Some Illinois Schools Gave More Failing Grades After COVID Began
Maddon has many offensive resources to consider on a daily basis. His creative right brain will control the day-by-day lineup changes. Those decisions will include downloaded intelligence from scouting reports and regurgitated information from the “geeks” and “nerds” who make up the Cubs’ analytics department.
If you think you have an idea of what you can do to match up with Maddon as an opposing manager using your past experiences against him, you may have more trouble now with a Cubs team full of high-on-base power hitters from which Maddon can choose.
On a given day, Maddon may have a lineup that has Kyle Schwarber leading off and Ben Zobrist batting third. Does that sound right?
“Hey, what was the record with (Chris) Coghlan hitting third last year?” Maddon responded to the premise of Zobrist at times in the three-hole. “There are so many different ways to construct a lineup. You have to try and understand the most important components of it. People talk about how many more times a (good) hitter can come to the plate during a season, hitting in this spot compared to that spot. Not every night is the same and not every pitching matchup is the same. The part of the batting orders that other people don’t believe in that I do is protection.”
Maddon’s talking about having strong options spread throughout a balanced lineup, so a batter can’t be pitched around. As a primary example, that was the difference for Anthony Rizzo driving in 78 runs in 2014 and 101 in 2015.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Full Sun Thursday
“Protection is all about what a hitter in front him (right guy) sees,” Maddon said. “I am just telling you from our dugout it means a lot, based on who is hitting behind somebody that is prolific and how you are going to attack this particular guy.”
The human element of matchups is the brain science that Maddon delves into. He’s a firm believer in using that equally to the statistics and metrics.
“How do you protect people is the human component of this whole thing,” Maddon said. “It is easy to say you want (Kris) Bryant and Rizzo to have more at-bats. You want to feed these guys (with men on base), and you want to protect them. So, I don’t know (how the lineup will be on a given day) — when I tell you this, I don’t. I am getting all of this information. We had (Bryant) in the three hole last year; we were 12-0 with him batting third at one point last year. So, I imagine nobody wanted us to do that, but it played pretty well. All this stuff matters, and if you can’t quantify it, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s there. It’s in the dugout on both sides. All these conversations are based on lore.”
In valuing the details of forming a lineup, Maddon works methodically. It’s part of the approach that led the Cubs to a 97-win season and NLCS berth in his first year in Chicago.
What Maddon won’t deal with is players requesting their specific place in the lineup.
“I have never been into it,” Maddon said. “They say they like (hitting in one specific spot), but you actually are only in that spot one time through the lineup. After that, the whole thing changes. The guy who wants to hit third comes up with two outs and somebody on and it matters. These are the nuances of the game that are really interesting to understand.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Board Of Ethics Finds Probable Cause Ald. James Gardiner Violated Ethics Ordinance Twice
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.