The Cubs’ new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has built himself a nice little reputation as being one of the elite hitting coaches in the game. How much value should be put into a hitting coach? Do you think someone like Rudy can legitimately make veteran hitters better offensive players or is there not that big a difference between the ‘worst’ hitting coaches and the best?
LEN: Well, the hope is that he brings out the best in the Cubs’ hitters and his reputation says he should help make this offense better. However, I generally believe guys are what they are and while a hitting coach can tweak a few things, for the most part, it’s up to the players to get it done. I do think coming off such a disappointing season for this offense, the timing is good for someone with Rudy’s reputation to come in. My guess is, most of the guys will be a little more open to suggestions/criticism considering all the down seasons they had last year. For me, the key guy is Alfonso Soriano. He worked with Jaramillo in Texas and maybe he can recapture his All-Star form.
What can Cubs fans watch for now that Jaramillo is the hitting coach? Is there something we’ll be able to see during an at-bat that will be different because he’s teaching them?
LEN: Not having spoken to Rudy about his philosophy, I can’t really answer that specifically. But my guess is that any sort of changes will be pretty subtle. And keep in mind, coming off what I would call an underachieving 2009 season for this offense, it should simply be better just because I anticipate many guys naturally coming back to their level anyway. And that’s not to take anything away from Jaramillo’s credentials, but I think regardless of who the hitting coach is, I would be shocked to see the Cubs score fewer funs in 2010 than they did in 2009.
It sounds overly simplistic, but do the Cubs need to hit more home runs? In 2008 they were 5th in the NL in home runs but they led the league in runs scored. Last year they were also 5th but were 10th in runs scored. Is it fair to say that if a team is not getting on base as much as it should they better be able to hit the ball over the fence?
LEN: The stats don’t lie–the Cubs went from 1st to 10th in runs. They finished 10th in OBP and 8th in SL. They need to get on base more and hit for more power. Pretty simple. And yes, in general, if you don’t have one, you absolutely need the other.
There has been a lot of buzz about 19 year old shortstop Starlin Castro who seems to be on the fast track to the major leagues, some say as early as midseason next year. Do you expect the Cubs to move Ryan Theriot to second base not only to clear the path for Castro but because it’s a better spot for his skills?
LEN: You’re right, that seems to be the buzz. I haven’t seen Castro play, but everything I read and hear about him is that he is a huge prospect. I talk to the Cubs’ people about the farm system and I always get an honest assessment. I never feel like anyone overhypes prospects, but I hear front office personnel glow about Castro unlike any other position player in my 5 years with the Cubs. So, I’m excited to see him play. If he continues his progress, I don’t think there’s any question the Cubs will make room for him and the logical answer would be to move Theriot to 2B at some point. In Theriot’s defense (no pun intended) at shortstop, his UZR (from Fangraphs.com) was excellent last year. In fact, according to that metric (Ultimate Zone Rating), he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the NL, so I don’t think there’s a reason to move him until Castro is ready.
What are reasonable expectations for Randy Wells? He was an “old” rookie last year at age 27. Is it fair to expect him to improve on his impressive rookie numbers or do you think 2009 may have been his ‘magic’ season?
LEN: I think it’s always interesting to see how a 2nd-year player performs after taking the league by storm like Wells did. We saw Geovany Soto have a very difficult time in his sophomore season as the league seemed to adjust to him and he got off to that very slow start (and battled some injuries). In Wells’ case, we’ll have to wait and see, but he maintained all year that he would never “act” or feel comfortable with his status, that he always felt like he had to prove himself as a big leaguer and if he comes in with that same attitude this year, he should be fine. Randy is even-keeled, studious and a big-time competitor and I like his chances of starting in the majors for a long time to come.
Do you think we’ll ever see Carlos Zambrano “grow up” for a lack of a better term? Not just in his demeanor on the field, but in the way he takes care of himself off the field and how seriously he takes his job and responsibility to the team?
LEN: I have 2 thoughts on Carlos. One, we tend to often overlook his numbers for what they are and simply focus on what “could have been.” Did you know his 2009 ERA of 3.77 was lower than his ERA in BOTH 2007 and 2008? He is and has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the NL for the last 7-8 years. And let me pose this question–if you look at his durability and consistent excellence over that long a stretch, can you name a better Cubs starting pitcher over the last 20 years? You have to go back to Greg Maddux (the first time around) to find the last Cubs starter whose numbers stack up to Zambrano’s. So, there’s that part of it. Secondly, yes, there has always been and maybe always will be a question about his blow-ups, his immaturity, whatever you want to call it, and until that goes away, there will always be a “what if” attached to his resume. We see him at his best and wonder why he can’t do it every time out. The bottom line for me is this–because we see every pitch he makes and every tantrum he throws, we tend to undervalue his contributions. He can be maddening to watch at times, but when it’s all said and done, you say to yourself, “Wow, he’s 105-68 with a 3.51 as a Chicago Cub.” That’s pretty darn good.
Big thank you to Len Kasper. He’s always been incredibly nice to me and it’s cool that he took some time out to answer my silly baseball questions.