The Rudown: Wintry Morning Thoughts of Spring, Cactus League Opens Saturday, Suzuki Should Improve Defensively

“But if your strife strikes at your sleep, remember spring swaps snow for leaves. You’ll be happy and wholesome again when the city clears and the sun ascends.”  – Mumford & Sons, Winter Winds

I’ve had weather-related electric outages all through the night and this morning, and it dawned on me that Opening Day is exactly five weeks away. The change from winter to spring is often powerful and monumental, though it seems to take forever because we live in the moment. When the Cubs take the field to play the Brewers on March 30, most of us will have summer in our sights despite what could be absurdly cold temperatures for regular-season baseball.

Arctic weather and phrases like “the boys of summer” generally don’t make for great mixers. Batting averages drop by about 30 points between a typical July afternoon and a 40-degree day in late March. There is also greater than a one-run difference between games played in temperatures below 50 degrees and games with temperatures over 90 degrees. Bad weather in baseball is such a certainty that swaths of its official rule book are devoted to distressed playing conditions and stoppages in play.

During a Cubs-Twins game in June 2018, with Wrigley Field smoldering at 96 degrees with a heat index of 107, there were 23 runs scored on 31 hits as four players (Paul Wilson, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, and Albert Almora Jr.) were pulled due to heat-related illnesses. On April 18, 2011, the gametime temperature was 34 degrees when the Cubs beat the Padres 1-0  in 10 innings. Carlos Zambrano had 10 strikeouts and Tyler Colvin had the game-winning RBI. There is no greater punishment than a scoreless extra-inning game with wind chills dropping into the upper teens.

The greatest example of weather-related baseball at Wrigley Field was Chicago’s 23-22 loss to the Phillies on May 17, 1979. It was a dry 79 degrees that day and winds were blowing out at 15-25 mph with gusts as high as 35 mph. Bill Buckner was 4-for-7 with seven RBI and Dave Kingman hit three towering home runs in the loss.

It’s 27 degrees here in Milwaukee, the roads are iced up so thick you could skate on them, and the trees are shimmering like an assemblage of crystal sinew in the early morning sun. Have you ever seen crests of waves sparkle like diamonds on a warm Lake Michigan afternoon? My trees offer a consummate facsimile this frigid Thursday morning, but it’s not the same.

Hope springs eternal, yet spring weather often defies logic. The average temperature range in Chicago for the month of April is 30-67 degrees. None of that matters, however. There will be Cubs baseball in 35 days, and if that doesn’t help you put this morning’s uninviting weather behind you, nothing will.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

If you converted this interview with Jameson Taillon to black and white, I swear he’d look like he played in the 1920s.

Climbing the Ladder

“My books are sitting at the top of the stacks now. The longer words are really breaking my back now. Maybe I’ll learn to understand by drawing a square with a pencil in hand.” – White Stripes, Black Math

Baseball Prospectus has a relatively new defensive metric that debuted earlier this month. It’s called Deserved Runs Prevented ($) and it leans heavily on a player’s range. I don’t normally get too much into advanced analytics, but DRP really boosts the defensive value of Seiya Suzuki. Understanding DRP is pretty simple, though the link I provided reads like an introduction to an advanced calculus class. The gist of it is that the vast majority of most non-catchers’ defensive value will come from their range.

Among right fielders with at least 500 innings played last season, Suzuki actually had a 5.4 DRP; if you’re looking for a comparative statistic, it’s similar to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). As noted in the article, saving (or losing) three or more runs across the course of a season begins to “demonstrate the extremes of any position.”

By most other metrics and in the estimation of eye-test armchair scouts, Suzuki was pretty bad defensively last season. But he’s gotta  70-grade arm, impressive range, takes good routes, and makes strong, accurate throws. He also won four Gold Gloves in Japan, so maybe there is something to the new metric. I’d also factor in non-analytic values like learning new hitters and adjusting to Wrigley Field, where the right field alley is as unpredictable as any in baseball. Suzuki will be much better defensively this season. Of that, I’m positive.

How About That!

Ryan Thompson posted a 28-tweet, 1,100-word summary of his displeasure with the arbitration process.

The Rays reliever is angry, my friends, but he was perfectly decent in expressing his side. He called the hearing a “flawed but fascinating” process and chided the team for their “brilliant use of buzzwords.” Thompson is a master of passive-aggressiveness and my new hero.

Who watches local programming more than the 50-and-over crowd? Now you know why baseball continues to be the most-viewed market-specific programming. That takes a little bit of the wind out of the sails of the more esteemed “national pastime.”

The 2023 Andre Dawson Classic starts tomorrow in New Orleans. The annual MLB-hosted baseball showcase features historically black colleges and universities.

If you can’t afford to play on the same field as Steve Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner, just sell your team!

Next year’s free agent class is already getting more hype than the upcoming season. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of rumors linking Shohei Ohtani to the Cubs. It’s probably a good idea to prepare for disappointment, too.

Art Schallock, the oldest living former MLB player, owes Mickey Mantle a debt of gratitude. If the Yankees hadn’t demoted Mantle in 1951, Schallock never would have got his shot.

Extra Innings

Speaking of the boys of summer, how about some Duke Snider?

Apropos of Nothing

I am going to be doing some weekly content through Patreon starting in April. It will be mostly about music, but there will be some baseball stuff, too. Subscribers will also get access to the book I have been writing, plus an opportunity to purchase an autographed hard copy. It’s called Liner Notes and should be done by mid-March. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll get you the details.

They Said It

  • “I’ve continued to be prepared for whatever they need me [for]. My job is to be here to go in and play where I’m wanted.” – Morel
  • “The first two times I played at Wrigley. The first day was cold, the wind blowing in, then I saw the ball go to left field and it almost looked like it got thrown into shortstop. And then the next day it was just jetting straight out. I know it’s gonna be two different extremes. I know it kinda switches from day to day, but something we gotta be aware of.”Eric Hosmer

Thursday Walk-Up Song


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