The first week and a half of the Cubs season has seen much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair by the fan base. Much of the consternation seems to come from the fluctuating lineup, especially the playing time of Junior Lake and Mike Olt. Brett over at Bleacher Nation wrote a great post about why this is much ado about nothing, so I won’t cover any ground he’s already tread. My concern is more about the narrative that has formed around this issue and why I think it’s misplaced.
I got into a brief Twitter exchange yesterday (so fun) with someone who was outraged that Mike Sweeney started over Junior Lake last night. My reply was that, especially early in the season, you need to get everyone at-bats – especially under-30, left-handed hitting outfielders who you just signed for two years and who, if they’re playing well, are potential deadline deal trade bait. Like I’ve said, the goal is to maximize ALL assets. This just brought hand-wringing about Lake being a starting player, and how he should play, and not playing him was delaying the whole rebuilding process. In the middle of this, I decided to look at Junior Lake’s stats for the season and something immediately jumped out at me.
Junior Lake has played, and received at-bats, in EVERY SINGLE GAME THIS SEASON.
That’s right, even after having only pinch-hit appearances each of the last two nights, Lake is still sixth on the team in at-bats. And yet, the internet is apoplectic that he isn’t getting enough playing time! How could this be? Where would people get this idea?
Well, there’s this article, written after only the fourth game of the season, questioning how much time Lake (and Mike Olt, who has the ninth most at-bats on the team this year) was getting. At the time it was written, Lake had started two of the four games, but it doesn’t mention that one of the other two was a 16-inning affair in which Lake got 5 at-bats.
I am, admittedly, highly critical of the media (a category in which, for this topic and in this day and age, I include all of the established bloggers), but this really looks like a (successfully) forced narrative to me.
What I see is the team giving Junior Lake ( and Mike Olt) regular playing time as they start to establish themselves. When they haven’t started, Lake and Olt have pretty much been first guys off the bench. All you have to do is look at the box scores to see that they are, in fact, getting regular playing time. As they should.
“But,” my I can hear my Twitter adversary saying, “they should be getting ALL of the playing time, why bother playing anyone else?!”
Because that’s ludicrous! Swirling around the smaller issues of Lake and Olt is this larger question of how Renteria constructs his line-ups. It’s even been posited that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should have a talk with their new manager about how to utilize his players (Have I mentioned that we’re only seven games into the season?). But isn’t this what all teams do early in the season? You get guys some at-bats, you get them in the field, you get them into the flow of the season so later, when some guys in more set roles and some start to see less action, they are still ready to perform.
When you look at it like this, you realize that the reality (like most teams, the Cubs have been getting everyone into the games, while giving good chunk of those innings and AB’s to the young up-and-comers) is not jiving with the narrative (Lake and Olt are wasting away on the pine and Renteria has no idea what he’s doing).
A quick note on the thought that Ricky Renteria has no idea what he’s doing – maybe he doesn’t. But, and I can say this with great certainty, we don’t know what he’s doing either. We’re talking about a first-time manager, on a new team, one week into the season, and everyone seems to have a handle on what his managerial style is and what he needs to correct. He’s called a few bunts – does that mean we know that he’s a small ball manager? Or is it possible, early in the season, with bad weather, in close games with a team he knows will be suspect offensively anyway, he wanted to maximize the teams chances of scoring runs in those situations? Maybe it’s not his preferred tactic, but he decided to try it and has already decided it’s something he’ll do less in the future? We don’t know. How about we give the guy a month, maybe even two, before forming our opinions of him as a manager? Haha, I know, yeah right…
UPDATE: I saw, just as I was posting this article, that Junior Lake is frustrated with his playing time. Which is fine – we want players who want to play (though when he says, “I want to play every day,” I want to yell, “Junior, you have!!!”). It does bother me that Jesse Rogers doesn’t seem to think any of Rick Renteria’s answers are good enough for him, but this quote…
“As the season progresses and I start to see them a little bit more,” Renteria said. “A lot of those things (pinch hits, etc.) are giving me a lot of information and feedback, leading me to where we ultimately might go.”
…pretty much backs up what I’m saying – this is a new manager, on a new team, getting to know new players. So this new “news” doesn’t change any of my thoughts above.