I’ve criticized him a few times this season – primarily for his in-game pitching decisions – but overall I’ve been pretty happy with the way he’s managed the team this year. He seems to be a relatively calm, stable force for a young, inexperienced team. I like that about him.
But I’ve got to admit, watching games over the last week or so and seeing the way he’s utilized Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I understand Jackson has struggled mightily through his first week in the big leagues, collecting only three hits and three walks in 23 plate appearances and whiffing an absolutely abhorrent 12 times.
To put that in perspective, if you assume Jackson would get approximately 600 plate appearances in a full season of play, he’s currently on pace to strike out somewhere in the range of 313 times over the course of a full season. Ouch.
That being said, I’m still not sold on the idea of benching him, though it doesn’t bother me as much as Vitters – who we will get to in a minute. With Jackson, I’m willing to give the team, and Svuem, some slack.
Because even with as terrible as Jackson has looked, he’s started six of the eight games for which he’s been on the big league roster – and that’s how it should be. If you’re going to call up someone who you hope will one day be a centerpiece of your organization – you start him. Period.
In Jackson’s case, a day off after going 0-8 with 8 K’s and a walk over his last 9 plate appearances was understandable. Give him a day to re-set his brain, work on his swing and then get the hell back out there.
Even his second benching – Saturday afternoon against the Reds – I can understand since he looked like crap in pretty much every facet of the game on Friday. And to be honest, if this article was about Jackson alone, it wouldn’t be much of an article. It’s only when you bring Josh Vitters into the conversation that things start to become worrisome.
In the eight games the Cubs have played since Jackson and Vitters have been called up, the young third baseman has started only three games, appearing in only six. That’s ridiculous.
Again, I get the idea of giving a young player the day off following an eight-strikeout-streak, but Vitters hasn’t shown that type of ineptitude yet. Sure, he’s not hitting the cover off of the ball, collecting just two hits in 16 plate appearances, but he’s also not striking out a ton. He’s got just five so far.
That means, overall, he’s making contact. Now, I’d like to see a little more patience out of him – he’s not yet taken a walk – but he’s not had a single game as bad as some of the ones Jackson has had. Yet he still found himself riding the pine the majority of his first week in the big leagues.
I just don’t get it. If you’re going to call up a player you think is going to be a future star – you start them. Particularly in a year like the one the Cubs are suffering through right now. The season is over, the team is going nowhere and wins mean nothing. This is the time when you take your future stars, put them on the field and let them work through the growing pains.
The Cubs got spoiled with Anthony Rizzo. He came to the big leagues and immediately started hitting the crap out of the ball. But that’s not the case for most players, and it certainly hasn’t been the case for Jackson or Vitters, but that doesn’t mean you should bench them. It means you watch, you grit your teeth, you help them make adjustments where you can and you take solace in the fact that they’re working through their problems in a year where it doesn’t matter how many games you lose.
And by the way, even if the Cubs were worried about wins and losses – Vitters is still probably no worse a choice than the man who’s inexplicably taking starts away from the supposed third baseman of the future.
Luis Valbuena is hitting .204 AVG/.280 OBP/.340 SLG. His career numbers, by the way, are no better, sitting at .222/.285/.344 over five big league seasons. Oh, and his minor league numbers? They’re average at best – .281/.359/.438 over nine combined seasons.
Case in point, nobody in their right minds thinks that Valbuena is a key to the Cubs’ success now or in the future. He’s a place-filler, that’s it. Yet he’s started over Vitters in five of the last eight games. It’s mind-numbing.
According to Svuem, Vitters will begin starting more frequently as of tonight’s matchup against Houston, including against a right-hander every once in a while (two of his three starts have come against lefties). It’s about time. Because having the two big pieces of your future riding the pine a combined 43 percent of the time is unacceptable.
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