Earlier today BCB’s Tim Huwe wrote this essay asking why people complain all the time about Joe Maddon’s managing.
I’m here to tell you that not only do I agree with Tim, but that in the four seasons Joe has managed the Cubs, the 2018 season is by far his best work.
Let’s say, back in spring training, someone told you all of these things were going to happen during the 2018 season:
- Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood would combine for 31 appearances (28 starts) and have a 5.15 ERA over 141⅔ innings, and that Chatwood would be on the way to leading the major leagues in walks even if he doesn’t throw a single pitch in September
- Brandon Morrow would spend half the season on the disabled list
- Kris Bryant would miss 54 games with a shoulder injury
- Anthony Rizzo would hit .149/.259/.189 in April and spend time on the disabled list
- Jason Heyward and Addison Russell would spend time on the disabled list
- Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana would all have periods of ineffectiveness
Well now, you’d probably have thought this would be a lost season for a Cubs team with that many problems, and the ballclub might even miss the playoffs.
Every one of the above things did happen, and yet...
The Cubs are in first place with the best record in the National League, despite all those bad things happening.
And the biggest reason for that is Joe Maddon.
Sure, Theo & Co. get a lot of credit for acquiring low-cost bullpen help that made up quite a bit for the loss of Morrow, some of whom were Iowa Shuttle guys, and a lot of the rest came from Steve Cishek, one of the best offseason acquisitions. Then they one-upped themselves by trading for Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy, probably the two best trade-deadline acquisitions by any team in 2018.
But the glue that put all that together on the field was Joe Maddon. Complain all you want about his lineup selections and bullpen use, but the fact is: This is a first-place team that looks like it’s headed for its fourth straight postseason and home field in at least the first two rounds.
One of the things Joe does best is to get his players to understand their roles on the team so they can give their best in any particular situation. With 28 different pitchers coming through the staff this year (and that doesn’t even count the 5⅔ innings thrown by five position players), mixing and matching them to the right situations becomes an art. No, Joe hasn’t always made the right bullpen call, but what manager does? I think at times we dissect Maddon’s moves so much that we don’t realize that other managers do the same thing, make the same mistakes.
One of the best things Maddon has done throughout his managerial career is to find players who can play multiple positions. Ben Zobrist is a perfect example of that, and that theory has been expanded even further by Joe as Cubs manager. With bullpens expanding, and generally only four bench players on any 25-man roster these days, those guys need to be able to play multiple positions, and do it well, and Maddon and the brass have been able to locate those types of players. Other teams are just beginning to pick up on this trend, but it’s clear that Maddon is a leader in the category. Without Javier Baez being able to play every infield position; without Ian Happ being able to play a credible third base; without David Bote available at second base and third base and even shortstop in an emergency, Maddon wouldn’t have had the moving parts to fill in for guys who were injured.
It’s the same thing with the bullpen. Credit to Theo & Co. for picking up Jesse Chavez and Jorge De La Rosa, but Maddon’s the guy who has to get them into the right situations, and for the most part, he has done so.
If the Cubs do go on to win the N.L. Central and have the best record in the National League, and they are still on pace for a 95-win season, Joe Maddon should be named N.L. Manager of the Year. There isn’t anyone else around who could have done that with this team and its troubles, save maybe Bruce Bochy, who’s headed to the Hall of Fame when he retires.
Maddon probably is too. We should celebrate him being here and hope he sticks around for a while. He’s very likely going to finish his career as the best Cubs manager in at least the last 85 years, and perhaps, with another World Series win or two, the best in franchise history.