Welcome back for the 10th season of Heroes and Goats. I can remember back to 2014 when Al Yellon asked the Bleed Cubbie Blue faithful if any of them had ideas for new features. Me? I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly creative. But I well remember when Russ La Croix conceived Heroes and Goats. I was from the beginning a fan of the series and read what he produced day after day. Russ would helm this feature through the 2016 World Series. He was a man who knew how to exit on a high note, departing following the Cubs’ World Series victory.
I’d love to say that I was waiting in the wings to take over the feature when Russ stepped aside. At that time I didn’t want the commitment and so the position would be unfilled as the 2017 season began. There were some stopgap solutions until I stopped being stubborn and took on Heroes and Goats. With most of six seasons under my belt, I’ve probably recapped somewhere over 900 games (the 2020 season, of course, being shortened).
I have to thank Al for basically handing me open mic night for all of these years. 2022 was the hardest of these years for me. I’m now a Cubs Fan in Tampa. I had some health issues and typing isn’t as easy for me as it once was. I frankly wasn’t sure when I wrote my last piece for 2022 that I’d be writing again in 2023.
But as things go, I’m over six months post-cervical fusion. The numbness and tingling in my arms and hands isn’t gone. But, as you do, I’ve learned to manage. I don’t type as well as I once did, nor as badly as I recently did. Physically, I’m not 100 percent and might never be. Age remains undefeated.
But 2022 was also a season where I ended up having a lot of fun. The stretch run of the Cubs last year was as fun as it was shocking. We’ve seen some pretty bad Cubs teams bounce down the stretch, to be fair. But this one felt different. A lot of the guys that propelled the team in August and September were young players under control. This wasn’t a group of has-beens looking to recapture a few moments of lost glory. Most of the guys keying the wins would be back.
The Cardinals have eaten the Cubs’ lunch through the majority of our adult lives because they have out-scouted, out-coached, and out-developed the Cubs at every turn. In the modern era, every now and then a team will break through almost entirely led by free agents and trade acquisitions. But by and large, the best teams, particularly the one that sustain it, are developed from within. Oh, every team patches holes with a key acquisition here and there. But the best organizations are constantly producing talent from within.
The Cubs, not so much. The core of the 2016 team included a lot of guys who spent time in the team’s system. After all, even guys like Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks and even Jake Arrieta spent time in Iowa for the Cubs. The team that won the World Series was full of guys who had played more games for the Cubs than any other team. But, the huge majority of that team and the ones that followed it got production from first round picks, but rarely anything further down.
I don’t have to look and I just know there is someone who will make key contributions for the Cardinals this year that was drafted after the 10th round. I know this because they always have one or two of those guys. But in 2022, there were some hints that the Cubs might have a few of those success stories. Brandon Hughes, drafted as an outfielder in the 16th round, was recording key outs of the bullpen. Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson were more highly drafted, in the fifth and third round respectively, and wound up throwing key innings. There were hints that maybe, just maybe, the system is starting to produce quality beyond the first round.
Player development is the cornerstone of a great organization. If the Cubs are going to become one, they are going to have to sustain it. It’s way too soon to know, but the Cubs added a batch of experienced players around that youth movement in an effort to get back into a competitive window.
I’ve long suspected that in more or less all 30 of the locker rooms around baseball are players that approach opening day believing that if they can catch a few breaks and have some good health, that their team can reach the postseason. That surely hasn’t become less true with expanded postseasons. We fans, we’re a bit more jaded. The fans of many teams are already frustrated because their team is at least a year or two away from the nearest possible competitive window.
Here in Chicago, hope springs eternal. A majority of Bleed Cubbie Blue front page writers projected the Cubs to have a winning record and to challenge for a playoff spot. Full disclosure, I was one of them who did not. But that didn’t make me less excited for the start of the season. I remain a fan like all of you. I just have a platform to wax poetically and/or be critical of the efforts. I watched the first innings of today’s win, the longest I’ve consecutively watched a game in a couple of years. For so many reasons, I loved what I saw.
And hey, is it too soon to point out I said that Marcus Stroman would be the Cubs’ ace? Yeah, sure, it’s early. And yep, I picked the Opening Day starter. Call me Nostradamus. Who doesn’t love a good spike of the ball with 161 games to go? Anyway, moving on to business.
For those of you new to this feature, Heroes and Goats looks at each Cubs game through the lens of WPA. Objectively we’ll name the three players who contributed the most WPA (Superhero, Hero, Sidekick) and the three with the lowest WPA (Billy Goat, Goat and Kid). I’ll look at the biggest WPA play for each team and then I’ll cover the leaders and cellar dwellers in the season standings (+3 down to -3 are awarded each game). At the end of the year I’ll crown the Anthony Rizzo award winner. The award is named for Rizzo who won this award in four of the first six years. At the end of each Heroes & Goats we’ll do a poll for the Cubs Player of the Game. That one is totally subjective. I’ll typically list three players, often the top three by WPA, but not always. I might list a player or two who I felt made a key contribution that didn’t reach a “podium” or even one of the goats. I’ll always open it for a “none of the above” selection and then invite you to comment on someone I might have missed.
The comments make things more interesting and fun. So leave a note. Tell me what you liked or what you didn’t. Josh Timmers gets a fun group together with his late night chats and Al gets the bulk of the traffic with his game recaps and other articles. But I’d love for the H&G comments section to be interesting too. So drop me a line. I’m going to make an effort to be more proactive in responding. All I ask that you keep it respectful to the players. I try to keep this space positive. I’m never going to dwell too much on the negative. I’ll express some frustration in the open, but by and large I’m going to always try to remain optimistic and supportive in this space.
The season started with an impressive victory. It was enjoyable from start to finish. Let’s start our journey through the 2023 season with the first of nearly 162 looks at the 2023 Cubs through the lens of WPA and the Heroes and Goats system.
Game 1, March 30: Cubs 4, Brewers 0 (1-0)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Marcus Stroman (.248). 6IP (23 batters), 3H, 3BB, 8K (W 1-0)
- Hero: Dansby Swanson (.137). 3-4, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Trey Mancini (.104). 1-3, HBP, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Cody Bellinger (-.055). 0-3, BB, K
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.030). 0-4, RBI, DP
- Kid: Eric Hosmer (-.029). 0-4
WPA Play of the Game: Dansby Swanson batted with runners on first and third with no outs and the game scoreless in the third inning. He singled, driving in the first run of the season and then a wild throw on the play led to a second run. (.142)
*Brewers Play of the Game: Brice Turang singled leading off the second inning and then advanced to second on a wild throw by Nico Hoerner. (.069)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Ian Happ (1-2, 2BB, R, K)
Somebody else (Leave a suggestion in the comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Marcus Stroman +3
- Dansby Swanson +2
- Trey Mancini +1
- Eric Hosmer -1
- Yan Gomes -2
- Cody Bellinger -3
Up Next: An off day Friday and then another afternoon game on Saturday. Justin Steele is scheduled to make his season debut. He’s slated to match up with Brandon Woodruff.