2024 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 44

Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves

It isn’t often that the Cubs reward my patience and make my points so quickly. It’s not like I’m here sharing the hidden truths of the world. But yesterday we were talking about one of the most lopsided losses of the season. The offense looked lost and the pitching staff over matched. But I was pointing out to be patient. These things tend to turn.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect it to turn this fast. Oh, by now I believe in Javier Assad. I believed he’d keep it close. But I didn’t think the offense would get off the mat and back into the fight so quickly. But this is why I don’t get too low when things aren’t going well. It’s going to bounce back. And here it did. Of course, the other side of that is you don’t start booking a playoff game either after a few good games. It’s always going to gravitate back towards the middle.

All things equal, an average player with average skill is going to trend towards average statistics. The Heroes and Goats standings aren’t the most scientific statistic that exists, but I will giggle a lot of nights updating them. 36 players have appeared in this space this year already. 20 of those players sit between +3 and -3. A lot of nights all of the heroes are guys with negative cumulative totals and all of the goats guys with positive totals. Trending to the middle.

Javier Assad is a guy who has spent most of his professional career as an average player with average skill. He drifted through the Cubs system without a lot of fanfare. And as he accumulated cups of coffee, he posted good results but didn’t blow people away such that he was ever counted on for a role. I’m not positive that he was tagged for the Cubs starting rotation this year if everyone had been healthy.

You won’t see a lot of season lines that show you 50 appearances, 27 starts, anywhere in baseball history. But those 50 games now total 195⅓ innings for his career. It’s consistently dipping lower year over year, but a regular starter might put up 180-200 innings in a healthy season. Javier is 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA over that time. 166 strikeouts (20.5 percent) is a good number. It doesn’t jump off the page the way some guys do these days. But it’s a good, solid number. 76 walks (9.4 percent), good, not great. 163 hits, good, not great. FIP for his career sits at 3.98. Good, not great.


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That label, it just clings to him. Well, nine starts is still somewhat of a small sample set. K/9 up. BB/9 down. K/BB up. HR/9 down. Opponent Avg. down. WHIP down. BABIP down. LOB percent up. FIP (2.90) way down. Your one remaining nitpick is 48⅓ innings over nine starts. He’s been so good that you want a bit more of him. That’s the sum total of the biggest knock on him.

Prior to 2024, you could suggest the Cubs have protected Javier a little bit. Dropping him into some spots where he could be successful. And that’s true to some extent, though I distinctly remember him being abruptly thrown into a few appearances last year as he rode the Iowa shuttle. He worked out of the rotation and the pen, Chicago and Iowa. He was never able to just have an ordinary routine and some security.

He’s thrown on four days rest five times this year and five days three times. That isn’t particularly finding favorable matchups. Off the top of my head, the Braves aren’t anybody’s favorable matchup. You can say they protect him a little bit by getting him out of the game and not having him go deep. That’s the one remaining leash on Assad. But if he does this much longer, good not great is going to just be great. Without any question, his start to 2024 has been great. He’s not over there in the Imanaga neighborhood where we throw around superlatives like amazing, unbelievable and unprecedented. But Assad has had a really great start to the 2024 season.

A really good starting rotation and an offense that can bounce back from a tough game or games and get back to productivity are ingredients of a team that can be competitive at the highest level. There’s a lot of baseball to be played. When the best teams in baseball are sitting down for the proverbial big game, the Cubs aren’t seated at the featured table. But they aren’t relegated to spectator status either. They can ante up and play ball. Even the worst teams beat the very best teams at least a few times every year. This wasn’t that. This was a good win against an elite team. Javier Assad was a big part of that.

Let’s look at three stars when it’s a little easier to do.

  1. Assad threw six innings, allowed four hits, one walk. He stuck out seven. All of that against one of the best offenses in baseball today.
  2. Pete Crow-Armstrong had perhaps the best display of his skill set to date. The box shows two hits, one a triple, two runs driven in, a run scored, a hit by pitch, a stolen base and two strikeouts. All that was missing was a couple of impossible catches. The box doesn’t show one of the more beautiful bunts you’ve ever seen and a triple that should have been a double. If this young man ever fully adapts to playing at this level, there is going to be a need to find new superlatives.
  3. Nick Madrigal is one of the (proverbially) biggest punching bags on the Cubs. He is certainly a player that has never lived up to the lofty draft position. This was a game he needed as a reminder of his contributions. Nothing flashy, but three singles and hit by a pitch. He’s worked hard and is a pretty good defender at third but is still largely a one tool player. He needs to make good contact and be spraying the ball all over the field to generate much value. For one night at least, he was doing that.

Two of the least flashy players on the team and absolutely one of the flashiest. A fun contrast in this win.

Game 44, May 15: Cubs 7, Braves 1 (25-19)

Fangraphs

Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Javier Assad (.234). 6 IP, 23 batters, 4 H, BB, 7 K (W 4-0)
  • Hero: Pete Crow-Armstrong (.103). 2-4, 3B, HBP, 2 RBI, R, SB
  • Sidekick: Mike Tauchman (.075). 2-5, HR, RBI, R

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: Yan Gomes (-.072). 0-4, SF, RBI
  • Goat: Christopher Morel (-.054). 0-5, RBI
  • Kid: Michael Busch (-.026). 1-4, BB, 2 R

WPA Play of the Game: Mike Tauchman took an awful lot of leverage out of this game when he homered as the very first batter of the game. (.094)

*Braves Play of the Game: The Cubs were already up three in the top of the first when Yan Gomes batted with the bags full and two outs. Charlie Morton struck him out. (.045)

Yesterday’s Winner: Tyson Miller (50 percent) over PCA (25 percent) in a game where there wasn’t much to celebrate.

Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 4/Bottom 4)

The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.

  • Javier Assad +12.5
  • Shōta Imanaga +12
  • Mark Leiter Jr. +10
  • Jameson Taillon +7
  • Ian Happ -7
  • Miguel Amaya -9
  • Adbert Alzolay -10
  • Kyle Hendricks -14

Up Next: The Pirates (19-25) actually had a shorter ride to Chicago than the Cubs did for tonight’s game. They were in Milwaukee getting drubbed 10-2 yesterday. The Cubs took two of three but found the Pirates pesky, a team that wouldn’t go away last weekend.

Justin Steele finds himself looking for his first win of the season in his fourth start of the year. His ERA sits at 4.73. But his first two starts this year looked liked the top of the rotation performance he gave us so frequently in 2023. Last time, he struggled with the Pirates, allowing six runs on six hits and two walks in just four innings. If anything, that start wasn’t as competitive as that stat line indicates. Let’s see if he can bounce back.

Jared Jones (2-4, 2.68, 47 IP) starts for the Pirates. The Cubs saw the 22-year-old righty last weekend. They only managed two earned runs (three total) off of him, but did pile up seven hits and two walks and that was enough to make Jones the loser. Assad was the opposing pitcher in that one, so the Pirates used an extra starter this time through the rotation.

If you weren’t paying attention, despite the Wednesday blowout, the Pirates stayed competitive in their trip to Milwaukee. They won Monday and lost a one-run game Tuesday. Don’t expect these Pirates to go quietly.

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