This is this week’s editorial from The Ivy Drip.
Now that the Hawks’ dust has settled, and it becomes clearer to more and more people around town that there’s something going on on the Northside, the arguments and scrutiny around the Cubs are going to get more and more intense. This is just a fact. I noticed it already this week.
The debate on Twitter, after Kyle Schwarber was done tearing the Indians into chewed up paper bits, was why the Cubs had to have David Ross and whether or not Schwarber should stay with the Cubs longer than this past weekend. That’s not the part of the debate I’m most interested in, as I’m pretty sure he’ll be back up around the end of August and probably splitting time between left and catcher, depending on injuries and the development of Baez and Alcántara or the lack thereof.
No, the side of the debate I was most piqued by was the discussion of David Ross. Most Cubs fans, from what I can tell, are not enamored with Ross. Let me say at the top that most teams’ backup catchers aren’t very good, which is why they’re backups. Rare is the team that can evenly split starts between two receivers and not see a drop in production. So that’s established.
The problems with Ross are clear. He can’t hit for shit. Hasn’t for a while. He’s been a sub-replacement offensive player for the past two years, and is well on his way to a third this one. What drove a lot of fans nuts on Wednesday, which is when this really caught fire, is that he was sent up to pinch hit and struck out on three swings he never came close to. But that’s not really his fault, as he didn’t grab a bat and sprint out there before Joe Maddon could stop him.
The value Ross has is in his defense, but I get why some people are slow to fully understand that. Hell, I am. We’re only just now starting to see the value of framing pitches. I only became aware of it last season, and it’s still hard to gauge it with offensive ineptitude and how that equals out. And framing is a weird skill, as it’s based in the inability of home plate umpires to do their job properly. But hey, it’s there and we know it helps or hurts pitchers.
Ross has a good arm too, but that’s mitigated by Jon Lester’s inability to hold runners on, and Ross is always catching Lester. As we’ve seen though, he’s picked off some runners in very important situations, including just last Saturday.
Where the discussion on Ross turns for me though is when it gets into the “intangibles” and “clubhouse” factors. I don’t like arguments that involve points that I can’t quantify, at least usually.
I’ve never been in a Major League clubhouse. So I can’t honestly say how one person can affect it positively or negatively. Seeing as how players are there every day for six to seven months, it probably can’t be discounted. But you can’t measure it, obviously.
But when I hear those terms being tossed around Ross, that he’s a “leader” and has “experience” and “knows what it takes to win,” certain alarms go off in my head. And those are the ones that go off when hockey writers and fans try to defend the existence of enforcers.
Because they all sound like tired arguments. Or stretched arguments. Whenever someone tries to defend the presence of fighting and enforcers in the NHL, it always gets back to things we can’t quantify and we pretty much know don’t mean anything. It’s people trying to justify their existence and paycheck, when we’re finding out there really isn’t any logical justification.
We know fights don’t change the momentum of hockey games. We know that they don’t really protect the star players. We know that most fighters in the league actively hurt their team by either not being able to play much and forcing others to carry more minutes or being a detriment when they are on the ice. We know, they know we know, so we hear things like leadership and locker room presence and whatever else.
I have no doubts Ross is good in the clubhouse and his teammates like him. But they also liked Welington Castillo, who the Cubs had to jettison to make room for him, basically. Castillo wasn’t the defensive catcher that Ross is, not even close. But he was also much more of an offensive threat, or at least had the potential to be. Don’t all the terms used to describe Ross sound like stuff made up to make up for what he can’t do on the field? All that stuff, how many wins is it worth?
Ross has been an above-replacement player most of his career, playing part time. It’s all for his defense, which is probably justifiable enough. He isn’t helped by the perception of being Lester’s cabana boy, but what can you do? I just wish the Cubs would stick to that line of discussion though. He’s here because he’s really good behind the plate. We all understand that. The rest of it? It just sounds like stuff that they have to say to cover for having to sign him because Lester asked them to. Yes, it’s infuriating to toss away a spot in the lineup some nights on Ross, but that’ll matter less when everyone’s healthy. It’s just getting there that’s the tricky part.