He’s known as somewhat of a mad scientist, tinkering with his lineups and challenging conventional baseball wisdom at every turn. When Joe Maddon overuses his closer in the playoffs or keeps a failing hitter at the top of his lineup for a decent chunk of the season, he always has an argument to defend his decisions at what’s best for the team.
And he’s usually right.
The idea of thinking differently wasn’t popular among baseball lifers for a very long time. Maddon is somewhat of a pioneer in that he’s not just going to take old wisdom as gospel and apply it to his team. Most, if not all of the teams in the MLB now have at least a sprinkle of this attitude in their organization and the managers who won’t give new ideas the time of day are being filtered out.
But Maddon has another skill that is perhaps more valuable than figuring out who should lead off every game, and that’s the ability to connect. He can not only keep his finger on the pulse of the clubhouse, but also change the rhythm of that pulse when he needs to.
I believe it was Dan Bernstein on 670 The Score who made me realize sometime this week said that these difficult times are what Joe Maddon was hired for (apologies if I’m crediting the wrong source, I tend to lose brain cells while sitting in traffic on southbound 294 at 5:05 PM). Maddon is a players’ manager and is always thinking about the mental and physical health of his guys.
But this isn’t as simple as bringing in a petting zoo or having pajama day on a flight back home from a long road trip. This is the most adversity that almost every player on this roster has faced in their Major League career, save for a few veterans who’ve been around the block a few times.
Maddon will have to leverage those veterans that have been through some difficult stretches such as Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester, Jason Heyward and Wade Davis. But other leaders who have experience with adversity such as Jake Arrieta and Ben Zobrist are going to be too busy trying to dig out of their own graves to contribute much to the overall clubhouse atmosphere.
That’s not to say the Cubs need a ra-ra speech from Heyward or a strip tease from Rizzo. Stability in this scenario will do just fine. Making sure the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low, that sort of garbage. But ultimately it falls on Maddon to keep everything together.
As the second half starts, Maddon needs to be that manager that was hired not to experiment with his toys but to keep the team together. It’s something he excels at. On the surface, we should see improvements to stat lines and more checks in the win column.
All Maddon has to do is figure out how to get his players to realize those improvements.