David Ross Preaching Adherence to Details of Daily Process, Doing Little Things Right

There was a different vibe around Cubs camp the first time around, with rookie manager David Ross changing the focus and motivating his players — many of them former teammates — to run through brick walls. They were taking live BP with umpires and without nets. Baserunning drills were a regular part of daily workouts. The small things mattered.

As trite as it sounds, taking care of all the little things means there are no big things to worry about. Except that now all of MLB is dealing with the big thing of playing a shortened season with little prep time in situations no one could have imagined a few months ago. That necessitates a few changes, both practically and psychologically.

“With this unique season comes unique circumstances,” Ross told reporters on a Zoom call earlier in the week. “We’re all gonna be adjusting on the fly. The one thing I’ve urged my players to do is try to find a positive in it all. As players, we’re very routine-oriented and those routines are gonna be dropped into a bucket and dumped out all over the place.

“We’re going to have to learn new protocols. We’re going to have to get to the point where the complaining about certain areas that we may not like or agree with, we’re just gonna have to embrace ’em.”

For as much as their circumstances have changed, Ross understands that his team’s approach to the game needs to remain the same. Each game matters more when there are only 60 of them, but that doesn’t mean you can get too caught up in each one. Maintaining focus on the process rather than the results is the best way forward.

“The mantra that I’ve always had and the winning teams that I’ve been on, you really do have to take it day-to-day,” Ross explained. “We understand that it’s a shortened season, but the real winning is in the details of the daily process. Those are the things I’m gonna focus on.

“You can’t look at one game and what that loss or win might mean. We just have to come in every day, get our work in, play the brand of baseball we want to play — we’re expected to play — and then come back and do the same thing the next day.”

Without getting into a redux of all the think pieces from the last few years, the Cubs just haven’t looked like the same team since hoisting the trophy in 2016. You can point the greasy finger of blame in whichever direction you choose, just know that the systemic organizational issues were such that no one could truly hide.

That title team had what was easily the best defense in the majors that year, if not ever, and ran the bases well. The Cubs weren’t exceptional at hitting with runners in scoring position, but they were in the top half of MLB. They just never seemed to beat themselves and would often grind other teams down with their near flawless style of play.

You might not believe it, but the Cubs were actually better at hitting with runners in scoring position last season than in 2016 (108 to 100 in wRC+). However, they lost 2.2 runs on the bases in 2019 as compared to generating 17.3 runs three seasons earlier. Their 47.1 UZR in 2016 dropped to 11.9 and 107 defensive runs saved eroded to -14 as their gloves failed them with alarming frequency.

It doesn’t really matter if you hit a little better when you’re giving up something like 140 runs in the field and on the bases. And no, I don’t care that this is not a particularly comprehensive or objective comparison. The Cubs were decidedly worse in terms of fundamental execution last season and it wasn’t just an overnight issue. Whether or not you agree with the idea that they got “fat and happy,” it’s pretty obvious something had changed.

It was just as obvious that something had to change, which is why Ross is calling the shots now. Or Theo Epstein is calling more of the shots, if you’re one of those who oddly believes the new skipper is a puppet. Either way, there’s a new voice and new perspective that should yield some positive changes for the Cubs. It certainly can’t make things worse.

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