Vincenzo Mario Santoro: Here’s why the Chicago Cubs had to move on from manager David Ross

Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer shocked Cubs fans when he flew out to Florida to inform beloved manager David Ross that he had been fired. He was being replaced by Craig Counsell, former manager of the Cubs’ division rivals the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon and Cody Bellinger were some of the big names that Hoyer acquired during the 2022-23 MLB offseason. Adding Bellinger would rectify the center field situation, pairing Swanson with Nico Hoerner would make for the best defensive middle infield in the league, and adding Taillon would help solidify the rotation for Ross’ 2023 Chicago Cubs.

Even with the many players the Cubs had acquired, baseball statistics site FanGraphs projected them to finish third place with a 78-84 record. A couple of the reasons for the low projections was that the Cubs were still missing an “impact” bat and lacked pitching. But they had their impact bat in Bellinger, who was projected a .230/.309/.406 slash line. The pitching they lacked was a potential ace in Justin Steele, who was projected to pitch in only 104 innings with a 3.70 ERA.

They ended up blowing these projections out of the water. Bellinger would go on to slash a .307/.356/.525 line. Steele would go on to post a 3.06 ERA through 173 innings of work. Projections are just benchmarks for a team to look at before the season begins; as soon as a player or team overcomes those projections, they become irrelevant.

Through July 7, the Cubs’ pitching staff had posted a 3.98 ERA and a 4.00 fielder independent pitching (FIP), and they were also getting run support from their offense, averaging 4.62 runs per game. Despite these rankings, the Cubs sat in third place with a 41-46 record. In that same stretch, the Brewers sat atop the division with a 48-41 record, even though their pitching numbers looked much worse, posting a 4.11 ERA and a 4.52 FIP, and they were bottom in the league in run support, averaging 4.22 runs per game. Counsell can be credited for the Brewers’ consistent success.

The Cubs would go on to finish the season, averaging 5.06 runs per game, which ranked sixth best, with the Brewers barely moving, averaging only 4.47 runs per game.

The reason for the possible inconsistencies when it came to runs per game was due to Ross’ questionable lineup decisions. For example, on April 8, Patrick Wisdom went 2 for 4 with a home run but was then benched. On April 11, Nelson Velázquez hit a grand slam to complete a 7-0 comeback versus the Seattle Mariners. He wouldn’t see the field again until 14 days later. On Sept. 19, Alexander Canario hit a grand slam in his first career start. He wouldn’t play again until three days later. But Ross’ biggest mistake was keeping Ian Happ in a clutch spot in the batting order, despite batting below average.

Ross’ biggest flaws during the season came down the stretch on how he managed Taillon and the bullpen. On Sept. 8 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Taillon was pitching one of his best games as a Cub, allowing one hit through six innings with nine strikeouts until he was surprisingly pulled. Similarly, on Sept. 27 against the Atlanta Braves, Taillon was dealing, allowing two runs through six innings, but was yanked with 82 pitches. Ross kept relying on the same guys in the same spots expecting different results, ultimately costing the Cubs a postseason berth and Ross his job.

Throughout the season, Ross lacked simple adjustments, with the Cubs’ last series win against the Brewers in the final week of August. He had a revived Bellinger and Kyle Hendricks, three Gold Glove winners in Swanson, Hoerner and Happ, a Cy Young candidate in Steele, the rise of Seiya Suzuki and a solid bullpen with guys like Mark Leiter Jr.

Julian Merryweather, Adbert Alzolay and Ross somehow managed to choke a 76-64 record with a month left of play. If you hit a grand slam, you play the next day but not in Ross’ eyes. Let’s just say you can’t be a World Series hero and a “Dancing With the Stars” hero, and expect that to translate into becoming a hero manager. Now, all that gets forgotten because you are only as good as your last win.

Numbers don’t lie, people do, and Ross is not our guy. Counsell is.

Welcome to the North Side, Craig. Now, lead us back to the World Series.

Vincenzo Mario Santoro is a student studying economics at Loyola University of Chicago.

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