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May 2009

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Hope?

Written by , Posted in General

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Lately, especially around here, I have tended to be the voice of hope about the Cubs, trying to keep people from panicking about this current team.

But this is not because I have any “Cubs”-colored glasses. Instead it is because I still think that this is a good team based on players previous performances along with their performances this year, and I want to lay out why.

First I want to look at how players are performing in relation to both last season and their career numbers. I have left three players out of this analysis (Hoffpauir, Scales, K. Hill), as they don’t have any meaningful previous performances to compare to. I am looking at OPS+, as it is a good indicator of how a player performs in relation to the rest of the league in a given year:

Player Career 2008 2009
Soto 110 120 58
Lee 122 110 85
Fontenot 102 131 70
Theriot 89 93 100
Ramirez 114 128 155
Soriano 116 121 108
Fukudome 100 90 136
Bradley 163 116 76
Miles 75 99 32
Freel 89 82 18

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Now this is either good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. I see it is good news. Kind of.

With a huge sample size caveat when looking at these numbers, it is clear in the chart that the Cubs are, overall, significantly under performing in relation to both last year and the individuals’ career numbers. Now… this doesn’t mean that these players are guaranteed to perform better. Each player is different, and each player has his own issues – Lee has age and a back injury (and a previous wrist injury), Fontenot is playing full-time in the big leagues for the first time, Soto is in his second year and the league may be adjusting to him, as well as he has a shoulder injury, Miles just kinda’ sucks, Freel has had injuries, is older, and no longer has the speed he once had, etc. And then, of course, there is Milton Bradley, who is a headcase that can hit. And isn’t hitting.

On the other hand, Lee has appeared to be turning things around a bit, Soto and Freel can get healthy, Bradley could control his temper and remember that he is one of the better hitters in baseball, etc.

Overall I think that you can assume, or at least hope, that most/all of these struggling players will start to recover and move closer to their career numbers. Why can we assume this? It is simply: past performance is the best indicator of future performance. And when I say past performance, I do not mean 40 games this season, but instead larger samples of previous years

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But I am not just hopeful because of the above chart. There are other reasons to be hopeful, and one of them is some of these same players BABIP. For the uninitiated, BABIP is a player’s batting average on balls in play. What this does is take out home runs and strikeouts (i.e. balls not hit in play) and look at the “luck” factor. The league average for BABIP hovers right around .300 each year. You will occasionally see variation with certain players, but for the most part you look to see a BABIP around .300 – anything above is considered relatively “lucky,” while anything below is relatively “unlucky.” The Cubs currently have a team BABIP of .281, well below the league average of .300.

So how do the Cubs’ everyday players look:

Player 2009 Career Dif
Soto 0.267 0.328 -0.061
Lee 0.274 0.322 -0.048
Fontenot 0.220 0.314 -0.093
Theriot 0.296 0.315 -0.019
Ramirez 0.370 0.290 0.080
Soriano 0.271 0.308 -0.037
Fukudome 0.360 0.315 0.045
Bradley 0.205 0.320 -0.115

We now see the problem. The Cubs have been unlucky, and sometimes significantly so. And while this explains a good portion of the poor performances of these players, it also should give us hope, in that it is unlikely that so many Cub players will continue to be unlucky and see so few of their balls hit into play land for hits. We can also probably expect Ramirez and Fukudome to see a decrease in production, as they have been, so far, fairly lucky.

Now… some will say that baseball is about the unknown. We don’t know for sure that any of these players will rebound. We don’t know for sure that any of these players will see their BABIP increase. And that is correct. We don’t know for sure. And that is not what statistics try to do. Statistics don’t tell us what WILL happen. They tell us what is LIKELY to happen.

And the statistics tell us that it is likely that the Cubs will start to hit better. It just a matter of when. Maybe last night was the start of that.1999 mambo no sex download mp3

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  • MJ

    What I think about Bradley that’s interesting, is that of his 20 hits, 5 of them are HRs. 25% of hits have left the yard. That’s rather impressive. He also almost has a 2-1 K to BB ratio (23 to 14), which is usually a good sign as well. He’s just suffering from serious bad luck, some bad calls, and him being himself.

    I’m betting more of the issue with him is pressing too much. It almost seems when he goes ya-ya, instead of relaxing at the next at bat, he tries to do go yard again. Almost like he’s trying to make up for all his other bad AB’s in one at bat.

    I never quite felt comfortable about Soto last year. Something just didn’t seem to fit right with his approach, and it looks likes it’s been magnified this year. He looked atrocious in San Diego, and I’m not sure I see him coming out of this.

  • I’m not sure I see him coming out of this.

    I actually don’t think he is healthy, and would like to see the Cubs DL him and let him rest for a couple of weeks. He doesn’t seem right.

    I also don’t think that a player can put together back-to-back seasons like he did (in AAA and then the bigs) on accident. The guy changed some things, lost some weight, and really started to hit the ball. I don’t think it is that the league has adjusted to him. I think that he is just really struggling, and in turn is really pressing, which is making his struggles worse. Not unlike Bradley, actually.

  • sherm

    We’ll be better now. Since I realize (thanks, Dave!) that luck is what we need — I just bought an ultra-lucky astrological mood watch, captured a leprechaun and put on the t-shirt I was wearing for Milt Pappas’ no hitter. I feel a winning streak coming on!

  • sherm… if you don’t understand the role that luck plays in baseball, I am not sure what to tell you.

  • Mastrick

    There’s still plenty of time to turn things around; in fact things looked pretty good 34 games into the season. In a strategic sense Hendry has to address the second base issue, we’re not going to make it with what we currently have. We could also use a decent lefthander in the pen, Cotts should be DFA’d immediately and should go into the Cubs’ Hall of Shame next to LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Johnson.

    Guys like Soto, Fontenot, Mills, Soriano, Bradley…we need you to start performing immediately. No more playing around with funny hats in the dugout, time to earn your salaries. Lou Piniella? Start thinking clearer and return to making the decisions that got you where you are. If you are unable to do that, turn over those responsibilities to Quade or Trammel.

    Now let’s get it done. A seven game winning streak would make this last week very easy to forget.

  • Since I realize (thanks, Dave!) that luck is what we need

    And sherm… further, this isn’t even what I said. I didn’t say that the Cubs needed more luck. I implied that they needed less bad luck. And less people slumping all at the same time.

    My point is that the Cubs have very clearly been unlucky. You can mock that all you want, but the numbers are pretty clear. And in turn, those numbers give me hope that this team is much better than they have been playing, and don’t need major changes.

    But sure… go ahead and reduce my post to, “The Cubs just need you to wear your lucky shirt.”

  • sherm

    Dave…every once and a while I wish you could acknowledge that I must be just joking around. I’ve played organized baseball. I know that luck plays a large role. I also know that this team hasn’t just been unlucky.

    So. To clarify — I didn’t really capture a leprechaun. Okay?

  • I also know that this team hasn’t just been unlucky.

    How so? What do you know?

    I have given pretty clear data showing that the Cubs have been incredibly unlucky. I have given pretty clear data that shows several Cubs playing well below their career numbers. And that there are real reasons to believe that this type of performance won’t continue like this.

    And your response is to say, “I know differently.”

    I never said that all of the Cubs problems were solely because of bad luck. At all.

    But keep continuing to reduce what I said to your little snarky talking point.

  • MJ

    I didn’t really capture a leprechaun. Okay?

    So you just took his Lucky Charms? You bastard!

  • MJ

    I’ve played organized baseball.

    You know this kind of amuses me. When I’d make this statement, I’d get riduculed for being too obtuse.

    That’s why I started to play softball. 😛

  • cap’n obvious

    I am not a believer that BABIP is any barometer of luck. Certainly luck has something to do with it, but a popup or a nineteen hopper to second is not going to positively affect BABIP, no matter how lucky you are. Conversely, well struck line drives, which can be caught whether you are lucky or unlucky, generally result in significantly more base hits. I also don’t like that homeruns are not factored in to BABIP. Seems stupid to me since a homerun is generally the most productive result that can come from a ball in play. One of a growing number of reasons I am convinced that quite a few Sabermatricians understand very little about how baseball is played on the field. Think Ogilvie in the Bad News Bears. I digress. Baseball has a way of evening things out, so I figure the number of line drives that get snared probably is pretty close to the number of bloopers that fall in. The solution, of course, is to hit more line drives, which before last night wasn’t happening too often with our beloved Cubs. Not too many hitting coaches I have known have preached the “slap a blooper and hope for luck” theory. In college, we used something called a production chart. It charted every swing from 0-6. Zero being a swinging strike, and six being a line drive. When I start seeing more fives and sixes, and the Cubs keep losing, I will beieve that it is bad luck…until then I think it is just bad hitting. Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, etc. all had their share of good luck/bad luck at-bats, but because they had a propensity to hit lots and lots of line drives, they were great hitters and very productive. They also were extremely selective and worked counts, but I feel I have already covered that ad nauseum.

  • cap’n obvious

    MJ,

    You can apply the same principles to softball. If you hit line drives, you will be more successful. If you hit bloopers, they will call you Doc Raker. Sherm, please give AAron Miles his lucky charms back. I’d like to see him get an extra base hit before Labor Day, and it may be his only hope.

  • Conversely, well struck line drives, which can be caught whether you are lucky or unlucky, generally result in significantly more base hits.

    Absolutely… but again, the league average hovers around .300, year after year. Most individuals players BABIP hovers right around that number, year after year, regardless of how good or bad of a hitter they are.

    Seems stupid to me since a homerun is generally the most productive result that can come from a ball in play.

    Its not too difficult to understand. BABIP is a measure of how often batted balls drop in the field of play. A home run (except for the rate in-the-park home run) cannot drop in the field of play.

    Baseball has a way of evening things out, so I figure the number of line drives that get snared probably is pretty close to the number of bloopers that fall in.

    This is hilarious. You are essentially saying that BABIP is a bad stat, but then go on to make a general statement – “Baseball has a way of evening things out” – that essentially defines the point of BABIP.

    Not too many hitting coaches I have known have preached the “slap a blooper and hope for luck” theory.

    Sure… but who said anything of the sort?

    I agree with you that if you hit more line drives, you will see your BABIP go up. I also agree with you that Gwynn and Boggs were exceptional hitters, and had very good BABIP. But they are not the norm.

    But I disagree with you that it has nothing to do with luck. I also would say that hitting line drives is somewhat a matter of luck. The difference between a line drive and a ground ball or fly ball is often the difference of millimeters.

    But your point is actually pretty accurate about line drives. Lee, Bradley, and Fontenot all have LD%s way below their career norms. Just as I expect other stats to adjust to the norm, I also expect their LD%’s to adjust. But then you have people like Soto or Soriano, who are right in line (or pretty close) with their previous numbers, yet have much lower BABIP.

  • Seymour Butts

    I’m not a baseball player in real life… but I’ve played one at fantasy camp. Not terribly organized, but the uniforms are first rate.
    I again find myself astounded to be agreeing with Dave (well on the sole point of luck). The Cubs haven’t had much good luck lately. and you can call it luck or karma, or Ted Lilly’s evil twin, or what ever. But the fact is there are intangibles that decide games that have nothing to do with skill. Some times crap happens. We have been on the short end of a lot of crap lately.
    It’s usually cyclical, just a week and a half ago, we all felt pretty good that as badly as we were playing, we were tied for first in the loss column. Our pitching is pretty good. even AVERAGE hitting from the guys we have should produce a lot more wins.
    So grab yourself a bowl of your favorite magically delicious cereal and get ready to watch tonight’s game… because that’s what we do.
    If you take a week long sample, we were kicking ass in the second week of May, and sucking it in the third week.

  • cap’n obvious

    I suppose I was overly verbose in my opinion, which caused the usual over-diagnosis from Dr. Gray Box. I will put it more simply. Offensive success on the baseball field, and this includes BABIP, has a boat-load more to do with execution(i.e line drives)than it does with luck. When the Cub players start getting better pitches to hit, and hitting them harder, they will score more runs.

    We now see the problem. The Cubs have been unlucky, and sometimes significantly so.

    This is where I disagree. The Cubs have not been significantly unlucky. They have been bad hitters. A slump is rarely due to balls not falling in, it is due to poor execution by the hitter.

  • sherm

    You know this kind of amuses me. When I’d make this statement, I’d get riduculed for being too obtuse.

    Question: is obtuse better than, equal to, or worse than “snarky?”

    I have also played disorganized baseball (see Camp, Fantasy)but I forgot to add my BABIP info on the back of my baseball card. Darnit.

    Someone remind me…how many World Series rings does sabermetric guru Billy Beane have again?

  • Question: is obtuse better than, equal to, or worse than “snarky?”

    How about just different?

    Someone remind me…how many World Series rings does sabermetric guru Billy Beane have again?

    Billy Beane isn’t a sabermetric guru. He is just a GM that has had a lot of success using sabermetric analysis. And Billy Beane, rightly so, would say that the playoffs are a crap shoot. But he has had good success getting there.

    Further… you do know that the Red Sox also very much use sabermetric analysis, right? As do the Yankees. Actually… you will find very few GM’s in baseball who DON’T use some form of sabermetric analysis.

    But go ahead and discount statistical analysis. Your refusal to even engage in the conversation, and instead just mock it, says a lot.

  • sherm

    says a lot

    Really? What does it say, Dave?

    Maybe it says that it appears pointless to even try to have a reasonable conversation with someone who thinks that they know it all. I have tried to engage — but in my opinion you treat this board as a contest and each conversation as something you have to win. I don’t. I just want to have a little banter. Some fun, perhaps. Maybe even write something on occasion that someone (I know that you and Matt don’t find my humor to your liking — you’ve both made that clear) finds entertaining.

    As for me, you’ve made this place far less enjoyable than it was when Joe asked me to contribute. Go ahead and beat up every comment every one else makes. You win. I quit.

  • I know that you and Matt don’t find my humor to your liking — you’ve both made that clear

    I don’t recall ever saying anything about your humor.

  • I have tried to engage

    When? All I have seen you do, especially with me, is mock everything that I have said. That is engaging?

    n you treat this board as a contest and each conversation as something you have to win.

    No… I treat this blog as a discussion, where many people have many different opinions. You just don’t seem to like that I have different opinions than you do.

  • MJ

    Really? What does it say, Dave?

    I actually thought it did. Dave’s just saying that sabermetrics is used by quite a few clubs, so it’s not all “hocus pocus.”

    I’ll be the first one to admit I think it’s over analyzing the game by a bunch of guys that could never play the game. BUT some of it makes sense.

    I know that you and Matt don’t find my humor to your liking — you’ve both made that clear

    That was just me. And I don’t find all of your humor funny. That being said, I doubt everyone finds me funny….whenever that happens. 😆

    I just want open discussion here like the old days, where everyone voiced their opinions and there wasn’t outright finger pointing and name calling.