Archive for November, 2009

Baseball, Chicago Style

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

I enjoyed the previous book I read by Jerome Holtzman, so I decided to try another. This one was written by Jerome Holtzman and George Vass. The full title is “Baseball, Chicago Style – A Tale of Two Teams, One City”. It was published in 2001.

First of all, that title reminded me of the TV comedy show from the 70s: “Love, American Style”, the stupid theme song of which is going through my head right now. And the name of that TV show reminded me of the Marcello Mastroianni movie “Divorce, Italian Style” from the 60s.

And so we have: “Baseball, Chicago Style”. As you might guess, this is a book about the two teams currently known as “The Chicago Cubs” and “The Chicago White Sox”.

I know I’ve said this before, but the White Sox might as well have been playing on the moon for all I know about them. I don’t have anything against them, I just never paid any attention to them.

And since I only followed the Cubs during the 50s and 60s, and again during the past year and a half, there’s a lot I don’t know about them, too.

I enjoyed reading this book. It describes, with 20/20 hindsight, what was happening to these teams simultaneously, since at least as far back as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and up through the 2001 season.

Here are some favorite excerpts:

- “If we cannot be first we care not for second, which is but the anteroom to oblivion,”

- “Times have changed. Today the women don’t shoot. They sue.”

- “He could speak 12 languages, but couldn’t hit in any of them.”

- “According to some people…losing is the worst thing in the world. Well, it isn’t. What’s worse is allowing yourself to be eaten alive by it.”

- “In a perverse way, 1948 was a ‘miracle season’, the White Sox and Cubs accomplishing the unprecedented and uncomfortable feat of both finishing in last place in the same year.”

- “Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko, an ardent, if realistic and hard-bitten, Cub fan, remarked whimsically: ‘Maybe that’s what they should put on his plaque when he goes into the Hall of Fame: ‘Ryne Sandberg, who walked away from one of the biggest paychecks in baseball, because he didn’t think he was earning it’.’”

- “Either a brief burst of hope followed by a period of despair, or a period of despair followed by a brief burst of hope.
It’s been that way since 1946, and the Cubs have always run strictly true to that inconsistent pattern since their last pennant in 1945.”

- “Rather than attract fans with his batting prowess, Belle repelled them with a surly, belligerent attitude.”

- “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Well, I was born great.”

- “Wrigley’s principal concern was maintaining ‘Beautiful Wrigley Field,’ more than the team itself. ‘We can’t guarantee a winning team,’ he said, ‘but we can guarantee the physical properties. We can take care of that’.”

- “To Grimm, baseball was fun, not war.”

- “I’d rather be a lamppost in Chicago than a millionaire in any other city.”

- “a manager must adapt his style to what material he’s got. There’s no other way to do it.”

The front cover proclaims: “Cubs- Sox Pictures, Bios and Anecdotes Capturing the Best and the Most Memorable”. Also: “Untold Stories about the Black Sox Scandal and Cubs Intrigue”

I enjoyed reading “Baseball, Chicago Style”, and I recommend it to any and all with an interest in Chicago baseball history.

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GirlieView (11/27/2009)

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Really wish some exciting Cubs things would start happening, I’m bored. I’ve got nothing to talk about. And, apparently neither do you … not even giving a Lizard this week as there were so few comments to choose from.

But, I did find some amusing little ditties:

Lizzies

  • Have fun down at Boca Vista where they dispense Viagra out of vending machines in the bingo room.
  • It’s desert vs. swamp in a no-holds barred schmoozefest.
  • Looks to me like whoever built the signs had some Home Depot gift cards leftover from last Christmas.
  • Here is the breakdown of this elite club of suck.

Have a great week. Next week maybe I’ll make a VFTB crossword puzzle to keep our minds sharp while we wait for some action. Til then …

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Did You Know? K’s > Hits

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Happy black Friday. Did you know that 2009 saw Alfonso Soriano qualify for the batting title and yet have more strikeouts than he had hits. This was only the 9th time a Cub has achieved this feat since 1900. The interesting this is that all of them occur after 1960 and all but one occur after 1990. Here is the breakdown of this elite club of suck.

Player Year SO H PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Alfonso Soriano 2009 118 115 522 64 25 1 20 55 40 .241 .303 .423 .726
Sammy Sosa 2004 133 121 539 69 21 0 35 80 56 .253 .332 .517 .849
Alex Gonzalez 2003 123 122 601 71 37 0 20 59 47 .228 .295 .409 .704
Mark Bellhorn 2002 144 115 529 86 24 4 27 56 76 .258 .374 .512 .886
Alex Gonzalez 2002 136 127 568 58 27 5 18 61 46 .248 .312 .425 .737
Jose Hernandez 1998 140 124 533 76 23 7 23 75 40 .254 .311 .471 .782
Sammy Sosa 1997 174 161 694 90 31 4 36 119 45 .251 .300 .480 .779
Rick Wilkins 1994 86 71 358 44 25 2 7 39 40 .227 .317 .387 .703
Billy Cowan 1964 128 120 520 52 16 4 19 50 18 .241 .268 .404 .673
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Who are baseball’s best and worst baserunners?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

In The Bill James Handbook 2010 we analyze a player’s baserunning ability.  For each player, we measure his ability to move first to third, second to home, and first to home in addition to the number of outs he records on the bases and how he fares in double plays.

While this year’s Handbook evaluates how each player performed in 2009, I thought it would be fun to take a look at baserunners over the past five years.  We took a look at each player’s baserunning gain (stolen bases are not included) in order to determine baseball’s best and worst baserunners for the past five seasons.

Best Baserunners, 2005-2009

Player

Baserunning Gain

Grady Sizemore

+104

Chase Utley

+96

Willy Taveras

+95

Ichiro Suzuki

+91

Randy Winn

+90

According to this study, Grady Sizemore is the best baserunner in baseball with a  +104, despite only a +4 in 106 games played this year.   Think of that +104 as 104 extra bases taken compared to an average runner. Chase Utley, the only infielder on this list, comes in second with +96 and had an excellent year this year with a +27.  Willy Taveras is slightly behind Utley, followed by Ichiro Suzuki and Randy Winn.

Worst Baserunners, 2005-2009

Player

Baserunning Gain

Bengie Molina

-106

Carlos Lee

-97

Brian McCann

-83

Yadier Molina

-82

Mike Lowell

-81

Ordinarily, when we do a Stat of the Week that involves catchers, the Molina brothers appear on some sort of  “best-of” leaderboard.  When it comes to baserunning, however, the two Molina brothers with starting jobs are two of the five worst baserunners in baseball over the past five years.  At -97, Carlos Lee is right behind Bengie Molina’s league worst net gain of -106.  Mike Lowell also makes the list of worst baserunners, and is the lone infielder in the bottom five.  In 2009, Lowell was an abysmal -27.  The worst baserunner in 2009, Juan Rivera at -35, just missed the five-year list with -80.

Interestingly, despite Rivera’s -35, the Angels were baseball’s best baserunning team with a +77 team score.  The top five teams in 2009 were:

Best Baserunning Teams, 2009

Team

Baserunning Gain

Los Angeles Angels

+77

Colorado Rockies

+70

Toronto Blue Jays

+62

Philadelphia Phillies

+46

Arizona Diamondbacks

+45

San Francisco Giants

+45

The Kansas City Royals were the worst at -97 as a team.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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And now it’s…the Morning News With the Daver!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Greetings, VFTB faithful and welcomed guests! My name is the Daver and your gracious host, Joe Aiello, has invited me to share some morning news items with you several times a week. Some of you might know me as “Dat Cubfan Daver” from Bleed Cubbie Blue and Twitter. If so, I apologize for all the bad jokes and hope to do better in the future.

I’m going to try to keep these posts brief, to-the-point and, naturally, Cubs-focused (as opposed to MLB-focused). Don’t look for any rhyme nor reason beyond that. I’m just going to hit you with whatever interesting items catch my eye. And now – on to the news!

The Cubs’ future in Arizona remains uncertain. Now that we’ve got that whole pesky ownership thing figured out, we can start wondering (and, for some, worrying) about where the Cubs will hunker down for spring training. It’s desert vs. swamp in a no-holds barred schmoozefest. Stay tuned.

Ho-Ho has a new Grand Puba. In a related story, Hohokam Stadium has named Mark Gallo as the new stadium manager, replacing previous manager Dave “Don’t Call Me Adam” Dunne. Hey, I didn’t promise all of these items would be earth-shattering.

Next stop, Wally World. Another Cubs-related hiring – the team now has a new (deep breath) executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer (exhale). He is Wally Hayward and I love that name.

Cubs going all Scorsese on Horseshoe Casino. In case you haven’t heard, the team has erected signs in the left field bleachers to block Horseshoe’s unsurprisingly garish rooftop billboard across the street. Looks to me like whoever built the signs had some Home Depot gift cards leftover from last Christmas. I also think if the signs stay there, they’re going to piss off the ball hawks on the street below.

New USA Today Team Report! New USA Today Team Report! If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed me passing along these USA Today Team Reports. To be clear, I’m no fan of the newspaper nor am I affiliated with it in any way, but whoever writes these team reports really knocks them onto Waveland. They’re great summaries of the Cubs current goings-on chock full of savvy stats and interesting items. Does anyone happen to know who writes them?

Twins still eying Harden. I know, I know – TWSS. But, seriously, Twins beat reporter Kelly Theiser notes that those pesky piranhas are still interested in the controversial strikeout master.

No rest for uberprospect Starlin Castro. After ripping up the Arizona Fall League, the Cubs much-talked-about shortstop prospect has moved on to Caribbean Winter Ball, playing for the Leones del Escogido. Hey, he’s young. Also note that former Cubs pinch hitter extraordinaire Daryle Ward is on the roster. Wow, really? (Thanks to Pitch F/X Ace Harry Pavlidis for passing this item along on Twitter.)

The Trib’s AFL wrap-up. For those of you who missed the Arizona Fall League action, the Chicago Tribune actually offers something (gasp) useful in this nice wrap-up of the Cubs big players. This is the first I’ve noticed this Tom Carkeek character. I shall keep an eye on him.

Jake the Rake in the DR! In other winter league news, it appears Jake Fox is playing left field for the Dominican Republic’s Licey Tigers. Hey, why not? It can’t hurt to get Jake some more defensive reps – maybe he could put in some time at third base and second base, too. Assuming he hits well, this could at least boost his trade value. (Please note: The linked article is in Spanish but includes a picture. If any cunning bilingualists out there wish to translate, please feel free. I’d run it through Google’s translator but I’ve really got to get moving along here.)

And, last but not least, let’s take a moment to honor Derrek Lee’s stupendous 2009 season, shall we? Thank you, Fangraphs.

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Projected Roster Information & Top 15 Prospects

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Projected 25 Man Roster

STARTING LINEUP
1. Ryan Theriot – SS
2. Milton Bradley – RF
3. Derrek Lee – 1B
4. Aramis Ramirez – 3B
5. Kosuke Fukudome – CF
6. Alfonso Soriano – LF
7. Geovany Soto – C
8. Jeff Baker – 2B

BENCH
Sam Fuld – OF
Jake Fox – IF / OF
Mike Fontenot – IF
Koyie Hill – C
Aaron Miles – IF

STARTING ROTATION
1. Carlos Zambrano
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Ted Lilly
4. Randy Wells
5. Sean Marshall

BULLPEN
1. Tom Gorzelanny
2. John Grabow
3. Angel Guzman
4. Carlos Marmol
5. Justin Berg
6. Esmailin Caridad
7. Jeff Samardzija

Other Roster Candidates
(All Stats from 2009)

Catcher
Robinson Chirinos
Wellington Castillo
Steve Clevenger
Chris Robinson

Corner Infield
Blake Lalli
Micah Hoffpauir
Bobby Scales

Middle Infield
Tony Thomas
Starlin Castro
Darwin Barney
Andres Blanco

Outfield
Reed Johnson
Tyler Colvin

Pitchers
Mitch Atkins
David Patton
Blake Parker
Neal Cotts
John Gaub
Marcos Mateo
Jay Jackson
Andrew Cashner
J.R. Mathes
Jeremy Papelbon

VFTB Top 15 Prospects
Updated: 11/22/09

  1. Josh Vitters – 3B
  2. Starlin Castro – SS
  3. Jay Jackson – SP
  4. Andrew Cashner – SP / RP
  5. Brett Jackson – CF
  6. Chris Carpenter – SP
  7. Ryan Flaherty – 2B
  8. D.J. LeMahieu – SS
  9. Wellington Castillo – C
  10. Hak-Ju Lee – SS
  11. Tyler Colvin – OF
  12. Sam Fuld – OF
  13. Rebel Ridling – 1B
  14. Kyler Burke – OF
  15. Chris Archer – SP


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Did Adam Jones and Torii Hunter deserve Gold Gloves?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Last week the Gold Gloves awards came out and American League center fielders Adam Jones and Torii Hunter were both honored.  Hunter won his eighth Gold Glove and Jones won his first.

However, neither did well in the Fielding Bible Awards.  Hunter finished ninth in the voting among all MLB center fielders.  The four AL center fielders that finished ahead of Hunter were 1-2-3-4 in the voting: 1-Franklin Gutierrez, 2-Carlos Gomez, 3-Curtis Granderson and 4-Rajai Davis. Jones did even worse.  Ten Fielding Bible Award panelists cast 10! 0 votes overall (10 each) for center fielders and Adam Jones received only one ninth place vote.

Interestingly, there is one area where Hunter and Jones are the absolute best in baseball.  And an important area it is, as it is the most valuable defensive play a player can make: making home-run saving catches.  Torii Hunter has the most in baseball over the last three years with five.  Adam Jones had the most this past season with four.  Based on our methods, Hunter saved eight runs over the three years on these plays and Jones saved six in 2009.

That’s impressive.  It’s an important part of the defensive profile of an outfielder, but it is only a part. We also measure two other areas of defense for outfielders, their ability to cover ground and the strength/accuracy of their throwing arm.

Let’s look at their throwing arms first.  Based on our methods, Torii Hunter is nearly the exact definition of average.  Over the last three years he did not hurt or help his team and had exactly zero defensive runs saved, based on how many runners he threw out and how many runners advanced extra bases on plays to center field.  In 2009, Hunter had one defensive run saved. But Adam Jones is a different story. This is another area where he excelled.  Jones saved 12 runs with his arm and was the best in all of baseball in 2009.  Again.  The best outfielder in all of baseball at making home run saving catches and the best outfield throwing arm.  No wonder he won a Gold Glove.  But should he have?

Let’s look at the final area, covering ground in center field. The method we use is the Plus/Minus System.  We measure plays made compared to what an average center fielder would make on the balls hit to each player.  Once again, Hunter is the definition of average.  Over the last three years he saved zero runs defensively covering ground in center field.  His +4 runs saved mark in 2009 was better than the previous two years.  Hunter didn’t make any more plays than the average center fielder, but he performed better on plays that were hit deep into center field.  He saved 17 bases on deeply hit balls, while he cost his team 9 bases on shallow and medium hit balls, for an overall enhanced plus/minus of +8, ranking him 12th in baseball.

Covering ground in center field is not Adam Jones’ forte.  The 11 runs he cost his team defensively in center field was the second worst in the American League (Vernon Wells was the worst in baseball with -17). He was the opposite of Hunter.  He was okay on shallow hit balls with two bases saved (+2), but he was very poor on medium hit balls (-7) and atrocious on deeply hit balls (-16).  That gives him an overall enhanced plus/minus of -20.

Should Adam Jones, being the best in baseball in two areas on nearly the worst in a third, win a Gold Glove? Let’s compare him and Torii Hunter to the three AL players that the Fielding Bible Award panelists like.  Overall, while they came at it from totally different directions, Hunter and Jones had the same number of defensive runs saved in 2009, seven.  That tied them for 11th among all center fielders.  The Fielding Bible panel would have given the AL Gold Glove Awards to Franklin Gutierrez (31 runs saved), Carl Crawford (24) and Ichiro Suzuki (11 runs saved).  Here are their totals by defensive category! :

2009 Runs Saved

HR Saving Catches

Plus/Minus

Arm

Total

Torii Hunter

2

4

1

7

Adam Jones

6

-11

12

7

Franklin Gutierrez

3

24

4

31

Carl Crawford

0

18

6

24

Ichiro Suzuki

0

12

-1

11

I think it is fair to speculate that Gold Glove voters are influenced by defensive plays that look great.  The home-saving catch and, to a lesser extent, the great throw to nab a runner.  But there’s more to defense than that.  It’s like saying the league MVP should be the guy who leads the league in grand slam homers.  It’s a big deal to hit grand slam homers (or to make home runs saving catches), but it doesn’t show the whole picture.

Runs Saved leaderboards can be found in the Bill James Handbook 2010.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

The title is: “The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader”, a compilation of Jerome Holtzman’s “favorite offerings from five decades of chronicling our national pastime”.

Before I read this book, although I had heard of Mr. Holtzman, I didn’t really know very much about him. Here’s some background:

He was born in Chicago (in 1926) and grew up in an orphanage on the West Side (the Marks Nation Jewish Orphan Home). He spent two years in the marines.

He wrote for Chicago newspapers for over 50 years. Jerome began covering baseball in 1957, following both the Cubs and White Sox. He created the save statistic in 1959, which was adopted as an official statistic for the 1969 season. The save was the first new official statistic in MLB since the RBI was introduced in 1920.

Following his retirement as a newspaper writer in 1999, Mr. Holtzman served as the official historian for Major League Baseball until his death on July 19, 2008.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

- “I contend that any pitcher, win or lose, who pitches nine innings of shutout ball should be given credit for a winning performance.”

In 1946 Bob Feller “led the majors with a one-season record 368 strikeouts. He struck out every regular American League position player with one exception”.

This is all the more remarkable because Mr. Feller spent the previous four years on active duty in the Navy (during WW2). As a matter of fact, Bob Feller spent 34 months aboard the USS Alabama prior to his discharge in August, 1945.

I want to tell you, I’ve been aboard the USS Alabama. (She is a floating museum in Mobile Bay.) It was noisy, hot and uncomfortable. And that was welded to the pier with no one shooting at us.

As an aside, “the Alabama never lost a man in an enemy action, then or later. It was known as the ‘Lucky A’.”

The author quotes Bob Feller: “Every time I went out to pitch I thought about how lucky I was to serve my country and come back with all my limbs,” Feller said. “I did what I thought I should. You’ll never hear me cry about it.”

- “The rules of the game say that the strike zone is between the batter’s armpits and the top of his knees ‘when he assumes his natural stance’.”

The author quotes Ted Williams speaking about Luis Aparicio: “…he was the greatest shortstop of my time….Joe Cronin was a better hitter, and so was Luke Appling. But in that spot, you take a fielder over a hitter.”

On the same subject (Luis Aparicio), the author quotes Lew Fonseca: “There were a lot of good ones, but defensively, Aparicio was the best. And shortstop is a defensive position.”

Speaking about Bill Veeck, who “lost most of his right leg at Bougainville, when he was in the marine corps during World War II”, the author observes: “The only time I recall him mentioning his peg leg, the right leg, was early one morning while he was soaking the stump. It was a daily two hour ritual. Typically, he only saw the benefits, the upside. Because he had to sit, he explained, he had more time to read.”

Speaking further about Bill Veeck, Mr. Holtzman says: “This may be hard for some of the current owners to believe but it was Bill Veeck who came up with the idea that ballplayers should be ‘depreciated’, just like oil wells.”

In a column about Marge Schott, Jerry makes the point: “…I, too, have been fighting the good fight, beginning with two years in the U. S. Marine Corps during the big war: gung-ho for the pursuit of liberty and the freedom of speech, including offensive speech.”

- “Still, the attempt to discipline someone for speech, not conduct, would seem to be a significant danger. Schott didn’t demonstrate and throw eggs or rocks at the police. She did not inflict bodily harm. Nor is she guilty of theft or general dishonesty.”

- “Understand, this isn’t so much a defense of Schott and her privilege of alleged ignorance. Of considerably more importance is the necessity to honor and protect the Bill of Rights against the evils of Big Brother and thought control.”

As you can see from the above examples, this book includes stories about Chicago baseball, and about baseball in general. I’m glad I read it. I recommend it highly.

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GirlieView (11/20/2009)

Friday, November 20th, 2009

It’s usually somewhere around Thursday when I start collecting the potential Lizzies of the week and jotting down my sparkling conversational items for my first paragraph. Yesterday morning while I waited for my bowl of Apple Jacks to inspire me, I wrote this:

Does anyone know whether Aaron Heilman will be back? I fear he will but I am hoping someone knows differently? I’m not a Heilman fan and I hope we aren’t stuck with him. Not a Gregg fan either but I think it’s a safe bet he won’t be back.

Then, just a few short hours later like manna from heaven, I heard about the trade. Yippee! I’m a happy gal!! Even if it spoiled the only thing I had to talk about this week! (Though I really did consider chatting about the Apple Jacks!)

Onto the Lizzies … have a great weekend!

Lizzies

  • The guys you mentioned are pretty good, but let’s not forget about Blanco either.
  • It’s as if the media locks in on one guy each off-season for this team and beats it like a drum until something happens.
  • For the first time in three decades, the players were better athletes than the grounds crew.
  • [Fuld] plays hard, is a very disciplined hitter that draws walks and runs the bases well. He’s an intelligent player that knows the game. He’s paid his dues and deserves the shot Johnson has had over the past two years.
  • I see dead people.
  • I, along with many Cubs fan, tend to like those scrappy players with big heart–like Fuld or Johnson.
  • Alan Rench
  • Saw this headline at MLB Trade Rumors “Yankees Interested In Gonzalez, Soriano?” and I almost wet myself. Unfortunately that’s not OUR Soriano.
  • C’mon Jimmy just a few more to go!
  • Considering that I would have accepted a can of Pringles for Heilman, I’ll take it.

Lizard

  • in 2014, Soriano won’t be worth 14 million Schrutebucks.
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