Archive for January, 2010

Minor League Ball on Junior Lake

Monday, January 18th, 2010

John Sickles of Minor League Ball posted a profile on one of the many SS prospects in our system:

Junior Lake, SS, Chicago Cubs
I rated Lake as a sleeper entering 2009 because of his outstanding physical tools. Unfortunately for him, it was Starlin Castro who figured out how to use his tools last year, not Lake.  Lake’s physical tools are, if anything, slightly better than Castro’s. He has more power potential and an even stronger arm. However, his plate discipline is terrible, which helped result in a -8 percent OPS last year in the Midwest League. He’s also very raw defensively, where he made 40 errors combined between shortstop and second base for Peoria. Lake is young enough to figure things out, but he has a lot of work to do. If Castro looks like another Edgar Renteria, Lake looks like a future Angel Berroa right now. Grade C.

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Renovating the Game: The Playoff System

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Today we look at item # 2 on my list of ways I would improve the game. If you missed the first suggestion, I called for increased usage of the DH and presented a plan for how I feel it would work. Today’s topic is reforming the playoff system to present a more enjoyable experience while truly valuing what teams do in the regular season.

What I Believe is Broken: There is one problem I see with the current format and two improvements I’d make to better the system. Currently, we see a best of five series in the first round in which the team with the best record in the regular season plays the wild card team in a best of five series (unless said team is in their division). The problem with this system is two-fold. First, it in no way gives the team with the best record a significant advantage over the rest of the teams. When you battle and claw your way to the best record in the league, you should be rewarded for that hard work with at least an advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Because a short series in baseball is so unpredictable, we’ve often seen the wild card team advance over a much better top team. Take for example the 2003 Florida Marlins or the 2007 Colorado Rockies. Both teams were less than impressiv e and came into the playoffs as wild card teams. In fact, the Marlins had even fired their manager early in the season before going on a run to get to the playoffs under Jack McKeon. Neither team really had any business being in the World Series, let alone winning it. Since it’s inception in 1995, the wild card has provided MLB with four World Series winners, including three straight champions from 2002 – 2004. Maybe I’m just a fan of chalk, but I don’t think this should be the case. I wanna see the best teams duking it out in the end, not the hottest teams. My plan is a simple, yet radical way to change the way the format works that should make for more of the cream rising to the top in October.

What I Propose: As I said, my proposal is three-fold and can be taken apart and implemented separately or together.

Item # 1 – League Champions for the regular season choose their opponent

Item # 2 – League Champions for the regular season get four of the five LDS games at home with the opponent team getting one.

Item # 3 – Add a 2nd wild card team

How it would work: As I said, all three of these suggestions can be put into place together or separately. Here is how each would work

Obviously the first two are fairly self explanatory. When the season ends, the league champs will choose who they best matchup against and alert the league accordingly. By doing this, it makes that first seed meaningful because you’re able to elect to avoid a particularly hot team and in turn select a team that might be struggling, injured, not well rested, etc. You could also choose to simply play a team that your squad best matches up against. Regardless of the criteria, it awards the team with the best record with a perk that should be there for being the best over 162 games. Those six months should not be irrelevant.

Once the matchups are set, the league champ also receives a sizable advantage in the first round. If we’re all in agreement that the playoffs tend to get too long, then it’s important that the first round stays a best of five series. Because a short series tends to lessen the dispairity between a good team and an average team, the top team in the league is rewarded with four of the five games being at home. The format would be 2-1-2, which would garuntee that the opponent would get a home game for their fans in the first round. Once the LCS round came into place, the home field format would return to normal with the better team getting four of the seven.

Item # 3 is a little more interesting. When Bud Selig proposed the idea of three divisions in a league and the addition of the wild card, many purists scoffed at the idea and didn’t want to give it a chance. As time has passed it has become clear that the wild card has been a quality improvement to the game as we see it because of the fact that it keeps more teams in the hunt longer into the season. Because of this, we see better quality baseball deeper into the season from more teams. Adding a team to that mix would only help that even more.

Under my plan, the three division champions would be given a spot in the playoffs. From there, the next two top records would then be awarded a playoff spot in a special “play in game”. Simply put, a one game playoff the day after the regular season, similar to the ones we see in the event of a tie for the wild card or division. The winner of the play in game would then be awarded the trip to the LDS.

By implementing this concept, it keeps more teams in the hunt as well as lessens the idea that a weak division winner would be taking the spot of a team with a better record in the regular season.

How it would have looked in 2009:

New York
Los Angeles

Play in game between: Boston & Texas

Los Angeles
St. Louis

Play in game between: Colorado & San Francisco

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Carlos Zambrano and other musings

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

One of the reasons I love January is that hope springs eternal for Cubs fans. You look at the list of non-roster invitees and wonder if there will be a diamond in the rough, Lord knows we’ve had plenty of ’em in Chicago. Today Carlos Zambrano was quoted on ESPN radio as saying that he wants to be a Cub forever – I liked this for a couple of reasons. First it indicates a positive attitude and that sure means something coming out of last year. Secondly, Z admitted that a lot of his subpar performance was due to conditioning issues (if only we could get Geo Soto to do a mea culpa on this issue as well!)

If the Cubs are to do well in 2010 it’s imperative that we get at least 15 wins out of him – an 18 to 20 win season could make the difference between a playoff team and an also-ran. The Central is going to be a tough division this year and, if the Cubs and Cards are both to go to the playoffs somebody is going to have to win the division and somebody else is going to have to be the best of the rest. I’m hoping for rebound years out of Zambrano and Dempster and am pessimistic about what we’ll get out of Lilly – only time will tell what he’ll be coming off the injury.

In other news the Cubs are reportedly interested in Contreras; despite the fact that he had limited time with the Rockies in 2009 (where he put up decent numbers) this move makes more intuitive sense to me than Sheets. When sharp Contreras can be a very effective pitcher and his downside isn’t as serious as is Sheets’ – perhaps a deal can be struck where we give Contreras a shot at doing what he wants to do most (i.e. start) during the first month when Lilly is unavailable. His price tag shouldn’t be that high and that in and of itself is reason for more consideration.

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Pat Hughes Named 2009 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

From the Cubs Media Dept:

CHICAGOChicago Cubs/WGN Radio Play-by-Play Announcer Pat Hughes has been named the 2009 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

“I would like to thank the Cubs fans for being the greatest audience that a broadcaster could ever dream of,” said Hughes. “I would also like to thank all of those who voted for me.”

This is Hughes’ eighth Sportscaster of the Year honor – and his fifth in Illinois, having previously won the award in 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2007. He was honored as Wisconsin’s Sportscaster of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Hughes is entering his 15th season with the Cubs and WGN, teaming with Ron Santo on the Cubs Radio Network. The 2010 season will be Pat’s 28th of broadcasting Major League Baseball.

The award will be presented the first week of May in Salisbury, N.C.

I’ve always been a big fan of Pat. I loved listening to him on the MLB Audio before I upgraded to the Extra Innings Package. I’ve interviewed him a few times and he’s always been incredibly gracious. Good for him to get recognized.

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In the News: Jermaine Dye, a Cub?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Spring has sprung! What’s that? Check my calendar? Hey, when the temperature is above 30 in Chicago in January, I get spring fever. And with PCR (Pitchers and Catchers Report) Day about a month way, I feel like we’re going into the off-season home stretch here. Anyway, here are some hot Cubs-related news items* to warm your grubby hands to:

You can…putitintherumormill…eeeeYES! Paul Sullivan reports that the Cubs are considering former White Sox right fielder to fill their (as I see it) last remaining roster spot. I’ve generally been against this idea when it’s come up before (I think Jon Heyman suggested it once), but Dye did slug pretty well last season. It appears he was just so God awful on defense that his WAR sunk to negative levels. Could the Cubs mitigate that by playing him in right field only against left-handed pitchers and otherwise using him as a first base backup and pinch hitter? Maybe. I assume this would be only a one-year, fairly cheap deal. Thoughts?

Also check out the video of Cubs manager Lou Piniella waxing philosophic on the team’s 2010 season. He looks like he’s kept himself in pretty good shape in the off-season. Let’s hope Zambrano, Soriano, et al. have done the same.

Start spreadin’ the news…Matt Sinatro out, former Cubs SS Ivan DeJesus in. The Cubs made a coaching change yesterday, replacing Matt “Ol’ Something Eyes” Sinatro with Ivan DeJesus at first base. Sinatro will remain on in an administrative role. No word on why the change was made, but Sinatro has reportedly had some knee surgeries as of late.

Ben Sheets update. Cubs scouts will watch Ben throw next week at the University of Louisiana. There have been rumblings in the Twitterverse that Sheets is asking too much money for the Cubs to consider him. But time will tell whether his price comes down. I’m still wondering whether Greg  Maddux could play a role here, but maybe I’m getting too caught up on that angle.

The Spring Training schmoozefest is drawing to a conclusion. It’s hard to say exactly when. I’ve come across several articles giving differing deadlines for when the Cubs brass will make a decision. So I decided to go conservative and post this USA Today article that reports the choice will be made “within the month.”

Randy Wells wins award for his charitable efforts. How cool is this? The Cubs “outta nowhere” young phenom starting pitcher (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives) has been named St. Louis Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s 2009 Rookie of the Year. Well at least someone gave him that award.

The Cubs Convention is this weekend! The Cubs Convention is this weekend! Any loyal VFTBers going? I won’t be in attendance – haven’t quite crossed that line in my Cubs fandom yet. But I’ll trying to catch some of the radio, TV and, of course, Internet coverage. Click the preceding bolded text for the complete schedule.

*As always, the bolded phrases leading off each paragraph are links to news stories.

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