Archive for June, 2010

In the News: Has the Ricketts Era Finally Begun?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Yo yo yo, what is up in your house? I mean, seriously, what is up in your house – the place is a mess! Time runneth short for me today, Cubs fans. I’ve got to wrap things up here at the _____________ Global Headquarters before I head up to scenic Door County, Wisconsin with my family tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’ll make a gesture of some sort at Miller Park as we pass through Milwaukee. And now, on with the news:

Ricketts hire a stat guy; Hendry gets jealous.  In a somewhat surprising story yesterday, the Cubs announced the hiring of Ari Kaplan as Statistical Analyst Manager. Kaplan has worked with many other major league teams to create computer programs that integrate traditional scouting data with sabermetrics. You can check out his Web site ariball.com here.

The hiring is great news for those us who have been wishing/hoping/screaming for the Cubs to get a little more up with (and, preferable, ahead of) the times when it comes to incorporating statistical analyses into their player development and acquisitions. And I wonder whether we’re finally seeing Tom Ricketts put his financial analyst hat over his Cubs cap and start workin’ the numbers when it comes to the team. With so many big contracts coming to a close, now would be a great time to start thinking about how to leverage the team’s financial resources going forward – and that means getting max value players without overpaying. Has the Ricketts Era finally, truly begun? We’ll see.

Oh, and in a strange twist, GM Jim Hendry made some apparently negative remarks regarding Kaplan’s hiring today. He told the sage Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald, “You just don’t draw people up on computers and plug them in and that means they can perform at Wrigley Field in a pennant race.” Yeah, we know, Jimbo. But this is the same strawman argument that often appears when advanced statistical research in baseball is brought up. No one is saying the Cubs should eliminate traditional scouting – especially when it comes to player development – but sabermetrics can more effectively analyze the numbers that players put up. In other words, scouting should focus on the process of playing baseball while stats-based analyses should focuse on the results. And, I might add, sabermetrics can prevent the signing of overvalued players such as Aaron Miles and John Grabow to unnecessarily expensive deals.

Fukudome follow-up: Red Sox say no-go.  Following up on my lead story from Tuesday, this article surfaced on the Comcast New England Web site yesterday. It reveals that, according to those mysterious sources, the Cubs and Red Sox did informally discuss the outside chance of a trade that would send Kosuke to Boston. But, as you might expect, Dome’s hefty $13.5 million salary next year made Red Sox management unwilling to get serious about the deal. The Cubs might have a better chance of pushing something through if Boston’s farm system wasn’t so dang good.

The only other team I’ve heard to have shown some interest in Kosuke is the Nationals. But their left-handed hitting right fielder, Roger Bernadina, is doing well (.812 OPS, including a .353 OBP, in 124 ABs). His right-handed platoon partner, Willie Harris, isn’t doing so hot, however - having put up a mere .587 OPS in 101 ABs. Again, as much as it pains me to say, it appears they could use Marlon Byrd more than Kosuke Fukudome.

Angels writer puts together dubious Wrigley slideshow.  Yes, the Cubs face the Anaheim-based Los Angeles Angels of the State of California, Fourth District, 22nd Quadrant this weekend. And I happened to come across this article/slideshow written by one Ellen Bell.

It’s all fine and dandy, but I gotta get a couple things off my chest: 1) Slide No. 5′s obligatory and unavoidable mention of the Billy Goat Curse is INACCURATE. Sianis was NOT denied entrance to Wrigley Field that day. He got in – with his goat – but was eventually asked to leave. 2) The YouTube clip cited in the caption to Slide No. 6, which depicts a “urinal trough dive,”  is NOT - I repeat, NOT – from Wrigley Field. Anyone who’s ever been to Wrigley Field can tell you this. Nice effort, Ms. Bell, but you fail – and, we hope, so will your precious Angels.

Jonesing for some Sam Fuld action?  Well then, just click on that link and check out one of lil’ Sam’s patented diving catches, which occurred in yesterday’s Iowa Cubs game. Also shown in that clip: SS/2B Darwin Barney ripping a ball into centerfield. Y’know…cough, cough…he could be called up if Ryan Theriot is traded…cough, cough.

The Cubs like Kefir.  And, no, I’m not talking about the guy on “24.” Perhaps this digestive aid can help the Cubs loosen up their constipated run production. Oh, and if you’re going to the game on Sunday, get their early to pick up a “ProBugs” toy courtesy of Lifeway Foods. Riiiiiiiiiight. Stay healthy, Cubs fans!

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Pitching: The Great Change Up

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Have you noticed something different about baseball lately?

It’s as if a whole new style is coming to fashion. Baseball goes through fads similar to that of clothing. I see bell-bottom pants, pegged jeans or even the latest disaster; cargo pants. Their timeline is a good way of describing our nation’s pastime and its power struggle between hitters and pitchers.  It seems every ten years or so we have change.

It wasn’t long ago that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were popping balls out of ballparks faster then Jose Canseco was popping testosterone filled needles in his backside (and other players backside’s for that matter). Pitchers were intentionally walking anybody whose forearms were larger then their thighs, for fear they would be the next guy to give up a record breaking blast. Then PED testing showed up in clubhouses……

Recently, as if somebody flipped a switch in the baseball heavens (or started asking for urine samples), we have witnessed a new dominance unfold.  Pitchers seem to be running the show these days.  Strikeouts are up and home runs are down. There have been an unprecedented three perfect games. Well, okay, two on record and one imperfect prefecto compliments of a botched call. We saw 14 strikeouts materialize in Stephen Strasburg’s debut, but in all honesty, if he didn’t do it we would call him a bust. Jamie Moyer, AKA Father Time, threw a shutout at the age of 47. You know what they are saying though, 47 is the new 27.  As if all of this was not enough, most recently we were treated to a special night at Wrigley Field.  Ted Lilly and Gavin Floyd took dual no hitters into the seventh inning in game 3 of the Crosstown Classic, the longest a game has gone without a hit since 1980. All of this and we are not to the halfway point of the season.

Every time a pitcher starts doing the impossible we start asking questions.  People start comparing them to their predecessors. Stuff like pitch counts, conditioning, the ball, the mound, and anything else that can be used as an explanation for their dominance or lack there of.

Back in the day

Did you know the Curveball was supposedly invented by a young man named William Arthur “Candy” Cummings back in the 1860’s?  (Honestly, have you ever heard a better name for an adult film star?) There are many people who claimed this feat but Candy got the press.  Apparently he and his buddies liked to throw Clam Shells on their trips to the beach. They got a kick out of the curved flight. Candy thought it would be cool if he could make a baseball fly the same way, so he spent the next few years trying to figure it out. He was successful and played professionally in the 1870’s and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.  He once pitched two complete games in one day. His career lasted 6 years in the pro’s…..I have a feeling they probably didn’t have pitch counts back then.

Pitchers pitched until they lost their stuff.  You didn’t see a guy get pulled because he passed a magic number on the pitch count. Up until the eighties starting pitchers were relied on to go as far as they could be effective. Here is a quick trivia question: How many closers were there in the Major Leagues during the 1970’s and before? Can you name any?

Granted, back when “Candy” (A nickname of adoration at the time) was pitching, the labor situation was not the same as at present. When a ballplayer signed on with a team, they owned your butt.  Whether Candy’s arm was about to fall off or not at the end of that first game is anybody’s guess, but if he was going good that day, you better believe his manager was going to put him out there to win game two of the twin billing.

Dollar Signs

“When we played, World Series checks meant something. Now all they do is screw your taxes.”

-Don Drysdale

I like to grill food….I’m a grill guy. In my first year out of college I bought the cheapest gas grill money could by.  It was terrible and the thing was more then likely to blow up then grill a piece of meat. I think I paid close to $100 for it…..yah it was a peach.  I treated it as such too.  I never cleaned it and left it out in the snow and such.  It was what it was, it did the job and it only cost me $100. A few years later I bought a Weber…..I don’t treat the Weber as poorly. I don’t baby it too much, but it gets a little more TLC then the old rusted out flame thrower…..of course it was a much larger investment, about five times as much.  Did either one of these grills cook a piece of meat better then the other? Maybe. The one thing I know is that one will definitely last longer.

The Baseball Almanac lists Sandy Koufax rookie year salary at $20,000 back in 1955.  Using an inflation calculator the current value or buying power in 2010 would be equal to $162,693.28…..I would call that a bargain.

I bring this up because I got to watch Stephen Strasburg’s debut last week. I could not help but notice they not only have a pitch count on the guy, but a total innings count for the season as well!  The announcers mentioned it many times like the sand in the Strasburg hour glass was running out with each pitch. Does this mean they shut him down if the once hapless Nationals find themselves in a pennant race?

“Hey fans we finally got to the playoffs but Steve-o’s out of innings so you won’t see him for the entire post-season.”

Oh by the way, Stephen got $7.5 million as a signing bonus and will make more then $15 million over the next four years. You think maybe they are trying to protect that investment?

I don’t know for sure but I highly doubt the Dodger management put a pitch count on Mr. Koufax more or less an innings count.  I am not trying to compare Sandy to a cheap flame thrower that barely worked, far from it, more or less trying to say that the larger the monetary investment the more we may coddle it.  For the type of money they are spending and all the restrictions put on a pitchers workload in this day and age, it will be amazing if we even see these guys pitch twenty years from now.  Maybe they will just sign them to the contract and put them on display in a glass case by the stadium lobby for all to see.

And then there was personality……

As a young lad growing up in Detroit my fondest early memories of the game were of a total lunatic talking to a baseball on the mound. In my eyes, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych defined the 1970’s for pitching.  If the pitchers of the seventies don’t represent that decade well I don’t know what does. The flowing locks, bad facial hair, and rock star appeal brought some personality to the game.  Guys like Bill “ Spaceman” Lee and Jim “Catfish” Hunter were on the marquee at ballparks all over the league. The beauty of it was these guys had talent! They weren’t just a side show act. Mark Fidrych won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1976 with a 19-9 record and finished with a 2.34 ERA.

Many of you are thinking, “but Fidrych had such a short career?” and he did. There is a story about the following season at spring training that explains some of this, the one after his Rookie of the Year campaign. Apparently he jumped on the back of a teammate while horsing around in the outfield. The teammate threw him to the ground, on his way down he tore up his knee.  This was the start of his downfall.  He returned but shortly after suffered what would later be diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff.  It also took years to figure this out…. Can you imagine a pitcher in today’s game trying to pitch with a torn rotator cuff for years on end?

Once again, do you think anybody in their right mind is going to let Stephen Strasburg or Mike Leake horse around in the outfield next spring training?  My guess is that would be frowned upon. If either of them feels a tweak in their arm a diagnosis wont take five or six years either. They also wont be trying to pitch over that pain will they?

The rest of the story

In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to earn $1 million per year when he signed a contract with the Houston Astros. This was the beginning of the millionaires club in baseball. Pitchers were now a significant investment and teams became more aware of their health and conditioning.

Along with larger dollars the eighties brought on the specialty reliever roles. All of the sudden a guy could make a decent living by pitching one inning of baseball.  Talk about personality, these guys had it all with intestinal fortitude to boot.  The term closer would be coined and specific jobs were created in the bullpen.

The nineties saw a need for yet another specified roll in “the setup man”. The setup guy makes sure the table stays clear for the closer.  He is kind of like the closers wing man at the bar.  He bridges the gap between the middle relief, long relief, or lefty specialist or whatever other title they can find for a relief pitcher. Do you see where I am going with this? I am not sure we even have enough innings in baseball to get all these guys work?

The evolution continues…..

If you put Bob Gibson and Mark Prior in a room to talk pitching I often wonder what type of conversation they would have. How would Bob Gibson react to the famed “towel drill” that Mark Prior spent his time perfecting on the north side of Chicago during his many rehab stints?

Many people say it is the torque or strain put on an arm by today’s pitcher to create such devastating breaking balls or rocket speed that causes an increase in injury.  Is this to say that pitchers in today’s game have better stuff? Does their curveball break more? Do they throw harder? Some blame it on upbringing, saying kids today play one sport year round and they don’t give their muscles and tendons time to develop and rest properly causing injury later on in life.  Some people say the radar gun is a cash machine causing players to “overthrow”. Dominance in the form of power makes for a nice exclamation point and attention grabber, but Greg Maddux made a fine living throwing regular old periods and commas at hitters.

There is definitely a difference between today’s ballplayers and yesterdays, it’s not just the pitching. However, there is no other position in baseball that has experienced change over the years like the one that occupies the mound. One thing is for certain; pitchers are making exceedingly more money and working far less.

I will end this column with a quote from Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, taken from a Tim Kurkijan article that was written earlier this season for ESPN magazine:

“These guys today are so talented, but we will never know how good they can be,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who had 211 complete games in his career, 25 in 1975; last season, the Dodgers led the National League in ERA, won their division and had one complete game.

“They will never learn how to get someone out for the third, fourth or fifth time in a game,” Palmer said. “That’s what tests your head, your heart and your physicality. The game has evolved. It’s a different game now. Pitchers are asked to go 7 1/3 innings, not nine. We’re going to have to change the criteria for the Hall of Fame. We’re going to have to change the criteria on someone you want to watch.”

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Game 64: Lou’s Blues

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

After yet another tough loss, it’s no surprise that Lou is completely confounded in the post game interview. Night after night he is bombarded with defensive lapses, lack of run support to the point of total stagnancy, and bullpen implosions. No doubt, he will sit there hunched over the podium and reel out the same responses:

“Lou, what do you think went wrong tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will so-and-so see less/more playing time?”
“I don’t know”
“Lou, blah blah blah yadda yadda?”
“They need to swing the bat.”
“How do you feel about the melting of major glaciers in Greenland?”
“We need to score more runs.”

Poor Lou keeps his eyes fixed on the mic, his cap down low, and his answers short and consistently inconclusive. But amidst the strong inclination that Lou is toward the end of managing, at least for the Cubs, it helps to remember that he has to face the Chicago media, an industry that operates night and day for a sports-crazed, immensely passionate city. Reporters lob contrived questions at Lou on a daily basis, and he has to find the words to explain why the Cubs aren’t winning. Did defense hurt us tonight? Yes, of course. You didn’t need to ask, just watch the Cubs lose. They happen to be doing that very well lately.

Yet I still think Lou should be grilled with questions- he is, after all, largely responsible for his team’s performance. But it’s time to look at the bigger picture. For example:

-How does the result of this home stand effect the organization’s stance as either buyers or sellers?
-What internal solutions are on the horizon to upgrade the team?
-What managerial adjustments have been made to promote better performance, and how has your coaching strategy changed over the season?
-What is the overall plan to improve in the short term and long term scope of the season?

Anyone can tell you that Lou’s no rain man. He’s supposedly not fond of dealing with the media in the first place, let alone under these circumstances. But he should be able to create a coherent response as to how he, as manager, plans to improve this team. No more clichéd “I put nine guys out there every night and hope to win.” To get back into contention, the Cubs need a plan. In addition to that, they need to upgrade as a team. So there should be answers, however indefinite they may sound from night to night, regarding who will play more, who is needed at what position, and who best fits into each role. I agree with the whole “whoever produces, plays” mantra as of late, but by the time it was employed, everyone saw what a knee jerk, crowd pleasing reaction it was. Everyone knows Colvin needs more playing time, someone just had to wake Lou out of his slumber and tell him to make it happen.

The fans are just as frustrated and just as displeased as Lou must be after each game. But he should be leading the charge out of these dark times, not sleeping through it.

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In the News: Kosuke on the block

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Good day, Cubs fans, how the heck are ya? Are you as pumped about the A’s series as I am? Well, then you’re not very pumped, because a team with good pitching – on which Ben Sheets is your worst starter (going by a lazy analysis of ERA only) – doesn’t sound like the ideal opponent for the run-addled 2010 Chicago Cubs. But, hey, maybe Soriano will absent-mindedly jog across Dallas Braden’s mound and we’ll see another cosmic freakout from the perfect-game-hurling southpaw. Anyway, on with the news:

Flirting with a Fukudome trade.  Yesterday, Fox Sports took on the thorny issue of moving the dreadfully slumping right fielder.  The notion has also been discussed on MLB Trade Rumors. Unfortunately, Buster Olney chimes in that money is likely to be a major factor in many teams’ decisions come the trade deadline. And that will make Kosuke, who’s owed about $8 million for the remainder of this season and $13.5 million next season, very difficult to move.

Of course, as soon as one mentions money, the Red Sox and Yankees naturally spring to mind – and the two AL East juggernauts do have needs in their respective outfields. Boston’s OFers have been injury addled and the Yankees could use a fourth outfielder as well as someone who could help replace 1B/DH Nick Johnson’s lost OBP. (He’s out for the season with an injury.) Sadly, even these two fat cats may choke up a hairball on taking on that much salary for a player as inconsistent as Fukudome.

I’ve always defended Kosuke, but he has been stone cold over the last 28 days (.581 OPS) and, well, say it with me: The future is now. Losing his contract would be a great boon financially. Unfortunately, I think if the Cubs really want to open an outfield spot for Tyler Colvin right now, they may have to consider dealing Marlon Byrd. His trade value should be high given his outstanding ’10 numbers (.400 wOBA!) and more palatable contract. (Oh, and Ryan Theriot may have some trade value as well.)

Update:  ESPN’s Bruce Levine held a live chat today, and I ran my “trade Marlon Byrd to free up a spot for Tyler Colvin” idea by him. Here’s his response:

How does that make you a better team? You’re still palying a subpar outfielder in Fukudome. I think the Cubs will listen to any trade talk but trading your best hitter would be a bad message to the rest of the team at this point.

I can’t disagree that trading away a productive player who, by all accounts, is a fantastic teammate and clubhouse leader would probably demoralize the remaining players. But, first, the Cubs could probably demand better prospects back for Byrd, which enables them to more effectively rebuild for the future. That makes you a better team. Second, it would free a spot for Tyler Colvin who adds speed and some power to the lineup. Plus, the Cubs could see whether he’s really as good as he appears to be. That makes you a better team. Last, Kosuke isn’t exactly a “subpar outfielder.” He’s still outstanding defensively and his bat may come back around. He hit for a dismal .509 OPS in June of ’09 – only to bounce back with a .926 OPS in July.

Speaking of Tyler Colvin … he’s in!  In the starting lineup, I mean. Permanently, says Lou. Er, well, at least that’s what Lou appears to have told Fanhouse. Piniella’s proclamations are always subject to change. But it seems Sweet Lou has finally committed to Tyler in a big way. Let’s see if it really happens. Oh, and another thing about Colvin – he loves his Grandad. Seriously, read this heartwarming cubs.com story.

How did you celebrate Hayden Simpson Day?  What’s that? You didn’t know that this past Friday, June 11, was dedicated to the Cubs highly controversial first round draft pick, RHP Hayden Simpson? Well then, you must not live in Magnolia, Arkansas. Word has it, a busload of “counter-celebrationists” from the Chicago area were on their way to Magnolia on Thursday evening. Their plan: Terrorize local residents over Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita’s unconscionable decision to pick Simpson over other available draftees. Unfortunately, they got sidetracked at some gentleman’s clubs outside of East St. Louis, Illinois, and were never heard from again.

Jake the Rake is there for the take…ing.  This was mentioned briefly in the comments to Joe’s Cubs-A’s preview but bears repeating. Former Cub Jake Fox was DFA’d by Oakland GM Billy Beane and is, as of this writing, AVAILABLE. Never mind the fact that Jake hit two home runs in 106 plate appearances this season. Or that the Cubs already have too many outfielders, plenty of backup third basemen, no shortage of backup first basemen and … c’mon, no one really considers him a backup catcher, do they? In all seriousness, I wish Jake the best. He was a fun guy to root for, but I can’t help but think he may have missed his opportunity to catch on in the AL and is now destined for a minor league career. Or perhaps Japan would suit him?

And you thought I would never mention the Toyota sign again!  VFTB would like to officially congratulate Syler Thomas of Lake Bluff, Ill., who won an Earth-friendly 2010 Toyota Prius at Wrigley Field this weekend (presumably in honor of the newly erected Toyota sign). Yet, as great as this prize is, Thomas will probably slam his or her (can’t quite tell) head into the steering wheel when he or she (still can’t tell) learns of this Thursday’s promotion – a Ryan Theriot Bobblehead Doll! Seriously, check it out. Shouldn’t he be in a baseball uniform? Are the Cubs telegraphing their intention to non-tender Theriot next year? You be the judge.

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Series Preview – Cubs / A’s

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Trevor Cahill, RHP (5-2, 2.91) vs. Carlos Zambrano, RHP (2-4, 6.05)

Cahill turned in one of the finest performances of his career in his last start, a 6-1 win over the Angels. The 22-year-old right-hander tossed a career-high eight innings, allowing an earned run on six hits and a walk while striking out four. Since taking over for an injured Justin Duchscherer in Oakland’s rotation, Cahill has proved to be one of the A’s most consistent pitchers. He’s thrown a quality start in each of his last six outings, going 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in that span.

Strength – Has a great pitchers’ build and a strong arsenal of pitches. Can strike batters out or pitch to contact effectively, thanks to great movement.

Weakness – Must keep his walks total down, as well as improve his strikeout/walk ratio, in order to become more successful. Is at times a bit too hittable.

Pitch Usage (Avg Velocity / % of Use) – Fastball (90.4 mph / 65.4%), Changeup (81.1 mph / 17.7%), Curveball (77.8 mph / 11.3%), Slider (82.9 mph / 5.6%)

Zambrano gave up two hits in five innings in his last start against the Brewers but he also walked five. He was pulled after throwing 88 pitches. It was his second start since returning to the rotation after 13 relief appearances. The Cubs are hoping that with more starts, he’ll improve his command. He has faced the Athletics once, and that was in 2004. So far this season. Zambrano is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA at home and 2-3 with a 6.91 ERA on the road. Those numbers include his relief appearances.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP (6-4, 3.79) vs. Ryan Dempster, RHP (4-5, 3.74)

Gonzalez struggled with his control in his last start, a 6-2 defeat at San Francisco on Friday. Gonzalez was visibly upset with himself on the mound after issuing walks and exited after giving up a pair of two-run homers. He finished 5 1/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out four. The start marked the third time all year Gonzalez gave up more than three earned runs and it was the first since May 12, a span of five starts. Gonzalez has never faced the Cubs.

Strength – Has tremendous stuff and the ability to dominate hitters, especially lefty bats. Owns an arsenal of pitches that give batters fits. Can strike plenty of batters out.

Weakness – Durability may be an issue, since he’s relatively smallish (5-11, 205 pounds) for a pitcher. Needs to avoid the big inning and keep the walks to a minimum.

Pitch Usage – Fastball (92.2mph / 61.7%), Curveball (78.2 mph / 29.0%), Changeup (82.8 mph / 9.2%)

Dempster took the loss in his last start against the Brewers, giving up three runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings. He threw 104 pitches — and was pulled because the Cubs wanted to shorten him up, pitch count wise. Dempster is 2-3 with a 3.71 ERA at home, and has served up 13 home runs in 13 games. Last year, he gave up 13 homers in 17 starts in the first half. That’s not a good trend. He also walked five against the Brewers. That’s another bad trend.

Dallas Braden, LHP (4-6, 3.95) vs. Randy Wells, RHP (3-5, 5.15)

Braden was originally scheduled to start on Tuesday, but had it moved back to rest his inflamed left elbow tendon. Braden said he felt tightness in the area in the week leading up to his last start on June 9, specifically citing a bullpen session that may have caused his arm to tighten up. Braden said he felt the arm cramp up a bit during the third or fourth inning of the outing, which ended after he gave up five runs (four earned) on 11 hits and a walk, while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings. Braden said he had no history of injuries with his throwing elbow prior to this incident.

Strength – Unlike most left-handed pitchers, he relies more on pure power than deception to get big-league batters out. Has the ability to dominate when on his game.

Weakness – Needs to do a better job of mixing his pitches because when he becomes somewhat predictable, he becomes far too hittable.

Pitch Usage – Fastball (87.1 mph / 54.6%), Changeup (72.5 mph / 25.1%), Slider (74.7 mph / 11.2%), Cutter (83.7 mph / 9.1%)

Wells had troubles in the first inning again. He did retire the first two batters he faced but then served up four straight hits, including RBI singles to Andruw Jones and A.J. Pierzynski in his last start. Opposing teams now are batting .357 off the right-hander in the first. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has identified a mechanical glitch when Wells pitches out of the stretch, so it’ll be interesting to see if he makes the adjustment this time. Wells’ confidence level is down; he needs to get off to a good start from the first pitch.

All scouting information taken from MLB.com, TSN.ca & Fangraphs.com

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not

Kevin Kouzmanoff, Kurt Suzuki and Jack Cust have all driven in 5 runs over the last seven days. Oh how nice it would be to say that about a few of our hitters for once. Seriously, when will we get a few guys all hot at once? Stepping back a little more shows that all three guys have also hit well so far in the month of June with Kouzmanoff putting up a very nice .451 average with an OPS of 1.128 thanks to 3 HR and 10 RBI so far this month.

Two former Cubs, Jake Fox and Eric Patterson have both been riding pretty bad slumps at first glance, but when you step back and look at them from a big picture standpoint you realize….they both stink. It’s not a slump, it’s just lack of talent. Don’t get me wrong, I drove that Jake Fox bandwagon from opening day on last year as he raked in the minors. When he was first up, I called for playing time anywhere we could squeeze him in. If you look back toward the end, I wasn’t calling for that anymore. Why? Because he wasn’t very good. Pitchers figured him out and showed why he wasn’t much of a prospect. Patterson is the same way. I hope both guys are in the lineup often this week.

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Dr. Lou Piniella has cure for Kosuke’s Shrinkage Issue & Wells 1st inning jitters

Monday, June 14th, 2010

For the past three seasons we’ve seen Kosuke Fukudome start the seasons strong, showing the promise the Cubs saw when they signed him and for the past three years we’ve seen him suffer from shrinkage over the rest of the season to the point that he is rendered virtually useless come September. Lou has come up with a cure for what ails Mr. Fukudome’s shrinkage issues. The diagnosis? Take a seat on the bench in favor of Tyler Colvin. Lou on the change:

“Look, put it this way, he’s going to play a lot more than he has been,” he said. “We’ve been patient, you know? I said all along that when the time was right we were going to make this type of move, and the time is getting real right.” – Chicago Breaking Sports

Good news!!! Randy Wells is fixed. All the worries can be put to rest. Lou and Larry have found the bug and have fixed the issue. Lou’s diagnosis:

“It’s off the stretch, not off the windup,” Piniella said. “Notice that when [Wells] has his troubles, or has had his troubles, there’s a guy on base. When he’s going good off the windup, he gets one, two, three innings. We feel that Larry hit on something that will help him off the stretch.” – Cubs.com

Everyone’s favorite CF prospect, Brett Jackson and my favorite SP in the system, Chris Archer, made an appearance in Baseball America’s recent Prospect Hot Sheet post for June 11. Here is what was said:

[Brett] Jackson’s raw power has yet to show through in the heavy air of the Florida State League. The Cubs’ 2009 first-round pick out of California has just three home runs, including his grand slam on Wednesday against Brevard County, but he’s otherwise been holding his own. Jackson, who’s been Daytona’s leadoff hitter all year, has had issues making contact (54 strikeouts in 214 at-bats), but that was a known problem for him, and he’s been patient enough to already have drawn 39 walks, the most by any FSL hitter. Jackson’s biggest obstacle so far might be his home park, where he’s hitting just .238/.370/.343 in 105 at-bats compared to .321/.426/.486 in 109 road at-bats.

From 2006-2008, [Chris] Archer’s seasons with the Indians were chock-full of mediocrity and wildness. After Cleveland included Archer in the Mark DeRosa trade following the ’08 season, Archer put together a solid season for low Class A Peoria, though his control was still a work in progress. This year, Archer has taken the next step, holding down a 3.09 ERA in 55 1/3 innings while averaging 10.3 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine, and at 21 he’s plenty age-appropriate for the Florida State League. Archer hasn’t allowed a run in four of his last seven starts, and in two of those other seven starts he’s limited his opponents to only one run. With Andrew Cashner in the big leagues and Jay Jackson pushing for a promotion in Triple-A, all of a sudden Archer has positioned himself as one of the top arms in the Cubs system. – Baseball America

Joe’s Random Discussion Question of the Day

Ted Lilly is a free agent after this season. There is a high chance he’ll be either a Type A or Type B free agent, which would mean that there would be draft pick compensation available if we offered Lilly arbitration and he declined. In addition, there is sure to be a market for his services in the next 30-45 days. What should be done with Ted Lilly? Is he a guy we should continue to invest in or should we roll the dice on a rotation that would include guys like Dempster, Zambrano, Wells, Cashner, Jay Jackson, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija, etc. You can’t get young blood up here if you don’t have a spot, but at the same time you run into growing pains with youth. Discuss.

Image of the Day

This was posted above a bathroom in the area and I thought it was hysterical.

DJ Joe Spins the Hits

Heard this one on the radio and it got me pumped me up. I’ve got it on my iPod, but so much is on there that it doesn’t come up much when I’m listening on random. Maybe this is what we need to get fired up about the Oakland series.



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Game 63 – Ted Lilly, You Look Marvelous

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

First Star – Ted Lilly (.456 WPA)
Second Star – Juan Pierre (.282 WPA)
Third Star – Carlos Marmol (.281 WPA)

This was by far the most exciting, nerve racking, enjoyable game I’ve watched this team play all year. It felt like a playoff team being played between two teams struggling to play .500 baseball and it wasn’t because of some stupid BP cup. There was so much to take from this game to talk about that I have no good place to start. Forgive me if I’m all out of order.

Was this the best Ted Lilly game ever? – I had a hard time thinking of a better game than tonight in terms of result for Teddy since coming to Chicago. I had to look up his history to find some that may beat out tonight, but overall it was the best game I’ve watched pitch.What amazes me about tonight’s performance was the fact that so many of his outs came via the fly ball. Every time one was hit, I cringed. None of them were hit particularly hard, but fly balls just naturally make you a little more nervous than grounders.

It’s funny that we were a little worried about him at the beginning of the season. I find myself torn over whether or not the Cubs should keep him and try to re-sign him after this year. A lot has to do with what happens with this team over the next two weeks as well as what the offers we’re receiving for him (there will be offers) and what type of money he would want via free agency. This is something Jim Hendry needs to look into right now, if he hasn’t already, with Lilly’s agent so he has all his information before making a decision on what to do with Ted.

As I mentioned, here are five other games that I found where Lilly was pretty darn good:

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc
1 2004-08-23 TOR BOS W 3-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 2 13 0 126 92
2 2002-06-22 NYY SDP W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 3 0 0 2 11 0 113 90
3 2004-04-26 TOR MIN W 6-1 CG 9 ,W 9.0 2 1 1 2 8 1 125 85
4 2008-09-15 CHC HOU W 6-1 GS-7 ,W 7.0 1 0 0 1 9 0 88 83
5 2002-04-27 NYY SEA L 0-1 CG 8 ,L 8.0 1 1 1 1 8 0 100 83

What to do if you’re Lou? – As I waited to see if Lilly would get his no hitter (would have been the first one I’ve seen start to finish, live) I kept replaying a situation in my mind that almost came to play in the 7th.With a 1 run lead and virtually no offense to be found in the game, there was potential that Lilly could come up with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th while pitching a no hitter. Lou would have had a major decision on his hand as to whether or not he should pinch hit. Obviously it didn’t come to that, with Koyie Hill striking out to end the inning, but I’m curious as to what Lou would have done in that situation. I think I would have given serious consideration to pinch hitting for Lilly and using Cashner and Marmol to hopefully close it out. These are the kind of situations that make the NL game so much for fun to watch.

Do you cheer against your team? – I’ll admit it. When both Lilly and Gavin Floyd had no hitters through the 7th inning, my heart was giddy. I mentioned above that I’ve never seen a no hitter on tv or in person from start to finish, live. Sure, I’ve caught the last few innings of a few, but never the full game. When Carlos Zambrano pitched his in Milwaukee, guess who’s feed was blacked out? Mine!!! I had a chance to watch the Randy Johnson perfect game against Atlanta, but ended up going to the store. Tonight I thought I was going to see my first and it just didn’t happen. I kept coming back to the question of if it is acceptable to cheer against your team in the 9th inning of a basically meaningless game to allow a chance to witness something as magnificent as a perfect game. I’ve come to the feeling that it IS OK to root against your team, and you can bet your butt I would have been pulling for Gavin Floyd in that situation. Thoughts?

Gordon Beckham did not break any unwritten rules – All the “purists” that will whine and complain about the fact that Beckham was up there in the 8th trying to lay down a bunt to break up the no hitter are ignorant. In a 1-0 game, you play to get on base any way possible. He did what he thought was best in that situation. At the very least, it forces Chad Tracy to come in a few steps, which could be the difference in reaction time between a single or a ground out.

Overall, this was one win, but it was an enjoyable one to prevent the sweep. I’m not saying it’s the start of something (after all, we still scored just one freakin’ run)  but it IS wins like this that CAN get a team going. Sure would be nice to have that happen. Finally, in case you missed a feature ESPN runs Sunday – Thursday night, Chet participated in Baseball Tonight Live. I’ve included the full chat for you to go back and read. It’s fun to see what they were thinking through this one.

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Guys Worse Than Ryan Theriot at Taking Walks

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about Ryan Theriot and his reluctance to walk. It seems like such a stupid approach to hitting and I really have never been able to figure out why guys that don’t hit the ball out of the park would not want to get on base any possible way they can. Theriot is not a guy that is going to be counted on to hit the 3-run homer. It’s not his role on this team. His job is to simply get on base any means possible to make something happen either on the base-paths or in preparation for the run producers to drive him home.

I decided to take a look at the longest streaks since 1920 for Cubs batters without a walk. Keep in mind that this is for guys that were basically starters (3+ plate appearances)

Rk Strk Start End Games AB 2B 3B HR RBI SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Corey Patterson 2002-07-22 2002-09-17 47 202 12 1 4 18 51 .238 .244 .366 .610
2 Ernie Banks 1968-07-31 1968-09-13 42 173 9 0 15 24 20 .249 .261 .561 .822
3 Andre Dawson 1991-08-16 1991-09-22 30 126 7 1 8 22 16 .294 .294 .556 .849
4 Shawon Dunston 1991-05-03 1991-06-09 29 112 3 2 4 10 19 .232 .241 .402 .643
5 Glenn Beckert 1969-07-20 1969-08-22 29 129 9 0 0 5 5 .302 .302 .372 .674
6 Dee Fondy 1956-07-08 1956-08-04 29 124 7 3 5 14 24 .290 .286 .516 .802
7 Shawon Dunston 1997-06-28 1997-07-30 28 111 2 1 5 16 19 .306 .307 .477 .784
8 Rey Sanchez 1994-07-26 1995-05-12 27 109 7 1 0 11 11 .312 .330 .394 .725
9 Bill Buckner 1978-05-13 1978-07-18 27 119 6 0 0 16 3 .252 .244 .303 .546
10 Don Kessinger 1968-05-05 1968-06-01 26 112 1 0 0 3 17 .188 .188 .196 .384
11 Tuck Stainback 1935-04-30 1936-07-15 26 97 4 0 3 9 19 .227 .235 .361 .596
12 Juan Pierre 2006-09-05 2006-10-01 25 115 3 1 1 8 5 .313 .313 .383 .696
13 Luis Salazar 1991-06-26 1991-08-17 25 102 7 1 5 13 15 .294 .294 .529 .824
14 Andre Dawson 1990-08-07 1990-09-09 25 102 3 1 1 9 18 .196 .194 .275 .469
15 Johnny Moore 1932-08-18 1932-09-15 25 109 3 2 2 13 12 .257 .264 .376 .640
16 Ryan Theriot 2010-05-02 2010-06-04 24 104 1 0 0 2 11 .221 .236 .231 .467
17 Jose Nieves 1999-08-15 1999-09-11 24 83 3 0 1 8 17 .217 .233 .289 .522
18 George Mitterwald 1976-08-02 1976-09-04 24 99 3 0 3 13 20 .192 .190 .313 .503
19 Lou Johnson 1960-09-23 1968-05-07 24 94 8 1 1 6 10 .277 .284 .415 .699
20 Ernie Banks 1954-08-21 1954-09-12 24 98 3 2 3 14 5 .265 .260 .429 .689
21 Footsie Blair 1931-05-28 1931-08-07 24 100 11 1 2 12 9 .350 .356 .540 .896
22 Glenallen Hill 1993-08-29 1994-05-08 23 98 7 0 9 19 20 .347 .347 .694 1.041
23 Shawon Dunston 1986-08-03 1986-08-30 23 89 3 0 1 8 22 .191 .198 .258 .456
24 Mike Vail 1980-07-10 1980-10-01 23 90 5 1 1 9 18 .256 .256 .367 .622
25 Jerry Martin 1979-04-28 1979-05-24 23 97 9 0 3 18 9 .299 .296 .485 .780
26 Don Kessinger 1971-08-25 1971-09-23 23 97 1 0 0 5 9 .247 .245 .258 .503
27 Ernie Banks 1962-08-14 1962-09-15 23 96 4 0 5 18 16 .302 .296 .500 .796
28 Jimmy Cooney 1926-04-26 1926-06-06 23 86 3 3 0 11 0 .279 .287 .384 .671
29 Ricky Gutierrez 2001-06-27 2001-07-23 22 89 4 0 2 10 10 .270 .270 .382 .652
30 Andre Dawson 1991-06-02 1991-07-03 22 93 2 0 3 16 15 .280 .280 .398 .677
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/12/2010.

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GirlieView (06/11/2010)

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I’m an early Girlie today. Figured everyone would be enjoying the game later on this afternoon so we’ll use this week’s column as a sort of preview. Like the hot dog and Cracker Jack dancing across your screen before the movie starts.

I spent a wonderful week in Northeastern Pennsylvania vacationing with those I love most and I can’t say I’m glad to be back nor can I say I enjoyed the week the Cubs have had, on-again-off-again woes that may or may not have any merit … in my mind the season is thisclose to being un-salvagable but I’m still interested in following along with the antics both on and off the field. My expectations are beyond low and that way I can enjoy it without being crushed by every loss!

Anyway, because I was away all week I’ll take this opportunity to catch everyone up on the BTS standings … here are the three games this week that I wasn’t able to post. We’ll follow these up with this week’s Lizzies. Enjoy the Crosstown Cup Series!

If you’d like to join the fun and take a shot at our daily Streak game it’s easy! Click here to make today’s pick (but don’t forget to come back for the Lizzies!!)

Lizzies

  • The Astros actually intentionally walked Lee to load the bases in an effort to get to Ramirez.
  • I know I know you will all think I was abducted by aliens but I am disappointed in The Riot lately.
  • In the bottom of the 1st, Michael Bourn conducted a workshop on how to be an effective lead off man.  He drew a walk, stole second base on the 1st pitch, and scored on a single to center field.
  • The way Oswalt was grooving pitches right down the middle of the plate, if the Cubs DIDN’T score a lot of runs it would have been, well, Cub-like.
  • It’s clear to me that this team is not headed for post-season play.
  • I do pencil Castro, Colvin, MB, and Sori in the lineup every single day, and let Rudy J. fill in the rest on a day-to-day basis.
  • The Cubs need a philosophy shift.
  • The Cubs under new ownership need to make bold but unpopular moves.
  • Another W for Good Carlos. 8-0…can we officially end this ‘we don’t have an ace’ talk?
  • Early in the broadcast, Bob Brenly commented about “feeding off the electricity of the crowd”. Then he had to laugh, and we all laughed too, as he looked around PNC Park and realized that there seemed to be about 300 people there.
  • Look, I don’t know how old Soriano is- he probably doesn’t even know- but he runs like he’s 40.
  • How about some new batting gloves and a pack of big league chew?
  • It could even get worse. But either way, you have to be willing to shake things up.
  • The only things I’d change on these lists are to add Zambrano (thanks for the good years, but catch ya later) and take Theriot off the “untouchable” list.
  • If “if”s and “but”s wuz candy ‘n nuts we’d all be holdin’ World Series trophies.
  • Happy for the Hawks. More so because their win will keep the attention away from the series of teams that have no direction this weekend.
  • There are no bragging rights to be had by either team at this point.
  • There’s no stopping the fiery red Toyota sign, which is being (ahem) erected as I type this.

Lizard

  • I don’t agree with Mark (ever) but I think Lou’s done. He doesn’t want to be here anymore.

Hope you all have a great weekend! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (VFTB and/or GirlieView and/or Dave) and Facebook (VFTB and/or GirlieView)

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