Archive for July, 2010

Game 100: Batman Returns?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

First Star – Alfonso Soriano (.196 WPA)
Second Star – Carlos Silva (.136 WPA)
Third Star – Geo Soto (.089 WPA)

At the beginning of the game, Comcast showed a breakdown of the stats for the season series so far between the Cubs and Astros and it was clear that we should have been a lot more successful than we have to this point. It made me think about the fact that losing games to them and the Pirates have crippled our season incredibly. That concept baffles me completely.

Batman Returns – Well, maybe that’s taking things a little far, but at least Silva didn’t get shelled like he has been over the last few starts. I think it’s safe to say that he’s turned back into the pumpkin we all knew we had. It was a good run while it lasted. At this point, his spot in the rotation is on the bubble. With the other starting Carlos making his apology yesterday, you’d have to imagine his return to the rotation is very close. A lot of what is going to happen is gonna be dependent on what happens with Ted Lilly before the deadline. Overall, I think we can get decent production out of the rotation even if that includes Silva. He’ll give you 5 to 6 innings of work and, for the most part, keep you in the ball game. He doesn’t walk guys, which is going to keep him in the game.

On a side note, Len mentioned early on that one of the reasons he thinks Carlos has been struggling of late is that he’s nibbling around the plate. I don’t know about Len, but I’ve seen Carlos Silva and how he fills out that uniform. There ain’t anything even remotely resembling nibbling around his plate. He’s taking full on bites.

Starlin Castro for President – What excites me the most about Starlin? I’d have to say the fact that he’s adjusted to the big league adjustments so far. When he came up, he hit the ball well and then struggled for a period. He saw his average dip into the .260’s and there were some that even thought he should go back to AAA to avoid ruining his confidence. He’s responded with a .468 / .479 / .723 line since the All Star break. While the OBP is good, it’s not that much higher than the average, which means he’s not drawing walks. What IS impressive, though, is the .723 slugging. 9 of his 22 hits have been for extra bases, combined with three SB with zero CS. The kid is going to be good and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about the future of one of our position player prospects.

Quit Playin’ Games with my Heart – All this improved play of late is really throwing a kink in the trade plans. At the same time, I look at the potential trade targets that we’ve seen mentioned and feel like we can essentially be the same team without them. We’ve seen Lilly mentioned as the highest rated guy on our team that people are interested in. While it would hurt to lose him, we have guys that can take that spot (Cashner, Jay Jackson, Carlos Zambrano). We’ve seen rumors of guys like Theriot, Fontenot and Baker. Any one of them seem to be replaceable. Xavier Nady never plays, so his loss wouldn’t hurt us either. I feel like we can still hope for Hendry to be a seller while still cheering for this team to make a run and make things interesting. Agree?

Down Goes Vitters. Down Goes Vitters – Tough news for one of the better prospects in the system. Josh Vitters, the # 2 prospect on my pre-season list went down with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch. Vitters had been struggling this year, so this will allow him to clear his head, but will set his development back a little due to the loss of AB’s. His numbers so far are as follows:

Year Age Lev PA 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 17 Rk-A- 55 0 0 0 3 1 1 3 14 .118 .164 .118 .281
2008 18 A–A 291 28 2 5 38 1 3 13 50 .322 .357 .495 .852
2009 19 A-A+ 484 19 3 18 68 6 1 12 65 .284 .314 .456 .770
2010 20 AA-A+ 348 20 0 10 39 6 1 21 63 .247 .312 .405 .717
4 Seasons 1178 67 5 33 148 14 6 49 192 .275 .317 .435 .753
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/27/2010.
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The Case FOR / AGAINST Jim Hendry

Monday, July 26th, 2010

If you’re a Cub fan, you probably have some sort of opinion on whether the Cubs should continue with Jim Hendry as the GM of the future. 2010 hasn’t quite gone as expected, but that is not to say that he is incapable of doing the job. If you’re not positive where you stand on the issue, allow us (Chet and I) to make the case for and against Hendry in three key areas. I’m not going to tell you who wrote what in this piece, but both of us took a side.

Trades

FOR: Looking for a reason to keep Hendry as the GM of this team? What better body of evidence than his history as an excellent trading GM. Find me a GM that has found major cornerstones for his team and been able to get them for next to nothing. Not only did he get Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates in 2003, but he also added Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon all inside of one month. Both were much needed bats that filled out the order down the stretch for a team that was five outs from the World Series. That offseason, Hendry turned failing 1B prospect, Hee Seop Choi into Derrek Lee in a highway robbery deal with the Marlins. Lee would go on to hit 170+ home runs over the next six years with the Cubs while Choi would be out of baseball in 2006. Let’s not forget his negotiating skills when it comes to pulling off a multi-team trade that was the Nomar deal. A last minute deal that was consummated on July 31, 2004, Hendry was the clear winner in a four team trade to bring in Garciaparra at a position the team sorely needed to shore up before year’s end. No one could have predicted that Nomar would get injured the way he did. At the time, that deal was huge and it’s examples like those that show why Hendry is a great GM when it comes to trading.

AGAINST: When I think about a few of the trades Jim Hendry has pulled off over the past eight years the names Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez come to mind. I don’t remember them because they were great trades, and they were, but because of the magic spell they cast on Hendry backers all over Wrigleyville. When these names are mentioned, the faithful Hendry-ites tend to whoop and holler. But what about the failures? What about the trades that never happened, even more the trades that should have happened?

A few that stick out: Ricky Nolasco was shipped off for next to nothing, as was Angel Pagan. Both players have put together solid careers since.Pagan is a mainstay in the Mets outfield, and Nolasco has put together a few very nice seasons as a starter with the Marlins since 2006 (he went 28-17 in 2008 and 2009 combined). Nolasco was traded along with Sergio Mitre and Reynel Pinto for Juan Pierre. Juan lasted a season and was not re-signed. All three of these pitchers went on to contribute at the Major League level while Juan Pierre gave us very little in the time he was here. What irritates me even more are the trades that didn’t happen, or at least happened later than when they should have. Rich Hill was held onto for far too long. One year prior to the Cubs trading him for next to nobody, they could have had some real value. Instead of striking while the iron was hot, they felt pride in the fact that he was a homegrown guy and held on…..unfortunately a little too long. Remember Corey Patterson? I do. I remember him being at the top of every team’s wish list. After he spent a millennium developing in the minors, he flamed out at the big league level. Nate Spears and Carlos Perez were the rewards we got for waiting. Ever heard of them? I didn’t think so. While I feel trading is one of Jim’s strong suits, I am not too sure his timing or his foresight are very good. There seems to be a lot that was left on the table four or five years ago that could have been used to secure some great players or prospects for today’s team.

Free Agency

FOR: There is a lot of debate in this area. Some may argue that it’s his long-term contracts including “no trade” clauses that have sealed Hendry’s fate as a GM that needs to be fired. I would argue the opposite. If you look over the past few years, Hendry had worked for two owners before the Ricketts family. The Tribune Company wanted to go out as winners and were willing to approve the deals knowing they wouldn’t be paying for it. Sam Zell wanted the same result, but for the purpose of increasing the value of the franchise come bidding time for potential owners. Both essentially gave Hendry approval to make the deals he saw fit to bring a winner. He took that money and brought in the best free agent on the market in Alfonso Soriano. Hindsight would show that Soriano was a mistake, but a 40-40 guy isn’t supposed to fall off the face of the earth as quickly as he has. At the time, it was a bold statement that the Cubs were here to win and be competitive year in and year out. What people forget to mention when discussing Hendry’s free agent track record is the good signings he made that were widely criticized at the time. No one felt that Mark DeRosa was a good move. He was coming off what many considered a career year and couldn’t be counted on to be a starter for someone. DeRosa proved Hendry right and became one of the more productive and versatile Cubs in recent memory, at a bargain basement price nonetheless.

Ted Lilly was wasting away in Toronto while fighting anger issues with his manager. He was brought in via free agency and has since become the best starter in Chicago over the past 3 ½ years. Greg Maddux came back to finish his career in grand fashion because of Hendry. He notched his 300th win in Cubbie blue. After briefly parting ways to finish his career on the west coast, he is back with the organization as a coach and consultant.

There are certainly issues with the way Hendry negotiates contracts, but when you look at some of the guys he brings in and their contributions, players that nobody else had confidence in, you can certainly see why he deserves a shot at bringing this team a winner.

AGAINST: While I don’t want to pick on Jim too much for the whole Milton Bradley fiasco, I think it would be irresponsible to not use it as a theme for many of his free agent signings. Paying too much for far too little would be a good tag line for the Hendry free agent era. Let’s just start off with Milton’s three year, $30 million deal and go from there. He paid $10 million per year for a player that has never stayed with a team for three years in his whole career, managed to be reprimanded time and time again for his temper and on-field displays, and was not exactly known as a clubhouse guy anywhere he has been. Milton himself has even said that the expectations of his on-field play were too high. Stats were expected and used as the backbone for signing him to a monster contract, stats that he had never attained in his career. We know how this one ended.

Getting off Milton for a while, how about John Grabow at two years $7.5 million? I think I just threw up in my mouth! This guy has been given two trips to the DL in 2010. These aren’t just any trip to the DL, though. They’re the kind you give a guy when you want him to clear his head and start over. Of course there was an injury noted. When you pitch as bad as he has, there must be something wrong right? These are worse than actually being injured. What about those monster contracts that Soriano and Fukudome are toting around? Soriano signed to an eight year, $136 million deal. The only problem I have is that he was 28 years old, and at his peak when he signed. Players go downhill after that age. Then there is always Aramis Ramirez. I liked the first four-year deal. Nice work, but did you have to turn it into five more years at $75 million? The second he got this deal, his stats started plummeting and the injuries started mounting. The cherry on top all of these deals is the patented Jim Hendry ‘no trade clause’. Yes, we are stuck with them for the latter half of many of these albatross contracts. Get used to seeing Soriano fumble balls in left field while swinging for the fences every time at the plate. Have a blast watching Aramis ride the DL wagon for the next couple seasons because the Cubs are stuck with them.

Intangibles

FOR: Still need convincing that Hendry is the right man for the job? Look no further than the intangibles. It’s under his regime that this team has made the playoffs almost half the time. Think about that for a second. It’s the Cubs and they’ve been consistently respectable under his watch. This is a guy that has built a farm system that, for the first time in a long time, is reasonably stocked with potential talent. It’s a GM that has put together a player development team that has helped facilitate the development of twelve home grown players that have made a difference for this year’s team. Before you go running Hendry out of town, consider the fact that he’s always dedicated to the job. He even phoned in the finishing touches on a contract with Lilly from the hospital while hooked up to an EKG machine. This is a guy that is deserving of the position he has and deserves to be kept on as we head forward.

AGAINST: While Jim has managed to stay out of the way for a few playoff appearances since taking over the GM role in 2002, it comes down to his inability to sign the right players to get the team over the top. He has consistently failed to find an on-field leader for this team; a true outspoken ballplayer, who not only leads vocally, but with his play. Instead, he has plagued the clubhouse with guys like Bradley and players who are here as one-year rentals only to move along in the shuffle when the season is over. Chemistry has been an issue over the past eight years as a result. While this team has not had bad chemistry, with the exception being the 2009 season, I don’t feel they have gelled well enough to be a champion. It is not only Hendry’s job to find the talented players, but to start finding the right players. Players with winning attitudes, players that will listen when coaches speak, players that want to win above all else and win as a team. Now my question is: Does he know how to identify these players? I think eight years and the National League’s highest payroll, resulting in barely a sniff of the postseason past the first round equals failure. You now have the evidence. It’s up to you to make up your mind and decide in which camp you want to pitch your tent.

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Game 98: Power Play

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

First Star – Starlin Castro (.364 WPA)
Second Star – Brandon Ryan (.264 WPA)
Third Star – Carlos Marmol (.166 WPA)

Recently, a lifelong friend and fellow fan told me there are exactly two reasons to watch the Cubs these days: Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. Saturday’s contest was a perfect example. The new Daily Double went 4-7 with two homers and four runs scored in a hard-fought 6-5 victory over St. Louis. Now I’m no scout, but I’ve been on the Starlin Castro bandwagon from day one. However, Tyler Colvin is another story.

Colvin was a curious pick at number 13 overall in the 2006 draft. The so-called experts were basically united in classifying the selection as “a reach.” His unique combination of skills was intriguing, but a lack of plate discipline raised many eyebrows. I have a clear memory of my reaction at the time: “He sounds like another Brant Brown or Todd Hollandsworth.”

His minor league performance did little to change my mind (1,716 at bats, 56 home runs, .277/.320/.465). Had the Cubs botched another first-round pick? Well, we’re 89 games into his rookie season, and so far Colvin is making me look foolish (not the first time, and it won’t be the last). He’s already hitting for more power than I would have predicted, and he’s showing a mature approach that is truly encouraging. Perhaps the Cubs brain trust pulled the right rabbit out of their hat.

As the mess that is 2010 winds down, I look forward to watching more of Mr. Colvin (just not in the leadoff spot). If he and Castro continue to develop, and if management can make a few key moves before the trade deadline, we may have a lot to look forward to in 2011. Of course, I’ve fallen into the trap of optimism too many times before. Can you say Mike Harkey?

Danny’s Notes

Len remarks before the game that Castro and Colvin are tied for the team lead w/ 6 game winning RBI’s. Also hats off to Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, and Geo Soto for their recent play.

A very special congratulations to Andre Dawson, who will enter the Hall of Fame tomorrow. The Hawk was a phenomenal athlete and Wrigley was very lucky and grateful to have him. Hats off to him as well, literally. He gave the Cubs a blank check in 87, they should give him the logo in return on his plaque. No matter which team, though, Dawson had a very honorable career.

Question (Trivia): Ryne Sandberg has 9 gold gloves- second all time among NL second basemen. Do you know who’s first in NL gold gloves with 10?

Question (Rhetorical): If Ryno takes the helm as manager any time soon, could you imagine what he would do with Castro’s raw defensive talent? Speaking of which, should Castro move to second? He has great range and a strong arm; it would be a shame to shorten that.

  • Tyler Colvin kicks off the bottom of the first with his second straight leadoff home run. No big deal.
  • Starlin Castro baby! Love the defense, love the base running, and he had a clean cut slide to the plate that leveled Boggs. Castro is responsible for the last 4 runs of this game.

-6th inning…

Len (to Bob): “Did you ever take a bouncer into the face?”

-8th inning…

Ryne Sandberg, we miss you…phew. Redemption on the double play and the Cubs are holding on.

And Marmol shuts it down again (Save #18), adding 2 more K’s to his stack of 85, which obviously leads all NL relievers (and over 10 assorted starting pitchers as well- in only 46 innings!). The Cubs win the series, against a team in their division might I add. Fans, play the lottery tonight.

The Three C’s:

Colvin- 1-3, 2 R, HR, RBI, 1 Go ahead run. He is now the current leader in HR among rookies (15), unless Ike Davis goes yard a couple hours from now.

Castro- 3-4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2B, HR- 2 Go ahead RBI’s on his first career Wrigley Field  dinger. One of Castro’s runs was on a wild pitch, which forced a throwing error for the catcher and allowing Ramirez to score on what turned out to be the game winning run on the same play.

Cashner- 2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 100 mph fastballs

Tom Gorzelanny followed Randy Wells’ good performance with a respectable line of his own: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 W, 3 K, W (6-5)

Byrd is fantastic in center field. He gets great jumps and makes tough plays look easy. I wouldn’t mind having this guy around for his entire contract, if not just what he could offer to Tyler Colvin in terms of playing the outfield. Byrd is a true professional; it has taken him no time at all to win the respect of many Cubs fans. I haven’t seen a Cub hit to all fields and play with such a veteran presence since Mark DeRosa.

More praise for the lineup- Ryan Theriot is a good fit batting eighth. He can rack up singles, setting up sacrifice opportunities for the pitcher and potential RBI’s for the top of the order. He still needs to improve his base running, however.

Answer: Robbie “Spit in yo face” Alomar

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Game 97: Missed opportunities

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

First StarRandy Wells (.333 WPA)
Second Star – Tyler Colvin (.079 WPA)
Third Star – Geo Soto (.076 WPA)

For the Cards that is…Randy Wells pitched 7 strong innings of shutout ball and the Cubs won 5-0.   The Cards got what they could out of Jeff Suppan – the Cubs have hit this guy hard and I don’t know how long he’ll be wearing the Birds on the Bat as rumors seem to indicate that Roy Oswalt will be coming to St. Louis.  The Cubs left five runners on base in the first three innings, it really made me wonder if they were going to lack timely hitting once again.  But it turned out to be the Cards who had major missed opportunities – they stranded at least five leadoff hitters and had trouble turning three double plays, one of which lead to a run in the  bottom of the 6th when Ryan Theriot scored from second on a miscue after yet another botched double play attempt by the Cards.  Some other highlights from today’s game:

  • Homeruns by Colvin in the first (solo,) Soto in the fourth (solo) and a two-run shot by Soriano in the fifth.  Colvin is starting to lay off that inside low cheese that he’s shown vulnerability to – he’s going to be a very dangerous hitter if he learns to work counts in his favor.  My hat’s off to Wilkens for spotting this guy, he was way off the radar.  Both Soto and Soriano are having rebound years and I expect both of them to finish strong.  Soto has 6 homeruns in his last 10 games and Soriano could be the Comeback Player of the Year if he finishes well.  He now has 18 homeruns.
  • We saw some good defensive play today, starting with Lee’s line drive double play (unassisted) in the top of the fourth.  We also had a nicely turned 4-6-3 to finish the 8th.
  • Sean Marshall continues to be the answer to our early season bullpen woes.  He threw a nice two innings in relief and now sports a 1.78 ERA.  Earlier today the Cubs activated Schlitter and sent Stevens down; it will be interesting to see if Schlitter has the same velocity after his shoulder impingement.
  • Finally Wells threw seven good innings of shutout ball, this was his fourth strong showing in a row after having faltered.  I still believe in this guy and project him to be our number two or three starter next year.  What impressed me today was his location – the wind was blowing straight out in Wrigley today, a very dangerous day to pitch.  But Wells was masterful and the Cubs won.

It will be interesting to see if the Cubs will be sellers as the deadline approaches – a sweep against  the Cards could compel Hendry to play the cards he has been dealt.  Particularly if Lilly is amenable to a contract extension.  Lee continues to be one of the best defensive first basemen in the game; he’s been a great Cub but I think he’s going places.  We’ll see what the Angels will do, if they’re not froggy Derrek might finish 2010 as a Cub.

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GirlieView (07/23/2010)

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Happy Friday, VFTB’ers! What shall we chit chat about today? Anyone? Anything? Bueller? Bueller? I don’t have anything noteworthy to say about the Cubs, and it’s too blasted hot to talk about anything else. So maybe we’ll get right to the Lizzies! Hope you all have a great weekend!!

Lizzies

  • Exactly why did I think the Cubs might make some noise in the second half?
  • I see you’ve found my picture on google.
  • You know who Joe Morgan’s favorite player is? Joe Morgan!
  • The fiance is now the wife.
  • That cute little girl from that new(-ish) Love Bug movie is in trouble with the law??
  • I found myself hoping for a rainout almost immediately.
  • I’m pretty sure I just made up the word “chummery.”
  • Who wouldn’t rather go home to play with the grandkids after a year like this?
  • Odd bunch Cubs fans are…
  • Have you heard the news? Lou is retiring at season’s end!
  • The Astros must be in first place, right???
  • I’m pretty sure Fukudome flies back to Japan in the end of April and sends in a body double for the remainder of the season.
  • In my eyes, [Zambrano] should still be sitting in the corner without dessert.
  • gotta love a cubs comeback win
  • After all, dude sawed his fingers off and still plays.
  • The Astros, sick of waiting for us to finish them off, take care of business in the 12th
  • It’s time, Jimmy Boy, it’s time. Make the calls and let’s start moving.
  • At least Milton is gone…right? Right?
  • No, not that kind of quickie.
  • Nice pic Daver…now I want shrimp and booze.
  • The way this team stinks, and looking at the hot mess of next year, slumpbusting could be taken to a new level…
  • this one’s broke and it needs to be fixed.
  • Kevin “Walk-Walk-Homer” Gregg

Lizard

  • I just hope Uncle Lou has stocked up on whiskey and smokes. It’s going to be a LONG summer.

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