Archive for September, 2010

Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders – A Complete Guide To The Worst Decisions And Stupidest Moments In Baseball History”. That‘s a long title. The author is Rob Neyer (ESPN Baseball Analyst and author of “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups”). It was published in 2006.

So, what’s the definition of a blunder? For the purposes of this book, there are three requirements:
1. The blunder must be premeditated. Someone must have actually thought: “Hey THIS would be a good idea.”
2. A reasonable person might, AT THE TIME, have made a reasonable case for doing something else, and,
3. Ideally, the blunder must have led to some reasonably ill outcome.

There we have it: Premeditation. Contemporary questionability. Ill effects.

The author further explains: “…many of the blunders within were committed by GOOD teams and GOOD managers and GOOD general managers.”

This book is arranged chronologically, with the oldest stories first (1917), and the most recent stories last (2003).

In discussing the 1919 Black Sox aftermath, Neyer states: “…shortly after the Series ended in Cincinnati’s favor, Gandil was seen ‘with a new automobile, diamonds, and other marks of sudden affluence’.”

And I ask: These days, what professional athlete DOESN’T display that bling?

The further along I got in reading this book, the more I came to appreciate Rob Neyer’s knowledge and insight. Even allowing for 20/20 hindsight, and keeping in mind that many of the names mentioned in the book were, to me, only of the “I think I’ve heard that name somewhere before” degree of familiarity, I enjoyed reading the stories.

It’s amazing how little I followed baseball from 1969 until 2008.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “I’ve never seen morale so low on any club I’ve ever been on – majors or minors.”

– “It seems like a lot of ballplayers end their careers as Cubs.”

– “If there’s one rule by which every baseball executive should live, it’s this: ‘Don’t pay any attention to the wild-eyed advice offered by your local sports columnist’.”

– “Phil Wrigley wasn’t a great baseball man. But he did have some good ideas.”

– “A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says, ‘I was beaten.’ He does not say, ‘My men were beaten.’ Thus speaks a real man.”

– “The truth is that Lane didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He just wanted to do SOMETHING. Had to do something.”

– “…today most teams draft for ‘talent’ rather than ‘need’.”

– “There are any number of lessons that may be learned from studying the draft, and one of the most important is: ‘Don’t base draft decisions on the current state of your major-league roster’.”

– “Even if your draft pick doesn’t work out, you’ll often be able to find a trading partner who places a high value on the potential that you once saw.”

– “It’s not smart to sign long-term contracts.”

– “The only thing that kept this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major league level.”

There is another book begging to be written by Rob Neyer. The title of this one would be: “The Chicago Cubs in the New Millennium (2000-2010)”. Would that constitute an entire decade of blunders? I don’t know. But I’d like to read Mr. Neyer’s analysis.

Maybe the Cubs should hire Rob Neyer to help with their current “reinvention” efforts. It would be similar to the Red Sox enlisting the help of Bill James to provide guidance on their new course. The Cubs could do a lot worse than Rob Neyer.

I enjoyed reading Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in baseball or in big business.

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In the News: We’ve got Aramis!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Good day to you, Cubs fans. And I don’t mean that in a snide way. Well, we haven’t had much to cheer about as of late, but the win last night (Monday) at least put the St. Louis Cardinals a full seven games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds and it gave us at least some modicum of hope for Mr. Jeffrey Alan Samardzija.

I managed to catch some of his innings pitched on TV and, well, there’s something there. (♪♫ What it is ain’t exactly clear. ♪♫) He still gave up some walks, though four isn’t too bad and, with Pujols and Holiday in the lineup, perhaps a base on balls isn’t the worst result. His breaking stuff did look a little better than I remember it being — especially a pitch he kept landing on the outside corner to left-handed hitters. And he’s still got the mid- to upper-90s fastball. So, though I’m far from completely sold, I’d say he made a nice first step toward respectability. The Shark will pitch again this weekend against the Marlins.

And now on with the rest of today’s news:

“Hey, Aramis Ramirez, would you like to stay for dinner next season? We’re serving Stove Top stuffing!”

“Stove Top Stuffing? I’m stayin’!”

Or so the conversation went, sorta, between the Cubs’ third baseman and Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer. Aramis mumbled something over the weekend (or maybe it was late last week) about perhaps testing the free agent market after this season, citing the fact that, despite his many problems at the plate, he’s hit 20 home runs and 70-some RBI this year. Granted. In fact, to be exact, he’s hit 22 home runs and driven in 73 runs as of this writing.

But that conveniently ignores his ghastly .295 OBP (.322 wOBA) and 18.8% strikeout rate — both the worst in his Cubs career. And I’m not sure whether WAR has made it into contract negotiations yet, but Aramis is currently a 0.9 WAR player with just a couple weeks left to go. That’s just flat-out embarassing for a player of his caliber. He’ll be putting up his lowest WAR since his 2002 campaign with the Pirates. (Was he injured or something that year? He got 570 plate appearances. Clearly, I need to brush up on my Aramis Ramirez history.)

Long story short, given his value as a player this season and the economy in general, he and his agent probably don’t want to spend the off-season getting low-balled by various big league GMs. So expect to see Aramis back at the hot corner next year. This may not be a bad thing if he’s fully healthy and can somehow get back to the player he was from 2004-2008. Those were all 4+ WAR seasons (i.e., good ones).

Chris Archer: A name to remember. The news came down yesterday that Chris Archer was named the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year. And that’s a name to file in your mental rolodex and expect to hear mentioned a lot during spring training next year, much as Tyler Colvin was last year.

I’ve heard from a couple of credible sources that Archer is being fast-tracked through the Cubs system and could be a surprise addition to the rotation in 2011. Of course with Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, Casey Coleman, and Jeff Samardzija already either claiming or vying for a rotation spot, it’s hard to see how Archer could find a toe-hold. But there’s a whole off-season to go, and we don’t know who might be traded.

Also, let us not ignore the Cubs 2010 minor league player of the year, Brandon Guyer. A fifth round draft pick in 2007, Guyer put up a .986 OPS (.398 OBP, .588 slugging) in 410 plate appearances for the Double-A Smokies this season. Sadly, he appears to be a dedicated outfielder and the Cubs currently have plenty of those. I can’t help wondering whether the Cubs would shock the world and convert him to a first baseman for next season. Seems highly doubtful, but it would make a great story, would it not?

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, the aforementioned Tennessee Smokies are facing the Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League Championship Series. Game one is tonight (Tuesday)! You can listen in here. Go Smokies!

Speaking of Tyler Colvin … He got nailed by a Jaime Garcia pitch in last night’s Cubs-Cards game and is day-to-day with an elbow contusion. I really hope he can play through the pain and make it to an even 20 home runs. Just because. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to tie or break Billy Williams’ record of 25 bombs for a Cubs rookie. But I guess you never know.

In “Aw, Isn’t That Sweet?” News … The Portland Tribune is doing an occasional “DARWIN BARNEY WATCH” feature to track their hometown boy’s triumphs and travails with the Cubs. I love stuff like this.

Hendry interviews Bob Melvin. This was the “big” news today. Mr. Melvin shall have a place in my next “Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings,” assuming I find the energy to resurrect that feature at some point.

And, last but not least …

The Boston Red Sox have called up former Cub Rich Hill. He’s a bullpen guy now who struck out 55 batters in 53 innings pitched for the Pawtucket Red Sox this year. His walk rate was still pretty high.

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It’s all good

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

As we wind down the 2010 season all I want now is hope (and a winning record under our new interim manager.)  Tonight the Cubs took it to the Cards early and often and won the opening game 5-1.   The new Busch Stadium was generally quiet as a tomb and the Cards announcers were particularly sonorous so I made an emergency pot of double strength coffee in the first inning; for what it’s worth the Dunkin’ Donuts brand of coffee that one can get in the neighborhood grocery is actually quite good.  Samardzija put in six innings of no run pitching but struggled most of the way; I’m still not convinced that this guy’s future is in baseball but I’m not ready to give up on him either.  I can distinctly remember giving up on former Cubs pitcher Dennis Eckersley.  Moral of the story:  Don’t give up early on a young pitcher who can bring it, the same thing can be said for Cashner who has not had the season he probably dreamed about when he got called up.  My concerns with both of these guys is that early in their careers both seem to throw frozen ropes; wonder if they could benefit from some time with roving coach Greg Maddux in this respect, I think they could.

Some highlights from tonight’s game:

  • Top 2nd: Ramirez doubles and limps to second. Nady singles men on first and third. Soto singles scoring Ramirez men on first and second nobody out Cubs lead 1-0. Samardzija singles to right Cubs lead 2-0.
  • Top 3rd: Barney singles, Byrd reaches on a force that failed (E4 for Schumacher.) Soto walks to load the bases, Soriano singles scoring two Cubs lead 4-0. Colvin loads the bases again with a walk for Samardzija who grounds out leaving the bases juiced.
  • Bottom 3rd: Brendan Ryan walks and makes it to third on two gound outs. Pujols walks men on first and third. Samardzija walks Holliday to load the bases for Rasmus. Samardzija gets away with a hanger as Rasmus flies out to right to end the inning.
  • Bottom 4th: Colvin replaced by Fukudome due to an elbow contusion.
  • Bottom 7th: Randy Winn hits a ground rule double to left; Cashner comes in to face Holliday and gives up a single which scores Winn 4-1 Cubs.
  • Top 8th: Base hit by Nady to lead off the inning, base hit to center by Soto men on first and second nobody out. Soriano advances the runners with a grounder one out men on second and third. Fukudome singles Cubs lead 5-1.
  • Bottom 8th: Cashner walks the leadoff hitter, Ryan singles and Cashner is gone when Quade brings in Marshall. Sean does his usual job and the Cubs are out of the inning.

Tonight the Cards announcers speculated on what the Cubs would do about their corner infielders, they specifically mentioned Colvin moving to first as have others.  I don’t like this idea because Colvin’s best attribute is his versatility in the outfield and, besides that I’d like to see him focus more on getting his average up instead of learning a new defensive position.  Assuming the Cubs use a top draft pick on a quality first base prospect there are a number of journeyman first basemen available this year including Berkman, Branyan, Glaus, Huff, Nick Johnson, Konerko, Overbay and Wigginton.  I like this approach as opposed to another four to six year contract, let’s see if we can get one of these guys to sign for one or two years.  Also I’d like to see the Cubs get a guy who can play 60 games a year at third base – if I’m not mistaken Blum, Pedro Feliz, Inge and Wigginton will all be available for this position as well.  Wigginton makes a lot of sense because he can play both positions; while none of these guys have the kind of pizzazz that a Adam Dunn or Jorge Cantu would bring they might make sense for a rebuilding Cubs team.  Tonight’s loss drops the Cards to seven back, as Ann Richards once said:  “Stick a fork in ’em, they’re done.”

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Game 143: Just Give Me Some Truth

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

First, the good (and interesting) news. As Darrell told me a few days ago, today’s starter, Casey Coleman, is a third generation big-leaguer.  Now for the bad news. Coleman is way too hittable to be a useful ML pitcher.

Even if his dad was a genetically engineered combination of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Tom Seaver, Coleman would still be nothing more than a dime-a-dozen, AAA arm. How did the Brewers not crush some of those meatballs today? In his defense, he did battle and keep the Cubs in the ballgame (here’s where Len usually says “swagger” or “moxy” or “grit”).

I don’t mean to pick on Casey Coleman, but the next time you’re on, check out his minor league strikeout numbers. I’m no scout or pitching coach, but that looks like big trouble to me.

How about some more brutal honesty? After all, it’s always better to know the truth (or at least my warped version of it):

1)      Today’s 2-0 loss to the Brewers is yet another reminder of this team’s major weakness. Unless the Cubs significantly upgrade their offense, 2011 will be just as unpleasant as 2010. In case you forgot, the Cubs are currently 10th in runs scored and on-base percentage. Even the lowly Diamondbacks have generated more firepower.

2)     The offseason MUST include a bullpen overhaul. Check out this collection of gas cans:

  • James Russell (43.2 IP, 10 HR, 5.36 ERA)
  • Justin Berg (35.1 IP, 18 BB, 5.60 ERA)
  • John Grabow (25.2 IP, 5 HR, 7.36 ERA)
  • Thomas Diamond (23.2 IP, 15 BB, 7.23 ERA, before the bomb to McGehee)

Even though he’s been awful, I’m not listing Andrew Casher for two obvious reasons. First, there is a 99.9 percent chance he’ll be on the roster next year. Second, unlike the pitchers mentioned above, Cashner actually has significant upside. Hopefully he’ll improve his command, which has been dreadful in 2010 (26 BB in 44 IP).  My fingers are also crossed for an Angel Guzman recovery.

3)      I’m not one of those Cubs fans who hates Kosuke Fukudome. Although he’s been less than originally hyped, Fukudome is a useful player vs. RHP. Having said that, it was still a little frustrating to watch Gallardo toy with him today. High fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt made Fukudome look like a drunken lumberjack. At least he learned his lesson and drew a walk later in the game.

4)     I know that radar guns are usually cranked up for television broadcasts, but come on! There is no way on Earth that Casey Coleman was throwing 93 mph. Maybe his cousin works for WGN.

5)     As much as we all love Starlin Castro, he has to improve the glove work.  That third-inning throw to Yao Ming was his 25th miscue in 108 games.

So the Quade caravan moves on to St. Louis. Maybe the Cubs can play spoiler and finish off the Cards once and for all.

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Cubs notch second shutout in a row

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

If your idea of a good baseball game is lots of runs scored tonight’s ballgame wasn’t for you.  The Cubs only scored one run, that being a towering homerun by Nady off the left field foul pole.  But tonight’s game did have a lot of positives for me – Dempster notched his 100th career win with an expertly-pitched seven innings – Cashner came in and got in a little trouble but made his pitches count when he got Ryan Braun, then Sean Marshall came in and made Prince Fielder look clueless on some offspeed pitches before finishing him with a fastball.  Marmol did not make the game exciting as he so often does and just like that the Cubs improved their record to 11-6 under interim manager Mike Quade.

I really think that Quade deserves a fair look and I think that’s what Hendry is going to give him.  Right now it looks like a two horse race with Quade and Sandberg looking strong and Fredi Gonzalez and Bob Brenly looking like dark horses.  A lot of people are going to pooh-pooh Quade but were this the beginning of the season he would be on pace for 105 wins.  So to say that he’s done a good job since taking the reigns from a tired Lou Piniella is an understatement.  The club looks purposeful, they don’t seem to making the mental mistakes and attitudes look good.  My personal favorite is Ryno but I’d still like to see Mike Quade get the chance that he has earned to show us his stuff.

In other Cubs news Aramis Ramirez indicated today that he is not certain as to whether or not he will opt out of his contract as he is entitled to do after this year; it has also been rumored that Aramis doesn’t see himself playing too many years before he hangs it up.  Said Ramirez:  “If you want to talk about the numbers, I have 400 at-bats and 22 homers, and that’s not bad, and 70-plus RBIs.”  I’m glad that he’s somewhat satisfied with this year’s numbers; I am somewhat satisfied with the fact that he’s sitting right where he belongs.  He’d be crazy to opt out of the $14.6M that he’s due for next year and the $2M buyout that he’s due in 2012 but crazier things have happened.  Assuming that he comes back next year the Cubs need to make one of their 2011 needs a third baseman to play all of the games that Aramis won’t play.

Also in the news Tennessee Smokies defeated West Tennessee to take a 2-1 lead in their best of five series.  Given the fact that there’s been a lot of promotion from within this year in the Cubs organization it’s nice to see that our kids can still get it done.

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