Archive for March, 2011

Breaking Down Roster Battles

Monday, March 21st, 2011

With only 10 days left until Opening Day, things are coming down to the wire f0r guys still trying to compete for jobs on big league rosters.  The Chicago Cubs still have 40 players left in camp, which means that 15 more guys will be cut before the first of April.  There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding which 25 players will be in uniform against the Pirates on April 1 at Wrigley Field.  As of now, there are still nine spots up for grabs!

There are 16 players that are 100 percent locks to make the team, unless they suffer an injury.  Here is a list of the guys that know they have a spot on the Opening Day roster, in no particular order.

  • Marlon Byrd
  • Matt Garza
  • Ryan Dempster
  • Carlos Zambrano
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Kosuke Fukudome
  • Tyler Colvin
  • Carlos Pena
  • Blake DeWitt
  • Jeff Baker
  • Starlin Castro
  • Aramis Ramirez
  • Geovany Soto
  • Carlos Marmol
  • Sean Marshall
  • Kerry Wood

Here is how the other nine roster spots will break down.

Back-up Catcher

Going into camp, Koyie Hill was considered a near-lock to handle catching duties with Geovany Soto.  However, Welington Castillo is having an eye-opening spring.  He is hitting .706 in 17 at-bats, the highest among Cubs with more than five trips to the plate.  Castillo has also shown improvement on defense, walked twice, homered and driven in six.  In the mean time, Hill is in the midst of a terrible slump that has lasted all spring at the plate.  His .037 (1-for-27) average is unacceptable, even for a backup catcher.  Koyie, a switch hitter, does bring several positive attributes to the table.  He works great with the pitching staff, plays superb defense and is a great caller of the game.  Hill hit just .214 in 77 games last season, which was his fourth year in Chicago and his second full season as the backup to Soto.  Castillo made the most of his 2010 September call-up, going 6-for-20 with five extra-base knocks and five RBIs.  Despite Castillo’s outstanding spring, I would be surprised if the Cubs parted ways with Hill.

Fifth Outfielder

Reed Johnson, a fan-favorite during his previous stint with the Cubs in 2008 and 2009, has pulled in front of Fernando Perez for the final spot in the Cubs outfield.  With Tyler Colvin needing as many at-bats as possible, whoever receives this final spot in the outfield will not see many starts.  Johnson or Perez will be used strictly as a defensive replacement late in games, pinch hitter and backup to Marlon Byrd, who rarely takes days off.  Perez was included in the Matt Garza trade in January.  He has a lot of speed, but is hitting just .167 in 14 Cactus League games.  Early on, the switch hitting Perez was slowed by an injury.  In addition to his popularity among fans and teammates, Reed has a clear advantage defensively and is a terrific bunter.  Cubs fans will never forget several of the acrobatic catches that he made during the 2008 season.

Utility Infielder

Darwin Barney seems to have this spot all but wrapped up.  After hitting .241 in 30 games last season, Darwin appears to be ready for a breakout season.  He has a .371 average this spring and could even find himself splitting time with Jeff Baker at second base if Blake DeWitt continues to struggle.  Barney can play both middle infield spots, and since Baker and DeWitt can both play the hot corner there is no need for another third baseman on the team.  Non-roster invite Augie Ojeda was expected to be Barney’s biggest competition for the final infield spot, but he is hitting just .125, currently injured and could decide to enter retirement.  Scott Moore is on fire at the plate, but his inability to play shortstop rules him out for this job.

Fourth and Fifth Starters

Randy Wells has been a fixture in the rotation for the last two seasons, but he was not handed a spot this year.  However, he has pitched lights out in Arizona, and will most likely be awarded the fourth spot in the starting five.  The right hander’s ERA is 1.35 after his gem (6 innings, 1 run) yesterday against the Giants.  Mike Quade could make a decision concerning the rotation as soon as this week.  If Carlos Silva’s dugout altercation with Aramis Ramirez earlier this month wasn’t enough to seal his fate, perhaps his 15.88 ERA is.  Andrew Cashner was a valuable piece to the bullpen last season, but with Kerry Wood inked as the right handed setup man, Cashner can move into the rotation.  He is 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA and is favored over Silva, Todd Wellemyer, Braden Looper and Casey Coleman for the final spot in the rotation.  Silva could end up working in relief, or he may be released if Cashner and Wells do take the rotation spots.

Two Left-Handed Relievers

James Russell came up in April and did a marvelous job pitching in relief for the Cubs last season.  Quade was so impressed that he gave him a brief look for a spot in the rotation, but with the cluster of starters it looks like Russell will be a better fit for the bullpen.  He is expected to join Sean Marshall in the ‘pen, leaving veteran John Grabow and youngster Scott Maine to duke it out for the final two spots.  Grabow has only pitched three times this spring due to several injuries, but he worked an inning yesterday and says he is healthy now.  John missed most of last season with the knee issue.  Scott Maine had a sparkling earned run average of 2.08 in his 13 game cup-of-coffee last season.

Two Right-Handed Relievers

With Jeff Samardzija out of options, the Shark can pretty much be penciled in for one of the bullpen spots from the right side.  He has struggled bouncing back and forth between Iowa and Chicago and between the ‘pen and the starting five the last several years.  Perhaps a defined role and a set job will help The Shark, who is in his final year of a large contract, succeed.  The other spot will come down to whoever loses out on the rotation plus Justin Berg, who has a bloated ERA of 22.50.

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Fun With Similarity Scores

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Every now and then, when I’m looking for something to do, I head over the Baseball Reference to play with some of the many tools they have on the site. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve been able to do on that site to satisfy the inner baseball geek inside of me. In a recent trip, I took a look at Mark Prior’s statistics and reminisced at what could have been. As I ventured down the page, I was reminded of the similarity scores and I was curious how his career compares. (If you have no idea what a similarity score is, they have an explanation.)


At age 22, with an 18 win season under his belt, the most similar pitcher to Prior was Vic Willis. I didn’t know much about Willis, so I looked him up. Turns out he started his career right before the 20th century and was inducted into the hall of fame with249 career wins. That’s less than Tommy John, who’s not in the hall of fame, but that’s another article all together. The point is that at that point in his career, things looked great for Prior. Fast forward to present day and we’re left to wonder what could have been for the boy with “perfect mechanics”.


That got me thinking about present day guys that rank right with hall of fame players early in the career. It’s by no means a career predictor, but it is kind of cool to see how you compare to the greats.


At age 22, Roger Clemens turned in a 7-5 season fresh off finishing 6th in the rookie of the year balloting the previous season. The most similar pitcher to the Rocket through age 22? Jair Jurjens of the Atlanta Braves. (Compare Stats)


Moving over to the hitters, at age 23, Barry Bonds was just getting his feet wet with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his second season in the league, Bonds led the team in home runs with 25. The most similar hitter to 23 year old Barry? The Cincinnati Reds slugging right fielder, Jay Bruce. (Compare Stats)


Maybe those two examples are sour to you based on PED issues. Fine, how about one of the biggest characters the game has ever seen? At age 22, Ricky Henderson had stole 189 bases and had a goal in mind to break Lou Brocks record. It’s hard to pin down a perfect fit for matching Ricky, but if we look at who was most similar at that age we’ll see Carl Crawford’s name. (Compare Stats)


What does it all mean? To be honest, probably nothing. It’s just fun to play around with history some times. Take a few minutes the next time you’re board on the internet, turn off Facebook, and immerse yourself in one of my favorite websites, Baseball Reference.

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Where Did These Guys Come From?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

With the recent cuts from the roster, the minor league camp consists of 40 players. I thought it might be fun to take a look at where each of those guys came from. Did we draft them, trade for them, or sign them via free agency. For the sake of clarification, I will count any players non-drafted but signed by the Cubs as amateur free agents as drafted.

Geovany Soto – Drafted in the 11th round of the 2001 draft
Koyie Hill – Signed as a free agent in 2006
Welington Castillo – Signed as an amateur free agent in 2004 out of the Dominican Republic
Max Ramirez – Claimed off waivers from the Red Sox in January of 2011

Carlos Pena
– Signed as a Free Agent in December of 2010
Jeff Baker – Acquired via trade from the Colorado Rockies in July 2009
Blake DeWitt – Acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2010
Starlin Castro –
Signed as an amateur free agent in 2006 out of the Dominican Republic
Darwin Barney –
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 draft
Aramis Ramirez –
Acquired via trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in July 2003
Matt Camp
– Drafted in the 13th round of the 2006 draft
Scott Moore –
Originally acquired via trade from the Tigers in February 2005, but then traded to the Orioles in 2007. Signed via free agency in November 2010.
Augie Ojeda
– Originally acquired via trade in 1999 from the Orioles, but claimed by the Twins off waivers in 2003. Re-signed in 2006 as a free agent, and then again in January 2011.
Bobby Scales –
Signed as a free agent in 2007

Alfonso Soriano
– Signed as a free agent in 2006
Tyler Colvin –
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2006 draft
Marlon Byrd –
Signed as a free agent in 2009
Fernando Perez –
Acquired via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2011
Kosuke Fukudome
– Signed as a free agent in 2007
Reed Johnson
– Signed as a free agent in 2008 and then again in January 2011

Carlos Zambrano
– Signed as an amateur free agent in 1997 out of Venezuela
Ryan Dempster
Signed as a free agent in 2004
Randy Wells
– Drafted in the 38th round of the 2002 draft
Matt Garza
– Acquired via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays in January 2011
Carlos Silva
– Acquired via trade from the Seattle Mariners in 2009
Andrew Cashner
– Drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 draft
Braden Looper
– Signed as a free agent in January 2011
Todd Wellemeyer
– Originally drafted by the Cubs in the 4th round of the 2000 draft. Re-signed via free agency in January 2011
Angel Guzman
– Signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 out of Venezuela
Casey Coleman
– Drafted in the 15th round of the 2008 draft
James Russell
– Drafted in the 14th round of the 2007 draft
Kerry Wood
– Originally drafted in the 1st round of the 1995 draft and then re-signed via free agency in December 2010
Carlos Marmol
– Signed as an amateur free agent in 1999 out of the Dominican Republic
Sean Marshall
– Drafted in the 6th round of the 2003 draft
John Grabow
– Acquired via trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009
Jeff Samardzija
– Drafted in the 5th round of the 2006 draft
Scott Maine
– Acquired via trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009
Jeff Stevens
– Acquired via trade from the Cleveland Indians 2008
Justin Berg
-Acquired via trade from the New York Yankees in 2005
Marcos Mateo
Acquired via trade from the Cincinnati Reds in 2007


Free Agents – 30%

Trades – 30%

Home Grown – 40%

Thoughts on that?

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Chet’s Corner: We got holes, big gaping holes!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Okay, we’re two weeks in to spring training….what do we know?

We know that Josh Vitters is no closer to the major league club.  In the first cuts of spring he was sent packing to the minor league camp.  So who will play third next year?  It’s getting scary folks.

We know Matt Garza is working on some pitches, or at least we hope.  His outings show some blemishes this spring.  Working on being a ground ball pitcher is obviously in preparation to pitching in hitter friendly Wrigley Field.  Lets just hope he figures this out before we are in the basement of the central division.

We know Carlos Silva is not quite right.  This was the nicest way I could phrase it.  I am biting my tongue and trying my best not to violate the VFTB swearing policy for us writers.   He’s so large and it hurts to watch him move.  What is his off-season conditioning regiment? Is there one?  The Yankees are scouting him which is funny.  If Hendry can trade him I would be willing to wash Milton Bradley from the books. Rickett’s can put giant macaroni noodles anywhere he wants, and I won’t complain, if only they can trade Silva.  Hell, I would trade him for that Macaroni noodle.  I really would.

Back to third base for a minute… next off-seasons third base this offseasons first base?  I ask because we have no contingency plan (youth) to fill this position.  There are also very few free agent third basemen out there for next year.  Our best options in house(Marques Smith and Vitters) seem to have been sent down to minor league camp already….not a good sign.  I want everybody to think outside the box on this one, in other words don’t try to sell me on stop gaps…..stop gaps are for teams who like to finish fourth.  Who will start at third next year?

We know Starlin Castro is picking up right where he left off.  He just hits.  Now, if he could only cut down on the errors, which I think he will,  then we will see a fantastic sophomore effort.  I love this article comparing him to Jeter.  I hate that Len and Bob call him Star.  Strippers and horses should have the name Star, not your stud shortstop.  We need a new nickname for him, let’s think of one…..thoughts?

We know Blake DeWitt is a stop gap at second.  He really is no better then Jeff Baker, who should only get half a contract because he plays half the time.  Can we pay him more when he hits against lefties then when he goes up against righties?  Mental note, second base is another priority for this team if they want to be better then fourth place.

We know, or at least think, we like Carlos Pena.  He seems to check out as a good leader and clubhouse presence.  We need a first basemen for next year and we are in a tricky spot with Carlos.  I am not sure I want a long term relationship with Pena.  If he plays well this year then we will pay a kings ransom for his services.   If he does play well then I don’t trust him as the long term answer do to consistency.   If he plays poorly this season, well then I don’t want him at all.  He is kind of like that girl you keep around, but you never commit too.

Girl: Are we exclusive?

Guy: No, this is just casual…we are having fun!  Let’s keep it light and fun, okay?  Who needs labels, right?

Hey Carlos, let’s keep it light and fun.  No labels…..or long term contracts, okay?

We know the outfield seems to be a strength to a degree. Soriano is healthy…for the time being.  Marlon Byrd is working with Victor Conte, which is the baseball equivalent of hiring Bernie Madoff to manage your investments.  Marlon seems to be at the top of his game.  Fukudome is being his typical self.  I am actually one of the people who likes Fukudome.  The guy had the second highest OBP on the team last season, which I know is similar to being the tallest midget, but he gets the job done in the field too.   The real hole here appears to be Soriano.  He really hasn’t been a good player since 2008.  In 2009 he was such a disaster that it actually made 2010 look good….when it really wasn’t.  If he was being paid $5/year I still don’t know if I could look past his terrible efforts in the field and inconsistency at the plate.

Well that’s it, I am sure I missed a few things here and there but up ’til now this is what I see.  What’s more is that I see a lot of holes for 2012.  Yes, I am actually writing off the 2011 season as we seem to be destined for a medicore finish.  If you can find me 1o more wins out of this group then guess what you have?  A third place finish.  This team needs to find an identity, and in a hurry, or the 2011 show will look like 2010 with a few new cast members filling the gaps.

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Around the MLB: Breakout Players

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Like any fan of the game, right now is an anxious time for me. We’re under 30 days away from 7 months of stolen bases, double plays, and diving catches. Three weeks from a first look at new rookies and to reconnect with familiar faces, some in different uniforms.

By February, I’m out of hibernation and thinking and reading about baseball all through out the day, just to have something to snack on until April. Most of the time, the same names pop up: Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, and for some reason, Ozzie Guillen. The current media storm is in perpetual motion, swirling over the same stories as it awaits results, any results at all, from baseball. But I’m just not interested in how much more monopoly money Mr. Pujols will have dumped in his back yard come payday, since negotiations aren’t even currently in progress. Instead, how about turning up the hype on a fresh batch of players who could be ready to make headlines on the diamond in the next couple of months?

Last year, I spotlighted a couple players in my mind, researching their statistics from the following year and looking ahead to how their 2010 season may develop.

Here was my list, in no particular order, of players I wanted to keep an eye on:

Lind & Hill in Toronto

A. Jones & Markakis in Baltimore

Ubaldo Jimenez

Evan Longoria

Shin-Soo Choo

Franklin Gutierrez

Sean Marshall

Ryan Theriot

As we now know, Choo, Longoria, and Marshall put up another solid season. Jones & Markakis were more or less static (more on that later). Ubaldo seemed poised for a 20+ win season, only to fizzle in the second half and wind up a win short. After that, though, the list was a bit disappointing. Lind & Hill both dropped off considerably in batting average and couldn’t approach their powers numbers from 2009. Gutierrez’s numbers regressed, and Ryan Theriot left for LA, and then came back to the NL Central on what he called the “right” side of the rivalry (Whatever. It’s spelled “Ryne” by the way, Mr. Redbird.)

The closest to a breakout season in 2010 was Ubaldo. By July last year, he was the hands-down pick for Cy Young. After that, it varies across the board, and you could get into a range of debates as to how the 2010 season fits into each player’s overall career. Personally, I just wanted to remember some guys playing for teams who were likely to miss the playoffs. If these players have breakout seasons, and everything clicks, they could begin to reverse that general assumption for the organization. Or they just put up another good year, and need to be recognized for it, a la Shin Soo Choo.

Obviously my list has changed going into 2011. I had to accommodate some rookies who pounced on the 2010 season, as well as give veteran status to the guys who were earning it (Yep, that eliminates Longoria, Marshall, and Choo). I’m also excluding no-brainers like Buster Posey, Carlos Gonzales and Aroldis Chapman because I know they’ll be applauded (if they’re good) or exiled (if they struggle) by the media on a daily basis.

First off, I’m keeping Adam Jones & Nick Markakis in mind again because they’re the closest to gaining vet status, or at least a better idea of what to expect from them. The last two years, they have each put up an exceptional season. From here, it’s either break out in 2011 and go from good to great in batting average & run production, or produce another consistent season. Either scenario works for these two, but I’m sure Baltimore would like to know what they have in their outfielders so they can figure out how they can build their young team around them.

Tyler Colvin & Andrew Cashner

Attention Cubs fans- these two are potentially dangerous. They hit the scene in 2010 with surprisingly good numbers, and played like they deserved to be in the bigs. But don’t go betting all of your marbles just yet- it’s possible they’re still a year away from a breakout season, and sophomore year can be a tough one. For these two, 2011 is more a question of whether or not to consider them as potential superstars. Will 24 year old Cashner venture in to the rotation after going 2-6 from the pen in 2010? Will Colvin receive more at bats, and if so, can he match his slugging percentage (.500) from last year? And by the way, Starlin Castro may have gotten his breakout season out of the way already, even though I’ll still be paying close attention to how much he improves on defense.

Jason Heyward

He didn’t waste any time last year, lighting up the Cubs on opening day if I remember correctly. What stood out to me was the sound the ball made coming off his bat and a sweet swing that seemed to resemble Ken Griffey Jr.’s. He was a sure fire runner up for rookie of the year, with 18 knocks, 72 runs driven in and a robust OBP (.393), even while sustaining a minor injury. Heyward is my pick for this year. I don’t think he’s going to waste any time in putting up elite Major League numbers, as long as he stays healthy.

James Loney

I still resent Loney for what he did to the Cubs in 2008, but you can’t ignore his talent. He represents the middle of a young Dodger core, just about at the same level as Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as they steadily produce runs. Loney contributed with 88 RBI last year, but his batting average dipped to .267. If Ethier returns to 2009 form, and Kemp and Loney can raise their averages, the Dodgers have a reliable trio on the right side of the field.

Ike Davis

Davis was fun to watch in 2010. Amidst a full bloom of NL rookies, Davis played stellar defense in his first full year; He also produced on offense with a .791 OPS, even chipping in a couple times in the clutch with some walk-off hits. The problem- Davis plays for the Mets. He seems an obvious cornerstone candidate for a rebuilding franchise, but will instead have to silently play as his team crumbles around him. Above anything else, I’m rooting for Davis to get traded to, well, any other team. Unfortunately, it’s still highly unlikely he changes uniforms, even though the Mets are imploding going into 2011.

Mike Leake

Similar to his NL Central counterparts on this list, the question is a matter of how seriously to take Mike Leake. He put on some brilliant clinics from the mound last year, making hitters look foolish with Greg Maddux-like poise and control. This only amounted to 8 wins for the Reds in 2010, but each one seemed a masterpiece. Those kinds of pitchers, if they can maintain in the pros, have long, solid careers, and that’s no easy feat. At 23, Leake was somewhat rushed to the Majors, and his impressive numbers could just be a reflection of hitters being ambushed by his potent arsenal of pitches. He’s at least worth keeping tabs on in 2011 and could have a high ceiling in the coming years.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz may be a bit of a throw-in, since he’s already well established in the majors. He finally shined in 2010 with an all star selection and a playoff performance worth noticing. The question for Cruz in 2011 is whether or not he can carry a team. Cruz failed to crack 80 RBI for the second year in a row, but improved his OBP (.374) and SLG (.576) while cutting down on strikeouts. As we saw in 2010, the time to win in Texas is now. Will Cruz rise to superstar status and push them over the brink? If he evolves into a .300/30/110 player, the departure of Cliff Lee and impending loss of Michael Young will sting a little less as the Rangers defend their AL crown.

Ditto to: Jeremy Hellickson, Kurt Suzuki, Mike Napoli, Gaby Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Cody Ross, & Mat Latos

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