Archive for June, 2011

Game 75 – We Won, but I Don’t Feel Good About It

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Cubs 6, Royals 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game


The Three Hole – I was pleased to see Aramis Ramirez in the 3rd spot of the lineup and not stupid Jeff Baker. I don’t have a problem with Baker as a baseball player, but in that spot in the order, he’s referred to as stupid Jeff Baker. Instead, Baker was placed in the cleanup hitter spot. Ugh, not we need to gripe about that.

Lots of Offense – Lots of  hits for the team seems to be the general theme of the season. This game was not a deviation from the norm as the Cubs put up 15 hits. Tonight, they actually turned those into some offense for a change by filling the scoreboard with six runs.

Quality Bullpen – I really like Chris Carpenter. It seems like this town has been the beneficiary of the wrong guy with the right name for the last few years. It started with Alex Gonzalez. There were two of them in baseball. The Marlins had one and we had one. The Marlins had the right one and we had the wrong one. In the NFL, we had Adrian Peterson, but it was the bad Adrian Peterson. Now we have Chris Carpenter and it appears like maybe, for once, we have a decent counterpart with the same name. The kid hits 100 on the radar. I like him a lot in that end of the game role. I almost wonder if he could replace Marmol if the Cubs would be willing to maximize returns on Marmol while his value is high.


Bad Baserunning – I didn’t run the official count, but I saw so much bad baserunning that my head wanted to explode. We saw Starlin Castro get thrown out trying to steal third with a horrible jump on the pitcher. We saw Ramirez hit a ball to the wall only to get thrown out easily at second base because he was loafing. Why don’t these guys learn when it happens over and over and over again?


I’m starting a new section in my recaps. It’s the fire Mike Quade files. In it, we’ll highlight evidence that Hendry needs to rethink his confidence in Quade. In case you missed it, Hendry came out with this quote before the game on Quade:

“I’m very happy with him,” Hendry said. “Look, he’s still in a tough spot (without Marlon Byrd and Darwin Barney). Those are two guys you miss still that you can’t quite make it look perfect every night, one through nine, how you might want to line it up. He has had to mix and match three-hole guys. … Some nights you’re not going to put up the runs you’d like. That’s why when you get 5-6-7 runs, you have to win those.”

Jim Hendry on Mike Quade’s managing to date

So, apparently Hendry needs help pointing out the obvious so here is evidence from last night.

  • In response to Hendry, Quade has not had to mix and match three hole hitters. He’s chosen to mix it up with odd choices for the role when Ramirez has been available for the spot all year long. Last night was another example that his lineup choices suck. Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker, etc, etc are not middle of the order hitters and never will be. #FireMikeQuade
  • With the score tied 4-4 in the 9th, Soriano started the inning with a strike out, but then Tony Campana got on base via speed and suddenly the Cubs had something cooking with just one out. Campana advanced to third on a nice piece of hitting by DJ LeMahieu and it was runners on 1st and 3rd with one out. It was almost a lock for a run. The only thing that could have prevented the run was if Fukudome hit into a double play. A sure fire way to prevent that is to send LeMahieu on a straight steal. There is no way that the Royals throw through to second base to try to stop him with Campana’s speed coming down the line on a delayed steal of home plate. It’s a win win. Even if LeMahieu is thrown out, we’ve got a 5-4 lead to give to Marmol. Instead, Fukudome hits a ground ball tailor made for an inning ending double play. The only thing that prevented it was poor fielding on the part of the Royals. If they make that play, the inning is over and the game could have had a completely different outcome. It’s the manager’s job to make sure we’re not in that situation and he dropped the ball. #FireMikeQuade

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star– Kosuke Fukudome (.172 WPA)

2nd Star – DJ LeMahieu (.146 WPA)

3rd Star – Carlos Pena (.128 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: +.378 WPA

Cubs Pitching: +.122 WPA

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Craig Brown Scouts the Royals

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Who’s hot

Nobody is swinging the bat for the Royals quite like Alcides Escobar.  Known for his glove (we’ve dubbed him the Shortstop Jesus… Escobar saves, get it?) and for his manager not lifting him for a pinch hitter with the game on the line in the ninth inning.  After bottoming out at .203/.237/.236 on June 6, he was probably the most unlikely candidate for any kind of an offensive surge. Yet surge, he did, hitting .440/.481/.640 over his last 14 games. Ned Yost has been so impressed, he’s moved Escobar from ninth in the order to eighth! Quite the promotion.

Who’s not

Instead of pointing the finger at Jeff Francoeur… Oh, to heck with it.  A hot April had The Frenchman hitting .314/.357/.569 and had many Royals fans believing he was finally turning into a pro at the plate. I can imagine Dayton Moore, gleefully rubbing his hands together as he pulled out old Baseball America’s looking for other old Atlanta draft picks from back in the day. Boy, those were fun times. Unfortunately, the good times came crashing down. Over his last 30 games, Francoeur is hitting .205/.248/.282. But he has stolen a career high 10 bases. Mainly because the Royals are aggressive insanely risky on the bases.


Royals fans think their team is five starting pitchers away from contention. They may be right, especially in the weak AL Central. The pitchers the Cubs will face this weekend include Bruce Chen who will be making his first start since going on the DL. Chen is considered the strongest starter on the staff (Note, I didn’t call him the “ace.”) which can only be thought of as unfortunate. On Saturday, it will be prospect Danny Duffy, who can’t hold a runner on base and slows the game to a crawl every time a batter reaches. Given he has a 1.79 WHIP, his starts take about three and a half hours. They’d be longer, but he’s in the showers by the fifth inning. The Cubs are lucky they’re catching him this year, because he does have all the tools to be a top starter. Right now, he just lacks the confidence to succeed at the big league level. Then on Sunday, it will be Luke Hochevar, who will hold the Cubs to one hit through six innings and then give up doubles and home runs like they’re buy one, get one free at the local Swap and Shop. If the Cubs don’t score five runs against Hochevar, they could get demoted to the International League.


The Royals are much stronger at home than on the road, but are in a tailspin of typical proportions. Plus, there will be plenty of Cub fans at Kauffman Stadium where we have outfield seats and ivy growing on the center field batters eye, so they should feel right at home.  Cubs take two of three.

Craig Brown can be found suffering with the Royals on his blog, Royals Authority, part of the ESPN SweetSpot Network

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The Case Against Jim Hendry: Exhibit A – Backloaded Contracts

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Most Cub fans are well-aware of the heavy burden some of Jim Hendry’s larger, longer contracts present to the team.  In simple terms, the highest-paid Cubs (Soriano and Zambrano) are the ones most fans would like to see traded away.  But their contracts are essentially untradeable, because they’re so heavily back-loaded, paying the highest salaries at the end of the deals.  In Soriano’s case in particular, his salary has continued to climb while his production withers, progressing from a minor annoyance to a massive laughingstock across the league.  Some writers list it as the worst-ever for the Cubs—others say it’s the worst in league history.

So let’s face it, Cub fans—short of some clever dealing*, both those guys are staying in Chicago for the foreseeable future.  What’s less apparent—and potentially more damaging for the Cubs long-term—is the next tier of back-loaded contracts Hendry has given out, and what they mean to the team’s ability to retain their veteran players.

*Don’t hold your breath—Hendry’s still our GM for the time being.  His cleverness is limited to turning batting practice hugs into national headlines and using spare buttons to pay for snacks from the office vending machines.

Carlos Pena is one example.  He signed with the Cubs this past offseason for a staggering $10 million—staggering because he’s a ten-year veteran with a career batting average of .239, coming off a contract season where he managed to hit only .196.  Across the league, it was considered a bizarre amount to pay, even if half of it is deferred until 2012.

Fast forward to this week, and it looks like Pena might be starting to live up to his offensive potential.  His long fly balls are making it into the stands, and his glove is covering up for inexperience elsewhere in the infield.  Add in his growing reputation as a quality teammate and clubhouse leader, and he has many Cubs fans wondering if he can stick around beyond this one season.

Ah, but there’s the problem.  Any extension talks with Pena start at that $10 million price tag.  By the numbers, Pena is probably a good value somewhere between $6-7 million.  If he really does like Chicago and day baseball as much as reported, he might be willing to give the Cubs a discount in return for more years, but it’s doubtful it will bring the overall price to within a reasonable range**.  What’s more, how many years can you safely commit to a thirty-three-year-old veteran before the discount you get isn’t worth the money you’re saving?  Ideally, you’d want to sign him for one or two more years, but at the price you’d likely have to pay—plus the $5 million you already owe him for this year—it’s not worth the production he’d bring to the lineup.

**That doesn’t mean I think Pena is the villain here—far from it.  Just look at it from his perspective: if the Cubs are happy enough with his performance this season to want to resign him, why would he come back for substantially less than what they’re already paying him?  The same is true for you—you wouldn’t take significantly less money next year to do the same job you’re doing now, no matter how many years you were promised.  Would you?  Nope.  I wouldn’t either.

Carlos Marmol’s three-year, $20 million contract presents an even stickier situation for the Cubs down the road.  This season he’s making just over $3 million—a bargain price for one of the best closers in the game.  But next year his salary jumps to $7 million, and the year after that the Cubs will pay him just under $10 million.  That means when it comes time to negotiate his next contract or any extension, the base salary you’re working from is that $10 million price tag.  By then, Marmol will be over thirty, and the combination of age and cost might force the Cubs to trade him away or let him wade into free agency, still well in the midst of his prime.

The same question of resign-ability is looming over Ryan Dempster and Aramis Ramirez this season.  Both have options for next year—Dempster has a player option***, while the club has the option in Ramirez’s contract.  Both are fairly beloved, long-term Cubs who have professed a desire to stay with the team to the end of their careers.  But in both cases, their back-loaded contracts put the starting price for negotiations at an unreasonably high level—Dempster is making $13.5 million this year, while Ramirez makes $16 million.  By maxing out the tail end of their deals, Hendry has inadvertently**** guaranteed that one or the other—and possibly both—will be playing in different uniforms next season.

***I can’t speak for Dempster, but I think he would waive his $14 million option for next year to extend his deal with the Cubs.  And it wouldn’t be the first time he financially sacrificed for the sake of the team—he deferred $3 million of his contract back in 2010.  Much like Kerry Wood, I get the sense that Dempster is the rare veteran who would make a large financial sacrifice to keep playing where he wants to play.  I just don’t think the Cubs can afford to bank on that kind of benevolence, and with Hendry in charge, they are.

****Not sure why I’m giving Hendry the benefit of the doubt there.  The truth is that his pattern as a GM has been pretty focused on the supposed needs of the moment, with little regard for the future.  His track record is full of half-measures, band-aid signings, and short-term self-preservation—the Soriano signing is just one example.  He’s not what I would call a “planner.”  If I had to guess, I’d say he probably buys a whole lot of stuff from the Home Shopping Network.

Bottom line, the Cubs have roughly $50 million coming off the books at the end of the season.  Most of that money will go to resign current Cubs***** and reel in key free agents******.  Can the Cubs trust Jim Hendry to use that money wisely to piece together a roster and rebuild a winner?  His track record says no.

*****Possibly a combination of Garza, Wood, Pena, or Dempster, and raises for the handful of arbitration-eligible players we have.

******Please, please… not Pujols or Fielder.  Neither of them solves any of the Cubs’ primary problems.  And if the worst should happen and Hendry keeps his job through the offseason, both of them are prime targets for one of his patented, massively back-loaded deals.

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Game 74 – Another One Run Defeat

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011


White Sox 4, Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Wrong

  • Mike Quade made a strange managerial decision that may have cost the Cubs the game.  The Cubs had a run at third base (the speedy Tony Campana) with one out in the top of the eighth.  Koyie Hill, whose hitting ability is similar to that of a pitcher, was due up with Geovany Soto available on the bench.  Q elected to leave Hill in the game.  He struck out, as did Kosuke Fukudome to end the inning.  Soto would have been the best candidate to at least come up with a sacrifice fly to allow Campana to scamper home.
  • The Cubs gave the White Sox an insurance run in the fifth inning that proved to be the difference in the game.  Blake DeWitt committed a costly error and Doug Davis walked a man.  Then,with the bases loaded Davis hit a batter to force in a run.  The South Siders scored with just one hit in the inning.
  • Starlin Castro grounded out to end a Cubs rally in the sixth inning.  The Cubs had the bases loaded.  Starlin also bounced out for the first out of the ninth inning.
  • Aramis Ramirez went 0-for-5.

What Went Right

  • The Cubs bullpen was perfect.  Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Carpenter all tossed scoreless frames.
  • Doug Davis did a nice job to keep his team in the game.  The Sox lineup is packed with thunder, and Davis allowed just three earned runs (four total) in five innings.
  • Paul Konerko did not beat the Cubs.  The Cubs finally worked around him for most of the night and brought his five game  home run streak to an end.
  • Carlos Pena stayed red hot.  Although Konerko’s homer streak snapped, Pena went deep to extend his to three. 

The Takeaway

During the last three series, the Cubs have played their best ball of the year.  The bad news?  The Cubs have lost two of those series at the hands of the Yankees and White Sox.  It is frustrating that the Cubs can’t seem to get over the hump and put some Ws together.  Still, the team played fairly well tonight outside of the fifth inning. 

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star– A.J. Pierzyski (.197 WPA)

2nd Star – Sergio Santos (.172 WPA)

3rd Star – Chris Sale (.144 WPA)

Cubs Hitting: -.463 WPA

Cubs Pitching: -.037 WPA

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Chet’s Corner: Five Burning Questions for June

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Well, we are eight games shy of the halfway point and I must say…..this season is flying by!

I know, I know, at the rate the Cubs are losing this year a little pace to the season isn’t all bad.   It hasn’t been the circus of last season, but it could qualify as a small traveling carnival.  Jobs are on the line and we’ve seen more youth debut this season then we have in most of the past decade.

I am growing fonder of Carlos Pena by the day and I am starting to warm to Blake DeWitt.  This may seem crazy, or maybe I am succumbing to mediocrity, but they have shown some results, right?

Anyhow, here are your questions, and as usual, fire away with answers!!!!!

1) In your opinion, who has been the top rookie on the big league team so far this year?

I am going with Darwin Barney.  I see him possibly keeping his job through to next season at least….if he isn’t traded….which may be a good idea too!

2) As unrealistic as this sounds, who would you start in game 1 of the World Series from this current Cubs starting rotation?

I would go with Zambrano but not with any confidence, which tells you where I sit with the rest of this rotation.

3) From what we have seen and heard over the past 2.5 months, who could be next years breakout player?

Taking everything into consideration, I go with Tony Campana.  I go with him because my knowledge of our minor league system is limited and if they can get this kid on base……let’s just say lead off hitter! I know, you think I am crazy…..

4) Who is most likely to be traded come the deadline?

I got a feeling it will be DeWitt, Baker, or possibly Barney…..we have quite a few second basemen.

5) What team do you take the most pleasure in seeing the Cubs beat?

White Sox…..with a close second being Cardinals.


Odds and Ends

– I could not agree more with Gene Wojciechowski.

– Quade likes Castro as the Cubs All-Star represetative.

– An Aussie could make his Major League debut.

– I am starting to like where this is going….6 more weeks anybody?

– Or maybe the injury is not as bad?

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