Archive for July, 2011

Should the Cubs Have Waited to Call Up Castro?

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Let’s start with the obvious: Starlin Castro is the most exciting thing about the Cubs right now.  Four of the six View from the Bleachers writers participating in the July 19 Roundtable named him the team MVP thus far.  He’s a legitimate star in the making, and the things he’s doing at age 21 are pretty amazing.

But was it a mistake for the Cubs to call him up on May 7, 2010?  Thanks to Jonah Keri, many of us know a lot more about the Tampa Bay Rays organization than we did six months ago, including one basic organizational tenet they follow: the Rays do not call up prospects until they are sure they are ready.  This is for a pretty simple reason.  The Rays have a very small payroll, so those six to six and a half years of team control are vitally important for them.  They can’t hang on to most players once they hit free agency, so it’s important for them to get the most out of their players while they are cheap.

So let’s go back to May 7, 2009.  The Cubs were 13-16 heading into the first game in a series against at Cincinnati.  In an attempt to put a jolt in the team, the Cubs called up the 20 year old Castro.  I should note that I think the idea that calling up a prospect can charge a team up to turn a bad team into a good team is a pretty laughable idea, but it is something approaching that general baseball “common knowledge” that a lot of players and former players buy in to.

Since that time, the Cubs have gone 102-131 (I’m writing this on the evening of July 22.)  In other words, the Cubs have been bad since Castro has been a member of them.  This isn’t to say that Castro has been bad.  Over that period he’s been worth 3.9 WAR according to FanGraphs and 1.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference.  The Cubs being bad hasn’t been Castro’s fault.  They just aren’t a good team.

But it’s clear that Castro is a flawed player at this point in his career.  On the plus side, Castro has elite contact skills, including an ability to make solid contact on balls outside of the zone that rivals Vladimir Guerrero, has good gap power for a shortstop, and has improved his base stealing efficiency.  On the other hand, he’s an impatient hitter (4.2% BB%) and is a work in progress in the field.

It’s not clear that spending more time in the minors would have done anything to improve Castro’s walk rate.  Not only is it a notoriously difficult skill to teach, but the Cubs also don’t have a great track record with improving their top prospects’ walk rates (Josh Vitters anyone?)  On the defensive side, Castro’s been spending much of the past year working on his footwork this season, and has improved as the season progressed.  After accumulating 7 errors in April, Castro has since added 11 more.  That’s still a rate of about 4 and a half errors per month, which is too many despite being a significant improvement.  But Castro could have worked on those same defensive skills in Tennessee and Iowa with strong odds of similar improvement.

The problem is that bringing Castro up in May 2010 is going to cost the Cubs millions of dollars.  Cots currently shows Castro hitting free agency after the 2015 season.  He’s going to hit arbitration for the first time in the 2013 season.  Had the Cubs kept Castro in the minor leagues until June of this year, they may have lost a couple more games since May 7, 2010.  But Castro would not hit arbitration until the 2015 season, and wouldn’t be a free agent until after the 2017 season.  In other words, rushing Castro to the majors for seasons where they haven’t been in a position to compete is going to make the Cubs pay Castro something approaching market rates for two seasons they otherwise wouldn’t have.  While watching Castro right now is almost unarguably the most exciting part of being a Cubs fan, the fact that he’s been in the Majors for almost a year and a half already is going to negatively impact the Cubs’ budget in the future.

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Monday, July 25th, 2011

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend as much as I did! Through scorching temperatures, rolling thunderstorms and trade rumors, we now find the Cubs riding their first three game winning streak of the summer. Sure, it doesn’t change much about the season, but it definitely feels good to see. Why not have a little fun?


  • I shudder to think even Cubs management might want to look at the new regime in Pittsburgh for pointers. Has it gotten that bad?
  • The nickname for Lopez is RoLo. Not just a fantastic caramel-filled chocolate candy, now also an emerging veteran starter for the Chicago Cubs! “Emerging veteran” sounds like an oxymoron…
  • I once saw Neifi Perez walk, so anything is possible!
  • With 40 or so more episodes of heat stroke in the opposing dugout we can contend in this thing. Turn up the heat in the visitors lockeroom, I think we found an edge.
  • You mean his smoldering sensuality and luscious Latin looks don’t make you fluttery deep in your loins????? Must just be me!!
  • McNutt has blister issues, that must hurt. It hurts me to read about blisters and nuts in the same sentence.
  • Dear Cubs,
    Please remove that ridiculous “It’s A Way Of Life” banner with the W flag from your web site. Who are you kidding? At 39 – 60 and .394 the W is not a way of life.
  • So I go to the Ham Fighters web site, and guess what.. no pictures of ham.
    Guess you have to go somewhere else to see bacon strips on a legal pad. Probably Hendry’s desk no doubt.
  • That the Ham Fighters don’t have a mascot dressed like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird is a continual disappointment.
  • I bet “someone is interested in Grabow” triggered the spam moderation. No human would write that.
  • Keep in mind, also, that the article just says teams have shown interest in Grabow; it doesn’t specify what type of interest. Maybe other teams are in the market for a new scapegoat. Or a pool cleaner. Or they’re looking for a good time (“Who wants a mustache ride??”). Incidentally, John Grabow is owned in 0.0% of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues.
  • Wait a minute…..(pulling off Grabow’s mask) AHA!!! Just as I thought….it’s Will Ohman!!

Top Ten Wizzie Contributors

  1. Buddy-22
  2. Doc Raker-22
  3. jswanson-19
  4. Doug S.-18
  5. PackerCubBull-16
  6. Aaron-12
  7. Seymour Butts-12
  8. Chet-9
  9. Larry Sproul-8
  10. Rich Beckman-6

Poll of the Week

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Roundtable: Who’s Your Prospect?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Which prospect(s) are you most rooting for in the system?

They haven’t signed as of this writing, but I’m really pulling for Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach. The Cubs are starved for impact bats, and these players have a chance to develop into that category. Of course, no prospect discussion would be complete without a quick comment about Brett Jackson. John Sickels rates Jackson as a B+ prospect and “loves his broad base of skills.” Baseball America ranked Jackson as the 37th best prospect in baseball. He can’t get to Wrigley soon enough for me. ~ Buddy

I am rooting for Bryan LaHair to continue his success at the minor league level.  I am a fan of LaHair, who is still in the minors at age 28, because I think his numbers are deserving of a shot in the big leagues but his break has not yet come.  I know that Father Time is working against him, but there is still a chance for LaHair to have a career as a reserve or even a starting first baseman in the bigs.  In 93 games at Triple-A Iowa, his numbers are almost unbelievable.  LaHair owns a .346 average, has launched 28 home runs and drove in 78.  He leads the Pacific Coast League in homers, ranks fourth in RBIs and eighth in batting average.  He swings a powerful stick from the left side, which could be a major asset to the Cubs next season.  When I check the minor league box scores, I hope to see big numbers next too LaHair’s name because I think he has already earned a shot with the Cubs.  If he continues to produce, Bryan LaHair cannot be ignored much longer. ~ Brandon Vickrey

For position players, the prospect I’m rooting for most is also a guy with one of the prettiest swings in all of minor league baseball, Josh Vitters. He’s fallen off most Top Prospect lists because he swings at everything and it seems he’s allergic to take walks. His walk rate this season is a putrid 4.0% which puts him in the bottom three of the Southern League. On the plus side, he only strikes out in 10% of his at bats, which puts him in the top 10. If he never improves, he might be a Shea Hillenbrand type player, and that’s not a compliment for the number three overall pick in the draft. With a little plate discipline he can become much more than that and would be a boon to the Cubs future.

Another position player I’m interested in, who is not yet officially a Cub, is this past June’s second round draft pick, Dan Vogelbach. Watch this and tell me he’s not going to be a fun guy to watch!

The second coming of Prince Fielder!

As for pitchers, I’ll go with Austin Kirk, a third round pick in 2009. Looks to be a good control type pitcher, something the Cubs always seem to lack. Earlier this season he threw a no-hitter for Class A Peoria. Above average strikeouts, above average control, but a long ways off; he was selected by John Manuel as a Breakout Candidate and that selection appears to have been a good one. ~ Norm Bothwell

If you would have asked me this question last year, I would have ended up giving you two names, both hitters. Instead, this year I can give you the same exact names and yet one is a hitter and one is a newly converted pitcher. Ryan Flaherty is a versatile infielder that can even play in the OF if needed and may end up at third when all is said and done. He was picked in the supplemental picks of the first round in 2008 out of Vanderbilt. He’s got the potential to be a 20-25 homerun guy in the majors as his power develops. He’s slowly working his way through the system and I think you’ll see him with a chance to compete for a spot on the roster next year at some point. The fact that he lacks a true position could actually make him more valuable as a Mark DeRosa super-sub type guy.

On the mound, Kyler Burke is a guy I’ve been hoping on for the last four years since he was acquired from the Padres in the Michael Barrett deal. He’s a former 1st round pick of the Friars who just couldn’t turn the hype into production at the plate, save a really nice 2009 when things fell into place and he won the player of the year award in the Cubs system. Aside from that hiccup of good production, he just couldn’t hit with any consistency. This year, at age 23, he’s converted to the mound in an effort to try to harness the raw power his arm possesses and try to make it to the majors as a reliever. As of this writing, pitching for Peoria (Low-A), he’s appeared in eight games with an ERA of 3.92 in 20.2 innings of work. The encouraging part is the fact that he’s struck out 16 and walked just 7. ~ Joe Aiello

Although I don’t know if he still qualifies as a prospect, I’m rooting for Tyler Colvin to rediscover his swing and hit his way back up to the majors.  At times last season he excelled in a difficult, fluctuating role in the outfield.  But even when he wasn’t at his best, he was still as good as most of our other OF options.  I’d like to see what he can do with some consistent playing time, but we won’t find out until he can hit big league pitching again.

I’m also rooting for Wellington Castillo, mainly because I’m a fan of catchers who can hit, and his promotion to the bigs gives the Cubs some flexibility.  Should we try to trade Soto or dump Hill? Until Castillo takes the next step, neither really seems like a viable option. ~ Jeremiah Johnson

I’m pulling for Trevor Gretzky, 18 y/o firstbaseman, signed in the 7th round of the June 2011 baseball draft.  It’s not for Trevor’s sake that I hope he makes it, it’s for the sake of the Chicago Cubs.

Trevor’s “woulda been” baseball coach at San Diego State University, HOFer Tony Gwynn, says good things about young Mr. Gretzky.
Trevor impressed Cubs scouts at a predraft workout at Mesa, AZ.
Trevor played football at Oaks Christian H.S. (Westlake Village, CA) along with the sons of some other famous people (until a torn labrum ended his season).
Trevor grew up in sunny Southern California.
Trevor signed for an “undisclosed amount” (which usually indicates the contract is worth more that the league’s recommended slot).

Baseball America says of Trevor Gretzky:

  • He’s a “poor runner”.
  • BA questioned his defense, and added
  • “He has plenty of holes in his swing.” ~ CubbieDude
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Game 102 – Three In A Row!

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Cubs 5, Astros 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What went right:

  • Offense – Back to back doubles by Byrd and Soto to lead off the 2nd gave us the lead, then 1 out later Barney drove in Soto. Garza got his first career RBI with a single that scored Barney. The second inning was a great show for the offense. Soriano had the game-tying RBI single in the 8th inning to score Byrd. When the game went into extras, Marlon Byrd led off the 10th with a triple. The Astros then decided to intentionally walk Tony Campana (What??), who stole second base without a fight. Then Darwin Barney got a free pass, and Jeff Baker had the RBI single to end the game.
  • Defense – Soriano made a surprisingly good, waist-high catch. Soto had a great arm by gunning down a man trying to steal second. Those kinds of plays are my favorite.
  • Garza – Once again, Garza pitched an excellent game. He gave up 2 ER in 7 IP while striking out 9. He even helped his own cause with his first career RBI in the second inning. Let’s keep him around for a while.

What went wrong:

  • Clint Barmes hit a solo home run with 1 out in the first inning.
  • Garza gave up a leadoff walk in the 3rd, then loaded the bases.
  • Samardzija
  • Marmol had some control issues and loaded the bases, but luckily he got out of the jam without allowing any runs.
  • Barney failed to execute a sac bunt to move Soto over. Why does Quade try to move Soto on a sac bunt? He is so slow. It makes no sense. Have Barney hit or do a hit and run. Or even better, pinch run someone (Campana, maybe???).
  • Castro took too long to get set and allowed an infield hit in the 9th. That same runner advanced to third on a misplay by Campana (the dugout did not offer him any help on that play, though. They should have gotten out of the way.).


  • The Cubs finally won three in a row!!
  • Why does Quade stand in the corner of the dugout like that? He should be conversing with his team or something.
  • Marlon Byrd played his 1,000th career game today.


Despite getting no help from his bullpen, Garza was fantastic. We need to get guys that can back up his great outings. He lowered his ERA to 3.72 and leads the team with 119 Ks. On that note, our bullpen stinks. Samardzija gave up the go-ahead 2 run homer to Carlos Lee in the 8th. Quade should not be using him in those situations. Lopez wasn’t completely terrible, but I like him as a starter more than as a set up guy, and Marmol needs more work.

It was great to see our offense come through in the clutch. Campana stole 2nd without contest, and everybody’s favorite Cub (sarcasm, people) Jeff Baker came through in the clutch. Thank goodness that we beat the Astros.

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

1st Star – Marlon Byrd (.455 WPA)

2nd Star – Michael Bourn (.299 WPA)

3rd Star – Matt Garza (.254 WPA)

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Game 101 – Half a Win is Better Than No Win at All

Sunday, July 24th, 2011


Cubs 5, Astros 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Lucky or Good?  In his last five starts combined, Randy Wells has allowed twelve runs in the first inning.  Today he didn’t allow any.  It wasn’t for lack of trying–he gave up a lead-off single and a walk before retiring the next three hitters.  But instead of falling apart early, he held on to throw six strong innings for the win.
  • Do the Hustle  Marlon Byrd led off the Cubs scoring Saturday with a long homer to center.  His second hit–an infield single in the seventh–was classic Byrd.  Sprinting out of the box, Byrd was able to advance to second on a bad throw from Astros’ 3B Chris Johnson.  If the rumors are true and Byrd is headed to a contender in the next week or so, I’ll miss his constant hustle.  It’s a rare commodity with this Cubs team.
  • I Want You to Want Me, Part 1  Kosuke Fukudome didn’t start on Saturday–he came in as a defensive replacement in the eighth, when it was still a one-run game.  He tripled in the bottom of the inning (we can thank Hunter Pence for taking a bad line and stretching an easy stand-up double into a triple), and scored the first of three insurance runs.  I hope the scouts were still watching–that kind of hitting is his ticket out of town.
  • I Want You to Want Me, Part 2  Geovany Soto hit a solo humerun to lead off the fifth inning.  He also ran out an infield single in the eighth, bringing in two more insurance runs to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead.  I don’t know how much his performance today will interest scouts around the league–certainly it has to do more than the Golden Sombrero he posted yesterday.  But maybe–just maybe–this is the kind of performance that will warm the cold, dead heart of our blog-father Joe, finally bringing Soto into his good graces.  Geovany isn’t holding his breath.

What Went Wrong

  • Riding the Pine  Alfonso Soriano didn’t play today.  He can’t increase his trade value if he doesn’t play.  On the other hand, he can’t decrease it either.  Perhaps this was a positive after all.  Turns out Soriano did play, he just didn’t make a dent.  Only two strikeouts and a line-out before getting replaced in the eighth for defense to further drive down his trade value.  However the lesson here is simple: don’t recap games late at night.
  • That’s Gonna Leave a Mark  I understand using Marmol in the ninth to get him some work without the game on the line.  And I suppose it worked out alright–Marmol didn’t give up any runs.  He did however give up a lead-off single and then hit the next batter, Carlos Corporan, on the ankle, forcing him to leave the game.  Marmol then retired the next three batters to finish the game.  Sure, it worked.  But it was ugly, and not really the kind of improvement he needs to show the Cubs.


Saturday was the Cubs’ second consecutive win, meaning Sunday they’ll try again to win three-straight for the first time this season.  Not that it will necessarily mark a huge turning point for the season, but it would be nice not to have to hear about that particularly lousy stat for the rest of the year.  Hopefully tomorrow won’t be their last chance to get that third win, but facing down the Astros might make it their best one yet.

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

1st Star – Randy Wells (.261)

2nd Star – Marlon Byrd (.148)

3rd Star – Sean Marshall (.125)

Cubs Pitching: .501 WPA

Cubs Hitting: -.001 WPA

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