Archive for July, 2011

Game 100 – Does it Count as a Full Win When You Beat the Astros?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Cubs 4, Astros 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game


  • Carlos Zambrano – My first thought when I turned on the game, seeing that I don’t live in Chicago, is that I hoped it wasn’t hot during the game. I had talked with my brother the other day and he told me about how hot it had been this week so I immediately feared dehydration for Zambrano, which would lead to an early exit due to cramps. Instead, we got an ugly looking quality start that was just enough to net the Cubs a win. He flirted with danger in the early innings on a regular basis and usually you get burned when you flirt with the whore that is walks and wildness. He got out of it each time and when the dust settled, exited with a two run lead, only surrendering two runs. He also contributed at the plate, as is usually the case, with a nice bunt that he beat out at first base.
  • Bud Norris Baserunning Brain Fart – Not that it would have made a difference in the final result, but in the 3rd inning, Bud Norris should have scored from third base on a line drive out by Hunter Pence. With one out, Pence ripped a line drive that had the looks of a hard hit single that was going to drop in front of Soriano. Instead, because of how hard it was hit, it hung up for Soriano to catch waste high. It’s hard to hard on a guy that doesn’t get on base on a regular basis, but you can blame the third base coach for not informing him what to do. He was positive that ball was going to fall so he started for home only to see it be caught. The better plan of action would have been to hold your ground at third, watch it drop and then sprint home, or see it get caught and be ready to tag. Either way you’re scoring.
  • Soriano Power – Coming into the game, Soriano was hitting .048 since the All Star break. With his name littered all over the trade rumors these days, it’s imperative for him to show some power and so some presence at the plate. Please Sori, hit your way out of town. Today he did his job with a double and a home run.
  • Bullpen Effectiveness – I’ll be honest with you. The bullpen these days scares the ever lovin’ crap out of me. Thankfully it was a blemish free bullpen day.


  • Geovany Soto was hitless in four at bats with a pair of strikeouts. On a positive note, he looked dreamy doing it, right Liz?
  • It took five pitchers to get through three innings at the end of the game. This drives me batty and I think it borderlines on over thinking the concept of being a manager.
  • I try not to pay attention to the guest in the booth with Len and Bob in the bottom half of the 7th, but Jeff Garland just annoyed the piss out of me. He was too loud, talked too much, and wasn’t very funny. Ironically, he made the comment that he gets a kick out of it when Len and Bob give the guest the early hook before the inning ends and I kept hoping today would be the day that happened, with two pitching changes in the inning. No such luck.

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

1st Star – Aramis Ramirez (.289 WPA)

2nd Star – Michael Bourn (.204 WPA)

3rd Star – Alfonso Soriano (.180 WPA)

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Let’s Talk Blueprints

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Every team needs a blueprint—some plan of action laid out by the front office.  For example, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ blueprint has been to trade away young talent and stock up their farm system.  And although the cycle of dumping young stars before they became too expensive to keep seemed endless, they are finally starting to reap the rewards.

Contrast that with the Yankees’ blueprint of routinely outbidding the rest of the league for free agent talent, and largely using their farm system to trade for the players they can’t buy.

Our own Jim Hendry’s blueprint for the Cubs looks like the maze from the back of a children’s restaurant menu, covered in crayon and ketchup stains.

But rather than further railing on Hendry’s failures and inadequacies this week, I want to look ahead to what the future of the Cubs could be by looking back at the past of one recent “worst-to-first” success story: the Texas Rangers.

In 2007 the Rangers finished dead last in the AL West, nineteen games out of first place.  Just three years later, they represented the AL in the World Series.  How did they make such a dramatic turnaround?

Any story you read about the Rangers’ success starts with Jon Daniels.  Daniels was twenty-eight when he was named GM of the Rangers—the youngest GM in baseball history, and he was an unpopular choice with some Rangers fans before his team ever stepped onto the field.  After taking over in the 2005-2006 offseason, he traded away Alfonso Soriano, who went on to have a 40-40 year for the Nationals*.  He also traded away Texas native Chris Young and minor league prospect Adrian Gonzalez (yes, that one) to the Padres.

*Daniels made the controversial deal to open a spot for 2B prospect Ian Kinsler.  Rangers fans would quickly get over it.

In 2006, Texas hovered in and out of contention.  Daniels tried to put the team over the top at the trade deadline with a deal to bring Carlos Lee to the Rangers, but the team was never able to fight their way back into a playoff spot, finishing the season in third place, thirteen games out of first.

That following offseason, Daniels let Lee, Mark DeRosa, and MVP-candidate Gary Matthews Jr. go in free agency, and traded away John Danks.  What was left of the team in 2007 team quickly took up residence in the AL West cellar.  Spending almost $70M on a team entrenched in fourth place for most of the season, Daniels was faced with some hard choices and a seething fanbase.

That’s when the young GM laid out a five-year strategy that emphasized player development and long-term growth.  Under Daniels, the Rangers would target and acquire young prospects in trades, put an increased emphasis on the draft and developing talent, and build a young, winning team from the ground up.

He kick-started “the plan” at the 2007 trade deadline, sending Mark Texeira and Ron Mahay to the Braves for young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor league prospects Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones.  He also traded veteran reliever Eric Gagne to Boston for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre.

The Texeira trade in particular was a major risk.  The power-hitting 1B had one more year of arbitration ahead of him, but when he rejected a long-term contract extension from the Rangers, Daniels seized on the opportunity to restock his farm system.  And while Saltalamacchia was the only big leaguer at the time of the deal, Daniels and his staff were confident in the investment they had made.

At the same time, Daniels wasn’t tight-fisted with his prospects.  After the 2007 season, he traded Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera to the Reds for OF slugger Josh Hamilton**.  Hamilton’s past made him a questionable investment to many teams, but Texas gambled that his best baseball was still ahead of him.  He rewarded their confidence by becoming a four-time All Star and the 2010 AL MVP.

**The Cubs briefly had possession of Hamilton, but sold him to the Reds as part of a pre-arranged deal.  I’m not sure of the price tag, but I can’t imagine it was enough to stomach the season Hamilton had for the Reds, and the career he has had in Texas.

Daniels also took a risk on noted head-case Milton Bradley in 2007, signing him to a one-year deal***.  Bradley thrived in the Texas clubhouse, posting one of the best statistical and most controversy-free seasons of his checkered career.

***Daniels had similar success in 2010 signing another slugger with something to prove—Vladimir Guerrero.

The results?  The 2008 Rangers showed a slight improvement in the standings.  They preached patience to the fans and fielded a team of veterans like Gerald Laird, Michael Young, and Bradley, while developing younger guys like Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis.

However, the 2009 Rangers were much more competitive.  They posted the team’s first winning record in five seasons, and finished second in both he AL West and Wild Card races.  More important, that young core of players began to take shape at the major-league level.  Kinsler was already a fixture, but Andrus and Feliz were just making their debuts.  And young OF Nelson Cruz (part of the Carlos Lee deal) reclaimed his starting spot in the lineup.

The rest you already know.  The Rangers jettisoned older players like Vincente Padilla, Marlon Byrd, and Kevin Millwood before the 2010 season, and Daniels’ core of young stars carried them to the World Series.  Kinsler, Andrus, Hamilton, and Feliz were All Stars, and Feliz set the save record for rookies (40).  Maybe the best indicator of how far the team had progressed is that they were buyers at the 2010 trade deadline, not sellers, picking up Cliff Lee to bolster their pitching staff for the playoff run.

Daniels had built a winner—one that beat the Yankees’ collection of expensive talent.  He had transformed his team from a perennial doormat to a legitimate contender—not just in 2010, but for the foreseeable future.

The question is, can Jim Hendry or his replacement do the same for the Cubs?  The current roster has more overpriced veterans and no Texeira-esque trade bait—the closest we’ve got is Aramis Ramirez (who doesn’t want to be traded yet) or Sean Marshall (who, it seems, is too valuable to trade).  So while one clutch trade probably won’t kick-start a team-wide transformation like it did for the Rangers, the Cubs could—and should—follow Daniels’ simple blueprint for success.  We need to shed some wasted payroll, get younger, and build for the future.

What that looks like is up for discussion.

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Things Could Be Worse, You Could Be a Phillies Fan

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

These are not exactly salad days for Cubs fans. Full disclosure here: I actually don’t know what salad days are, but I’m pretty sure they don’t involve being a loyal follower of a terrible team (potentially historically terrible) with an overmatched manager that appears to be edging nearer to a complete meltdown as he oversees a roster full of  “untouchables” and “untradeables”.  There is no way to put a positive spin on what Cubs fans have watched this year…but it could be worse.

Imagine for a moment what it must be like to publicly admit to being a fan of the losingest team in the history of professional sports. Consider the pain of supporting the only franchise in any sport that has amassed 10,000 losses, a franchise that has treated its fans to just 13 postseason appearances and 7 pennants in it’s 125+ year history (as compared to 16 and 10 for the Cubs). Think what it must be like to know that your favorite team would have to go undefeated for the next six and a half seasons just to get back to a .500 record all-time. Yes, just think how painful it must be to be a Philadelphia Phillies fan.

Ok, saying such a thing today as the Phillies sit atop the National League East yet again and appear to be cruising towards their fifth consecutive post-season appearance may seem a bit absurd, and with good reason…it is. No, sorrow for a Phillies fan was not a common sentiment this week as the visitors from the East came into Wrigley and dropped the Cubs’ to 21-games under .500. It was tough to watch the two teams and see any parallels between the organizations at all.

It’s easy to forget that the Phillies haven’t been such a juggernaut for long, in fact, it wasn’t so long ago that they were just like us.  Five years ago, I moved from the Midwest to my current home in Philadelphia and upon my arrival discovered an unexpected kinship with Phillies supporters. Here was a group that, like that of the Cubs, considered themselves to be the heir to the thrown of “most tortured fan base” following the World Series titles that had recently been won by the Sox (both Red and White). I would have spirited discussions with my new friends about which of us had put up with more disappointment and would argue about which of our teams would finally break through with a title first.

It is amazing to see how quickly fortunes and perceptions can change as we all now know who ended up being on the right side of that argument and there is certainly no debate any longer about which franchise is the most tortured.  While the Cubs enjoyed a modicum of success in 2007 and 2008, we find ourselves right back where we so often do – waiting for our day in the sun, all the while assuming that sun will burn out before we ever get there and knowing full well that we’ll be more than happy with a brief break in the clouds. Phillies fans, on the other hand, will never be able to find enjoyment in mediocrity again. Now that they’ve tasted paradise, it is going to be extremely difficult for them when their run finally ends. Take a good hard look and realize how close the Cubs were to becoming what the Phillies are today …a traditionally bad team that will never again be able to handle failure. So rejoice Cubs fans and take solace in the fact that no matter how bad things get, we very well may never have to suffer the same fate as those poor, poor fans from Philadelphia.

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Northside Archives: Repeating History

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

July 19, 2011, Des Moines Register, Rick Brown interviews Cubs GM Jim Hendry.  “I’ve been on both sides of it,” Hendry said.  “I haven’t changed any[thing] since we won 97 games in 2008.  I’ve worked just as hard.”

Indeed, Jim Hendry HAS partied like it was 2008.  The 2008 Cubs had Rich Hill, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Ronny Cedeno, Casey McGehee, Micah Hoffpauir, Eric Patterson, Felix Pie, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot just to name a few.

Hendry turned that stack of prospects into 1.5 years of Rich Harden and 1 season of Aaron Heilman.  Seriously, that’s it.

(Note: Since we basically forced the Dodgers to take Theriot in the Lilly deal, and they didn’t re-sign him, it’s intellectually dishonest to say that we got anything back for Theriot)

Three things strike me about that list of former Cubs.  First, of the guys that were traded, none were traded at the peak of their value.  Second, some of those guys never got a fair shake with the Cubs – a legit shot at an everyday job.  Lastly, what we received for that host of prospects is pathetic; a year and a half of a chronically injured 5-inning pitcher and a year of a mediocre reliever – not coincidently, those are two positions of excess with the 2011 Cubs.

“We’re not going to move people that we think are going to help us,” Hendry said.  “Why would I trade Sean Marshall? Why would I trade Darwin Barney? Those calls kind of stop quickly.  It makes no sense.”

As a refresher, let’s recap exactly how each player was jettisoned: Hill, Gallagher, Murton, Cedeno, Patterson, Pie, Theriot, and Fontenot were all traded.  McGehee was released.  Hoffpauir asked to be released.

Hendry traded Cedeno, Pie, and Hill mostly because they were out of options and unlikely to make the roster.  In particular, Hill’s trade value had reached an absurd high after 2007.  He had been a part of a rumored package for the Cubs to acquire Carl Crawford.  Whether the Rays were truly interested or not is of little consequence, the rumors illustrate how high Hill’s value was at that juncture.  Pie and Cedeno never had quite that buzz about them, but certainly we didn’t need to wait to dump them until their value was at its absolute lowest.  Frankly, the Orioles and Mariners did us a favor by trading for these guys, it’s very likely that they would have been waived to start the season and could’ve been picked up for nothing.

The parallel is Sean Marshall, Darwin Barney, and insert any OF that the Cubs have rotated up to the MLB roster this year.  Yes, Marshall has proven more at the MLB level than Hill ever did.  And maybe we won’t be forced to trade them because we run out of options.  But has Hendry learned NOTHING?  Barney’s sample size is incredibly limited, and I’m sure Marshall is excited that he’s part of the Cubs plan to be good again in 3 years.

McGehee and Hoffpauir weren’t given legit opportunities to stick with the MLB team.  McGehee took his act to Milwaukee where he has flourished.  Hoffpauir took his to Japan.  Hendry received a change purse full of yen in return.  Yeah, the Cubs had All-Stars at first and third – all the more reason to trade these guys EARLY when they’ve yet to realize their potential.  Or we could have moved them to the outfield since it seems to be our current philosophy that anyone can play the outfield.

To be sure, some of those guys were a hot crap to begin with and the Cubs likely didn’t have GMs blowing up the phone to pry them away.   That list has turned into 2 guys in Japan, 1 washed up pitcher, 4 utility players, 1 questionable MLB pitcher, a disgruntled veteran infielder, and Casey McGehee.  I’m thrilled that we hung on to each and every one of those players because “we thought they were going to help us” – only to realize that they weren’t and then subsequently dump them at the least valuable point of their career.

The Cubs aren’t the only team with hot prospects that never pan out – it only seems that way because we hang on to every single player until he DOESN’T pan out.  It makes our system appear more barren than it is, and it gives trade partners more reason for heavy scrutiny when assessing a Cubs prospect.

Of Brett Jackson, Hendry said, “I think he’ll be a 10-year big leaguer.”

Good to know, since Hendry is so familiar with promoting guys who turn out to play a decade in the majors.  Oh wait; we don’t have a SINGLE one under Hendry’s tenure.  Zambrano was technically promoted before Hendry took over.  IF Brett Jackson is so incredible, he better crack the roster soon; but even if that happens, we know that Hendry will never trade him at the peak (or even near the peak) of his value.

(Note: Yes, Castro will almost surely be a 10-year vet, but there’s the rub – between Zambrano and Castro has there been one?  Nope!)

I fear for the future of Tony Campana, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney, Chris Carpenter, Brett Jackson, Sean Marshall, and the host of other Cubs’ prospects who will be forced to rot on the Cubs roster until they are so old and so unproven that their trade value is completely exhausted and they’re sent to play for the Orioles or Pirates (although that’s an enticing offer at the moment).

To answer Hendry’s rhetorical question: you’d trade Marshall or Barney because it’s in the BEST interests of the Cubs to get the most of our prospects possible.  Sometimes that means trading Sean Marshall, a left-handed setup man, when capable left-handed setup men are at a premium (i.e. the trade deadline) and the Cubs current roster lacks the requisite talent to compete.  Marshall boasts a current WAR (wins above replacement player) of 1.0 – fantastic.  Glad we’re hanging onto that single win because we MIGHT be good in 3 years, when Sean Marshall MIGHT be good, and we MIGHT need him then!

Hendry wanted his record checked against 2008.  He’s right to compare the two years.  Unfortunately for him, his performance that year didn’t mirror the on-field product.

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Game 99 – Worley Whirls a Gem

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Phillies 9, Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Wrong

  • Ryan Dempster struggled from the start and lasted only three innings.  He hurt himself by walking three and surrendered six earned runs.
  • Vance Worley helped himself with a two out double in the second with nobody on base.  The Phillies ended up scoring three runs in the inning, which should have been over with two down and the pitcher batting.
  • The Cubs scratched out just one hit in the first six innings against Worley, failing to take advantage of a hitter’s day. It was the first time Worley ever faced the Cubs.
  • Carlos Pena was charged with two errors on a very sloppy play in the sixth inning which led to a Phillies run.
  • Alfonso Soriano bounced into a double play to end the seventh, the only frame in which the Cubs scratched out a run.
  • Jimmy Rollins homered from both sides of the plate to lead the charge.  His longball against Grabow in the eighth immediately made it an eight run game again, just after the Cubs had picked up a run.

What Went Right

  • Ramon Ortiz ate up three innings and did a decent job, allowing two runs, only one of which was earned.
  • Geovany Soto broke up Worley’s no-hitter in the fifth inning.  Later in the game, Geo picked up the team’s only RBI.
  • The Cubs put together a string of baserunners in the seventh and were able to pick up a run.
  • Darwin Barney lashed a double to lead-off the eighth.
  • Kerry Wood worked a shutout inning.

The Takeaway

I know the conditions were difficult for pitching, but I was really disappointed with Dempster’s outing today.  He needs to cut down on the walks and start keeping the Cubs in games with more consistency.   Today was the type of game you expect to see when the best team in the league meets up with one of the worst. 

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

1st Star – Vance Worley (.146 WPA)

2nd Star – Ryan Howard (.098 WPA)

3rd Star – Michael Martinez (.097 WPA)

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