Archive for August, 2011

Game 125 – Barney Trouble For the Cards; Cubs Walk-Off Winners

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Cubs 5, Cardinals 4 (10 Innings)

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right

  • Cubs Win! Cubs Win! – we won today, then we went out and beat the Cards.
  • Darwin Barney – a triple, a HR. Barney flexed his muscle from the 8-hole today, perhaps with a bit of help from the Cardinal OFs.  He was way more crucial to this win than FanGraph WPA stat would indicate. Hey, this just in – Cubs kick GM to the curb!
  • Starlin Castro – another two hits and a stolen base. He’s indefatigable; and no errors, miracle of miracles.  Jim Hendry destroyed.
  • Aramis Ramirez – good at-bats all day. A hit, two walks, RBI…he was in the middle of it. Did I mention Jim Hendry was fired?
  • Geovany Soto – two hits, an RBI, scored the winning run after he’d managed to advance on a sac bunt.  He’s up to .241 now, he’s going to “Derrek Lee” his way to a decent season after all. But everything is a bit rosier today since the Cubs canned Jim Hendry.
  • Tyler Colvin – game winning RBI off of the bench.  It was a good day for the Cubs bench, Pena had a walk and a run scored, DeWitt had an RBI triple, and Colvin won the game. Last Friday, Zambrano quits; this Friday, Hendry is cut loose.  Next Friday…

What Went Wrong

  • Mike Quade – Ricketts did half the job this morning. After seeing Jeff Baker again in the cleanup spot, he better hire a GM to finish the job for him. If Baker has to play against lefties, fine – but why is he our cleanup hitter? I don’t think Jeff Baker’s Mom would fill out a lineup card with her son batting fourth. Hendry left some stale Fritos and cheese curds in the top drawer of his desk – fair warning.
  • I Don’t Care, We Won Twice Today – other stuff might qualify here, but everyone else gets a free pass from me today. Even Campana’s stupid base running blunder in the 9th can be overlooked since we’ve rid ourselves of the millstone around the neck of the front office. To the next GM of the Cubs, “you’re welcome” for the urinal trough in the executive washroom.  Hendry was a big fan of “always being at the game.”

The Takeaway, Part I
Randy Wells was decent, no runs in the first; faltered in the 2nd, but got it back together for an average day. More often than not when he leaves the game, it seems like the bullpen needs to throw up zeros to have any chance to win – that was the case today, the bullpen did and we won.

A few other miscellaneous notes:

  • Campana’s baserunning mistake was atrocious. He NEVER looked at Ivan DeJesus – NEVER. It was Bob Dernier who finally got his attention to come back to first. Theriot and Furcal really hornswoggled him though – can’t be making those mistakes with no outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game.
  • Quade’s insistence that Baker hit fourth allowed LaRussa to hold the Cubs hostage in the bottom of the 8th. With Baker due up, LaRussa could leave his righty on the mound until we announced Pena; then LaRussa goes and gets his lefty to pitch to Pena. If instead, Baker is hitting 7th or 8th, you can use someone OTHER than Pena to face a righty, stick Pena in the pitcher’s spot as part of a double switch and avoid using two guys while never getting a single favorable matchup. Pena worked a walk and managed to score on Soto’s double, so maybe it’s alright if Pena sees lefties once in a while – but Baker doesn’t need to be hitting fourth.
  • Four double plays – that’s right we hit into four double plays. We won this game?
  • Bullpen was pretty good, 3 guys (Samardzija, Marmol, Marshall) all with an inning of work and no one threw more than 15 pitches or got into real trouble.

The Takeaway, Part II
We beat the Cardinals and Jim Hendry was fired. This might be more hope than I’ve had as a Cub fan at any point since I drove away from Dodger Stadium after Game 3 of the 2008 NLDS (dodging every manner of object being thrown at my vehicle and the verbal abuse hurled by the angry-but-celebratory Dodger mob).

Hendry always came across as a nice guy, very professional in how he handled his job – but also a little behind the curve. No one has ever accused him of being the smartest guy at the table. He was reactionary, not revolutionary. His off-season shopping lists were made from perceived Cub needs – not from the standpoint of where value was in the market. Consequently he overpaid for positions of “need” and watched those players underachieve, thereby creating a “new” position of need. Look no further than the rotating pie display in RF – it’s been a position of need since we dumped Sammy Sosa.

But this weekend has started out right, with a win and a regime change.


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

1st Star – Geovany Soto (.301 WPA)

2nd Star – Tyler Colvin (.296 WPA)

3rd Star – Jason Motte (.278 WPA)

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Cubs Spend Big on Draft Picks

Friday, August 19th, 2011

The deadline for signing players from the 2011 draft was last night and the Cubs followed through on their commitment to spending more money on the draft.

Per Baseball America (pay article), the Cubs paid over slot for each of their first 5 picks.  The Cubs dolled out bonuses of $5.4 on their first 5 picks versus major league baseball’s recommendation of $3.2 million.  In addition, the Cubs spent big on 11th rounder Shawon Dunston Jr., who received a $1.275 million bonus, and 14th rounder Dillon Maples, whose $2.5 million was second only to first round pick Javier Baez ($2.625 million).

The Cubs signed 34 of their 50 picks in the draft, their highest number since the 2006 draft (also 34).  More importantly, the Cubs signed 21 of their first 25 picks, slightly below the average for the last 5 years (21.8), but still a high percentage.

Overall, I am impressed with the Cubs draft and their willingness to spend to get the players they want (and need).  It shows that they are committed to building from within and its not just the same lip service we’ve been hearing for years.

By opening up their checkbook, the Cubs were able to aim high for top talent that fell to the lower rounds due to signability concerns, such as Maples and Dunston.  Scouting Director Tim Wilken called it the best draft in his 6 years here and I wholeheartedly agree.

We may not see dividends on this year’s draft for a few years, but its good to see the Cubs finally commit to the future.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

The Cubs Have Fired Jim Hendry

Friday, August 19th, 2011

“My family and I appreciate Jim’s dedication during our time with the Cubs and thank him for his overall 17 years of service to the Cubs organization,” team chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “It is time for a fresh approach in our baseball leadership and our search begins immediately for our next general manager.” -quoted from

Tom Ricketts took a big step toward becoming the owner many Cubs fans hoped he would be today by firing longtime GM Jim Hendry.  The Cubs have promoted Randy Bush as interim GM.  As the story develops throughout the day, please check back here for the latest details and reactions from our writers.

Update 12:05pm

In a press conference this morning, Jim Hendry revealed that he’s known about his dismissal since July 22.  He stayed on for the last several weeks to maintain continuity and oversee the signing of the Cubs’ draft picks.  His inactivity at the trade deadline was intentional–he wanted to allow the next guy to make those decisions.  The wisdom of that is debatable.

Update 1:00pm

Tom Ricketts held a press conference today at Wrigley Field to talk about the firing of Jim Hendry and the state of the Cubs.  In addition to the fact that Tom uses the “Ah-OOO-ga” ringtone for his phone, here’s what we learned.

  • Ricketts kept Hendry on to maintain consistency through the draft pick signings.  He said Hendry develops relationships with the draftees, and he didn’t want to lose any of them because of Hendry’s absence.
  • He said that inactivity at the trade deadline was not merely bitterness or lethargy on Hendry’s part.  The Cubs simply weren’t overwhelmed by any of the offers they had, so Hendry and Ricketts elected to hold onto what the team has currently and let the next guy make his own decisions.  Don’t expect interim GM Randy Bush to make any major moves before the end of the season.
  • Crane Kenney’s job is safe for now.  Ricketts made it clear that Kenney’s job is to run the business side of the team, and that the new GM would answer directly to him.  Don’t know what the chain of command has looked like in the past, but that seems like a non-demotion demotion to me.  If nothing else, it means that Ricketts is taking the reins and the responsibility for the on-the-field product from now on.
  • Regarding the GM search, Ricketts is not considering any in-house candidates.  He’s looking for a baseball veteran who has a history of winning.  He wants an analytical mind, but not just a sabermatrician.
  • He does want to keep Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken on the staff.  He essentially said he’d go to bat with the new GM to keep those guys in the organization.
  • He also made some comments about educating younger Cubs in the history of the organization.  He mentioned that most of them only knew that the Cubs haven’t won a championship in over 100 years.  To remedy that, the Cubs have put together a book for their players on team history.  Perhaps there’s not much to be taken from all that, but to me it speaks to the culture of the club, and some of the changes that Ricketts wants to see.
  • Ricketts thought sending Zambrano to the Disqualified List was the right move.  It turned out to be Hendry’s last.

Update 2:00pm–My take so far:  Forget the sarcastic commentary on the refurbished bathrooms and the bison dogs.  This is first distinct move Ricketts has made to put his fingerprints on the Cubs since he bought the team.  The comment he made about the chain of command seems particularly loaded–he’s taking full and direct responsibility for the baseball side of things.  Crane Kenney doesn’t factor into the on-the-field product, as the new GM will answer directly to the Ricketts.

I’ve been preaching that Ricketts needed to make this move since I started writing at VFTB, so I’m ecstatic.  Sure, there’s still a lot of looming questions ahead, and this doesn’t automatically make us a playoff team, or even competitive.  But the culture and the roadmap for the organization needed to change.  And today is a big first step.

I’m not sure I fully understand the four-week gap in telling Hendry and telling the world.  But I hope Ricketts has used that time to quietly start his search for a new GM.  It sounds like he has a specific type in mind–he might even have it narrowed down to a few names.  But I think you can assume he doesn’t intend to wait until the end of the season to bring the new guy in–if he is going to wait, then the timing of today’s announcement is even more puzzling.

I will say this for Hendry–I have no doubt he loves the Cubs.  The tears he spoke through in his press conference this morning were real, and they didn’t go unnoticed.  I’ve accused him before of only working hard enough to keep his job, and maybe that was unfair.  Maybe the job was simply over his head?  Whatever the case, I’m not interested in picking over his corpse today.  I doubt this is the end of his MLB career–after all, he is beloved by many in the organization, and praised often throughout baseball.  My guess is he winds up with another team somewhere down the road.

So farewell Jim.  And hello Ricketts-era Cubs baseball.

Reaction from Jedi:

It’s been a long time coming, but the satisfaction today is sweet.  At the very least we’ll have someone new to blame for our troubles.  It’s a point in the Ricketts’ favor that they’ve finally dumped ol’ back-slapping Jim Hendry.  I had essentially given up hope that they would do so before the start of next year, so today is like Christmas in August for me.  He’s not the worst GM we’ve had, but he’d worn out his welcome with me sometime around 2005.

My outlook on the Cubs has totally changed – there IS hope for tomorrow.  Tomorrow brings a new GM, a GM who might not re-sign our corner infielders to multi-year albatross deals, a GM who might get a manager who has a clue what he’s doing, a GM that’s able to properly value talent, a GM who isn’t seen by his colleagues as the moron in the room.  (Don’t get me wrong, this could wind up being the precursor to Larry Himes Part Deux – but I’m not going to assume the worst case, yet.)

Reaction from Norm:

I’m not surprised.  As I wrote in my Devils Advocate article, I think this was the plan all along;  1) let the contracts run their course until they are movable.  2) Losing Hendry probably means losing Tim Wilken, so wait until Wilken can work his magic in the draft and THEN fire Hendry.  3) Hire a guy like Cashman after 2011 because money is available and changes can finally be made.

Ricketts has a LONG term plan since he’s in this for life.  Two years isn’t that long in the grand scheme.  It might seem like an eternity to Cub fans, but it’s only the beginning of the transformation of the franchise.

Reaction from Buddy:

Even though Jim Hendry enjoyed some success in Chicago, it’s obvious that the time had come for the Cubs to move on.  It will be very interesting to see what direction the Cubs take.  Will the next GM be a household name like Brian Cashman?  Will they try to find the next rising front-office star?  Whoever it is, I hope the new head cheese understands the danger of five-plus-year mega-contracts.  Unless you’re signing the next A-Rod in his prime, those contracts are often poison to a franchise.  Even more so for pitchers.

Reaction from Mark:

I’m sad to see the firing, wish it didn’t have to end this way.  But ultimately Hendry had to pay the price – the team did not peform up to expectations and he was given ample supplies of money to get the job done.  Best of luck to Jim in his future endeavors, hopefully the Cubs can land Dave Dumbrowski or Larry Beinfest, perhaps they could persuade one of those guys to come over by combining Crane Kenney’s job with Hendry’s.

Reaction from CubbieDude:

I didn’t think Mr. Ricketts had it in him.  But I’m happy to be proven wrong.  This is only the first step, but it was a necessary first step.

I see the negotiations have already begun: Gillick wants a “higher than GM position,” Ricketts wants a “GM who doesn’t answer to my president, but who answers directly to me!”

Good luck Mr. Ricketts, and welcome back to Cub Nation.  (My apologies to the screenwriters of “Casablanca.”)

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Observations from a Smokies Game

Friday, August 19th, 2011

On Sunday, August 14 I had the true pleasure of seeing the Cubs’ AA Tennessee Smokies play the Florida Marlins’ Jacksonville Suns at Smokies Park in beautiful Kodak, Tennessee.

Some of the names you might recognize on this Smokies’ team are:

along with perennial VFTB favorite Austin Bibens-Dirkx who was actually scheduled to pitch the game I saw except they went and sent him to Iowa. (Sheesh! My luck!) Watch for some of these names in September, I have a feeling you’ll see a few.

I thought I might share some observations from the game.

  • With the exception of the Cubs game during which Geovany Soto smiled and nodded at me (cementing our love affair for life in my mind), this minor league game was more fun than any big league game in recent memory.
  • The players on both teams were gracious and accommodating, often without being asked. The two children in our party (ages 5 and 9) left the game with five baseballs, two of them signed by many players. I have to think nearly every child in the ballpark (and a good number of adults) left with something. Attendance = 3,004.
  • Mike Quade is apparently moonlighting as the Suns’ manager. I suspect the pure exhaustion of managing both teams can explain at least a few of his bizarre managerial decisions.

  • The Cubs appear to be continuing their love affair with short scrappy guys. The Tennessee Smokies players (despite what their stats sheets say) are tiny. Being only 4’11” tall myself, it doesn’t take much to dwarf me. But even though the Suns seemed “normal sized” — some big guys and some shorties — the home boys were teeny. I thought maybe they were just too young to have bulked up yet (a’la Tyler Colvin 2009 to 2010) but that’s not it. They’re bulky. In fact I can’t imagine Jeff Stevens can find a dress shirt that’s not custom made as his shoulders appear to be nearly three times the width of his hips. They’re just short. Coming from a team who would occasionally list Ryan Theriot as 6’2″, I guess I’m not surprised. Maybe ol’ Jimmy boy thinks he’s taller than he is so he thinks he sees height in the tiny guys.
  • The Cubs are also continuing their affair with stocky catchers.
  • In what appeared to have been an unfortunate laundering incident, the Suns’ pink-ish/gray tops did not match their gray-ish/gray bottoms.
  • The MLB Cubs’ lack of timely offense is pervasive. One run on five hits for these young Smokies. One walk to seven strikeouts. On the other hand the Suns drew only two walks (on 6 Ks) so maybe minor leaguers pitch to contact.
  • I was quite disappointed that Bibens-Dirkx was scratched, even if it was due to a promotion. Not only did I want everyone here at VFTB to have a good look at our favorite country crooner, I was hoping he’d treat us to an impromptu concert mid-inning. Maybe he’ll join the big boys in September.
  • The financial differences between the MLB and AA clubs were readily apparent. While Geovany Soto and (especially) Koyie Hill wear rocket ship helmets, poor Steve Clevenger had to hold his mask on his head with an old pair of underwear. Or maybe it’s a blue jockstrap. Hard telling.

  • On the other hand, as a fan I enjoyed the benefits of the financial differences.
    — Front Row Ticket = $9.00
    — Delicious Cheeseburger = $3.00
    — Refreshing Dasani Bottled Water = $1.50
    — Ample Parking = $3.00
    — Overall Experience = Priceless

As we’ve discussed here at VFTB many times, I would highly recommend taking in a minor league game or three if you ever have the opportunity. These players are our team’s future. And even if many of them will never make the big league team, they’re playing for next to nothing with more heart than I’ve seen on the big club in many years.

Enjoy a few more photos from the game.

Blake Lalli (1B)

Nelson Perez (RF)

Anonymous Suns hands. We were right behind their dugout.

Jonathan Mota (2B)

James Adduci (LF)

Jae-Hoon Ha (CF)

Jeff Stevens (P)

Josh Vitters (3B)

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Northside Archives: The Lie Perpetuating The Myth

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

You can hardly watch a national broadcast of a Cubs game without the incessant droning on about how Starlin Castro needs to tighten up his defense. For the Saturday Fox broadcast (Buck & McCarver) I think that’s the entirety of their scouting report on him. The ESPN Sunday Night team isn’t quite as bad, especially since after their montage of Castro’s most recent errors they then admit that he’s likely to become a better defender as he matures. Oh yeah, he’s 21 years old.

The Record
The Cubs are 16-24 when Castro registers an error. If Castro commits an error (even if it leads to a run) and the Cubs win, who cares? No harm, no foul.

The Losses
Of those 24 losses, 6 times we’ve been shutout. You can’t win if you don’t score, so what difference does it make if while being shutout Castro commits an error – or if his error leads to a run – we were going to lose anyway.

In 9 other losses the final score was a blowout (the Cubs lost by at least 5 runs). Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS notwithstanding, it’s basically impossible to have an error be the lone reason for such a blowout.

There are nine remaining losses of the original 24. Let’s deal with the easy ones first:

On May 11, 2010; May 26, 2010; June 26, 2010; and June 22, 2011 – in all four games Castro’s error did NOT lead to a run.

On May 10, 2010 he made three errors that led directly to one total run; the final score was 4-2. On April 24, 2011 he made one error that led directly to one run; the final score was 7-3. On June 15, 2011 he made one error that led directly to one run; the final score was 9-5. Maybe the first game ends differently, but the other two probably don’t.

That leaves only two games. The first was on June 10, 2010 – the Cubs had taken a 4-3 lead in Milwaukee, Castro’s sixth inning error tied the game at 4 and the Brewers went on to win in the 11th. The second was on April 25, 2011 – Castro made three errors in the same inning and the Cubs went from up 3-0 at Wrigley to a tie with the Rockies at 3-3; all the runs resulting directly from Castro’s errors. The Cubs lost that game 5-3.

The Damage
After nearly 250 games played, only 3 losses could be traced back to a Castro error. I’ll take that. He’s sometimes spectacular, other times he struggles with the routine plays – and no, you don’t want your defense costing you ANY games. But when you consider that he’s 21 years old and at worst his defense has cost us three games, I fail to see what all the griping is about.

Pena To The Rescue?
It’s been suggested (most recently by VFTB poster Randy) that Castro is benefitting greatly from a quality first baseman. Of course, this is essentially impossible to prove. There is no stat to track errant throws that a first baseman has corralled and in doing so prevented an error. Castro has committed 23 fielding errors, and 22 throwing errors.

His throwing errors breakdown as follows: four to Derrek Lee at 1B, three to Xavier Nady at 1B, two to Blake DeWitt at 2B, two to Jeff Baker at 1B, and seven to Carlos Pena at 1B. He also had one each to Micah Hoffpauir (1B), Mike Fontenot (2B), Darwin Barney (2B), and DJ LeMahieu (1B). What does that tell us? Not much – Castro is an equal opportunity offender. Half the time he’s fielding the ball poorly, half the time he’s throwing it away.

Of course it’s easy to watch the game and say that Pena saves the entire Cubs infield from errors that they probably deserve, and Castro is likely at the top of that list. But it’s impossible to quantify – at least until there’s a stat for “wins above replacement player as a fielder based on errant throws.” Pena’s a great first baseman, but so was Derrek Lee – and it’s not terribly fair to compare them to Baker, Nady, Hoffpauir, or LeMahieu since no one would argue that any of those guys is even an “average” MLB first baseman, especially defensively. The whole infield is better with Lee or Pena at first; to single out Castro as the primary beneficiary is to ignore that those other guys aren’t even adequate as first basemen.

But it’s certainly not as if Castro’s errors peak when the better defenders are on the bench (and even if you COULD prove that, you’d also have to allow for the possibility that Castro could be more relaxed throwing to a competent first baseman than he is throwing to some minor league backup or fill-in utility player – another valid argument which could apply to the entire infield).

Also missing in the Castro revile is any accounting whatsoever for the hits he’s saving for our pitchers. Even if one first baseman is routinely making Castro look good (which is actually part of the first baseman’s job!), Castro routinely makes our pitchers look good by stealing balls ticketed for the outfield.

The Pattern
If there is a pattern, at least a loose pattern, it’s that Castro’s errors come in bunches. He’s had 5 errors in four days, 3 errors in five days, 5 errors in six days, and 4 errors in three days all at different points. That’s 17 of his 47 errors coming closely bunched together (thanks in part to two horrendous 3-error games).

This is probably the reason that baseball announcers at large (Len Kasper and Bob Brenly are not exempt) have an ongoing narrative that Castro’s fielding is mostly poor on the routine plays. That is a narrative that caught on early when Castro had 5 errors by the end of his 5th major league game (including a 3 error debut at Wrigley). Unfortunately for Starlin, he’s had enough similar stretches to guarantee that the myth will continue.

Since June 23rd he’s had exactly 4 errors in four different games. That’s almost two months of baseball and the Cubs won three of those four games!

The Historical Comparison
Castro wouldn’t be the only young SS to start his career with a bunch of errors and eventually figure it out as he matured (I’ve specifically picked players who started young and managed to play full seasons early in their career). Castro had 27 errors last year, he’s got 20 so far this year:

  • Cal Ripken Jr. – as a 22-24 year old he registered 25, 26, and 26 errors. He was a rookie at 21.
  • Ernie Banks – as a 23-27 year old he registered 34, 22, 25, 14, and 32 errors. He was a rookie at 23.
  • Hanley Ramirez – as a 22-24 year old he registered 26, 24, and 22 errors. He was a rookie at 22.
  • Robin Yount – as a 19-24 year old he registered 44, 31, 26, 30, 25 and 28 errors. He was a rookie at 18.

There are others to whom Castro would not compare nearly as favorably, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra both started their careers as very good defenders. And there are others to whom the comparison would be unfair, such as Derek Jeter whose range is generously described as mediocre (which in part explains his low error totals).

Why Does It Even Matter?
Maybe I should’ve started with this – even if Castro’s defense was as hideous as some have suggested, it’s not as if there’s a direct impact on the standings. This team is terrible; it’s going to be terrible whether Castro makes 3 errors or 33 errors. I’d much rather let Castro learn on the job with a crappy team, than suffer in the minors because there is some belief that his defense is inadequate. We’ve all too often left guys in the minors because of perceived shortcomings – or even sent them back down to let them learn another position. Now is the perfect time for the Cubs to have a young, supremely talented shortstop who possesses a correctable “deficiency.”

The organization is partly to blame – when your manager complains about a first inning pop-up that was bungled by your shortstop instead of focusing on the fact that the pitching was deplorable in a 9-1 loss, it kind of sets the tone for writers and analysts. If the manager is ripping him, there must be something to it, right? Uh, no…there’s not. Castro didn’t cost us that game, and his errors have largely been irrelevant to the final score.

Another Option
One final point – the Cubs have a TON of problems on the field and in the front office at this point. There’s no need to create another one, especially when there is no viable solution. Hak-Ju Lee’s departure in the Matt Garza trade left the minor league system void of anyone who MIGHT be a better defender at SS than Castro already has proven himself to be. Until Castro hits for more power, he seems ill-suited for a corner infield position. And I really hope that signing a free agent SS isn’t part of the plan for the off-season; but obviously with Hendry all things are possible, however improbable or ill-advised it might seem.

Lacking any other option, it seems foolish to suggest that the Cubs should do anything with Castro except run him out there every day to the same position and keep a watchful eye. If the defense doesn’t improve or gets worse, there might be reason for concern – in another 18 months. But the sample size is far too small, the player is far too young, and the Cubs are flush with too many other issues to worry about the one great thing they have going now.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: