Archive for October, 2011

Could He Be A Cub: Jeff Francis

Monday, October 24th, 2011

It will be interesting to see how Theo Epstein approaches the Cubs 2012 roster. Will he tear it down and completely rebuild, or will he try to piece together a possible contender in a winnable NL Central?

Whatever Epstein decides, he has to address the starting rotation. We all have painful memories of the Cubs 2011 pitching carousel. Could free agent starter Jeff Francis provide some stability?

When evaluating the career of 30-year-old Jeff Francis, it’s important to remember that he spent six seasons in Colorado. To call Coors Field a hitters’ park would be a massive understatement.

Coming back from 2009 and 2010 arm troubles, the left-handed starter was up and down for the Kansas City Royals last season. The good news? Francis was durable, making 31 starts. The bad news? A 4.82 ERA, 11 hits per 9 innings pitched, and a troublesome strike-out rate.

Francis has never blown anyone away with his stuff. He’s a control pitcher who relies on deception and changing speeds. In seven Major League seasons, Francis has walked 2.8 batters per 9 innings pitched. From that standpoint, I’m optimistic about what he could contribute in 2012. Of course, that assumes he’s healthy.

Another mark in his favor is money. Francis made $2 million last season, so the free-agent price tag should be reasonable. Would he take a one-year deal in the hopes of re-establishing himself? I think that scenario is very likely.

Garza, Dempster, and Wells would be a respectable start to a 2012 rotation. Perhaps Jeff Francis could be that “lightning-in-a-bottle” starter the Cubs will need if they have any hopes of competing next year. Even in a rebuilding year, somebody has to take the ball. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen more than enough of Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.

Jeff Francis Career Stats

Year   Age  Tm  W  L  ERA  GS     IP  HR ERA+  WHIP  H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2004    23 COL  3  2 5.15   7   36.2   8   96 1.500 10.3  2.0  3.2  7.9  2.46
2005    24 COL 14 12 5.68  33  183.2  26   84 1.623 11.2  1.3  3.4  6.3  1.83
2006    25 COL 13 11 4.16  32  199.0  18  118 1.286  8.5  0.8  3.1  5.3  1.70
2007    26 COL 17  9 4.22  34  215.1  25  114 1.379  9.8  1.0  2.6  6.9  2.62
2008    27 COL  4 10 5.01  24  143.2  21   94 1.483 10.3  1.3  3.1  5.9  1.92
2010    29 COL  4  6 5.00  19  104.1  11   93 1.361 10.3  0.9  2.0  5.8  2.91
2011    30 KCR  6 16 4.82  31  183.0  19   85 1.437 11.0  0.9  1.9  4.5  2.33
7 Seasons      61 66 4.78 180 1065.2 128   98 1.430 10.1  1.1  2.8  5.9  2.13
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A Love Note From Theo on the Rotation?

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Let’s take a minute on this Monday morning to discuss the rotation as we anxiously wait Buddy’s post on possible rotation addition, Jeff Francis.

The question, as always, is short and to the point.

If you woke up tomorrow and there was a statement from Theo that read as follows, would you be able to trust?

Cub Fans,

My staff and I, after careful evaluation, have decided that our rotation for opening day will be:

1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Randy Wells
4. Andrew Cashner
5. Jeff Samardzija

Trust us, we know what we’re doing.

Love Always,

Theo & Jed

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GirlieView

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

It’s been an exhausting week on my end, and seeing Cardinals’ fans coming out of hiding to support their team in the Series hasn’t made anything better. Here’s to a Rangers’ comeback.

Anyway, I hope Sunday brings sunshine and smiles to all! Let’s get on with the show.

The Wizzies

The “Occupy” protests saw a rash of arrests over the weekend in various cities. I feel like we should take a role call here on VFTB to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. Or maybe buddy-up like the mall scene from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

The World Series starts on Wednesday in St. Louis with the Cardinals taking on the Rangers. If you plan on rooting for the Cardinals I suggest you keep that to yourself.

 Katie, Katie, Katie… Article I, Section 1, Subpart A of the Sports Fan Constitution cleraly states “… being a fan of a team is not subject to win-loss records or quality of play on the field, court, rink or other facility where the team plays…

Campana shouldn’t start for even the worst team in baseball.

We could offer them fried chicken and beer in the locker room in exchange for Theo.

Theo can show up to the office in shorts and a T-shirt and gut fish a la Office Space, offer crazy trades via twitter, quadruple park in the owners parking spots, etc… until they are forced to fire him if he wanted to.

Really? no way! I thought fiberglass and and nicotine were good for you… huh. If you outlaw chew, you better outlaw the crotch-scratch, too.

I long for the day where I can look at a Sox fan and say, “That ring in 2005 was nice wasn’t it? Look at all of our rings now.”

“Your mom goes to college” – Kip Dynomite

If they really asked for Castro, that was an ill-advised proposition. That’s like asking a kid to trade his new Optimus Prime toy for an old Hotwheels car. Unjustifiable.

Top Wizzie Contributors

Buddy-36

Doc Raker-35

Jswanson-31

BLPCB-23

Seymour Butts-21

Doug S.-20

Aaron-17

Jedi-13

Chet-11

Eddie Von White-9

Question of the Week

Excuse the randomness, but what is one thing you are looking forward to accomplishing during the offseason?

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Theo Update

Friday, October 21st, 2011

The Red Sox aimed high in asking for compensation for Epstein. A baseball source told ESPNBoston.com that they initially asked for the Cubs young star shortstop Starlin Castro. Whey they were rebuffed, the Red Sox asked for arguably the Cubs best starting pitcher in Matt Garza.

A major league source told ESPNChicago.com that at one point Boston proposed that the Cubs take pitcher John Lackey‘s contract. Lackey has three seasons remaining on a five-year, $82.5 million contract. He was 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA in 28 starts for the Red Sox in 2011.

But the expected agreement will include Cubs minor leaguers, although not top prospects Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt or Matt Szczur, the source said. Cash will not be part of the compensation. – (Source)

Let’s discuss. There is a lot there.

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Rotation Rebounds?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The Cubs starting rotation finished dead last in ERA in 2011 thanks to a revolving door at the #5 spot and poor seasons by both Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells. Matt Garza figures to top the rotation heading into 2012, unless new President, GM, Emperor, or whatever other title Theo Epstein gets, decides to go into full rebuild mode and trade the Cubs most valuable pitcher. Both Dempster and Wells will likely join Garza leaving a couple question marks at the back end, but it’s the two veterans that need to rebound to give the Cubs a solid trio of pitchers. So, what are the chances Dempster and Wells get back to pre-2011 performance?

Ryan Dempster was converted from closer to starter four seasons ago and he’s pitched 200 innings in each of those seasons. That alone is a pretty telling number. A bad pitcher won’t be pitching 200 innings a season. Well, at least he shouldn’t be. I don’t think anyone could have seen how successful he would become as he was coming off two poor seasons in the bullpen where he combined for a 3-16 record, 4.76 ERA, and 12 blown saves.

But succeed he did by having the best season of his career. He would go 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA (with a 5.2 fWAR) and finished 6th in Cy Young voting. He wouldn’t have the same results in 2009 and 2010, but still put up over 200 innings in each with solid ERA’s and a combined 7.1 fWAR. If you believe in Fangraphs version of WAR, he was the 14th best pitcher in baseball from 2008-2010.

So what happened in 2011? At first glance, I was ready to chalk it up to bad defense and bad luck. Since Joe has an ESPN affiliated Cubs blog, we contributors have access to a great tool. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information, I see that in 2011, left handed hitters crushed Dempster to the tune of 303/382/480 (.371 wOBA). In 2010, those numbers were 234/332/373 (.313 wOBA). I was ready to blame that entirely on the .391 BABIP, but a deeper look, and an excuse to use ESPN Stats & Information’s ‘Heat Map’, we can see a pretty clear picture of a cause to that high BABIP, and that is the location of the splitter:

2010, Splitter location

2011, Splitter location

Dempster simply caught too much of the plate, resulting in 14 more hits, including five that went for doubles. He had a similar problem with his fastball against left handers, leaving the ball belt high resulting in 12 more hits compared to his 2010 numbers. Altogether he gave up 24 more hits (2 fewer hits on his slider) in 346 at bats. If you knock his hits down to 2010 levels, his .303 AVG against drops to .234!

There are other numbers, however, that give me hope. His performance against right handed hitters and his overall strikeout percentage, walk percentage, home run percentage, and velocity are right in line with his 2008-2010 numbers. This information provides me with some optimism that he can bounce back and put up another 3.0 fWAR season with a sub-4.00 ERA in 200-plus innings. I feel it will come down to locating that splitter and fastball against left handers.

Randy Wells, I think, is a much easier case. Wells wasn’t much of a prospect coming up through the system and he wasn’t anything special in the minor leagues. But in 2009, he threw 165 innings with a 3.05 ERA, good for a 3.0 fWAR, surprising everyone. His 2010 wasn’t as good, adding well over a run to his ERA, but there were some good signs such as an increase in his strikeout rate while maintaining an above average walk rate and a healthy number of ground balls while putting up another fWAR over 3.0.

I was bullish on Wells going into 2011, thinking he could put up a third consecutive 3.0 fWAR season, but a forearm strain right out of the gate took him out of the rotation for nearly two months. It would be easy to blame that for his poor 2011, as his ERA rose to nearly 5.00, his strikeout rate dropped, walk rate increased, and his home run rate nearly doubled. But I’m not sure I can blame the forearm. I’m going to blame his loss of velocity that you can see on this chart, courtesy of Fangraphs:

Fastball Velocity, 2009-2011

Now, maybe his forearm was the cause of that loss of velocity, but note that first game in 2011; the velocity was low before the forearm injury. Maybe it was affecting him in that first game, but I don’t know that for sure. It does appear that the velocity was on a slow, but steady, incline, but I’ll stick to the problem being the loss of velocity (nearly 2 mph according to ESPN Stats & Information) for now and wait and see what 2012 brings. If the forearm is the cause of that velocity drop, the offseason of rest will hopefully be enough time to recover. But if he’s healthy and the velocity doesn’t come back to pre-2011 levels? I fear Wells’ best days may already be behind him.

What do you think? Do these pitchers rebound? Do you see something else that leads you to feel one way or the other?

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Whaddya Think?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Yesterday, Joe asked who was “off-limits” if the Red Sox organization asked for players as compensation for Epstein. Most, if not all, of you decided Castro was the most untouchable player on our team. Matt Garza came in a close second.

So, along the same lines as Joe, the question is:

If you could pick one player, and one player only, to add to the Cubs’ organization, who would it be? Why would you choose him (Assume that money was not an option for the addition of this player)?

Another thought: Jerry Jones is under fire for these comments: “This game was decided right down there at the end, and I am so proud of these players, the way they competed tonight.” Apparently, the underlying message is an insult to Jason Garrett. Garrett is in his first year as head coach of the Cowboys. His play calling may have erred on the safe side, but he was trying to preserve a lead. Yes, the Cowboys were playing the Patriots, and they were only ahead by three points. It was kind of inevitable that the Pats would pull out a win with that slim of a score difference, anyway. In any situation, do you think an owner support the coach he hired, or is it fine to passive-aggressively insult him in public? Jones did hire him, after all. Is he out of line with his comments?

One last thought: Last night in one of my classes, we read an article that said college kids these days barely know more than high schoolers did fifty years ago. I am currently a college student and we look at test samples from days gone by, and I will admit, some of those questions are difficult. Old(er) people, what do you think? Is school too easy for your kids? Young(er) people, do you think college is/was too hard, too easy, or just right?

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Chet’s Corner : Theo’s Dream Team

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

“Early on he was 28 and a fish out of water. Since then he’s won two world championships, made the playoffs 6 of 9 seasons, and I think there’s great respect among his peers. As one GM said to me, when we get together in a group, he may be the smartest guy in the room.”

-Bruce Levine, responding to a question asked during his live chat on ESPN.com , on how Theo Epstein is viewed by other GM’s in the game.

 

I read the above quote and began to salivate.  I mean, we are this close to a total overhaul in our “baseball operations department”, or whatever title Theo Epstein slaps on his business card when he arrives in Chicago.  You can call him GM, President of Baseball Operations, or head green slime vendor.  Then only thing I care about is that a fundamental change in Chicago Cubs baseball is on it’s way.  Oh, and by the way, that change has created post season teams in six of the last nine years.  Oh, and also, they did it in a division that included the Yankees.      

Developing talent hasn’t exactly been the Cubs forte over the past half century or so.   Joe Posnanski elaborates on this topic in a column he recently penned on his SI blog.  He points to this reason as being the Cubs number one downfall in the history of the team.  What is Theo Epstein’s specialty?  Yup, you guessed it, he develops talent from within. 

Now, all of this being said leads many to wonder, what is holding up this negotiation???

It is one word….. pride!  Neither team wants to give in to the others desires.  You are looking at two men, Larry Luchinno and Tom Ricketts, who love the art of negotiation.  While they flex their collective bartering skills, the rest of baseball, especially the Cubs and Red Sox fans, are left to wait.  All of us are wondering in unison if this thing will ever happen. 

It will, just give it time. 

In response to Joe’s column this morning, I don’t feel anybody is off limits.  Maybe Castro, but the list stops there.  The sad reality is that we don’t have  a farm system stacked with talent.  Heck, we don’t have a 40-man roster stacked with talent.  Hence the importance of bringing aboard Theo Epstein. 

It shouldn’t take much more then the sane minimum to close this thing, but if it came down to crazy, which depending on the ego’s involved could happen, would you really stop them from giving up Trey McNutt or Brett Jackson?  We aren’t talking about obtaining a middle of the rotation starter here, we are talking about changing the face of the ball club.  We are talking about developing a game plan well into the future.

One other sticking point, and what could end up being the more important question in the long run is, who else will the Cubs get in this deal?  Much of the recent talk has been centered around Theo’s counterparts that he will bring along or acquire from other teams.  Many of them worked under Theo while with the Red Sox.  Some are starting to say he is trying to put together a dream team of upper management. 

My question to the readers for today: Who would you most like to see as part of Theo’s “dream team” of upper management?

Can you imagine how great it will be to have an organization with an actual baseball identity?  A philosophy from low A ball all the way up to the majors?  What wouldn’t a Cub fan give for that?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Off-Limits List

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The question today is short and sweet. If you didn’t see the news the other day and haven;t really been following the Theo saga, the Red Sox asked the Cubs for Matt Garza for compensation, which the Cubs refused.

Who is on the list of players in the system, Major or Minor League, that would be off limits even if it meant that if you said no that Theo would not be coming to Chicago? Give us your list.

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The Bargain Bin: Outfield

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Last Tuesday, I examined infielders the Cubs could potentially bring in at a bargain for the 2012 season.  Today I’ll turn my attention to the outfield, which is a tricky area for the Cubs.  Alfonso Soriano’s monstrosity of an $18 million per year contract is probably stuck in left field most days.  If Soriano has another season where he posts an OBP below .300, the Cubs might make him a platoon player for the final two years of that contract or just eat the contract by releasing Soriano or trading him, but it’s unlikely they’ll do it in 2012.  The Cubs still have Marlon Byrd, whose been a solid addition and a bargain contractually, but is 34 years old and isn’t going to get any better or be around when the Cubs are ready to be competitive.  Top prospect Brett Jackson is probably ready to get called up to the Majors and become the Cubs starting CF for the next several years, but it’s also reported that the Red Sox might be fighting hard to get Brett Jackson as compensation for Theo Epstein (at the time I’m writing this, the compensation issue hasn’t been determined, although it clearly might by the time this is posted on Tuesday).  So the Cubs might be lining up an outfield of Soriano in left, Jackson in center and Byrd in right, or Brett Jackson might be a member of the Boston Red Sox next year.

But Byrd’s solid performance plus only having one year remaining on a pretty team friendly contract make him the most likely position player for the Cubs to trade for any real value this offseason.  If that’s the case, or if the Cubs lost Brett Jackson in compensation for Epstein, the Cubs really have two reasonable ways they can go to fill empty spots in the OF: first, they could give Tyler Colvin an extended look this season and see if he can be an everyday major leaguer.  I doubt that Colvin can, as he strikes out too much and does not walk enough, but I’d be perfectly fine with this plan.  No one else in the Cubs’ system, though, is really ready to take that role.  Tony Campana is not an everyday starter, while the players who have the talent to be starting caliber OFs in the majors (Jae Hoon Ha, Matt Szczur and Reggie Golden head up that list) are not anywhere near ready for the Show.

The second choice is to fill that role cheaply with a bargain player.  Just as a reminder, the standards I’m using for  bargain free agents are: (1) they have to be 30 or under on opening day; (2) they must have posted a 2.0 or higher fWAR season at some point in their career; and (3) they have suffered either a performance downturn, injuries or a combination of both that have decreased their value to the point they are likely looking at one year contracts.  Only two outfielders fit all of my criteria, both of whom are former All Stars.  They are also former center fielders who either probably cannot handle center field anymore due to injuries, or never should have been out there in the first place.  And one used to be considered one of the best players in baseball.

Most of you probably know one of the players I’m referring to is Grady Sizemore.  In his first four full seasons in the Majors from 2005 in 2008, Sizemore posted an insane 27.4 fWAR.  He hit for average, walked, hit for power, stole bases and was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.  Sizemore was only 26 years old at the end of the 2008 season, and looked like he may have been the best young CF since Ken Griffey, Jr.

Since the start of 2009, however, Sizemore’s career has been derailed by injuries.  He has only played in 210 games over the past three seasons, and has struggled when he has played, accumulating just 1.9 fWAR since the start of 2009.  A team also shouldn’t expect Grady Sizemore to play center field full time if they want him to stay healthy.

But if Sizemore, who will be 29 on opening day 2012, can get anything close to his former offensive prowess back and even play average defense in right field, he could be an excellent player again.  Cleveland does have an $8.5 million option with a $500K buy out on Sizemore for next season.  Under most circumstances, a team would be very unlikely to pick up an option that size on a player who has been as injured as Sizemore has been over the past three seasons.  But Sizemore might still be the face of Cleveland’s organization, and was probably the best all around everyday player the Indians had since Manny Ramirez.  It’s also possible that the Indians might try and see if they can bring Sizemore back at a reduced rate.  If the Indians decide it’s time to cut ties, though, Sizemore could be quite cheap.  If that is the case, it would at the least be very intriguing to see if Sizemore can get healthy and back to a semblance of his old self in a Cubs uniform.

The other player is Braves outfielder Nate McLouth.  After three years of replacement level to average performance, McLouth broke out big time with the Pirates in 2008, posting a 3.9 fWAR when batting .276/.356/.497, good for a .369 wOBA, with 26 HRs out of centerfield.  In 2009, McLouth posted a strong 3.4 fWAR in a season he split between the Pirates and Braves.

Since the start of 2010, though, McLouth has been pretty close to an unmitigated disaster.  McLouth has always been a bad defensive center fielder, and that has not improved with age.  Over the past two seasons, though, McLouth has both been injured, playing in just 166 games, and ineffective at the plate, posting a .283 wOBA in 2010 and .306 in 2011.  In all, McLouth has accumulated -1.0 fWAR over the last two seasons.  Yes folks, you’re reading that right, he’s been worse than a replacement player for the last two seasons.  But, as described above, he did show an ability to both get on base at a decent clip and hit for power in the not too distant past.  If he can get healthy and rediscover his offensive abilities, McLouth could be valuable.  Moreover, McLouth’s struggles combined with the fact that he never had the same reputation Sizemore had could make him extremely inexpensive.

With that said, how interested the Cubs should be in either Sizemore or McLouth depends heavily on what happens this offseason.  Does Brett Jackson get sent to Boston for Theo?  Because outside of Brett Jackson, the Cubs don’t have any outfielders in the higher levels of the minor leagues who have pretty clear futures as Major League starters.  Do the Cubs want to trade Marlon Byrd in the offseason, or do they think he will have more value midseason?  Do the Cubs want to give Tyler Colvin a shot to be an everyday outfielder?  Depending on the answers to these questions, the Cubs may have at least one hole in the outfield heading into the season.  I’d rather see the Cubs fill those holes with players with the potential upside of Grady Sizemore and Nate McLouth than have Tony Campana in the starting lineup 120 times next season.

Next week I’ll conclude this series by looking at bargain pitchers.  While there are not any pitchers you could predict for the front of the rotation here, there are some potential middle to the back end of the rotation types, plus a former All Star closer available.

 

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