Archive for March, 2012

Paul Maholm: Third Starter to the Rotation Party

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

When Paul Maholm signed a one year 4.75 million dollar contract with the Cubs in early January, the response of the fan base as a whole was similar to the type of pitcher he is: uninspiring.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh with my description of Maholm, but he’s not exactly the type of pitcher that is going to provide a spark in the middle of the rotation. The pitcher has never had a season above .500 in his seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he qualified for the league leaders. He’s also never had a season with more than ten wins, which I recognize is more of a reflection of the organization he was a part of.

I am no expert on the play of Paul Maholm other than the occasional start against the Cubs over the last six years, but I’ve seen enough to cast an opinion of him. He’s the type of pitcher that will never win you a game, but rather the guy that has the chance to keep a team in a game. For this team, I’m not completely sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. In 26 starts in 2011, Maholm gave up one or no runs in eight starts. On the flip side he only really bombed three starts (Yes this is something I arbitrarily made up while writing this), which I determine as allowing 6+ runs in at least 5 innings of work.

Again I don’t mean to rail on Mr. Maholm, because I think he can an effective starter at the three spot as long as our expectations for him are in line with what we’ll see. Expectations that I believe that are mild across the board.

Maholm is an inning eater that will get through 5+ innings in every start barring injury. In fact Maholm only had one such start last season, a 6-0 loss to the Marlins in early April where he gave up six earned in 3.2 innings. The Cubs haven’t had that kind of consistent inning eater at the three spot since Lilly was traded to the Dodgers in 2009, albeit Lilly is a much better pitcher than Maholm.

A major reason why Maholm consistently gets a healthy does of innings is because he takes so few pitches to get an at bat result. He averaged only 3.57 pitches per at bat in 2011, which was third in the National League. This is a good thing and bad thing for Maholm. His average amount of pitches lends itself to not giving up too many walks — 50 in 2011 — but when he does get deep into counts, walks follow.

Another positive to Maholm is that he has good control over his stuff. He doesn’t have any pitches that will wow you, but he’s effective enough to get outs. According to the 2012 Bill James Handbook, Maholm threw his fastball 52% of the time.  His average speed on the pitch is around 87 MPH, but rarely hits above the 89 MPH mark. He splits the rest of his pitches predominately between a change up and slider, although he doesn’t throw either above 20% of the time. This to me means he’s picking his spots with his fastball in hope for ground balls, which is something we should see a lot of during his starts.

The Rotation

While Dempster and Garza duke it out for the top dog spot (I expect Garza to pull it out), Maholm has been assured that he’s no longer pitching for a spot in the rotation.

“He’s done well and he’s slated to be one of the starters,” Sveum said Tuesday. “Right now, with the year he put up last year and the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t see him not being in the rotation.” (Source: Chicago Cubs Report by Doug Padilla)

I do expect Maholm to bounce back record wise in 2012, but I can’t help but feel that the rest of his stats will take a step back. 8-10 wins with a 4+ ERA and 1.50 WHIP are reasonable expectations for him in conjunction with general expectations for this team.  If he can pitch any better than that, then I will believe the FA signing was a success.

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My Fantasyland: The Beginning

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

There are two things that I love more than anything, aside from the Cubs, Bills and my wife (although not in that order of course). Those two things are fantasy sports and yard sale Saturdays. In a twist of fate, those two came together one crisp autumn morning.

I wake up Saturday mornings with a sense of refreshment, but also excitement about the adventures that await me on my neighborhood tours. While the coffee pot boots up, I turn on my computer and map out my destination(s) coordinates carefully to ensure no gas is wasted. Occasionally my wife wakes up and shares the experience with me. Although on this lucky day, my traveling circus was a solo mission.

The morning started out great with the purchase of a new Callaway golf bag, which was likely someone’s unopened gift from the previous Christmas. There was still  bit of wrapping paper attached to the bottom rim of the bag and did smell a bit like a balsam fir.

The next house was loaded with books and magazines for all ages. You would have thought that these people had been running an illegal black market library in the tool shed behind their house for years. (Author’s note – I’m not entirely sure if running a library out of your shed is illegal or not, so you might need to check that) I’ve had good experiences with yard sale books before so I looked through them the most efficient way I know how, pulling each one out of it’s stacked lineup.

There were books about jungles and computers. Scuba diving and teaching. Children’s books and “Adult” books. Until finally I came across exactly what I was looking for: Fantasyland by Sam Walker.

Walker’s book recounts his quest to become the champion of the “Tout Wars” rotisserie baseball league, a league which is reserved for some of the best baseball brains in the world. Jason Grey, Ron Shandler, Bill James and Matthew Berry are just a handful of names of guys that participate in this league. Big bucks and pride is involved in this league that started in the early 80′s during the birth of fantasy sports.

Fantasyland gives America's obsession of fantasy sports an accurate memoir and is a must read if you are into a quirky take on sports statistics.

Fantasyland gives America’s obsession of fantasy sports  an accurate memoir and is a must read if you are into a quirky take on sports statistics. It is also the book that sparked my interest in both fantasy sports and writing about them.

I have to admit that fantasy baseball isn’t my strength in the world of imaginary sports, but I do enjoy the strategy behind it. Roto leagues or salary cap leagues create an even tougher experience for fans who want to go beyond their standard “set lineups once-a-week” league.

Over the next few months I’m going to tell my own story of my own “Fantasyland.” Musings of my own  rules and thoughts about drafting, managing multiple teams and fantasy smack talk no-no’s. Feel free to tune me out during the season if news of the imaginary doesn’t tickle your fancy, but my thoughts will still be here if you want to come back when no one is looking.

In an effort to build some rapport with our lovely VFTB readers, I’d like to leave you with my number one rule when building a fantasy team. Most of you that participate will be drafting in the coming two weeks, so some expert advice could do you well.

Josh’s Fantasy Rule #1  Don’t draft players from your favorite team.

The reason for this is although fantasy sports are fun, you should never want to cross your Cubs winning mojo with your fantasy winning mojo. Those two mojos just don’t mix. I used to break this rule often and would find myself pulling my hair out on Sundays as Soriano accomplished a Golden Sombrero. The only Cubs player that I put on my draft list this year is Starlin, but for fear of ruining his season, I passed on the 21-year-old when the time came to draft him.

When the choice between Matt Garza and Mat Latos is staring you the face, choose the later. For only bad things can come of drafting your favorite players.

With the VFTB Brackets in full swing (I absent mindedly missed that sign up otherwise I’d give an update) I’d also like to put the feelers out there for a baseball league. Feel free to contact me at my email or social media outlets so I can gauge interest.

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Soto’s Seesaw

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

It wasn’t that long ago the Geovany Soto was being compared to Johnny Bench.  Soto’s performance in 2008–.285/.364/.504, starting in the All Star Game, winning the Rookie of the Year, and generally taking the league by storm–put him into elite company.  However, his subsequent performance has forced many to rethink those early comparisons.

Put simply, Soto has been riding a statistical seesaw the last few years.  2009 was a nosedive season (.218/.321/.381) plagued by injuries and off-the-field issues.  He failed to dodge the injury bug again in 2010, but when he was on the field he looked like his former self (.280/.393/.497), giving Cubs fans reason to hope his ’09 campaign was an anomaly.  Unfortunately 2011 (.228/.310/.411) proved it wasn’t.

The fact is, Soto doesn’t fall into the usual whatever-you-get-at-the-plate-is-a-bonus category of catchers.  He’s proven he can be a legitimate offensive threat–one that could be mighty handy for this Cubs team that looks to be FAR short of production and pop.

And while the seesaw pattern of his career ought to be due for a swing back to the positive side this season, the prognosticators over at Fangraphs aren’t convinced.  Bill James is the most optimistic, guessing at predicting a line of .252/.345/.450.

I’ll be looking for Soto to improve in a few key areas this season.  Like almost every other Cub, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts.  He’s always floated around a 20% strikeout rate, but last year it shot up above 26%.  It’s not realistic to think his offense will improve if he can’t learn to be more selective at the plate.

Along with that, I’m also looking (hoping) for a significant bump in his batting average.  (And yeah, I know that’s not the most popular measuring stick, but since he pulls a pretty steady average of .090 points for his walks and HBP, I’m targeting the area where he has shown a lot of fluctuation–between .218 and .285.)  Even a modest .050 point improvement–which would be only his third best season so far–would be a significant improvement over the anemic .228 he posted last season.

Finally, I want to see him make it through the season without another momentum-killing visit to the Disabled List.  Since his rookie campaign, Soto hasn’t made it through the season without a tweaked shoulder, wrist, or groin.  Considering he’s already missed some Spring Training with a groin strain, maybe this is unrealistic.  But few Cubs take longer to heat up after a trip to the DL, so consistent playing time might be the simplest solution for what’s ailed Soto in the past.

I like Soto–not nearly as much as Lizzie, but certainly more than Joe.  For his sake and the Cubs’, I hope he can turn things around at the plate and give Theo and Jed a reason to invest in him.  When he’s at his best, his hitting is what separates him from his peers.  But if he fails to improve at the plate this season, the Cubs might be inclined to go with a younger, cheaper option.

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David DeJesus: A Diamond in the Rough?

Monday, March 19th, 2012

This off-season, the first move made by the new regime, was to sign free agent outfielder, David DeJesus. It wasn’t an overly sexy move, unless you ask his wife, but it was a move that essentially sealed the fate of Tyler Colvin with the organization. Just under two weeks later, Colvin would be dealt to the Rockies.

On November 30, 2011, DeJesus signed a two-year deal worth $10 million, to be the primary right fielder for the Cubs

What we’re left with is a new face playing a position he has the least experience playing of all the spots in the outfield. You can imagine why the move was less than impressive for Cub fans who immediately expected the top talent on the market be brought in when Theo took over. What they’ve been given is a player who doesn’t fit that mold, but does that mean he can’t play a role?

Where did he come from? – DeJesus was originally drafted in the 43rd round of the 1997 draft by the Mets only to elect to go to Rutgers. Three years later he would be drafted again by the Royals in the 4th round. He spent the first nine years of his career in the Royals organization before being traded to the A’s last season where he was a tad underwhelming.

What can we expect? – Being over 3o and coming off a career low year in Oakland, some would say that the signing was a bad one. However, when we throw out the year with Oakland and look at his overall time with the Royals we see a guy that can play a good defensive outfield and be competent in the top of the order. In his career as a leadoff hitter, DeJesus has a split line of .292 / .365 / .437. He doesn’t steal a ton of bases, in fact he rarely steals, but he doesn’t make outs on the bases. He’s the type of player that seems to fit the mold of a player coveted by Theo and his crew. He sees pitches (3.95 Pit/PA in 2010 compared to the league average of 3.78) and makes above average contact when he does swing.

Ultimately, the prognostications on DeJesus tend to call for about 10-12 HR, with an average in the low .270′s, an on base % in the .340′s and slugging right around .400. It’s not overwhelming, but I believe we can see better. Be sure to follow her on Twitter @KimDeJesus9

Now that we’ve established what we expect, let’s dial it back a notch and give you a little different perspective. David’s wife, Kim, was kind enough to open the door to the more personal side of DeJesus with a small writeup about her husband:

If I were to describe Dave to someone the first thing that comes to mind is his positive attitude. He is hands down the most positive person I have ever met. I guarantee you will see him smiling most of the time. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who could say a bad word about him or his hard work ethic. When I first met him I didn’t believe someone could be that happy all the time. He just does not complain and I am always impressed with how he wakes up with a smile on his face. Dave has this really refreshing view on life and is truly enjoying this journey he’s been given. He is my constant reminder to try to keep things in perspective. Dave also has a strong and beautiful faith and is totally devoted to our family. He is an amazing father and our son adores his every move. Kids in general gravitate towards Dave and I think it is because in many ways he is a kid at heart. He just accepts kids for who they are and relates to them on their level. Obviously there are a lot of wonderful things I could say about Dave because he is my husband, but when you asked for a glimpse of who he is, these are just some of things that come to mind. He’s also the type of person that lets his actions speak, rather than words. so I’m not sure how he’ll feel about me writing all this ;)

For as nice as Dave is, he has this crazy competitive side. I know he will never admit to you that I have beat him in H.O.R.S.E, but its true! He won’t even play me anymore because he hates to lose. However, I kind of beat everyone in H.O.R.S.E, so don’t hold it against him because I would probably beat you too! Haha ;) Dave is obsessed with the Buffalo Bills and it’s hilarious to watch him get into the games. He is a Jersey boy at heart and he is actually a pretty good dancer. He has zero shame about busting into a song or dance. If he wasn’t a baseball player, it would not surprise me if he was in a boy band! :)

I am so thankful for all the amazing years and wonderful experiences Dave had with the Royals, and last year with the A’s. Looking forward, we are so excited about this incredible new chapter with the Chicago Cubs! Dave already loves his new teammates, and is so impressed with the organization and staff, and the fans have been great. Of course, I am so proud of my husband no matter what team he is on, but to be playing at home is amazing! I can’t wait to get to Wrigley :)

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The Impact of Good Plays and Misplays

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

by John Dewan

There are 54 separate Defensive Misplays and 28 separate Good Fielding Plays that Baseball Info Solutions has “scouted” going back to 2004.  One of our biggest undertakings in the last three years has been to convert Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays into Runs Saved.  Today we’re going to walk through an example that shows the magnitude of what we now refer to as Good Play/Misplay Runs Saved.

Take, for example, Alfonso Soriano of the Chicago Cubs.  He’s now 36 years old and a below-average outfielder, according to Good Plays and Misplays.  In fact, his 13 runs lost on Good Plays and Misplays in the last three years is the worst among all outfielders. He had 22 Good Plays, 73 Misplays and 25 Errors. That’s 76 more misplays and errors than good plays. The next worst left fielder is exactly half as bad. Logan Morrison had 38 more misplays and errors than good plays. The best left fielder in GPF/DME runs saved is Jason Bay. He had 73 good plays and only 47 misplays and errors in the three years, a net of 26. Compared to Soriano’s net of -76. Here is how they compare in runs saved:

Good Play/Misplay Run Impact Chart 2009-11

Good Play/Misplay Type

Bay
Runs Saved

Soriano
Runs Saved

Mishandling ball after safe hit

3

-4

Outfield assist after hit or error

2

-1

Holds to single

1

-2

Wasted throw after hit/error

1

0

Cutting off runner at home

0

1

Giving up on a play

0

-1

Hesitating before throwing

0

-1

Slow to recover

0

-1

Robs home run

0

-1

Missing the cutoff man

0

-1

Overrunning the play

0

-1

Slipping

0

-1

Total

7

-13

Soriano has cost his team 13 runs with his poor play in the field since 2009 on Good Plays and Misplays alone, while Bay has saved his team 7 runs in that time.  That’s a difference of 20 runs, or roughly two wins.  That’s huge.

What we can see from the chart is that Soriano struggles in a number of areas.  In fact, the only areas where he rates as average or better are “Wasted throw after hit/error” and “Cutting off runner at home.”   In these types of plays, Soriano performs at least how we’d expect an average fielder to perform, in the same opportunities as Soriano.  In every other way, Soriano rates below-average.  The biggest problem Soriano has, according to Good Plays and Misplays, is “Mishandling the ball after a safe hit”, where he cost his team four runs since 2009.  Jason Bay, on the other hand, excelled in that department, saving his ream three runs by having far fewer Misplays for “Mishandling the ball after a safe hit” than an average fielder would have in the same number of opportunities as Bay.  Bay is also slightly above-average in three other categories: “Outfield assist after hit or error”, “Holds to single” and “Wasted throw after hit/error.”

For more on Good Play/Misplay Runs Saved, check out The Fielding Bible – Volume III, available now.

 

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com

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GO: Cool Million

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! It’s your lucky day! Let’s pretend you’ve just won the lottery. You have won enough to quit your job (if you so choose) and not have to work again for the rest of your life. Because you want to keep that security you can’t go out and blow it all, but you have one million dollars you can safely use as “play money” right now. What do you buy?

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Bryan LaHair: Next Great Hype or Next [Not So] Great Hoffpauir

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Will Bryan LaHair take the first base job and run with it? Or will he live up to the Micah Hoffpauir comps?

Quick trivia question: Who was the 2011 Pacific Coast League MVP? Bryan LaHair. For the first time since 2003, the Cubs will not start an established veteran at the first base position on opening day. With Carlos Pena gone, that job falls to LaHair. Now the question becomes: what do we have with him?

How Did We Get Here? – LaHair was drafted in the 39th round of the 2002 draft by the Seattle Mariners out of junior college. He played in the Mariners system for seven years and only saw a few at bats with the Major League club in 2008. Following the 2009 season he was granted minor league free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. He spent the season in AAA, his 5th straight year at that level, and had his best offensive season. LaHair won the Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player Award and Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2011. He was named the designated hitter on Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League All Star team. That success has the Cubs counting on him to bridge the gap between Pena and highly regarded prospect, Anthony Rizzo, who is expected to spend at least the first half of the season in AAA.

What Do We Have?- When you talk to most people, the immediate comp for LaHair is Micah Hoffpauir. They are similar in story, but not quite identical. Hoffpauir was never given the every day job to show if he could or could not handle it. Hoffpauir never had the power in one season that LaHair showed last year when he hit 40 bombs combined between AAA and ML. LaHair is a slightly better fielder than Hoffpauir with a little more range. Other than that, you can see how people come to the conclusion that Hoffpauir is the best comp for him. Side note, for all the Hoffpauirites, here are Micah’s numbers from his time in Japan last year:

Year Tm PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 Nippon Ham 373 29 14 0 12 36 .222 .298 .374 .671
 

The question now becomes what can we expect from LaHair when given every day at bats. Most of the projections on Major League players are fairly boring and routine. Projection service A projects numbers very similar to the career norm of Player A as does proejection service B,C, & D. When it gets fun is with players like LaHair. Guys that have not shown the Major League history to use in the calculations. For that, I went to Fan Graphs to see what the projections looked like. Six services are listed. Here are the averages as well as the high and low value for his numbers.

Home Runs – 14 (High – 24 / Low – 6)
RBI – 49 (High – 68 / Low – 24)

It’s a wide range for what people think we can expect. Personally, I want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. He hit well when he was up in September and didn’t stop hitting all throughout the off-season in winter ball. There is no doubt he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. The biggest test for him will be if he can make adjustments to stay consistent once the book on him gets bigger. That tends to be the reason guys fail. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you lack the key ability of being able to make adjustments to your game, you will not succeed at the Major League Level. That’s the key for LaHair. I fully expect him to start well. If he does, it gives the Cubs a lot of options.

What Should We Do With Him? – For right now, he’s the first baseman. In a perfect world, I’d like to see the season play out this way. Rizzo begins the season in Iowa and shows he has mastered that level. LaHair is hitting the ball well at first base and is making it hard to move him from the position for Rizzo. The Cubs strike a deal to move Alfonso Soriano and shift Bryan LaHair to LF to make room for Rizzo. Jed and Theo explore trade options before the deadline to maximize return on LaHair before he has a chance to reveal that he’s not able to make adjustments.

Ultimately, I don’t have a lot of hope that he’ll have long term success in this league. I want to believe, but I’m fairly certain it will be a short burst that will be just enough to tease, but not enough to really satisfy.

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You Make The Call: Singles Hitter vs. Walk Machine

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I was sitting on the toilet the other day reading a new book I got on Amazon to help me extract (well maybe not the best word choice given the sentence) my inner stat geek that I know is in there but can’t seem to find its way out. I set it as my goal this season to become more well versed on some of the intro to metrics type stats. I picked up Beyond Batting Average by Lee Panas and have been enjoying it thoroughly. Anyway, back to my toilet thought. I came up with an idea for a new post called “You Make the Call”. I’m not quite sure if it will always take the same format, but it’s basically designed for you to give feedback on baseball situations of some sort. We debut with this question.

You take the job as the manager for the Cubs. On your roster you have two shortstops. Both are completely equal in fielding ability, range, speed, age, etc. The only difference are their stat lines for last year. Here is a description of both.

Player A – Got 500 plate appearances and hit .350 with an on base percentage of .350 as well. He drew zero walks and never struck out. He had no extra base hits. all of the 175 hits he compiled were singles.

Player B – Got 500 plate appearances. During that time he failed to amass a single hit, but did finish with an on base percentage of .350 as well due to the fact that he drew 175 walks.

Which player do you start? Where do you hit him in the batting order? What is reasoning behind your decision?

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Northside Archives: Who Is Chris Bosio?

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

It might be the most important coaching position after manager. The last guy was known for his mustache. The guy before him, for his “towel” drills. But for a second straight year, there’ll be a new guy headed out for that first visit to the mound. When Marmol is shaky, or Dempster has served up back-to-backs, or when Samardzija has thrown 30+ pitches, it’ll be Chris Bosio trotting out to the mound to communicate the message to a struggling Cubs’ hurler.

As A Player
Bosio had an 11-year MLB career stretching from 1986 through 1996. He played seven years with the Brewers, followed by 4 with Seattle. For most of his career he was a starter, amassing a 94-93 record and 3.93 ERA. His best season was 1989, he went 15-10 with a 2.95 ERA while pitching 234.2 innings (he was pretty good in 1991 too!). His career highlight is easy to pick though – on April 22, 1993 Bosio threw a no-hitter for the Mariners against the Boston Red Sox. Trivia: It remains to this day both the last no-hitter pitched by a Seattle pitcher, and the last time the Red Sox were no-hit.

As A Coach
After retiring in 1996, Bosio was quick to get back into coaching. By 1998 he was a special assistant with the Mariners. Since then he’s worked in the Mariners, Reds, and Brewers minor league organizations. At two different stops in the Pacific Coast League, he’s tutored a pitching staff that led the PCL in ERA (pitching well in the PCL is no small feat). He’s been the pitching coach for both the University of Wisconsin Osh-Kosh and Lawrence University. And in 2003, former Cubs manager Lou Piniella had Bosio as the pitching coach of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

As Dale’s Buddy
Both debuting as major leaguers in 1986 with the Brewers, Bosio has known new Cubs manager Dale Sveum for 25 years now. Bosio was 23 and Dale was 22, both impressed the Brewers enough to be integral to the 1987 Brewers. And while Dale’s career was hindered by an injury he suffered at the end of 1988, Bosio’s was flourishing. By 1991 Dale was a journeyman constantly looking for a team that wanted him; but Bosio was headed to a free agent payday with the Seattle Mariners. He would get $15.25mil from the Mariners over 4 years, and in 1994 he was briefly reunited with his old buddy Dale. Sveum would have only 29 PA’s for that 1994 team, but it was Bosio who was out of the league two years later (Dale scratched and clawed his way through the parts of 5 more seasons).

As Pitching Coach For The Cubs
Ultimately none of that matters now, it’s only about what he can do for the Cubs. Manager/Pitching Coach marriages can be very important – Cox/Mazzone, LaRussa/Duncan, Torre/Stottlemeyer – so the fact that Dale selected a long-time friend could be really good. But more than anything, the Cubs need a pitching coach who knows what to expect out of his pitchers. Riggins, and to a lesser degree Rothschild, seemed far too often to “hope” for the best when things started to go south on the mound. Part of what made some of those tandems above so good is that they had a joint understanding of what their staff could, and more importantly, could not do. This Cubs staff probably won’t be mistaken as historically great, but they don’t have to be historically bad either. And there are some young pieces that have been intriguing in Spring Training so far.

Improvement, to me, would be if Bosio has the good sense to know the difference between when Marmol is about to implode vs. when he’s just making it interesting; knowing when Ryan Dempster is just trying to feel his way through five innings; seeing guys on base and realizing that it’s probably best not to bring in Kerry Wood; or counting to 25 pitches and then removing Samardzija. There are a lot of ways this team can improve without any manifestation of it in the win column, knowing and handling our pitchers is definitely one of them. When the new guy with a mustache goes out to settle down a pitcher, let’s hope he possesses a better understanding of the guy with the ball than his predecessor.

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