Archive for April, 2012

Northside Archives: Thievin’ Cubs

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

One bright spot in 2012 so far has been an increased proclivity for base-stealing. This is in large part due to Starlin Castro’s emergence as a premier base-stealer and the recent addition of Tony Campana to the major league roster. Together those two have combined for 11 steals while being caught just one time. Adding that dynamic to the team affords the Cubs an ability to create something out of nothing offensively; elite speed is not something that the Cubs have had on the bases in quite some time.

Currently (and yes it’s early), the Cubs are on pace for 111 stolen bases. That would mark only the second time since 1997 that they recorded as many as 100 SBs in a season – the other time being 2006 when Juan Pierre led the way with 58 steals (121 total for the team). Castro is on pace for 60 SBs, while Campana’s pace is more difficult to project. He should see more time both in the field and at the plate in 2012 than he did in 2011. In five games of incredibly limited duty (only 16 PAs), he’s already swiped 4 bags. When Campana has an base open in front of him he’s likely to try and steal it; Castro should have far more opportunities on the basepaths, but Campana’s career success rate is an otherworldly 93%. Let’s settle on a conservative 35 SBs for Campana (he stole 24 last year in limited duty).

Green Light
Even if Castro slows his pace, it’s reasonable to think they’ll both swipe at least 35 bases (assuming they can stay healthy, and Campana gets enough playing time). That would mark the first time since 1985 that Cub teammates each had at least 35 steals in a season. That year, Ryne Sandberg piled up 54 steals, Davey Lopes had 47, and Bob Dernier chipped in with 31 as the team compiled a ridiculous 182 stolen bases.

Red Light
The 2012 success rate of 68% isn’t great – but that’s not the fault of Castro and Campana. Besides those two players only Baker and Soriano have successfully stolen a base. LaHair, Stewart, Byrd, Soriano, and DeJesus have all been caught stealing. LaHair’s was especially terrible, being caught with one out in the 7th inning of a game he’d just tied with a single. There aren’t many instances where I’d want ANY of those other guys running.

Cubs Records
The franchise record for steals in a season is held by Bill Lange with 84 steals in 1896 for the old Chicago Colts. The Cubs list their record holder as Frank Chance, who stole 67 bases in 1903; no Cub has stolen 60 bases in a season since Chance. The Cubs have only had two players steal as many as 30 bases in a season since Eric Young left the club following the 2001 campaign (Patterson in 2004 with 32, Pierre in 2006 with 58). With 50 SBs, either player would become only the 7th Cub since 1901 to record that many in a single season.

50+ Each?
If Castro can keep up his pace and Campana can get enough playing time, there still exists the possibility that both could steal 50 bases this year (Campana would probably need close 300 PAs for that, or to pinch-run almost daily – but with Byrd gone that is possible). It’s been 20 years since any team had two guys who each stole 50+ bases for them in a season. Marquis Grissom (76 SBs) and Delino DeShields (56 SBs) did it for the Montreal Expos in 1991. It’s only happened 7 times since 1917 – the A’s did it with three players in 1976 (Bill North, 75; Bert Campaneris, 54; Don Baylor, 52) and the Padres matched that in 1980 (Gene Richard, 61; Ozzie Smith, 57; Jerry Mumphrey, 52). So it’s very unlikely, but possible; and the Cubs have the right tandem in place to make a run at it.

New Dynamic For The Cubs
Especially in a down year, I like the increased aggressiveness on the basepaths. Anything that we can do to put pressure on opposing pitchers, catchers, and even infielders should help out at the plate. Both Castro and Campana seem to have perpetual green lights on the bases, and both have already taken a base from the Cardinals 4-time gold glove winning catcher Yadier Molina (who boasts a career CS% of 44%, which often deters runners from even attempting to steal). There’s no reason we can’t spend most of the year allowing those two to swipe bases at will, it’s a very welcome sight.

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The Farm Report: The Concepcion Debut

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

TRIPLE-A – Iowa Cubs

The Cubs spent their off day painting their toenails and playing tiddly winks. There are rumors that Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson were seen giving Josh Vitters a weggie, though those rumors are unconfirmed at this time. The Cubs resume their season and try to improve on their rather stinky 8-12 record tonight against the Nashville Sounds. Iowa is currently in second place but already seven games behind the division leading Omaha Storm Chasers. Side note, why do people chase storms? I remember going to see a matinee of Twister when that was in the theaters for my senior ditch day of high school (pretty lame, huh?) and I remember asking the same question then. The only logical reason I could come up with was the fact that they wanted to see cows flying through the air like there was in the movie. What other reason could there be?

DOUBLE-A – Tennessee 1, Jackson 5

Center fielder Jim Adduci finished 3-for-4 and is now had hits in seven out of his last 10 at bats. Brooks Raley failed to pitch a quality start for the first time this season in four appearances. He tossed 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on seven hits that included a home run. He falls to 1-1 on the season with a 3.65 ERA. On a side note, apparently the Cubs have someone named Elliot Soto in the organization playing for the Smokies. I went to school with a guy named Elliot Soto. A quick check on his picture reveals….not him. The Smokies also have added RHP Scott Weismann to the active roster. Weismann, 22, comes to the Smokies for the first time in his very young career.  He began the 2012 season with the Low-A Peoria Chiefs, where he had no record with a 3.52 ERA (3 ER/7.2 IP) in five relief appearances.  The Boxborough, Mass. native was selected by the Cubs in the 46th round in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

HIGH-A – Clearwater 4, Daytona 6

Matt Szczur, everyone’s favorite salad dressing dude, continues to have little to no performance pulse. Each day I write about the minors I kindly ask him to extend his wrist so I can check and each time I have to regrettfully inform everyone that he’s still dead. He had an 0-for-3 performance last night with a walk. There was a slight blip on the ekg that we thought might be a heartbeat when he stole a pair of bases, but alas….still dead. Did you know Brian Schlitter is still in the organization? Liar. You did not. He tossed a pair of scoreless innings of relief to pick up his 2nd hold (what a stupid stat) and lower his ERA to 1.17.

LOW-A – Lake County 6, Peoria 3

The story of the night was the debut of Cuba signee, Gerardo Concepcion. Would it be wrong to hope that his run in pro ball with the Cubs lasts even half the time of Fidel Castro’s reign in Cuba? Too soon? I better ask Ozzie Guillen on that one before I post this. Concepcion allowed five runs on eight hits over five innings of work in his professional debut. He didn’t give up a run after the first inning and struck out two with one walk. Overall, not a bad debut for the kid. I’ll take it. Hopefully he develops quickly and we can see him facing some tougher competition.


J.J. Cooper had a blog post about Hayden Simpson on Baseball America:

When the Cubs drafted Hayden Simpson in the first round in 2010, they left many teams shocked, as Simpson was generally though to be a third to fifth-round talent heading into the draft. Two years later, the Cubs’ decision to buck the industry consensus isn’t paying off.

Simpson’s mid-90s fastball continues to be missing. Last year, Simpson’s fastball dipped to the mid-80s. At the time the Cubs blamed it on a bad case of mononucleosis, and then there was a stress reaction in his elbow. But a year later, there are some legitimate concerns that Simpson’s velocity may never get back to what it was back in 2010.

At this point, Simpson is having to try to survive without a pitch that misses bats. It’s a nearly impossible task as he’s struck out four of the 88 batters he’s faced this year.

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Game 19: No Sweep For You

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Cardinals 5 @ Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Admit it, there was some part of you that thought that maybe, just maybe, the Cubs would get a sweep of this series. I won’t laugh at you. I recorded the game on DVR and was pretty excited to watch when I got home. I’m a big believer that when you record a game, you avoid any chance of seeing the score so you can watch the game with no knowledge of what to expect. Unfortunately, there are times that you are made aware of the results in some form, and for me, that spoils it. Today, that didn’t happen, and it probably would have been nice if I’d have seen the score. It would have saved me from watching the last half.

Chris Volstad made start number four and really looked fairly decent through the first five innings. After that, the wheels just seemed to fall off. Through four outings he’s sporting an 0-3 record with a very ugly 6.14 ERA. He’s just not been very good. Of the five guys in the rotation right now, he’s the one I have the least amount of confidence in when he takes the mound. I think you still run him out there a little more to see if he can figure things out because of the fact that no one has really shown anything to say they deserve a shot to replace him, but the question on when to make the change begins to be discussed and it gets louder with each failed outing.

Offensively, we really couldn’t do much on offense, but the inning that bothered me the most was the 5th. If you’ve read my posts, you should know that I’m not a fan of “smallball”. I don’t like the play for one run approach. I want the big inning. I want the crooked numbers. Because of that, I saw no point in Tony Campana bunting with one out and a runner on 1st and 3rd. The game is tied at one at the time and you’ve got a great chance and really doing some damage in the inning with the 2,3,4 hitters due up. At the very least, if Campana makes contact, because of his speed, you’re almost assured that he’ll stay out of the double play which should produce a run. The bunt doesn’t make sense. Even if he gets it down, which he didn’t, odds are that the runner on third stays put. Now you have runners on 2nd and 3rd, but two outs. I hate hate hate bunting, but especially in an instance like that.

Carlos Marmol came in to pitch the 9th and continued to look less than impressive. He didn’t allow a run, but the pitches he throws just don’t seem to have a purpose. I honestly believe that when he releases the ball, he’s not 100% certain it will go anywhere close to where it’s designed to go. When you watch him through it just looks like he rears back and throws with no regard to control or strategy in terms of setting hitters up.

Overall, not the best game to watch, but you really can’t complain about a series win against what may be the best team in the division. A sweep would have been nice, but I’ll take a series win any day.

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The Garza Conundrum

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Way back at the beginning of the 2012 playoffs, I wrote that the Cubs should have extended Matt Garza.  A lot has happened since then, most notably for the sake of this little essay: (1) Theo Epstein was hired as president of baseball operations, bringing Jed Hoyer along as GM; and (2) a new collective bargaining agreement was signed by Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association.

Back in December and January, there were significant rumors that the Cubs were shopping Matt Garza around to some degree or another. All those stories at least implied that the Cubs were asking for a huge haul in return for Garza. Nearly everyone presumes that the Cubs will either extend or trade Garza… but no one is quite sure which they will actually do.

However, all the discussions involving Garza’s potential trade value have ignored the effect the new CBA could play in the trade market this season. Let’s take the example of Cliff Lee as an illustration. The Mariners vastly overestimated their chances of competing in 2010, trading to obtain Lee from the Phillies that off-season. In the middle of 2010, the Rangers traded a haul of prospects, including top prospect Justin Smoak, to the Mariners for Lee. Lee helped the Rangers reach the World Series, but then signed a contract in the off-season with the Phillies. Having offered Lee arbitration, the Rangers received the thirty-third and thirty-seventh picks in the 2011 as compensation for losing Lee to free agency.

But draft compensation for departing free agents was overhauled in the new CBA. Among the changes made to that system was a rule that teams could only receive draft compensation for free agents who had been with the same team for the full season prior to reaching free agency. In other words, if the Cliff Lee trade happened this season, the Rangers would not receive draft compensation when Lee signed with the Phillies in the off-season.

But what does this have to do with Garza? Garza has nearly two full seasons left, and will not reach free agency until 2013 if he does not sign an extension. Any team that traded for him this year would receive draft compensation if he departed as a free agent after next season.

In most years my answer would be not all that much. It is rare for under thirty pitchers of or near Garza’s caliber to even make it to opening day of their final season of arbitration or a contract without signing an extension. This year, however, there are three such pitchers: Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez.  And the trade value of these three players is not well defined.

These elite player who are acquired for half a season are known as rentals for a good reason. And, for the history of free agency in baseball prior to this year, a part of the value for rentals was that two high draft picks were transferring from team to team along with the player. Now, any draft compensation disappears into the ether. So while the original team loses the picks, the new team does not get them.

And this means that the new market value for half season rentals is currently not solidified. The team that is trading the rental player for prospects will argue that they are giving up the same amount of value they would have given up under the prior CBA. But the team that is trading prospects for the rental player will say they are not getting the same value in return.

Here is the unanswered question: will teams be able to get a Justin Smoak or Matt LaPorta is return for rentals? Even though neither of those players have been great Major Leaguers yet, they were huge prospects at the time they were traded. Would it be a shock if the Phillies got really old really fast and looked to turn Hamels into prospects? Or if the wheels fell off for the Brewers and they wanted to see what they could get in return for Greinke? Or if the Marlins’ experiment in being big spenders became a complete disaster?

I will flat out admit that everything written above is conjecture and speculation. But view it from a GM’s perspective. If you were trying to trade for Cole Hamels, would you argue he was worth significantly less than Cliff Lee because you would receive nothing in return if Hamels leaves in the offseason? And if you could get Cole Hamels for three months to make one big run at the playoffs without giving up a top prospect, or you could have Matt Garza for a year and a half and had to give up multiple top prospects, what would you do?

I am not predicting the future here. Players like Greinke, Hamels and Sanchez become available rarely enough that their trade value in the final year before hitting free agency might not change significantly. What I am saying, though, is that we are in a new world regarding trades for these stars with expiring contracts. As a result, we might be in limbo regarding Theo’s and Jed’s long term plans for Matt Garza until we know how the trade market for this season, especially the three potential elite rental starting pitchers, develops.

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Farm Report: April 23 – Walkoff grand slam, Szczur hitting, Kyler Burke transforming

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

TRIPLE-A: Memphis 4, Iowa 0

Iowa ran into one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball in Cardinals farmhand Shelby Miller. The game started off promising, with Brett Jackson taking a leadoff walk and then a steal of second. Dave Sappelt then walked, followed by a Luis Valbuena strikeout. Anthony Rizzo came up and lined a single to load the bases, but Miller, the #8 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, was able to get out of the jam by striking out Welington Castillo and forcing a fly out. The I-Cubs were able to sprinkle seven hits on the day, but couldn’t push a run across the plate.
Travis Wood picked up the quality start by going six innings, striking out eight, and giving up two runs (one earned).

DOUBLE-A: Chattanooga 7, Tennessee 5

The Lookouts jumped out to a 7-0 lead by the third inning, with Dae-Eun Rhee giving up five in the first. The defense didn’t help, with two errors in the frame, but Rhee gave up four straight hits to start the game. The Smokies tried to make a game of it with four runs in the eighth, but they just couldn’t climb out of the hole.
Jae-Hoon Ha had three hits, including two doubles, and James Adduci had a pinch hit three run double, but Rhee takes his first loss of the season.

HIGH-A: Daytona 5, Lakeland 13

Daytona jumped out to a 1-0 lead just two batters into the game when Arismendy Alcantara singled home Matt Szczur, who led off the game by dropping down a bunt and and reaching second on a a throwing error. Hayden Simpson was even able to get three outs before the runs started pouring in for the Flying Tigers. They’d score a run in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings before putting up a five spot in the 5th.
Simpson would throw 4.1 innings, giving up eight hits, six runs (five earned), with SEVEN walks and two K’s as he fell to 0-3 with an ERA approaching 8.00 on the season. The bullpen wasn’t any better, giving up seven more runs and four more walks. Just ugly.
The offense was able to score five runs on twelve hits, led by Dustin Harrington‘s 3-4 night. Szczur was on base four times, including two free passes, and has his average up to .225 in the early going.

LOW-A: Lansing 2, Peoria 6

A win! This game was scoreless for eight full innings. Joe’s boy Kyler Burke pitched the best game of his short pitching career, going six innings, only giving up four hits, a walk, to go with four K’s. Ben Wells came in to pitch, would get through the seventh and eight without much of a problem, but would give up the two runs in the ninth on three hits.
But the Chiefs would would come back in the bottom half of the inning. Yaniel Cabezas and Pin-Chieh Chen would start the inning off with singles. Zeke DeVoss came up to sacrifice them over, but the pitcher had trouble fielding the ball and everyone was safe. Wes Darvill was next and lined a double to right to tie the game and put runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.
Lansing would intentionally walk Ryan Cuneo to bring up Paul Hoilman, who would go on to hit a walk off grand slam to seal the win for the Chiefs.

I’m not sure what to think about Burke yet; the Cubs have had some success at converting position players to pitchers with Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol being examples, and Burke does have a promising 13/2 K/BB ratio. I’m definitely more interested in his performance now than I was a month ago.

Also wanted to note that Cuban signee Gerardo Concepcion will make his first start for Peoria today.


Brett Jackson: 0-3, 2BB, 2K, SB
Luis Valbuena: 2-4, 2K
Anthony Rizzo: 1-4, E (4)
Welington Castillo: 2-4, K
Josh Vitters: 1-4, K
Jae-Hoon Ha: 3-5, 2K, E(2)
Matt Szczur: 2-3, 2BB
Rubi Silva: 2-5, 2K
Zeke DeVoss: 1-4, 3K

Travis Wood: 6IP, 2R/1ER, 7H, 2BB/8K
Dae-Eun Rhee: 5IP, 7R/5ER, 9H, 1BB/5K
Hayden Simpson: 4.1IP, 6R/5ER, 8H, 7BB/2K
Kyler Burke: 6IP, 0R, 3H, 1BB/4K
Ben Wells: 3IP, 2R/2ER, 5H, 0BB/2K

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