Archive for May, 2012

GirlieView (05/31/2012)

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Interesting commentary this go’round since most of the Cubs’ time since my last GirlieView was spent losing. I was buoyed by the amount of humor and was happy no one was threatening suicide. Or Cubicide. Here we go!

Lizzies

  • Another Marmol Flame Up, Cubs Killed by Errant Deliverys.
  • Ugly. Ugly ugly UGLY!
  • The bullpen made me briefly forgot about this week’s episode of ‘Garza Throws to First Base’.  This one was a good one, a two-parter.
  • I would caution not to overlap it with milf.tv, different subject matter.
  • Just a matter of time until I took my rightful place on top of the Lizzie board, drinks on me.
  • Before I could even finish my first beer, the Cubs were already trailing.
  • It also allows for Travis Wood to be called up to assure the Cubs still have Wood and do not need to see their doctor.
  • Someone had already taken BM1 & BM2?
  • I figured we wouldn’t miss much so he an I plopped down for some constructive claymation.
  • It’s true we might get swept this weekend.  But take solace, Cubs fan–at least you’re not that [White Sox] guy.
  • You can’t expect platitudes and false faint praise form folks with mono-syllabic vocabularies and remarkably low teeth-to-tattoo ratios.
  • Would it kill this team to score some runs?
  • Let’s score some touchdowns Cubs!
  • [Woody]‘s a real classy guy, and I hope he stays with this organization.
  • I saw Kerry Wood throw his last pitch. I cried.
  • Hit the bottle with this team.
  • That’s like saying to me, “hey your wife went to the hospital for a month and your ex-wife is gonna fill in…”
  • So if you want to be on the major league roster as a relief pitcher, keep your eyes open as your opportunity may be around the corner.
  • Yikes this team really tried hard to be awful this week.
  • Even when [LaHair] is slumping, he hits better than most of the lineup.
  • what new excuse will we find to account for the lack of offense, ’cause the weather ain’t it!
  • Remember when we used to be thankful the Astros were in the NL Central?
  • If I’m honest, I’m running a tad low on optimism right now.
  • My condolences go out to JJ for having to write-up this game’s recap.
  • Hey look!  We’re already to the part of the season when Castro’s freakish stats are all we have to console us after a loss.
  • the next time you see Matt Garza not looking like himself and giving up 3-run homers, put on some pants and go see The Avengers.
  • sometimes you have to scoot sideways along the bottom for a while groping for something to grab a hold of to pick yourself up
  • It’s difficult to preach patience to a fan base in a 100+-year drought, but overall, I see progress being made in the big picture. If that means closing my eyes to what is essentially a minor-league team trying to get big-boy legs under it, then I’ll just shut both, or maybe squint really hard.
  • I would say the Cubs hit bottom in 2011, 2012 is the beginning of the rebuild.
  • Something about 2 solid fingers and a thumb. If only some casual Cub fan could have mentioned to him why Koyie has an issue with that.
  • Insert (cynical, sarcastic comment offering zero baseball value and only purpose is Lizzie consideration) here.
  • ‘Meet the New Low’ for Lizzie pandering.
  • And if your pitchers only allow 1 run per game but you NEVER GET A STINKING RUN then you will also lose.
  • Wood always seemed to understand the special relationship between the Cubs and their fans.
  • I would sacrifice a billy goat to the oft-invoked Baseball Gods on an ivy-covered brick altar at midnight to be .500 further than three games into the season.
  • It’s about talent. The Cubs lack it. When they have players that can hit, they’ll also have players that can hit w/RISP.
  • Lose and get high draft picks while, at the same time, put practices into place in the entire organization that will lead to future success.
  • “Ian is hitting .385 vs Houston on Wednesdays before 7:30PM.”
  • I’m fine with maintaining the “human element,” but there needs to be a way to acknowledge when that human element makes a mistake, especially a costly one.
  • Unfamiliar with simple baseball rules, … Soriano tried to run through Pedro Alvarez.
  • There were two outs, he had two strikes on him, and Marmol took over Dolis’ body.
  • what if Rowland-Smith marries Biben-Dirkx sister and they have a baby it will be Baby Rowland-Smith-Bibens-Dirkx
  • The Cubs broke their 12-game losing streak with a convincing win over the Padres.  I could almost end the recap right there.

Lizard

  • No expectations.  No disappointment.

Shout Outs

Congratulations to the following folks who received their first 2012 Lizzie this week. Thanks for commenting, we love having you here!

  • bonesinis
  • Cubs Future
  • Verncrowe5
  • wisconsinjpc

MVL

This week’s Most Valuable Lizzie’er goes to: Jeremiah Johnson! Congratulations Jeremiah!

2012 Top Ten

1. Doc Raker
2. Jeremiah Johnson
3. Jedi Johnson
4. jswanson
5. Seymour Butts
6. Buddy
6. cap’n Obvious
8. JoeAiello
9. Chuck
10. Chet

Lizzie’s Kitchen

Chit Chat

I’m stumped. With three posts per day and a rebuilding team there’s not a lot that hasn’t been chit chatted to death already. How about this: Going anywhere special this summer?

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Positional Snapshot: First Base

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Age PA 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
LaHair, Bryan* 29 MAJ 164 10 0 10 22 22 48 .312 .402 .596 .998
Baker, Jeff 31 MAJ 57 4 0 0 4 6 9 .240 .316 .320 .636
Rizzo, Anthony* 22 AAA 200 12 1 17 46 17 37 .354 .415 .713 1.128
Bour, Justin* 24 AA 209 10 0 6 37 20 37 .268 .344 .421 .765
Jones, Richard* 24 H-A 180 10 2 0 22 8 46 .232 .278 .315 .593
Hoilman, Paul 23 L-A 201 16 4 3 32 17 63 .281 .348 .466 .815
Cuneo, Ryan* 23 L-A 161 6 1 4 23 18 22 .259 .348 .403 .751

All the talk has been centered around the logjam the Cubs have at this position. It’s pretty clear that Anthony Rizzo is putting up numbers that suggest he is ready for the promotion. There really isn’t much left for him to prove at the AAA level. At this point it’s purely a financial issue. Jed and Theo will try to spin it and say that it isn’t, but the Cubs have not promoted him to pick up that extra time before he hits free agency. The time he spent in San Diego on the Major League roster is causing the issues. We’ll see Rizzo soon enough. I’m fine with the fact that he’s not up yet. As excited as I am to watch him, we have to think big picture.

What seems to be the running theme with just about every position in this system is a lack of depth. First base appears to be no different. Aside from Rizzo, there really isn’t anyone producing. Paul Hoilman put up a nice hitting streak earlier this season, but he’s 23 years old and in High-A ball. He’s a 19th round pick, so he’s a lottery ticket. Past Rizzo, he’s probably the best chance for depth at the position.

I had higher hopes for Ryan Cuneo, especially as he started the season hitting for power early. Unfortunately, those home runs were a bit of an illusion.

The one name to watch that hasn’t entered the conversation yet is Dan Vogelbach. The 2nd round pick in 2011 has been playing in extended spring training, but should be promoted soon. He’s struggled where he is, so his stock has fallen since we ranked him # 4 overall. We’ll see if extended spring stats mean anything for him.

Questions for Discussion

  • If you had to make a prediction on a date when we’ll see Anthony Rizzo make his Cubs debut. When will it be?
  • Rank these three in order of home runs at the ML level in 2012 from most to least: Alfonso Soriano, Bryan LaHair & Anthony Rizzo.
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Game 50: Cashner Trade Pays First Dividend

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Padres 6 @ Cubs 8

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs recorded their first three-game winning streak AND series sweep of 2012. They had not swept a three-game series since last July in Houston (it was one of two series’ that they swept during the entire 2011 season).

2-Out RBIs: Every single RBI for the Cubs came with 2 outs today. EIGHT! EIGHT 2-out RBIs.

Andrew Cashner: The turning point of this game, with the Padres leading 6-5 in the 8th inning, Padres manager Bud Black handed the ball to former Cub Andrew Cashner. After retiring two of the deadliest Cubs (at least on this day) in Barney and Clevenger, Cashner surrendered a seemingly harmless single to pinch-hitter Reed Johnson…

Tony Campana: Pinch-running for Reed Johnson was birthday boy Campana. First pitch was a pitchout, Campana stole second. Second pitch was ball two, Campana stole third without a throw. Cashner’s focus was gone; he might have been terrified that Campana would swipe home while he was at it. Instead, David DeJesus wound up earning a walk while Fast Tony caused carnage on the basepaths…

Starlin Castro: Following DeJesus’ walk, Castro was poised to put his stamp on this game. In a 2-2 count, Castro bounced a slow, but high-hopper to third base. Foolish but ambitiously sliding into first base, Castro beat the throw allowing Campana to tie the game. What was left of the allegedly near-capacity crowd at Wrigley went nuts…

Darwin Barney: James Russell had slammed the door on the Padres in the 9th, and Barney was faced with a 1-2 count and LaHair on first with two outs. After fighting off two foul balls, Barney smoked a line drive into the LF seats. He would say after the game that he’d never hit a walk-off homer at any level, to the surprise of no one. Cubs Win!

Patience & Walks:

  • Five different players saw at least 24 pitches each for the Cubs today. The Padres were forced to throw 180 pitches total – 46 in the final two innings.
  • The 5th inning was an object lesson in patience. 7, 5, 3, 2, 4, 5, 5, 4. Single, Walk, Flyout, Lineout, Walk, Walk, Walk, Groundout. The digits are the number of pitches seen by each batter in the inning, and the next sentence is the result of their at-bat. The first 6 batters of the inning all saw the same pitcher, starter Anthony Bass, who was clearly losing steam – those who were patient were rewarded, those who weren’t helped prolong his outing. When Castro AND Soriano can each take a walk in an inning against a pitcher, you wouldn’t expect Mather and LaHair to be TOO anxious – but that’s exactly what happened in the bottom of the 5th today.
  • I should repeat that – Castro and Soriano walked in the same inning against the same pitcher. Why was anyone else swinging against him in the 5th!?!?!
  • Soriano walked twice in the game! This isn’t as rare as you might think – he’s drawn at least two walks in a game, 50 times over his career; 26 times for the Cubs. But only 8 times since the start of 2010, and this was the first such occasion this year.
  • In fact, Soriano, Stewart, and Barney drew back-to-back-to-back walks that ‘drove in’ two runs. Don’t bet on it ever happening again with those three.
  • The 7 walks drawn by the Cubs tied a team high for the season (May 11th, against the Brewers). They have only accomplished that feat 7 times since the beginning of 2010. For comparison, they drew at least 7 walks 31 different times between the 2008 & 2009 seasons. It happened 3 times under Mike Quade, already twice under Dale Sveum.

Other Notes:

  • Barney & Clevenger made the Padres pay today. Combined they had 4 hits, 5 RBIs, scored 4 runs, and walked twice.
  • Over the 12-game losing streak the Cubs scored a total of 33 runs – only 18 runs in the final 9 games of that streak.  One 3-game sweep of the Padres and Cubs put up 24 runs.
  • Lost in the offensive outburst by the Cubs was another mediocre outing from Ryan Dempster – with the wind blowing IN this time.  The bullpen really bailed him out today.  Three of Dempster’s last four outings have been very mediocre.  The time to trade him is now.
  • Carlos Quentin was a beast today, only the wind kept him from having a 3 HR/4-for-4 day.  He couldn’t have picked a better team against which to make his 2012 debut.  We won’t see him, or the Padres, again until August – bittersweet.
  • Carlos Marmol threw one inning today; it was just like old times.  17 pitches, only 8 strikes, two walks but no damage.
  • Jeff Baker is a joke, but I’m still waiting for the punchline.
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The Blind Vengeance of a Jilted Fanbase

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Cardinals fans annoyingly, and for reasons that defy logic, have a reputation as the “Best Fans in Baseball.”  Where did that ludicrous and baseless proclamation come from?  I have no idea.  Perhaps it’s that longtime Cardinals employee Joe Buck so often has a national mic in front of him, or that informal polls of baseball players often rank St. Louis as one of the most proud and loyal road destinations?*  Whatever the reason, it’s a reputation that Cardinals fans love to flaunt.

*What’s funny is that so often the praise for Cardinals fans includes the fact that St. Louis doesn’t seem to care about their other teams.  Somehow their indifference toward the Rams and the Blues is spun as a good thing.  So am I a better Cubs fan because I couldn’t care less about the Bulls?

Which makes this article from Jim Caple (written days after the Rangers gave away lost the World Series this past November) all the more entertaining.  In it, Caple looks at some of the potential evidence in favor of St. Louis’ claim.  But he also punches some significant holes in their manufactured notoriety.

I’d like to add one more piece of evidence to Caple’s deconstruction of St. Louis’ vaunted reputation: the blind, seething vengeance they’ve shown for Albert Pujols.

No group was more invested in Pujols’ season-opening homerun drought than Cardinals fans.  No one is quicker to do the math on how much his meager homerun and RBI totals have cost the Angels.  And nobody has been following his career-low stat line with more unsuppressed glee.  Frankly, Cardinals fans are showing a level of contempt for Pujols that I could barely muster for him when he was still one of their beloved Redbirds.

And I’m not talking about something that’s hidden away in obscure chat forums or at the Cardinal-centric counterparts to VFTB, where only hardcore baseball fans frequent.  I’m talking about regular conversations I’ve had with Cardinals fans I encounter on a daily and weekly basis.  Across the board, they’re at least as invested in Pujols’ struggles as they are in their own team’s success–and frequently far more interested in the former.

Honestly, I consider myself to be a die-hard Cubs fan in every sense of the word.  But that’s a kind of mania that I simply cannot understand.

I’ve asked these Cardinals fans to explain their jilted-lover syndrome.  It often comes down to supposed dishonesty or disloyalty on Pujols’ part.  “He said he wanted to stay and he didn’t.”  “He could have stayed if he really wanted to.”  “How much more money did he need to make?”  “He said it wasn’t about the money,** but then he chased the highest price tag.”  When I mention to them that he helped them win another World Series on his way out the door, I’ve been rebuffed with “Yeah, but he didn’t really do much.”  It’s as if his move to Anaheim was an irrevocable turn to the dark side–one that burned up eleven years of history, three MVPs, and two World Series rings.

**I’ve got news for you angry, jilted Cardinals fan–no matter what either party says, a contract negotiation is ONLY about the money.  Don’t be mad at someone else for your naiveté.

I don’t know one Cardinals fan who still likes Pujols.  They’ve taken all his pictures down, thrown away his jerseys, and scrubbed him from their memories.  He’s like their disowned child.  Actually it’s far worse than that–you’d never openly and boisterously cheer against your disowned child; you’d simply ignore his existence.

But St. Louis fans can’t seem to do that, and I can’t understand why.  Losing star players over money is not really something we Cubs fans have had a lot of experience with.  I know at least some people still harbor a grudge against Greg Maddux for his departure to Atlanta.  But when you consider the small difference in the Braves’ and Cubs’ offers, your gripe has to be at least as much with the Cubs’ then-front office honchos.

But even if I go beyond the paycheck-chasing, I can’t really think of any former Cubs I eagerly and gleefully cheer against.  Milton Bradley came to mind as a potential object of wrath, but the dude is such a trainwreck of a person that cheering for him to fail and/or corrupt his subsequent teams is a lot like cheering for cancer to kill people.  I really can’t think of a former Cub*** whom I would angrily pursue the way the wrath of St. Louis fans has dogged Pujols all season.

***Here’s a few other potential candidates who fall just short in the Pujols Loathe-o-Meter.  Frank DiPino might have been one of my first baseball enemies–the brawl between Mark Grace and him in St. Louis in 1989 was one of the highlights of my early love for the Cubs–but that was mostly due to the fact that he went from the Cubs to the Cardinals, and that he tried to hit Grace.  I never liked Rafael Palmeiro, but that had more to do with his off-the-field behavior than anything he did after he left the Cubs.  And I only really cheered against Ryan Theriot after he shot his mouth off about preferring the Cardinals to the Cubs.  And even that anger subsided when he left St. Louis–that he’s now scuffling for the Giants does nothing for me.   And while I never hated Carlos Zambrano, I know many Cubs fans who did, and I doubt any of them hate him more now as an opposing player than they did while he was still a Cub.

Sure, there are plenty of opposing players I don’t like.  I’ve always found it easy (and often satisfying) to root against Roger Clemens, Will Clark, Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar, Josh Beckett, A.J. Pierzynski, Jose Valverde, and Ryan Braun.  But for whatever reason–whether it’s a proper upbringing, a sense of perspective, or simple, common decency–I just can’t stir up the motivation to hate a particular player or players.

I guess that’s why I’m not one of the “Best Fans in Baseball.”

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Cubs Minor League Strikeout Leaders

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Jed Hoyer:

“As an organization I think our pitching depth is one of our biggest concerns,” Hoyer said. “We don’t have a ton of arms in the minor leagues. I think the best organizations are just littered with power arms. Some guys will become starters, some guys will become relievers but the best bullpens are built internally.

“The more we can add those kind of arms during the draft the better. That will be a focus, not just in 2012 but every year. It is a little bit of an organizational hole so our ability to close that will be really important.”

Pitching depth, power arms, bullpen built internally. Sounds fantastic. Hopefully that means no multi-year free agent deals to relief pitchers. So who might we see in Chicago one day? These guys aren’t necessarily “power arms”, but striking guys out is one of the qualities I assume Jed looks for in those power pitchers, so here are the strikeout leaders per 9 innings, minimum 25 innings, no pitchers over age 27 included, cuz I just don’t care about them:

Matt Loosen tops the leaderboard with 31 strikeouts in 31.1 innings of work. He’s a bit old for the league, so it’s wait and see how he does as he climbs the ladder. 8.9 isn’t a very high number to be an organization leader. There are HUNDREDS of minor league pitcher that have higher K rates than 8.9.

Getting his first taste of full season baseball, Jose Rosario would be 21 out of 24 in hits allowed. His age, BB/9, and K/9 all look solid, but he’s light years away.

Travis Wood, like Rosario, gave up a lot of hits, but maintained solid BB and K rates before being promoted to Chicago. With a better defense on the big league team, could be here for good. I think he’ll be a 4th starter for a few years which is a good return for 70 innings of Sean Marshall.

Jeff Antigua is a relief pitcher I think we’ll be seeing in 2013 at the earliest.

Recently promoted to AA, Eric Jokisch is a starter worth following as he faces better players.

Two years ago I opined that Casey Coleman would never make it because he couldn’t strike out enough minor leaguers. I don’t know what’s changed, but he’s gone from 4.5 K/9 in 2010 8K/9 last year in the majors and this year in the minors…small sample size and all, but I’m curious to see how performs.

And that completes the list of minor leaguers that can strike out at least 8 batters per every 9 innings. The cupboard is pretty bare.

Noah talked about Ben Wells yesterday. I wanted to add one more link to the story, Adam Foster at Project Prospect listed Wells as one of seven “Elite” teenagers in full season leagues. Longs ways from Chicago as he is just 19, but he just might be the Cubs best pitching prospect right now.

That may change come Monday when the Cubs make the 6th pick of the draft.

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Game 49: A Sweep is Possible

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Looking for a cure for what is bothering your offense? Turn to the Padres. The Cubs have looked like a completely different team in this series compared to the losing streak and pick up a series win with the decision today. We’ll aim for a sweep, yes you read that correctly, a sweep tomorrow.

Jeff Samardzija continues to look amazing in his transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Every time I watch him pitch, I’m amazed at the transition. I wish I would have saved the comments people were leaving on the site when he was struggling in the bullpen just a year or so ago. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d look back and see if I can find them. What I came away most impressed with in this outing was the efficiency with which he worked. He kept his pitch count all game long and exited with just under 95 thrown over the course of seven strong innings. The only lapse where his inexperience shone through a little was in the 5th, when Everth Cabrera could have basically walked to third on the steal. Samardzija never even turns his head and hadn’t even delivered the pitch before Cabrera was already on third. Aside from that, and a bomb given up off the bat of Carlos Quentin, I was more than pleased once again with what we got out of the Shark, including the offense he provided with a bloop single to help his cause.

As I was watching the game, I began to wonder who the All Star representative would be for the Cubs, assuming we’ll only have one. I think Samardzija has to at least be in the conversation, does he not? More than likely it will be Starlin Castro, but I think I’d vote for Samardzija over Castro at this point because of how unexpected the success has been for him compared to the expectations on Castro. Thoughts?

From a Padres perspective, you have to think they come away from the game wondering how they got hosed on the call at first base in the 7th. It was an inning changer that may have prevented them from stealing some momentum late. On a ground ball to the pitchers mound, Samardzjia’s throw pulled Castro off the bag, which allowed the runner to get in safely at second. A relay throw to first was called an out when it was pretty clear that the runner was also safe. Instead of bases loaded and one out, the Padres were left with second and third and two outs. It turned into no runs, and even led to one of the more amusing manager moments I’ve seen in a while. Both Dale Svuem and Bud Black were both out to argue the calls on the field. I’m not sure what Dale was arguing about. He really should have considered the call at first base a gift a shut his mouth. It’s like complaining when your parents get you an X-Box 360 for Christmas because they didn’t get you the kinect accessory to go with it.

A few minor notes:

  • Country Joe West has some nasty belly sweat
  • It seemed to me, and maybe it’s not the case, that Alfonso Soriano’s stance today at the plate was a little more closed than normal. Did anyone else notice that or was I just making that up?
  • The strike zone against the righties seemed rather odd on calls inside. West seemed to really be calling the inside pitch to righties, especially the high inside strike. I am on a backup computer or I would pull up the heat maps to look at them.
  • Chet West was a guest on ESPN 1000 in Chicago with Jonathan Hood and Jeff Dickerson the other night. You can listen to it here

 

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The Bryan LaHair Conundrum

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

by Michael Jimenez

Bryan LaHair came out swinging in his attempt to show the baseball world he belonged in spite of being overlooked until he was 29. In the first five weeks of the season LaHair hit an astonishing .384 avg /.476 obp /.767 slg /1.243 ops which put him near the top of every offensive category. At the same time, Anthony Rizzo, the 22 year old whom the Cubs received from the Padres in the Cashner trade last winter and the 20th best prospect in all of baseball according to ESPN’s Keith Law, has also staked his claim to first base at Wrigley. Rizzo is hitting .354/.416/.713/1.130 in 197 plate appearances at Iowa, and if it was not for service time considerations, he would be with the major league team right now. However, on June 23rd the Cubs will have secured one more year of control over Rizzo allowing them to bring him up at any point after that date and he will be under team control through 2018 before being available for free agency. Rizzo is producing greater than LaHair ever did at AAA at a much younger age, so it’s pretty clear Rizzo is the Cubs first baseman of the future, but where does that leave LaHair?

First, we need to figure out realistic expectations for LaHair moving forward. Since his blistering hot start LaHair is mired in a 9-for-55 slump and has seen his numbers drop to .299/.394/.584/.978; even the biggest Cub homer had to anticipate this regression – the question is, where does it stop?

The areas of concern are LaHair’s batting average of balls put in play (BABIP), walk rate, isolated power (ISO) and his inability to hit off-speed pitches and lefties. His BABIP is still very high sitting at .388 even though it has dropped nearly 120 points the past three weeks. League average sits around .300, however, LaHair has shown at the minor league level the ability to consistently maintain a higher than normal BABIP. Taking this into account, you can safely assume he may maintain a BABIP around .325 but that still will drive his batting average down significantly. His walk rate is about 3% higher and his ISO is 80 points higher than his career minor league averages, so some moderate regression should be expected in those two areas.

During this lump, LaHair has seen an increase in off-speed pitches. At the peak of his hot streak, only 32% of the pitches he saw were off-speed. During the past 3 weeks he has seen this number jump to 45% and he has yet to adjust. Even more troubling is LaHair’s inability to hit left-handed pitching. So far this season he’s 2-21 (.095 avg) with 5 walks and for his career he’s 7-55 (.127 avg) with 12 walks. While the sample size is extremely small, his minor league numbers support this trend. Using the spreadsheets from the now defunct minorleaguesplits.com you can see that LaHair’s minor league splits until 2010:

LaHair has been dominant versus RHP in his minor league career which has carried his overall numbers to respectability. However, his numbers versus LHP have been abysmal. So far this year, LaHair has only faced LHP 15.6% of the time as he has shared first base duties with Jeff Baker. During his hot streak Cubs Manger Dale Sveum moved away from the platoon but during games this past week against Houston and Pittsburgh, LaHair has sat versus left-handed pitchers while Baker started. I would assume the Cubs have realized LaHair should not face most lefties and have returned to the platoon at first base until Rizzo makes his Cub debut during the summer.

Taking all this into account, and anticipating 550 plate appearances with a BABIP of .330, an ISO of .210, and a walk rate of 10.8% at season’s end, that would put LaHair’s final numbers near a .260 avg/.340 obp/.470 slg/.810 ops. That’s a very respectable season for LaHair putting him just outside the top 10 in OPS of all first basemen. But with Rizzo waiting in the wings, what should happen to LaHair?

Most Cubs fans say he should move to left field and Soriano should be shown the door via trade or flat out release or at least benched. The latter options are just not financially feasible even for the deep pocketed Cubs organization. There’s just too much money and too many years left on the contract for that to happen.

Trading him is also a difficult task. Thus far no team has shown any interest in the 36 year old with over 50 million left on his contract after his very slow start to the season. Reports over the weekend from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo that even the outfield depleted Red Sox were unwilling to take on Soriano at a deep discount. However, Soriano has warmed up with the weather hitting .278 avg/.333 obp/.569 slg/.903 ops since May 4th, so that at least leaves a remote possibility of a team willing to take him on if the Cubs kick in the majority of the contract. There’s also the option of moving David DeJesus in a trade and trying LaHair in RF. He does have experience there in the minors and a bit last year with the Cubs, but simply put he is a terrible defender at both corner outfield spots which is supported by Fangraph’s ultimate zone rating (UZR). A team can live with a his poor defense at first, but in the outfield, his offense must drastically eclipse his defense to make it worthwhile. LaHair’s offensive production moving forward will not merit such a move.

That leaves one option… to trade LaHair. This is the unpopular opinion among Cub fans, but it’s the right thing to do. The one position he can play decently will be filled by our top prospect very soon, LaHair has shown he is not an everyday player given his struggles against lefties, his value will never be as high as it is this summer, and let’s face it, the Cubs aren’t going to be good in the next couple of years while LaHair is still productive. The Cubs should move LaHair for the best deal out there and get a prospect or two that hopefully will be useful when the Cubs are competitive in a few seasons.

Even with the Cubs fighting for last place in the majors, this summer should be an interesting one as Theo and company begin revealing their plans to turn the organization into a success. Here’s hoping their answer to the Bryan LaHair Conundrum is the right one.

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Prospect Spotlight: The Top Prospects Who Have Impressed

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Last week we went through the depressing task of looking through some of the significant number of Cub prospects who have been pretty significant disappointments this season. It was so depressing, that the only comments in response to it were a debate about if Josh Vitters was in fact Iowa’s most disappointing prospect, or if Brett Jackson’s season was in fact more depressing. This week we try something a bit more optimistic: the Cubs’ top prospects who has impressed the most this year. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these players have had significant flaws of one sort or another in their play this season.

Triple A- Anthony Rizzo (1B)

There are very few prospects that made our Top 20 list to start the season to have unequivocally impressive seasons to start the 2012 season. Of that small list, Anthony Rizzo has by far been the best. In case you’ve been living in a cave or desperately been trying to forget anything related to the Cubs’ 2012 season, the Cubs traded right handed pitcher Andrew Cashner for Rizzo this offseason. In the Padres’ organization last season, Rizzo destroyed the Pacific Coast League with a .331/.404/.652 hitting line, but struggled upon being called up to the Majors. Tucson, the Padres’ Triple A affiliate, is one of the best hitters’ parks in all of baseball, and apparently Rizzo got into some bad habits there that were exploited by major league pitchers.

Rizzo is posting even better numbers against the PCL this year, hitting .354/.416./.713. On top of the numbers, Rizzo reportedly has fixed the issues with his swing, and is even looking better against left handed pitchers. Like many young left handed hitters, facing off against same handed pitchers had been a weakness throughout the minors for Rizzo. While we rated Rizzo as our number 2 prospect in the system to start the season, he would almost certainly have passed up Brett Jackson for the number 1 spot if we voted again now. At this point, the only thing keeping Rizzo away from Wrigley is service time and the hopes that Alfonso Soriano will play well enough to develop a trade market for his services.

As a note, Rizzo left Sunday’s game with some wrist soreness, but all indications are that this was a very precautionary move more than anything serious.  He is currently day-to-day, and sat out Monday’s game against Memphis.

Double A- Junior Lake (SS/3B)

Last week, I rated Trey McNutt as the Smokies’ most disappointing prospect from the Top 20 list despite an ERA under 3, largely because none of the other top prospects had been that disappointing and McNutt has issues even reaching the fifth inning in many games. But while the prospects on the Smokies’ roster have not per se failed, they also have not exactly impressed. So Junior Lake, who missed the first month of the season, takes the prize.

Lake, our number 12 prospect to start the season, has been known as a guy with big tools but without a lot of baseball skills. In particular, he was known to have a pretty horrible approach at the plate. In just 87 plate appearances (through Sunday), Lake has shown a much higher walk rate than at any point in his career. In his time with Tennessee last season, Lake posted a walk rate of only 5%. This season it is at 11.5%. He has also decreased his strikeout rate a few percentage points.

The problem is that eight of Lake’s ten walks happened in the first seven games he played in this season, and he has played in nineteen games through Sunday. As such, as of right now we are just dealing with a small sample size and need to take a wait and see approach with Lake. If he has improved his approach at the plate, he could become a big time prospect. But it is far too early to know if that is the case.

High A- Matt Szczur (OF)

Matt Szczur’s 2012 season has been a tale of two months. In April, Szczur did essentially nothing offensively but walk and steal bases, posting a .242/.351/.337 triple slash and stealing 13 bases in 16 attempts. Szczur has been better with the stick in May, hitting .296/.363/.432 in the pitching friendly Florida State League.

Szczur was our number five prospect to the start the season, and aside from jumping Dan Vogelbach due to the young first baseman’s disappointing extended spring training stint, has not improved his standing. He also probably has not hurt his standing. Szczur is still really a bundle of potential. If he can continue posting numbers like he has this May, he can be a starting center fielder who can play great defense, hit for some doubles power and cause havoc on the base paths. If he cannot, he becomes a defense and speed oriented fourth outfielder.

However, at nearly 23 Szczur is old for the more highly considered prospects in the Florida State League. We honestly will not be able to learn that much more about him until we see what he can do in Double A later this season. As far as the scouting gurus are concerned, opinion is still divided. Baseball America loves him, while Kevin Goldstein and Keith Law think he will be limited offensively due to a slappy swing.

Low A- Ben Wells (SP)

A brief look at Ben Wells’ 2012 statistics would lead you to believe that his season has been decent but nothing special, with a 3-2 record and 4.15 ERA. The advanced stats, though, show a much stronger season. In 34 and 2/3 innings, Wells has allowed only 38 hits and 7 walks while striking out 29. He has not allowed a single home run, and has a strong ground out to fly out ratio of 2.55. As a result, his fielding independent pitching is a strong 2.31. The mystery is that Well was moved out of the rotation for the Chiefs, and now acts in a long relief role. While long relievers get much more, and more important, work in the low minors than they do in the majors, Wells is one of the most promising pitchers on the Chief’s staff.

Extended Spring Training- Javier Baez (SS)

It is difficult to get regularly updated stats from extended spring training, but all reports indicate that Baez has done everything but take walks and play good defense in extended spring training. He has hit for contact and power, and Cub fans should look forward to tracking his progress now that he has been promoted to Peoria.

Next week, we will look at some pleasant surprises who were more under the radar to start the season.

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Game 48: FINALLY!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Padres 7 @ Cubs 11

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right?

  • The Cubs broke their 12-game losing streak with a convincing win over the Padres.  I could almost end the recap right there.
  • Both teams got a lot of help from the wind.  Wrigley was a hitters park today, with 35mph gusts blowing straight out to center.  Seriously, I might have been able to hit one out today.
  • After a couple of lousy weeks at the plate, the Cubs broke out the bats today.  David DeJesus hit two triples.  Bryan LaHair had three hits, including a double.  Ian Stewart and Darwin Barney both hit homeruns.  Starlin Castro had a couple of hits, including a homer of his own that he golfed from below his knee all the way past a fan in the last row of the LF bleachers.  Even Reed Johnson got a pinch hit single before he scored on Castro’s homer.
  • Alfonso Soriano had maybe the biggest day of all at the plate (at least for the Cubs).  He started the rally in the bottom of the 4th, tying the game with a run-scoring double, and then coming in to score on Stewart’s homer.  In the 6th he hit a 2-run bomb into the tree across Waveland Ave. to take back the lead.  And he kept the insurance-run-laden 7th inning alive with a sharp grounder up the middle.  These are the kind of days every Cubs fan likes Soriano.  He picked an excellent time for his bat to come back to life.
  • The bullpen got the job done.  Randy Wells wasn’t his sharpest, giving up three doubles over almost two innings–but I’ll let some of the blame for that fall on the strong wind.  Shawn Camp struck out the only batter he faced.  And James Russell and Casey Coleman each pitched effective innings to seal the win.
  • I really can’t say enough about the Cubs hitting today.  They fought back from several deficits to retake the lead–there just wasn’t any quit in them today, and it paid off.  And it wasn’t just one or two guys, either: Soriano, Castro, and Stewart had three RBIs apiece, and Barney and LaHair collected the other two.

What Went Wrong?

  • Of course we’d like to have a day where they aren’t repeatedly forced to fight back from a deficit, but I’m not gonna hammer the pitchers today.  Travis Wood did not have his best stuff, giving up four homers including two to Chase Hedy Headley.  But hats off to Dale for getting him out of there before he could surrender the lead again (it was tied at 6-6 when he left).  On a different day I might be more inclined to gripe.  But after 12-straight losses, there’s no such thing as an ugly win.

Roster Moves

  • The Cubs activated fan-favorite Carlos Marmol from the DL.
  • To make room for Marmol, they sent the struggling Rafael Dolis down to the minors to get some less-dangerous work.
  • Len and Bob mentioned that Steve Clevenger is tearing it up in his rehab stint, so expect the end of the Blake Lalli/Koyie Hill catching tandem shortly.
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