Archive for June, 2012

Game 76: Mahalo Maholm

Saturday, June 30th, 2012


Box ScoreCondensed / Highlights


Hip Hip Hoorah! Paul Maholm jumped in on the week long win parade with a terrific rebound performance against the Astros. From the get go, Maholm was in control of every at bat and didn’t make the same silly mistakes he’s been making over his past five or six starts.

In his post game interview, he seemed more than relieved to get off the snide and grab his fifth win of the season. It’s strange to think he was 3-2 during April and hasn’t had a win since the first start in May. Although if you look at his box score stats from the past month, you can certainly understand why he hasn’t had one.

But Maholm wasn’t the only one to get back in the win column, as I am getting to recap my first win in over a month as well. I want to thank my parents, my wife and this wonderful team for the opportunity to do so. Brings tears to my eyes.

Rizzo Watch

Anthony Rizzo grabbed a walk in the first inning, as everyone else struggled to get on base against Bud Norris the first time around. Unfortunately this was the only time Rizzo touched first base and stayed there. Yesterday it seemed like he was going with the home run swing  a bit much, which will get him in to trouble in the Bigs. Overall his swing has been much better then it was with the Padres last year. His hands are a lot lower in his stance and he’s getting his hands around quicker. His first bomb at Wrigley is on the horizon.

Mahlolm’s Rebound

I won’t talk much more about him, since I did in the opening. Paulie M hadn’t won a game since May 7th and hasn’t looked very sharp since then. Maholm’s performance was “dominant” in a weird way, only walking one and giving up two hits through eight. I’ll give him a pass for the top of the ninth, although it always frightens me to bring in Marmol with guys in scoring position. Maholm definitely wanted to get out of his own jam for the complete game, but he was starting to leave the ball over the plate in the later innings. Some good defense by Castro and DeJesus saved some big hits and runs. I’d be happy if Maholm pitches somewhere between this performance and his bad ones. All he needs to do is give the team a chance to win every fifth day and he went above the call of duty yesterday.

Vitters Back on Top Lists

I know that Kevin Goldstein’s fantasy prospects list isn’t the most regarded in terms of opinions in the baseball world, but it’s interesting to see Vitters on the list. He has been much more consistent in AAA this year and should be a August or September call up, possibly even before Brett Jackson. The reason I believe that is because of Vitters’ ability to make contact, while Jackson tends to struggle. His defense still isn’t great, but I can see him platooning with Valbuena — who I really like — if the team DFA’s Mather or Stewart.

Trade Talk

Ryan Dempster looks like a top choice for Dodgers according to multiple sources. Garza might stay, he might go to the American League, who knows. Also according to Joe’s dream last night, Starlin Castro is getting traded to the Nationals for a bunch of underwhelming veterans. We should all pray he is not Nostradamus.

Speaking of Garza, he gets the start today against the red hot J.A. Happ. Garza, like Maholm has been on a cold streak in the win column despite his best efforts. It would be nice to see Garza put out a more dominant performance though, rather than his status quo of giving up three runs over six innings in every start. We shall see.

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What Was Theo Thinking?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Here we sit at the end of June, the Cubs having lost almost twice as many games as they’ve won and basically the worst team in baseball by the numbers, and a question keeps coming to mind.

What was Theo thinking?  What was it about taking over the Cubs’ baseball operations that appealed to him?  What pushed him to take the job in spite of the obvious and plentiful hurdles to immediate success?  Even as the situation in Boston disintegrated around him, what prompted him to Chicago?  What made him think this kind of humiliation and frustration would eventually be worth it?

I think there are a variety of answers, and they might give us downtrodden fans some encouragement as the Cubs race to what could be their worst-ever record.

We can start with the easy answers.  History certainly was a factor.  Coming to the Cubs gives Theo an opportunity to figure heavily in the ending of the two longest championship droughts in the MLB for two of its most popular teams.  That alone would put him on the league’s Mt. Rushmore.  That he also would get  to oversee the preservation/renovation of the two oldest and most beloved ballparks in baseball would be gravy, and (to mix metaphors), only further knit him into the fabric of the game.

But those couldn’t be the only reasons.  Those are a dreamer’s reasons for taking the job–they’re the reasons you and I, or any lifelong Cubs fan would sign up in a heartbeat.  I’m not convinced Theo is that kind of dreamer.  Or at least, that he would make such a leap and take such a risk based solely on those dreams.  He seems to be too smart and too practical to whimsically chase glory and immortality like that.  And he knows too much about the game to think it would be that easy.  There has to be something more to it–something tangible and concrete on which he could build those historic championship dreams.

Maybe it was money?  Not money for Theo–although I’m sure he’s well compensated.  I’m talking about the Ricketts family’s deep pockets.  Theo knows you don’t buy your way into consistent relevancy in baseball, but it takes money to stay there.  The Cubs are one of the most profitable brands (although it makes my skin crawl to talk about the team in those terms) in baseball, and winning only drives up their already nationwide popularity.

The problem that the Pirates and the Royals have–where they develop talent but can’t afford to keep it long enough to build a winning team–that won’t ever be a problem for the Cubs.  And with the renovation of Wrigley and the transformation of Wrigleyville on the horizon, the Cubs can expect to be even more profitable as the team grows.  Theo enjoyed the comfort of financial flexibility in Boston–he wouldn’t have come to Chicago if he didn’t expect the same thing here.

But it wasn’t just the money, either.  As I said, Theo knows you can’t buy your way to the World Series every year, and my guess is that he’s still a ways off from making his first big free agent splash (I’m not counting Jorge Soler, since that was more like spending big on the draft than stealing a proven free agent off the open market).  The Cubs aren’t one player away from the playoffs, and so right now it doesn’t make sense to pay anyone like he’s the guy who will take us there.  The Cubs’ payroll now is significantly lower than it’s been in years–if they’re really going to lose 100 games, I’m sure Tom Ricketts wants to keep it that way.  At least for now.

Add to that the new restrictions on paying draft picks and international free agents, and those deep pockets become even less motivating on their own.  Sure the Cubs might not ever have serious money problems, but they also have fewer avenues to spend that cash and spend it wisely.

Which makes me think that there was something else besides history and financial flexibility that made Theo think he could turn the Cubs into a winner.  As odd as it sounds with our current dearth of talent, I think he must have seen a player (or players) on the current Cubs roster who he thinks he can build on.

He’s certainly aware of what Matt Garza’s capable of, having faced off against him in the AL East for years.  And while the contract negotiations with Garza’s camp haven’t born any fruit, I’m not willing to assume Theo only sees his ace as trade bait.  But Garza wouldn’t be the only guy, since you can’t build a strong foundation solely on a guy who only plays every five days.

Who else?  Maybe Theo’s a Jeff Samardzija believer, and already has him penciled in to our starting rotation for the next few years?  Maybe he’s super high on Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, or some of the other draft picks we picked up last season?  Maybe he sees something in Josh Vitters that the world hasn’t seen yet is just now getting a glimpse of?  Maybe he knew he could reunite with Anthony Rizzo, and he’s got astronomical expectations for him, too?  I can’t tell you which pieces Theo thinks he can build on, and which he sees as placeholders.

I can tell you that when he came to the Cubs, he was intrigued by Starlin Castro’s talent–and who wouldn’t be?  Castro’s abilities are attention-grabbing (as are often his mistakes).  If you had to pick any team in the league, you’d pick the one with the 22 year-old phenom with barrels of raw talent and a potentially long, bright future ahead of him.  There are only a handful of those kinds of players in the league right now, and I’m sure that factored into Theo’s choice to come to Chicago.

However, it wasn’t until lately that he was sure he could build on him.  Like everyone else, Theo had his questions about Castro’s maturity and his discipline.  It wasn’t until Theo saw him up close and watched Castro work to improve his game that Theo was sure he was a keeper–that he was a building block and not trade bait.

What was Theo thinking?  I think it was some combination of the reasons I’ve listed.  I think he saw a few players who exhibit the kind of talent he can build on.  I think he knew that when the time came to spend money, he wouldn’t get hand-wringing or push-back from Tom Ricketts.  And I think he knew that despite some of the obvious flaws that need to be addressed, the Cubs are an organization he can eventually turn into World Series champs.

And frankly, the fact that an outsider who doesn’t need the headache and heartache of the Cubs would look at the mess we have on our hands and see that… that gives me hope.

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Astros Series Preview

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of

Friday at 2:20pm EDT – Paul Maholm vs. Bud Norris

Maholm needs a win. His last one was May 9 against the Braves. He was roughed up in his last start against the Diamondbacks, giving up six runs on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings. The bright spot? He hit his second career home run. Norris returns from the disabled list to start the series opener against the Cubs. He injured his hip flexor May 31 against the Rockies and was 0-3 with a 13.09 ERA in three starts while dealing with that and a sprained knee.

Saturday at 4:05pm EDT – Matt Garza vs. J.A. Happ

Garza has six quality starts in his last nine games, but only one win in that stretch. One of those games that wasn’t a quality start was May 21 against the Astros, when he gave up seven runs on five hits over three innings. Happ, who went to Northwestern and lives in Chicago, is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his last two starts, allowing just eight hits, three walks and three runs in 13 innings. This is only his second career appearance at Wrigley.

Sunday at 2:20pm EDT – Travis Wood vs. Wandy Rodriguez

Wood may not want to turn the calendar. He posted a 2.27 ERA in June, and picked up wins against former Cy Young winners Jake Peavy and Johan Santana. He has four quality starts in his last five outings. Rodriguez hasn’t pitched as well recently as he did earlier. He’s 2-1 with a 4.68 ERA in his last four starts, allowing 29 hits and 13 runs in his last 25 innings. He’s 2-4 with a 5.09 ERA in 11 career starts at Wrigley.

How to Pitch to the Big Boys

Each series we’ll take a look at the top three home run hitters in the opposing team’s lineup to establish how to get them out and minimize the damage. The heat maps show each player’s isolated power based on area of the zone. If you’re not familiar with the stat, Isolated Power or ISO is a sabermetric baseball statistic which measures a batter’s raw power. The formula is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average, which removes all the singles that are included in SLG%. The final result measures how many extra bases a player averages per at bat. By limiting extra base hits, you drastically increase your chance to win the game

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

Does it seem weird that we’re on the verge of July and we’ve only played the Astros once so far?  I guess we’ll see them a lot in the second half.

Now the last time these two teams faced off was in the midst of the Cubs’ horri-awful 12-game losing streak.  And I strongly doubt that we’ll once again have the top-to-bottom incompetence that handed all three games to the Astros.  Since then, the starting rotation has regained a small amount of stability (still nowhere near where they started the season, but better than they were a month or so ago), some of the bats have warmed up, and the bullpen, while still a dumpster fire, has been downgraded from a four-alarm catastrophe.

And here’s the thing–the Astros are a lousy team.  Yes, they sit above the Cubs in the standings, but if ever there was a team the Cubs ought to be able to compete against, it’s the Astros.  The only way to get out of the cellar is to consistently beat the other bottom-dwellers.  I’m not interested in the race for the first overall pick in the 2013 draft–I want to see some life out of the patchwork team we’ve got right now.

We’ve been looking ahead to roster turnover for a few weeks now, and we’ll see what kind of trade magic Theo and Jed can create as the deadline creeps up.  But even as the fans give up on 2012 and look ahead to next year (or beyond) I’m hopeful the team doesn’t have the same kind of fatalistic mentality.  I hope they still have something to play for–even if it’s just their jobs.  I think they can do better than they have done, and it has to start against beatable teams like the Astros.

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What’s Wrong With the Shark?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

At the beginning of the season, everyone was on the Jeff Samardzija bandwagon. Things were so great that he was even selected in the ESPN MLB Franchise draft in the first round (pick # 26). Granted, the pick was made by Rick Sutcliffe, but it’s clear most were pretty high on what we saw from the Shark. Lately, the results have been a little rockier and the results have been less than ideal and it’s caused some to wonder what’s wrong. Before looking into the numbers, I had two theories that I sought to prove as the cause of the struggles.

Theory # 1 – He uses his pitches different in losses compared to wins.

This was my strongest theory. I thought for sure that because the results have been so drastically different, surely he must be approaching hitters differently when it comes to pitch usage. I pulled the data on his most recent outing and saw a lot of fastballs, to the tune of over 70%. However, when I looked at the numbers overall this season in the wins, losses, and no decisions, I really didn’t find all that much of a difference. Below is the breakdown of average number of pitches in each start based on decision as well as the pitch usage in those starts.

Looking at the graphic, the only thing that stands out is the 0% usage of the cutter in the wins. Personally, I’m not willing to blame the cutter as the reason why he’s lost. However, the data shows that it has been a far more effective pitch against righties compared to lefties. Righties are hitting just .125 / .222 / .125 against the cutter while lefties have stroked to the tune of .625 / .700 / 1.625. You can see a definite difference in how he uses it as well, from a location standpoint.

He’s working the righties away and the lefties inside. As a result, lefties are raking on that pitch. Aside from that small nugget, I’m not ready to say that the pitch usage argument is necessarily the cause.

Theory # 2 – He’s not getting ahead of hitters early in the count

One of the things I most like to see from my pitches is the first pitch strike. There was a study done on The Hitting Aid that showed the following averages based on pitch count:

Count 2000 2007 2008 2009
First Pitch .336 .344 .337 .338
1-0 .343 .341 .339 .340
2-0 .360 .350 .355 .368
3-0 xxxx .396 .370 .395
0-1 .324 .324 .339 .317
1-1 .325 .327 .329 .332
2-1 .340 .339 .339 .339
3-1 .344 .368 .350 .352
0-2 .160 .164 .160 .156
1-2 .178 .170 .179 .171
2-2 .195 .191 .194 .189
Full .234 .230 .227 .233

It’s hard to argue the importance of working the count into your favor when you’re a pitcher. It makes the hitter uncomfortable and as a result, tents to lead to less production. Notice the difference between being up 0-1 and being up 0-2. It’s over 150 points less. You can’t get to 0-2 unless you start the hitter off 0-1. I thought for sure than Samardzija may not be consistent in that area when it comes to his losses so I took a look at his efficiency at getting ahead in the count on the first pitch. What I found was less than convincing:

Looking at the difference, or lack thereof, it’s hard to make the case that theory # 2 is the cause for his recent struggles.

I don’t know what to tell you. It doesn’t appear to be a pitch selection issue and it doesn’t appear to be an issue of getting ahead in the count. I’m at a loss. Maybe he’s tipping his pitches. Maybe he’s just in a funk. Or maybe, and I want to be wrong on this one, he’s just not the guy we saw in the first part of the season. Whatever the cause, I hope it gets corrected soon. Until then, let’s talk it up. Get out your diagnostic hat and share your theories on What’s Wrong With the Shark.

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GirlieView (06/28/2012)

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I had to wrap up my review a little bit early this time around (Monday) but don’t worry, I always pick up where I left off.


  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most funny comments in the period under review (usually the past two weeks)
  • Top 10 of 2012: The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Let’s go!


  • until Theo proves me wrong, I’ll assume most of his decisions are the right decision.
  • Slipping 20 games under .500 means even your role players don’t have much of a role to play.
  • The win raises our playoff odds to 0.7% chance. Get your tickets now!!!!
  • It’s not about blaming Rudy. It’s out with the old Hendry way, in with the new Theo way.
  • what happens on a come-backer?  Does the 70 y/o tax attorney swing the pitching machine over towards first for the relay, or is that frowned upon?
  • only once saw a line shot at the machine that went into the feed hole and came right back at the batter. You don’t see that in the bigs.
  • Is “the machine” the 70 y/o tax attorney’s nickname?  Sorry to hear about his feed hole.
  • When the 70 y/o tax attorney knocks over the pitching machine trying to field the bunt the laughter is deafening for anyone who isn’t already deaf.
  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say we should probably get some hitters before we get another hitting coach.
  • “Not much” is the theme with the farm system.
  • As the Cubs continue to sleep walk through the 2012 season
  • Tardiness is forgiven.  Getting our hopes up for seeing any return on Marmol is frowned upon, however.
  • [Randy Wells] Value:  Internet Hottie Status
  • The only scenario I can see where I would support the DH in the NL , is if I were the DH. This seems unlikely.
  • Props to you, no bitterness, no resentment, your invitation to dine with Seymour will not be revoked.
  • No worries there Doc, it’s only a temporary de-throning.  Personally, I can’t get enough of you singing your own fantasy camp praises.
  • If you can’t rake off a pitching machine with crippled outfielders you just can’t rake.
  • Little elves didn’t come over and restock my fridge with beer. I keep waiting and waiting. Not sure what the problem is.
  • try decking your house in Cardinals gear, because I secretly suspect the beer elves have a mission to keep St. Louis fans liquored up and ornery.
  • “All right you hitters, we got a Katrina coming in to pitch, grip and rip.”
  • If we deilver some beer and chicken to the Red Sox dressing room we’ll be fine.
  • The one I really want for a repeat performance is the White Sox guy.  I feel like we could almost give him a regular feature here just to boost everyone’s self-esteem.
  • Until you’ve walked in his shoes, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
  • Bill Buckner swatted a homer and two doubles and Bruce Sutter struck out all six batters he faced, leading the Cubs to a 6-2 victory over Dave Parker and the pesky Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • I’m not sure how to gussy up a game in which the Cubs made most of their outs by swinging at bad pitches.
  • it’s always unpleasant to see the ever-odious Pierzynski have any success.
  • Why would anyone pelt BLPCB with trash? You’re so soft spoken and shy.
  • Does anyone over 6 years old really care about that trophy?
  • I have a six year old. He doesn’t care
  • You had dinner with the Boise manager didn’t you Seymour? At a restaurant I mean, not just eating a hot dog in the first row while he waves to you from the dugout.
  • I’m pretty sure a combined Cubs/Sox TV crew doing the same broadcast would cause me to asphyxiate myself with my own shoelaces.
  • So would that make Mrs Obvious pro or con on the combined broadcast crew?
  • Mrs. Obvious needs me around.  We share a child, a large mortgage, and a general dislike of italian-american republican sunglass salesmen.
  • And I need you around till you buy my dinner this summer. =)
  • It’s possible I might still have Alec Berg’s Amex.
  • Sounds like Taco Bell for yous.
  • They spent a chunk of the game bitching about Soriano and his large contract and the rest lamenting the fact that the Cubs didn’t sign Fielder or Pujols.
  • Call me insane, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs actually contend for a playoff spot next year.
  • Dear Buddy, You are insane. Yours truly Cap’n Obvious
  • How about a naming contest where the winner gets nothing, but we can fulfill our prime objective by trolling for Lizzies.
  • “The Athletic Cup”
  • We Stinks
  • we won’t remember the 2012 Cubs for their futility.  No, instead, we will remember it as the first step in the right direction.
  • The century mark in losses is really about the only noteworthy accomplishment left for this team.
  • It would probably really help our record if we could schedule more games against the Cubs.
  • The D-backs really need to work on getting guys with better baseball names. Paul Goldschmidt? Come on!
  • Carlos Goldschmidt.  Way better.
  • The guys that can get on base are the guys who bring people home, which causes quite the dilemma
  • If I’m Theo my next move is to post saying I’m sorry but I won’t have time to read VFTB for a while. I’ll be to busy setting up and making trades.
  • losing isn’t what I take issue with, it’s the lack of progress seen on the field.
  • The Cubs are 15th in on-base percentage and 14th in ERA. You don’t have to be Columbo to figure out where that leads.


  • The answer to the closer question is, “We have a lead?”

Shout Outs

  • Congratulations to Michael Jimenez who received his first 2012 Lizzie this week. Thanks for your posts and comments!


  • Congratulations to Doc Raker, the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around!

Top 10 of 2012

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

Lizzie’s Kitchen

If you need a take-along to your neighbor’s 4th of July picnic, give this a try!

Chit Chat

Speaking of the 4th of July, doing anything special to celebrate?

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