Archive for August, 2012

GirlieView (08/23/2012)

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Have you taken our reader survey yet? If not, please do, it’s important to hear from you so we can make this site be what YOU want it to be! Despite a suggestion posed this week, there’s no I in VFTB. I know, I know, there’s no U in VFTB either, but trust me, it really is all about YOU!

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GirlieView Definitions

  • 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 Lizzies 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!

Lizzies

  • Nothing much to see here.
  • My goal for this recap is to write it in the same amount of time as the Cubs have scored runs during their eight game losing streak.
  • In an unrelated note, I glanced at the recipe title and honestly thought it said church “panties”.
  • Mrs. Obvious has church panties…they aren’t among my favorites.
  • Blaming Lizzie is like blaming the ump because you lost the game – just saying…
  • That’s a whole bunch of unhatched chickens you’re counting there.
  • Jackson is very selective. He just has issues having the bat meet the ball.
  • I won’t spend much time with the doom and gloom, because despite having to recap another wrong side of a shutout I do believe the future of the organization is a bright one.
  • What is your SSN, ATM pin code, and Mother’s maiden name…
  • Bosco
  • I heard you recently dined with cap’n Obvious…is he as dreamy as I’ve heard
  • He is…he even bought my dinner. I made sure that all he got on the first date was a thank you and a handshake, though.
  • 7 days of penicillin is still a good idea.
  • You have to make subtle changes to your email address so the gravitar does not give away the fact that your are referring to yourself as dreamy.
  • A slap fight between laughingstocks. Hooray!
  • He’s a puffy shirt and a parrot away from appearing in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
  • And a jersey away from appearing in a film as Jeff Sharxx.
  • He be aight.
  • Only 47 more to go
  • that’s only 0-1 for Jeremiah, while it’s a big goose egg on the season for Volstad…
  • and I doubt if Jeremiah is in danger of being jeered and sent back to the minors for his goose egg.
  • What is the minors equivalent for the sports blog world? Would I just be scrawling out angry, anti-Cardinals graffiti in bathroom stalls? ‘Cause I already spend a fair amount of time doing that.
  • You get sent to Randy’s camp to blog about the likes of Seymour and other aging professionals playing a very slow bastardized version of the greatest game of baseball.
  • “Player Profile: the pitching machine”, “Top 5 Raking Doctors (and Optometrists) at Camp”, “Game 3: Who Ordered Subway?”
  • View From The Iowa Cubs Bleachers (VFTICB) could use a guy like JJ.
  • That acronym looks like a disease.
  • he chewed his gum like a hooker in a bad 80′s movie.
  • I bet a cheese steak in February that they would finish under 60 wins, so I’m sticking with 59-103 (even though I’m no longer in Philly to collect my winnings).
  • Barry Bonds was unavailable for comment.
  • Rock Shoulders
  • it doesn’t look like Vogelbach will have broccoli listed as a plus-tool anytime soon.
  • the chimp in the caption looks eerily like Doc Raker when he is deep in thought.
  • I was wondering about that chimp.
  • You should be wondering about Raker..
  • That’s a bunch of hooey since I have never been deep in thought.
  • Can we lose the hyphen and use a guttural pronunciation?  Call him Hram – it’ll give us a discreet way of clearing our throats too.
  • Don’t we want to try to keep the new readers around, instead of criticizing the very first thing they say? You know, just a thought…
  • I’d start to worry none of you liked me if no one explained what an idiot I was in the first week.
  • TE: Look at who we’ve brought in as part of our team, Oneri. We’ve got Jed here. Dale’s doing a hell of a job. We brought Jason in when we got here. Tim just got a big promotion. Not a lot of Oneris on that list are there Jed. JH: No sir, not a lot of Oneris.
  • trade Austin Bibbens-Dirkx, let some other team deal with those ridiculous hyphenated names.
  • What would you say, you DO here?
  • I’m telling you, I’ve got people skills! What is wrong with you people?
  • Geez – Can’t a guy make a hypothetical comment about a  hypothetical write-up without getting the hypothetical crap beat out of him by the hypothetical Johnsons?
  • I think you may have just coined my next fantasy football team name: Hypothetical Johnsons.
  • Sounds like we won’t be trading for Jared Saltalamachia any time soon.
  • I fear that The Shark is not long for the team.  However, his first name is Jeff…  Wellington Castillo had better not buy a house.  Tell him to rent.
  • What was Prior doing for the Red Sox, was he a beer vendor?
  • So far not so good for “the Shark.” Didn’t somebody tell him it’s “Shark Week?”
  • He’s angling to switch his nickname to Bait.
  • Jeff Samardzija is just a guy who has nicknamed himself and happens to be the best starter in a really crappy rotation.
  • game two gave my small sidekick and I some interesting talking points to kick around in the baby bjorn
  • I’m sure even Koyie Hill had 22 good at bats somewhere along the line.
  • even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then
  • I just want an end to Vitters hitting 2nd.  It’s like we start the game with one out in the first.
  • Thanks to you and Mrs. Butts for the recon.  I hope you call her that by the way.
  • Even though the plan failed miserably, you’ve got to think Braun is at least a little jealous his imagination wasn’t as grandiose.
  • Testosterone in urine will not turn positive by passage of time.
  • Don’t fret. TBD has a solid arm with good late movement.

Lizard

  • Can’t Volsta(n)d to Watch Anymore

Shout Outs

Congratulations to the following commenters who received their first 2012 Lizzie this week. Thanks for hanging out with us! We’re happy to have you here!

  • Sean_in_Blue
  • Stephanie Seymour

MVL

We have co-Most Valuable Lizzie’ers this time around! Congratulations to the brothers Johnson: Jedi and Jeremiah, tied for the co-win!

Top 10 of 2012

1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. Doc Raker
3. jswanson
4. Jedi Johnson
5. Seymour Butts
6. cap’n Obvious
7. Buddy
8. Joe Aiello
9. Chuck
10. Eddie von White

Lizzie’s Kitchen

In honor of Dustin’s un-collectable bet: Philly Cheese Steak Wraps

Chit Chat

Last GirlieView I asked your three favorite Cubs. Using stellar mathematical techniques that would make jswanson and Seymour proud, I’ve compiled the results as follows:

With an impressive 25% of the vote, Anthony Rizzo is VFTBs favorite current Cub! Here are the full standings:

1. Anthony Rizzo – 25%
2. Darwin Barney – 17%
2. Starlin Castro – 17%
4. Steve Clevenger – 8%
4. Travis Wood – 8%
6. Wellington Castillo – 4%
6. David DeJesus – 4%
6. Bryan LaHair – 4%
6. Jeff Samardzija – 4%
6. Alfonso Soriano – 4%
6. Josh Vitters – 4%

Nary a vote for anyone else on the team. That kind of tells you something. This week, let’s flip. Who are your three least-favorite Cubs on the current 25-man roster? Special thanks to everyone who takes part in my weekly chit chat!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Success Rate of MLB Draft Picks by Slot

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

It’s no secret that MLB prospect success rates are rather low.  There’s been a couple great studies on prospect success rates like Scott McKinney’s study on the success of BA’s top prospects  and Matt Garrioch’s study on the draft’s success by round; however, I have not seen any studies on the success rates of draft picks by each individual slot.  This has peaked my interest recently as the Cubs are tanking the 2012 season for as high of a draft pick as possible.  Many of you already know I am working on a Ph.D. in History so something like this is right up my alley (too bad I chose a Civil Rights topic for my dissertation instead of a topic on baseball or I’d be done already).  I decided to do my own study tracking the success rate of every draft pick in the first round from 1990-2006.

Methodology

I separated the 17 years into three separate brackets. 1990-1995, 1996-2000, and 2000-2006.  I chose to stop at the year 2006, because many of 2007′s prospects have their fates yet to be decided. The number 3 pick for instance, Josh Vitters, just hit the majors.  Is it fair to call him a bust when he’s had 25 plate appearances and is still only 22 years old? Granted the more recent years will still be a little shady as well, especially players drafted out of high school, but at this point successful players should be performing at the majors.

Establishing what would be deemed a “successful” draft pick was the most difficult part of this study.  I asked a few of the popular prospect experts how they would define success of an MLB draft pick, and the responses all came back similar; it depends on each individual case, the money involved, and where they were selected. There was no one way to define “success” that would cover every draft pick.  So instead I chose three separate approaches.

First, I went with  a similar methodology to Scott McKinney’s study on BA’s top 100 prospects.   I used FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as the tool for measurement.  I took  the average of WAR at the MLB level during the player’s controllable years excluding seasons under 100 plate appearances or 25 innings pitched if they occurred in the first 1 or 2 consecutive seasons of reaching the majors. McKinney wrote  that he “was attempting to account for the fact that many players get very little playing time in their first or second season, and I did not want to give them equal weight in the average WAR calculation.  At the same time, I didn’t want to omit all short or partial seasons over a player’s cost controlled years because they are often due to injury or poor performance.” I agreed with this premise and decided to keep this stipulation.  This is labeled as cWAR.

That means for a player to be deemed a “success,” they must post at least a 1.5 WAR average in the 6 years before they could hit free agency.  In addition, there would be a “superior” category in which the player would need a 2.5 WAR average over that same time period.

Second, I looked  at the peak of the player’s career.  I evaluated the players’ best 5-year stretch using higher minimum WAR requirements than the first approach and labeled it as pWAR.  Since I cherry picked the best 5 consecutive seasons of a player’s career, I increased the WAR to fit the basic definitions for a league average and superior player.  That means the minimum success WAR was raised to 2.0, while the minimum superior WAR was raised to a 3.0 average.  This would give “late-bloomers” a chance at being called a success, or some successes to be bumped up to superior players.

Lastly, I looked at the longevity of a career.  To play in the majors for an extended period of time shows a player had enough skill to stick around at the highest level.  I wanted a number high enough that the player received either a multiple year contract or multiple contracts after they hit free agency.  I decided to use 10 years as the amount to be deemed a success for draft picks.  There were 2 players in the next bracket who are both still active and sitting at 9 years, I decided these 2 players deserved the success as longevity; they are R.A. Dickey and Matt Thornton.  After 1999 there were no players who were successful via only the longevity clause which was expected as there’s just not enough time to develop through the minors and reach 10 seasons yet.  The same minimum requirements of 100 PAs or 25 innings pitched for the first year or two apply.  I also decided to add a similar stipulation to the tail end of careers to eliminate failed comeback attempts to avoid artificially inflating a player’s length of career.  Overall, a very small percentage of players were deemed a success via only longevity so I was very happy with how this approach turned out.

Results

Without further ado, the results spreadsheet for your viewing pleasure

As you probably expected, the further the study went, the more fuzzy the picture became on some draft picks. These were guys, usually called up within the past few seasons, who sat on the fringe of success and could go either way depending on how the rest of their career goes.  There wasn’t a significant amount of players affected to alter the results but there will definitely be an influx of more successful players as time goes by in addition to the handful of the successful by longevity guys as well. This type is actually rather easy to predict.  Usually they are just on the border of being a good player.   The majority were actually converted starting pitchers who went to the bullpen and found some success there after failing as a starter.  Guys I would expect to see hit the 10 year mark include Phil Hughes, Chris Volstad, and Carlos Quentin among others.  The study predicted players that I perceive as borderline very well.  In all, I agreed with nearly every determination in the study.  The few that I disagreed with, tended to have injuries skew their statistics.

One question I wanted definitively answered was if tanking actually helped teams rebuild quicker.  I would answer that with a resounding yes after seeing how successful the higher draft picks were compared to the mid to low picks especially when separated into the brackets.

Teams that chose in the top half of the draft had at least a 36% to find a successful player moving forward.  Teams choosing in the top 5 had nearly a 50/50 chance.  While teams had a little better than a 1 in 5 chance to land a quality player in the 16-25 range, if you weren’t making the playoffs, you absolutely wanted to draft as high as possible.

As you can see the chance to find a superior player also drastically decreases the further you get in the draft.  It was even more important for rebuilding teams to stay in the bottom 10 in the standings to have the best chance at acquiring impact talent.  After the top 10, there is a significant drop off that levels off until the final bracket.

The second question I wanted to answer was if drafting had improved over the years as scouting and saber metrics had advanced.   This is a little more difficult to answer but based purely on my research I would lean towards no.  In the 90-95 bracket  teams found a successful player 34% of the time and a superior player 18% of the time; however, those numbers dropped in the 96-00 bracket to 27% and 16%.  In the final bracket, those numbers rebounded to 30% and 20%.  While the successful player percentage is still lower than the first bracket, if you take into account that many players drafted between 00-06 have not been in the majors long enough to get out of their controlled years and there were zero longevity successes in this bracket, you could predict an increase of 12 more successes.  That would increase the success percentage to 37% still within 3% of the 90-95′s success rate.  With modern medical advances, nutrition awareness, and less general wear and tear on players, I think there’s a case to be made that we are seeing more successful players because injuries are less career threatening than ever before and players were able to keep a higher production and hang around the majors longer.  You could also make the case that the 02′ and 05′ drafts are two of the best draft classes ever and those are skewing the numbers more positively.  Moreover, there were a few cases like Brian Bogusevic who haven’t been in the majors very long, put up a really good season, and that one year that carried him to a success result.  In any case, there’s no definitive evidence to conclude there was an improvement in scouting.

As for the Cubs, the organization wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Out of 17 draft picks in the first round, they came away with 5 good picks and 2 superior players for just shy of a 30% success rate.  The average success rate was 30.64%, and the Cubs were tied for 14th, right in the middle of the pack.  However, there were two problems.  Foremost, three of their picks’ careers were derailed by injury – Kerry Wood, Corey Patterson, and Mark Prior – and the team traded away Doug Glanville and Jon Garland for past their prime veterans.  Second, there were zero successful picks after 2001. As Scouting Director from 1996-2002, Jim Hendry chose 4 of the 5 successful picks for a 57% success rate. The guy that assumed the role after Hendry, John Stockstill, went 0-3 before he left to join the Orioles.  After Hendry turned to Tim Wilken, you can see a noticeable difference in talent through the draft with all four of his first picks already playing in the majors.  Speaking of Tim Wilken, there’s a good reason he’s so highly regarded around the major leagues.  While with Toronto and Tampa the two organizations went a combined 9-16 (56%).  I am very happy the new front office kept him on board and have expanded his roles with the team.

Conclusion

I enjoyed working on this quite a bit.  It was fun to take a stroll down memory lane, and it was also interesting to see what players I perceived as better or worse than they actually were.  I had to triple check Corey Patterson’s numbers after they said he was a success… and he wasn’t the only player/team I was surprised by.

I’m not done with this study.  I’m already expanding to the team stats and I will definitely revisit the study in a few years to update and expand it for more recent drafts.  I will probably go back earlier than 1990 as well to continue to investigate if the success rate of organizations has improved or diminished over the decades.

If you have any suggestions how to improve the study, found an error or want to share any surprises you found, please leave them in the comments.

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Game 123: Sweep The Loss Under the Rug

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Before we talk about the loss today, I wanted to kindly remind everyone why we do this site. It’s not for me and it’s not for each of the writers that contribute here, though I have to say that it is something I enjoy doing. We do this site day in and day out every day of the year for you. Everything we write and talk about on here is designed and planned around you. With that in mind, please take a minute and give us some feedback. We’re running a survey. You can find the link at the bottom of this post. Take a minute and answer the 8 questions. We value what you have to say. It will take you five minutes and gives us a wealth of feedback on how to make things better for you. Who knows, you may just get rewarded for your time in the form of a prize (hint hint). Now, on to the notes:

  • If I have to watch a loss, I’d much prefer a day loss for a few reasons. First, it allows me to DVR the game and fast forward when I am angry. Second, it allows said anger to subside before bedtime, which for me comes early.
  • Really felt good about the game when I saw David DeJesus go yard to lead off the game. It was a line drive to right center that hit with a pronounced thud against the Toyota ad in the outfield. As a starting pitcher, that has to be a little deflating to start a game that way. Shortly after that, in the bottom half of the inning, DeJesus would hurt his hand in what could have been a nasty semi-collision with Brett Jackson. Thankfully both players were just fine.
  • Overall, I was pleased with the start that was turned in by Travis Wood. He was coming off a pretty rough outing last time out and went seven strong innings and only allowed three runs. I consider Wood, in a perfect world, to be either our third or fourth starter. To turn in that outing with that spot in the rotation is alright with me.
  • Very interesting to watch the routes that DeJesus and Jackson take in the outfield and they make a play and track fly balls compared to the routes thatBryan LaHair takes. I don’t necessarily consider him a defensive liability, but he’s not a good outfielder. He just hasn’t figured out how to put himself in a good position, especially as he has to move toward the foul line. On the positive, it is fun to watch him hit the long ball. I’m not even a chick and I dig that.
  • Brett Jackson….four at bats…..three strikeouts. At least he’s pretty.
  • John Axford pre-shave = scary and intimidating. John Axford post-shave = soft and cuddly.

As I’m re-reading my post to spell check I realize that two of my points make me come across as a little creepy. Perhaps I should stop now.

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Nailed!

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

“Don’t take candy from a stranger.”

“Don’t eat the brownies from that strange hippie kid that sits outside the dorms at 3 AM.”

“Don’t answer the door unless you know who is knocking.”

4 out of 5 children surveyed have had these statements pounded into their brains by their mothers since they were small children. Doctors instruct their patients to avoid operating heavy machinery after taking certain medicines. Even farmers have to be careful of what they give their cows to avoid contaminated milk (i.e. Lawsuits).

So, with all these “common people” taking careful measures to avoid putting harmful substances into their bodies, why do professional athletes turn a blind eye to the possibility of jeopardizing their careers? Since 2009, 11 MLB players have been suspended for banned substances, two of them were suspended twice (Bonus points if you can name them both!).

“Oh, wait! You have a random pill for me to add to my supplements? I don’t need to know what it is, it can’t be anything bad, right?” Wrong.

Hello, 50-game suspension!

At this point, the player appeals the suspension, issuing a statement that he was “unaware” that the banned substance was in the pain-relieving cream he was using. Riiiiiight.

The next player to get suspended argues that he and his wife were attempting to start a family, so the doctor prescribed him a drug to help get things going. But the player didn’t know that the medicine would cause his testosterone levels to jump an ungodly amount. Of course he didn’t!

And then you have the player with a cold: sore throat, stuffy nose, the whole nine yards. He digs through the medicine cabinet at home and takes some of his kid’s cough syrup. Wait, you mean to tell him that children’s cough medicine has “trace amounts” of a drug he’s been suspended for in the past? You don’t say!

Are these players really that naive, or are they just stupid? Are they just careless, as Marlon Byrd claims is the reason for his failed test?

Or maybe they know exactly what they are doing, and to cover it up they hire a friend to create an advertisement to make the product look like the real thing.

The disconnect between these players’ brains and reality is really unfortunate. Sure, there may be ways to get around a drug test or two, maybe even three! But what about the tenth? The fifteenth? These players cannot outwit the professionals in the lab any more than the lab professionals can outplay the players on the field! Do they really think they can find loopholes forever? People live for those positive drug tests.

It’s like my dad told me when I got my first speeding ticket: “What do you mean it was the first time you’ve sped?! Nobody ever gets caught the first time!!”

If a teenaged girl, who has her dad wrapped around her little finger, could not sweet talk her way out of getting grounded for a speeding ticket, how do these ugly mugs think they can get away with cheating at a game that millions of people love?

They can’t. They may have stolen our hearts early on, but we’re not for sale now.

I’ll take the light-hitting, base stealing, Chevy Camaro driving certain center-fielder over those other “hulking heroes” any day. At least the little guy plays the game the right way.

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Farm Report – K/9 Leaders

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Carlos Marmol set a major league record back in 2010 when he struck out nearly 16 batters for every 9 innings (that record has since been broken by Kenley Jansen). He’s down to 11.5 K/9 this year, but that’s still good for best on the team; unless you want to include the 7 innings pitched by Alberto Cabrera. The Minors Leaders, not including the foreign rookie leagues and anyone under 20 innings pitched:

Seven of these pitchers we’ve already seen in the big leagues, so it’s going to be more of a “get to you know them” type writeup. The guys I think have the brightest future on here are, following the order of the above list:

Alberto Cabrera: I don’t think his seven career innings is enough for me to get on his case about walking too many hitters and implying he’s the next Carlos Marmol. His walk rate in the minors this year could be an aberration, as it’s a half of his career rate of 4BB/9, but he’s got a nasty fastball at 94-95 mph with a good slider. That’s a good combination for a relief pitcher.

Jeff Beliveau: Beliveau was in a similar place as Cabrera is now, although he did it as an older player in a lower level league. So I’m not as high on Beliveau as I am on most others here. But he’s got a career K/9 rate of over 11 and throws with the left hand, so I think we’ll be seeing him regularly over the next few seasons.

Lendy Castillo: I’m intrigued. As a Rule 5 pickup, I’m hoping The Front Office saw something in him and we can chalk this up as a win. He was used as a starter in his rehab stint, so maybe the Cubs are considering the move for next year, but I’m not sure he has the repertoire. He’s a converted shortstop, so he’s only been pitching since 2010, and in 131 career innings, he’s posted a 1.12 WHIP.

Tony Zych: The only one I’m mentioning without big league experience, Zych has shown solid strikeout numbers combined with a BB/9 under 3. A local kid (St. Rita High School), the Cubs took a flyer on him by taking him in the 46th round in the 2008 draft, Zych went to college at the University of Louisville and was taken again by the Cubs, this time in the 4th round in 2011, and Zych was considered a good value. He’s shown it so far and should be the first Cubs pick from 2011 to make it to the show. (Update: Pitched 2 innings and struck out all 6 on Tuesday).

Travis Wood: I think he’s a keeper and by next year, the people who still doubt the Sean Marshall trade today, will be eating crow simply because of Wood’s contributions (And because Dave Sappelt will be a 4th OF and Ronald Torreyes being a good 2nd piece in a trade for a pitcher). I’m surprised to see the spike in homers considering the move from Cinci to Chicago, so that number will need to drop if he’s to be anything more than a back of rotation pitcher. I think it will, there isn’t a qualifying pitcher in the league with a worse HR/9 rate, so I’ll bet that he isn’t among the worst next year.

No high ceiling players in the bunch, but the Cubs made every attempt to change that this year by drafting guys like Pierce Johnson (2 innings, 3 runs, 2K’s yesterday) and Duane Underwood (3 no-hit innings  yesterday) and acquiring Arodys Vizcaino, who would be my #1 Cubs pitching prospect right now.

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Game 122: Rusin Good, Hitters Lacking, Cabrera Terrible

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Cubs 2 @ Brewers 5

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Chris Rusin
I really liked what I saw from Rusin. He wasn’t afraid at all; his command wasn’t great, but he wasn’t afraid to attack the zone even though he was often behind in the count. Much of that can be attributed to how well he changed speeds, even when he got behind in the count he would continue to throw his off-speed stuff for strikes. Only 6 first pitch strikes to 19 batters, but he only surrendered 2 walks and unbelievably just one hit. That one hit was an infield single that scored the one run he surrendered. It came after a HBP, BB, and HBP to load the bases. Considering it was his MLB debut, I’d say that’s a very solid effort. He managed to get a double play and get out of that inning with minimal damage. He pitched only five innings, but also threw only 76 pitches. He added a triple (in his first MLB at-bat), and smoked another liner back up the middle on which Jean Segura (Brewers’ SS) made a spectacular diving catch. Five innings, 1 hit, 1 run, 2 walks, and handled the bat better than any Cub NOT named Soriano. A very good MLB debut for Chris Rusin.

Josh Vitters
The other end of the spectrum here. I’m not saying we need to demote him, but he HAS to move down in the lineup. You can’t have a guy hitting second who has absolutely no knowledge of the strike zone. Vitters has now struck out 16 times, 5 of those times (and twice tonight) it was while looking at strike three. He also has yet to draw a walk. He lacks a fundamental confidence in determining a ball from a strike – he’s remarkably hesitant to swing, and seems to choose poorly on the most critical pitches. He did hit a 9th-inning double off of Manny Parra, jumpstarting a mini-rally that saw the Cubs put two runs on the board; but most of the time he simply looks clueless at the plate, as if he’s constantly guessing. Castro needs to be back in the 2-hole, Vitters needs to drop way down in the order.

Marco Estrada
Estrada is was working on a Volstadian streak of winlessness. He’d last won a game on August 23, 2011. A total of 29 appearances later (15 of them as a starter) and he finally caught an anemic offense at the right time. And Estrada had it all working for him. Consistently ahead in the count, he kept the Cubs off balance by throwing both his changeup and curveball in or near the strike zone all night. His curve seemed particularly troublesome for the Cubs’ more notable free-swingers (that’s you Castro, Castillo, and Jackson). He allowed only 2 hits and 1 walk, he was never in serious trouble except when he stranded Rusin at 3rd in the third inning. Dale said it best after the game, “Estrada is a nice pitcher, but I wouldn’t expect him to have nine strikeouts in six innings either.”

Alberto Cabrera
He’s apparently completed the Carlos Marmol Program For Relievers With Reckless Abandon For The Strike Zone And No Desire To Change And Pitch Better Either. Cabrera came on in the 6th with this; BB, K, BB, BB, wild pitch (run scores), 2B, K, groundout. For those scoring at home; that’s 7 hitters, two made contact, and only 1 hit for a total of 3 runs. They briefly showed Marmol with an approving grin, seemingly acknowledging that all his hard work with his new apprentice was paying off (you can’t prove I made that up). So all I want to know is are we going with Carlos Cabrera or Alberto Marmol?

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What to Watch for in Final 7 Weeks for the Cubs

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The 2012 Cubs season has been a struggle from the beginning.  Smart fans knew coming into the season that it was going to be a struggle and the Cubs have proven those fans right.  With a record below .400 with less than 40 games to go, it might seem like there is little reason to keep watching for the remainder of the season, but the future still hinges on what is going on in the present. Here are a few things to watch for in the final weeks of the season.

Young Pitching

Despite being sent down to Triple-A Iowa a day after earning his first major league win on Saturday against the Reds, Brooks Raley still figures to be part of the Cubs rotation moving forward.  Reports have indicated that Raley will likely be recalled to make start against the Colorado Rockies this weekend.  Raley struggled in his first two starts going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA but pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowing 3 runs on 5 hits Saturday against the Reds to get the win.  Raley will likely bounce back and forth between the majors and Triple-A until September 1st but the Cubs will be looking to see whether or not he can be a piece for the rotation moving forward.

Development of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters

After the call-up of Anthony Rizzo in June, the next big splash for the organization was the call-ups of both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.  Many questioned if the timing was right, with Jackson having struggled in the minors with strikeouts and Vitters being a question mark defensively.

Jackson continues to struggle with strikeouts, already striking out 24 times in 47 bats coming into Monday’s game against the Brewers.  Jackson is batting just .191 but hit his first major league homerun Saturday against the Reds.

Vitters hasn’t been given the opportunity to start every day, but he has also struggled at the plate, only getting three hits in 33 at-bats so far this season for a .091 average.

Both Jackson and Vitters will need to take the remainder of the season to prove that they deserve to remain on the major league roster for next season.  Neither player needs to light up the scoreboard moving forward, but if they can both show some improvement at the plate, it can give fans hope for two of the top prospects.

Starlin Castro’s Development

Last week I addressed the concern over Starlin Castro’s decline as a hitter and how fans should not get too concerned just yet.  The remaining seven weeks will go a long way in showing whether or not Castro is buying into the philosophies being taught by hitting coach James Rowson.

Rowson’s message has been that of patience and even though Castro has seen a minor increase in his base on balls, his batting average has suffered.  The final seven weeks will be a good time to see if Castro can find the perfect balance of knowing when to be patient at the plate and knowing when to be aggressive.  With an impending contract extension for the 22 year old in the works it will be interesting to see if Castro will find more or less pressure on his shoulders knowing he’ll be locked up until 2020.

September Call-Ups

On September 1st major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters from 25 to 40 in hopes of helping a team make a final push towards the playoffs or giving a struggling team the opportunity to look towards the future.

It is unknown who exactly will get called up for the Cubs on September 1st, but a vast majority will be players with prior major league experience.  The Cubs have already called up three of their top prospects this season (Rizzo, Jackson, Vitters) so it would not come as a surprise if there is a limit on the September call-ups.

Despite bringing up three prospects already and having Starlin Castro at shortstop ahead of him, the Cubs could possibly bring up highly regarded Double-A shortstop Junior Lake.  Lake has struggled defensively at shortstop and many see the outfield as his most likely position.  Calling up Lake may never happen with an already crowded outfield and the Cubs wanting Castro to play as much as possible, but some saw the Jackson/Vitters call-ups as a rushed move and they may do the same with Lake.

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Prospect Spotlight: Junior Lake

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

So I’ve been struggling on who I was going to write about this week. I had planned on circling back around to top prospect Javier Baez, who has been in High A for a couple of weeks now. But misbehaving weather means he’s had something like 20 less plate appearances than he otherwise would have, and his playing time hasn’t been regular for more than a week.

Instead, I decided to turn to SS/3B Junior Lake. Prior to Autumn of 2011, Lake was best known in prospect circles as a toolsy prospect who was signed out of the Dominican Republic at the same time as Starlin Castro, but who had not turned his tools into tangible baseball skills the same way the Cubs’ Big League shortstop has.

But then Lake had a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. In 115 at bats, Lake put up a .296/.352/.548 line, with 5 HRs and 18 stolen bases without being caught. Hopeful fans got Junior Lake fever. And those fans forgot about the two big problems with looking at Arizona Fall League statistics: (1) you’re looking at a very small sample size of about one month’s worth of plate appearances for any given player; and (2) the Arizona Fall League is an environment that greatly favors hitters.

If you were not a follower of Kevin Goldstein’s Twitter feed last fall and winter, you honestly missed out. As the Cubs have one of the more rabid fan bases out there, Goldstein’s feed was flooded with questions about Goldstein. Goldstein essentially responded that someone needed to teach Lake how to play baseball. Overly optimistic Cub fans went insane with rage and accusations of bias.

This season, Lake has probably had his best season as a professional ball player, putting up a .284/.339/.433 line in 389 plate appearances with the Double A Tennessee Smokies in his age 22 season. Lake has hit 8 home runs and stolen 18 bases, but has also been caught stealing 10 times. In the pitcher friendly Southern League, this is an above average line.

However, there are concerns beyond the straight hitting line. Lake’s numbers are inflated by a hot May that included an .855 OPS. Lake has not posted an OPS above .781 in any other month, but he also has not posted anything under a .704 in any month. In other words, he’s avoided the disaster month.

Lake has increased his walk rate slightly from his 2011 performance in Tennessee, but that is largely based on his May performance. Lakes’ strikeout rate, which is high (although not Brett Jackson high) at 23.4%.

Lake is still generally exactly the same player he was last season. The improvement in most of his numbers are modest and could just be random variation. This is still a prospect that has a lot of work to do to meet his tools. Lake will probably fill a similar slot on most organization top prospect lists as he did last year, in the high single digits or low double digits.

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Game 121: The Cubs Should Have Quit When I Did

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Cubs 5 @ Brewers 9

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

It’s very rare that I skip out on a game I’m supposed to recap. If I want the recap to have any kind of authority, or if I expect you to benefit from reading it, I think it’s incumbent upon me to at least watch the game in question.

Monday night was an exception. After watching the better part of the first four and a half innings, I left the game and went to see a movie with a friend. What we saw is immaterial. Suffice it to say, watching senior citizens fire automatic weapons for the better part of two hours was preferable to the carnage that took place last night at Miller Park. (You guessed it–we saw Hope Springs.)

When I left, my hopes for a victory were reasonably high. Justin Germano wasn’t overpowering anyone, but he had the Brewers’ lineup guessing, and often guessing wrong. The Cubs had just extended a not-quite-comfortable-but-possibly-sustainable lead on the back of Josh Vitters’ first career homerun, and they looked to be cruising. Or at least this team’s version of cruising.

The one indication that things might not go our way was the repeated reprieves the Cubs gave Brewers’ starter Mark Rogers. In the 1st inning Rogers looked shaky–in the 2nd, he looked downright lost. That we only collected two of what could and should have been many more seems in retrospect like the first indication the night wouldn’t go our way. When Rogers rebounded in the 3rd and 4th innings, I was a little concerned that he might have found his rhythm (although the Cubs were swinging so freely at that point that it was hard to give him all the credit). Vitters’ homer in the top of the 5th made me think Rogers’ improvement was just a blip, and I headed out the door hoping the Cubs might tack on a couple more runs before the night was over.

Instead, they went into meltdown. Justin Germano fell apart in the bottom half of the inning and couldn’t get a third out to stop the bleeding. He was removed after giving up four runs with two runners still on base. Jeff Beliveau came in and promptly gave up back-to-back homeruns to give the Brewers a 6-run lead. The eight runs they surrendered made it one of the worst half-innings of the season for Cubs pitchers (especially considering that human time bomb Chris Vosltad was nowhere in sight), and turned a once-winnable game into a laugher for the other side.

In a darkened theater, I received a disheartening text message. “9-3. You chose wisely!” Indeed.

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