Archive for January, 2013

Morning News: Rising Taxes, Angry Wives, and Violent Lemurs

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

How was your Martin Luther King Jr. Day? I hope it went better for you than it did for these people.

Let’s start with a little Cubs news, shall we? During last weekend’s Cubs Convention, the team revealed the broad strokes of their long-awaited plans to renovate Wrigley Field. The $300M project would take five years to complete, working during the offseason so as not to cost the team any home games. The renovations include ripping out the concrete in the lower seating bowl to gut and reconstruct the existing clubhouses, as well as adding underground batting cages, training and weight rooms, and generally updating the players’ facilities. They also plan to remove the roof and alter the upper deck, expanding the luxury boxes and press areas, expanding the roof deck above the marquee, widening the concourses, and expanding the concession area to ease pre- and post-game congestion in and out of the park. The team would also like add another LED scoreboard in left field (similar to the one they installed this year in right field) and add a standing room only deck above the bleachers down the third base line. You can see some early renderings of their plans here.

The plan is to accomplish all that without any public money–it sounds like they’ve officially abandoned the idea of an extra amusement tax or some other way to get the city or the state to pick up the tab. In return however, the Ricketts have asked that the city ease some of the restrictions placed on Wrigley Field under its designation as a historical landmark. The team has taken umbrage–and I believe rightly so–that the oversight of the city directly inhibits their ability to use their stadium to generate revenue. It’s a good deal for the city–rather than further wringing funds from an already cash-strapped community, they can simply ease back on the oversight and let the Ricketts’ foot the bill. And while I’m not eager to see Wrigley Field swathed in advertising, I don’t believe Tom Ricketts wants to see that either. And whether you like the plans or not, it’s nice to have an owner–one of the first in quite a while–who doesn’t have his hand out begging for money from the local government.

Speaking of money, Phil Mickelson has hinted that the new tax increases are forcing him to make some drastic changes, which he will announce later this week. Some people expect he plans to move from his home state of California, since we Californians doubled down on our tax increases this year. Others think he might be considering retirement altogether. You’ll remember it wasn’t all that long ago Mickelson was considering buying an ownership stake in the San Diego Padres–he confirmed Sunday that he backed out of the deal because of the same concerns about the changes to his tax situation.

After all my grousing in this space about the many failures of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, you can imagine how relieved I was that this past weekend saw the return of hockey and my beloved Blackhawks, who kicked off the season with not one but two convincing wins, trouncing the reigning champion Kings 5-2 after they raised their Stanley Cup banner on Saturday, and holding off the Coyotes 6-4 Sunday night. It’s legitimately hard to put into words how much I hate basketball, so the timely return of hockey is a welcome reprieve from what looked to be a bleak winter of sports.

You may remember that after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl last year, Tom Brady’s wife Gisele Bundchen made some disparaging comments about his teammates lack of effort, with one particular barb directed at receiver Wes Welker. This year, it was Welker’s wife’s turn, as she posted some criticisms of Ray Lewis on her Facebook page. Her post has since been taken down, but you can read the quotes in this article, along with the apology she issued today. Here’s the thing–I don’t understand why she had to apologize. She probably could have been more tactful or clever, and she probably shouldn’t have cited Wikipedia as a source. But she’s right that Lewis is a sketchy dude with a shady past, and it shouldn’t be out of bounds to say as much, even in the heat of a poorly chosen moment. Also, let’s congratulate her for not returning the favor and throwing Brady under the bus after another season ends with a loss.

That wasn’t the only bad news for the Patriots Sunday. During the game, New England safety Derrick Martin’s Colorado home was invaded and robbed. Several of Martin’s family and friends were gathered in his home to watch the game, and were held at gunpoint by the robbers.

Finally, keep your lemurs locked up and your loved ones out of harm’s way.

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Morning News: Another Fat Lady!!

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Oh Wait, Was She A Great Big Fat Person?
I’m eschewing decency and leading with the punchline. The Brits are awesome, this woman lives presumably within minutes/hours of me, but the story comes to us from across the pond. Stop what you’re doing, watch the video at the bottom. Enjoy your Monday.

*I cannot promise any fat people in the news next week; I’ve not sought this out, it’s just fallen to me. Three weeks and counting…

A Tough Act To Follow, But…
If the fat person doesn’t entertain you, perhaps this will. Short story, a Bulgarian politician was nearly assassinated on Saturday. When the gun jammed, the would-be assassin was nearly beaten to a pulp (even an old guy with an umbrella/cane got into the fray). Of course this is Eastern Europe which means there is fantastic video of the event (bottom of the page from the above link).

Enough Frivolity, HarBowl Time
Having two brothers myself, as well as being father to two sons, the Super Bowl sounds like a miserable family event this year. One brother will have the most euphoric day his profession can provide, padding his credentials and building a legacy…all at his brother’s expense. Two parents will be exultant with the winner and crushed for his brother who came so close and was denied. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the 49ers came back to beat the Falcons in Atlanta and advance to the Super Bowl; meanwhile the Ravens thwarted the heavy home favorites in New England. San Francisco is coached by JIM Harbaugh, Baltimore is coached by JOHN Harbaugh. They’ll likely spend the next two weeks trying to distance themselves from that particular aspect of the matchup, but the Harbaughs cannot deny that after the game one of them will have been elevated at the cost of his brother. Still, I imagine they probably both prefer this outcome to last year when each team lost in the league championship game and neither one of them made the Super Bowl.

The Cubs convention took place this past weekend. As with basically everything else related to the Cubs these days, a lot was said and none of it was terribly important. Ricketts gave parenting tips to a dad from San Francisco, Theo promised a contract to a kid upon his 18th birthday (presumptuous). Oh, and they settled all their arbitration cases. So what, big deal.

Back Where We Started
Maybe it’s the Excedrin talking, but you REALLY need to watch the video from the fat lady article.

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Go: The Stage is Yours

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

The Cubs Convention is in full swing this weekend. Take the stage as someone in the know and tell the audience about the biggest change you would make to the team this season!

Do you have a question you’d like us to feature in the Go! column? Send it to and she’ll see what she can do!

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Matt Garza agrees to terms

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Yesterday it was announced that the Cubs and Matt Garza have agreed to terms on a one year deal, which avoids arbitration. The deal is valued at $10.25 mil and allows the Cubs to continue to market him to outside teams for a trade. It’s a modest raise, which is what I predicted would happen and leaves the appeal in the trade market due to the low cost and small committment in terms of length. I like the move a lot going forward as I think Garza is healthy and will be dealt for a nice package of pieces to improve this team’s future.

The deal leaves just Jeff Samardzija and James Russell as the only two left to work out deals with before going to arbitration. The rumors out there were that Samardzija and the Cubs were working on a multi-year deal, but are now said to just be looking at terms of a one year contract. My guess is that should a one year deal get done, and Samardzija show again that he can be a productive member of the rotation, the multi-year deal will come next off-season.

On a side note…Mark Prior was in town to counsel and teach the prospects in the system. No word on if a lesson on the towel drill was given.

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Northside Archives: Playoffs, We’re Talking About Playoffs.

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Baltimore lost 93 games in 2011 and made the playoffs in 2012.
Arizona lost 97 games in 2010 and made the playoffs in 2011.
Tampa Bay lost 96 games in 2007 and made the playoffs in 2008.
And our Cubs lost 96 games in 2006 but made the playoffs in 2007.

The recent history proves it; a really bad team can turn it around in a single season. The 2012 Cubs were a REALLY bad team.

Big Turnarounds Often Start With Pitching…
Let’s just start with those 2007 Cubs. The division was garbage, only 85 wins put the Cubs in the playoffs. The Cubs’ best hitters all had very good years (Lee, Ramirez, Soriano); their best pitchers had very solid, consistent years-Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Marquis all threw 190+ innings. It’s easy to see the 2007 Cubs as an average team. But the 2008 Rays were far from average. A year after losing 96, they won 97. What was their big change? Pitching! In 2007, they scored 782 runs, in 2008 they totaled 774 runs scored. But they surrendered 944 in 2007, while holding opponents to a scant 671 runs in 2008. Similar to the Cubs, their improvement was due to consistency. The 2007 Rays had two consistently good starters (Shield, Kazmir); in 2008 they had five starters who each made at least 27 starts and four of them pitched at least 180 innings. The result? Team ERA went from 5.53 to 3.82, easily the best turnaround in the league that year. Arizona realized similar improvement from their pitching staff from 2010 to 2011; from two reliable starters to four, from giving up 836 runs to only 662. And guess what happened for Baltimore from 2011 to 2012? It’s boring ready the same thing over and over again, right? Baltimore significantly improved their pitching last year, but it wasn’t all consistency. They spent much of the year cobbling together a rotation. But what binds these four teams together is the lack of offensive improvement; none of them put up significantly more runs the year after they lost 90+ games.

Still Though The Cubs Had A Terrible Offense In 2012, Right?
Well, yes. That’s a decent point, 613 runs is not enough to compete. Since 2005 (when two teams made the playoff without scoring 700 runs) only two teams have managed to score so few runs and stay competitive. The 2010 Giants scored 697 runs but had an incredible pitching staff; and the 2012 Reds managed only 669 runs but also had an incredible group of pitchers. In fact, you have to go back to 1988 to find an MLB team that scored fewer runs than this Cincinnati did this year while still making the playoffs. The World Series champion Dodgers did it in ’88. And not since the 1973 Mets has a team scored fewer runs than the 2012 Cubs did, while still making the playoffs. So yes, there needs to be significant improvement offensively before the Cubs can reasonably expect to compete.

The Offense Won’t Come Overnight!
The Angels added the best hitter of the generation and the best rookie of all-time, they saw a bump of 100 runs in offense from 2011 to 2012. The White Sox almost saw a similar increase when (in part) Adam Dunn reminded himself that putting the bat on the ball was a good thing. But Detroit added Prince Fielder and actually scored over 60 fewer runs; while Milwaukee scored over 50 more runs after they lost Fielder. So after watching the 2012 Cubs, can we expect them to score more? Probably, enough to be respectable? That’s stretching it…we’ll get a full year from Rizzo, hopefully avoid the guaranteed out that Soriano was for the season’s first six weeks, and potentially get a bit more offense out of third base (we can’t get any less, right? no please, someone agree with me – it really can’t get any worse there, can it?). But the changes the Cubs have made don’t add up to anywhere near 100 more runs.

So No Playoffs, Right?
I hate to spoil the surprise, but the you can’t JUST look at the records. Not all 90+ loss teams are created equal. The Cubs were historically bad both on the mound and at the plate. Could we have a significantly better pitching staff? Definitely. If Garza & Samardzija pitch 180+ innings, Edwin Jackson too; then if just one more of the rotation filler pieces can pan out, that’s four reliable starters which would go a long way towards keeping the team ERA at a competitive level. It’s the offensive part that’s going to be difficult. Even if the pitching staff comes together in the best possible way, it’s unlikely that the Cubs will magically score 700+ runs this year. For that to happen, nearly every regular would need to have a better year than even the most optimistic fan could hope for right now. Remember, we’re likely to have Nate Schierholtz in RF everyday; he probably won’t approach a .750 OPS. Neither will whatever is trotted out to third base. Barney is below average offensively; Castillo is a wild card. Basically, we need a handful of new players before the offense can reasonably be expected to improve. But if by some miracle the Cubs start out scoring 4-5 runs/game…nope, it’s not going to happen.

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What to Do With Our Arbitration Eligibles

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Image Credit: Tim Souers

Yesterday the names of the players who have filed for salary arbitration were released and three from the Cubs made the list. Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and James Russell all filed to have their cases heard before the start of the season. If you’re unfamiliar with how the concept works, here is the quick and dirty version. When a player is called up the the Majors, he begins to accrue days of service with 172 days being considered one full year. For the first three years, a player can only receive the league minimum salary unless his team works out a contract for higher than that. It is auto-renewed each year. After three years of service, a player is then eligible for salary arbitration for years four, five and six. If a team is interested in retaining that player’s services for another year, they have a couple options.

1. They can work out a one year deal for an agreed contract amount with the player

2. They can work out a multi-year deal

3. They can choose to go to arbitration

The goal for most teams is to take care of the issue with option 1 or 2 to prevent hard feelings that go along with the process, but there are times when players do end up going all the way to the table before an arbiter. In those cases, both the player (really his agent) and the team submit a number for a one year salary based on what they feel the player is worth. When their case is heard, they present their reasoning and evidence and the case is given a verdict either in favor of the player or in favor of the team. There is no middle ground. This prevents a team from submitting a lowball offer and a player from submitting an A-Rod offer. You have to be able to defend your case. At any time before the hearing, clubs may work out a deal with the player to avoid going to the table. That’s where we stand now with our three, so let’s look at them.

Matt Garza – This is the final year of arbitration eligibility for Garza, which makes him a free agent at the end of the season if no multi-year deal is reached. He’s coming off an injury, so that is a case against a hefty raise for him. Given that the case would be heard before spring training, he won’t have a chance to prove his health before then. There is no question that he has value on the trade market if he’s healthy. Because we don’t know if that’s the case, I would rule out option # 2 for him. My prediction would be that the Cubs and Garza come to terms on a one year deal with a modest raise from the $9.5 million he made last year and then look at their options toward the end of spring, if he’s healthy and their is trade interest, or closer to the July deadline. I don’t see him being a part of the long term plan of this team.

Jeff Samardzija – This is the first year of eligibility for Samardzija and he peaked at just the right time. He made $2.64 million last season and should be in line for a nice raise should he go to arbitration, but I see the plan for him being a long term deal. He was mentioned by Theo recently as being a building block looking toward the future. At times, a deal for a starter can be as tricky as a bet on march madness games, but I can see a four year deal that would buy out the last two years of arbitration and first year of free agency at a price around $10 million per year.

James Russell – This is also the first year of eligibility for Russell and how he’s viewed has a lot to do with the role you see for him with this team. As a lefty specialist out of the pen, he has no multi-year value if you’re a smart GM. A smart GM doesn’t give long term deals on relievers. Two years max is what I’d give. For Russell, I see a series of one year deals each arbitration time, but never a time when we go to the table. He made $512,500 last year. A raise to around $750 – $800k is fair and what I expect to happen.

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Should Mike Piazza be in the Hall of Fame?

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

by John Dewan

It was not surprising that no one was elected this year to the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it was fair. The biggest snub was Mike Piazza. Piazza played 16 years in the major leagues, mostly for the Dodgers and Mets. In that time there was no question about his offense. Despite playing his entire career in pitchers parks, he was head-and-shoulders the best hitting catcher during that entire time. In fact, it is fair to say that Mike Piazza was the best hitting catcher of ALL time. Here are the all-time Runs Created leaders among catchers:

Player Career Runs Created
Mike Piazza 1,378
Carlton Fisk 1,378 Hall of Fame
Ted Simmons 1,283
Yogi Berra 1,265 Hall of Fame
Joe Torre 1,259
Johnny Bench 1,239 Hall of Fame
Gary Carter 1,184 Hall of Fame
Bill Dickey 1,164 Hall of Fame
Gabby Hartnett 1,161 Hall of Fame
Jason Kendall 1,112

Here are the all-time Runs Created Leaders at each position who are in the Hall or are eligible to be elected:

Pos Player Career Runs Created
C Carlton Fisk 1,378 (Piazza eligible, tied with Fisk 1,378)
1B Lou Gehrig 2,233
2B Rogers Hornsby 2,049
3B George Brett 1,878
SS Honus Wagner 1,890
LF Stan Musial 2,562 (Barry Bonds eligible 2,892)
CF Ty Cobb 2,517
RF Babe Ruth 2,718

These are the best hitters of all time at their positions and all of these men are in the Hall of Fame.

On the first list, six of the top nine leaders in career Runs Created by a catcher are in the Hall of Fame. The three who are not in the Hall—Piazza, Simmons, and Torre—have another thing in common. They do not have good defensive reputations at the position that is arguably the most important defensive position in the game, catcher.

If it was true that Piazza was not a good defensive catcher, I would be OK with him not getting into the Hall on the first ballot. I still think the best hitting catcher of all time should be in the Hall, but having to wait a few years wouldn’t be so bad. But, all the statistical measures suggest otherwise. In fact, they suggest that Piazza was an above-average defensive catcher.

The one thing that Piazza did not do well defensively was throw out basestealers. He allowed a 76.8 percent stolen base percentage in his career. Other catchers who caught the same pitchers as Piazza threw out 64.5 percent. However, nabbing basestealers is only a part of a catcher’s defensive responsibility and only a small part of Piazza’s overall game. It would be like saying that the best hitting second baseman of all time, Rogers Hornsby, shouldn’t be in the Hall because he didn’t steal a lot of bases in his time.

The most important part of a catcher’s job is handling his pitchers and in this area Piazza was superb. Here is one of the most telling statistics. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when Piazza was catching. If you look at all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. That’s a major difference, much more important than a few extra bases stolen. (In fact, Piazza’s catcher ERA of 3.81 includes the run value of any extra stolen bases he allowed.)

Craig Wright wrote an excellent article in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009 called Piazza, Hall of Fame Catcher. He did a detailed sabermetric study that showed that hitters had a .723 OPS with Piazza behind the plate and a .748 OPS with other catchers. This 25-point differential is highly significant. In further studies that we did in The Fielding Bible—Volume II, we found that Piazza saved at least 20 to 70 runs more than an average catcher defensively, depending on the technique that we used.

I highly recommend checking out the Piazza article by Craig Wright in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009. My conclusion is the same as his from that article:

“Mike Piazza was not a defensive liability who made up for it with his bat. The greatest offensive catcher in the history of Major League Baseball was a good defensive catcher as well.”

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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Realism In Hypothetical Trade Proposals

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

If you’re on Twitter or read the chat transcripts available on a host of  baseball websites, you know that one of the most entertaining aspects of the internet baseball world is the hypothetical trade proposal. Because they are almost always insane. If I had a quarter for every time I saw a proposed trade for Justin Upton this offseason that involved the D-Backs receiving a return approximating the other team’s fourth, seventh and twelfth best prospects, well… I’d have a wide array of quarters.

So how do you know if a trade proposal is realistic, or something that will result in chuckles? It’s a simple test: what you’re giving up has to hurt as much, or at least nearly as much, as what you’re gaining will help. This is why Justin Upton has not been traded this offseason. The two teams most heavily connected to Upton this offseason were the Rangers and Mariners. Talks with the Rangers never really progressed because the Rangers refused to include shortstops Elvis Andrus or Jurisckson Profar. The one trade that was agreed to, between the D-Back and Mariners, would have been headlined by Taijuan Walker, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, and he would not have been the only significant prospect included. Upton nixed that trade pursuant to his no-trade rights.

What does this have to do with the Cubs? Chatter has already started regarding who the biggest available trade target will be a year from now, with the big bet on Tampa Bay Rays’ ace and 2012 Cy Young award winner David Price. Chatter has also started that the Cubs could be looking to make their first big move to convert their improved farm system into elite Major League talent by trading for Price next offseason.

But what will Price’s price (terrible pun intended) be? It will certainly be a significant package headed by one of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. Quite possibly by two of them. This does not mean that the Cubs should not trade two of those players for Price. Price is one of the truly elite pitchers in baseball, and could be even more dominant moving away from the loaded AL East. This just means don’t expect the Cubs to be able to get a pitcher like David Price for Dan Vogelbach, Robert Whitenack and Matt Szczur.

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Morning News: Trade Rumors, Tardy Confessions, and Terrier DNA

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

No real on-the-field Cubs news to bring you this morning. The closest I could find was a rumor-ish note buried in this Nick Cafardo’s Sunday article about a potential deal for Alfonso Soriano. The gist of it is that last season really opened Theo Epstein’s eyes to Soriano’s full value, both on and off the field. If Cafardo’s to be believed, Soriano is–at least in Epstein’s estimation–a superb teammate and teacher in the clubhouse, and that, combined with his shorter, more potent bat, makes him worth at least “a player of note.” Cafardo also said Soriano will only wave his no-trade clause for an East Coast team, and says that only the Phillies, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, and Marlins look to be suitors. Take all that with the usual grain of salt required with any Soriano rumors, and don’t hold your breath. It doesn’t seem the Cubs are eager to unload Soriano, and might even see his value go up at the trade deadline.

Last season was the first time since 2003 that the Cubs saw their attendance dip below three million fans, and they’re already taking steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2013. To entice fans to purchase the six- and nine-game mini plans that go on sale January 23, the team has announced they’re waving all service fees on mini plan purchases, allowing fans to secure their tickets well in advance of March 8–the day single game tickets go on sale–and save as much as $40 in the process.

Former Cubs outfielder headcase Milton Bradley faces up to thirteen years in jail if he’s convicted on domestic abuse charges. “Wow. Never saw that coming.” said absolutely no one.

And while we’re covering unsurprising news, Lance Armstrong recorded his interview with Oprah today and (spoiler alert!) reportedly confessed to using PEDs. No surprise there–it’s not like they were teaming up to give away cars or discuss his favorite things for the spring. Given their decades-long dogged pursuit to prove Armstrong was cheating, you have to assume the people of France will celebrate his confession like, well… come to think of it, is this the first time the French have ever won a fight?

Jim Bowden has an interesting article on five offseason moves that will backfire. (For non-Insiders, he’s critical of the contracts given to Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, and Marco Scutaro.)

Major League Baseball has tentatively made a few small rule changes. While they are unofficial until they’ve been approved by the players’ union, the league will now allow interpreters to accompany managers and pitching coaches to the mound to visit pitchers; a seventh coach 9usually a second hitting coach) can now be in uniform in the dugout; and the tiresome and almost never effective fake-to-third-throw-to-first will now be considered a balk.

Look, I don’t like it cleaning up after other people’s dogs any more than the next guy, but this seems like an awful lot of trouble and expense to go to, especially when the justice they’re meting out is so meager.

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