Archive for February, 2013

Northside Archives: Catching Up With Quade

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

The other side of the phone goes silent, the starter’s pistol fires, and immediately I know it’ll take about a minute for the greyhounds to cover the nearly 900 meters that separate me from the answer to my question.

“Never shoulda bet on Baker’s Dozen, he doesn’t do well from the fourth position,” is the next thing I heard over the phone. “What was the question again?”

Getting to Mike Quade, a little more than a year after his tenure as Cubs’ manager ended, isn’t the hard part; it’s keeping his attention that I find elusive. I’ve connected with Quade while he was on an outing to Mardi Gras Casino in the Miami area, one of the few places he can get to “watch the doggies turn left during winter,” he tells me. A noted horse racing enthusiast, it’s little surprise to me that he fancies racing of most any kind.

“Well, that could’ve been worse, I had my beard bet the back marker to show so at least I’ll get that.” It’s a phrase that doesn’t mean what I think it means, and it wouldn’t be the last. Quade seems comfortable in retirement, a man at peace with the fact that he is no longer part of the game that’s consumed his life. “Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m Alan Potts or Terry Ramsden nailing the trifecta at the derby.” There isn’t the hint of the man who faced the Chicago media on a daily basis, forced to explain away the struggles of a club mired in mediocrity.

My question is if Quade misses the game, I repeat it. He says, “look kid, I’m headed over to Hialeah later today, and I’m gonna buy the rack. I’ll probably end up getting shut out because some lug-in coughs up a furlong lead to a miler. It doesn’t matter, the worst day at the track is better than any day as manager. I got ulcers in Chicago…no one’s second-guessing how I managed to buy three straight colts that spit the bit. Losing isn’t so painful here.”

I hear the starter’s pistol again. It gives me another minute to ponder what I’m beginning to understand. Quade loves the competitiveness, especially when the losing doesn’t gnaw at him night and day. He’s a baseball lifer and yet I can’t get him to say two words about it – he has a single focus, the game at hand. Racing.

As he gleefully explains his victory (I think) on the latest race, I ask him what he disliked the most about his time in Chicago. “They gelded me.” (I look it up later, it seems unlikely he means that literally.) “I was thrust into the block when Lou left, and no one bothered to look at the sorry bunch of nags they left me with…I was responsible for the losing even though I’d been saddled with a team of wash outs and maidens. It was a long shot from the start.” It seems to be the furthest he’ll deviate from horse-racing speak. (It wasn’t until I’d transcribed it that I realized how wrong I was).

“Sure, I can answer that, but then I need to be on my way. I gotta settle up and get to the taxis before Margaret and Dolores.” What he says next explains it all, “some guys need to be in charge, it’s an ego thing. That’s not me, I was happiest standing in that 3rd base box sending signs in before the pitch. And after I took a few months off, it was obvious that I was even hap…wait Clem, I’m coming hang on.” I heard a bit more, Clem and Mike swapping victory stories of races from their last outing, fighting over who ate the last candy bean and wondering if they could get some more before the first race at Hialeah; Mike had neglected to hang up and I was listening from his pocket. All I heard was the joy of a man without a care in the world, except for the starting time of the next race. He was happy.

*Apparently it’s not as funny as I thought; or maybe just a bit too believable. THIS IS NOT A REAL INTERVIEW.

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Scott Baker will be ready to pitch

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Before we get to the news, I meant to address Lizzie’s two truths and a lie post the other day. She brought it to my attention that I never revealed the answer to my version of the post from awhile back. Apologies on that. I completely forgot, so let’s address that now.

Statement # 1 – I’ve seen Matt Murton naked

This is actually a true statement. I don’t remember the year, but Murton was playing for the Cubs AA team at the time and I was in the clubhouse waiting for him so I could get an interview. While I waited, I sat down with Felix Pie and spoke with him. As we talked, Murton returned from the shower. The rest is history.

Statement # 2 – I’ve spent time in jail

This is also a true story, but a little bit of a deceitful statement by me because of the wiggle room I left myself in the vagueness of the statement. When I was a young child, probably around 5 or 6, my brother and I would walk to the couple of neighbors houses and take packages off their porch. We would bring them back to our house and pretend they were ours. We wouldn’t open then, and would return them when we were done. One day my mom caught us. When my dad got home, they took us to the local police station in Chicago and had the officer on duty explain that what we did was wrong. From there they proceeded to put us both in the cell, slam the door, and walk away. Needless to say, I never stole mail again.

Statement # 3 – I hold the career record for doubles for my high school’s baseball program

This is false. I tried out for my high school team my senior year. When I realized during tryouts that even if I made the team that my playing time would be sparse, I quit and decided to be more active in my church youth group.

On to the news:

  • There was a game yesterday. The Cubs took on the Rockies in the Arizona sun and won, 4-2. Christian Villanueva and Dave Sappelt each hit their first home runs of the spring and supported Edwin Jackson who made the start and tossed two scoreless innings. (Box Score)
  • The Cubs drafted reliever, Hector Rondon, who now must stay on the 25 man roster barring a injury. Last year, you may remember that the Cubs selected Lendy Castillo. Gordon Wittenmeyer wrote that he believes Rondon has a chance to not only make this roster, but to also contribute in a meaningful way this season.
  • Dale Sveum said Scott Baker is projected to get his first spring start sometime in the middle of March with the hope for a mid to late April return barring any unforeseen setbacks.
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What to Watch in Spring Training

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Ah, spring training. The time when hope abounds around Major League Baseball, and every team but the Astros and Marlins can claim contender status. The time when fans fall in love with scrappy minor league veterans who bat .400  in the Cactus League.

I’ll admit that I love the first couple of weeks of spring training, but mostly as a reminder that the Cubs are soon returning to the North Side. After that, spring training is much more about apprehension and prayer regarding player health.

I have a one mantra that guides my spring training attention span: I almost entirely ignore statistics. You’re looking at small sample sizes, much of which will be against marginal Major Leaguers competing for the final spots on a roster or prospects a couple of years away from the show. And these small sample sizes either occur in the severe hitters’ environment of the Cactus League or the equally strong pitchers’ environment of the Grapefruit League.

This does not mean that you should ignore what you hear about how players look. The fact that the scouting gurus were coming back from spring training last season saying that Jeff Samardzija looked like an entirely different pitcher, a legitimate high ceiling MLB starter, had meaning. But it means that statistics like batting average, home runs, ERA, etc., are not going to correlate in any meaningful way with regular season performance.

I’m wholly against players winning jobs based upon strong statistical performances in spring training. Letting this happen is how players like Joe Mather get 243 plate appearances to put up a miserable .254 wOBA. With that said, there are things to watch in every spring training. I’m keeping my eye on two things in Mesa:

Brett Jackson’s Strikeout Rate

Ignore Brett Jackson’s batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage through the end of March. The sample sizes will be too small against erratic levels of competition. But his strikeout rate is something different.

It’s no secret that Brett Jackson strikes out too much, and that he has reworked his swing this offseason in an attempt to limit the strike outs. Brett Jackson struck in in 41.5% of his Major League plate appearances in 2012. If he can get the strikeouts down to the 33% range, he can probably be a useful Major League regular, at least as long as he’s inexpensive. If he can get it down around 25%, he should be a very good player.

Conveniently, strikeout and walk rates, which rely less on luck that batted ball outcomes, stabilize much more quickly than other statistics. While 60 or 70 Cactus League plate appearances don’t even approach conclusive, it will at least be the first steps towards seeing if Jackson can come anywhere close to reaching his significant potential, or if the strikeouts will hinder his efforts.

Scouting Reports on Matt Garza and Scott Baker

Garza and Baker are both coming off of injuries, and neither will be on a standard spring training schedule for a starter. Completely ignore their statistics. First, they’ll likely both start throwing only fastballs before slowly adding their off speed and break pitches into their game plan. Second, to hard on it more, spring training statistics are meaningless.

But third party scouting reports could provide much better info. How do their releases and motions look? Is their velocity where you would expect it? How is their control and command? In the context of spring training for Garza and Baker, how they look is far more important than how they do.

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Morning News: The Undefeated!

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Spring Training!!!
In those ever-important meaningless games, the Cubs vanquished both the reigning World Champions and the team with a trio of superstars and crazy expectations. On Saturday the Cubs battered the Los Angeles Angels, while Sunday it was a more competitive matchup with the San Francisco Giants. They’re 1-1 in Pythagorean wins though…so that’s kind of a bummer. (note to humorless Bill James defender, it’s a joke…I realize they wouldn’t be 1-1, it’s a freakin’ joke)

Yankee Pain
The Yankees aim to contend this year. They also wanted to move Brett Gardner to CF and shove Curtis Granderson over to LF. Sucks for them. If you’re looking for a team to implode like the Red Sox did last year, keep your eye on the Yankees. A-Rod PED drama again, Jeter’s ankle is healed up but the rest of him continues to age rapidly, now they lose one of their best players for all of Spring Training and the first month of the regular season. They’re a CC Sabathia high ankle sprain away from seeing how Steinbrenner’s kids (mis)behave in crisis.

Something Else, Everything Else
Well that was too much baseball in February for me too…some kid from Texas ran really fast at the NFL Combine. Some NASCAR fan got confused about the horrific crash this weekend, I don’t think ‘war zones’ have flying car engine and tires. Maybe he’s from Detroit. The Oscars were last night; remember, that’s when we listen to a bunch of uppity rich people tell us how hard this world is and which movies of theirs we should go and watch. This guy is more difficult to find than the Chupacabra, more difficult to kill than John McClane, and more filthy rich than even Oprah. And don’t forget, they’ll start the process to find a new Pope this week.

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Go: One Free Steal

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

If the Cubs could steal any one current player from any team giving nothing in return, who would you choose and why?

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

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