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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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore (But It Still Feels Like It)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Good morning from Phoenix, Arizona. It is sunny and brisk outside, with a chance of delayed flights and uncertain traveling arrangements popping up throughout the day. Most of the Top 30 contestants have boarded shuttles to the airport and are checking in to their respective flights. A few of us are sitting in the hotel lobby due to delayed and/or cancelled flights, reflecting on the week and bonding a bit more before we head our separate directions.

If there is one thing that stuck with me this week, it is that every single person in this contest is amazing. Even the Cardinals fans were cool (They paid me to say that*). Peoples’ team alliances became an afterthought. Baseball was the glue that held us together, and their personalities drew us closer.

*They didn’t really pay me to say that.

**Please don’t tar and feather me for saying that.

The week was a whirlwind. So much happened in such a short amount of time that it is all still soaking in and swirling around in my mind. I will try to sort out the important pieces of the trip.

Let us begin. And what better place to start than at the beginning?

Monday:

  • Picked up by a professional driver in a Lincoln Towncar (I secretly was hoping it would be Ryan Gosling. You can’t always get what you want.) and taken to O’Hare.
  • Met up with a couple of knucklehead contestants* who were also from the Chicago area.
  • Flew to Phoenix.

*I mean that in the most loving way. Travis Miller (Mets) and Marcus Hall (White Sox) were those two knuckleheads.

Monday’s events then concluded with approximately twenty of us going to the local diner, having dinner, and generally causing a ruckus. And then we all took the ruckus to the hotel hot tub area. Generally, it was the beginning of a great love story few days.

On Tuesday, the real fun began:

  • Free, fantastic, made-to-order breakfast.
  • Shipped to Chase Field.
  • Group meeting with the Head Honchos.
  • Lunch (ballpark food – pulled bbq chicken. yum.).
  • Tour of the stadium.
  • Elevator pitches.

And, the very most, absolutely incredible, ama-za-zing part of Tuesday:

Ten of us were chosen at random to have a brief interview with Greg Amsinger. You know, that awesome guy on MLB Network that talks and stuff. I love him.

When it was my turn to chat with him, I had to put in an ear piece and stand just so in front of the camera with a bright light shining in my eyes and Chase Field stretching out behind me. And then, “Oh, we have a 45 minute break. You don’t get to talk to Greg right now.”

Day. Ruined. I was so bummed.

But 45 minutes later, after the elevator pitch, I got a second hack at Greg and it was life-changing. He asked me things such as: “Why are you a Cubs fan?”; “Todd Walker is your favorite Cub? Why?!”; “You’re a farmer? What’s that like?”; and we laughed and laughed. Did I mention that it was highlight of my week?

Later that night we had a team trivia challenge (hosted by Eric Byrnes) and karaoke. Then it was back to the hotel for the night for more hot tubbing and ruckus-causing. The hot tub closed at midnight, but the security guard let us stay a little longer than we were supposed to.

When Wednesday morning rolled around:

  • Individual interview with Head Honchos. It was a very nerve-racking experience, as I was positioned in the center of a U-shaped table set up, with between 10-20 people analyzing every word which came out of my mouth. The two most important words I said during the entire interview rolled off my tongue in the following order: Duck Dynasty.
  • Three groups of ten were sent to 3 different Spring Training facilities: Surprise, Goodyear, and Salt River. I was at Salt River, where the players and coaches were not. They were having a players vs. coaches paintball tournament. That should have been a qualifying challenge for the Top 30, but  I didn’t make the schedule or plan the challenges, so we didn’t do that.
  • Split into teams, made promo videos (Which, I assume, will be posted on the FanCave website at some point. During this challenge, I almost died*). My group consisted of me and 4 men. One of them was Hayden Moss, the winner of Big Brother 12. I forgot who the other 3 were. The other three were Nick, Calder, and Michael. They were a good bunch.
  • Filmed a parody of this commercial.
  • Went bowling.

The bowling event was held at Lucky Strike in downtown Phoenix. It was the cherry on top of the cake of an amazing week.

*A little piece of me got left behind in Arizona, but that’s because my buddy Calder tried to slide tackle me during one of our commercials.

Thursday:

  • Came back to Illinois (lame).

Unfortunately, we did not go to Mesa, I did not get to see any Cubbies, and it hailed/snowed one day. But hey, can’t let that get you down, Jack! This week had so many high points that not seeing the Cubs only made me cry for a few minutes.

If you would like to see some of the photos I took from the week, you can check out my instagram site.

If you would like to see some photos taken by the professional photographer, you can check out MLB FanCave’s Facebook page.

And, finally, if you would like to familiarize yourself with the Top 30, you can go here.

It was cool to actually meet these people in real life and see their personalities come to life. The people I met this week are the best group of people I have met in a long time. Whoever makes the FanCave deserves it. Everyone is worthy of a spot in the Cave (I just hope one has my name on it).

They will be announcing the Cave Dwellers next week some time. Of course, I will keep you posted on what the outcome is!

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Best Defensive Players of the Decade (Part I)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

by John Dewan

In the last Stat of the Week, we kicked off our celebration of 10 years of Defensive Runs Saved analytics with a look back at the best defensive teams of the decade. This week we continue our retrospective with individual defenders, broken down by position. We’ll start with the middle infield: second basemen and shortstops.

First, here are the ten best second basemen of the last 10 years according to Defensive Runs Saved:

Most Defensive Runs Saved at 2B, 2003-2012

Player

Innings

DRS

DRS/1000

Chase Utley

9,809

138

14

Mark Ellis

9,531

113

12

Orlando Hudson

10,440

99

9

Placido Polanco

7,489

69

9

Dustin Pedroia

7,312

62

8

Chase Utley has a 25-run lead on the second-place second baseman Mark Ellis. Given the similar number of innings played by Utley, Ellis and Orlando Hudson—the only other players within shouting distance of Utley in Runs Saved—Utley is the definitive champion. His defensive excellence is built predominantly on his range and positioning, and that, remarkably, has not declined substantially despite his degenerative knee condition. Utley has played at least 81 games each season since 2005, and he has never had fewer than eight Plus/Minus Runs Saved in one of those seasons.

Next, here are the ten best shortstops of the last 10 years according to Defensive Runs Saved:

Most Defensive Runs Saved at SS, 2003-2012

Player

Innings

DRS

DRS/1000

Adam Everett

6,505

119

18

Jack Wilson

8,762

115

13

Brendan Ryan

4,608

91

20

Clint Barmes

4,907

77

16

Troy Tulowitzki

6,430

68

11

Compared to second base, shortstop is a little less differentiated at the top. Adam Everett beats out Jack Wilson by just four Runs Saved for first place. When you consider that Wilson played more than 2,000 extra innings in the time frame, Everett looks like a clear winner, but using that same criteria, Brendan Ryan makes a compelling case to be the best defensive shortstop. Ryan has 91 Runs Saved in 4,608 innings, a slightly better pace than Everett’s 119 Runs Saved in 6,505 innings. I’ll give Everett the nod, mostly because of timing. The 10 years of Defensive Runs Saved data happen to match his playing career nearly perfectly. Before it is all said and done, Ryan may have the better career defensive resume.

Our holistic Defensive Runs Saved metric is made up of several runs saved components. Two primary components of Defensive Runs Saved include the Plus/Minus System, which evaluates the range of fielders at every position except for catcher, and Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays. Defensive Runs Saved for second basemen and shortstops also includes Double Play Runs Saved.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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GirlieView (02/21/2013)

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

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 2013 = 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

  • It’s a tall order to catch a Swanson, but As long as the Johnsons are behind me……wait, even I don’t like the way this sounds.
  • My mancave includes a kegerator, TV, PS3, and numerous Cubs and music paraphernalia.  Think Jason Segal’s room in “I Love You, Man”, minus the tissue station.
  • Time away from the grind is time with family – the best time of all.
  • No comments this late after the story posted says just one thing.  Chicks dig the long ball.
  • The Giants had won and the Cardinals were eliminated from a postseason that they arguably should not have even been a part of anyway. The dark forces had been defeated.
  • CED, Cardinal Elimination Day is always a day of celebration for me.
  • “I made it.”
  • the fanny slap, encouragement, or creepy
  • There it was, my brother was right, I was standing in Wrigley Field just to the third base side of home plate. I got my first view of the bleachers, then I saw the green vines, the big players in their bright white uniforms, I was in awe, time stood still for the moment.
  • As long as Tony goes somewhere that will consistently utilize his skill(s), I’ll be OK.
  • Hey how ’bout those Cubs?  Pitchers and catchers….baseball….
  • Say hello the the MLB FanCave Top 30.
  • Dibble also hosts a bad radio show with the unfortunately named Amy van Dyken
  • Cub pitchers seem to have a way of not staying healthy.
  • I’m still debating if the two 17 year olds we got are older than Campana looks.

Lizard

  • My Dad always says I was “made” at Wrigley, does that count?!?

MVL

  • Congratulations to Katie the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around! (And for making it to the top 30 in the MLB Fan Cave contest. Can’t wait to hear about Arizona!)

Top Ten of 2013 (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)
1. jswanson
2. Seymour Butts
3. Doc Raker
4. Buddy
4. Eddie von White
6. Chuck
6. Jedi Johnson
8. cap’n obvious
8. Gymjok
8. Joe Aiello
8. Katie

Chit Chat
I’ve got nothing. Does anyone have anything they’d like to discuss?

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Cubs Opening Day Starter Is……

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Just a few news and notes on this Thursday morning as Spring Training already feels like it’s been too long. When do games start again?

  • We talked yesterday a little about the fact that Matt Garza had some tightness in his lat, which will cause him to rest a little and see where he’s at. That may set him back a little and open the door for an opening day start for, drum roll please…..Jeff Samardzija. It’s obviously way too early to discuss this seriously at this point, but Dale Sveum will need to monitor how Garza prepares to properly determine if he’s ready. In the event he’s not, Samardzija may be the man. See how fun spring training news is? We get nuggets like this crap.
  • Rumors are swirling that Starlin Castro is in need to a psychiatrist after his most recent statement regarding gold gloves. This quote came from a recent Paul Sullivan article: “I want to be like Barney and win a Gold Glove,” he said Tuesday at Fitch Park. “It’s going to be fun winning Gold Gloves at shortstop, second base and first base, because (Anthony) Rizzo is pretty good, too.” I hope he’s right, but I’m not holding my breath. Defense is not what makes Castro valuable. It’s his bat and his speed.
  • Theo Epstein sat down with David Kaplan recently and talked about the team. The video interview is just under 10 minutes and is worth a listen. There is something about Theo’s interviews that always leaves me excited. He’s so dreamy.
  • The Cubs recently announced that changes were coming this year to the 7th inning stretch this season. Rumors are that they will try to refine the conductors list too people who actually have somewhat of a clue or tie to the team or the city. Personally, I’d like to see the whole process scrapped and just see a recording of Harry played every game.
  • Noah talked yesterday about the fact that Baseball America posted it’s top 100 list recently, but what he failed to mention was a blog post they put up about potential top 100′s for next year. One of the BA staff felt a certain controversial Cub may make the list. “Conor Glassey: Cubs first baseman Dan Vogelbach is only 20 years old, but he already has a long track record of turning doubters into believers. They doubt him by discounting his hefty, 6-foot, 260-pound frame and then believe in him after seeing him launch balls into the lights. Excluding the Latin summer leagues, just 15 players last year with 200 or more plate appearances had an OPS greater than 1.000. Only three of those players were younger than Vogelbach—Addison Russell (who ranked 48 on the list), David Dahl (53) and Joey Gallo, who just missed. But Vogelbach isn’t just a slugger—he has an excellent feel for hitting and working the count and posted a .322 batting average in 2012 between the Rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Boise. He’ll need to continue to improve his defense, but Vogelbach has one of the best all-around bats in the minor leagues.”
  • Finally, our comment system was updated the other day. If you are having issues, please e-mail me at joe@viewfromthebleachers.com

 

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