Archive for April, 2013

Sounding Off On Roster Management

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

I am going to admit something to you. It’s a little embarrassing, but I feel like, in light of Jason Collins coming out as a homesexual, I need to come out with this secret that I’ve kept buried deep inside of me for way too long.

/Takes deep breath

I am a roster management addict. I am fully addicted to pouring over the roster make up and looking for ways to improve from not only outside of the organization via waivers, free agency and trades, but from within the organization via the farm. I can’t help it. I’ll be watching a game, see a player leave for some reason related to an injury and immediately begin to speculate on who the replacement might be and how Jed and Theo can make that work under the current CBA constraints. As a result of this crazy addiciton, I’ve come up with my ideal roster construnsruction and right now the Cubs are not following it.

Obviously you need to go in with all the starting position players filled as well as a rotation of five pitchers (don’t get me started on this one right now). From there, it’s a personal preference when it comes to constructing this roster for the other twelve spots.

Bench – Some would say that contruction of this would vary based on if you’re in the NL vs the AL, but I disagree. I build my roster the exact same way. The only difference is that it gives the AL manager a little more flexibility in how he uses the bench because the need for pinch hitting for the pitcher is not needed. I contruct my bench with six position players. This varies from the traditional bench of five or even four, but I do it for a reason. First, I carry an outfielder with the ability to play at least one of the corner spots, preferably the ability to play both. From there I also carry a centerfielder to back up my starter. Ideally one of those two backup outfields will have the ability to play multiple OF spots. I also carry a backup third baseman with the ability to play first if needed in a pinch or on a day off for the starter. I carry a backup middle infielder. I carry a backup catcher (if the backup 3B can’t cover first, I look for a catcher who can). That leaves me with the extra spot, which I liken to the flex position in fantasy football. I use this spot for a specialist of some sort, preferrably focused on speed and defense, in that order. The rationale is that I can use this player in a pinch late in the game as a runner, in an attempt to get my tying or winning run in scoring position. If I cannot find a player that fits this mold, I look for a third catcher, if and only if, my backup catcher has a bat I feel is valuable as a pinch hitter.

Bullpen – This one is short and sweet. Carrying 12 pitchers is ridiculous. It leads to some guy getting burried and forgotten at the end of the bullpen bench and as a result, rusting like the tin man. This year it’s Hector Rondon who is suffering as a result of the bloated pen. He’s been used in seven games this year, but has only thrown six pitches in the last week. It’s no way to develop a bullpen arm from within. I understand he needs to remain on the active roster due to his rule five status, but he’s pitched a lot better than someone like Shawn Camp, yet Camp continues to answer the phone when it rings. Carrying 11 pitchers solves this problem. In the event that someone gets tired or a game goes long, you call a fresh arm up and option a guy down. If you construct the pen with that flexibility, it doesn’t become an issue.

Maybe this is just me ranting, but I’m tired of people just following the mold when it comes to the way things are done in this game. Try something new. That is all.

/steps down from the soapbox

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Game 25 – Winning The Games They Should

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Darwin Barney – .231 (WPA)


Jeff Samardzija
I’m of two minds about Jeff Samardzija so far in 2013. The optimistic side of me says that games like Monday night are what suggest Jeff can be an ace before long. It’s critical for an ace to be able to fight through a game with less than his best stuff – on Monday night, Samardzija definitely didn’t have his best stuff.

The pessimist in me (wants to cannibalize the optimist) believes that outings like Monday night occur too frequently for the former Notre Dame standout to ever be truly considered an ace. Except his first start of the year, which was truly great, Samardzija’s appearances since have been somewhere between solid and bad – but the common theme is they are too short. He’s simply not pitching deep enough into games.

He needs to throw more strikes – tonight he walked 4, struck out 8 but took 5 innings to plow through 101 pitches. It’s becoming a theme, last time out it was 6 innings 104 pitches; his second start this year was 105 pitches in 5.2 innings, and the third start was it was 100 pitches in 6 innings. The only time since Opening Day that he’s pitched into the 7th was against Milwaukee where he completed 7 innings, but gave up 5 runs in the process. It’s like someone had him study game tape of Rich Harden.

It’s especially worrying because the bullpen is so terrible; I pity Edwin Jackson. He can expect zero help tomorrow night after he is pulled from the game.

Scott Hairston & Cody Ransom
The former Padres hit back-to-back jacks in the 2nd against their former team. The Cubs were buoyed all night by the bottom of the order particularly with Ransom and Darwin Barney. The 6-7-8 spots produced all the runs for the Cubs and it’s a good thing, because…

Dave Sappelt
…leadoff ‘hitter’ Dave Sappelt sucks at this game called baseball. He’s started hitting leadoff 7 times so far this season, seeing 11, 7, 17, 19, 20, 10, 10 pitches in those respective starts. So only in 3 of 7 starts has he seen more than 11 pitches. He’s jumping at pitches, hacking wildly – almost hoping it sometimes seems, that his bat will miraculously make contact. *Nate Schierholtz saw 7 pitches in one PH at-bat tonight; Sappelt saw 10 pitches in 4 PAs.

With two out in the second, on the heels of a Samardzija sac bunt, Sappelt decided to swing at the first pitch and ground into the final out of the inning; because who cares if Jeff gets a chance to collect a breath? (it’s commonplace for even a mediocre leadoff hitter to drag their feet in such an at-bat – giving their pitcher every opportunity to catch his breath and ready himself to pitch again).

He led off the Cubs half of the inning in each of his other three at-bats, weakly grounding out to the left side every time. If he was hitting the ball, the lack of patience would be less problematic; but even Ian Stewart has been heard mocking Sappelt’s ability to get a hit. And Sappelt’s swing is too long and disjointed for a guy who doesn’t posses middle-of-the-order power. He’s merely a pedestrian fielder; the Cubs can do better with his roster spot.

Bullpen
So as not to be too much of a downer, I’ll say the bullpen was quite good tonight – especially Gregg. That has me highly suspicious of tomorrow night, but we’ll leave those troubles for tomorrow. Also, if the recap makes it feel like we lost this game, just know that it was the combination of Hairston, Ransom, and Barney and the bullpen work that pulled out the win. The rest of the team left a lot to be desired whether it was overall impatience at the top of the order (1-4 in the lineup), Castro’s odd error, or Samardzija aforementioned uninspiring performance, the Cubs scratched and clawed for this one, and not in a good way.

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MLB Draft – How To Make It Interesting

Monday, April 29th, 2013

The three-day NFL draft ended with pomp and circumstances on Saturday night with one of its most successful runs yet. Ian Rappaport of NFL Network reported during the second round on Friday night that over 20 million households tuned into an exciting first round in primetime on Thursday. Considering there was a lot less star power in this draft in comparison to past years, the NFL’s premeire event drew eye-popping numbers.

Amateur drafts have become more and more popular with each passing offseason. The NFL got things kicked off in the 1980’s and the growth of the NFL as the most popular sport in the the United States has helped build their draft’s brand.

The NBA lottery is a heavily watched event besides being one of the most boring half hours of television in sports during the year. Their draft follows suit with impressive numbers, mainly due to college basketball’s deep following. It also helps that they have a two-round, one-night affair that is easy to keep track of.

Without doing any research, the NHL draft is held around the same time as the NBA draft, but I know maybe one person that has ever tuned in to that event.

Bud Selig–or the minions under Selig–have tried to make the MLB event a more popular one since the inception of the MLB network, but with mixed results. It doesn’t help that World Series ratings have lowered significantly in the past decade, especially in championship series that have mid-market pulls.

While the focus is placed on football and basketball as the premiere sports in college athletics in terms of television contracts, baseball is a bit of the forgotten love. Unless you enjoy watching the Big 12 or SEC network, you probably aren’t sitting down to watch any of the top college teams play.

An even bigger up-hill climb for Major League Baseball is that half of their big-name prospects come from the high school ranks. ESPN started showing the occasional high school basketball when King James was still ballin’ in Ohio as an 18-year-old, but high school baseball hasn’t caught on as a luxury, late-night watch.

There is simply not enough known star power for the MLB to build upon their tv rating numbers for the draft anytime soon.

I always enjoy the live chat that happens during the MLB draft with guys like Keith Law and a few of the Baseball America guys, but even watching the first round on MLB Network is a snoozefest. Most of the analysts don’t study baseball prospects the way that NFL “draftniks” nerdily scout players all the way down to the small-school level.

So I ask you, the VFTB peanut gallery, what would you do to change the MLB Draft and make it more watchable?

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Game 24 – The Sweep That Almost Was

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Giancarlo Stanton – .471 (WPA)


Coming into the series, the Cubs and Marlins have met for a four game set seven times. None of those were won by a sweep. This weekend’s series continued that trend as the Marlins salvaged a game thanks to a hint of offense, something they hadn’t gotten much of all series.

It’s  a little frustrating to not come away with a series sweep, but a series win is a start. Carlos Villanueva, who was outstanding coming into the game, tossed is first so so start, but still managed to get through six innings while allowing just four runs and left with his team down just a run. He kept it close, which is what you want from your starter. Unfortunately, this year we need the starter to either go the distance or be supported by a plethora of runs to the extent that the bullpen can’t give it away. It didn’t happen and we saw a loss because of it. Not much other major things to report, so we’ll end with some minor notes and noticings from the game.

  • Anthony Rizzo continues to hit the ball hard and I believe he’s going to have a huge series against the Padres. He has a chance to tie Alfonso Soriano for most home runs by a Cub in April. The record is 10 and he stands at eight.
  • Through the first two games of the series, the Cubs really did a good job minimizing Stanton. When you look at their lineup, he’s essentially a one man show. I was amazed at how few players on that team that I knew. Next time you get discouraged by our rebuilding process and the lack of talent, watch a Marlins game and be encouraged.
  • The centerfield camera is really good for alignment with the plate. It’s almost completely straight away.

Umpire Report

Jim Joyce had the plate on Sunday. You might remember him from such games as the Gallaraga “perfect game” that wasn’t. What made me laugh is that the Marlins broadcast crew raved about Joyce and said he was one of the most accurate in the game. When you’re a broadcaster, apparently you can say whatever you want without looking up the numbers to make sure they support your claim. A quick look at the data since 2009 shows that Joyce ranks 40th for correct call rate behind the plate. An 82.7% correct call rate was what he put up today, which equates to a below average day behind the plate. His strike zone was quite accurately vertically. It was horizontally that he got a little crazy. The outside pitches were particularly generous to the pitchers.

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Game 23 – They Come in Threes

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

 

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – David DeJesus – .271 (WPA)


Getting Out-Cub’d

It’s no secret that the Cubs have been a little less than stellar in most aspects of the game up to this point in the season, so it was nice that game started off with a couple blunders that worked in our favor. The ball started rolling when David DeJesus was able to reach third base on Stanton’s fifth (5th!) error of the young season. DeJesus then scored on a wild pitch to put the Cubs up 1-0 in the first.

Later in the game, Castillo reached base on a bloop that could have (should have) easily been caught, but it found some green and Wellington reached safely.

The Marlins defense was shoddy and the offense was limited. It was encouraging to see that the Cubs aren’t the only ones struggling right now. It’s easy to become so obsessed with our own team’s shortcomings that we miss the fact that others struggle as much as we do.

Nate Schierholtz

I’m not sure about you folks, but I absolutely adore Nate Schierholtz. Aside from getting caught stealing second, he played an exceptional game. He doubled to lead off the second inning and scored on a Valbuena single. He made a spectacular catch in right field and drew a walk.

It seems that he’s been our most consistent performer at the plate and in the field. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that he would be among the top 3 in all offensive categories. I know it’s early, but he’s been so great so far this season. So great, in fact, that he’s taken residence in the place that Fast Tony left in my heart (Thank you, Theo).

Pitching

Travis Wood continued the quality starts trend, going 6 innings, allowing three hits and one walk. Two of the hits he gave up were solo home runs, one to Stanton and one to Olivo. Stanton’s home run was… huge. It went over the scoreboard in left field.

Those two home runs were the only mistakes that Wood made, and the only runs the Cubs allowed.

The bullpen was able to hold the Marlins to two runs.  Kameron Loe pitched a scoreless frame, Russel had a decent 2/3, and Marmol owes Castro big time for having his back in the 8th.

Kevin Gregg owned the ninth. No runs. No hits. No walks. One strikeout. I was shocked. The game ended. Raise the W flag. Gregg with the save! I was stunned. Any time that Len says, “Gregg is up in the bullpen,” I die a little on the inside. But tonight’s performance was more than acceptable. If he keeps it up, maybe the Cubs can actually have a real closer. But until then, we’ll just keep using the closer rotation until we find something that works.

Closing Thoughts:

It’s nice to have a little win streak going for us. Hopefully this little boost will increase the team’s morale and guys will start hitting with runners on – we left 17 men on base and were 2-for-8 with RISP. 17 LOB is a lot. It’s good that guys are getting on base, but they have to come home soon, right? I’ve got my fingers crossed that Rizzo starts hitting something other than sporadic home runs and that Barney can get his average up to at least .230 by the All Star Break.

Overall, I’m happy with tonight’s game. It wasn’t perfect, but it looks like things are starting to kind of come together for the Cubs. An upward trend is looming and we caught tiny glimpses tonight. There is hope for us yet!

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