Archive for April, 2013

Game 22 – A Win Streak Begins

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Anthony Rizzo – .321 (WPA)

BREAKING NEWS – The Cubs have a win streak. Last night a win meant the first streak of the season. Nevermind that it comes at the hands of the Marlins. A streak is a streak.

Watching the game yesterday, I came away with two main talking points. If you’ve read my recaps before, you know that I don’t really focus on retelling you what happened in the game. You have eyes and can watch the game yourself. You don’t need me to repeat it back to you. Instead, I try to look for topics to discuss.

A Glimplse of what Rizzo can be – He’s been criticized a great deal this year for the somewhat cold start. At times he’s looked confused at the plate and has struck out more than you’d like to see, but last night we caught a look at the potential that he has. Coming into the game, Rizzo was just 1-for-19 and fresh off an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Thursday. He more than made up for that lack of success with a pair of two run bombs to singlehandedly provide all the offense that would be needed in the game.

I’m not going to sit here and say that I know Rizzo is going to be a hall of fame caliber player in his career. No one can project that. What this is important is to set realistic expectations for this season as his first full season in the Majors, and those can’t be for him to win the MVP. We need need to see improvement and progression. There are a few things I’m looking for from Rizzo. If I can see improvement in these areas, I’ll continue to be encouraged an excited about the future.

First is his strikeout rate. We saw in 2011, when he was in the Padres system, a strikeout rate of 21.5% in AAA and 30.1% for the big league club. Last year those numbers hovered around 17% between ML and Iowa combined. For Rizzo, and for any player in general, that’s a huge step forward. This year it’s not gone as well, but if he can get that strikeout rate around 15%, I’ll be thrilled as the development we’ve seen from him in the short time he’s been here.

Second is his walk rate. I want him at or above 10% in this area. By decreasing the strike outs and increasing the walks, it shows that the plate discipline is growing. That should help that power continue to translate to run production. I don’t expect him to be an on base machine like a Joey Votto, but if we can see him just make pitchers work a little harder I’ll be happy.

Third is the power. You might say that third should be the batting average, which I’ll admit is low at this point (.200), but if you look at his BABIP you’ll see that the balls just aren’t finding the holes right now. His BABIP is at .176. That’s going to improve and we’ll see the average increase. I say that third is power because this team doesn’t have a lot of it. Rizzo is projected to be a middle of the order bat and with that needs to come power production. Last season we saw a combined 38 home runs between AAA and ML. It’s tough to just put that as his bench mark since half of those homers came against minor league pitchers, but I think it’s reasonable to expect 30+. That’s what I am setting as the expectation.

Scott Feldman looked much better – His first few outings have been less than desireable and it was looking like his starting rotation spot might be in jepopardy when (and if) Matt Garza returns. Last night he looked really good, with good movement and bite on his pitches. It’s an encouraging sign. He’s not going to be a guy that overpowers you with strikeouts. He’s a guy that tends to throw strikes and wins by pitching to contact. It’s not ideal, but last night it got the job done.


After each game I’m assigned to recap, we take a look at the success of the home plate umpire. Last night’s man in blue was Joe Wolf, who had less than a stellar night making judgement calls behind the plate and came in with a correct call rate around 77%. That’s really below average. Let’s take a look at the heat maps that tell the story.

What you’ll see in this first map is that Wolf was all over the place with his strike zone. It was wide. However, the next graphs give you a little bit better picture as we see that it was primarily wide to the righties.


As a result, we see a correct call rate for the night that was less than stellar. Not a good night for the man in blue behind the plate.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, April 26th, 2013

(Through games of 4/24, minimum 50 plate appearances)

Three Up

Rock Shoulders, 1B/DH
Age 21, Single A
.410/.486/.672, 1.158 OPS, 8 XBH
12.9% BB, 18.6% K, .477 BABIP

The best name in the minors is crushing it down in Kane County. He is a bit older than most legit prospects (he has at least one teammate over 2 years younger), but we can’t argue with the results so far. Good walk rate, respectable K rate, and good power, but as a 1B he will have to hit in AA to get any prospect love.

Jorge Soler, RF
Age 21, Advanced A
.304/.396/.500, .896 OPS, 5 XBH
13.2% BB, 17.0% K, .343 BABIP

The BABIP isn’t as outrageous as Rock’s currently is, so I’m much more confident that Soler can continue to put up these numbers moving forward. I am loving the BB/K ratio so far; enough that it would cement his status as my #1 Cub prospect.

Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B
Age 21, Double A
.288/.370/.463, .832 OPS, 6 XBH, 12/12 SB
11.8% BB, 22.6% K, .339 BABIP

The 4th youngest player in the Southern League is showing all the tools. Despite the age, he is tied for the organization lead with Rock Shoulders with four home runs. Strikeout rate is a bit high, but that doesn’t worry me because of his age and his ability to draw a walk. I think he jumps into next year’s Top 100 with ease.

Three Down

Christian Villanueva, 3B
Age 22, Double A
.225/.295/.352, .647 OPS, 7 XBH
7.7% BB, 17.9% K, .268 BABIP

Not such a great start but I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks. The average line in AA is 235/318/346 (which makes Alcantara’s start even more impressive), so Villanueva is only a little below average so far. The BABIP is low, walk rate is average, and the K rate is respectable…with his good defense at 3B, he just needs to be an average hitter and I think he’ll be a little better than that when the season is over.

Gioskar Amaya, 2B
Age 20, Single A
.258/.288/.371, .659 OPS, 5 XBH
4.5% BB, 24.2% K, .340 BABIP

This is why I include BABIP. I don’t believe Amaya’s numbers are going to improve all that much unless something changes in his approach. Low walks, high K’s, and a high BABIP with such a low batting average is a baaaaaaad combination.

Javier Baez, SS
Age 20, Advanced A
.225/.253/.438, .690 OPS, 9 XBH
3.4% BB, 28.7% K, .273 BABIP

The biggest disappointment so far in the early going is the Cubs Top Prospect. He’s hitting for power, but he’s not walking and he’s striking out at a near Brett Jackson-like pace. He will not succeed with these BB and K rates. He’s the 5th youngest player in the Florida State League, so I’m not freaking out or anything, but this is about as poor a start as I could have imagined from Baez.

One note about the minors so far: There were 34 position player prospects with 30 or more plate appearances and half of those had walk rates of 10% or more. There were only four prospects with walk rates under 7%. Without looking into it, that seems like a 180 degree turn and, to me, is evidence of the change in philosophy for the organization. If only our top prospect could follow the lead.

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Game 21 – Finally A Weaker Opponent

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Luis Valbuena – .340 (WPA)

Darwin Barney
Defense was on display for the Cubs on Thursday night in Miami, and it all started with Gold Glove 2B Darwin Barney. He made two very nice plays here and here. The flip to Castro was sensational, that’s the only way to record an out with Pierre running in that situation, and if they miss it the bases are loaded.

Welington Castillo
Castillo’s play also came with Pierre at the plate. A poor sacrifice bunt attempt saw Castillo aggressively going after the lead runner at third base in the ninth inning. Again, if he misses this play or is a split-second late with the throw, the bases are loaded and Marmol has no outs.

Hector Rondon
Sometimes it’s just as important to be lucky. And Rondon certainly was as he snagged this liner.

Nice Win
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead when Castro drove in DeJesus who led the game with a double. Edwin Jackson pitched 6 total innings, 3 of which were good, 3 of which weren’t so good. Jackson immediately gave the run back to the Marlins in the bottom of the first…on a bases loaded walk. The Marlins tagged him for a pair of runs in the 2nd. But back-to-back doubles in the fourth from Castillo and Schierholtz plus a sixth inning HR from Schierholtz left the game tied when Jackson exited. He is credited with a quality start, only in the statistical sense however, it was a mediocre outing.

Luis Valbuena was the Cubs hero, hitting a solo HR that proved to be the final difference. It was almost another case of taking a late lead only to eventually lose when Marmol issued a walk and a single before Pierre’s failed bunt attempt.  Carlos turned it around and recorded the final two outs without incident.  Cubs Win!

Other Notes
Matt Garza is scheduled to throw long toss on Friday. That’s because he was scratched from his rehab start in Double-A on Wednesday. The Cubs are blaming the missed start on a ‘dead arm’ – and that shouldn’t be concerning at all for a guy who hasn’t pitched in the majors since last July. He’s a comebacking line drive to the torso away from being adopted by Mark Prior.

Ian Stewart is trying to find his swing in Triple-A. May I politely suggest that instead of wasting time trying to find his swing, he should steal someone else’s. Stewart is “healthy and ready to go” and we know this because he’s bashing the ball in AAA. Hitting .083 (2-for-24) I’d argue that he’s found his swing, it’s probably just best to promote him now before he goes into a slump.

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Northside Archives: Worse Beginnings

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

This season has started quite poorly for the Cubs. Be it errors, a lack of offense, or the clowns paid to sit in the bullpen and blow games, the Cubs find a way to lose nearly every day. There was a time, though, when the Cubs lost EVERY day…or at least every day they played.

Return From The Strike
The Cubs started the post-strike era with many new faces, including manager Jim Riggleman. He was brought in to replace Tom Treblehorn after the 1994 season. The 1995 Cubs were nothing to write home about, but they did have 30-30 man Sammy Sosa. Finishing 73-71 they were mathematically in the race right to the season’s final series eventually losing the Wild Card to the Rockies and finishing just behind the Astros for 3rd place in the Central. That performance helped coax Ryne Sandberg out of retirement for the 1996 season. On paper the Cubs were set to be better in ’96, but some bad breaks along the way saddled them with a 76-86 record (that Bill James says should’ve been 81-81). So the Cubs got a bit younger during 1997, mixing in youth at several positions – most notably 3B Kevin Orie.

But Terry Mulholland got the ball on Opening Day, and that should’ve been a massive warning sign. He was charged with beating the Florida Marlins, a franchise that had loaded up on free agents and turned the team over to new manager Jim Leyland. The Cubs lost that first game to Kevin Brown and the Marlins, but they couldn’t have imagined their losing would continue uninterrupted for so long. The went on to lose 4-2, 4-3, and 8-2 in a sweep at the hands of the eventual World Series Champion Marlins – they never led in the series. In fact, the Cubs would not hold a lead until the 6th inning of the season’s 4th game. They promptly gave it right back in the bottom of the inning. They’d go on to lose that game to the Braves with the help of an untimely error from the SS and a crappy appearance by the washed up bullpen. This is still 1997 we’re talking about, even though it might seem like 2013.

The Braves would finish off the sweep with wins of 11-5 and a 4-0 shutout. With the lovely MLB schedule, the Cubs found themselves then playing their home opener against the very same Florida Marlins. This time it was a 5-3 loss, followed two days later (another scheduling stroke of genius) by a 1-0 shutout. When the Braves followed the Marlins into Wrigley Field, Cubs fans wanted no part of déjà vu. But that’s what they got; a 2-1 loss followed by a 6-4 defeat leaving the Cubs with a horrific 0-10 to start the season. Yes, all the losses came to the eventual World Series Champion and the team that won the Marlins division in the regular season.

So when the Rockies came to town on April 15th, the Cubs were happy to see a new opponent; and possibly register their first victory. Instead they got a 10-7 defeat followed by a 4-0 shutout. Another new opponent would be needed if the Cubs were to win a game. But the Mets came to town and brought rain with them; the rainout provided the Cubs an extra day to mull over their 0-12 start. It also was the opportunity they needed to finally record a victory. But the Cubs lost the first game of the series 6-3 and the first game of the re-scheduled doubleheader 8-2. At 0-14, the Cubs went into the nightcap with very little hope and even fewer fans. Only a paid attendance of 18,484 saw the Cubs score 2 in the sixth and 2 in the seventh on their way to beating the Mets and Dave Mlicki 4-3. There would be some anxious moments when Turk Wendell couldn’t find the strike zone, surrendered two runs, and ended only closed out the game when the tying run stood at second base – but it was a victory nonetheless.

It took 20 days to lose 14 games and get that first win. Over the following 20 days, the Cubs would go 9-10. After the initial losing streak ended, that team went 67-80 the rest of the way, so just remember there’s a lot of baseball still to be played.

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Game 20 – One Lousy, Stinking Run

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Cubs 0, Reds 1

Box Score / Highlights

The Good  Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: Jeff Samardzija looked like an ace today. Maybe that’s overstating it a tad, but I’m very impressed with him and the Cubs’ starting staff in general to start this season. ESPN Chicago beat writer Jesse Rogers wrote about just how effective the starters have been through the first twenty games of the season, and how their performance has made the team’s weaknesses all the more infuriating. Wednesday was no different, with the Cubs wasting another quality start from Samardzija. The first batter he faced hit a high bouncing grounder back up the middle and he made a stab at it with his pitching hand. The result was a bashed index finger that looked pretty gnarly for the rest of the game, but didn’t inhibit his performance. He was dealing for most of the afternoon–be sure to check out the pitches he threw to strike out the side in the 3rd–and his only hiccup came on a Todd Frazier homerun in the 6th. If the Cubs had any consistent offensive presence, they could have walked away with this game.

The Bad  But they don’t. Dale said it best: “We’re just having trouble hitting the outfield grass when we get people on base.” Yup, that’s pretty much it. I will say I can handle this kind of loss a little better than another heartbreaking blown save, but it still stings. The Cubs go to 6-14 with the loss, and and all twenty of those games have been decided by four or fewer runs. If the bats ever heat up, this might be a fun team to watch.

The Ugly  The biggest threat the Cubs posed to the Reds today was in the 8th inning. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, pinch hitter Alfonso Soriano struck out swinging (for my money, Soriano’s to excitable a hitter for those types of situations, but whatever) and David DeJesus came up hoping to get the Cubs on the board. With a 2-2 count, DeJesus hit a grounder up the middle that looked sure to drive in a run. Instead, Zack Cozart ranged over to nab it, throw to first in time for the out, and stomp his cleat right through my chest. And with that, another winnable game slipped through our fingers. Oh well, on to Miami.

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