Archive for April, 2013

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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Recapping the Random – 04/24/13

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

A friend of mine likened the current iteration of the Cubs to a person going through a cleanse.  The steps vary depending on the seriousness of the cleanse.  First you purge the toxic or harmful entities.  You then go through treatment, and soon after, a recovery.  You need a recovery period from what I am told.  You don’t want to take down a cheeseburger with your first meal back in the saddle.  I feel as though the Cubs are somewhere between the treatment stage and recovery stage, and we are feeling the pain, agony, and discomfort of the process as fans.  The Cubs are a baseball version of the cleanse if you will, and most people who go through a cleanse are tortured by the process.   Some people will actually tell you they enjoy the process of a cleanse.  These are people I don’t trust.   However, when things get bad, sometimes you need to erase everything and start over no matter how unpleasant it may be.

Throughout this cleanse it has become hard to sit through games, torturous even.  Monday nights game against the Reds might have been the pinnacle.  If anybody told me I would be watching Kevin Gregg piggyback a Carlos Marmol effort again in my lifetime, I would have told them to keep smoking what they are smoking and eventually they will pass out.  I know there is a plan here, buried under the heap that is our bullpen, but Kevin Gregg?   When they signed him it was like a cruel trick.  I thought somebody hacked the Baseball Trade Rumors site.  The first thing I thought to do was check and see who projects as the number one draft pick in the 2014 Draft.  I was sure that’s what we were going for with these savvy moves.

Nonetheless, Marmol was shockingly good (over two innings!) and Gregg walked one but came out unscathed.  That’s three innings of pure magic right there.  Cap that off with a Valbuena 2 run dinger in the 13th and your set, right? right???

NOPE.

The pain and agony of the cleanse ticks on…..only a year or so left I guess.

 

AL Central

  • If you thought it was bad that the Cubs picked up Kevin Gregg, ask Tigers fans what they are thinking about Jose Valverde’s return to the D.
  • The Marlins and Twins were snowed out.  Jose Fernandez has never seen snow….until now.  Nothing like a mid-April Blizzard to warm the cockles.

AL East

 

AL West

  • Remember the ball Josh Hamilton dropped to give the A’s the AL West last year? Just sold for $1280…..this could be the signal that tips the economy.

 

We’ll do the NL next time, but in its place…..

 

Tweet of the week….

Here is a tweet I never thought I would see the likes of again…..

I will say this, how many games has Marmol won through suckage?  I think he leads the league right now in blown save wins, which should be a SABR stat of some sort.

 

 

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Game 19 – Vengeance AND Redemption! AKA, the Cubs Win in 10.

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Box Score Highlights

Star of the Game - Carlos Villanueva (.346 WPA)

Thankfully, after the Cubs’ heartbreaker in 13 on Monday night, they were able to come right back and win a ten inning squeaker on Tuesday night. Also, I’d like to note that the Cubs are 2-0 in games that I have recapped and 4-13 in games that anyone else has. And, no, I refuse to believe this is coincidence. This is clearly the one situation where 2 games is a significant sample size.

But poor Carlos Villanueva. The Cubs’ right hander has put together just a phenomenal start to the season, posting a 2.16 ERA over his first four starts only to get very little support from either the hitters or the bullpen. As a result, Villanueva only has a 1-0 record to start the season. The way Villanueva is finding success right now is actually interesting. Compared to career averages, he is getting less strikeouts, but has cut his walk rate even more. What I find even more interesting is that Villanueva, who for his career has been fly ball pitcher (39.2% ground ball rate), has been an extreme ground ball pitcher so far this year (56%). And when he’s allowed a fly ball, he’s getting hammered (20% HR/FB rate). It will be interesting to watch if this is just an aberration or a change in the plan of attack.

Unfortunately for Villanueva, after leaving the game with a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth, a runner on second and Joey Votto up to bat, he was replaced by Carlos Marmol, and Votto knocked in the run from second. Before everyone screams about how awful Marmol is, just remember he pitched two innings yesterday and was facing one of the best hitters in baseball. He got out of the inning with the score tied, and the Cubs won it in the 10th.

The Cubs got their power supplied by two fairly unlikely sources: infielder Cody Ransom scored the Cubs’ first run of the game on a solo home run in the second inning. Ransom, a recent pickup off the waiver wire, got his first start of the season. Then, Darwin Barney broke the tie game with a solo shot of his own in the 10th.

Then, just to bring you back to 2009, Kevin Gregg got the save opportunity in the bottom of the 10th. Thankfully, unlike too many of his appearances in 2009, Gregg pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the game.

Alfonso Soriano had a  good game, going 3 for 4 and, in another adventure through the time machine, stealing 2 bases in one inning. He’s not hitting for much power at this point, but the average and OBP are close to what you would have expected from the left fielder.

On another note, Keith Law thinks the Cubs have changed Anthony Rizzo’s swing again, and that it’s affecting his contact ability. I’m not really buying this at this point. Rizzo had a rough week to start the season, then a couple of pretty good weeks after starting the Reds’ series with another rough stretch. He’s also been a big victim of some unlucky BABIP (at .171 before last night’s game). It is something to keep an eye on, though.

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Lingering Injuries and Speedy Recoveries

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I’m coming off two weeks of crippling back problems, so I’ve got pain and recovery on my mind. But I’m a lifelong Cubs fan, so pain of one kind or another is never far from my thoughts.

What I am wondering these days is if our thinking on sports injuries is totally skewed; if we’ve adopted the shorthand of labeling guys as “injury-prone” or “quick healers” and lost sight of just what these modern gladiators go through for the sake of our entertainment.

You can’t follow Chicago sports without hearing about the ongoing story/controversy surrounding Bulls’ star Derrick Rose. Rose suffered a grisly injury, tearing his left ACL in the first game of last season’ playoffs. He has been medically cleared to return to the court for a while now, but does not yet have enough confidence in his repaired knee to test it in a game.

And while Bulls fans and others across the NBA continue to grumble and complain about Rose’s supposed cowardice, many athletes across the sports world have encouraged him to ignore his critics and stick to his own timetable. The common reasoning is that these guys know their bodies better than any doctor, and they shouldn’t rush back from an injury and put themselves at further risk.

Having had my right ACL replaced, I can’t argue with that. It’s a weird injury to suffer–it feels like everything in your knee has unraveled, sort of like busting a lace on your shoes. And from the moment it happens, it’s hard to remember what your knee felt like when it was still healthy. That goes on throughout the recovery process, first as you keep it agonizingly immobile for a few weeks, and then as you slowly start to relearn how to bend your knee and trust it to hold your weight. As your leg hangs virtually useless from you body for weeks on end, you start to lose faith in it. You get comfortable not trusting it, not depending on it, and not even really needing it. It’s like a rebellious faction of your body you’re trying to bring back under your control.

No doubt the Bulls have had the best doctors in the world working with Rose, employing the most aggressive physical therapy to get him back into shape. But his line of work requires him to have complete confidence in his physical abilities–to trust them to work in instantaneous harmony, and not betray him with weakness or inconsistency. That’s not something a doctor can sign off on. It takes time to learn to trust your new knee, because no matter how superb the surgery was, it will never again feel like it once did. It takes patience, and that’s not something athletes or we fans are particularly good at.

Part of that is due to the occasional speedy recovery or guys who just seem to just “heal fast.” For every dozen Derrick Roses there’s a Ray Lewis, who only needed a matter of weeks to return from a torn triceps muscle. Whatever it was that aided Lewis’ superhuman recovery–whether it was the rumored Deer Antler Spray or some other sketchy substance–he made it back to the field in record time for one last victory lap and another Super Bowl ring.

So what’s the eager fan to do? Do we root for our guys to claw their way back onto the field, employing any and every means necessary to patch their bodies? Do we submit to the Jose Canseco “Steroids Are Good For You” school of thought, and ignore the dangers athletes might face in the process? Or do we pump the brakes on our fanaticism, understanding that a lost season isn’t the biggest tragedy in life or even in sports, and root for guys like Rose to return to the court only when they’re 100% ready to be back?

If this whole thing has any link back to Cubs baseball, maybe it’s this: like most of you, I’ve made my share of jokes about towel drills and soft pitchers. In the past there probably wasn’t much certain ex-Cubs could do to convince me they didn’t baby their injuries, quitting on the team and their own careers. But realistically, I don’t know what their bodies are telling them, and how or why they knew something was wrong.

Nor do I know why something as simple as a joint slightly out of alignment can keep me hunched over, render my legs numb and useless, send body-shaking spasms throughout my back, and virtually incapacitate me for days on end; or why a week and several treatments later I feel almost completely back to normal. The inescapable reminder in all of this is that our bodies are delicate, wondrous creations, and that we shouldn’t take so lightly the sacrifices of athletes who put theirs on the line for our enjoyment.

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Game 18 – A Long and Frustrating Road to the Finish

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jay Bruce (.507 WPA)


If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a whiny little girl when it comes to staying up late to watch a game. I like day baseball and I like my sleep. With the Cubs headed to Cincy and a game time at 7:10pm EDT, I thought I was in business by scheduling myself to recap last night’s game. Little did I know that the dreaded extra inning bug would rear it’s ugly head and I’d get stuck recapping a 13 inning affair. Let’s take a look at the notes.

Coming into the game, you could pinpoint four major issues for this Cubs team that have led to the record and the product on the field that we’ve seen. The Cubs have had major struggles with games on the road, games where the bullpen needs to be involved, games that involve runners in scoring position, and games where they are required to field the baseball. So, basically every game. Monday’s game continued the struggles in three of those four areas, with fielding being the only spot that was improved. In fact, it was the Reds that looked minor-leaguesque late in the game with three almost costly errors.

  • Travis Wood and Mike Leake both looked really good, yet neither were able to factor into the decision. For Wood, he continues to battle with Carlos Villanueva for the title of most valuable starter so far this year. It’s very frustrating to watch him go out there day in and day out and pitch like his hair is on fire only to leave the game with either a loss or a no decision. If it’s frustrating to me, I can’t even imagine how he feels with the lack of run support.
  • Starlin Castro extended his hit streak to a career high, 14 games. It’s actually a little surprising that his streak history is not greater than that, considering he led the NL in hits one season.
  • Carlos Marmol pitched not one, but two innings of shutout ball in critical, high leverage, situations. I give Dale a lot of props for bringing him out there for the 2nd inning of work. I went on Twitter and polled fans and the overwhelming majority thought it was the wrong call. I disagree and I said it before the move. He capped it all off with a strikeout of Joey Votto to end the inning.
  • Want to watch a game more pissed off than you normally would be just by watching Cubs baseball? Watch the Reds broadcast for the entire game and listen to the hate dripping from Thom Brennaman the entire game. From the first pitch till the last out, he continually rips the Cubs and their history. He brings up every negative stat he can get his hands on. He continually brings up the same things each and every time the Cubs and Reds meet. It’s complete bushleague announcing.

UMPIRE REPORT

Yesterday’s home plate umpire was Jerry Meals, who put up a correct call rate of 85.6% on pitches taken by the hitter. Here is a look at his heat maps for strike zone and correct call rate.

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MLB’s Soon To Be Deadly Problem

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

A few days ago, the story came out that Brewers pitcher, Yovani Gallardo was arrested late at night after driving slow and erratic. When asked to take a breathalyzer test, Gallardo failed with a 0.22 result, well over the Wisconsin legal limit of .08. Gallardo’s penalty for the incident? Since it was a first time offense, a mere $778 fine will suffice. NO jail time. NO loss of license, and from an MLB standpoint, NO suspension or discipline of any kind.

Unfortunately, this is a growing trend in Major League Baseball and one that very much needs to be addressed. In just a quick search of my paltry memory, I can come up with three other major incidents that have happened related to alcohol in just MLB alone.

In 1993, two Cleveland Indians players were killed and another player badly injured in an alcohol related incident involving a boat. Steve Olin, 27, and Tim Crews, 31, were killed on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Florida and Bobby Ojeda, suffered serious scalp injuries but survived. Crews, who was driving the boat, had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit in the state of Florida.

Josh Hancock was killed on April 29, 2007 when the truck he was driving late after a Cardinals game struck the rear of a flat bed tow truck that was in the left lane assisting another vehicle. Toxicology tests revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.157 after the crash. Hancock was texting on his cell phone when the accident occurred and was not wearing a seatbelt. The Cardinals would wear a patch on their jersey for the remainder of the year “honoring” their fallen teammate.

March 22, 2012 saw yet another incident, this one involving Rays top prospect, Matt Bush. Actually, you might be better off phrasing it as three incidents, the most serious of which involved Bush hitting a motorcyclist and then running over his head as he fled the scene of the crime. Read the full story as it was a pretty bad day for Bush.

What bothers me about the three examples above is that they are simply three of many. These are the two that went horribly wrong, but how many of them have just resulted in legal discipline? From Dontrelle Willis to Miguel Cabrera, we see names pop all the time in baseball of players involved in alcohol related incidents and nothing is done by Bud Selig and the MLB discipline committee.

Jay Jaffe of Yahoo addressed the issue in a column posted on opening day:

In contrast to their progress on the PED front, baseball has done nothing to penalize far more dangerous and destructive behaviors such as driving under the influence of alcohol or abusing wives and girlfriends. The league may be content to let law enforcement handle such offenses, but it could have far more impact if it took additional action in such cases by suspending guilty players without pay for similar lengths of time as PED violators, and donating their salaries to programs oriented towards awareness, treatment and prevention. (Full Story)

At the same time, Bill Parker of The Platoon Advantage argues:

An employer has a right to be concerned about how its employees make it look in the community at large, but those employees have a competing right to have their employers stay the hell out of their personal lives, too. The judicial system exists to catch and punish things like DUIs; by and large, I don’t think it’s baseball’s responsibility to pile punishments on top of that (and you might think the judicial system isn’t harsh enough, particularly on professional athletes, but that’s not a problem that it’s baseball’s job to fix). I just don’t think a sport can go around meting out punishments for things that happen outside the sport. (Full Story)

MLB has to take action on this and needs to do it now. Some will argue that the issue must first be collectively bargained, which is true. However, if the players union and the owners cannot both agree that this is a major issue facing baseball and society in general then someone needs to do it for them. I can tell you this, if they’re not careful, someone will be killed as a result of something a Major League player does related to alcohol and MLB will find themselves strapped with a large civil suit arguing negligence on their part. The family initiating the suit may not win, and it may not even go to court, but you can be assured that MLB will pay something.

It’s not about the money, however, it’s simply about doing what is right for society. I have no patience for drivers who get behind the wheel under the influence of any substance, including alcohol. It’s irresponsible and always preventable. There is no excuse. Being in the insurance department, I hear all the sob stories from customers who say they just had one drink and blew over the limit. I nod my head, explain the penalty from an insurance standpoint, and promptly roll my eyes as they exit my office or I hang up the phone. There is no excuse.

I’m calling now for MLB to strike while the iron is still somewhat hot on this issue and implement an immediate punishment going forward for all DUI offenders. A minimum 50 game suspension for any player convicted of the DUI on a first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense. You want to risk the lives of my family? Then I’m going to make sure you can’t do the things you love. Unfortunately, MLB has no balls and will simply go on record with press releases stating how they are deeply saddened by the events and are making it high priority.

Article XII, section B of the 2012-2016 CBA states:

Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law. The Commissioner and a Club shall not discipline a Player for the same act or conduct under this provision. In cases of this type, a Club may only discipline a Player, or take other adverse action against him, when the Commissioner defers the disciplinary decision to the Club.

Selig has the power, he’s just too much of a pansy to use it and soon he’ll come to regret it.

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Game 17: Live and Die by the Feldman

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Ryan Braun (.289 WPA)


I have been recapping Sunday games for the better part of the last year or so, and it never ceases to amaze me the ways that this team can lose a game on the first day of the week. Then I remembered that no day is safe from the bad baseball that is the Chicago Cubs.

Errors once again ruled the day with Scott Feldman throwing an errant ball to first that would have ended the fifth inning without any damage. The next at-bat Ryan Braun hit a three-run jack to make it 4-2 and the rest is history.

How many games has this team lost this year that they should have won? I know “should have” is a subjective term depending on who you ask, but take away a few errors and a bad relief appearance and this team is hovering or above the .500 mark. Baseball is a cruel and unusual game.

Now I know taking away plays to prove reversed fortunes of the Cubs is not the most logical of defenses, but in a round-a-bout way I am getting to the point that the Cubs have been in more games than I thought they would be, this early in the season. Without looking at the schedule, I cannot remember a single game where the Cubs were getting the snot beaten out of them.

Starting pitching has been good if not great. Relief has had good days and bad days, but they could be a lot worse in terms of production. Timely hitting has not been there, but that was to be expected.

Overall, while the ever-growing loss total is frustrating from an interest stand-point, I am not so sure that there is not some part deep inside of me that is somewhat pleased with the way things are headed.

Pinch me now if I am being a hopeless optimist.

Still, it does not help the frustration that the Cubs once again lost a lead that they should not have. The Brewers only posted three hits and one earned run, on a ground-out by Alex Gonzalez in the fourth. No team should ever lose a game 4-2 while only surrendering three hits.

Until the Cubs eliminate their egregious mistakes in the field, these are the unfortunate results that we are stuck with.

One Huzzah

Feldman pitched effectively enough for victory.

Two Huzzahs

I could only watch the game on the MLB condensed feature.

Three Huzzahs

Anthony Rizzo remains hot. He makes me smile every time I look down on my phone and see A. Rizzo HR/S. Castro scores from ESPN. I drafted both players in fantasy knowing the Cubs have to score SOME runs. So far the strategy has worked.

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Game 16: Bevy of Errors Buries Cubs

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Hiram Burgos – .179 (WPA)


Ugly
Soriano’s error. Alfonso was running almost straight in to corral a fly ball that he awkwardly lunged for as it glanced off his glove. Plays like this happen a few times each year when you employ a fielder of Soriano’s caliber.

Uglier
Castro’s error. I’m probably the only one, but I am actually pleased with the type of errors that Castro has been committing this year. He hasn’t been out of position, absent-minded, or even mechanically lazy. But his errors this year are consistently coming at the worst times. Saturday’s was no different, after Soriano’s blunder, a walk and two groundouts (the second of which gave the Brewers the lead) – Castro fielded a slow groundball but couldn’t transfer it out of his glove. He never made a throw, another run scored.

Beyond Hideous
Jackson’s error. Chris Bosio visited the mound along with the entire infield after Ryan Braun’s leadoff single in the 6th. With a runner on first, the pitcher checks with his middle infielders to see who will be covering the bag on a comebacker. No replay showed Jackson making that clear with Barney and/or Castro; so it might’ve happened during this meeting on the mound. After striking out Rickie Weeks, Jackson got that comebacker – he turned toward second ready to start the inning-ending double play…double pumped, and chucked it into CF well over Barney’s head. By a lot.

Not Good Enough For This
Yesterday it was a 3-run bomb in the first, today it was 4 free and needless runs GIFTED to the Brewers. This team isn’t nearly as bad as they’ve looked – but they also aren’t good enough to keep overcoming big, early deficits, extra outs, or unearned runs. Any one of those errors wouldn’t have been so bad – but combined, it gave the Brewers a huge lead they didn’t earn. I’d say that our starting pitchers deserve better, but I just watched Jackson chuck the ball to DeJesus again.

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Stat of the Week: Shifting Into High Gear

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

by John Dewan

Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking shifts comprehensively since 2010, and teams have shifted more and more over the last few seasons. From 2010-11, teams averaged less than one shift on a ball in play per game. In 2012, that number jumped to 1.9 shifts per team per game, and so far this season, it has increased again to 2.4 shifts per team per game.

In particular, there are a handful of teams that have shown a marked increase in team shifts on balls in play this season. Keep in mind that the 2012 column includes data for a full season while the 2013 column includes between 13 and 15 games. If these teams continue at their pace, they will fly way past their total shifts from last season. See 2013 Pace column.

Team Shifts by Season

Team

2012

2013

2013 Pace

Astros

138

52

562

Cubs

157

44

548

Pirates

105

33

382

Reds

78

33

356

Red Sox

199

26

301

The Astros, Cubs, and Red Sox have compelling narrative regarding their new shift-heavy tendencies. Both the Astros and Cubs feature newly installed front offices that are heavily emphasizing analytics. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have replaced manager Bobby Valentine with John Farrell, who shifted more often in 2012 with the Blue Jays than any team except the Rays. The reason for the increase for the Pirates and Reds are less obvious, but it may be as simple as the fact that shifts have proven to be effective. Here at Baseball Info Solutions we have been suggesting to our major league team clients that they shift more frequently since 2005, and we publicly went on record with this recommendation in The Fielding Bible—Volume II in 2008.

It is still too early to draw definitive conclusions about Shifts Runs Saved based on 2013 shift data. However, analytics from Baseball Info Solutions show that teams combined to save 75 runs last season by shifting.

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

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