Archive for April, 2013

Game 15 – I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jim Henderson (.176 WPA)


The title of the post comes from the 1988 World Series call by Jack Buck as Kirk Gibson comes off the bench in a pinch hitting role late in the game hobbled and barely able to walk and hits a game winning home run to give the Dodgers game one of the series. What Buck witnessed that night was a historic baseball moment. It was a feel good moment, the type that gets put in the archives to be used on a host of greatest baseball moment reels. What we saw on Friday night, however, is just a little different. We’ll get to that in a little bit, but first, let’s talk about the game as a whole.

I said in yesterday’s series preview that I felt we’d win this series, but that both wins would come in games two and three. After the first inning, it was looking pretty clear that at least the loss in game one was all but locked up. I tweeted out “Not even done with the 1st inning and I already want to turn the #Cubs game off.” That was how I felt, but for some reason I decided to stay. Something told me that maybe the Cubs could chip away, and that’s what they did.

Jeff Samardzija’s outing is a hard. It was essentially a middle of the road game in the box score, but I came away feeling better about it than the 50 game score shows. When you look back at the first inning, which is where most of the damage was done by the Brewers, what you find is that a part from the Ryan Braun home run on a fat pitch up in the zone, Samardzija really didn’t get beat by hard hit balls. Anthony Rizzo made an error on the first play he saw to put Norichika Aoki, on base and Jean Segura, who if you didn’t know his name before the game you know it know, came up right after with a bloop hit that was possibly catchable on the run by Darwin Barney. Both hits were weak and potential outs. Instead of two outs and no one on base. Samardzija had to fave Braun with no outs and runners on first and third. That’s a big difference in run expectancy between the two scenarios. If the Cubs get those two outs, or even if they get one of the two, the outcome of this game may have been different. At the end of the day, the runs will go against Samardzija, but if you missed the game, his inning wasn’t as bad as it looks. From that inning on, he was really good, only allowing one run in the last six innings.

Offensively, the encouraging thing of the night was the fact that, down four runs early, the team battled back, and did it almost immediately. Home runs by Luis Valbuena and David DeJesus in the early innings brought the score to 4-3 and it felt like the momentum has changed to the Cubs. The graph above doesn’t reflect a change enough to give the Cubs the probability to win, but you can see things starting in the right direction shortly after the Braun home run. Rizzo would add a bomb shot to right field late in the game, but in the end, home runs were the only things this offense could muster, which was just a little frustrating when you factor in that in seven of the nine innings, the Cubs saw their leadoff man reach base. To come away with runs only on the home run in that situation is unacceptable.

This year it also seems like we can’t have a recap without some note on the bullpen, and Friday’s game was no exception. The game marked the return of Kevin Gregg to the pen. To be honest, I had forgotten how little faith I had in him to get someone out. When I saw we had signed him, I was surprised not because I didn’t trust him, but because I thought he was too old. One look at him on the mound and it all came back. Flashbacks of blown saves flashed before my eyes. Gregg would walk a batter and give up a hit before being removed by Svuem in favor of Shawn Camp, who would come in and get three outs on five pitches without having a ball be put in play. Take a minute and re-read that sentence and soak it in. Now I’ll explain the title of the post.

For those who didn’t see the play, let me set the scenario up for you. With no outs, Segura would reach first on an infield single and promptly steal second. Braun walked and we got a pitching change. Here is where the craziness happens. Jesse Rodgers describes the scene perfectly “As Camp got ready to pitch to Rickie Weeks, Segura got caught off second base. Camp threw to third baseman Valbuena who ran Segura back to second where Braun had advanced during the run down. Both players were standing on second base.

Valbuena tagged them both and Segura assumed he was out and started running towards the Brewers dugout which is behind first base. But second base umpire Phil Cuzzi correctly called the “following runner” out in Braun. As the “preceding runner” Segura was not out unless tagged off the bag. Cubs second baseman Barney grabbed the ball and started chasing Segura who quickly realized he was still “alive” and just went back to first base.”

Weeks would then strike out and to end the inning, in perhaps the most fitting scenario, Segura would then attempt to steal second for the second time in the inning and would be thrown out by Wellington Castillo, who has a cannon for an arm. It was an odd play, but apparantly an even more odd play happened early 20th century.

Here is what I found www.11points.com

This one’s going to take some ‘splainin. Until 1920, Major League Baseball had a rule that made it legal to steal bases in reverse order. If you were on second and wanted to go back to first, you could steal it. Which can, in some convoluted ways, make strategic sense.

During the September 4th, 1908, game between the Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Schaefer was on first and a teammate was on third. The Tigers wanted to do a double steal — Schaefer would break for second, and, when the Indians tried to throw him out, his teammate would steal home. But when Schaefer broke for second, the Indians’ catcher didn’t make the throw, so Schaefer stole the base without the run scoring.

That wasn’t the plan so, on the next pitch, he broke back for first… and successfully stole it without a throw. Then, on the next pitch, he broke for second AGAIN, to try to make the double steal work… but again, the Indians didn’t throw.

That makes him the only player in MLB history to steal the same base twice in one inning. (And one of only two players to ever steal first base from second.)

Random Notes

  • Aoki, the Brewers leadoff man, is quickly turning into one of my least liked players. Every time I look up, that guy is reaching base in some way. Tonight was no exception.
  • Marco Estrada has a really odd motion when pitching out of the windup. It’s like he’s doing squats and looks rather uncomfortable. Squats are my least favorite exercise at the gym and this guy is willingly doing them before each pitch.
  • Sveum’s ejection was horse &%?$&. It was way to quick and the home plate umpire had no business taking his mask off to confront Samardzija on a borderline pitch. Let the guy show some frustration before you, as an umpire, make yourself the story.
  • The Cubs made a roster move before the game, claiming Julio Borbon off waivers from the Rangers. Borbon made it to the game and promptly was caught stealing to end the game after being inserted as a pinch runner in the 9th. The curious part about the move is how unbalanced it makes the roster. Alberto Gonzalez was designated for assignment before the game to make room for Borbon on the 40 man roster. The move means the Cubs are now carrying six outfielders, none of which play the infield, and just one backup infielder. Its irresponsible in my opinion and needs to be corrected. Dave Sappelt must be optioned to AAA to give him a chance to fix his case of suck, and be replaced by Logan Watkins, unless the Cubs feel like Ian Stewart is very close to a return and will wait it out till then.
  • I made a quick appearance before the game on ESPN radio. You can listen to it here. As always, I’d love feedback.

Grading the Umpire

I started this a few games ago on games I recap. We take a look at the correct call rate of the home plate umpire on pitches that were not swung at by the batter. It’s a look at the calls the umpire actually has to judge, to see how effective he was at doing his job and what kind of zone he established. Tonight’s subject is Chris Guccioni

Guccione’s History

A CC% of 86.7% since 2009 places Guccione at the bottom of the upper half of umpires and just a hair above league average.

Tonight’s Game

Overall, he had a really night night, with an 89% correct call rate on pitches that were takes. Looking at the two graphs below, we see two things. 1) The low and outside pitch to lefties was a tough one for the hitter, with Guccione calling some of those strikes.

2) His correct call rate was OK, but he had a semi-hard time with the corners

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Brewers Series Preview

Friday, April 19th, 2013

I was almost right on the money last series with my predictions and might have been completely right had the rain not wiped Wednesday’s game out. Let’s take a look at the pitching matchups for this series with the alcoholics from the north.

Friday – 8:10pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75 ERA) vs Marco Estrada (1-0, 4.50 ERA)

Samardzija is looking for his first win since Opening Day. He ranks among the NL leaders in strikeouts with 27. He wasn’t sharp in his last start against the Giants, who collected seven hits over six innings. Estrada turned in his second successive quality start in Sunday’s 4-3, 10-inning win at St. Louis. He allowed seven hits and three runs over six innings. He has 21 strikeouts and two walks in three starts so far this season.

Saturday – 7:10pm EDT – Edwin Jackson (0-2, 6.06 ERA) vs Hiram Burgos (0-0, -.– ERA)

Jackson is looking for his first win with the Cubs after three starts. In his last outing against the Giants, he gave up five runs over 5 1/3 innings. Jackson has yet to post a quality start. So far, left-handers are batting .333 against him. The Brewers need a fifth starter for the first time since April 6 and their choice was Burgos, the team’s reigning Minor League Pitcher of the year. He will make his Major League debut.

Sunday – 2:10pm EDT – Scott Feldman (0-2, 6.00 ERA) vs Wily Peralta (0-1, 6.19 ERA)

The Cubs took advantage of Monday’s off-day to give Feldman an extra day. He’s had some tightness in his back. His pitch count knocked him out of his last game, as he threw 92 pitches over 4 1/3 innings vs. the Giants. The Brewers gave Peralta a 9-3 lead in the third inning Tuesday, and he wasn’t able to pitch through the fifth. His ratio of eight walks to 10 strikeouts is an issue the team will try to iron out.

Joe’s Fearless Predictions

I’m struggling with where to go with this one. On one hand, I’m encouraged with how we looked in the Rangers series. I feel like had game two not been rained out, that we could have taken that series. At the same time, I worry because teams I cheer for always seem to fall into the category of being that team that plays down to competition. We’ve seen it with the Bulls this year and it’s frustrating. I don’t consider the Brewers to be in the same league as the Rangers, so on the surface this series should be winnable. Estrada was really good in his outing against us, so that’s a hard one. Beyond that, we have a guy making his first start and another who has struggled. Why can’t we win this series? I’m going on record and predicting a 2-1 series win, with wins coming in games two and three, but I don’t feel good about it.

News & Notes

  • By the end of this trip, the Cubs, barring rainouts in Cincinnati, will have started their season with 14 of their first 26 games on the road.
  • After starting the season by taking two-of-three in Pittsburgh, April 1-4, Chicago is 3-8 in its last 11 games … the Cubs have held a lead in four of their nine setbacks this season.
  • The Cubs and their opponents have battled the elements through Chicago’s first 14 games of the season … four games have begun with temperatures in the 30s and nine of the 14 games have started with a temperature of 45 degrees or below.
  • Cubs starting pitchers have recorded a 3.15 ERA (30 ER/85.2 IP) in the club’s first 14 games, the fourth-lowest ERA in the National League … through the team’s first 14 games last season
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Game 14: Bullpen Proof

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Carlos Villanueva (.197 WPA)


Starting Reliever
The 2013 Cubs have a former reliever, now full-time starter, who is carving up the league’s best teams with great efficiency. Sure Jeff Samardzija’s been good – but I’m talking about Carlos Villanueva who has been spectacular. Villanueva has now faced the World Champion Giants, MLB’s best the Atlanta Braves, and one of baseball’s most potent lineups over the last 3-4 years the Texas Rangers. He emerges from that gauntlet with an ERA of 1.29 and three very good starts. On Thursday he was efficient as well, throwing only 87 pitches in 7 innings of work. By comparison, Alexi Ogando lasted merely two-and-a-third while delivering 71 offerings.

Free-Swinging Walker
Part of Ogando’s problem is that he couldn’t throw a strike to Cubs SS Starlin Castro. Cubs’ fans know just how hard that is to do…Castro hadn’t walked once all year, but Ogando threw him 8 straight balls and Castro didn’t even take the bat off his shoulder until the fourth inning after Ogando had been removed. As a point of reference, Castro walked two times in a game only once last year (and one of the two in that game was intentional). Not since June 16, 2011 had Castro walked twice in a 9-inning game without at least one of the walks being intentional.

Back-To-Back
Not only did Castro get his first walk, but Alfonso Soriano notched his first HR of the season. And even better, it followed a 2-run HR from Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs went back-to-back in the third, and Schierholtz hit a long foul ball after Soriano’s HR that nearly found him trotting around the bases as well. To say that the Cubs had an easy time with Ogando would be putting it mildly.

Strike Two, HBP
The weird play of the day goes to Luis Valbuena, who swung at a pitch that also hit him in the second inning. Actually he tried to check his swing, but it was still a strike – which turned out to be a good thing for the Cubs when Valbuena eventually singled to drive in the first run of the game.

Quiet Bullpen
James Russell and Carlos Marmol – or two imposters wearing their jerseys – combined for six consecutive outs, three of which were strikeouts. Something tells me Jeff Samardzija won’t find as much help if/when he’s removed from his start on Friday.

Don’t Panic
Before most of the night games had started on Thursday, the Cubs had a better record than the Angels. A better run differential than either version of the Marlins (Toronto or Miami) or the high-priced Dodgers and Phillies. They’ve given up fewer runs than the vaunted Cincinnati Reds pitching staff (albeit in one fewer game), and scored more than the Dodgers or Tampa Bay. By night’s end they could find themselves a scant 2.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. It’s a really long season and the Cubs have been playing some really good teams…I expect the mood around here will be much better over the next couple of weeks.

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GirlieView (04/18/2013)

Thursday, April 18th, 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.

Lizzies

  • not even a Chris Volstad-esque bad inning
  • Two runs wouldn’t seem to be an insurmountable deficit, but it is when you manage to put up only two hits.
  • the Cubs once again made Wandy Rodriguez look like the craftiest of veteran lefthanders
  • What’s the feeling on Wood this year?
  • I’d assume he’ll play hard.
  • Hopefully long as well
  • Three days into the season and the Cubs have been in first place the whole time. Time to celebrate while we have the chance.
  • It wasn’t too long ago that I cringed when James Russell would get put in. Now I think he’s our most trusted pitcher in the pen.
  • Theo: Hey Detriot…Marmol gets the save…looked fine…want him?
  • Leyland: Hey, does this say his ERA is 20.25??? Theo: No, don’t be silly Jim. ERA is Sabermetric for Environmentally Reliable Appliances. Carlos really went green this year and installed over 20 new light bulbs in PNC Park during our trip here. Other teams would love to have such a player, a guy who can pitch and assist the grounds-crew.
  • The Dodgers have released former Cubs closer, Kevin Gregg. That’s a Greggin’ sad piece of news as his career is probably over.
  • The fact that Marmol gets anything positive (the save) out of that train wreck yesterday is bogus.
  • Kevin Gregg……. Marmol………the choices.
  • Things I never though I would say #1: “Man, I miss Barney’s bat.”
  • the Upton family circus.
  • I expect we will be ‘shocked’ in the next day or so when Marmol and the Cubs discover an injury, thereby buying some time for the team to decide what to do.
  • How many insurance runs do the Cubs need before it’s safe to have Marmol enter the game?
  • 27….and that’s iffy
  • Luckily, I started drinking when I saw Marmol warming up. It helps.
  • Please somebody, just hold me and tell me everything will be alright.
  • We should see if MLB would allow us to put the ball on a tee for the final three outs of a game.
  • [Samardzija] needs to A) control his frustration on the mound when things do not go his way
  • We knew that the Cubs were going to struggle from the plate, but the early returns are a bit harsher than the perceived reality.
  • A comprehensive list of recommendations for the Cubs 2013 season would include a ton of beer.
  • And a short memory.
  • Enough of the former makes the latter possible.
  • Looks like Wendelstedt has a poor call rate in the Vicki Lawrence square.
  • He must have been too focused on the adjacent Gilbert Gottfried square…
  • Which of us isn’t guilty of focusing too much on the Gilbert Gottfried square? Cast that first stone!
  • maybe he was thinking about the lower Betty White square, in the center.
  • I’ll take Jose Canseco to block.
  • What? Nobody remembers Paul Lynde?
  • I was more of a George Goebel fan.
  • Is Castro drunk tonight?
  • The latest news is we will see [Garza] some time in mid-May.  My bet is on June.
  • With yesterday’s rain delay, it means the Cubs didn’t lose the series with the Brewers. That’s a nice little treat.
  • Who’s left. Camp? Camp for closer…let’s do that.
  • I would like to see [Clevenger] play there more often, see what he can do.
  • Kevin Gregg??? honestly??
  • Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse.
  • “Arctic Enima!”
  • New band?
  • I’ll go 5 bucks for every Ian Stewart home run, $10 for every Kevin Gregg save, $25 for every game Soriano starts at 3B and 5 cents for every comment by JSwanson, Raker, and Seymour that I deem to be made expressly and entirely to whore for Lizzies…
  • I have an idea – let’s just not use the bullpen anymore.
  • But if it does need to be updated and renovated–and believe me, it does–I’m pleased to have the project in the hands of another Cubs fan.

Lizard

  • Chuck is starting to starting to look like a pessimistic genius.

Shout Outs

A big shout out to the following readers who submitted their first 2013 Lizzie. We’re so happy to have you here!

  • Chet
  • Rick Beato
  • Rocco Kavana
  • Troy Maskell

MVL

Congratulations to jswanson the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around!

Top Ten of 2013 (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Seymour Butts
3. Doc Raker
4. Eddie von White
5. Jedi Johnson
6. Joe Aiello
7. Buddy
7. Chuck
9. Gymjok
9. Noah Eisner

Chit Chat

Last time I asked you what is the best thing you’ve seen about this year’s Cubs so far. I’m going to ask the same thing again since we’re two weeks further in. Lemme hear those positive thoughts!

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Prospects Who Could Affect 2014

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

When the farm system rankings came out this winter, the Cubs were rightly dinged by every reputable prospect guru for having a bottom heavy system. In other words, the vast majority of the Cubs’ high ceiling talent started this season in High A Ball or below, largely because the Cubs have only significantly increased spending on the draft and international amateur market since current ownership took over the team prior to the 2011 season. So much of the best talent was brought into the system in 2011 (Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, etc.) or 2012 (Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, etc.)

But the Cubs are not completely bereft of prospects who could contribute in the near future. Below are the five prospects who are either playing in Iowa right now, or are only not playing for the I-Cubs because they are on the DL, and are the most likely to play significant roles on the 2014 Chicago Cubs.

Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)- When the Braves’ farm system was touted as having probably the best high minors pitching in baseball in 2011, many thought that Vizcaino was the best of the bunch in a group including Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado. With a mid-90s fastball, a strong breaking ball and a solid curve, he has the three pitches necessary to be a very good starting pitcher. As far as stuff is concerned, Vizcaino’s ceiling is an ace. Aside from the fact that most players don’t reach their ceilings, Vizcaino has another problem: at just 6′ and 190 lbs, many are concerned that his body will not be able to hold up to a starter’s workload. An elbow injury requiring Tommy John Surgery in April 2012 may have proven the doubters right.

Even if Vizcaino is destined for the lighter workload of a reliever, he should be a very good late innings pitcher, which the Cubs have not been able to count on for the past couple of seasons. But if he can start, it would be an even greater boon for the Cubs. Vizcaino, though, has the least “ifs” for being a solid contributor the the Cubs. If he’s healthy, he’ll contribute. The only other question is in what role?

Brett Jackson (OF)- I’ve discussed Jackson extensively this offseason, so I’ll keep it simple: if Jackson can cut the strikeouts down, he’ll be at least an above average regular. If he can’t he’ll be a platoon player or a bench player. Jackson has struggled over the first week and a half of play in Iowa. If the strikeouts don’t decrease by the end of May, it’s unlikely that the changes he made to his swing will have any real effect on his strikeout issues.

Logan Watkins (2B)- Watkins is a prospect in the mold of Darwin Barney. By that I mean a prospect who has moved along the minor league system, performing well but never putting up the sort of gaudy numbers that make someone an elite prospect. Watkins hits left handed, takes walks, steals bases and could handle any defensive position aside from catcher and either be above average, or at least not awful. Watkins could either replace Darwin Barney at second base if the Cubs can find a team to pay above market value in a trade for the slick fielding second baseman, a stopgap at third base who won’t hit for power but will get on base and add value on the base paths, or a utility player in the mold of a Mark DeRosa type who can play better defense.

Junior Lake (3B/OF)- The question with Lake, who has yet to play this season due to injury but should be in Iowa soon, is what it has been for years: will he turn his generous physical gifts into on the field baseball skills. He might have the strongest arm of any non-pitcher in baseball. He could hit 20 plus home runs and steal 30 plus bases a year, but despite his considerable speed succeeded in only 2/3 of his stolen base attempts last season. And despite his considerable power potential, he’s never hit more than 16 home runs in a minor league season. He also reportedly has an approach at the plate that leaves a lot to be desired. But, if he can make good on those physical tools, he could be a very good third baseman, center fielder or right fielder. In any of those positions, his fantastic arm strength would be a great help.

Josh Vitters (3B)- I debated whether to put Vitters on this list or not. Some point to his strong showing in Iowa last season for reasons to still consider him a prospect. Others point to the fact that he’s never shown an ability to wait for his pitch and just looking awful at the Major League level last season for reasons to not consider Vitters a prospect anymore. My biggest problem with Vitters is that the reports of him defensively at the hot corner are still bad. So while I listed him as a third baseman, even if the bat does play at the Major League level he will probably need to move to another position. And since he won’t supplant Anthony Rizzo at first base, that pretty much leaves left field, which will only be open if Soriano is traded. This is not to say that Vitters won’t be the starting third baseman for the Cubs in 2014. But that might be from a lack of better options instead of Vitters clearly deserving the role.

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Game 13: Baker Contributes To Another Cub Loss

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Derek Holland (.483 WPA)


Jeff Baker
No stranger to Cub losses, Jeff Baker helped hang the L flag again at Wrigley on Tuesday night – this time as a member of the opposing team. Baker’s run-scoring double to CF for the visiting Rangers created what felt like an insurmountable 1-0 lead.

Derek Holland
Insurmountable because Rangers starter, Derek Holland was absolutely dealing. Seven innings, 2 hits, 6 Ks, no walks – really Holland’s only trouble was slight inefficiency (and that wasn’t even terrible, a pedestrian 108 pitches in 7 innings). He made Cub hitters look foolish all evening.

Dave Sappelt
Dave Sappelt knows what it is to look foolish; this guy is not a major leaguer. Isn’t the point of a platoon to get a better matchup in the lineup? The other half of Sappelt’s platoon must be a blind midget. He looked uncomfortable, guessing at pitches all night. The Rangers threw him a steady diet of off-speed stuff that he seemed incapable of recognizing, let alone making contact with. He’s not even a great fielder, he just needs to be sent back down.

Roster Moves
And with all the roster moves the Cubs made on Tuesday, it’s a minor miracle Sappelt wasn’t involved. Someone here made a crack when the Dodgers waived Kevin Gregg last week about his career being over. Only it wasn’t…at least not until he’s had another turn in the Cubs’ bullpen. The Cubs first signed him to a minor league deal, and then promoted him to the big league club on Tuesday. They also added reliever Kameron Loe to the bullpen; putting DFA’ing Hisanori Takahashi on the DL and demoting Rafael Dolis.

They also DFA’d Spring Training sensation Brent Lillibridge. His replacement was a waiver pickup, Cody Ransom. As cubs.com put it, Ransom “can help at third base as the Cubs try to find a bat while Ian Stewart rehabs from a strained left quad.” Because the panacea for a team with right-handed role players who can’t hit is a left-handed role player who can’t hit.

Some Perspective
Maybe this will tamp down Chuck’s exuberance at the current pace of 49 wins for the year. The Cubs sit at 4-9 right now. Last year after 13 games, the Cubs were merely 3-10. So for all this talk of underperforming and frustrating results, Dennis Green isn’t surprised.

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Renovating Wrigley

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

By now I’m guessing you’ve heard the news: the Cubs and the city of Chicago have a deal come to a tentative agreement on a plan to renovate Wrigley Field (here’s a brief rundown). That agreement now must make its circuitous way through the various city councils, boards, and approval committees before it’s officially a done deal, but it’s still a major and long-awaited step in the right direction.

Of course, the whole thing could still fall apart. Tom Tunney–Alderman of the 44th Ward of Chicago and longtime attack dog of the rooftop owners–is said to be on board with the plan in principle, but don’t be surprised if he and his litigious constituents continue to throw speed bumps in the way of the renovation. In fact, count on them to get downright medieval on the Ricketts family when the Cubs owners finally announce where exactly they intend to put their proposed 6,000 square foot video board. At over three times the size of the manually-operated center field scoreboard, the proposed video screen promises to take up a substantial portion of the outfield skyline. And while the Cubs have said the placement of the video board won’t interfere with the view of any of the rooftops they have a contractual relationship with (which I assume means it’s going directly in front of the building that used to be home to the big red Budweiser sign), that likely won’t stop the rooftop owners from complaining.

What else could go wrong? A lot, I would think. Maybe Joe Ricketts, the partiarch of the Ricketts family and founder of TD Ameritrade, will again consider criticizing President Obama, sending Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel into fits of rage as he angrily ignores the Ricketts siblings’ phone calls for another eight-to-ten months. Maybe the corrupt-to-it’s-core political machine of Chicago will need more wheel-greasing than the Ricketts’ can afford. Maybe a five-year renovation plan is horribly naive, and Wrigley turns into baseball’s most beloved money pit (estimates are that it already costs the Ricketts at least $15M per year in repairs alone, so perhaps this isn’t so unlikely).

Of course money probably won’t be the Ricketts concern for long, if it is now at all. The new video board alone ought to draw at least $20M annually in advertising fees. The Cubs will also expand from thirty to forty night games in the coming years, and extend their beer sales by at least half an inning. And in a few short years, the Cubs will be ready to renegotiate their TV deal, with a new contract netting them somewhere in the multiple billions of dollars–or perhaps exponentially more if they create their own network (my guess is that’s their long-term plan).

So don’t feel bad for Tom Ricketts, even if he has to pay off or completely buy out a few of the most troublesome rooftop owners along the way (very likely). In fact, I say we should be proud of him. His willingness to pony up the funds for this project–a reported $500M (although I think it’s really closer to $300M, with the other $200M for the hotel project coming from a private LLC Ricketts heads up)–is admirable, especially considering how fleecing the taxpayers has become the preferred means of ballpark renovation/construction in recent years.

Think back a few years to when the Tribune Co. announced they were selling the Cubs. A lot of fans hoped Mark Cuban would receive serious consideration. I was among them, not because I like Cuban, but because I’ve appreciated his approach to owning the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban doesn’t need to make money off the Mavs–they’re a luxury to him, one that feeds his competitive nature. Rather than sapping the organization for every dime he can get out of it, he consistently reinvests in his team whenever and wherever possible. I remember hoping that the new Cubs owners–whoever they were–would follow the same kind of pattern and not see the team as just a cash cow, the way the Tribune Co. had for so long.

Ricketts doesn’t have the flamboyant flair or the outspoken abrasiveness of Cuban, but he’s also not trying to run the team on the cheap. By not relying on public money, he should bee able to streamline the renovation project without cutting corners. That is, at least as long as the rest of Chicago stays out of his way.

Like most Cubs fans, I love Wrigley Field. All things considered, it’s probably my favorite place in the world. And there is at least part of me that doesn’t want to see it drastically changed. But if it does need to be updated and renovated–and believe me, it does–I’m pleased to have the project in the hands of another Cubs fan. Someone who understands what’s so special about the place, and why it’s worth preserving for the next generation of Cubs fans. Let’s hope Tom Ricketts knows what he’s doing, and has the means to get it done. For all our sakes.

So put yourself in Ricketts’ shoes for a moment. What do you want to see done to Wrigley? If it’s your millions paying for the project, what are your priorities?

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Texas Rangers Series Preview

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

What better to cure your hurt feelings after a 3-1 series loss against one of the best teams in the NL? A series against one of the best in the AL, of course. The Rangers come to town. Let’s take a look at the pitching matchups for the series with notes from MLB.com

Tuesday – 8:05pm EDT – Travis Wood (1-0, 1.46 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (0-1, 2.40 ERA)

Wood pitched well enough to win on Tuesday against the Brewers but was fortunate to get a no-decision after some shoddy Cubs defense. He still hasn’t won a game since July 17, 2012. Holland lost his last start against the Rays on Wednesday despite allowing two runs in eight innings. He is 1-5 with a 5.96 ERA in nine career Interleague starts. This will be his first start in Wrigley Field.

Joe’s Prediction - I’ve seen Holland pitch one time, on opening night against the Astros. Before that, I don’t know that I had even heard his name. I don’t play fantasy baseball and it’s rare that I watch a game that doesn’t involve the Cubs. He’s a strikeout guy that can look very dominant. On the other hand, he has had a problem with giving up the longball so it’s imperative to take advantage there. Wood has looked so good this year, so it’s hard to pick against him, but I have a feeling we see a masterpiece by Holland and the Cubs lose this one.

Wednesday – 8:05pm EDT – Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 0.64 ERA) vs. Justin Grimm (0-0, 4.50 ERA)

Villanueva needs some help from his bullpen. He has given up one run over 14 innings in his two starts, yet doesn’t have a win. Both outings, the bullpen blew a lead. In his last outing, he held the Giants to three hits over 7 1/3 innings. Grimm made his first start of the season on Thursday and allowed two runs in four innings. He was called up from Triple-A Round Rock after Matt Harrison went on the disabled list with a strained back. This will be his fourth Major League start.

Joe’s Prediction – I’m going on record now and predicting that not only with Villanueva’s success this year continue in this start, but I’m gonna predict that he will be the most successful starter in the Cubs rotation this year and it’s all because of his funky facial hair. It’s the Samson effect. If he shaves it, all bets are off. If you’ve not seen it, tune in and be in awe. Cubs win this one in a laugher.

Thursday – 2:20pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 2.75 ERA) vs. Alexi Ogando (2-0, 1.08 ERA)

The Rangers have won all three of Ogando’s starts. He has held opponents to a .194 average. Opponents are hitting .125 against him with runners in scoring position. He has never faced the Cubs, but is 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA career against NL teams. Samardzija is looking for his first win since Opening Day. He ranks among the NL leaders in strikeouts with 27. He wasn’t sharp in his last start against the Giants, who collected seven hits over six innings. He has never faced Texas.

Joe’s Prediction – Another name I have never heard of, in Ogando. Perhaps I need to watch more Rangers baseball because apparently they have some decent guys on their staff. Based on the MLB note above, this appears to be a tough nut to crack, but I’m going Cubs homer and predicting a series win capped off by a deliteful outing from the Shark. Good pitching all around from the Cubs this series and a pair of days singing Go Cubs Go.

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Support a Fat Guy Running the Tough Mudder, Bro

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Have I ever told you that I’m very much out of shape? Have I ever told you that I absolutely despise running? Well now you know. So what have I decided to do about it? Register for the Tough Mudder run, of course. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, check all the details out here

To sum it up, it’s a 12 mile course that consists of running and a whole lot of obstacles. All of the proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

As a participant, they have asked us to raise support for the cause so I’m calling on you. Since my event is November 2nd in Charlotte, NC, you have plenty of time to base your pledge around the Cubs season. Here are some suggestions:

  • $1 for every Anthony Rizzo HR
  • $1 for every Cubs blown save
  • $1 for every Starlin Castro double

Be creative, but please consider supporting my cause. As an incentive, I am also opening up the VFTB prize closet for every doner who is kind enough to support the cause.

To register your one time donation, please us this link. If you’d rather base it around the Cubs season then you can post your pledge in the comments and I’ll be in touch at the end of the season.

I’ll have photos in November to let you know how it went, assuming I make it.

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