Archive for May, 2013

Game 46: Reverse Psychology

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game –Andrew McCutchen – .162 (WPA)


What do a hangover, baking cookies, and watching the Cubs all have in common? They all start out fun, but you start to question all of your life choices after the event is over. I bet you’re thinking I’m talking about a hangover induced by a night of too much alcohol, but the hangover I’m talking about is much different. Sometimes when people read books, they become so engrossed with the story that once the book is over, the reader experiences a withdrawal. I just read the book Calico Joe by John Grisham, and am experiencing a book hangover. If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. It’s a great baseball narrative and it reminded me of why I fell in love with the game.

And then I watched today’s game. So much for that 15 minutes of elation.

The funny thing about today’s game is that it was a little backward. Instead of the usual great starting pitching and bad bullpen, the starting pitching was bad and the bullpen was great, giving up one walk, three hits, and striking out five. Dolis relieved Jackson of his duties after the 1 hour, 47 minute rain delay, Carlos Villanueva handled himself quite nicely on the bump for two innings, and Marmol and Fujikawa allowed zero runs. It’s almost like the guys schemed this up earlier in the year:

Marmol, to the others: “OK, so Jackson is the highest paid starter on the team. On the days he pitches, we’ll be awesome. But on the days he doesn’t, we’ll be mediocre at best.”

Others: “OK, sounds good.”

Clearly, that’s exactly how the conversation went and exactly why the bullpen is so bipolar. Clearly.

So, since today was their scheduled good day, naturally, the offense was pretty quiet. Rizzo has been slumping majorly, as has Soriano. Together, they are 3-for-25 with one RBI that came on a groundout today. Both of our pinch hitters had hits, though, so that’s worth something, right? Right?!

It is increasingly challenging to find exciting things about this club. Even Nate Schierholtz, who has home runs in each of the Cubs games I’ve been to this year (one on my birthday!), is beginning to disappoint me a little bit. He and Castillo were the unlikely 1-2 punch in the lineup, but now they’re coming back down to earth and the rest of the team is doing what they do. I’m sure that Castro, Rizzo, and Soriano will heat up again, it’s just a matter of when.

My only wish at this point is that the  team syncs up. When the starting pitching is hot, the bullpen stinks. When the bullpen stinks, the hitting is hot. When the hitting stinks, the bullpen is hot. We’re just a day late and a dollar short every time. If only it was as easy as having a meeting and discussing what needs to change.

Maybe Dale just needs to take a vacation.

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Northside Archives: Persona Non Regatta

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Ian Stewart isn’t part of the Chicago Cubs. I find that to be an encouraging phrase. His career stats are .232/.319/.417. Gross. His best year was .259/.349/.455…for an OPS+ of 102…in Colorado. The Cubs knew all of this when they traded for him in December 2011. For some reason they thought they’d plugged a hole. I’ve never liked Ian Stewart. He’s the crumpled lottery ticket from last night’s drawing. The Cubs were the hobo thinking they’d found someone else’s accidentally discarded treasure.

Ian Stewart is part of the Iowa Cubs. I was fine with until Tuesday. In fact, I’d gone so far as to wish for him a long career as part of the Iowa Cubs. Now I’m not so sure. Stewart has been talking about his string of 2013 decisions that now finds him rotting on a AAA bench. The quote I like the least, “the only issue I had — and this is even hard to say, because they had Ransom and Valbuena up there swinging the bat — was that I still think there was an opportunity to be given to me, even if it was for a week or a few games. I still think that option was there, and I would’ve liked to have been given a chance. I could’ve started playing well, and they know what kind of defense I bring.” Really?

Ian Stewart was terrible before he was hurt. I’m racking my brains, trying to conjure up the period of Stewart’s injury-shortened 2012 season that made him think he was somehow a lock for the 3B position with the Cubs. And yes, he really thinks that. “I signed back here with the notion and the thinking that I was going to be the third baseman (in Chicago). Whether that was for one year or a few years, I didn’t really know. That was the feeling that I had coming back here and the impression that I was given.” Someone’s delusional here, either Theo & Co. for thinking Ian Stewart was going to be serviceable just by virtue of being healthy – or Stewart, for thinking that his .201/.292/.335 in 2012, or his .156/.243/.221 in 2011 (in Colorado!) was leading anyone to believe he was one of the 30 best answers at 3B in the whole world.

Ian Stewart was terrible after he was hurt. Stewart only played in 55 games before hitting the DL in 2012. He started Spring Training with an injury to his quadriceps in the earliest of intrasquad games. This injury lingered and lingered until eventually he started 2013 on the DL. When he was healthy the Cubs put him on a rehab assignment that is limited to 20 days by MLB rules. During those 20 days, Stewart was part of the Iowa Cubs. At the end of his assignment he’d piled up 4 hits in 44 ABs. The Cubs waived him, and because of his ridiculous $2-million price tag (and the fact that he can’t hit), no one claimed the 28-year-old Stewart. In a total of 62 ABs through yesterday at Iowa, he now has 9 hits (my TI-81 says he’s on a 5-for-18 tear since being dropped from the Cubs 40-man roster).

Ian Stewart dealt with this entire situation horribly. I said earlier that I changed my mind this Tuesday about his future at Iowa. I want the Cubs to dump him. Now. Pay the man and let him forge his own path elsewhere. Why? He doesn’t have a successful attitude at the moment. I’ll let him prove that.

  • “If I wanted to stay with the Cubs and accept my assignment here, they were letting me know I wasn’t going to play a lot here.
  • I don’t know if that was a way to get me to take my free agency, because there’s money involved in all of that.
  • It wouldn’t really make sense for me to take a release or ask for free agency, because then I’d be giving up my contract, and that doesn’t make sense for me financially or for my family.
  • I would say there’s times in guys’ careers where they think about doing something else. I would lie if I didn’t say that crossed my mind, but my wife is such a great support system. She knows this is what I was born to do, to play ball, and she reminds me of that every day, even when I’m struggling.
  • I need to play to get everything figured out, and if I end up staying here the whole year, then it is what it is.”

So to recap, Ian knows he’s not going to play, but also knows that he needs to play. He’s thinking about doing something else, but needs his wife to talk him down. He says he was born to play baseball, but he’s taking $2 million so he doesn’t have to play baseball.  Not exactly the example to set for those impressionable prospects in the minors.  I much prefer the example Kerry Wood set when faced with the fact that his career was obviously coming to a close.

Ian Stewart must know this is the end. This is it. If he doesn’t impress someone this year, he’ll be ‘retiring’ because no one wants him. Just like Randy Wells. The mere fact that he’s unwilling to give up his remaining 2013 contract in order to chase a better opportunity tells me that he already knows there isn’t a better opportunity. If the off-season started tomorrow, no team would give him more than an invite to Spring Training – the reverse lottery ticket if you will. The Cubs have already demoted Brett Lillibridge who impressed in exactly the situation that Stewart will be hoping for next year…and Stewart now sits behind both Josh Vitters and Lillibridge for playing time at AAA. He needs to hope for catastrophic injuries or that somehow another team thinks he can fill their need.  Not on a 40-man roster, not playing at AAA, there aren’t many paths left that lead Stewart back to the bigs. You’re not at a yacht race.

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Game 45- The Clutch Needs Replacement

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game –Francisco Liriano – .427 (WPA)


by Holden Clark

If the Cubs were a Car they would be a well worn Jeep Wrangler. They would look awesome to be in and around. Unfortunately when you get in you find that the clutch is simply gone. As we all know, the only way to go when the clutch is gone is downhill. Have no fear, every once in a while you can get the transmission to jam in gear but you are likely to be left on the side of the road wondering how much worse it could get.

Well, it got worse. After blowing a gem of a start by Matt Garza last night, the Cubs left their bats at the hotel today. We saw a great chance in the fourth for the Cubs to really put some runs on the board when they loaded up the bases with no outs. It was like they were cruising down Main Street with the wind in their collective, unkempt hair. Then we saw and heard the terrible grind and whining halt of the clutch going out. If the Dodgers strategy is sign all the players, the Cubs is to leave them all on base. The Cubs promptly went down in succession leaving the bases juiced.

Did I mention that it was the top of the order that broke down when the runs were ripe for the taking? On top of that, the heart of the order went out of their way to go a combined 0-12 with 7 Ks. That’s okay, right? There is other ways to get aboard other than hitting. Well, Barney took advantage of that and got the one Cubs walk of the game, bringing the grand total for the entire season to a crisp 100.

The big issue for the Cubs is bringing men around. They lead the Majors in two baggers. That means they can hit the ball and drive it. Yet they are ranked twenty fourth in RBIs. Absent the runs scored by errors, the Cubs are leaving too many men in scoring position. So what is their rate this season? They are leaving 3.56 runners in scoring position per game so far this season, again in the bottom five of the league.

Here is why. The Cubs DO NOT take pitches. They have 100 walks on the season; dead last in all of Major League Baseball. This may not make any sense, but try to follow this. When a man is standing on third and ninety feet from home you need a base hit (even a base hit will score most from second). The Cubs are ranked twenty eighth in the Majors in getting just a base hit. For a team they have a laughable .303 OBP, good for 26th in the league.

So while the league and generally most statistical analysis downplay the statistical value of leaving runners in scoring position, the Cubs could use a bump. Leading the league in putting runners in scoring position would mean they would see a huge benefit from scoring those runs. Sounds simple right?

One last stat for the Cubs at game 45, they rank 27th in the Majors in the appropriately name “Clutch” stat. This measures “…how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” –Fangraphs. The Cubs have a clutch of -1.51. Fangraphs list between -1.0 and -2.0 as Poor and Awful, respectively. Dioner Navarro leads the Cubs and Barney brings up the caboose. That about describes the Cubs so far when it comes to using the clutch this year. Just like a teenager trying to learn how to drive his first straight drive, they’ll get it every once in a while but you can expect the stench of shame most of the time till something changes.

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Recapping the Random – 05/22/2013

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Slowly,  this Cubs team is starting to look like a project in motion, rather than a wreckage left by a past regime.

No, they won’t go anywhere this year and they may not next year, but sure enough they are starting to take a game here and there where they normally (for the past few seasons at least) would not.  They were moving right along at a decent clip before the Dark Knight of Gotham, Matt Harvey, came along and slowed their mojo.  By the way, lets talk about Matt Harvey for a minute, the guy is a stud! He is 5-0 on a team that is 17-25 and recovering from being madoffed.   He is 2-0 in the last three games he pitched with six runs of total support.  Yes stat-heads, I just used wins as a determining factor.  I’ll even break it down in simpler terms…the guy is winning games on a crap team.  When I see that, I just figure the rest of the statistical minutiae fall in line….don’t worry , I checked and it does.

Where was I, oh yah, the Cubs look to be entering the race finally.  A friend recently said they looked as though they are finally approaching the first quarter pole.  I say whoa!  Lets take a few steps back, how about they just saddled the horse?  (A salute to Mike Quade if you will?) At least it seems they know they are entered in a race.  It may be one that finishes sometime in 2017, but lets be thankful for the little things in these little times.

Meanwhile, the glaring issue of the bullpen rears it’s ugly head and throws away a nice start by Matt Garza.  Freakin’ bullpens, they are about as sexy as the offensive line in football, but damn it if they are not as important.  The funny thing is they are made up of guys who failed everywhere else on the diamond.  These guys seem to come from everywhere.  How often do you hear, “well, John was a shortstop when he was drafted but now he’s a long reliever.”  You don’t really start out as a reliever, you end up there, yet the importance is massively understated.  How many teams in baseball right now would be great if they only had a bullpen?

Anyhow, on with the news…..

 

  • The week started off with Don Mattingly’s job in jeopardy. Now it seems like all is well?  Look, I grew up on Don Mattingly.  His 1984 Topps rookie card was the first modern card to balloon to stratospheric values within the same year as its release.  It put baseball card collecting on the map.  However, when there is a lot of money on the line the first guy to go is the manager, even if it is the great Donnie Ballgame!  (side note – pretty sure his rookie card is worth less now than it was 25 years ago)
  • Ryan Vogelsong broke his hand swinging at an inside fastball.  DH in the NL anyone?
  • Miguel Cabrera hit three homers in one game and the Tigers still lost.
  • Baseball Prospectus did a piece on the 10 players in baseball history “they wish had stayed healthy”.  It’s worth a read, and yes, Mark Prior is number seven.
  • So, basically Theo told Ian Stewart that Vitters is the future at third base for the Cubs?  Should we call it the cold corner for a little while?

 

Tweet of the week:

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Game 44 – Garza Returns!

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game –Travis Snider – .578 (WPA)


The Cubs have waited 10 long months for Matt Garza to return and rejuvenate…the offense?! Garza’s 2-out 2-run double in the 2nd inning was the Cubs’ most effective offensive play of the night. It’s not a great sign when most of your offense comes from the pitcher two games in a row.

On the mound, Garza was spectacular. I can’t imagine a better return for a pitcher coming off such a lengthy absence. Seriously, he deserves a shaving cream pie in the face. While he didn’t have amazing control (to be expected from someone in his situation), his stuff was unhittable. He made more than one opponent look foolish at the plate. The Pirates got their first hit in the 5th inning, and that was a weak blooper by Clint Barmes. Garza was going into the game with a strict pitch count of 85-90, so his elevated pitch counts early in the game forced his exit after 5 innings (if you are going to comment to say that Sveum should have left him in longer, please stop now – you’d be incorrect). Perhaps the biggest story for the Cubs up until the trade deadline is going to be Garza’s future. Get ready to hear A LOT about it over the next several weeks (more on that in a minute).

Unfortunately, the game continued past the 5th inning. The wheels fell of the wagon in the 6th as Hector Rondon entered the game…and left with the bases loaded and one out. Subsequently, James Russell was brought in to try to clean-up the mess. I was actually glad to see Sveum go with Russell in that situation – even though it wasn’t late in the game, it was definitely the highest leverage situation of the contest (I leave it up to you, commenter, to decide what it means to say that James Russell is the team’s best reliever). Russell proceeds to walk the unwalkable Pedro Alvarez (to be fair, it was a questionable check-swing call by the third base umpire), scoring the first Pirates’ run. Enter piñata-of-the-moment Shawn Camp, who allowed a grand slam to pinch hitter Travis Snider.

That brings me to my next thought: I really hope there is a Michael Bowden trade looming. I can’t see any other reason why the FO would DFA Bowden to make room for Garza on the roster rather than kicking Camp to the curb. I’m wary of jumping to conclusions based on small sample size, but it’s obvious that Camp is done. This is going to be a real head-scratcher if some sort of deal involving Bowden doesn’t go down.

Of course, the Cubs provided us with their patented fake rally in the ninth. Darwin Barney capped a 4 for 4 night (I know!) with a triple with one out and subsequently scored on a Starlin Castro single to bring the Cubs to within a run. Anthony Rizzo had a chance to be the hero with runners on first and third and two outs, but he struck out after a long at-bat.

(By the way, Barney needs to start sending me a portion of his game checks. He’s had a huge offensive night 100% of the time when I’ve done the recap. So what if this is only my second one?)

Returning to long-term issues, what will the Cubs do with Garza? Assuming he stays healthy and pitches well (and I realize that’s making significant assumptions at this point), there are two primary options: trade him or attempt to extend his contract. Most writers and commentators seem to think that the Cubs will trade him before the trade deadline and receive a decent prospect or two in the process. However, trading Garza isn’t a total no-brainer. He’s still only 29, and the Cubs might be able to sign him to a reasonable contract that would make him a valuable piece in the rotation for the next 3 or 4 years. So, what would you prefer? I know we’re dealing with abstract “players” here, but would you rather trade Garza for a couple of organizational top-ten-ish prospects who could be ready to contribute in a year or two at the earliest, or would you prefer to sign Garza (knowing the risks) for $13-$15 million a year for three or four years to pair with Samardzija at the top of the rotation? I suppose it depends on when you see the Cubs returning to competitiveness (and on who those prospects would actually be). If the Cubs do extend Garza, it may be a sign that they are going to start to “try” to win as early as next season. Complicating matters, if Garza pitches REALLY well for the rest of the season, the Cubs won’t be able to sign him to an extension, because he’d surely want to test free agency. There are many angles to this issue, and there are significant implications to the Cubs, so we’ll be returning to this topic again and again for the next several weeks. I look forward to some great conversations!

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