Archive for May, 2013

The Cubs Way – Rotation Management

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Over the weekend, Dale Sveum was asked about what will happen with the rotation when Matt Garza comes back from his rehab assigment with the Iowa Cubs. Garza pitched again this weekend and did so effectively. He’s slated for two more rehab outings before, barring setbacks, he’s activated from the DL and returns to the starting rotation in a quest to showcase him for a trade before the July 31st non-waiver deadline. Dale’s answer, to be honest, pissed me off and, as a result, causes me to step up onto the soap box.

Dale went on record and stated that Edwin Jackson was not being considered for a demotion to the pen to make room for Garza. Also safe are Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood, as they should be. Not safe, however, are Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman. I mentioned on Twitter that this was typical Cubs way of handling things, which caused a few reply tweets disagreeing with me. Apparently Jackson is “part of the future” and Feldman and Villanueva are not, to which I reply….that’s BS.

The true reason why Jackson is safe from demotion and Feldman and Villanueva are not has nothing to do with performance and it has nothing to do with potential. Jackson is safe solely due to money. This off-season all three were signed to help heal a rotation that was very much a sore spot for this team once Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were traded at the deadline. With no servicable names in the upper minors, Theo and Jed needed to do something to at least be respectible from a rotational standpoint and these three, along with reclamation project Scott Baker, were brought in to do just that. The difference was the level of committment.

Feldman – 1 year x $6 million

Villanueva - 2 years x $10 million (split evenly each year)

Baker - 1 year x $5.5 million

Jackson – 4 years x $52 million (includes $8 million signing bonus)

See the difference? It has nothing to do with performance. If it did, then any rational human being would be able to look at the numbers and see that Jackson is clearly the odd man out.

Some would argue that Jackson has more potential, however I’d argue that all are in the same age range at 29-30 years old and only one has been a member eight different organizations in his career. That speaks volumes about your potential. Guys who have tons of potential don’t tend to be moved that many times. In addition, looking at potential, you have to weigh the potential value in trade return for each of the three. Jackson’s contract, while not albatrossesque, is not nearly as movable as someone like Feldman or Villanueva. Given that fact, it makes more sense to let them continue with the success they are having in an effort to showcase them for the trade deadline. Teams would love to have a cheap starter with no long term committment at the deadline to help get them to the playoffs. Feldman and/or Villanueva both accomplish that, while Jackson does not.

In the end, it’s not my call to make, but if Jackson is not the odd man out, it becomes a total Cub move.

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Game 37 – A Hard Earned Series Win

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Gio Gonzalez – .448 (WPA)


At the beginning of the series, I had three thoughts. First, I was frustrated because I had planned to go to this series, but forgot it was so early in the year and it crept up on me. Before I knew it, it was here and I hadn’t made the arrangements to attend. That led to the second thought, which was that I was pretty sure I was not going to be able to see any of the games as MASN is not a channel I get on my lineup and I’m blacked out on MLB.tv due to proximity (5 hours) to Washington. Thankfully, two of the games were on WGN. Finally, I had a thought that if we could get out of the series with at least one win, I’d consider it a success. Instead, we leave with a series win after dropping the first game on Friday. Not a bad way to finish the weekend.

Normally, this is where I would rave about the job that Scott Feldman had done, but we’ll just mention that, once again, he looked really good. Definitely someone who should be a part of this rotation, but we’ll get to that in a little more detail later today when I step on my soapbox. Remember to check back around 2pm for that. Instead, we’d be doing a disservice to you the reader if we didn’t mention the job Gio Gonzalez did today in his limited amount of work. He was perfect through five innings and saw the perfecto broken up in the 6th by Dioner Navarro. He’d leave after seven innings of work, allowing just two hits and striking out six. The curious part about the day for Gonzalez was the length. He had cruised through the 7th and had tossed just 86 pitches. He could have easily come out for the 8th inning, but instead Davey Johnson elected to lift him in favor of the pinch hitter in the bottom half of the inning. It was curious at the time and it may have been the move that cost the Nats the series. It’s easy to say it was a mistake with the benefit of hindsight, but at the time, I questioned it as did Len Kasper. Johnson wanted to put up an insurance run, but there really was no reason to think that the one run they already had would not already be enough based on the day Gio was having. In the end, the Cubs plated a run in the 8th and then again in the 9th on some seeing eye singles and ended the day with a perfect inning save by Kevin Gregg.

RANDOM NOTES

  • Shawn Camp was warming up in the bullpen, and while he didn’t make it into the game, he had two nice outings in this series. He’s running out of guys ahead of him that can be optioned or designated for assignment when Matt Garza comes off the DL so he better be pitching like his hair is on fire the next week or so.
  • Luis Valbuena missed the game with an injured finger, which is fine with me. I’m not a Valbuena guy.
  • Teddy Roosevelt won the presidents race. It was his first win of the year and comes on the heels of William Howard Taft picking up his first win of his career on Saturday.

UMPIRE EVALUATION

During each of my game recaps this season, we take a look at the night turned in by the home plate umpire. In 2012, the league average for correct calls on pitches taken was 87.1%. Today’s man in blue was John Tumpane, who put together an 83.1% correct call rate and really made no friends with right handed hitters, especially Kurt Suzuki late in the game. Take a look at his accuracy by zone and his called strike rate against the righties.

CORRECT CALL RATE

CALLED STRIKE RATE VS RIGHTIES

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Game 35 – Desmond Harpoons Samardzija

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Ian Desmond – .299 (WPA)


Jeff Samardzija
I’m talking about one thing, and one thing only from this game. I don’t like what I’m seeing from Jeff Samardzija this year. He’s become a combination of Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano. He doubled in the 3rd and came around to score and tie the game; but then he couldn’t really settle in for the fourth or fifth innings. Classic Zambrano. Five of the seven runs he gave up came with two outs, and while only 5 of his 7 runs were earned, the 2 unearned runs came as a direct result of a comebacker that he booted. It should’ve started a double play, instead the Cubs couldn’t record an out on the play. After getting the 2nd out he gave up a two-run double.

Tonight Samardzija was more efficient than he’s been recently, but he was also hit harder than he’s been all season. It is the third time in 2013 he’s given up 4 runs or more. And in his eight starts, only twice has he gone more than 6.0 innings. Classic Harden (so is the inefficiency with his pitch count). In fact, Friday night marked the second time that the Cubs’ “ace” only went 5 innings. It’s not that Samardzija has been horri-awful; it’s that he hasn’t been any better than scrap heap signings Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva (truthfully, he’s not even pitching as good as they are). Travis Wood is the Cubs’ ace through 6 weeks of baseball – but here’s what is so troubling:

“Felt good. Felt about as best as I could all year,” Samardzija said. “That’s the frustrating part of it, when you’ve got your pitches and you feel good and you get that outcome.”

So Friday night – by his own assessment – was Jeff Samardzija with his good stuff. His ‘good stuff’ gets battered around the park by a lineup that is missing a couple of its biggest bats? No Bryce Harper, no Jayson Werth – the Cubs had reason to feel good heading into the game. Even more so if Samardzija had his good stuff.

But the wheels came off early, and the Dread Pirate Jeff could never right the ship (that’s how out of whack he was, the idioms don’t even make sense).

There is a huge market for Jeff Samardzija at the moment. He could bring the Cubs a massive haul in a potential trade. And such a trade could be terribly risky for the Cubs to make – he could yet become a superstar. But such a trade could be terribly risky for the Cubs NOT to make – he’s looking more and more like the right-handed Rich Hill. One fantastic year, everyone projects him as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Hill was 27 when he had his ‘breakout’ season too. Their numbers are eerily similar for those seasons (Hill in 2007, Samardzija in 2012); in 2008 though, Rich Hill got injured and by 2009 he was out of options and playing for the Baltimore Cubs.

I’m not saying it’s time to trade Samardzija – but it’s certainly time to stop listing him as an untouchable.

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Northside Archives: May Days

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

May 1, 2001: After Jason Bere is tagged for 7 runs in just 2+ IP; Cub reliever Mike Fyhrie takes the mound. The Padres’ Santiago Perez broke his bat in the fourth inning, a portion of which struck Fyhrie and broke his ulna. Fyhrie made 6 more appearances for the Cubs (though not until after the All-Star Break). He played for the A’s at the end of 2001 and made 16 appearances for them in 2002 before being sent to the minors and eventually washing out of professional baseball following the 2003 season.

May 2, 1917: With dueling no-hitters through 9 innings, it’s the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn who would be the tough luck loser to the Reds’ Fred Toney. Vaughn gave up a single, followed by an error and then an infield hit which proved to give the Reds a 1-0 win after Toney completed his no-hitter in the 10th.

May 2, 1956: The Giants beat the Cubs 6-5 in a 17-inning affair at Wrigley. But Cub 3B Don Hoak is the notable offender on this day, he strikes out 6 times against 6 different Giant pitchers.

May 4, 2005: Mark Grace hits his first MLB grand slam after 6,136 at-bats. (And drove home drunk for the ?th time)

May 4, 2005: Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens become the 5th set of 300+ game winners to start against each other. The Cubs come away from Minute Maid Park with a 3-2 win. Roger leaves with the syringe in his back pocket, or thereabouts.

May 6, 1998: Kerry Wood sets the NL record with 20 K’s in a game. Kevin Orie makes the game slightly less memorable.

May 7, 2010: Starlin Castro debuts at 20 years old with a three-run homer. Later he adds a bases-loaded triple to become the first player in history to grab 6 RBIs in his debut.

May 8, 1973: Cubs’ manager Whitey Lockman is ejected in the 11th inning which leaves Ernie Banks to manage the remainder of the game. Banks, though not recognized officially as such, becomes MLB’s first black manager in this game.

May 11, 1998: In his next outing, Kerry Wood strikes out 13 against Arizona. No one, on steroids or not, has ever struck out as many as Wood (33) in back-to-back starts.

May 12, 1970: Ernie Banks hits his 500th career homer.

May 12, 1998: Mark Grace hits the 1st homer into the swimming pool behind RF in Arizona.

May 12, 2004: Alex Cora battles Matt Clement for 17 pitches, finally hitting the 18th over the fence. This was not a fun game to attend, trust me, I know.

May 13, 1969: Dick Selma pitches a shutout for the Cubs. His is the third of three consecutive shutouts from Cub pitchers (Fergie Jenkins & Ken Holtzman threw the other two).

May 14, 2000: Eric Young steals 5 bases, Henry Rodriguez piles up 7 RBIS, and Sammy Sosa gets 5 hits. The Cubs somehow lose 16-15.

May 16, 1996: Sammy Sosa hits two HRs in a single inning – the first Cub to ever do so.

May 17, 1979: The Cubs score 22 runs and lose, as only the Cubs can…in 10 innings, and never once did they lead.

May 20, 1920: Chicago police don disguises for a gambling raid on the Wrigley Field bleachers. Dozens are arrested. The Cubs also lose 6-0.

May 20, 2006: En route to a 7-0 loss at the hands of their rivals from the South side, the benches clear when Michael Barrett sucker punches perpetual miscreant AJ Pierzynski after the White Sox catcher slides hard into home plate.

May 22, 1990: Feared slugger Andre Dawson is walked 5 times (all intentionally) during a 2-1, 16-inning win over the Reds. (None of Dawson’s walks would prove pivotal).

May 24, 1957: Frank Ernaga debuts for the Cubs, hitting a HR and a triple with 2 RBIs.

May 25, 1982: Fergie Jenkins records his 3,000 strikeout. He was the 7th pitcher in history to do so.

May 28, 2006: The Cubs score 12 times, give up 8 HRs, and lose by one to the Atlanta Braves. This unfortunate game takes 11-innings to complete.

May 28, 1966: Ron Santo hits a 3-run HR in the 12th inning as the Cubs walk-off against the Braves.

May 29, 1966: Ron Santo hits a solo HR in the 10th inning as the Cubs walk-off against the Braves.

May 30, 1922: Cliff Heathcote plays for the Cardinals in game 1 of a double-header while Max Flack starts for the Cubs. Before game 2, the players are traded. They swap jerseys and start for their new teams in second game. The Cubs win both games.

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Game 34 – Doing All The Little Things Wrong

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

The Good  For Cubs fans on the west coast, day games usually start just after 11am. That’s great on days when I can close the door to my office and actually enjoy the game. Wednesday was not one of those days, and it seemed like the Cubs were only able to produce when I was away from my desk. If I were superstitious, I definitely would have spent half the day in the break room. Instead I got sucked into the false hope of a two-run lead, and had a great seat for the ensuing collapse. The Cubs don’t get a lot of clutch hitting, but in the early going, it looked like they might have enough for the win. In the first, Luis Valbuena scored on a Anthony Rizzo double, with an assist from a Carlos Beltran error. In the fourth, Nate Schierholtz doubled in Valbuena and Rizzo, and then scored on a productive Dioner Navarro ground out. This lineup won’t overpower many pitching staffs–if any–but if we can hit with guys on base, we ought to have a shot against most anyone.

The Bad  Another small late-inning lead, another bullpen collapse. Wednesday it was James Russell and Michael Bowden who jogged out to take a dump on the mound. Elsewhere, Kevin Gregg continues to be the lone bright spot in the pen. Prepare yourselves for the coming apocalypse.

The Ugly  The Cubs hitters didn’t help anything in the late innings, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position Wednesday. That includes hitting into double plays in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Brace yourselves–the Cubs are currently hitting a league low .183 with RISP. Somehow that all hurts worse when it happens against the Cardinals, but that’s tremendously bad no matter who you’re playing.

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Recapping the Random – 05/08/2013

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

I watch a lot of “other” baseball.  “Other” meaning teams besides the Cubs.  It started years ago when I purchased the ridiculously expensive Extra Innings package on DirecTV.  I feel I have learned a little something venturing outside the broadcasts of our beloved Cubs.

Every team seems to have an identity and then key components built around said identity.  Overall, I feel there are four qualities that separate a winning baseball team from one that sits on middle ground or lower: defense , timely hitting, starting pitching and bullpen.  I used to think coaching mattered, and it does, but as Dusty Baker used to say, “gimme the horses and I will win.”  Well guess what Dusty, so will many others.

Coaching and the much talked about chemistry are great, but they don’t play the same importance in baseball that they do in other sports.  Winning teams, while displaying all four qualities, tend to lean on two or three of these as major strengths.  When I say they are strengths, I am saying they are dominant over most of the rest of the league in that category.  Remember, you have your opinion , I have mine.  Do share in the comments.

My question to Cub fans is this, of these four qualities, would you consider the Cubs to be strong in any of them?  Remember, lets say strong would be qualified as being in the top third of the league.  If so, please explain.

 

 

The News…or something like it.

 

NL East: 

  • Could this be the end of a great story , or just another bump in the road for Evan Gattis?  If you don’t know his story this is worth a read.
  • Juan Pierre Stole his 600th base.  What’s more interesting is a list of all the players ahead of him included in the link.  “The Rick” is still blowing everybody else away.

NL Central:

NL West:

 

Tweet of the Week:

 

 

Well, that will rap it up for now.  See you in two weeks and don’t forget to weigh in on the question from the intro!

 

 

 

 

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Game 33: Schier Joy

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Boxscore / Highlights

There is a lot to be said for a guy who pitches 7 straight quality starts and has a measly 3-2 record over that span. Travis Wood was astral last night, pitching 6 2/3 innings while striking out eight, with as 2.33 ERA. His only mistake was a second-inning home run to Allen Craig.

Bullpen

Carlos Marmol had another decent (and by decent I mean he didn’t surrender the 1-run lead) outing, pitching 1.1 innings and allowing two hits and a walk. One of the hits was surrendered to “The Smartest Baseball Player of All Time” (according to the Cardinals fan sitting next to me), Yadier Molina. After the hit that was almost caught by Schierholtz, Yadier stole second base and attempted to frazzle Marmol by taking an enormous lead toward third. I’m not joking, for being a slow guy, his lead looked like it was at least 30 feet off the bag. The best part was when he got “thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop” (or TOOTBLAN for short) to end the threat of the Cardinals scoring in the eighth.

Kevin Gregg gave up zero hits or walks and struck out one to earn his fifth save in five attempts. “What?” you ask. “Kevin Gregg has not blown a save? You’re joking.” Here’s what Dale has to say about him:

“That was our greatest pickup so far up to this point,” Sveum said. “His fastball location has been outstanding so far.”

What I’m gathering from this Gregg experiment is that our guys are commitment-phobes. When Marmol was labeled as the closer, he choked. Camp did the same thing. But now we have Gregg, who is perfect in save opportunities so far this year, and he hasn’t been hitched to the closer title. I say we keep that our little secret and don’t tell him. Isn’t that how common law marriages work?

Everyone Else:

Our offense was anemic once again, only collecting 5 hits and leaving 7 on base. Six of our guys went 0-for. Ryan Sweeney looked a wee bit overmatched up there against Lance Lynn. Anthony Rizzo did not have any hits, but he was thisclose (can’t you see the distance between my thumb and forefinger?) to his tenth homer of the year in the 8th.

Even David DeJesus was hitless. I expect at least one great at-bat from him in each game. It seems to me that he is our most consistent everyday player at this point in the season. It may be because of the ritual he does before and after each pitch. It goes like this:

Dave walks up to the edge of the batter’s box. He rests his bat against himself and adjusts his gloves. Then he picks ups his bat, wrings the handle a few times, and taps the toe of his left cleat with the end of it. Then he steps into the box and waits for the pitch. Then he takes the first pitch, and usually looks at the second one as well. He does this during every plate appearance. He’s very deliberate, and it seems like he takes even longer when the pitcher bats before him in the inning.

Player of the Game:

And the Player of the Game is………

NATE SCHIERHOLTZ

Nate’s 2-run home run in the fourth was the difference in the game. It is safe to say that he has become my favorite player. The home run to push to Cubs to victory on my birthday might have something to do with that, but he has been great all season. His .290 batting average is second only to Welington’s .305 average.

I love watching him play. He’s like a taller, more productive Tony C. He makes things happen.

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Ian Stewart’s Lost Weekend

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Ian Stewart went missing over the weekend. By now you’ve probably seen the note in Joe’s recap this morning, but just in case here’s the story so far. Stewart’s abysmal performance (he hit .091) in his rehab stint with the Iowa Cubs cost him his promotion back to the big league team. Consequently the Cubs optioned him to Iowa, meaning he could have–and should have–kept playing with the Iowa Cubs. He didn’t.

Instead he took off, enjoying a 72 hour window afforded to any player who has been optioned. It seems he even talked his decision over with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer before he bolted. From what I can tell, there aren’t any indications of where he went or what he did–he just took off.

To me that seems like a highly unusual decision for a guy who ought to be trying to work his way back to the majors. I’m sure he’s disappointed in his performance and the fact that he’s got a lot to prove if he wants to turn his career around. But what sense does it make to start that potential turnaround with some extended “me-time”?

I never followed Stewart on Twitter (he apparently deleted his account late last week), so I missed out on his ranting and his late-night stupidity. Honestly, I don’t have much of a read on the guy. I wasn’t impressed that he opted out of rehabbing from his wrist surgery with the team last season, but I can be talked into a  number of excuses on that matter.

But abandoning his team is an entirely different story. Not only is it a terrible example for his AAA teammates, it’s also a betrayal of his big league coaches and teammates. And it’s a slap in the face to a Cubs’ front office that has shown a lot of faith in Stewart. This past offseason, the team gave him a new (and largely unwarranted) $2M contract. Apparently this is how he repays their confidence in him and his abilities. And assuming this is his last season with the Cubs, what does this little walkabout demonstrate to any future employer? Nothing good. In fact, for all I know we might be watching him set fire to his own career. Short of an explosive turnaround in his performance, it’s hard to imagine him getting another big league contract. Even a promotion back to the Cubs seems unlikely at this point.

Which is what makes this so surprising to me. As I said, it seemed like the front office and the coaching staff had some reason for hope with Stewart–that he could and would reward their confidence. It seemed like people were legitimately hopeful he’d be able to perform at a high level. Now I’ve got to believe that his weekend off has burned through substantial amounts of that good will. Why would anyone in the Cubs organization still be rooting for to make it back to the bigs. He proved this weekend that he’s a bad investment–one that will likely be gone at the end of the year.

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Game 32 – Another Feldman Gem

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Scott Feldman – .246 (WPA)


Roster Moves – Before the game tonight, the Cubs announced that Kameron Loe had been designated for assignment, with Rafael Dolis being called up in his place. It was gonna either be him or Shawn Camp, who may be seeing his days numbered as well as Kyuji Fujikawa is on recab assignment and should be ready to return soon. One thing is for sure, there is no where to go for this pen but up. Hopefully this move helps.

Also announced was that Dave Sappelt was optioned to AAA in favor of Ryan Sweeney. He’s played really well in Iowa so far this year, hitting six home runs so far and posting a split line of .337 / .396 / .627. He has big league experience so hopefully he can take the 5th outfield spot and run with it. I’m not really sure why moves like these have taken so long. We’re not winning. Sappelt wasn’t hitting. Why not shuffle some names in here and see what happens? Teams that aren’t winning don’t need to stand pat with the status quo. When things aren’t working, try new things.

An interesting nugget from Sun Times:

Ian Stewart is taking the 72-hour available time to report to Class AAA Iowa, where he was optioned on Friday. Stewart wasn’t with the I-Cubs during the weekend, but general manager Jed Hoyer said Stewart had the right to wait up to 72 hours to decide to report.

It’s Gotta Be The Beard – Once again, we saw a nice game turned in by Scott Feldman. When you look at the rotation as it’s currently constructed, you have to begin to wonder if there is mystical power in the full beard. Feldman, Travis Wood, and Carlos Villanueva are all sporting it and all are pitching really well. Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, neither of whom have a full beard, can’t buy a win to save their lives. They need to strongly consider growing the beard. It’s sad how watching a bad baseball team will cause you to write rubbish like that, but it’s like grasping at straws every night. In all seriousness, Feldman really did turn in a nice night once again. Coming off a complete game in his last start, he limited the damage by the Rangers, his old team, and contributed at the plate in the 4th after the Rangers decided to intentionally walk Darwin Barney with two outs to get to him. The at bat would fuel the five run 4th inning that proved to be the difference in the game. Ron Washington would again call for the intentional walk to Barney in the 5th, but Feldman didn’t come through again, despite the crowd rising to it’s feet in a great cheer (not for Feldman, but because of the announcement that the Bulls had defeated the Heat).

We talked about it the other day and it bears repeating again today. Dale is very close to having a dilemma on his hands when Matt Garza comes back from rehab. Garza pitched for Iowa today and went 3.1 IP, allowing four hits and one earned run while striking out three and walking none. His time is drawing nearer to return and that will force Dale to move one of the five members of the rotation into the pen. Considering it’s not going to be Samardzija, that just leaves four names, three of which are pitching really well. It’s hard to see the big free agent signing of the off-season being demoted, but until he catch pitch with his head outside of his butt, he’s got to be the name to go.

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