Archive for August, 2013

Northside Archives: Hometown Scoring

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

August 29, 2012: Darwin Barney sits on 113 straight games without an error. It is already the Cubs’ single season record. It is tied with David Eckstein for the longest errorless streak for an NL second baseman (single season). Then…in the 7th inning…this happened.

The official scorer charged Barney with an error on the throw to Valbuena at third. If you’ve played the game at all, you can probably appreciate the scorer’s predicament. If Valbuena picks that cleanly, the tag is simple and everyone raves about the great play by Barney. But regardless of how it appears in replays, that is NOT an easy throw to handle. Barney hurls it sidearm, off-balance, and on the run – those things together are what gives the throw such crazy late movement. On top of this, the throw is coming to Valbuena over the shoulder of Jean Segura raising the degree of difficulty for the catch even more.

But is it really an error to Barney? I say yes. If Barney makes that same tailing throw to Rizzo at first and Rizzo can’t handle all the movement it would almost surely be deemed a bad throw and an error to Barney. It shouldn’t be any different simply because the ball is thrown to third base on a play where a tag is required.

But that night the official scorer changed his original call and credited the error to Valbuena – not Barney. It meant that David Eckstein’s kidney wasn’t the only thing that had been gruesomely wrangled from Eckstein’s possession. Barney would finish that game without further incident, breaking the little guy’s record.

And in a weird, but symmetrical, twist – Barney’s next milestone was the MLB record errorless streak in a single season for a second baseman. Placido Polanco held that streak at 141 games. But on September 28th of last season, Barney came within 3 outs of passing Polanco. Then Barney fielded and hurled this ball towards Rizzo at first. (See, I told you they’d score that an error!) Barney only managed to tie Polanco.

Curiously, Polanco’s streak was extended on August 26, 2007 under similar dubious official scoring changes.

It all begs the question: does every MLB team need their own official scorer? Why allow a clearly biased individual the responsibility of making so many subjective calls? The best answer I can proffer – that’s baseball. No, we can’t have Questec in every park because what if it’s not calibrated similarly everywhere (as if all 94 umpires have the same strike zone! – CB Bucknor might have 30 different strike zones just by himself). No, we can’t review safe or out; only objective things like fair/foul or HR/not a HR (because somehow safe or out is harder to determine than either of those).

That’s baseball; we get mad at pitchers for not throwing it over the plate, then get furious when they throw it over too much of the plate. We want guys to be aggressive on the basepaths, until they get thrown out. And we call it an error unless we can make a valid argument to the contrary – because I think we all know that Barney would still have that error to his credit were it not for his streak.


  • Dale must’ve needed a nap – he got ejected before the Dodgers could even complete one at-bat on Wednesday. I’d love to know if a manager has ever been ‘successively ejected’ (that’s what I’m calling it) on check-swing related calls? Remember, this happened about 10 days ago. The blown call from yesterday wasn’t nearly as horri-awful as the Donnie Murphy one; but still, it wasn’t close. Puig MORE than swung his bat. Just judging from Sveum’s indignation, I wonder if his issue was that Lance Barksdale wasn’t paying attention to Puig’s at-bat (because if he had been, that was an easy check-swing to ring him up on). Or maybe Dale ran out of his Kashi Go Lean and missed breakfast on getaway day.
  • Johnny Manziel is set to serve the most preposterous suspension in the history of suspensions. He will miss the first half of Texas A&M’s first game. Thank you NCAA for giving Bud Selig a new idea – in 5 years when he hears about this story, Bud will have someone suspended for the first 15 outs or 75 pitches (whichever comes first).
  • Aaron Hernandez, it is claimed, was a heavy PCP user (maybe I should say IS, because for all I know he’s still getting the angel dust in jail). He seems like such a normal guy other than that…and the fact that he’s probably killed at least three people…and shot another guy…and has a myriad of crazy-looking tats…including some that adorn his wrists. PCP just seems out of character. *Isn’t Aaron Hernandez just the real-life Demetrius Harris? (The RB from the ESPN drama Playmakers)
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The 40 Man Roster Crunch

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Coming in to the offseason every year, one issue every team faces is who to keep on the 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft? Many appear to think the Cubs are going to face a pretty rough roster crunch this winter for two reasons: (1) the Cubs have a large number of positions they platoon, increasing the number of fringe right handed hitters who can only hit left handed pitching on the active and 40 man rosters; and (2) the Cubs have a few formerly highly touted prospects in the high minors who haven’t shown they can make the jump to the Majors yet, but have 40 man roster spots. But a quick look at the roster shows that the Cubs will turn over at least a quarter of the 48 players currently on the 40 man roster and 60 day DL. Combine that with the lack of quality prospects who need protection from the Rule 5 draft in the upper minors, and the Cubs really shouldn’t have to work hard to protect anyone marginally important.

How the Rule 5 Draft Works

Arizona Phil at the Cubbie Reporter is the master of the Rule 5 draft in the Cubs’ blogosphere, so up front I have to credit him for compiling a lot of this info. For the complete list of all Cubs’ farmhands eligible for the Rule 5 draft and a detailed breakdown of all related rules, you should check out Arizona Phil’s Corner over there. He’s also a great resource during extended spring training.

Here’s how the eligibility for the Rule 5 draft is determined: A minor league player who was 18 or younger on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract is eligible for selection starting with the 5th Rule 5 Draft after he signs, and a minor league player who was 19 years or older on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract becomes eligible for selection starting with the 4th Rule 5 Draft that followed his signing. As a note, this means that most high ranking international prospects only get four years of minor league experience prior to being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, since they don’t play until the season after they sign.

The Current 40 Man Roster

The Cubs currently have 48 players on either the 40 man roster or the 60 day DL. Once the season ends, the 60 day DL ends until the start of the next season, so you cannot stash injured players there for the Rule 5 draft. I’m not going to run through every player, but you can see the complete list on the Cubs’ website. The following, though, are the players who are unlikely to be on the 40 man roster at the time of the Rule 5 draft and why.

Free Agents: Scott Baker (RHP), Kevin Gregg (RHP), Matt Guerrier (RHP), Dioner Navarro (C), Ryan Sweeney (OF)

Near Certain Non-TendersJ.C. Boscan (C), Donnie Murphy (IF), Cody Random (IF), Brian Bogusevic (OF), Cole Gillespie (OF), Darnell McDonald (OF), Thomas Neal (OF)

So before the Cubs will even need to make anything approaching a tough decision, they will be down to 36 players on the 40 man roster. If a few others do get non-tendered, look towards fringy relief pitchers, with Michael Bowden, Zach Putnam and Eduardo Sanchez as the most likely candidates.

Players Who May Need to Be Protected:

Back in the day, players used to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year earlier. This would result in some really talented players being occasionally available in the Rule 5 draft. These days, it’s rare that anyone that will make much of a difference will be picked in the Rule 5 draft. For example, the Cubs lost two players fans were a bit annoyed about in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2012 season in infielder Marwin Gonzalez and utility man Ryan Flaherty. Gonzalez’s career OPS is .591, and Flaherty’s is .633. So if someone is left unprotected, particularly when they played in Double A or Triple A the year before, the odds of them being much of a Major Leaguer are slim.

Player the Cubs Need to Protect: Arismendy Alcantara is the sole member of the “needs to be protected” list. The switch hitting middle infielder has emerged as the fifth best prospect in the system and the Cubs’ likely next second baseman of the future, potentially as early as July 2014. If he wasn’t protected, the Astros would pick him up with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft and be more than happy to keep him on the MLB roster all year. 

Others that Would be at Risk of Being Drafted: Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha posted solid numbers at Double A this season before struggling upon a promotion to Iowa. He will never hit for power, but is reportedly a very good defender and could be a solid 4th or 5th outfielder type. A team could stash him as a defensive replacement for a year. Left handed pitcher Eric Jokisch just threw a no hitter in Tennessee. As a command and control lefty, he’s never going to be a top prospect, but should be a Major Leaguer with a ceiling as a 4/5 starter. Joksich actually is likely the second highest priority for the Cubs to protect after Alcantara. Dallas Beeler and Dae Eun Rhee could both be drafted as Double A pitchers who have had some success, but neither have had good strikeout numbers in the Southern League. The command and control guys who typically have shots at MLB success still tend to put up at least solid strikeout rates throughout the minors (see Kyle Hendricks). They have also both dealt with injuries over the past year or two. While both are at risk of being taken, I wouldn’t shed any tears over either of them being picked.

Players Whose Names You Will Hear but are too Far Away to be Drafted: You’ll hear a lot about second baseman Gioskar Amaya leading up to the Rule 5 draft, and for a decent reason. He’s arguably one of the Cubs’ top ten prospects, and definitively one of their top fifteen. However, he hasn’t played above low A, and it’s really hard to keep a position player who can’t at least kind of fake it on the active roster all year. On top of that, there’s no reason for the Cubs to think Amaya will be anything more than a level a year type of prospect. That means that if the Cubs add Amaya to the 40 man now, he’ll get one year at Daytona, one year at Tennessee, and one year at Iowa, then be out of options. There’s a very small chance someone might take a flyer on Amaya in the Rule 5 draft, but the odds of them not returning him to the Cubs in spring training are even slimmer.

Shortstop Marco Hernandez falls into the same boat, and isn’t much of a prospect anymore anyways. Right handed pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua has barely played professional ball as he’s dealt with identity and contract issues.

In short, the Cubs should have no problems protecting their vital prospects without having to DFA anyone of significance currently on their 40 man roster.

Tuesday Night’s Game

I’m going to be honest here: the game is on the west coast and won’t end until well past my bedtime. With that said, I’m going to make an educated guess: Clayton Kershaw dominates the Cubs, Travis Wood pitches well, but either he lets a couple of runs through or the pen does. The Cubs score 1 run or less, the Dodgers score 3 to 4 runs. As of bedtime, though, Travis Wood has shut out the Dodgers through 3 innings while the Cubs pushed across an unearned run against Kershaw.

In other news, former Cub Marlon Byrd was traded along with catcher John Buck to the Pirates for prospects. Early reports have it as an overpay for the Pirates in terms of the prospects going back to the Mets, but the Pirates have been terrible in right field and are desperate to make the postseason this year. They’d have to blow a 9 game lead to not make the playoffs, but a deep playoff run could reinvigorate baseball in a town that is still attending games at only a mediocre rate. As strange as it sounds, in a tight race Marlon Byrd could be the difference between winning the NL Central or facing a play in game.

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Radio vs TV

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

After the VMA snafu on Sunday night I began to look for older music from some of the performing artists at the award show. (Disclaimer: Miley Cyrus was not one of those artists). I knew of Macklemore’s connection to his hometown of Seattle and was pleasantly surprised when I came across a song written as a tribute to Mariners’ great radio announcer Dave Niehaus, who passed away following the 2010 season.

Niehaus had one of the most recognizable voices on the airwaves for decades and was the original announcer for the M’s until his death. He finally was bestowed with the honor of the Ford C. Frick award in 2008, which is given to only the most deserving of baseball broadcasters.

Macklemore’s song “My, Oh, My” recounts the 1995 season where the M’s made the AL Championship Series over the Yankees. The first time listening to the song, it gave me chills hearing Niehaus’ call as Ken Griffey Jr. crosses the plate to send them to the ALCS.

Calls like that are why I grew up dreaming about getting into sports radio. Calls like that are why I was okay with leaving the TV due to mom’s enforced bedtime so I could crawl into the cozy sheets and turn on the radio. Calls like that paint us a picture of a beautiful game that HDTV can only provide on a surface level.

I spent much of my summer observing a good friend Kyle Tait, who is the play-by-play guy for the Mississippi Braves. Kyle’s still learning the tricks of the trades—only three years out of undergrad at Georgia Tech—but sticky Friday nights wouldn’t have been the same without the deep voice of baseball coming through my Apple earbuds.

My grandfather was my idol growing up because of his tireless work ethic and the way he treated people. He told me that radio would always been an important medium because of the craving to be engaged with senses other than sight. As much as television advances have dominated the attention of the general population, I think there is some truth to his ideals.

Experiencing a game with the reliance on someone else painting the picture to you is something that cannot simply be replicated by high-quality picture. Radio allows you to imagine the smells of peanuts and beer, while at the same time picturing the way the bright lights shimmer off of the individual blades of grass in centerfield.

Some of the greatest calls and broadcasters of all time didn’t have the luxury to rely on a television crew to capture the game’s descriptions. They forced themselves to be the eyes and ears for those not lucky enough to be at the game.

I think of the movie Angels in the Outfield where a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his buddy from the orphanage J.P. are outside the California Angels ballpark listening to the call of their floundering Halos. The raw emotion they felt with the twists and turns of the game are the experiences everyone should want to feel when listening.

What say you VFTB family, do you enjoy listening to games on the radio or is TV really the better media?

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A Look At the Under Armor Showcase

Monday, August 26th, 2013

by Rob Willer

Early Thoughts (Home-run Derby)-The day started off around 11:00 am where I met John Arguello of Cubs Den and Harry Pavlidis who contributes to a variety of things which include but are not limited to Baseball Prospectus, Washington Post and created Pitch/FX. We proceeded to the front row right next to the scout seats where the likes of Keith Law, Jim Hendry, Sahadev Sharma among many other great baseball minds. First up was the home-run derby and boy was that a show. The two stars of the day were Chase Vallot and Jacob Gatewood. Gatewood put up a very impressive six home-runs showing great bat speed as well as ability to drive the ball. Vallot followed Gatewood with an impressive performance of his own hitting 6 home-runs himself in the opening round. Projects more as a catcher but could end up at 1st base the ball really exploded off his bat. In the end, Gatewood won the derby by defeating Vallot in the final round setting the stage for the Under Armor Game.

Pitching Prospects-

Touki Toussaint- Touki Toussaint is a RHP with a 6-2 195 lb. frame from Coral Springs, FL who attends Coral Springs Christian Academy. Toussaint was sitting 93-95 on his fastball through the inning he pitched.  Topping out around 97 while mixing in a big breaking curveball which sat around 73-75. Toussaint showed great poise by retiring the heart of the American League Lineup.

Dylan Cease- He repeats his delivery very well and seems very mature with his age. Like Toussaint he was bringing some serious heat sitting in the 92-95 range topping out at 97. When seeing him live it really seemed like his motion was very easy and retired the side 1-2-3. He ended the first with a high fastball to retire Dazmond Cameron quickly the pitch had a lot of movement on it.

Cobi Johnson- Johnson pitches for Mitchell High School in Holiday,Florida. He stands at a 6 foot 4 and provides us with a fastball that sits in 87-90 works well downhill as he gets a lot of downward movement. He mixed in a curve that sat at 77-79 mph, retired three of the five batters he faced giving up a walk and a single in his one inning of work.

Sam Hentges- Hentges is from Minnesota where he pitches at Mounds View High School. What makes Hentges unique is he is a left-hander that stands at 6 foot six he projects to be a power arm in the future. For his fastball he had it in the range from 86-88 and maxed at 89 on the radar gun for the day. Relatively uneventful half of an inning although he did make quick work of Alexis Pantoja striking him out on a high fastball. Overall has a solid delivery and looks to be ready for the MLB Draft already with his body type and track record.

Tyler Kolek- Kolek was the surprise of the day already looking like Jonathon Broxton mixing in a fastball that regularly sat between 94 and 97 miles per hour. His stocky build provides him with an established reliever body type. He measures at 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds with a power fastball that hit 99 miles on the gun. Very easy motion and repeated it well throughout his inning of work. Kolek definitely caught many scouts eyes when he regularly reached back for his plus fastball.

Tuesday: We will continue the Under Armor Recap with some of the top high school hitters in the country.

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GirlieView (08/22/2013)

Thursday, August 22nd, 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

  • they believe they are bigger than life itself and that rules are for someone else.
  • This could be the biggest VFTB scandal we have seen since the Homza/Muscat incident. Now we need to figure out who Resident Raker, Eddy Von Beige, actualword, Mark from Manitoba, and Seymour Muffintops might be.
  • This is largely due to the Cubs not trotting out starting pitchers that just are not good enough to get by the in Majors, are not ready for the Majors, or both, 4 out of 5 games.
  • we’ve been looking for our Johnsons all week.
  • The Cubs should move down to 16U in 2014 to compete. They could take the USSSA World Series for sure!
  • I’m not trying to sound preachy but the insider guy has done some basic deductive reasoning and for the most part hasn’t committed to anything other than speculation. This is not an insider.
  • Just for disclosure purposes, As someone who has had a conversation with Theo and Dale, in a third base dugout operated by the Cubs, I have no inside information what so ever, and they would not recognize my name. Please keep that in mind when absorbing my blather.
  • We’re also going to get a glimpse of what this regime is going to do with a big amount of cash to spend for the first time and that should give us some insight into the timetable they are expecting.
  • Shark has been busy working his porn career, that can take a lot out of your legs.
  • The DH is an abomination that strips most strategy from the game.
  • let’s put it on a tee so that we don’t lose any players to a HBP for months.
  • would be nullified by the new appearance of injuries from tripping over the tee on the way to first.
  • So let’s have the pitcher stand opposite the hitter and soft toss the pitches in there – that’ll solve the TJ surgery epidemic too.
  • But it would increase the likelyhood of line drives, and we do not want to go into the vagaries of those.
  • Eliminating either the field of play or batted balls would help there, Jerry.
  • Baseball without vagarious line drives isn’t baseball.
  • Wiffle ball is the answer.
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • And not at all in accordance with the fact that the Tigers need another bat (and another bullpen arm).
  • There’s no reward because let’s face it, it’s the third child and ‘hey you’ or ‘stop that’ will probably suffice until he’s 14 anyway
  • I would name him Axel. People don’t mess with kids with names like that.
  • I’m still voting for Abe Froman Johnson.
  • It’s gotta be Harold. Name the kid Harold.
  • How about naming him Alfonso? Just remember though if you do, he won’t be all that productive in April.
  • I really don’t think you can top Max Johnson. That is the manliest name I’ve ever heard.
  • It has porn star written all over it.
  • All over what?
  • That’s my two-year-old you’re talking about!
  • Josh Johnson has a nice ring to it.
  • My wife and I named our son Colvin (after former Cub not-so-great Tyler Colvin) and he responded by taking a shard of bat in the chest so I am monitoring my son’s heart health closely.
  • Hugh G Johnson. It will intimidate other boys and provide that self esteem boost most kids now a days seem to require.
  • Since you haven’t really shut down the idea of Hugh, let’s kick the tires on Jazz as a middle name. Hugh Jazz Johnson. Sounds pretty legit.
  • Peter. Redundant.
  • How about Major, Major Johnson!
  • How about Reed? Reed Johnson.
  • I hear he play hard.
  • We could go with Reed Major Johnson, but that would condem the kid to playing a woodwind instrument.
  • Waveland Johnson sounds nice.
  • Dumping Carlos Marmol and Shawn Camp at the end of June were major steps in the right direction
  • Why do they still use corded phones hanging on the wall to call the bullpen? Nobody has those anymore.
  • The fax machine is on the fritz.
  • It is probably more difficult to hack a land line than a wireless signal.
  • Yeah, I suppose you wouldn’t want anyone to read your lips when you tell the lefty to start warming up. Keep the suspension up until the camera actually shows him get up.
  • Shhhhhhhhhh!
  • How is this news? So if a pitcher keeps opposing runners off base, and keeps them from hammering extra base hits and home runs, he’s effective. Got it.
  • Greetings from Cooperstown All Star Village.
  • You know what will affect winning? Regularly embarrassing your young talent at every chance.
  • I’m of the opinion that a fair amount of Cubs fans just need a team pariah.
  • I’d love to see Cub fans stop eating their young.
  • The only way those guys can talk 24/7 is to invent controversies
  • Baseball either needs to start paying Minor League umpires a good enough salary to attract solid talent or just switch to an all computers, video, and man in the booth umpiring format.
  • Most of us are not professional athletes, but most of us are a professionals of some sort that work as part of a “team” (however you want to define it), and we all know, anecdotally, that one’s work environment can affect your job performance and morale. So, I think there is probably something to “chemistry,” even if it can’t be quantified – but the question is, how much does it actually affect the bottom line of wins and losses?
  • If a team were better on the field, they’d probably have better chemistry, and that’s probably the most important interaction between the two concepts.
  • I believe “chemistry”, as it applies to sports, is only a negative force. Great team chemistry won’t really help you win more games because talent will win out in the end as long as it is not mismanaged. However, a toxic clubhouse will suppress winning because negative attitudes will tend to produce negative results in subtle ways.
  • you are not allowed to use the word “grit” in an article without also using the word “moxie.”
  • Wow, that’s a surgeon’s butt in the photo. Who knew?
  • I thought everyone did, actually.
  • While we are clearing things up, I don’t actually manage an Orange Julius. I am a shift leader at the Orange Julius, which is more or less an assistant manager position.
  • Assistant to the manager position.
  • Same thing.

Lizard

  • Nothing lends itself more to credibility than a handle of Assman2

Shout Outs

We had no new Lizzie contributors this time around but we’re so grateful for our regular commenters who keep this site flowing with good conversation and hearty laughter. Shout outs all around.

MVL

Congratulations to Jedi Johnson, who returned to the US and to VFTB with a flourish this week. He’s 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. Eddie von White
4. Jedi Johnson
5. Doc Raker
6. Joe Aiello
7. Chuck
8. Jerry in Wisconsin
9. Doug S.
10. Jeremiah Johnson

Chit Chat

Today’s chit chat comes to us courtesy of one of Chuck’s Lizzies (thanks Chuck!) … and I quote: “The DH is an abomination that strips most strategy from the game.” I completely agree. Here’s your chance to make your case. How do you feel about it?

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Defensively Speaking: Let’s Talk Defense

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

The Cubs’ pitching staff gets a lot of attention for pitching very well under pitching coach Chris Bosio; however, it’s been highly overlooked that defensively this team has been very good. One reason for this is the Cubs have (or had) a number of good defensive players but another reason is Dale Sveum’s defensive alignments. This is Sveum’s greatest strength by a wide margin, yet it’s something hard to notice without someone pointing it out to you. Sveum’s defensive alignments have not only improved the overall defense, but the pitching staff is the main benefactor of these shifts with nearly every starting pitcher seeing some of the best numbers in their career (minus the hit machine Edwin Jackson).

Looking at the defensive metrics you can see just how good the Cubs have been. The table should be pretty self explanatory, green is good, red is bad, darker is more extreme one way or the other and finally blue is average.

Quick Glossary:

UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating. Advanced Metric that uses play-by-play data to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution. Zero is average. The higher you are, the better. (via Baseball Info Solutions, can be found on FanGraphs)

TZR- Total Zone Rating. The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made with zero being set as average. (via BaseballProjection.com, can be found on baseball-reference)

DRS – Defensive Runs Saved. The number of runs above or below average the player was worth on the number of plays made with zero being set as average. (also Baseball Info Solutions, can be found on baseball-reference)

As you can see there’s some discrepancy depending on which stat you choose but that’s why it’s best to look at all of the information before making a conclusion. The Cubs have had 4 players clearly above average in Castillo, Rizzo, Barney, & Valbuena making up the majority of a very good infield. They’ve had a solid outfield with DeJesus, Soriano and Schierholtz taking the majority of the playing time. Ransom’s advanced metrics are solid, but the traditional counting stats are bad. Lake has struggled with his shift to the outfield, but that was a given considering he only played a handful of games in the outfield prior to his call up. That leaves Starlin Castro, who has been horrible both offensively and defensively almost all year. The one bright spot in Castro’s defense has been the lower error numbers. Only 15 on the year, a discernible improvement over previous years. Obviously, mental mistakes like the sac fly recently that got him benched don’t result in errors so that number is skewed a bit for all players, not just him.

Overall though, the Cubs are pretty good defensively and they have obviously been great with starting pitching, except Edwin Jackson who did have an exceptional month of July. With strong starting pitching and good defense the Cubs have had many close games. With the terrible offense, spurred by Castro’s struggles, Rizzo not taking a step forward, and injuries, the team has the potential for a quick turnaround next year if they can get the bullpen in order and some offensive improvement. The Cubs are the Cubs but everything points to next year being the first year under this regime that we’re competitive.


  • We saw the frustrating side of Jake Arrieta last night. Lacked command, gave up a lot of big hits, and was on the hook for the loss after surrendering 6 runs in only 4 IP with 4 BB, 5 hits and tallying 5 strikeouts.
  • The Cubs had a huge 5 run rally in the bottom of the 5th inning aided by a 2-run homer by Rizzo (his second of the night) and 4 straight singles by Schierholtz, Murphy, Bogusevic, and Gillespie; finally capped off by a Castillo sac fly.
  • Russell blew it in the 7th after giving up a near homer to Harper, an IBB, then Scott Hairston went deep. Shouldn’t of been in there vs all that RH hitting.

  • Ichiro got his 4,000th hit of his professional baseball career.
  • Jason Heyward got hit by a pitch in the face and had his jaw broken.  He’s going to miss all of the regular season and potentially the playoffs. Not much you can do as a hitter in that situation, but doesn’t it seem injures always find Heyward? This puts the Dodgers in the driver’s seat for the NL.
  • The MLB found no violation from Miguel Tejada in relations to their Biogenesis investigation, even though Tejada was linked to the company.  Tejada was suspended 105 games last week because he tested positive for amphetamine use. According to Tejada and the players’ union, he had a therapeutic use exemption that expired and while seeking an extension, he tested positive.
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Does Team “Chemistry” Really Matter?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

I’ve been thinking about this issue quite a bit lately. “Chemistry” is a word that one usually hears thrown around by fans of struggling teams. It seems, to me, like a convenient factor to point to when looking for reasons to blame for failures. What do we really know about “chemistry” as it relates to professional baseball?

Here’s a quote from Joe Torre, as quoted by Jim Caple “Winning creates chemistry more than the other way around. I’ve seen clubs that don’t necessarily like each other, but they respected each other once they got on the field, and that’s more important than being happy to go out to dinner with each other.” (Source) Ozzie Guillen (I know, I’m referencing Ozzie) said that chemistry follows winning, and clubhouse strife follows losing, not the other way around.

Caple, in the same article, references the 2002 National League Champion Giants – the team of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent (who were never accused of being great team guys). Caple quotes Jason Schmidt, who played for the Giants that season, and he provided a few gems:

“I’ve been on teams where there was one guy — and it wasn’t Barry — who made everyone miserable. But you’re not thinking about that when you’re on the field. Not at all. It’s a nonissue. I don’t really see how it affects the team’s play. Will you throw 95 instead of 90 because you’re happier in the clubhouse? Will you throw strikes?”

Since I’m writing this article, I guess I’ll give you my personal opinion. Most of us are not professional athletes, but most of us are a professionals of some sort that work as part of a “team” (however you want to define it), and we all know, anecdotally, that one’s work environment can affect your job performance and morale. So, I think there is probably something to “chemistry,” even if it can’t be quantified – but the question is, how much does it actually affect the bottom line of wins and losses? Moreover, is there any evidence, beyond our own personal anecdotes (which can’t be generalized to other situations, especially situations as unique as a pro baseball clubhouse), that “chemistry” makes any real difference in the end?

It seems that whatever bad “mojo” Bonds and Kent brought to the 2002 Giants was far outweighed by their production on the field (Schmidt’s quote indicates that he agrees). So, as much as we romanticize the idea of “chemistry” – and as much as it makes intuitive sense to us – I don’t think the evidence is there for us to focus upon it as the main reason for any team’s struggles or success. If a team were better on the field, they’d probably have better chemistry, and that’s probably the most important interaction between the two concepts.

I think a better approach would be to be more precise in our language. In my day job, I do quantitative and qualitative research, so I’m not just a numbers geek – numbers can tell us what is happening, but not always why. Since we’re dealing with human beings, there really are factors at play that help determine why we’re seeing a particular quantitative result, and it can differ greatly from person to person (morale, motivation, comfort-level, etc.. are all legitimate concerns). Guessing blindly about the interpersonal factors that are affecting a player without evidence seems counterproductive, though.

One of the most important things for digging beneath the surface of numbers to examine qualitative factors is to define terms clearly and precisely. The term “chemistry” is just ill-defined. What does it mean? It’s impossible to determine the effect of something when we don’t have a precise definition of it in the first place. For me, “chemistry” is right up there with TWTW (Hawk Harrelson’s “The Will to Win”), “bellyfire” and “grit.” It’s the old-school “gut feeling” approach to analysis that doesn’t really get us anywhere, but it can make us sound like we vaguely know what we’re talking about. I think we’d be better served to be more precise: what is actually happening, and what are the exact factors that may be contributing to a team’s (or an individual’s) performance? Even if we are just guessing, I think we’ll advance the conversation – and gain more insight – if we stick to precise, knowable concepts. I could go on – and I’ll probably return to this topic in the future – but you don’t want to spend an hour reading this post (thank you if you’ve stuck with me this far).

Aside: Speaking of research, here’s a terrible example. I came across a Psychology Today article attempting to determine the effect of “chemistry” on team performance. One of the factors they examined was how much a good manager could mitigate bad team chemistry. As a measure of manager effectiveness, they defined good managers as those that had won or had been named a finalist for the Manager of the Year award. Well, you can probably see the problem here: MOY winners and finalists are always from good teams! Of course bad chemistry wasn’t hurting those teams. Ugh, bad research, it makes me angry. Anyway, they used the Uptons as a test case (it was written before this season). Following their premise (that the Uptons are bad chemistry guys), chemistry doesn’t matter at all, since the Braves are crushing.


Do we really want to relive this game? The Cubs offense returned to their usual form, with the only runs coming off solo shots from Brian Bogusevic and Donnie “Babe Ruth” Murphy. The game was actually close until the ninth, when the Nationals put up two runs to make the game all but out of reach. Chris Rusin was banged around a lot, although he only gave up two runs in 5.2 innings. On the other side, almost-Cub Dan Haren pitched really well for D.C.. I think we’re going to see a ton of games like this one from here on out. Bring on the race for a better draft pick.

Follow Sean Powell on Twitter @powell_sean

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Interview With Jim Callis of Baseball America

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Jim Callis is the Executive Editor at Baseball America and you can follow him on twitter @JimCallisBA. In my opinion, he’s one of the most knowledgeable and more approachable guys in the industry and I am grateful he keeps giving me the opportunity to question him on all things related to the Cubs.

Q: Who are the top 5 Cubs prospects and in what order do you rank them? Which Cubs prospects are in the mix for next year’s top 100?

Callis: The top four prospects are pretty clear to me, though the order is debatable. I’d line them up like this: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler. At the time of the Matt Garza trade, I was willing to give Mike Olt a mulligan and put him at No. 5, but he has slumped even worse since the deal. Other candidates would be Dan Vogelbach, Arismendy Alcantara, Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards. I’ll go with Johnson.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about the Cubs potentially being a top 3 system going into next year. I believe you had the Cubs ranked 12th going into the season, where would you have the system ranked now after their recent acquisitions?

Callis: Hard to say exactly, because we don’t rank all the systems until we break them all down for the Prospect Handbook. The Cubs are definitely on the upswing for a variety of reasons: a number of players have stepped forward; they’ve acquired more prospects via trades without graduating anyone significant to the majors; they’ve had a strong summer on the draft and international fronts. I think they definitely rank in the upper quartile of systems and could see them in the top three.

Q: The front office decided they loved the international talent in this year’s market and didn’t let the new CBA rules stop them from signing everyone they wanted. They exceeded their pool to the amount that they will receive the maximum punishment of a 100% tax and no signings over 250K in next year’s International free agent market. What do you think of that strategy and the talent they acquired? These guys are so far off, do they even sniff BA’s preseason top 31 Cubs prospects?

Callis: I just wrote a column on this for the latest edition of our magazine. The strategy makes sense to me because the Cubs liked this year’s pool better than next year’s and essentially got two years’ worth of talent up front this year. The penalties aren’t as tough as they would be for draft overspending–the Cubs can’t sign anyone for more than $250,000 next year but they’ll still have their entire draft pool and can trade their slots they can’t really use, which will have value. Outfielder Eloy Jimenez and shortstop Gleyber Torres were our top two prospects in our July 2 ratings, so I bet they both make the Top 30 in the Handbook.

Q: For good and bad, which Cubs prospects have surprised you the most this year?

Callis: We had Arismendy Alcantara ranked pretty high (No. 10) on our preseason list, so I won’t say that his year has been much of a surprise. Christian Villanueva has taken a step forward with his power, which is a positive development. Rock Shoulders has had a nice little breakout, Shawon Dunston Jr. has taken some positive steps. Kyle Hendricks and Erik Jokisch continue to prove themselves at every level they go to. On the downside, I thought Brett Jackson might turn things around this year and he hasn’t. Tim Saunders’ strong 2012 debut looks more like a mirage now. And Arodys Vizcaino hasn’t been able to get back on the mound yet.

Q: I think most fans have unrealistic expectations for prospects. I completed a study last year on the success rates of first round picks from 1990-2007 and there’s other studies out there using similar methods with Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings in previous years and the results are not good. What kind of percentage do you think the Cubs top prospects have at being at least an everyday player, and also, what percentage would you put on them reaching their ceiling? (specifically the ones you feel will be in the top 100)

Callis: I do think there’s a lot of truth in that first statement–prospects miss a lot more than fans realize. I think the good news, though, with the Cubs’ top guys (Bryant, Baez, Almora, Soler) is that they are rated so highly (upper third of the Top 100, at least) and were drafted so highly (the three draftees all were top-nine picks) that their success rate should be a lot higher than everyone in an entire Top 100 or an entire first round. I don’t see anything right now that makes me think they all won’t be good everyday players. But to inject a little realism, one of them probably will fall by the wayside.

Q: There’s 2 names I feel obliged to ask about, Matt Szczur and Junior Lake. Szczur’s putting up another solid season this year at AA, and Lake hit the ground running with the big league team after posting the best numbers of his minor league career at Iowa. You tempered your Szczur expectations a bit last year and Lake you believed was the perennial tease who was not going to be an everyday regular- has your opinion changed on them any this season? What kind of future should fans expect from these guys?

Callis: I haven’t changed my opinion much on those guys. I still like Szczur more than most but I still think he’s more of a second-division regular or, on a contender, a fourth outfielder. Especially on the Cubs, I don’t see how he cracks a projected outfield of Almora in center and Bryant and Soler on the corners. Lake is off to a nice start in the majors but he’s also hitting .400 on balls in play and has a 28-5 K-BB ratio. I see him as more of a tools than skills guy, and there’s also no place for him in Chicago’s future outfield. His best position might be third base, but the Cubs are loaded there. I think the best case for the Cubs is that Lake plays well enough to where they could deal him for a pitcher.

Q: I recently wrote an in-depth scouting report on Baez; his contact problems and plate approach are very worrisome for me and I have him ranked 4th behind Soler, Bryant, and Almora because of that. I think he’s either going to figure it out and be a superstar or be a huge bust with no chance of anything in the middle. However, he’s turned it around rather quickly at AA, as he did at Daytona earlier this season. How do you feel about him? Can he succeed at the majors with his ultra aggressive approach that has worked thus far or will something have to give if he is going to become a major leaguer?

Callis: The lack of plate discipline is a concern, but I’d look at him as more unique than worrisome. Yes, he swings at everything and strikes out, but he’s also 20 and has hit 31 homers this year and done just fine in Double-A. His walk rate is actually improving as he moves up. He has yet to get to a level where pitchers have stopped challenging him, and he makes such hard contact when he connects that I think he can have a higher BAPIP than most. Right now, he looks to me like a .270 hitter with 30-plus homers in the majors who might be able to play shortstop. I’d have a hard time ranking him behind anyone besides Bryant in the system.

Q: Which prospect has the highest power potential out of Baez, Bryant, Soler, Olt, & Vogelbach and which is most likely to reach it?

Callis: I like Olt’s power but I don’t think he belongs in the same group as the others. The other four all have elite power potential. All of those guys have 40-homer upside. I think Baez and Bryant are the most likely to get to that point.

Q: The Cubs are still pretty weak in the pitching department but there are some interesting names and potential rotation pieces in the farm. What order would you put these pitchers in – Pierce Johnson, CJ Edwards, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Kyle Hendricks, Arodys Vizcaino, & Barret Loux – and what kind of potential do they have? Are there any other pitchers in the system that you’re high on?

Callis: Johnson, Edwards, Vizcaino (if he’s healthy, a huge if), Paniagua, Hendricks, Loux. Pitching is the Cubs’ biggest need right now, and they need a lot more in their system. I do like some of the guys they’ve drafted the last couple of years, such as Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Trey Masek and Tyler Skulina.

Q: The organization is very strong on the left side of the infield. What position do you think the following players will end up at and what kind of defensive ability will they have there?

Callis:

* Starlin Castro – I think he’s far from their best option at shortstop, but he’s already established there and I don’t see him moving. To me, he’s a 45 defender on the 20-80 scouting scale.

* Javier Baez – Think he could be a 50 defender at shortstop but will wind up as a 55-60 defender at third base.

* Arismendy Alcantara – Erratic at shortstop so he’s probably a 45 in the long run there, see him as a 50-55 at second base.

* Kris Bryant – Think he could be a 50 defender at third base but if Baez goes there, Bryant becomes a 50-55 corner outfielder.

* Mike Olt – Can be a 60 defender at third base but hard to see where he fits in Chicago’s lineup of the future right now.

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Embarrassing: Umpires, Manager, Shortstop

Monday, August 19th, 2013

If you missed the Cubs this weekend, you certainly missed controversy.

This actually happened.

Joe Torre (in charge of Major League Operations, On-Field Operations, On-Field Discipline and Umpiring) needs to act. Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi doesn’t need to be making that call; and if he does and the entire Cubs bench looks surprised and angry, would it really kill him to ask for help? It’s this behavior from officials that EVERY other major professional sport has successfully gotten under control. In basketball, football, and hockey you see officials huddle together when one of them has clearly butchered a call. But baseball is more like tennis – some crotchety old guy tyrannically interpreting the rules through his own faulty vision, insistent that he couldn’t possibly need help. If Cuzzi had bothered to consult Chris Guccione at first base, I’m still not sure they’d have gotten it right – that’s how bad umpires are these days, protecting one another until the bitter end. Not until the league starts making examples out of these guys (and I mean firing the worst of them – Angel Hernandez!) will any of them bother to change their ways. Just look at this list – you should only know a couple of those guys by name…instead I know at least a dozen of those guys simply because of an ignominious decision they’ve made at a crucial time. And many of them – like Cuzzi’s ridiculous call on Sunday – could’ve been avoided if umpires were just a little less ‘it’s us against the world’ all the time.

Because of Cuzzi’s absurd punchout, both Dale Sveum and James Russell were ejected on Sunday. I really wish more of the team had forced an ejection – Baseball Tonight will give a few minutes to the bad call, but the Cubs could’ve really put some momentum behind the umpire-hating if they’d gotten ejected en masse. Dale looked intent to get tossed though; but he was probably still sour from Saturday…

When this happened.

If you haven’t yet heard the commentary that accompanies the video that I linked to, you need to watch that. I think it’s the best explanation of exactly what happened on that play – again, terrible umpiring (in my opinion anyway, admittedly this is debatable). You don’t call the infield fly rule as the ball is falling into Castro’s glove in LF. As the announcer says in that piece, the ENTIRE Cubs team relaxed when Castro caught the ball because generally you don’t have to worry about advancing players on an infield fly. Embarrassing play, no excuse to let the guy score but can we please stop pretending as if this dramatically altered the course of the game? The Cubs didn’t score in this game. AT ALL.

You know what will affect winning? Regularly embarrassing your young talent at every chance. No idea what Dale thought he was accomplishing by yanking Castro from the game at the end of that half inning. It solves nothing, it teaches nothing. All it does it put the conversation right back on Castro’s shortcomings (perceived or otherwise); not usually a great tactic for inspiring and encouraging one of your best assets. This was not an Andruw Jones refusal to run hard to a catchable fly ball. And Castro’s response (as it has been EVERY single time something like this happens) was perfect; he takes full responsible, never says anything that sounds like a partial excuse. I thought pulling him from the game was a cowardly move. Exactly when has Dale stood up for Castro? He seems quite happy to throw him to the wolves whenever possible.

I’m of the opinion that a fair amount of Cubs fans just need a team pariah. And in the absence of someone who blossoms into the role like Sammy Sosa, someone who earns it right out of the gate like Milton Bradley, or someone who did a bit of both like Carlos Zambrano, Castro has ‘earned’ the role because basically he rubs people the wrong way. He swings at bad pitches, he has bad posture, he makes a mess of the routine. And for all of this, the 23-year-old is called lazy, disinterested, and a whole lot worse with regularity. Never mind that he has yet to make any excuse for one of these shortcomings, in fact he owns up to it so quickly, I think the media enjoys heaping it on him as quickly as possible (much like they did to Zambrano at times). I’d be curious to know how it’s all perceived by Soler, Almora, Baez, Bryant and the rest of the Cubs’ prospects…because personally, I don’t think there’s a place in baseball where the fans are setup for more unrealistic expectations of the future. I’d love to see Cub fans stop eating their young.


Ryan Dempster beaned A-Rod…who then propelled the Yankees to a come-from-behind win against the Red Sox.

Miguel Tejada says he was banned because MLB won’t give him a medical waiver for a doctor prescribed pill that he needs to take. (This is where Bud Selig tries to explain how Ryan Braun gets to negotiate the terms of his suspension, but Tejada can’t take something that a doctor says he needs…of course this would all shake out the same way if Selig had never owned the Brewers)

I’d be thrilled if I thought this kid would do any hard time…but he won’t.


State of the System

Bullpen

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Tony Zych

Bio: Zych attended St Rita High school in Chicago Illinois, he then attended the University of Louisville to continue on his baseball career. Finally the Cubs drafted Zych in the 4th round of the 2011 draft after trying to draft him in 2008 in the 46th round. Zych was finally coming home to Chicago to start his professional career with his hometown Cubbies. He measures at 6 foot 3 and 190 pounds according to baseballreference.com. In his first year in the Cubs organization, he split time with the Rookie League and the Boise Hawks. Zych’s numbers ended up being a 2.25 earned run average in four games pitched (three games finished) over his span with both clubs. He also registered an eight strikeout to three walk ratio in his first season in the Cubs organization.

2012-2013 Season: After showing success in the rookie league as well as Boise in the short season league the Cubs decided to move Zych to the High A Affiliate Daytona Cubs. Zych pitched in 27 games (24 Games Finished) over his Daytona tenure where he had an earned run average of 3.19 with 36 strikeouts in 36 and 2/3 innings. After registering similar success in the Florida St. League, Zych got the call-up to the Double A Affiliate the Tennessee Smokies. Zych’s number’s at the Double A level were not as encouraging as Daytona as he struggled to a 4.38 earned run average in 20 games. He did however register 28 strikeouts in 24 innings which was good for a better than one strikeout per innings. The 2013 season is where Zych finally broke out, Zych has pitched in 41 games (14 games finished) where his earned run average is below three (2.52 to be exact). He has pitched 50 innings which shows he has been a durable reliever for Double A Tennessee. Most likely Zych will finish out the year with the Smokies and hopefully get some playoff appearance with them and start next season with Triple A Iowa.

Sleeper Prospect- Trey Masek

Masek attended Texas Tech University where he started to make a name for himself with continuance of dominance against Big 12 opponents. This past June Masek was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 5th round of the 2013 amateur draft. Masek measures at 6 foot 1 and 185 pounds which is pretty close to the prototypical pitcher in today’s game. So far Masek has pitched in two different leagues for the Cubs this summer. He first went to Arizona to shake off some of the rest which the draft period attributes to. Masek’s stats with the Boise Hawks consist of 1.20 earned run average in 9 games where he struck out 18 in 15 innings pitched.

Masek was drafted as a starting pitcher but most likely will end up as a relief pitcher in the near future. With his work ethic and high baseball IQ i see no reason for failure at the big league level. Over time I can see Masek and Zych becoming the closers of the future for the Chicago Cubs. Masek will start next season at either Kane County (Low A) or Daytona Cubs (High A) depending on member involvement. In my mind Masek, has the potential to be very dominant in the pen, maybe not so much Miguel Cabrera but a decent OPS and slugging percentage never hurt a player.


by Joe Aiello

I decided to add this section to the morning posts because it’s important to give you, the reader, as much time away from work as possible during the day and the way to accomplish that is to not only make the posts longer, but to get them more interactive by starting a discussion. So with that, let’s get right to it with a topic that is sure to apply to both stat guys and scout guys.

When evaluating players, there are many things that people favor. Some like stats and believe you can make the majority of the decisions based on the numbers, whereas others say stats are helpful, but that it’s your eyes that need to be the guide. If we cater to both groups, I want to know what would be the most important thing you’re looking for.

For stat guys, if you were given one stat and one stat only that you could see on a player, which stat would you choose to use to evaluate pitchers and which would you use to evaluate hitters? Remember, you can’t see the player play and you can see no other numbers other than that one stat. Also, why do you choose the stat you do?

For the scout guys, what one tool do to most value when you see a batter hit and a pitcher pitch? If you’re scouting and somehow can only see one tool for the hitter, what would you most value? Why?

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