Archive for October, 2013

The 2013 Fielding Bible Awards

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

THE 2013 FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS have been officially announced. Six new players and three returning players have been deemed worthy of the honor of being named the best fielder at their position for the 2013 season.

Andrelton Simmons set a single-season record (since we started tracking Defensive Runs Saved in 2003) by saving 41 runs at shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. And Simmons had company breaking the record. Gerardo Parra saved 36 runs in right field for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. But with four more runs saved in center field and one run saved in left, Parra also had 41 total Defensive Runs Saved and joined Simmons with the highest runs saved performances on record. They were, without a doubt, the best fielders last year at their position, regardless of league. On top of those two, Carlos Gomez saved 38 runs for the Milwaukee Brewers playing center field. And Manny Machado had 35 runs saved for the Baltimore Orioles at third base. They, too, deserved singular recognition.

All four of those players were rewarded with their first Fielding Bible Awards. In addition, we chose Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks at first base and R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays at pitcher—both for the first time as well.

Repeat winners this year include Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox at second base (his second in three years), Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals in left field (his second in a row), and Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals at catcher (for an amazing sixth time).

A panel of 12 analysts, listed below—including Peter Gammons, Bill James, Joe Posnanski, and Doug Glanville—examined the 2013 seasons of every defensive player in Major League Baseball and then used the same voting technique as the Major League Baseball MVP voting. First place votes received 10 points, second place 9 points, third place 8 points, etc. A perfect score was 120.

One important distinction that differentiates THE FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS from most other baseball awards, such as the Gold Gloves, is that there is only one winner at each position instead of separate winners for each league. The goal of THE FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS is to stand up and say: “Here is the best fielder at this position in Major League Baseball last season.” Another key feature of the system is that it also recognizes the runners-up for each position. A complete record of the voting can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2014.

Here are the results of THE 2013 FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS:

Position Winner

Points

First Base Paul Goldschmidt

110

Second Base Dustin Pedroia

118

Third Base Manny Machado

120

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons

120

Left Field Alex Gordon

112

Center Field Carlos Gomez

119

Right Field Gerardo Parra

117

Catcher Yadier Molina

114

Pitcher R.A. Dickey

105

The Panel

  • Bill James is a baseball writer and analyst and the Senior Baseball Operations Advisor for the Boston Red Sox.
  • The BIS Video Scouts at Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) study every game of the season, multiple times, charting a huge list of valuable game details.
  • As the MLB Network on-air host of Clubhouse Confidential and MLB Now, Brian Kenny brings an analytical perspective on the game of baseball to a national television audience. He also won a 2003 Sports Emmy Award as host of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.
  • Dave Cameron is the Managing Editor of Fangraphs.
  • Doug Glanville played nine seasons in Major League Baseball and was well known for his excellent outfield defense. Currently, he is a baseball analyst at ESPN, primarily on Baseball Tonight, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.
  • The man who created Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Hal Richman.
  • Named the best sports columnist in America in 2012 by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, Joe Posnanski is the National Columnist at NBC Sports.
  • For over twenty-five years, BIS owner John Dewan has collected, analyzed, and published in-depth baseball statistics and analysis. He authored The Fielding Bible and The Fielding Bible—Volume II, and co-authored The Fielding Bible—Volume III.
  • Mark Simon has been a researcher for ESPN Stats & Information since 2002 and currently helps oversee the Stats & Information blog and Twitter (@espnstatsinfo). He is a regular contributer on baseball (often writing on defense) for ESPNNY.com and ESPN.com.
  • Peter Gammons serves as on-air and online analyst for MLB Network, MLB.com and NESN (New England Sports Network). He is the 56th recipient of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing given by the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America).
  • After nearly fifteen years with ESPN.com, Rob Neyer joined SB Nation as National Baseball Editor in 2011. He has written six books about baseball.
  • The Tom Tango Fan Poll represents the results of a poll taken at the website, Tango on Baseball (www.tangotiger.net). Besides hosting the website, Tom writes research articles devoted to sabermetrics.
  • Our three tie-breakers are Ben Jedlovec, vice president of Baseball Info Solutions and co-author of The Fielding Bible—Volume III, Dan Casey, veteran Video Scout at BIS, and Sean Forman, the founder of Baseball-Reference.com.

Complete results and voting on THE 2013 FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS are presented in The Bill James Handbook 2014, published on or before November 1 every year. For more information on THE FIELDING BIBLE AWARDS, visit www.fieldingbible.com.

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Offseason Series: Free Agency

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Free agency in Major League Baseball is one of the simpler issues we’ll deal with in this offseason series. Thankfully, it was also made significantly less complicated by the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect two off seasons ago.

The basics of free agency are that players with at least six years of Major League service time and are not otherwise under contract with a team are free agents. These players are free to sign with any team, and become free agents the day after the World Series ends.

The following 2013 Cubs will be free agents at that point: RHP Scott Baker, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Matt Guerrier, and C Dioner Navarro. OF Ryan Sweeney would have been a free agent as well, but the Cubs signed him to an extension earlier this month.

The wrinkles in free agency are the tender and free agent draft compensation systems, although these were simplified by the current CBA. Under the old CBA, a team could receive draft compensation for a player if he was rated a Type A or Type B free agent by Elias Sports Bureau. A player was a Type A free agent if he was one of the top 20 percent of players, and a Type B free agent and between 21 and 40 percent. To obtain draft pick compensation for a Type A or Type B free agent, the player’s current team had to offer arbitration to the player, he had to reject arbitration, and another team had to sign the player.

If the free agent was a Type A free agent, the signing team gave up a first round draft pick, unless their pick in the first round was in the first half of the next year’s draft. Then they would give up a second round pick. If the signing team previously signed a Type A free agent, and then signed a second Type A free agent, they would give up their pick in the next eligible round. So, for example, if a team with the fourth worst record in baseball signed two Type A free agents, it would lose its second and third round picks. However, if a team with the fourth best record in baseball did the same, it would lose its first and second round picks. Those draft picks would go to the team who lost the player to free agency, which would also gain a supplemental pick in a sandwich round in the first and second rounds. The Elias rankings determined the order of the picks in this sandwich round. In other words, the player that the Elias rankings thought was the best would garner the first pick in the sandwich round.

For Type B free agents, the signing team would not lose any draft picks. Instead, the team that lost the player to free agency received a supplemental draft pick in the aforementioned sandwich round, but behind the Type A free agents.

This system tied whether players would be tendered arbitration heavily to their value as compared to other players at their position, and to their arbitration award in their final year in arbitration. For example, a decent closer who made $6 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, but tallied enough saves to be labeled a Type A free agent, could be tendered arbitration. This would either let the pitcher’s team from the prior season keep him on a one year deal through arbitration, or get two high round draft picks as compensation.

Under the new system, the team that had the free agent the prior season must tender him a “qualifying offer”: a one year contract for at least the average annual value of the 125 most expensive contracts in baseball to obtain draft compensation for a departing free agent. For this offseason, a qualifying offer will be a one year, $14 million deal. However, teams can only obtain draft pick compensation for players they controlled for the entire preceding season. For example, the Texas Rangers cannot obtain draft pick compensation for Matt Garza, who they picked up from the Cubs in July. But the Cincinnati Reds can obtain draft pick compensation for Shin-Soo Choo, who they traded for last offseason and was on the Reds for the entirety of 2013.

After being tendered a qualifying offer, the player has 7 days to decide if he wants to accept the qualifying offer. If he accepts the tender, he agrees to the one year, $14 million deal. If he does not, he is a free agent.

The team that signs a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer will give up a draft pick. If the team has one of the first ten picks in the draft, it will lose its second round pick. If the team does not have one of the first ten picks in the draft, it will lose its first round pick. As with the old system, if a team signs a second player who was tendered a qualifying offer, it will give up its pick in the next eligible round.

However, the team losing the free agent won’t get the pick the signing team gave up, instead getting a pick in a sandwich round between the first two rounds. Also, as there is no ranking of the free agents, the draft order is decided by which free agents are signed first. For example, both Robinson Cano and Carlos Beltran are pretty likely (guaranteed in Cano’s case) to be tendered one year, $14 million contracts, which at least Cano is guaranteed to reject, and Beltran is somewhat likely to. No one would argue that Beltran is a better player than Cano at this stage in their careers. But if Beltran signs with a team aside from the Cardinals on November 30 and Cano signs with a team aside from the Yankees on December 1, the Cardinals would get an earlier pick in the sandwich round than the Yankees.

How This Affects the Cubs

The Cubs aren’t losing much in free agency this season, with the biggest loss being backup catcher Dioner Navarro. Navarro was fantastic at the plate last season, and will likely try to turn his strong 2013 into a 2014 starting gig. Considering the defensive and OBP strides that Welington Castillo made last season, combined with his low, controlled cost, the Cubs are unlikely to be able to offer Navarro anything close to a starting job, and I doubt they will be able to bring him back.

Matt Guerrier and Kevin Gregg are both gone. Guerrier was a salary for salary dump in the Carlos Marmol trade, and was never expected to come back, even before suffering a major injury at the end of the season. Regarding Gregg, the Cubs appear to want to give Pedro Strop the opportunity to close in 2014, while Gregg might try to parlay a decent, but likely better in his mind than reality, season, into another shot to close somewhere else. On top of that, Gregg clashed with Cubs management in a pretty public way at the end of this season, making it even less unlikely the Cubs desire his services.

Baker had decent results in his return from Tommy John surgery at the end of the season, but awful peripherals. The Cubs might look to bring him back, but I would be surprised if it would be on anything more than a split contract, which would start as minor league deal but allow Baker to exit the contract by, say, April 30, if he isn’t on the Major League roster.

As far as adding players through free agency, the Cubs’ first round draft pick (fourth overall) is protected. However, I still find it unlikely that the Cubs will sign anyone they would have to give their second round pick up to get, unless they decide to get in on the bidding for a Cano, Ellsbury or Choo. I think it is unlikely the Cubs end up as serious bidders for any of those three, all of whom are likely to sign contracts for at least 5 years and very close to $100 million. I could see them in on a whole host of players who aren’t tendered contracts, though, from Carlos Beltran types (older former stars who might cost more money than the players the Cubs have signed recently, but likely won’t need more than 2 year contract), to the David DeJesus/Scott Feldman/Nate Schierholtz/Paul Maholm signings they’ve made over the past two seasons.

If the Cubs are going to go big after someone, I’d bet on Choo. I know a lot of people like to connect the Epstein/Hoyer front office to Ellsbury because of the Boston ties, but Ellsbury’s best asset (speed) is one that has a tendency to fade quickly as a player proceeds through his 30s. Choo is a .400 OBP hitter with solid power, which the Cubs could desperately use. I have a feeling the bidding is going to get too high for the Cubs on a guy with an injury history who should only play left field and struggles against same handed pitching, but that would be my bet.

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Cubs Valuation: Is It Right?

Friday, October 25th, 2013

In the past we’ve heard about the value of the Cubs and other MLB teams from Forbes, but now Bloomberg has released its own financial rankings list and the Cubs come in at $1.32 Billion. Is that right? Does it sound too high or too low? It’s hard to tell, and since their financial situation didn’t sound so rosy 2 months ago it might be the morale boost that the team needs.

The Cubs come in 5th on the valuation list and apparently they do not yet exploit the media opportunities that are available to them. This means that they could be worth even more in the future, and when their WGN-TV contract expires at the end of the 2014 season they can cash in on other, better offers before the expiration of the CSN Chicago deal expires in 2019. There is a lot of money to be made if the Cubs can kick up their attendance levels, find a good coach and enjoy sustained success. At the moment this ranking is really good for the team’s confidence and it’s kind of the baseball equivalent of hitting the jackpot at iPadcasino.ca as the rewards can change player’s lives in the future.

According to Bloomberg the average valuation of teams in the MLB is around $1 billion, with 10 teams topping that figure by a substantial amount. This is 35% higher than previous estimates but it may in fact be accurate when you look at the stats. Finally MLB teams are catching up to NFL valuation figures and it’s about time that the values where equalized. If valuations continue to increase and the Cubs manage to stay in the top 5 I’ll be a happy camper, and I know I’m not the only one.

So, if this is the right valuation for the Cubs and they are 5th on the list whose at number 1? No surprise here, the New York Yankees took the top spot and where valued at $3.3 billion. They are the kind of franchise most MLB teams try and emulate, and considering the Cubs are only 4 spots away we think that’s a pretty good result. Now the question is, can they do better?

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these new valuations.

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Friday Nuggets

Friday, October 25th, 2013

  • Bloomberg put together an awesome interactive article related to the value of major league baseball franchises. The Cubs are in fifth place in overall value behind, in order, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Mets, and ahead of the Giants (the Orioles are listed as the seventh most valuable franchise – I would have NEVER guessed that). This is a great piece that lets you explore how teams compare to each other on a variety of metrics, including all sources of incoming and outgoing revenue. The area in which the Cubs fall short in relation to other incoming revenue areas is in “sponsorship” – which may make it easier to understand why the Cubs are busy trying to maximize the value of signage and other ad potential at Wrigley Field.
  • Cubs farmhand (acquired in the Matt Garza trade) C.J. Edwards was named MiLB.com’s Pitcher of the Year (that’s considering all pitchers at all levels in the minors – pretty awesome). If you don’t know much about Edwards, you’ll probably find yourself rooting hard for the kid after reading this profile on him.
  • Someone is suing the City of Chicago and Cubs-affiliated entities over the proposed hotel-on-Wrigley-property construction.
  • The Cardinals lost Game 1 of the World Series, and of course they’re complaining that Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester cheated. You can judge the evidence in question for yourself over at Hardball Talk.
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The Offseason Schedule

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

With the World Series about to start in just a few days, the offseason is right around the corner. A couple of months ago, Joe and I discussed how the Major League offseason contains some vagaries that many fans don’t completely understand. From the way free agency works, to the arbitration system, to exactly how the Rule 5 draft works, the offseason procedure isn’t exactly transparent. I thought starting with the basic schedule would be helpful, and the timing works right now, as the start of the MLB offseason is tied to the end of the World Series.

Right After World Series: Eligible Article XX(B) players become free agents. XX(B) players are what are thought of as “standard” free agents. They have more than 6 years of service time and are beyond team control.

Fourth Day After World Series: Last date to request waivers on Draft-excluded players until next spring. My understanding is that “Draft” being referenced is the Rule 5 draft.

Fifth Day After World Series: (1) Last date to reinstate players from 60-day disabled list; (2) last date to outright potential Minor League free agent without Major League contract, if permissible; (3) last date for former club to tender qualifying offer to XX(B) players; (4) Minor League players become free agents at 5 p.m. ET, if applicable.

Sixth Day After World Series: XX(B) and Minor League free agents may sign with all clubs.

Twelfth Day After World Series: Last date for XX(B) players to accept qualifying offer from former club.

November 10, 2013: Outright waivers secured on or after September 1 expire at 5 p.m. ET.

November 11, 2013: New waiver period begins.

November 11-13, 2013: GM/Owners Meetings.

November 18, 2013: Last date to ask outright waivers on an injured player, if permissible.

November 20, 2013: (1) Last date to outright an injured player to the Minor Leagues, if permissible; (2)reserve lists for all Major and Minor League levels filed.

December 2, 2013: Tender deadline for arbitration eligible players.

December 5, 2013: Last date to request outright waivers to assign player prior to Rule 5 Draft.

December 9, 2013: Last date to outright a player prior to Rule 5 Draft.

December 9-12, 2013: Winter Meetings.

December 12, 2013: Rule 5 Draft.

February 2014: Arbitration Hearings.

At the least, I plan on covering free agency (including free agent tenders), arbitration, the winter meetings, and the Rule 5 Draft. I’ll also cover how we can expect these items to affect the Cubs this offseason. However, if there are any particular items you find interesting, please leave them in the comments and we’ll see if we can expand this series to cover them.

Oh, also, on this World Series Eve: Booo Cardinals! Booo! The actual language I’d like to use is a bit more colorful, but this is a family friendly website.

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Friday News & Notes

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Friday Notes

  • “Asia’s Heartbeat,” Arirang News (“Arirang,” by the way, is the title of a traditional Korean folk song) reports that the Cubs could be one of the favorites to land Korean RHP Suk-Min Yoon, a 27-year-old who probably projects to be a reliever in MLB. He’s young and has had some success in Korea, so he would be an intriguing target for the Cubs. He doesn’t appear to be the caliber of pitcher that the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is, though.
  • Dave Martinez interviewed for the Cubs’ managerial gig yesterday. His work with Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay seems to be his strongest résumé bullet. I won’t go into the rumors regarding the situation with Martinez and Ryne Sandberg’s wife, because you can read it on virtually every other page on the internet. It looks like the next Cubs manager is going to be one of Martinez, Renteria, Acta, or Hinch.
  • Daniel Bard – the once-awesome reliever that the Cubs picked up off waivers from the Red Sox – will pitch for the Puerto Rican Winter League. If he can reclaim even 80% of his old form, it will be a great pickup for the Cubs.
  • WGN Radio is taking the option to renegotiate their deal with the Cubs. Like many Cubs fans, I have a special, nostalgic place in my heart for WGN (both radio and TV). Apparently, WGN Radio is losing money on Cubs games, so they’d like to start paying less for them. Maybe this opens the door for other stations.

Discuss

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Step 2- Have a plan

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

With the World Series coming up next week, Cubs fans can only watch with spite for another year. 105 seasons to be exact since the last time the Chicago Cubs won the holy grail of baseball.  I wish I could talk to someone who was alive then that could describe that feeling; too bad that won’t happen.

The Cubs are deep in the process of rebuilding and have a plethora of talent on the way to the majors.  There is exceptional quality when it comes to position players, and depth to boot too.  While there might not be a diamond on the farm when it comes to pitching, there are a lot of rocks that are being polished in to jewels.  You’ll remember the Cubs Way was introduced when Theo and Jed took over the reigns.  Here is what I would like to see.

Most of the successful teams continue to see a variety of young pitchers sprout out of their farms each year.  They consistently groom and develop pitchers that were scouted to be average to slightly above average in to something much shinier and effective.  Call me pessimistic but there must be some thing that is preventing the Cubs from doing this very same thing.

Throughout the years, the Cubs most prized pitching stars have seen their arms completely fall off.  This was from a combination of bad managing and bad luck.  Last year saw a turn for the better with our young pitchers, Smardzjia and Wood, taking a step forward in their development.  The issue is that the Cubs need more in place during their farm development to prepare the young guns for the majors.

Much can be said about having a plan.  Yet, to follow through with a plan is the key part to seeing sustained success.  I believe with addition of Minor League Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson, the Cubs have found someone who can create a plan that drives sustained success.  The key here is to making sure that all of the minor league pitching coaches are on the same page.  The plan must be implemented through all six stops of system.  Johnson can’t be in six places at one time and will need coaches following a consistent and similar guide to develop our young pitchers.

There may be a plan in place now that is being used.  Unfortunately, to this point the Cubs have not seen results.

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Getting to 90 Wins. In 2014.

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

For most of the Wild Card Era, 90 wins has been the magic number in the National League. If your team tallied 90 wins, it was almost certain to make the playoffs. Over recent history, the only 90 win National League team not to make the postseason was the 2010 San Diego Padres. In the 2 years of the expanded Wild Card, the most wins a team who has not made the playoffs out of the National League is 86.

But 90 should be viewed as the magic, shoe in number. Which leads to the question of how the Cubs, a 66 win team in 2013, could add 24 wins in 2014?

 Step One: Better Luck

The Cub’s Pythagorean Record, a measure of what a team’s expected record based upon a team’s run differential, was 71-91. Cubs players accumulated 27.4 fWAR (FanGraphs version of WAR) and 25.9 rWAR (Baseball Reference’s version) in 2013. In other words, WAR would have expected the Cubs to win 73 or 74 games. But why did the Cubs only win 66? Whether it’s luck, decision making, a lack of “clutch” performances, or randomness, the ball did not bounce the Cubs way on certain elements that are not predictors of future success. It would require a near miracle for the 2014 Cubs to compete without at least performing to their WAR and Pythagorean Record. So the first thing the Cubs will need is getting those games that those measures say they should have won into the win column. We’ll use the the middle number of the three, 73 wins, for the sake of simplicity. That leaves us with 16 more wins to find through improved performances.

 Step Two: The Young Hitters Improving

 What was the worst thing about 2013? For me, it was Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Darwin Barney combining for just 1.9 fWAR. Without the Cubs getting more production for the shortstop, first base and second base positions, getting to 90 wins in 2014 will be impossible.

 So let’s have some reasonably optimistic predictions: (1) Starlin Castro returns to his 2011 and 2012 value and puts up 3 WAR, for a 3 win improvement over 2013. (2) Rizzo has a BABIP rebound but only marginal other improvements and is a 3 win player, good for a 1.5 win improvement over 2013; (3) Barney has a BABIP rebound and at least isn’t a black hole on offense, with his defense propelling him back to a 2 win player, a 1.5 win improvement.

That gets us 6 more wins, bringing us to 79. 11 more to go.

Step Three: A Better Bullpen

The Dale Sveum led Cubs suffered from some truly awful bullpen pitching, particularly in the early parts of both seasons. Even with the improved bullpen in the second half of 2013, the Cubs bullpen tallied a miserable -0.2 fWAR for the season, although that was largely due to three pitchers: Carlos Marmol, Shawn Camp, and Kameron Loe (combined for -1.8 fWAR). Baseball Reference was slightly more charitable to Cub relievers as a whole, giving them 1 win. However, as Baseball Reference’s pitcher WAR is based on ERA and FanGraphs is based on FIP, I have found that FanGraph’s WAR is a better predictor of future performance.

 At -0.2 fWAR, the Cubs’ bullpen was tied with the Padres for the second worst in baseball, ahead of only the Houston Astros (who were so bad that they were 5 wins worse than the Cubs and Padres).

I’m aiming for realistic expectations here, so let’s aim for a league average bullpen. In 2013, the median relief core tallied 3.7 fWAR. We’ll just round up and say the Cubs would need a bullpen who could post a 4 win year.

 Could the Cubs’ current core of relief pitchers do this? Sure. Pedro Strop and Blake Parker, who are likely to see significant innings out of the bullpen in 2014, posted a combined 1.5 fWAR in partial seasons with the Cubs, with some peripherals that should continue to play well in the Majors. And bullpens are notoriously unpredictable from one year to the next, sometimes with good results, sometimes with bad results.

 In other words, I can’t tell you exactly how the Cubs’ bullpen will get to four wins. Unfortunately, I forgot my crystal ball at the condo in the city when I moved out to the suburbs. What I can tell you is that the Cubs almost certainly won’t be good enough in 2014 to get to 90 wins with a bad bullpen sabotaging half the season. A 4 win bullpen would get them to 83 wins.

 Step Four: Jeff Samardzija Taking The Next Step

 When I look at the fWAR of the Cubs’ starting pitchers, I’m honestly not seeing much room for improvement from what the Cubs averaged in the rotation in 2013. The Cubs didn’t have a black hole in the rotation or an exceptional performer, since fWAR’s use of FIP both regressed Travis Wood (negatively) and Edwin Jackson (positively) to their expected performance based upon their peripherals. According to FanGraphs, Wood was a 2.8 win pitcher and Jackson was a 2 win pitcher.

The Cubs’ ranked 20th in starting pitcher fWAR in 2013, but another 2 wins above replacement would have tied them with the Reds at number 14. Based on the Cubs’ current roster, I only see one place where those 2 extra wins could come from: Jeff Samardzija.

After starting out hot in 2013 (3.34 ERA, 9.53 K/9, 2.94 BB/9) Samardzija struggled mightily in the second half (5.47 ERA, 8.43 K/9, 3.68 BB/9). Samardzija was a 2.8 fWAR pitcher, Samardzija has the talent to be a 4 to 5 fWAR pitcher. We’ll be conservative and say 4, which gets us one extra win and to 84 wins.

Step Five: Avoiding Black Holes

 The Cubs also desperately need to avoid positions that contribute negative value. For the most part, I’ve already discussed these, as the Cubs’ biggest black holes were shortstop, second base and the bullpen. But there was one other spot that was a big gap: the right handed parts of certain platoons. Well, specifically the platoons in the outfield in the first half of the season, although if you’d told me before the season that Donnie Murphy and Cody Ransom would combine to be a solid right handed portion of a third base platoon, I’d have thought you were a crazy person.

Dave Sappelt was just bad in his shot to nail down the right handed part of the center field platoon. Scott Hairston just ran into bad luck, as he hit for power but had a crazy low .129 BABIP. Combined they were worth -1.1 fWAR. If they were able to flip that to a positive 1, that gets us to 85 wins. We’re five away. But wait…

 Step Six: Regression of Good 2013 Performances

 I’m a Welington Castillo believer. While defensive stats aren’t as refined as their offensive or pitching counterparts, the scouting reports also have him pegged as an elite defensive catcher.  I think his 3.2 fWAR in 2013 is real. But Dioner Navarro (1.7 fWAR) was the best backup catcher in baseball last season, and that person usually plays himself into a starting role the next year. The odds of the Cubs getting a similar performance from their backup catcher is… well, unlikely. So let’s take a win off for that. We’re back down to 84.

 The Cubs’ pitchers also hit like crazy, at least for pitchers, this season. You can’t rely on that continuing. Take a win off for that, and we’re down to 83.

 Step Seven: So…..

 This is the Cubs’ WAR per position for 2013:

Catcher: 5.0
First Base: 1.6
Second Base: -0.5
Third Base: 3.2
Shortstop: -0.1
Left Field: 3.4
Center Field: 4.4
Right Field: 0.6
Starting Pitcher: 10.0
Relief Pitcher: -0.2

We’ve maxed out expected contributions from current roster members, or from the sort of free agents the Cubs can be expected to pick up for 2014. Even if the Cubs picked up Shin Soo Choo to play left field (which is where he should be playing), there’s no guarantee he’d do any better than what the Cubs had in that position in 2013.

So what would need to happen for the Cubs to get 90 wins? I would say at least two of the following three things would have to happen.

1) At least one of the players on the current MLB roster who has the potential to become a star (Rizzo, Castro, Samardzija), has to become one.

2) One of the big time prospects who could debut in 2014 (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara) has to hit the Majors, and become an instant star.

3) Adding a David Price or Giancarlo Stanton type through a trade.

The End Result

Getting to 90 wins on true talent is going to be rough, and highly unlikely. Just as the Cubs underperformed their Pythagorean Record in 2013, they’ll likely need to outperform it in 2014 to compete. But I’d look at 2014 this way: even if the Cubs are only mediocre at best, if Rizzo, Castro and Samardzija take the steps forward I’m hoping, and the big time prospects largely continue to excel, I’ll be a decently happy camper.

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Do Managers Matter?

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Happy Friday, fellow Viewers!

I wrote in August about the concept of team “chemistry,” and whether that nebulous concept had in bearing on baseball team performance. In this post, I’m going to look at a separate but related issue that’s a hot topic of late: the manager’s effect on the W/L record.

A few studies have examined the effect of the manager on team performance, and the results have been mixed.  An analysis by Smart and Wolfe (2003) found that managers accounted for a little more than 1% of the variance in team wins, although their operationalization of “leadership” may have been too narrow. For a really thorough look at the managerial effect, check out Chris Jaffe’s (The Hardball Times) book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008. It’s worth a read, but essentially Jaffe’s analysis breaks-down to this: managers are very hard to evaluate on an isolated basis. Managers cannot be separated from their team environments, and it’s that interaction between person and environment that matters most. Context is key. In Jaffe’s words: “Managers are first and foremost managers of men.  Managing the game is only a secondary job function.” He believes that a manager, alone, accounts for maybe a couple of wins a year, although the effect of a manager could be more than that in a given situation – again, it’s all about environment.

Here’s an interesting bit from an SI.com article from Cliff Corcoran. “It’s interesting to note, however, that Cliff’s 2006 study did make one relatively firm conclusion regarding the impact of certain in-game decisions. ‘Only six times in thirty-three years has any manager used sacrifice attempts, stolen base attempts, and intentional walks to increase his team’s win expectation over an entire season. Even the best managers cost their team more than a game per season by employing these tactics. At worst they can cost a team three games per season.’ Over multiple seasons, no manager employed those tactics for a positive effect.” This seems to support the idea that the manager’s most important job is managing the players: the manager’s in-game strategy (the subject of rabid ire by fans on blogs) seems to have little impact on team record. As Cliff notes (pun not intended): “That supports the belief that the best baseball manager is one with a strong roster who is smart enough to let his players play and stay out of the way.” In football, a coach like Chip Kelly is directly involved with every one of his teams offense plays, since he calls each play in real time in reaction to the game context. Even in basketball, Phil Jackson could yell “Scottie” and position players and call plays and defenses during the game. If you’re a baseball manager, when your guy is in the box or on the mound, you’re a spectator just like the rest of us.

I think that’s the key thing to remember: successful managers tend to be those that have good players, and managers with poor records tend to have weak rosters.  Let’s be honest – if we could pencil-in the ’27 Yankees starting lineup every night, most of us could probably at least manage them to the playoffs. On the other hand, not even Joe McCarthy (who is, according to Jaffe, the undisputed best manager of all time) could have managed the 2013 Cubs to a winning record. I’m not saying that dropping Sveum was the wrong move – I’m just saying that we can’t blame him for the Cubs poor record this year. It was a bad roster.

I was in an annoying “conversation” earlier in the season with some folks on Twitter who insisted that we could have been a playoff team this season if only Ryno was the manager. Yes, I know, that’s absurd. The reason given was “I’ve never seen the Peoria Chiefs play better than when he was manager.” Um…yeah…I’m just going to leave that out there with no further comment.

So, what should the Cubs be looking for in the next manager? Well, as Bill James said,  “the only indispensable quality for a manager to have is the respect of the players.” Since managers tend to have more of an effect by allotting playing time properly, motivating players, creating a positive work environment, and generally staying out of the way, the Cubs should (and I trust will) look for a manager that manages “men” first – and whose philosophy of player development aligns with that of the front office. As we’ve seen, the in-game strategies of any given manager don’t seem to matter that much over the long haul.

So, to address the question, do managers matter? Well, it’s hard to say – it’s a complex issue, and it’s very difficult to tease out exactly what factors are due to one manager vs. another. If the players respect him and feel comfortable playing for him, he’s probably going to be as good as anyone else. In baseball, the general manager is greater than the manager, so I’m going to be much more interested in who’s actually on the field for the Cubs going forward.

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