Archive for January, 2014

Super Bowl Predictor System

Friday, January 31st, 2014

by John Dewan

After correctly predicting the Super Bowl winner 90 percent of the time over a 20-year period, the Super Bowl Predictor System is ready for mothballs.

Why is that?

Just like many of you, I am a fan of a specific team. I haven’t missed a Chicago Bears game since the start of Walter Payton’s career. In January of 2007 the Bears were going to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl Predictor System said the Bears were an overwhelming favorite. The Chicago media was all over this.

Except, Peyton Manning had something to say about it. Despite an opening kickoff return for a touchdown by the Bears’ Devin Hester, Manning led the Colts to an upset victory.

I should have quit while I was ahead. That Bears Super Bowl launched a performance slump where the Predictor System has missed five of the last seven Super Bowls. The overall record of the system is down to a 64 percent success rate. Not horrible, but with its recent record, here’s what I have to say: Sayonara.

For those of you who still want to know what the system says, it says that Manning is going to lose again. But I ain’t gonna bet against him a second time. The Seahawks won 7 of the 12 predictors, with two going to the Broncos, and three ties. The details:

Category

Win%

Team with Advantage

Points Scored

.553

Broncos

Points Allowed

.617

Seahawks

Point Differential

.617

Broncos

Fewer Net Passing Yards

.596

Seahawks

Rushing Yards

.532

Seahawks

Rushing Yards/Carry

.553

Seahawks

Opponent Net Passing Yards

.553

Seahawks

Opponent Rushing Yards

.596

Tie

Opponent Rushing Yards/Carry

.574

Tie

Opponent Total Yards/Game

.638

Seahawks

Turnover Differential

.574

Seahawks

Regular Season Record

.532

Tie

For old times sake, here’s how the system is designed to work. Each of the 12 predictors predicts the Super Bowl winner correctly 53 percent to 64 percent of the time. When taken together they have a greater success rate. However, now for the first time since we started the system, there is one stat that is just as successful as the 12 indicators put together. It’s Fewer Opponent Total Yards, which has predicted the winner 30 out of 47 times (64 percent). This too suggests that the Seahawks, the better defensive team, are going to win.

I’m picking the Broncos.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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For The Love Of The… Game?

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Baseball is a wonderful sport and I know that everyone who reads this blog agrees on that (well, maybe it’s questionable whether a few of you like anything, but I digress). This offseason has been long and unforgiving, and depending on your involvement in the happenings (or non-happenings) of the Theo and Jed regime, you have probably experienced a lot of angst as well.

The idea of feeling angst about baseball in the offseason is something that is relatively new to me. You see, before sabermetrics were the trend, before prospects were analyzed to death, and before the rooftops had seats on them, before Twitter was a thing, baseball was just… baseball. It was an escape from the real world – a place where a person could go to get wrapped up in chalk lines, the popping sounds of bats hitting balls, and the snap of the catcher’s mitt when it received 95 MPH fastball.

If a minor-leaguer made his debut people got excited, but poring over his stats in AA against lefties on Sundays versus his AAA stats against a 12-6 curve on Wednesdays was left to the scouts and player development people. Sure, some regular fans my have had a vested interest in prospects, but what mattered to most was the experience of the game. Baseball was heaven on a plot of grass or sand.

The pure, unadulterated love of baseball ran through the veins of fans. They heckled the players they disliked, they lauded the players they loved. People didn’t pick favorites based on WAR, wRC+, UZR, etc, etc. They picked their favorites based on players which helped the team win; because, you know, baseball was a team sport. It took all 9 guys working together to win a game.

But somewhere between then and now the pure love for baseball has been lost in the controversy of the Steroid Era, the recent surfacing of sabermetrics as the “end-all be-all” for a player, the enormous contracts and no-trade clauses, and the growing impatience of the Cubs’ fan base. Arguing with strangers on the internet about frivolous details strips joy out of the sport and makes enemies of people who would normally have been friends (Thanks, Twitter. You jerk!). Civil discussions about have turned into personal attacks.

When baseball season rolls around, everyone needs to attend a local Little League game, and I’m not talking Little League World Series craziness. I’m talking about local kids playing a game. Watch the passion on the boys’ (and sometimes girls’! You go, girls!) faces. Observe the effort they put into every play they make, how they encourage and cheer for each other, how they hustle on and off the field in anticipation of how they can contribute to their team in the next half-inning.

Those kids don’t get paid. They don’t know what WAR or UZR mean. They just play baseball.

That is what baseball should be – pure desire to play a game they love.

What’s so bad about loving baseball without all the extra stuff?

 

 

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It’s A Long 162 Games…..

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Did you know the Cubs are on the precipous of a monumental occasion?

Five straight losing seasons will be quite a feat, even for the Cubs.  Take a guess how long it has been…..your probably thinking, “Oh it just happened yesterday, right? Didn’t we lose for an entire decade once?”  Yah, we did, it was called the 50′s (it was actually the ten years between 1953 and 1963.)  The losing in the 50′s and early 60′s got so bad it brought about the idea of the “College of Coaches“, which ranks itself near the top as one of the worst ideas in the history of the sport.  Since then, no Cub team has registered a losing record for longer than four straight seasons*.

*Note- I left out the streak from 1979 -1983 as 1981 was strike shortened.

Since that glorious time, Cub fans got a repreave from the typical loveable losing ways, at least once every five years.  Now, here we sit.  I am pretty sure anybody with a baseball marble in their head will consider the upcoming 2014 Cubs season a wash.  Just like 2013, the prospects are not ready and the retreads will run the show until the golden geese are good and set to take the stage.  If the Cub conventions of the last two years are any indication, we as fans are supposed to hold our allegiance out for the future generation of players, and the remake of the landmark known as Wrigley Field.

That’s 810 games of losing.  No, they don’t lose them all, but when you don’t even sniff competing for five years, that’s what it feels like.  How many times over the last four seasons have you watched the Cubs win and felt a genuine sense that the team was good? Even when they win during this fine stretch of futility, I feel like they are losing.

Herein lies my biggest gripe with baseball.  It’s such a long damn commitment when your team is no good.  Each game, after a certain point of losing in a season, becomes meaningless.  Sometime in August I begin to wonder how professional broadcasters can stand sitting in the booth and calling the games.  Then I remember, that’s right, they get paid to do this.

If you can’t tell, I am having trouble getting excited for the 2014 season.  Rebuilding in baseball is a brutal task and I have never seen a front office do it with such malice towards fans.  It’s as if every day they’re looking at the fanbase and saying, “Just enjoy the beautiful history of Wrigley Field and the quasi-professional product we are rolling out there at a blue light special price tag, oh and don’t forget to sample a beer for $6″. I have also been wondering who I should back for the series with bwin.

What they are really saying is take your medicine, because this is the only way out.  I believe in what they are doing, but I don’t have to enjoy it.  Being a fan of a major market team should have its perks, and one of those is not having to eat a main course consisting of potatoes and bread when there is enough money in your wallet for a steak and then some.

The sad thing is, I don’t see us competing in 2015, like many at one time felt would be a realistic goal.  2016 anyone?

 

 

 

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The Fallen: Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Arodys Vizcaino Edition

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Over the past two seasons, the Cubs acquired two former top fifty prospects in a trade for a veteran starting pitcher. One is third baseman Mike Olt, who we discussed last week, and the Cubs received in the Matt Garza trade. The other is right handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, who the Cubs received in return for Paul Maholm in mid-2012.

The Heights: As a 20 year old in 2011, Vizcaino pitched across three levels of the minors, High A through Triple A, and had a cup of coffee in the Majors. At every level but High A, he was very young compared to his competition. He excelled in the minors, pitching for a 3.06 ERA over 97 minor league innings in 26 appearances, 17 of which were starts. He also made 17 relief appearances in the Majors, and at least did not embarrass himself with a 4.67 ERA. Prior to the 2012 season, he was Baseball America’s number 40 prospect in baseball. The highest ranking he achieved was the 14th best prospect in baseball, which came from Keith Law. With three solid or better offerings, headlined by a 92-96 mph fastball and including a solid curveball and change up, Vizcaino has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.

The Depths: Vizcaino’s depths are a bit different than the other Cubs’ fallen prospects because he has not played since 2011, and his issues solely relate to injuries. Many in baseball were always concerned about Vizcaino’s durability, even at the height of his minor league success, and Vizcaino injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training in 2012. Rehab setbacks kept him from pitching in 2013, although he participated in the instructional league over the fall, and reportedly is healthy and looks good. It is worth noting, though, that barring a significant injury that kept Vizcaino off the mound, it is unlikely that the team would say anything else.

Best Case Scenario: Vizcaino goes to Iowa to start the season and pitches well, likely out of the bullpen at the beginning of the season, but potentially getting some opportunities to start with some strict pitch counts later in the season. Either way, he pitches well, stays healthy, and moves up to the Majors at the end of the season, pitching well out of the bullpen. At that point, the Cubs must decide whether to try to stretch Vizcaino back out into a starter, or if they’ll try him in a late innings bullpen role.

Worst Case Scenario: Vizcaino hurts himself again and barely pitches, or doesn’t pitch at all. The next worst case scenario is that Vizcaino’s control suffers as he returns from elbow problems.

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Tanaka Tears, Prospect Love, Garza, Rooftop Battle

Friday, January 24th, 2014

I have to admit, I’m disappointed we didn’t sign Tanaka. I knew we only had an outside shot, but it’s not often that you get a chance to sign a 25-year-old, TOR-potential pitcher—with nothing to lose but money. I do appreciate that the FO put in a good offer (I do believe that there was a real, honest effort to land Tanaka, not just a show for fans), and I’m encouraged that they had the financial resources to do so. There have been various reports as to what the offer actually was (some have said that the Cubs would have been willing to go up to the 7-year, $150 million range if that would have been required to land him), but it really seems like Tanaka was going to go to the Yankees no matter what. Really, I can’t blame him. If I were moving to Japan to play baseball, I’d probably want to go to the team with the longest winning tradition, in the biggest media market, with a chance to win now (well, maybe not me, since I’m an underdog kind of guy, but most people would probably choose that path). Anyway, we’re left to watch Tanaka from afar. Of course, Tanaka may wind up being more Igawa than Darvish, but there’s risk with any player.

In happier news, the Cubs’ farm system is rocking the charts these days. Baseball Prospectus just put out their list of the Cubs top ten prospects, and it goes as such:

1. Javier Baez
2. Kris Bryant
3. Albert Almora
4. Jorge Soler
5. C.J. Edwards
6. Arismendy Alcantara
7. Pierce Johnson
8. Dan Vogelbach
9. Christian Villanueva
10. Jeimer Candelario

If you have a subscription, you can read the scouting summaries of each prospect. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a teaser: the words “Miguel” and “Cabrera” are included in the Javier Baez write-up.

Speaking of Baez-induced drool, BP’s Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) said this in a chat the other day in reference to Baez:

“One front office source told me that thinks Baez has hall of fame potential. No don’t go crazy with one projection, but if you really believe in the bat–meaning you think he will reach his offensive projections–35+ home runs is possible, all from a left-side of the diamond home. This is an extreme opinion, but not all that crazy when it comes to potential. Javier Baez could have a very special bat; the hand/eye, the bat speed, the raw strength are elite. If he puts it all together, he could be one of the best players in the game. If he stays healthy and consistent once he achieves that level, the hyperbole and hype of the present won’t seem so crazy.”

In other news, the Brewers have apparently signed Matt Garza to a four-year, $52 million deal, although, as of Thursday night, the Brewers weirdly denied that a deal was completed. My guess is that they are waiting on the medicals (which, for Garza, wouldn’t just be perfunctory—he’s had well-documented elbow troubles in the past). If the Brewers do sign him, I have some advice to Renteria: bunt!

Brett Taylor (a former lawyer) over at Bleacher Nation has a nice write-up on the lawsuit the rooftops are bringing against Marc Ganis, a sports consultant who worked for the Cubs, for what amounts to defamation. If you can stomach it, give it a read. It may be the first in a long line of litigation.

On that note, have a nice weekend!

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GirlieView (01/23/2014)

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

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 the 2013/2014 Offseason = 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

  • I am committed to eating right , getting my proper rest and a moderate amount of Bushmills so I can deliver late in the season.
  • Surf and turf footlongs on Raker…
  • My Cubs resolution is not to become dreadfully depressed about the Cubs by June 1.
  • The Cubs will be here in Toronto for a 3 game series at the beginning of September and I hope to catch all 3 games as I haven’t seen them play in person in a couple of years. By that point in the season they should be totally out of it in the standings, but nonetheless I’m still looking forward to it.
  • And you will have choice seating.
  • Danny Rocket? Isn’t that the Brady Bunch kid’s rock star name?
  • I thought it was the red head from the Partridge Family when he was driving or doing other such illegal activities.
  • No countenance in baseball screams louder for a bag over it than Hunter Pence.
  • I’d take Clark at 3B over Ian Stewart.
  • If he speaks Spanish I suppose that’d qualify him to be the manager.
  • Not sure he is the first official mascot. They may be forgetting Marla Collins.
  • Or Cindy Sandberg…though that was probably unofficial.
  • This is not a controversial statement: over the past two seasons, the Cubs have not been good.
  • Where does Clark the Cub rank in these projections? I was hoping Soler would get the call before Clark, but just another Cubs fan pipe dream.
  • The bear is already being retrofitted. I hear he has an appearance scheduled at “Nuts on Clark” later this month.
  • Does that mean his last name will be Johnson?
  • Ballsy move.
  • I would say one good thing about current music: it is easier than ever to find very good Indie music.
  • Welcome back JJ.
  • I got engaged a couple months ago and our wedding is in April
  • I like the idea of signing Maholm.
  • Speaking of kids names, my wife and I are expecting #3 in May and we have no idea what to name him/her.
  • Jer-Smardja has a nice ring to it.
  • Satchel. Of course taking moniker advice from me is risky…
  • What happened to everyday names like Rock Shoulders?
  • The Cubs mascot is a boy, I saw it with my own two eyes.
  • I work from home so the commute is… short.
  • Chuck, Lizzie and I have the exact same commute.
  • I have been wondering where all this extra laundry was coming from…
  • I was wondering why my socks had a crease ironed in them.
  • You’re welcome.
  • Dear Denver. Thank you for taking out the Patsies yesterday
  • You root FOR a team to win, not BECAUSE they win.
  • My heart goes out to whomever will have to read your future comments shitting all over the Indians.
  • Geez you cock-eyed optimist…take off the rose colored glasses.
  • 45 years and “this” is your fish or cut bait season?
  • One thing that gets forgotten though is that you get the reverse sometimes. Minor leaguers that no one has ever heard of before play well above their potential and become significant contributing members to the team. Here’s to hoping the Cubs have a few diamond in the rough!

Lizard

  • There are other Cub blogs out there? I thought this was the only one!

Shout Outs

  • A hearty shout out to Bryan, Jeremiah Johnson, LVCubFan and Mark_from_Toronto, each contributing his first off-season Lizzie this time around. Many thanks!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Eddie von White and Seymour Butts, our co-Most Valuable Lizzie’ers this week!

Top 10 of the 2013/2014 Offseason (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Doc Raker
2. jswanson
3. Sean Powell
4. Eddie von White
5. Noah
5. Seymour Butts
7. Joe Aiello
8. Jedi Johnson
9. Chuck
10. Doug S.

Chit Chat

  • Denver or Seattle?

 

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A New Way To Enjoy VFTB

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

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The Fallen: The Former Highly Ranked Prospects, Mike Olt Edition

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

While four top current talents buoy the strongest Cubs’ system, the system also contains several formerly high ranked prospects who fell down the prospect rankings to some extent or another. Mike Olt, Arodys Vizcaino, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson are the prime members of this group. Prior to the start of spring training games, we’ll look at the best case and worst case scenarios for the prospects, starting with third base prospect Mike Olt.

The Heights: Olt improved from back end of Top 100 prospect lists to a plus power, solid on base, plus defensive third baseman in 2012 when he hit .288/.398/.579, including 28 home runs, for the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double A Affiliate. Following the 2012 season, a significant majority of prospect analysts viewed him as a Top 50 in baseball prospect, with Baseball America naming him the twenty-second best prospect in baseball. 

The Depths: Olt was beaned in the head while playing winter ball last offseason, and had some significant vision problems. He was also terrible, posting a .684 OPS during a season split between the Rangers’ and Cubs’ Triple A affiliates. Less than a year after the Rangers said he was nearly untouchable, they traded him to the Cubs as, at best, the second best prospect the Cubs received for Matt Garza.

Best Case Scenario: The vision issue was the sole significant cause of Olt’s 2013 struggles, and offseason surgery corrected that problem. With the vision issues behind him, he hits like he did in 2012, claims the Cubs’ starting third base spot at the start of the season, at least holding the position until Javier Baez or Kris Bryant are ready, and potentially causing some discussions regarding a logjam of very good players on the left side of the infield if he approaches the promise of his Double A campaign.

Worst Case Scenario: Olt has two potential worst case scenarios. The first is that the bad vision did not cause his problems in 2013, but instead because Triple A pitchers could take advantage of Olt’s swing and miss tendencies, or were caused by his vision problems and those problems aren’t fixed. He gets a shot at the Cubs’ third base spot to start the season, but fails miserably, completely destroying any trade value he still possesses.

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Missing Priorities

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

by Mark Strickler

‘Are you really better off than you were 8 years ago?’ ‘Where’s the beef?’ We all know these phrases from our past – they were poignant at the time and they also have some relevancy insofar as the 2014  Cubs. In 2010 the Ricketts family bought the Cubs – at the time Sam Zell was the owner and (for some curious reason) he decided to keep the unprofitable part of the organization (i.e. the Chicago Tribune and other print media) and jettison the profitable parts (the Cubs, it’s relationship with Comcast Sports and WGN.) Since that time the Cubs have belly-flopped – we’ve all been sold on a rebuild that promises the moon and the stars but offers next to nothing for now or the immediate future. The team has plummeted in terms of results since 2010 and it only improved a little last year. So what do we have to look forward to – is it a positive future or a shoeshine and a smile? My short term predictions are as follows:

  • The Cubs will be a below .500 team in 2014; lower attendance and sales will start to have more impact on liquidity for the Ricketts family. These results are due to a strategic fault by Joe/Tom Ricketts and Epstein – they miscalculated the importance of putting a decent product on the field during the rebuild. I expect the 2015 team to be close to or above 100 losses;
  • Some highly touted prospects will make appearances in 2014 and 2015. The results will be mixed – this also applies to major hopefuls that are currently on the roster. The “net net” is that the rebuild will not produce a serious contender for the foreseeable future;
  • The top management will devote too much of their attention toward construction projects and other lower priority objectives such as mascots and making Wrigley a better advertising platform and party area. They will also sever or greatly reduce their relationship with WGN and seriously erode their national exposure, future fan base and merchandise sales. Their myopic short-term vision will ultimately combine to force the upside-down Ricketts family to sell the Cubs and either “sell short” or barely break even.

So here’s why I’m thinking these things will happen. I invite reader comments so that we can discuss in a positive and analytical manner.

Last year’s Cubs team was better than the previous but still not enough to motivate many of us to watch regularly. The talent level was better than in 2012  but still produced a last place team. What makes us think that the 2014 team will be markedly better? This year’s offseason hasn’t produced any major signings that have led me to believe that this team will be better. I predict a worse record in 2014 than last year and another last place finish.

With regard to talent we got to see some of our future last year. Starlin Castro projects to be a decent hitter but I don’t see him ever being an average shortstop. He will never get to the level that Shawon Dunston was defensively and he can’t even dream about being the same kind of middle infielder that Don Kessinger was. My projection is that he will put on more muscle and eventually be an average to above average left fielder or an American League DH. As for Anthony Rizzo – he can really put some zip on his hits but I hate his mechanics. These flaws will become more apparent as he gets older, he is an average to above average first baseman with is glove. If he plateaus he will have a career similar to Derrek Lee’s. Wellington Castillo is a work in process at best – I will have to see more of him before I can rate him as anything more than average to above average. Travis Wood is an above average prospect but may not be in our future because of the money that he will want. Samardzija will likely be gone by the All Star game if not before. He probably won’t be worth the money he will get due to competitive considerations.

As for the guys in the minors – Baez can hit but he can’t field well (40+ errors and he isn’t 18 anymore.) He projects as a potential All Star left fielder. Kris Bryant also projects as a good-hitting potential All Star left fielder – how many guys can we put out there and who will play on the left side of the infield? Almora has all kinds of question marks for me. Good athletic build, good swing (unlike Corey Patterson) but not enough zip – I think he plateaus as an above average corner outfielder. Again, we have problems with how many guys we can put in left field and Almora doesn’t have the bat for right in my opinion. At starting pitcher we have two or three guys who might compete for the last two spots in the rotation and in the pen we might have a couple of guys to look at. To say the least I’m not thrilled about the future. We have future question marks at catcher, starting pitcher, relief, closer, first base, second base, third base and center field. I’m not convinced the rebuild is going so well.

What about the off-field activities? Will you and I really benefit from all the construction activities, billboards and (wow) a mascot? Let me preface my comments by first saying I hate mascots, I’d rather see “Pennywise the dancing clown” (from Stephen King’s book “It”) than Clark the Cub. Mascots suck and I put them in the same category as the Astros choo-choo, Hawk Harrelson, Ronnie Woo Woo and other baseball annoyances. The game is about balls and strikes, not smelly guys and gals in creepy-looking uniforms. The decision that the Ricketts family is contemplating (terminating the Cubs relationship with WGN) has more long lasting consequences. Generations have grown up watching the Cubs on WGN because it’s available almost everywhere and their grandfather or father were Cubs fans. Can they really keep that national fan base without national TV exposure? What about people like me that don’t live in Chicago that won’t pay for MLB Extra Innings just to watch a losing team who doesn’t improve? (Granted, I still get Extra Innings but now I watch the Indians because I’m so disgusted with the Cubs.) What will these fans do when they can’t watch the Cubs? My guess is that (like me) they will adopt other teams to watch.

In conclusion I’m not as optimistic as others about the Cubs future. This year is a “fish or cut bait” season for me after following the team for 45 years. Will they turn the corner? Or will I be so disillusioned with the team that I abandon them like I did the Blackhawks after William Wirtz sold that team down the river? It was too late for me when Rocky took over the Hawks and it might be too late when some future owner straightens out the Cubs. I hope it won’t be.

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