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February 2014

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COMMENTS

4 Reasons Why The Cubs Will Be Better in 2014

Written by , Posted in General

For the last two podcast episodes, which can be subscribed to on iTunes (shameless plug), I’ve hinted that I am starting to sway toward the idea that the Cubs will finish .500 this season. I know it’s not easy to see and that we’ve been told that 2015 is the first year we can expect to smile, but I think there is reason for optimism and that this team is capable of surprising some people.

1. We Underperformed Our Run Differential – One of the best predictors of what a team can expect in terms of their record is the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed. It’s a pretty simple concept when you think about it. The goal is to score more runs than the other guy and when you do that, you win. Logic would say that the greater the differential between the amount of runs you score versus the amount you allow, the more games you will win. The problem comes in the fact that some games are blowouts and some are tight. Both wins count the same. A quick look at last year’s standings reveals that the Cubs were projected to win 71 games last season based on their run differential. We should be able to duplicate that in 2014, if not surpass it.

2. The Bullpen Has Improved – Gone is Carlos Marmol. To be honest, we could probably just stop right there, drop the mic and walk off the stage. Instead, I want to point you to the fact that this bullpen has been revamped by Jed this off-season after they admitted last year that the team really should have focused more on it last year. It was an admitted weakness and this off-season they took steps to fix it. The 2013 bullpen ranked 13th in ERA, 2nd in blown saves with 26. There really was nothing the starters could do other than work deep into the game and hope for offense. Pedro Strop was brought in last last year and showed he could reclaim some of the success he had in Baltimore before being exiled. Jose Veras was signed as a free agent and should be given the first crack at the closer role. Those two guys in the pen for a full season should be able to yield an improvement. Throw in a (fingers crossed) healthy Arodys Vizcaino and this pen has the potential to be much improved.

3. Starlin Castro & Anthony Rizzo Will Improve – Look, I get it. It’s frustrating when you see the two players we invested heavily in struggle. You begin to doubt their career projections and you begin to question the front office for what they see in them. What I would tell you is this. It’s OK to get on the ledge. It’s not OK to jump off of it. We have to use common sense. Both Castro and Rizzo have shown they can perform. Have we forgotten that Castro had 207 hits in 2011? Have we forgotten that he’s still under 25? Last year was the outlier. I promise you there will be improvement. 2014 will be much closer to 2011 than 2013. As for Rizzo, the argument is basically the same with the addition that in 2013 his batting average on balls in play was a very low .258. That won’t happen again this year. We’re going to see both of these guys improve.

4. New Managerial Regime – I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in the manager and his impact on the game, but for some reason sometimes there is something that happens when you make a change. I don’t know if Dale was the wrong guy and that Renteria is the right guy. What I do know is that I had been hearing that the front office and Dale were not quite on the same page. When that happens, you can’t accomplish all that be accomplished. I have to believe that this time, they knew exactly what they were looking for and found it in Renteria.

  • Noah_I

    I agree with all your points, and would guess that Castro will return to at least close to career norms in 2014, but I am more confident in Rizzo doing so. If Rizzo’s BABIP just regresses to the mean to be something reasonable, he’s an .800 OPS hitter.

    Castro’s BABIP was somewhat lower than you’d expect in 2013 as well, but he also showed a concerning increase in strikeout rate (after being at about 14% for his career through 2012, the K rate climbed to 18.3% in 2013), combined with the worst walk rate of his career. I think just letting Castro go up and be a hacker again will help, but I at least have some concerns that he might just be a guy who peaked at age 22. It’s rare, but it does happen.

    I specifically like what the Cubs did with bullpen, where they have a group that should at least be serviceable, if not solidly above average. Look at the guys who were supposed to pitch the 8th and 9th innings in 2013: Marmol is gone. Fujikawa was ineffective due to injury before getting TJS. And Russell was overrated by nearly everyone (including me), when he’s really a LOOGY on a good team. I like Veras, Strop and Parker in those roles much better. One nice thing about Strop and Parker in the 8th inning role: they throw very, very hard.

    • joe

      I think Rizzo’s BABIP is bound to improve somewhat. But he’s got to learn how to not try to pull everything. It seems he grounded out to the right side of the infield way too many times.

      • Noah_I

        I’m not really positive about that. Now, Rizzo had his worst batting average to his pull field .267, but his best slugging percentage, but FanGraphs is showing him hitting the ball to all fields pretty well. About 200 balls to right, 160 to center, 120 to left. I’ll agree his ground ball percentage on balls he pulled was VERY high, but I’m curious if that’s something that can be helped with a slight mechanical tweak. So far, 24 of Rizzo’s 39 career home runs are to his pull field (and 36 of 39 are to his pull field or center), so I’d prefer to see if he can just get more of those balls he is pulling in the air first. But there is a question of whether he is trying to pull balls that are going to be hit on the ground if pulled.

        So yes, he grounded out to his pull field too much, but I’m not sure if pulling the ball less is going to be the solution when most of his power has been to his pull field to this point, or if being more consistent getting the balls in his pull field in the air is the answer.

      • Doc Raker

        If you ground out to your pull field it means you rolled over on pitches you should hit up the middle or go oppo. This is a good example of the numbers just not telling you enough, looking at a spray chart tells you where the balls are hit, not where they SHOULD be hit. You need to actually watch the player to know that or understand the significance of the high outlier of ‘ground ball outs to pull side’. Tony Gwynn, Mark Grace, Wade Boggs, that is what made them special, the ability to hit the ball where it was pitched.

      • Noah_I

        Rizzo’s spray chart isn’t extreme, particularly for a power hitter. 42% to his pull field, 33% to center, 25% to left field.

        Pulling the ball on the ground can mean that you rolled over on a pitch on the outside part of the plate. That’s a frequent result of trying to pull a ball on the outside of the plate. It can also mean being on top of a ball that you should be trying to pull.

        In regards to Gwynn, Grace and Boggs, those were all players who lacked Rizzo’s power potential. So, to the extent Rizzo is trying to pull pitches on the outside part of the plate, there are two issues:

        To the extent he is swinging at those pitches with less than two strikes, it’s a pitch recognition issue to the extent that he should not be swinging at those pitches at all. With Rizzo’s power focused to center and right field, if he has the option, he should only be swinging at pitches he can pull.

        To the extent Rizzo is trying to pull pitches on the outside part of the plate with two strikes, yes, he’d be better off taking those outside pitches to the opposite field.

      • Doc Raker

        Sorry, I can’t agree with “With Rizzo’s power focused to center and right field, if he has the option, he should only be swinging at pitches he can pull.” Big league pitchers may only give you one good pitch to hit in an AB and that pitch may be the outside half of the plate, particularly if they are getting you out with that pitch. So letting those strikes go waiting for a fastball down the middle or on the inside part of the plate is passing up oppo base hits and doubles. It is a poor approach to go to the plate looking for pitches only to power. What was one of the things that always got Aramis going? When you saw him go oppo you knew he was getting hot and was going on a streak. Why? Because when he started hurting pitchers on the outside strike they had to come in and work to his power where he could then go yaya. Rizzo needs to use the whole field to increase his numbers is my point.

      • Noah_I

        The stats don’t match your memory, though. Over his career, 41% of Ramirez’s balls in play have been to his pull field. 32% have been to center field. And 27% have been to the opposite field. So, over his career, Ramirez hit less balls up the middle than Rizzo did last season, and hit all of 2% more balls to the opposite field. And the stats say that Ramirez has been BY FAR at his best when pulling the ball. To his pull field, Ramirez is a career .390/.776 hitter (I’m just showing average and slugging, since OBP is irrelevant here). To center field, he’s a career .340/.555 hitter. To right, he’s merely a .252/.372 hitter. Less than 5% of Ramirez’s career home runs were hit to the opposite field. More than 2/3 of his home runs were hit to his pull field. Any pitcher who started throwing the ball down the middle of the plate or inside on Ramirez because he landed a couple of opposite filed doubles over a couple of games would be very, very foolish.

        And IF anyone did that, ever, did Ramirez get “hot” to the opposite field because he was actually seeing the ball better? Or did he get hot to the opposite field because he got lucky, and hit a couple of bloopers down the line in an indoor field that would have been blown foul outdoors? Or was he playing against a team where the manager didn’t utilize defensive alignments well?

        The fact is that Rizzo’s opposite field contact rate is not abnormal. And if Rizzo could be Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto or Mike Trout, who are all essentially equally effective to all fields, that would be awesome. But the vast majority of players just flat out do not have the ability to mimic the best players in baseball. Rizzo’s power is to his pull field. To the extent he can wait for a pitch he can pull, he should do so.

      • Shit’s sake Noah. That whole thing reeks of ‘I don’t watch baseball.’ Players streak, it is a real thing…Rami crushed the ball…Miggy doesn’t belong in any comparisons to Rizzo. Give it a review before hitting submit.

      • Noah_I

        The “I watched it so I know what happened 5 years ago argument” is a terrible one, at least as far as accuracy is concerned. People have terrible memories, and consistently comport their memories to fit a pre-existing narrative. Seriously, they’ve done so many studies showing this that whether expert testimony at trial should be allowed detailing how terrible human memory is has become a major point of contention in the legal community. Considering I have no scouting background, and as such am not keeping meaningful contemporaneous records that I can look back at later, I literally make no meaningful baseball opinions based upon what I see. I rely on the stats and the experts.

        I also never said players don’t streak, I’m just saying that the statistics show that Ramirez’s streaks likely didn’t comport that heavily to him hitting to the opposite field with power, consider only 17% of his extra base hits were to the opposite field, and less than 5% of his home runs. The fact that people “remember it happening that way” doesn’t make it true.

        And I didn’t compare Rizzo to Cabrera. Indeed, I distinctively contrasted Rizzo to Cabrera/Votto/Trout, players who are capable of using the whole field and being essentially equally effective to all fields. Anthony Rizzo cannot do that, so you cannot say that him attempting to do what those elite players do will lead to success for him.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Noah, you are great with the statisics, and I love your stuff, but I am with Racker on this one. Your percentages to which field only tell part of the story. Rameriz when he was not hitting well would only hit weakly to right, when he would be hot, it usually was when he decided to actively hit it to right, and when he did is was a line drive not a bloop double. I bet if you did an study on his line drive rates to right field, they would correspond to some of his best streaks.

      • Noah_I

        Let me put it this way: Is it quite possible that during Ramirez’s best streaks he was just hammering the ball all over the field? Sure. It could be hindsight, it could also be comporting facts to the narrative. There’s a lot of this narrative in baseball. When a player is in a cold streak and just gets a blooper to fall in, a lot of times the announcers will say something like “that’s just what he needs to get going.” Well, considering a player on a cold streak is more likely to start playing to their average performance than to continue having poor results, was it REALLY that blooper that turned things around? But even if Ramirez did hit more line drives to right field when he was hot than he typically, he was clearly, for his career, a dead pull hitter, and far more effective to his pull field, since he’s averaged about 1 home run per season to right field for his career.

        I just think that the statement that player A should pull the ball less because players B, C and D were successful to all fields ignores who the player is, particularly when two of B, C and D are Hall of Famers. Some players just are better when they pull the ball.

        I inherently just don’t trust any argument that is based upon either of the following propositions: (1) an individual’s memory from something that wasn’t contemporaneously recorded; or (2) any argument that is supported by being called “common sense.” It’s just the lawyer in me.

        So COULD I look at all the study of his line drive rates to right field to see if he was hitting more of them when he was hot? Sure, presuming I time wasn’t a limitation. But first I’d have to make a whole bunch of determinations. What’s the definition of “hot”? How long does he have to put up what types of numbers? Is he hot if he’s solely hitting for average but not for power?

        Or, another way of putting it, if we were both in front of a jury who had never heard of Aramis Ramirez, but knew enough about baseball to follow our arguments. And on the one side, you and Raker say that when Ramirez was at his best he was hitting line drives to right field, and you remember him doing that. You show the jury some videos of him hitting line drives to right field, and give some context of him being in a hot streak or right about to start a hot streak when he does it.

        And I, on the other, tell them that Aramis Ramirez was a dead pull hitter: his batting average was .140 higher when he pulled the ball than when he hit the ball to right field. He hit for more than three times the power to his pull field than to the opposite field. That he hit 354 home runs in his career, but only 15 of them have been to right field. I show them video of all of his home runs.

        If they had to define when Aramis Ramirez was most effective, would they say it was when he was pulling the ball, or when he was hitting the ball to the opposite field?

        Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I appreciate the very kind words.

      • Doc Raker

        You are using stats to argue an approach at the plate. The approach of hitting a pitch where it is pitched is hitting 101, nothing really to insightful. You are arguing a hitter must focus on his power location which limits a hitters options during an AB. You can use all the stats you want but that is a poor approach at the plate, just ask any hitter. I am a hitter, my son is a left handed hitter, 13 years old and has been taking hitting lessons since he was 8. I never heard any of his hitting coaches tell him to focus on his power location. Yesterday he went 4-5, a gap double in left center, a gap double in right center, a line drive down the left field line and a line drive down the right field line. That type of hitting is special because the opposing pitchers just don’t know what to throw you at that point. It is the approach you seem not to understand and the stats won’t tell you that.

      • Noah_I

        I’m glad your son is having so much success in little league, or travel league, or whatever league he’s playing in, but the experiences of a 13 year old ball player just are not particularly relevant to analysis of a Major Leaguer.

      • Doc Raker

        Just last week his hitting coach was throwing him stuff away and said, “You are going to see a lot of pitches away so let’s work on going the other way.” He didn’t say, “take that pitch away, wait for the pitch you can turn and burn on.” Rizzo won’t increase his numbers until he is successful hitting the ball to all fields. Please chat up some hitting coaches and or baseball players and ask them about this approach at the plate. I think you will find it unanimous among baseball people that hitting the ball where it is pitched is the best possible approach at the plate.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Noah, you are great with the statisics, and I love your stuff, but I am with Racker on this one. Your percentages to which field only tell part of the story. Rameriz when he was not hitting well would only hit weakly to right, when he would be hot, it usually was when he decided to actively hit it to right, and when he did is was a line drive not a bloop double. I bet if you did an study on his line drive rates to right field, they would correspond to some of his best streaks.

      • Noah_I

        Let me put it this way: Is it quite possible that during Ramirez’s best streaks he was just hammering the ball all over the field? Sure. It could be hindsight, it could also be comporting facts to the narrative. There’s a lot of this narrative in baseball. When a player is in a cold streak and just gets a blooper to fall in, a lot of times the announcers will say something like “that’s just what he needs to get going.” Well, considering a player on a cold streak is more likely to start playing to their average performance than to continue having poor results, was it REALLY that blooper that turned things around? But even if Ramirez did hit more line drives to right field when he was hot than he typically, he was clearly, for his career, a dead pull hitter, and far more effective to his pull field, since he’s averaged about 1 home run per season to right field for his career.

        I just think that the statement that player A should pull the ball less because players B, C and D were successful to all fields ignores who the player is, particularly when two of B, C and D are Hall of Famers. Some players just are better when they pull the ball.

        I inherently just don’t trust any argument that is based upon either of the following propositions: (1) an individual’s memory from something that wasn’t contemporaneously recorded; or (2) any argument that is supported by being called “common sense.” It’s just the lawyer in me.

        So COULD I look at all the study of his line drive rates to right field to see if he was hitting more of them when he was hot? Sure, presuming I time wasn’t a limitation. But first I’d have to make a whole bunch of determinations. What’s the definition of “hot”? How long does he have to put up what types of numbers? Is he hot if he’s solely hitting for average but not for power?

        Or, another way of putting it, if we were both in front of a jury who had never heard of Aramis Ramirez, but knew enough about baseball to follow our arguments. And on the one side, you and Raker say that when Ramirez was at his best he was hitting line drives to right field, and you remember him doing that. You show the jury some videos of him hitting line drives to right field, and give some context of him being in a hot streak or right about to start a hot streak when he does it.

        And I, on the other, tell them that Aramis Ramirez was a dead pull hitter: his batting average was .140 higher when he pulled the ball than when he hit the ball to right field. He hit for more than three times the power to his pull field than to the opposite field. That he hit 354 home runs in his career, but only 15 of them have been to right field. I show them video of all of his home runs.

        If they had to define when Aramis Ramirez was most effective, would they say it was when he was pulling the ball, or when he was hitting the ball to the opposite field?

        Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I appreciate the very kind words.

      • Doc Raker

        You are using stats to argue an approach at the plate. The approach of hitting a pitch where it is pitched is hitting 101, nothing really to insightful. You are arguing a hitter must focus on his power location which limits a hitters options during an AB. You can use all the stats you want but that is a poor approach at the plate, just ask any hitter. I am a hitter, my son is a left handed hitter, 13 years old and has been taking hitting lessons since he was 8. I never heard any of his hitting coaches tell him to focus on his power location. Yesterday he went 4-5, a gap double in left center, a gap double in right center, a line drive down the left field line and a line drive down the right field line. That type of hitting is special because the opposing pitchers just don’t know what to throw you at that point. It is the approach you seem not to understand and the stats won’t tell you that.

      • I’d advocate spending more time in the actual baseball layer. I have a B.S. in math and still play as much baseball as my wife and girls let me, and stuff like this makes my head roll. I’m sure a lot of these arguments are correct and great, but they tend to quickly diverge from the reality of playing the game.

      • Noah_I

        I watch a ton of baseball, but I know that I do not know enough to judge a whole bunch of things involved in the mechanics of, say, a player’s swing, or a pitcher’s throwing motion. So I don’t really let watching the game affect my analysis. And, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t at least played college ball or been involved in something like AAU coaching or college scouting is really equipped to judge players based on what they see. This is just always going to guide my analysis, and, as such, I don’t trust my eyes in my baseball related analysis.

        Now that I live closer to Kane County, I’m HOPING to be able to get to know a couple of the scouts and maybe pick up a couple of things to look for, but even then I’d defer greatly to the experts.

      • That is undoubtedly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read.

      • Noah_I

        Thanks for adding to the conversation. You’re a real boon to all things.

      • PLCB3

        Did Norm and Jedi disguise themselves?

      • None of you are correct, if you were you’d be running a team of your own. But guess what? None of you are wrong either. That’s the part that seems to slip everyone’s mind. You wouldn’t talk to each other this way if we were all having dinner together. So tuck your internet balls back in their sack and show some respect for our differences. All y’all. This place is getting annoying.

      • I’ll wear one on the numbers for that any day.

      • I’d advocate spending more time in the actual baseball layer. I have a B.S. in math and still play as much baseball as my wife and girls let me, and stuff like this makes my head roll. I’m sure a lot of these arguments are correct and great, but they tend to quickly diverge from the reality of playing the game.

      • Noah_I

        I watch a ton of baseball, but I know that I do not know enough to judge a whole bunch of things involved in the mechanics of, say, a player’s swing, or a pitcher’s throwing motion. So I don’t really let watching the game affect my analysis. And, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t at least played college ball or been involved in something like AAU coaching or college scouting is really equipped to judge players based on what they see. This is just always going to guide my analysis, and, as such, I don’t trust my eyes in my baseball related analysis.

        Now that I live closer to Kane County, I’m HOPING to be able to get to know a couple of the scouts and maybe pick up a couple of things to look for, but even then I’d defer greatly to the experts.

      • That is undoubtedly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read.

      • Noah_I

        Thanks for adding to the conversation. You’re a real boon to all things.

      • AC0000000

        Did Norm and Jedi disguise themselves?

      • None of you are correct, if you were you’d be running a team of your own. But guess what? None of you are wrong either. That’s the part that seems to slip everyone’s mind. You wouldn’t talk to each other this way if we were all having dinner together. So tuck your internet balls back in their sack and show some respect for our differences. All y’all. This place is getting annoying.

      • I’ll wear one on the numbers for that any day.

      • Doc Raker

        If you ground out to your pull field it means you rolled over on pitches you should hit up the middle or go oppo. This is a good example of the numbers just not telling you enough, looking at a spray chart tells you where the balls are hit, not where they SHOULD be hit. You need to actually watch the player to know that or understand the significance of the high outlier of ‘ground ball outs to pull side’. Tony Gwynn, Mark Grace, Wade Boggs, that is what made them special, the ability to hit the ball where it was pitched.

      • Noah_I

        Rizzo’s spray chart isn’t extreme, particularly for a power hitter. 42% to his pull field, 33% to center, 25% to left field.

        Pulling the ball on the ground can mean that you rolled over on a pitch on the outside part of the plate. That’s a frequent result of trying to pull a ball on the outside of the plate. It can also mean being on top of a ball that you should be trying to pull.

        In regards to Gwynn, Grace and Boggs, those were all players who lacked Rizzo’s power potential. So, to the extent Rizzo is trying to pull pitches on the outside part of the plate, there are two issues:

        To the extent he is swinging at those pitches with less than two strikes, it’s a pitch recognition issue to the extent that he should not be swinging at those pitches at all. With Rizzo’s power focused to center and right field, if he has the option, he should only be swinging at pitches he can pull.

        To the extent Rizzo is trying to pull pitches on the outside part of the plate with two strikes, yes, he’d be better off taking those outside pitches to the opposite field.

      • Doc Raker

        Sorry, I can’t agree with “With Rizzo’s power focused to center and right field, if he has the option, he should only be swinging at pitches he can pull.” Big league pitchers may only give you one good pitch to hit in an AB and that pitch may be the outside half of the plate, particularly if they are getting you out with that pitch. So letting those strikes go waiting for a fastball down the middle or on the inside part of the plate is passing up oppo base hits and doubles. It is a poor approach to go to the plate looking for pitches only to power. What was one of the things that always got Aramis going? When you saw him go oppo you knew he was getting hot and was going on a streak. Why? Because when he started hurting pitchers on the outside strike they had to come in and work to his power where he could then go yaya. Rizzo needs to use the whole field to increase his numbers is my point.

      • Noah_I

        The stats don’t match your memory, though. Over his career, 41% of Ramirez’s balls in play have been to his pull field. 32% have been to center field. And 27% have been to the opposite field. So, over his career, Ramirez hit less balls up the middle than Rizzo did last season, and hit all of 2% more balls to the opposite field. And the stats say that Ramirez has been BY FAR at his best when pulling the ball. To his pull field, Ramirez is a career .390/.776 hitter (I’m just showing average and slugging, since OBP is irrelevant here). To center field, he’s a career .340/.555 hitter. To right, he’s merely a .252/.372 hitter. Less than 5% of Ramirez’s career home runs were hit to the opposite field. More than 2/3 of his home runs were hit to his pull field. Any pitcher who started throwing the ball down the middle of the plate or inside on Ramirez because he landed a couple of opposite filed doubles over a couple of games would be very, very foolish.

        And IF anyone did that, ever, did Ramirez get “hot” to the opposite field because he was actually seeing the ball better? Or did he get hot to the opposite field because he got lucky, and hit a couple of bloopers down the line in an indoor field that would have been blown foul outdoors? Or was he playing against a team where the manager didn’t utilize defensive alignments well?

        The fact is that Rizzo’s opposite field contact rate is not abnormal. And if Rizzo could be Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto or Mike Trout, who are all essentially equally effective to all fields, that would be awesome. But the vast majority of players just flat out do not have the ability to mimic the best players in baseball. Rizzo’s power is to his pull field. To the extent he can wait for a pitch he can pull, he should do so.

  • Noah_I

    I agree with all your points, and would guess that Castro will return to at least close to career norms in 2014, but I am more confident in Rizzo doing so. If Rizzo’s BABIP just regresses to the mean to be something reasonable, he’s an .800 OPS hitter.

    Castro’s BABIP was somewhat lower than you’d expect in 2013 as well, but he also showed a concerning increase in strikeout rate (after being at about 14% for his career through 2012, the K rate climbed to 18.3% in 2013), combined with the worst walk rate of his career. I think just letting Castro go up and be a hacker again will help, but I at least have some concerns that he might just be a guy who peaked at age 22. It’s rare, but it does happen.

    I specifically like what the Cubs did with bullpen, where they have a group that should at least be serviceable, if not solidly above average. Look at the guys who were supposed to pitch the 8th and 9th innings in 2013: Marmol is gone. Fujikawa was ineffective due to injury before getting TJS. And Russell was overrated by nearly everyone (including me), when he’s really a LOOGY on a good team. I like Veras, Strop and Parker in those roles much better. One nice thing about Strop and Parker in the 8th inning role: they throw very, very hard.

    • old joe

      I think Rizzo’s BABIP is bound to improve somewhat. But he’s got to learn how to not try to pull everything. It seems he grounded out to the right side of the infield way too many times.

  • Sean Powell

    agree that Castro and Rizzo will regress back to norms (meaning they’ll be better than last year), agree that bullpen will be better…but I don’t think the record will be better. starting rotation should be about the same (Wood will come back down to earth, Jackson should regress to career norms (making him better than last year as well)…but that outfield is BRUTAL. a slight improvement is definitely plausible, but I think we can expect a firesale at the deadline, which would kill any momentum we might have

    • Noah_I

      The one thing I’d say is that I don’t think a fire sale will necessarily be as devastating on offense as it has been. If Samardzija is having a good season (3+ WAR) and gets moved, I don’t see anyone in our system who can replace him, but I think a host of people could come in (Hendricks, Grimm, Ramirez, Rusin) and come within a win or two of what Hammel and Villanueva will provide, as they are the two other likely trade options.

      But the players who replace any offensive players that are traded away should be more promising than they have been in the past, whether it be from Brett Jackson types showing enough to get another shot or if it is Baez, Bryant and/or Alcantara getting their shots.

      I’m guessing 72 wins for the Cubs this year. Tiny improvement in run differential, and performing closer to it.

  • Sean Powell

    agree that Castro and Rizzo will regress back to norms (meaning they’ll be better than last year), agree that bullpen will be better…but I don’t think the record will be better. starting rotation should be about the same (Wood will come back down to earth, Jackson should regress to career norms (making him better than last year as well)…but that outfield is BRUTAL. a slight improvement is definitely plausible, but I think we can expect a firesale at the deadline, which would kill any momentum we might have

    • Noah_I

      The one thing I’d say is that I don’t think a fire sale will necessarily be as devastating on offense as it has been. If Samardzija is having a good season (3+ WAR) and gets moved, I don’t see anyone in our system who can replace him, but I think a host of people could come in (Hendricks, Grimm, Ramirez, Rusin) and come within a win or two of what Hammel and Villanueva will provide, as they are the two other likely trade options.

      But the players who replace any offensive players that are traded away should be more promising than they have been in the past, whether it be from Brett Jackson types showing enough to get another shot or if it is Baez, Bryant and/or Alcantara getting their shots.

      I’m guessing 72 wins for the Cubs this year. Tiny improvement in run differential, and performing closer to it.

  • Doug S.

    Great, another stat acronym I don’t understand.

    • Joe Aiello

      Which one?

    • Sean Powell

      BABIP? batting average on balls in play, league average hovers around .300, which is approximately the expected value of a given player. If it’s unusually low, it means that a player has hit into some “bad luck” (hit balls right to fielders – you can’t control where a ball goes once it leaves the bat), if it’s unusually high, it means the player has had some “good luck” (seeing eye grounders, Texas leaguers, etc.). There are some other explanations (consistently making weak contact on balls outside the zone, etc.), but you would typically expect BABIP to regress back to norms (around .300) over the long haul. Of course, you may not have meant BABIP, and this was all pointless.

      • Never pointless, Sean. Someone out there doesn’t understand, whether they say so or not!

      • Never pointless, Sean. Someone out there doesn’t understand, whether they say so or not!

      • PLCB3

        What’s the purpose of it? Is it better than regular batting average because it doesn’t account for strikeouts and outside the park home runs?

      • Sean Powell

        BABIP is a tool we can use to determine if a player’s offensive output (especially OBP) is sustainable (whether high or low), or if it’s due for a regression (either up or down) in the future. It’s a predictive tool – not a descriptive one.

      • PLCB3

        Let’s say a player’s avg and obp is consistent over x number of seasons, say 8, but his babip fluctuates. What does that tell me about the player?

      • Sean Powell

        not much. his luck tends to be “evening out”

      • PLCB3

        I think babip is a very poor stat. Because to begin with batting average is not a good stat alone, and now you’re taking a stat that already excludes walks and hbp, and you’re further excluding home runs and strikeouts. A high k, high BB, high HR player like thome or Dunn have a very small sample size to go off of.

      • Noah_I

        It depends on what you are looking at BABIP for and how you are using it. BABIP is a poor stat if you are trying to tell how good a player is. It is a good stat to tell you if a player’s season is an outlier or not. Per Chuck’s statement below, I’d say that the vast majority of players have career BABIPs between .270 and .330, depending upon how many line drives/ground balls/fly balls they hit and how fast they are. But BABIP also fluctuates a lot over smaller sample sizes, including over a full season, where 6 extra balls finding the hole over 600 at bats is equal to a 10 point gain in batting average.

        So here’s the two situations where BABIP is useful:
        Player A has been a career .260/.330/.400 hitter over a 5 year career. In the sixth year of his career, he hits .290/.360/.430. Now, you can see through this he isn’t walking any more or hitting for any more power than he did in prior years, but the batting average is higher. Why? Well, there are only two options: one, his strikeout rate declined drastically, which is less likely; or, two, he posted a BABIP 50 points higher than prior seasons. Since BABIP tends to regress back to the mean (career averages), you should not expect Player A to put up as good of a season the next season, since you should expect his BABIP to drop back to its career average. The reverse of this is also true, where a player has a bad season with the likely culprit being an abnormally low BABIP.

        The other situation: Player B is in his second season in the Majors. After putting up a solid first season, putting up a .290/.360/.450 line, he struggles the next season, hitting .240/.330/.420. But his walk rate is up that season (bigger difference between his average and OBP) and he hit for more power (bigger difference between his average and slugging). Also, we’ll say his K rate didn’t change. What’s the cause? Well, in that first season, he put up a .300 BABIP, and in the second, his BABIP was .260. Now, this player doesn’t have enough PAs to have a “career BABIP”, but our projection should be that his BABIP should go up in his third season because the vast majority of players have BABIPs between .270 to .330, with the majority of them crowded right around .300. Player B is essentially Anthony Rizzo.

        The reverse of Player B is Junior Lake, who put up a BABIP in 2014 that essentially no player has ever done, and the guys who come close (Joey Votto, for example) are among the best hitters in baseball. This is the primary reason I’m down on Junior Lake.

        Regarding Adam Dunn, at this juncture in his career he does have a career BABIP with nearly 6500 career ABs (.286, which isn’t surprising for a never fast runner near the conclusion of his career), but your implication is correct: you would expect greater year to year variations in BABIP because his sample size is smaller. This is an arguable advantage to a three true outcomes player: since so much of their offensive value comes from either walks or balls that leave the yard, less of their value should be determined by how many balls hit the grass. Unfortunately, successful true three outcome players are pretty few and far between.

      • PLCB3

        So now a guy like Mike Trout, what do his numbers suggest? Should we expect him to keep producing the way he has been?

      • Sean Powell

        Trout and Cabrera have higher-than-average BABIPs, but they’ve been sustainable – they are elite, elite hitters who routinely smash balls. They’re essentially outliers on the right side of the curve in most aspects.

      • PLCB3

        But you’re only going on 2 years for Trout. You’ve got a decade for Cabrera

      • Sean Powell

        Yes, that’s right.

      • Noah_I

        To take what Sean said and expand it to all players, there are two things to look at in this regard: how hard does a player hit the ball (line drives are far more likely to be hits than anything else) and how fast does he run. Cabrera hits just a ton of line drives. A quarter of the balls he puts in play are line drives.

        Trout both hits the ball very hard (23% of the balls he puts in play are line drives) and runs very fast. With that said, though, i don’t think anyone would be shocked to see his BABIP drop 30 points. He does everything else so well, though, he’d still be an 8 win player if that happened.

        Now, Lake hit a ton of line drives last season as well (more than 27%), but he’s not anywhere near the overall hitter Cabrera and Trout are. And while he’s fast, he’s not a great base runner and is not Trout fast. So I’m doubting Lake’s ability to maintain that sort of line drive rate into the future.

      • PLCB3

        But BABIP doesn’t tell me if the player hit a line drive or a duck snort

      • I find SHUTTINGOFFTHEGODDAMEDCOMPUTERANDOBSERVINGACTUALBASEBALL to be a fair measure of this.

      • I find SHUTTINGOFFTHEGODDAMEDCOMPUTERANDOBSERVINGACTUALBASEBALL to be a fair measure of this.

      • Noah_I

        Actually, over a long enough period of time it will. The fact that Votto and Cabrera, neither of whom are particularly fast runners, have such extraordinarily high BABIPs year in and year out over a long enough sample size to matter shows you that they hit a ton of line drives, and the data will correlate with this.

        On a year to year basis, though, BABIP becomes a contextual stat. You can easily look to see on several sites what a hitter’s line drive percentage is. What you’re looking for are aberrations. So anyone who maintains a BABIP over .330 is an aberration, but look at the guys who do it: Votto, Trout, Cabrera. These are three of the best hitters in baseball. These are players with high walk rates (Cabrera had the lowest of the 3 at 13.8%) and relatively low strikeout rates, particularly when compared to their walk rates (Votto and Trout had 19% K rates, essentially league average, but walked nearly as much as they struck out).

        So Lake, as a high strikeout, low walk hitter, is an aberration compared to the hitters who are able to maintain high BABIPs over the long term. Yasiel Puig is one as well, but significantly less so than Lake and I’m more convinced that Puig can get the walk rate above 10% than I am that Lake can. With that said, I do expect something of a BABIP regression for Puig as well, down from the .383 he posted last season.

        The other aberration you’re looking for is year to year aberrations among individual players. In that context, over several hundred at bats, a few duck snorts finding a hole in the defense can make a significant difference in batting average. But, over the course of a couple thousand plate appearances, those duck snorts tend to even out. Again, it’s contextual. BABIP, on its own, does not tell you how good a player is. It can, however, provide predictive evidence for if you should expect a player to perform as they did in the prior season, or expect a regression to the mean in BABIP to lead to better or worse results.

        In the case of Rizzo, regression to the mean likely leads to better results. In the case of Lake, it likely leads to worse results.

      • Noah_I

        Actually, over a long enough period of time it will. The fact that Votto and Cabrera, neither of whom are particularly fast runners, have such extraordinarily high BABIPs year in and year out over a long enough sample size to matter shows you that they hit a ton of line drives, and the data will correlate with this.

        On a year to year basis, though, BABIP becomes a contextual stat. You can easily look to see on several sites what a hitter’s line drive percentage is. What you’re looking for are aberrations. So anyone who maintains a BABIP over .330 is an aberration, but look at the guys who do it: Votto, Trout, Cabrera. These are three of the best hitters in baseball. These are players with high walk rates (Cabrera had the lowest of the 3 at 13.8%) and relatively low strikeout rates, particularly when compared to their walk rates (Votto and Trout had 19% K rates, essentially league average, but walked nearly as much as they struck out).

        So Lake, as a high strikeout, low walk hitter, is an aberration compared to the hitters who are able to maintain high BABIPs over the long term. Yasiel Puig is one as well, but significantly less so than Lake and I’m more convinced that Puig can get the walk rate above 10% than I am that Lake can. With that said, I do expect something of a BABIP regression for Puig as well, down from the .383 he posted last season.

        The other aberration you’re looking for is year to year aberrations among individual players. In that context, over several hundred at bats, a few duck snorts finding a hole in the defense can make a significant difference in batting average. But, over the course of a couple thousand plate appearances, those duck snorts tend to even out. Again, it’s contextual. BABIP, on its own, does not tell you how good a player is. It can, however, provide predictive evidence for if you should expect a player to perform as they did in the prior season, or expect a regression to the mean in BABIP to lead to better or worse results.

        In the case of Rizzo, regression to the mean likely leads to better results. In the case of Lake, it likely leads to worse results.

      • Sherm

        bibimbap is delicious…wait, are we talking about Korean food?

      • PLCB3

        Beef bibimbap is one of my favorites!

      • AC0000000

        Beef bibimbap is one of my favorites!

      • Sean Powell

        Well said. Dunn has enough balls in play over his career to have enough data, but one given season in isolation wouldn’t give us much. I agree that the ridic BABIP is a reason to be down on Lake this year.

      • Noah_I

        It depends on what you are looking at BABIP for and how you are using it. BABIP is a poor stat if you are trying to tell how good a player is. It is a good stat to tell you if a player’s season is an outlier or not. Per Chuck’s statement below, I’d say that the vast majority of players have career BABIPs between .270 and .330, depending upon how many line drives/ground balls/fly balls they hit and how fast they are. But BABIP also fluctuates a lot over smaller sample sizes, including over a full season, where 6 extra balls finding the hole over 600 at bats is equal to a 10 point gain in batting average.

        So here’s the two situations where BABIP is useful:
        Player A has been a career .260/.330/.400 hitter over a 5 year career. In the sixth year of his career, he hits .290/.360/.430. Now, you can see through this he isn’t walking any more or hitting for any more power than he did in prior years, but the batting average is higher. Why? Well, there are only two options: one, his strikeout rate declined drastically, which is less likely; or, two, he posted a BABIP 50 points higher than prior seasons. Since BABIP tends to regress back to the mean (career averages), you should not expect Player A to put up as good of a season the next season, since you should expect his BABIP to drop back to its career average. The reverse of this is also true, where a player has a bad season with the likely culprit being an abnormally low BABIP.

        The other situation: Player B is in his second season in the Majors. After putting up a solid first season, putting up a .290/.360/.450 line, he struggles the next season, hitting .240/.330/.420. But his walk rate is up that season (bigger difference between his average and OBP) and he hit for more power (bigger difference between his average and slugging). Also, we’ll say his K rate didn’t change. What’s the cause? Well, in that first season, he put up a .300 BABIP, and in the second, his BABIP was .260. Now, this player doesn’t have enough PAs to have a “career BABIP”, but our projection should be that his BABIP should go up in his third season because the vast majority of players have BABIPs between .270 to .330, with the majority of them crowded right around .300. Player B is essentially Anthony Rizzo.

        The reverse of Player B is Junior Lake, who put up a BABIP in 2014 that essentially no player has ever done, and the guys who come close (Joey Votto, for example) are among the best hitters in baseball. This is the primary reason I’m down on Junior Lake.

        Regarding Adam Dunn, at this juncture in his career he does have a career BABIP with nearly 6500 career ABs (.286, which isn’t surprising for a never fast runner near the conclusion of his career), but your implication is correct: you would expect greater year to year variations in BABIP because his sample size is smaller. This is an arguable advantage to a three true outcomes player: since so much of their offensive value comes from either walks or balls that leave the yard, less of their value should be determined by how many balls hit the grass. Unfortunately, successful true three outcome players are pretty few and far between.

      • AC0000000

        So now a guy like Mike Trout, what do his numbers suggest? Should we expect him to keep producing the way he has been?

      • Sean Powell

        Trout and Cabrera have higher-than-average BABIPs, but they’ve been sustainable – they are elite, elite hitters who routinely smash balls. They’re essentially outliers on the right side of the curve in most aspects.

      • AC0000000

        But you’re only going on 2 years for Trout. You’ve got a decade for Cabrera

      • Sean Powell

        Yes, that’s right.

      • Sean Powell

        Well said. Dunn has enough balls in play over his career to have enough data, but one given season in isolation wouldn’t give us much. I agree that the ridic BABIP is a reason to be down on Lake this year.

      • AC0000000

        What’s the purpose of it? Is it better than regular batting average because it doesn’t account for strikeouts and outside the park home runs?

      • Sean Powell

        BABIP is a tool we can use to determine if a player’s offensive output (especially OBP) is sustainable (whether high or low), or if it’s due for a regression (either up or down) in the future. It’s a predictive tool – not a descriptive one.

      • AC0000000

        Let’s say a player’s avg and obp is consistent over x number of seasons, say 8, but his babip fluctuates. What does that tell me about the player?

      • Chuck

        Great job explaining BABIP. However, I do think you oversimplified it a little. Faster players tend to have higher BABIP than slower players because they can leg out an extra infield hit or so over the season. Also, some players have a naturally higher BABIP because they are better at hitting while others may have a low season BABIP because they were hurt and not telling anyone. A player will tend to regress to their career average BABIP over time. All players go through hot streaks and slumps over the course of a season and career.

      • Sean Powell

        Agreed, that was in the “etc.” portion of my “other factors” statement. There are certainly those factors and more.

      • Doug S.

        That is what I meant, thanks!!
        You guys are slowly changing me from a baseball fan to a baseball geek.

      • Doug S.

        That is what I meant, thanks!!
        You guys are slowly changing me from a baseball fan to a baseball geek.

      • Sherm

        without geometry? Life is pointless…

      • Hi Sherm! Always a pleasure!

      • Hi Sherm! Always a pleasure!

  • Doug S.

    Great, another stat acronym I don’t understand.

  • PLCB3

    How is the run differential record calculated?

    • Seymour Butts

      Expected wins= 162/(1+ (runs allowed/runs scored)squared) is a simplified calculation.
      alternatively you could place marbles with numbers from 60 to 100 in bill James colon and chose what ever comes out first.

      • PLCB3

        Can you plug in numbers so I am not playing the parenthesis game in my head?

      • PLCB3

        I don’t think I want to do that. The best way to win games is to have more pitchers in the No Homers Club and less batters in the No Homers Club

    • Joe Aiello

      CAPS, here is a really good, easy read to learn a little more about advanced stats. I don’t consider myself anywhere close to an expert and a lot of times the numbers make my head hurt, but I’m intrigued by new ways to look at the game and this book was a nice little primer

      http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Batting-Average-Lee-Panas/dp/0557312248/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392315890&sr=1-1&keywords=beyond+batting+average

  • AC0000000

    How is the run differential record calculated?

    • Seymour Butts

      Expected wins= 162/(1+ (runs allowed/runs scored)squared) is a simplified calculation.
      alternatively you could place marbles with numbers from 60 to 100 in bill James colon and chose what ever comes out first.

  • PLCB3

    Joe, I tried to rate and review the podcast on iTunes but idk how to do it.

    • Joe Aiello

      I believe you have to go to it in the iTunes store and do it while logged in to your iTunes account.

      • PLCB3

        I’ll try that when I get home.

  • Chuck

    Personally, I believe they will be about the same as 2013. I see no significant upgrades or downgrades.

    • Noah_I

      I agree, but just closer to their Pythagorean record.

  • Chuck

    Personally, I believe they will be about the same as 2013. I see no significant upgrades or downgrades.

  • Don Novelle

    I’m also hoping that they’ve truly figured out Olt’s eye issues (allergies), he returns to form and takes over at third base. He was once a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball and could add both defense and offense to a team in desperate need of both.

    • Doc Raker

      The eye issue was unusual as far as a young person goes. He had a nebulous complaint of intermittent blur which improved with blinking. After a series of exams he seems to have improved his vision using artificial tears meaning his blur was from a poor tear layer, i.e. a dry eye. A dry eye can definitely cause blur but it is unusual in a young person and it will vary in different climates. I would bet he see’s better in a humid climate than the desert climate of the cactus league. We will also see blur from dry eye with people of any age that sit in front of a computer for long periods of time. When sitting at a computer our blink rate goes down so our tear layer evaporates and we have dryer eyes. Hopefully the artificial tears are the answer and the humidity of the Chicago summer is helpful for him.

  • Don Novelle

    I’m also hoping that they’ve truly figured out Olt’s eye issues (allergies), he returns to form and takes over at third base. He was once a Top 25 prospect in all of baseball and could add both defense and offense to a team in desperate need of both.

    • Doc Raker

      The eye issue was unusual as far as a young person goes. He had a nebulous complaint of intermittent blur which improved with blinking. After a series of exams he seems to have improved his vision using artificial tears meaning his blur was from a poor tear layer, i.e. a dry eye. A dry eye can definitely cause blur but it is unusual in a young person and it will vary in different climates. I would bet he see’s better in a humid climate than the desert climate of the cactus league. We will also see blur from dry eye with people of any age that sit in front of a computer for long periods of time. When sitting at a computer our blink rate goes down so our tear layer evaporates and we have dryer eyes. Hopefully the artificial tears are the answer and the humidity of the Chicago summer is helpful for him.

  • Buddy

    I don’t see much improvement with this collection of “hitters.” The Cubs had a team onbase percentage of .300 last year. That’s embarrassing. Here’s hoping at least a few of the prospects are for real, and they arrive soon!

    • Noah_I

      I would suspect that Rizzo’s, Barney’s and Castro’s OBPs will go up. Rizzo and Barney just due to BABIP regression, and Castro due to overall playing better. Sweeney and Valbuena both post decent OBPs. Lake could be a disaster OBP-wise.

      The bigger problem is that the only guy on the Cubs’ current active roster I could see potentially putting up an OBP meaningfully above .350 would be Rizzo, if he takes the next step.

      Baez will likely not be a big OBP guy when he comes up, but if Olt’s right he could be a .350 OBP guy with power. Bryant should also put up a healthy OBP early, and I think Alcantara could put up a .330 OBP (a bit above league average) early.

    • Noah_I

      I would suspect that Rizzo’s, Barney’s and Castro’s OBPs will go up. Rizzo and Barney just due to BABIP regression, and Castro due to overall playing better. Sweeney and Valbuena both post decent OBPs. Lake could be a disaster OBP-wise.

      The bigger problem is that the only guy on the Cubs’ current active roster I could see potentially putting up an OBP meaningfully above .350 would be Rizzo, if he takes the next step.

      Baez will likely not be a big OBP guy when he comes up, but if Olt’s right he could be a .350 OBP guy with power. Bryant should also put up a healthy OBP early, and I think Alcantara could put up a .330 OBP (a bit above league average) early.

  • A warm welcome Emelio Bonifacio. I assume he will play hard.

    • Buddy

      Another guy who can’t hit. Just what the Cubs need.

      • PLCB3

        He was the Marlins lead off hitter 2 years ago

      • Buddy

        Career onbase percentage of .322. Crappy for any hitter, especially a hitter with no power. Not sure I understand this move.

      • PLCB3

        I hate hitters who are members of the No Homers Club

      • Eddie Von White

        I hate hitters who can’t hit.

      • PLCB3

        Most hitters in the NHC can’t hit.

    • PLCB3

      EMELIO!!! (That was his intro call with the marlins)

    • Seymour Butts

      And long…

  • A warm welcome Emelio Bonifacio. I assume he will play hard.

    • Buddy

      Another guy who can’t hit. Just what the Cubs need.

      • AC0000000

        He was the Marlins lead off hitter 2 years ago

      • AC0000000

        I hate hitters who are members of the No Homers Club

      • Eddie Von White

        I hate hitters who can’t hit.

      • AC0000000

        Most hitters in the NHC can’t hit.

    • AC0000000

      EMELIO!!! (That was his intro call with the marlins)

    • Seymour Butts

      And long…

  • PLCB3

    Sometimes I wish the sun would just explode