Archive for February, 2014

4 Reasons Why The Cubs Will Be Better in 2014

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

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.

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The Fallen: Josh Vitters Edition

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

In the long run, the failure of one Cubs prospect most hampered the Cubs ability to rebuild quickly, and may have doomed the Jim Hendry regime as much as any poor free agent signing: Josh Vitters. The third pick in the 2007 Rule 4 Draft, even as a prep star he gained renown for having one of the prettiest swings in baseball. Unfortunately, a combination of an injuries, poor approach at the plate, and a failure to improve defensively at third base leave him as all but a non-prospect at this point.

The Heights: After being drafted with the third pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters performed very well through his first significant stretch in full season ball: the first 70 games of 2009, where he put up a .316/.351/.535 line in the Low A Midwest League.

The Depths: Vitters’ fall was not as precipitous as some, but more a long, slow march towards irrelevance. A part of this was related to injuries. Vitters missed significant time in 2010 and 2013, which delays any prospect’s progress. Vitters also entered a pattern where he struggled in his first run at each new level, before having moderate success in the second run. This, however, is not that uncommon. More significantly, Vitters showed himself to not be equipped to handle third base defensively, limiting him to an outfield corner at this point. Worst, however, Vitters has not shown significant improvement in his approach at the plate. This is the downside to Vitters’ pretty swing. He can make contact with a pitches he should not swing at, at least in the minors.

The worst came with a promotion to the Majors in 2012, where he put up a miserable .395 OPS in just over 100 plate appearances, and then only played in 28 games in Triple A in 2013 due to myriad injuries. On the good news front, he was effective in his limited playing time, posting a strong .295/.380/.511 line, including an 11% walk rate, by far the best of his career.

Best Case Scenario: Still only 24 years old, Vitters still has a bit of time to prove that he can be a productive big leaguer, but he needs to stay healthy and hit now. I’m not a Junior Lake fan, and think that a BABIP regression on Lake’s front will lead to him losing the starting left fielder job early in the season. Best case scenario is that Vitters takes it, shows he can hit in the Majors, and at least becomes an average Major League starter. Not quite what you would be looking for in a third pick in the draft, but it would be considered a success at this point.

Worst Case Scenario: Excluding injuries, the worst case scenario for Vitters is that he fails when given his next shot at the Major League level, firmly establishing his status as one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory.

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VFTB Radio – Episode 2

Monday, February 10th, 2014

With Sean covering the winter Olympics in Sochi, Joe and Josh talk about a host of topics including Jeff Samardzija and Darwin Barney avoiding arbitration before their cases were heard, the Cubs decision to schedule a double header in June, and signings for a host of ex-Cubs. They also answer a ton of mailbag questions and play a another exciting round of “Like It or Strike It”

Download the Episode – (1 hr / 14 mb)

Subscription Info

Subscribe to the show in iTunes (Please remember to review and rate the show)

Follow us on Twitter: Joe – @vftb    Josh – @JCstats        Sean – @powell_sean

E-mail the mailbag – viewfromthebleachers@gmail.com

 

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What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Monday, February 10th, 2014

by Seymour Butts, correspondent

As most of you are aware, I spent last week in Mesa, AZ at Randy Hundley’s Cub Fantasy Camp. The detail of the camp are not likely to be interesting to you with the exception of the usage, for the first time, of the new Cubs spring training facilities.

The Campers were actually the first individuals to use any of these fields for baseball. In discussing this with Randy Hundley the feeling was that it was a test run so that any issues could be identified before the professional players got on the fields. This was the case. There was an underground sprinkler issue that took most of the week to find and fix. In one of our afternoon games, the sprinklers came on and rotated circuits around that field for about 10 minutes. We were not on the field that was having pipe-leaking issues at the time, so it may have been the valves were mislabeled. The problem was there was no pattern or notice to the circuits changing and I, among others, got a nice shot of water in the back. At least it was about 80 degrees there that day.

There were 2 new coaches this year Bobby Howry and Mike Remlinger. We tend to think we know their personalities from watching on TV, we were wrong. You could not meet two nicer guys than these. Bobby was saddled with a poor team that thinned its ranks due to injury. He ended up as a pinch runner and outfielder due to this by Thursday. Remlinger had a smile that never left his face. And Raker, he drives a Prius. Thank goodness someone cares about the environment.

I’m going to try and show photos of some of the highlights:


This is one of four identical fields located at the west end of the complex. These are the fields we used Monday thru Friday. There is an elevated platform large enough that we had lunch there daily in the middle. It is wired to the hilt with outlets and Ethernet ports about every eight feet all around the periphery.

On Monday between games, we were all given a guided tour of the entire complex by the facility manager. Our first stop was the weight room:


We were told that this is not only the largest, and best equipped, weight room in the minors, but likely bigger than most all Major league facilities. The prior facility at Fitch park was roughly 30 by 40 feet, with less than a tenth of the equipment in this room.

In a rear corner of the weight room is the tub area. Some are hot, some cold, and one in the middle has a treadmill and underwater viewing windows.

Next we have the major league locker room:

And a class room for film review and even English language classes:

On Wednesday morning we had a visit from some of the Cub Minor league players who were already in town:

Among those present were Messer’s Edwards, Black, Johnson, Jokisch, and Vogelbach. Pay attention to the guy in the grey shirt. That is Dan Vogelbach. I saw him when he played for Boise and was fat. He is no longer lard laden, and looked very solid. C J Edwards can’t weigh more than a couple of bats.

Saturday we played against the former Major Leaguers in the first baseball of any kind to take place on the new Cubs Stadium.

There were of course a number of first for the stadium in that game. First Pitcher: Mike Remlinger. First Batter: Randy Hundley.

There were a number of other firsts of course, but the one I will remember is pictured below:


First DP turned: Seymour Butts. It was against the pros’ fastest runner, left handed batter Bobby Howry who uttered an expletive when he hit me a two hopper straight up the middle for a 6-3 dp.

Come to Camp! It’s a blast.

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You Own the Cubs: Now What?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

There’s not a ton of Cubs-related news at the moment, so let’s play a game.

Scenario: Imagine you are suddenly the new Cubs owner/president/general manager/demigod.

Rules:
1) You must start from the current real-world scenario facing the Cubs. Roster, finances, farm system, draft position, etc.. The Cubs can’t suddenly have a $200 million payroll out of the blue (although you can create a plan to help make this happen).

2) You can’t go “back in time” and sign FAs that have already been signed or makes trades for players who have already been traded this season. You must start from today and move forward.

Now, go forth and get us a championship. You are free to approach this however you’d like, although here are some issues that I urge you to consider.

1) What would you do in the very near term regarding the major league roster? What’s the lineup and starting rotation? Who is in the bullpen and on the bench? Who gets sent back down to the minors?

2) Prospects! When do you call up or promote minor leaguers? Where do they fit in to the major league lineup once they’re there?

3) What trades would you pursue – this offseason, during the season, and next offseason?

4) What would be your overall long-term strategy? What would you do differently than the current FO?

5) How would you handle the financial situation? Think about rooftops, Wrigley renovation, radio and TV deals, etc..

6) How long would you keep Clark?

I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, please check out Episode 1 of the View from the Bleachers podcast! It was a total blast to do, and I’m chomping at the bit for the next episode. Please subscribe to us on iTunes and remember to rate and review!

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GirlieView (02/06/2014)

Thursday, February 6th, 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

  • the only suggestion I’d make is to consider having open threads (Game 35 – Open Thread) when daily game threads become too much.
  • Wait!? Your mouth is not in the shape of a triangle? I am confused…
  • It took 3 surgical procedures to smooth out the corners. I think it turned out nicely.
  • The drawback is that his kids’ shape-sorting skills are going to diminish quickly.
  • I am very happy to be a co-MVL with Seymour!
  • I suggest you pick the place of dinning for the Co MVL celebration.
  • Hopefully there is a subway near Don and Charlie’s.
  • C’mon Seymour, at least upgrade to a toasted bun over at Quizno’s.
  • We’ll have lunch at Subway and dinner over at Don and Charlie’s. Raker is invited.
  • If we invite Raker we will triple the wine bill.
  • You buy lunch, I’ll buy dinner, and Raker can buy the drinks.
  • I’m honored to share the spot light with EVW as well.
  • Very good self- marketing ploy on behalf of Richard Sherman.
  • Bryan LaHair was released by his Japanese team. It will be interesting to watch the next episode of our favorite Japanese sitcom to see how they deal with this disappointment.
  • That episode pretty much writes itself.
  • the Cubs’ farm system is rocking the charts these days.
  • I blame Norm.
  • What ever happened to Dave? He would crap on anyine’s cornflakes.
  • Dave’s not here
  • , man.
  • I am pretty sure anybody with a baseball marble in their head will consider the upcoming 2014 Cubs season a wash.
  • Even when they win during this fine stretch of futility, I feel like they are losing.
  • yes we were the first group to play any organized ball on these fields.
  • I have reservations about whether or not we could call Randy camp either organized or baseball.
  • Getting the pitching machine a jersey would be a step in the right direction.
  • I love the Cubs because I am a baseball fan…I don’t love baseball because I am a Cubs fan.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • What’s so bad about loving baseball without all the extra stuff?
  • To me the beauty about baseball is how you can enjoy it on so many levels.
  • the logistics of digging into the batters box without a pissed off wife at home are mind boggling.
  • I always made it my priority to make sure that kid got a hit or succeeded in some way on the field to contribute.
  • Baseball is one of the few things in the world that humans can’t ruin no matter how hard they try. Beer falls into that category as well.

Lizard

  • I believe in what they are doing, but I don’t have to enjoy it.

Shout Outs

  • A hearty shout out to Chet West and Still not Dave, each contributing his first off-season Lizzie(s) this time around.

MVL

  • We have three folks tied for Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time! Congratulations to Chet West, jswanson, and Seymour Butts. Keep up the good work gentlemen!

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

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

Chit Chat (Olympics Edition)

These are the sports of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. Which are your favorites?

  • Alpine Skiing
  • Biathlon
  • Bobsleigh
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Curling
  • Figure Skating
  • Freestyle Skiing
  • Ice Hockey
  • Luge
  • Nordic Combined
  • Short Track Speed Skating
  • Skeleton
  • Ski Jumping
  • Snowboard
  • Speed Skating

Trivia Questions:

  • What (number) Winter Olympics are these? Bonus if you can tell us in Roman numerals!
  • There are fifteen sports listed above, but how many actual events are there? Hint, many of these sports have several different events, so the answer is way more than 15!
  • Twelve of these events are brand new this time around. Can you name some?

I will post the answers this afternoon. (I know you’re all capable of googling all of this but if you decide to do that please don’t ruin the fun for others by posting the answers immediately just so we all think you’re brilliant. We know you’re brilliant. Save us the display and let people guess a bit. Thanks! On the other hand if you give it an honest go, please post away! More power to you if you’re correct!)

Final Question: If I gave you an all-expense paid trip to Sochi, would you go?

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What Will The Cubs Look Like in 2019?

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Sorry for the lack of a post today. I meant to get something up early in the AM and lost track of time. If you haven’t yet listened to our podcast, please do. Don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes so you don’t miss an episode. Episode #2 is this Monday. We should be without Sean for the next two weeks, so it will be just Josh and I. We’d welcome any feedback you can give us on how we can make the show better.

I posted this on Twitter today and got a few replies. Pretend it’s opening day 2019. What is the lineup that is on the field for the Cubs at that time? I tried to see if there were futures bids I could run this early for 2019, but unfortunately there was not. What I did find was some interesting lines for the Cubs in the MLB Futures odds at TopBet.eu Sportsbook. They figure to be one of the worst teams in the league, but then again, we knew that for this year. Personally, I actually think .500 is a realistic goal for this team and should be the expectation. I don’t think we’re as bad as last year. Only time will tell.

So, what does the team look like in 2019? A good resource as you make your predictions would be the Baseball Prospectus depth chart. Take a look at let me know who runs out onto the field that day.

QUICK NOTES

  • Cubs are not expected to sign Korean pitcher per Paul Sullivan. (Source)
  • Bryan LaHair signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians that included an invite to spring training. (cue the LaHair apologists who can now make their argument that him and Micah Hoffpauir were the ones that got away.
  • Curt Shilling has been diagnosed with Cancer, though I’ve yet to get any info on what type or stage.

 

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VFTB Radio – Episode 1

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Today marks the first episode of the re-launched VFTB podcast. Our goal is to record once a week on Mondays. We’d love to hear your feedback on the show and welcome any questions and/or suggestions.

In today’s episode we covered:

  • Introduction to the podcast and information about each of the hosts
  • General discussion on the off-season to date.
  • A look at possible positional battles heading into spring training and some non roster invites to watch for.
  • Our new five question game “Like or Strike” that includes questions on Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and even Bruno Mars

Download the MP3 file (10MB / 43 min 35 sec)

 

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Monday Mailbag – What’s Wrong With Rizzo?

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

On Sunday I took to Twitter and asked for mailbag questions. In return, I received a few decent submissions that we’ll try to address. Before we get to that, I wanted to let everyone know that Josh, Sean and I will be recording the first episode in what we hope will be a weekly installment of the VFTB podcast. It should be posted tomorrow so I hope you’ll listen and enjoy it. On to the mail.

“what can Rizzo change for this year in order to raise his Batting ave? Is it mental or can his swing/stance change?” ~ @bonesinis

That is a good question and I think if I had the answer to it, you wouldn’t be reading this post because I’d have job offers from every team in the Majors. The truth is, I’ve not looked at it that closely. I remember coming into the season last year the focus was on the adjusted stance he was sporting that featured his hands low in the stance, which was supposed to allow him to hit better. I’d actually like to go back and look at the video of his at bats from the first part of the year to the end of the year to see if he made any adjustments in that area. I think last years struggles were to be expected. He was so hot the year before that you can’t really expect him to not see any adversity. Now, it becomes a question on if he can return the volley and adjust to the league. They adjusted to him and now it’s his turn to do the same. The good players do and the mediocre ones don’t. 2014 will be an interesting year for both him and Starlin Castro.

“As Of Right Now. What Is Our Pitching Rotation?” ~ @WindyCityKid312

The easy answer on this one is to look at what we can consider “locks”. Obviously Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson are in the rotation. Neither will be going anywhere. Beyond on that, can we really say that any other spot is a lock. Sure, if Jeff Samardzija is on the team, he’ll slot in there as well. Jake Arrieta had a nice showing last year and many feel like he’s got a spot locked up. Newly signed, Jason Hammel was brought in to bring a veteran presence in the back end of the rotation, but there are some that think he’s one pitch away from Tommy John surgery. I don’t think the rotation is a lock as of yet with those five. I think a guy to keep an eye on is Kyle Hendricks. He may not make the team out of spring training, but I think we could see him at least get a look sometime this season. He’s not a blow you out of the water strikeout kind of guy, but he gets outs and keeps the ball in the park. When you do that, you’ll keep the team in the game, and what more are you looking for out of the back end of your rotation?

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