Archive for April, 2014

Hello April, You look Familiar…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Rebuilding a baseball team is the pits.

The season is long and the off-season is long.  The typical baseball fan base was not meant to survive a rebuild.  The process itself is a test in sanity as much as it is a test in fanship.

The first rebuild I experienced as a fan was with the Detroit Tigers.  From 1992-2004 The Detroit Tigers were awful.  They were unwatchable for much of that decade plus.  Randy Smith was the “evil” GM who did, well, nothing right for the most part.  Much like the Cubs, the Tigers brought in a new regime so to speak with the likes of Dave Dombrowski as President.  Trader Dave immediately bounced Randy Smith after about a season and took over the GM Duties around 2002.  Four Years Later the Tigers were in the World Series.  It can be done.

The differences between the Cubs and the Tigers lie in the way the teams are rebuilding.  The Tigers were signing free agents at a furious clip in the 2002-2006 years.  They weren’t filling positions with stop-gaps and cast-offs.  They weren’t hoping to catch lightening in a bottle with an undervalued pitcher, only to trade him off for a few more prospects.  I am not saying it is wrong, at least until I can see the fruits of the current Cub regimes labor in full Major League swing, but I will say it is hard on the fan base.

The part I can’t grasp is the lack of spending by a major market team.  Every off-season I read up on the prospects and find ways to get in to the re-build so to speak.  I feel excited for the future and get all gassed up about guys like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and of course the latest first round pick Kris Bryant.   There’s a host of other talented players nestled in there likewise that don’t get the same publicity the big four get.  The biggest problem is eventually spring training ends and the major league version has to take the field.  It’s three seasons of straight futility.

Hello April, you look familiar…

The Cubs currently have one player with a BA over .300, and I am pretty sure it comes as a shock to almost everybody that Emilio Bonifacio is that guy.  At some point Boni will come back to earth and be the sub .250 hitter we all know and love.  Meanwhile, and two players who are probably the only draw on this team of misfits, Rizzo and Castro have started off with a much better outlook from there bottoming out last season.  Rizzo has been patient, which really seems to be his key to success.  His walks are up, strikeouts down and of course OBP sits at .385, which bodes well for Rizzo.  Castro on the other hand manages to put wood on the ball more then he doesn’t, it all just depends on where it goes.  At the moment, he is fielding, well, better I guess.  The trick with Castro is to accept him for him.  He will awe you one moment and frustrate you the next, he will swing at pitches he shouldn’t and ground out, and he will swing at pitches he shouldn’t and slap a ball down the line.  He is the closest thing to a “wild thing” this team has and you don’t tame a wild thing.

Hello April, you look familiar…

Platoons, platoons, and more platoons.  I have never seen a team platoon more then this one.  It makes it hard to follow them to be honest.  I like the idea of knowing who will play where on a daily basis.  I also can’t help but thinking that it hinders the likes of guys like Mike Olt, who are trying to get their swing back.  I know what I am getting with a few of these guys (ala Valbeuna) I don’t need to see it anymore.  What I would like to see is some consistency for the likes of third base and the outfield.  It’s like musical chairs and I guess if you like tuning in and having no clue as to who will be on the field in a given day it’s great, but I can’t help but think it hurts the team and some players.

Hello April, you look familiar…

Another year, another helping of Beef Wellington.  I can’t remember the last time I saw average to below average consistently for multiple seasons behind the plate.  It’s back and it is still below average on both sides of the ball.

Hello April, you look familiar…

Cakegate.  That’s all….

Hello April, you look familiar…

Already, half of our starting pitching staff is on the block.

Hello April, you look familiar…

The Cubs are in dead last and yet to win a series.  Should I keep going?

There’s always May.

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The Cubs’ Future Number 1 Pitching Prospect

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Two weeks ago, we discussed how the Cubs’ pitching prospects are underrated, as the system has a significant amount of depth in pitchers with mid-rotation and late innings bullpen upside. However, the Cubs’ system lacks the type of prospects who project into ace and number 2 roles in Major League rotations. That likely changes on June 5, when the Cubs will have the chance to select one of a deep crop of pitching prospects with the fourth pick in the Rule 4 draft.

Carlos Rodon (LHP, NC State): Three months ago the odds that Rodon could fall to the Cubs at number four were all but nonexistent, as he was viewed as likely the biggest lock to go at number 1 since Bryce Harper in 2010. Last season, Rodon showed a 93-95 mph fastball with an elite slider and fantastic command. Neither the breaking ball or the command have been as strong this season, and his status has fallen a bit. Both Keith Law’s rankings (last updated on March 21) and Perfect Game‘s (last updated on April 16), now place Rodon behind a pair of high school arms. As such, it’s distinctly possible Rodon could be available when the Cubs pick at number 4.

Brady Aiken (LHP, High School): Aiken is the new pitcher in the number one slot for both Law and Perfect Game, with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball. Law also reports that his change up could be a plus pitcher in the future, and describes him as a “pretty good version of the [Clayton] Kershaw starter kit.” However, if Aiken’s status as the essentially consensus number 1 continues, the odds that he’ll get past the Astros, Marlins and White Sox are very slim.

Tyler Kolek (RHP, High School): Both Law and Perfect Game currently list Kolek as their number 2 prospect. He’s got the big body MLB teams want in starting pitching prospects (6’5″, 230  pounds) and throws 100 mph.

Tyler Beede (RHP, Vanderbilt): Like Rodon, Beede’s draft status has taken a bit of a hit this season, particularly with inconsistent performances in his last several starts. Law ranked him at number 4 in March (when he was pitching better), and Perfect Game listed him at number 6 in mid-April. Ideally, he has three plus pitches, which he showed with plus command early in the season, but hasn’t been able to continue.

Jeff Hoffman (RHP, East Carolina): Last year’s Cape Cod League darling can throw 97 and, at least in the Cape Cod League last season, showed a very good breaking ball. Law listed him at 6, while Perfect Game has him at 4.

Grant Holmes (RHP, High School): Holmes is a high school arm who throws 98 with a projectable body for a starter, although not one that is ready right now like Kolek. Law ranked him at 5, and Perfect Game at 8.

This is just a preliminary look, as a lot can change in the 40 days before the draft. Some of these names will peel off this list because they either solidify themselves as a top 1 or 2 pick, or because their performance falls off. Others will join this list, and we will reexamine the few players who the Cubs are most likely to pick as the draft approaches. With no Kris Bryant on the horizon among this year’s draft class, though, odd are strong that the Cubs will draft their most promising pitcher since Mark Prior this season.

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Episode 13 – The April Evaluation Episode

Monday, April 28th, 2014

This week, Joe and guest host, Chris Neitzel talk through the roster and what we’ve seen in the month of April and debate on if we should plan to see an improvement, a regression or stay the same going forward.

Be sure to check out Chris’s book on Amazon, just $5.99 on Kindle right now.


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Pujols Hits 500, “Unspoken Rules” Are Brought To Light & More!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

He appeared to be slowly falling off of the face of the earth, but the Albert Pujols who tortured Cubs fans for years is seemingly returning to form.

He joined quite an exclusive club recently, which was the big headline of the week, but there was plenty more to talk about during the 4th week of the MLB season.

Pujols Reaches A Historic Milestone

When Albert Pujols took Washington Nationals pitcher Taylor Jordan deep this past Wednesday, it was not only his league-leading 8th home run of the year, it also happened to be the 500th of his career.

This feat makes him the 26th man in big league history to reach that plateau, and the last since 2009, when Gary Sheffield also hit his 500th in April. While it was a huge achievement, it actually seemed to go a bit under the radar in terms of the coverage that it received from the media.

When most players are approaching such a large milestone, especially a player like Pujols, who might be the best right-handed hitter of all time, the media will flock to them for the games leading up to the home run, and it will be a celebrated moment whenever he hits it. That wasn’t exactly the case here, as there only appeared to be a brief highlight of it the following day.

This accomplishment is a bright spot on what has been a turnaround season for Pujols this year, as he’s currently leading the league in home runs and is in the top 5 in runs batted in. If he can keep this up, he might be able to solidify that spot as the best right-handed hitter of all-time. If he isn’t, who is, in your opinion?

Pine Tar Issue Takes Center Stage

Yet again, an out-of-the-ordinary issue in a Red Sox/Yankees series has caused quite a bit of debate, and also created more than a few headlines. First, it was a controversial play at second base that replay should have easily overturned but didn’t, and now it’s Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda’s use of pine tar, or more specifically his inability to hide it.

It was in the second inning of the game when Red Sox manager John Farrell called the umpires out to go check on Pineda, who had been accused of using pine tar in the past. Not surprisingly, they found a huge glob of it on his neck and he was thrown out, and subsequently suspended for 10 games.

This brought many current and former players to talk openly about the issue and state how freely pine tar is used even though it’s technically a banned substance. The main issue that they had with Pineda’s incident wasn’t the pine tar, but just his carelessness in attempting to conceal it.

I personally don’t have a problem with pitchers trying to get a better grip on the ball, as I know from personal experience that it can be tough, especially in the cold. The suggestion that I saw by many was that the real problem is the baseballs themselves. Before games, there is a long process that involves an equipment manager having to roll the balls around in mud so that they’re ready for use. If they could design a baseball that is ready to go out of the box, than this doctoring may not be an issue again.

Benches Clear In Pittsburgh

Carlos Gomez was at the center of another benches-clearing brawl this week, though I’m not sure if he’s totally at fault in this one. Given his track record with things like this, however, it seems that many were quick to point the finger at him, whether that’s deserved or not.

Gomez came up in the third-inning against Gerrit Cole of the Pirates and roped a fly ball to center field. He evidently thought the ball was going out of the park, as he didn’t run right away out of the batter’s box. He eventually started running once he saw that it was going to hit the wall, and he ended up on third with a triple.

Apparently, Cole was not happy with his “showboating” out of the box, and he came over and minced words with Gomez. With that, Gomez became irate and made his way towards Cole, which eventually caused the benches to clear and a few punches to be thrown.

For his actions, Gomez was suspended for 3 games, but surprisingly Cole didn’t get reprimanded at all. While I support many of the “unspoken rules” of baseball, I feel like Cole was out of line here, too. If you don’t want a guy to stand in the batter’s box and watch the ball he hit, you should probably prevent him from hitting the ball. Do you think Cole should have been disciplined for his actions? What are some other “unspoken rules” that you find objectionable?

This Week’s MVP: Andrew McCutchen (.385/.500/.769, 3 HR, 4 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 1.15 ERA, 20 K)

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Is Jason Hammel Peaking Too Early?

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

When we came into the season, the talk surrounding Jason Hammel was not if he’d be traded, but when. It seemed like another example of a Theo and Jed low risk, flip for prospects special. Now, after another tremendous outing, I find myself a little frustrated with just how good Hammel has been. I know it sounds silly, but there is a reason behind my statement.

We saw guys like Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza shipped out for prospects in seasons past. Garza even went on record this weekend with a message for Jeff Samardzija that he needed to pitch his way out of Chicago. Those players have brought a nice return back, but a guy like Hammel, while dominant so far this season, doesn’t have the track record in his career to fall back on. Couple that with an injury history that would have teams concerned and you’ve got a guy that has value but is simply showing it too early in the season. To put it simply, he’s peaking too early and may end up regressing to the norm as the trade stove just begins to warm up in late May to early June. I hope I’m wrong, but looking at his career numbers, he’s a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 with a sub .500 record and career ERA close to 5.00. You’re not fooling GM’s with a hot April. For this to work, he’s going to have to continue to dominate through May. At that point, GM’s may start to take notice and then we’re looking at a return somewhere in the Scott Feldman range in a perfect world.

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What Do We Do With Jose Veras?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Going for the sweep yesterday, the Cubs ran into the usual problem….Jose Veras. If you missed the game, it’s hard to blame everything on him, but he certainly did his share of damage, again.

In his appearances so far this season, he’s posted the following:

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR
Apr 2 1.0 1 1 1 2 1 0
Apr 6 0.2 0 2 2 4 1 0
Apr 8 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Apr 11 1.0 1 2 2 1 0 0
Apr 20 1.0 2 3 3 2 2 2
Apr 24 1.0 2 2 2 1 0 0
5.2 6 10 10 10 5 2

Basically he’s had one appearance that didn’t result in a run and that was over two weeks ago. Not only should he not be the closer of this team, but you begin to wonder if he should even be on the roster at this point. Let’s take a quick look at what options the Cubs have going forward.

Option 1Keep the Faith – This is probably the most beneficial option given the fact that he’s signed to just a one year deal at $3.85 million with a club option for 2015 that kicks in a $0.15 mil buyout if it’s not picked up. It’s a relatively low investment for a “closer” and if the Cubs can get him right, he could be a flip candidate. His recent struggles are a reason why I continually preach the concept of building your bullpen from within and not buying it on the free agent market. You never know what you’re going to get. I’d rather gamble with low cost guys from my system and spend money elsewhere. Nonetheless, if the Cubs keep Veras and hope that either something is broken healthwise that can be fixed or hope he can turn it around, then you have to continually try to put him in the easiest situations to have success. No situations even remotely high leverage at all. I’d almost be in favor of having him be a ROOGY just so he can have that one bit of success and build on that.

Option 2 - Remove Him From The Roster – While this is the decision most want now (me included), what purpose does it really serve other than keep our mental health a little stronger because we don’t have to watch? He’s out of options, so sending him to the minors is not going to happen given that he’d have to clear waivers and would have to consent to it beforehand. That just leaves being traded (not happening), claimed on waivers (probably not happening), or releasing him. I don’t like those options quite yet. This team is not a winning team so we can afford to roll the dice and go with option one with the hope that it turns out in the positive.


What’s On Tap

After another series non-win, the Cubs face the Brewers this weekend. I’m out of town on a camping trip so the blog will be kind of quiet on Saturday and Sunday. Just be aware, but still come by to chat. To hold you over, we get a guest piece on why the Brewers will crush the Cubs this weekend by our Brewers SweetSpot Network Friend, Ryan Topp (Disciples of Uecker)

Hello friendly Illinois baseball brethren

Most of us in Brewer-land are just about as shocked as you are by the standings right now. Some of us harbored hopes of being sort of fringe wild card contenders, but I don’t think anyone saw a start like this coming. Despite having played 16 of 22 games thus far against teams that made the playoffs in 2013, the Brewers have jumped out to a 16-6 record, the best in the major leagues.

They’ve gotten very balanced pitching up and down the rotation and the bullpen has been completely lights out locking down wins. The offense isn’t killing teams, but they’ve used an aggressive approach early in counts to score enough runs to let the pitchers win games for them. Just how sustainable all this is remains to be seen, but they have a deceptively deep roster and should have some wiggle room to make changes as the needs arise.

Now, for those of you who might be thinking of visiting Miller Park in droves and treating a couple of our best players unkindly, be forewarned. Ryan Braun LOVES it when you boo him. Eats it right up. Thus far, all six of his homers have come on the road. His three homer game in Philly with a bum thumb was basically just him returning their “brotherly love” in kind. He ripped the hearts out of Pirates fans with 9th inning homers off of Jason Grilli on both Saturday and Sunday, just because he could.

Furthermore, don’t expect Carlos Gomez to just put his head down and run around the bases when he hits a 450-foot homer this weekend. That isn’t how he does things and this also isn’t a funeral. It’s a game. You know, for fun. I would advise against having one of your pitchers try and tell anyone on the Brewers how they should go about their business. That didn’t play in Pittsburgh and it’s certainly not going to play in Miller Park.

Seriously, though, there are times when it’s hard not to envy what the Cubs have going with their minor league system and the way the roster is being setup to win big in a few years. This right now is the Brewers time, though. It has to be, because the roster isn’t particularly young and this window to win isn’t going to stay open forever. So please, come on up to Miller Park this weekend and enjoy the hospitality. Enjoy the brats, the beer, and the roof. Go home with your team barely having put up a fight in a three game sweep secure in the knowledge that not only does it help your hosts, but it also helps your position in the 2015 amateur draft.

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3 Reasons Why The Cubs Should Drop the Third Base Platoon

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Yesterday was an interesting day at Wrigley Field. There was a celebration and a devastating loss, but let’s start out with a topic other than that.

As I watch this team more and more, I become more convinced that perhaps the platoon at third base is not the way to go, but for reasons different than the way I felt at the beginning of the season. Coming into the season, I was a big Mike Olt for third base backer. I felt like going to Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy as the starter would be taking the safe option with a low ceiling. We know what those guys brought to the table and what they were capable of doing. Olt, on the other hand, has a much higher ceiling, but is more of a crap shoot. I could see the argument from people who were Olt bashers. After all, what had he proved? However, now that we’re almost a month in, my feeling on the position has changed. I would like to propose using Olt almost full time at third base with Valbuena moving to second base and Emilio Bonifacio moving to CF, and I have reasons why.

The Outfield is Quite Underwhelming – Normally, I would not advocate moving someone like Bonifacio to the OF, when he’s a natural infielder, but are we really losing any value defensively. What little we may lose, we’re gaining offensively. Looking at the current crop of outfielders on the team, you have Junior Lake, who could play CF but would really be better served playing LF. You have Nate Schierholtz who has played RF and then you have Ryan Kalish who slots in as a corner guy. Essentially, by moving Bonifacio to CF, you take the bat out of Ryan Sweeney or Justin Ruggiano‘s hands, and I’m OK with that. Ruggiano is 32 years old and we know what he is. Sweeney is nearing 30, hitting like garbage in 2014, and really not hitting all that well in a platoon role in his career. What are you really losing in the OF? I say nothing. Run out their with an OF of Lake, Bonifacio and Schierholtz for now and see what happens.

Mike Olt Needs To Be Given A Shot to Fail (or succeed) – I say it pessimistically because that’s the way a lot of Cub fans view prospects. They look at them as guys who are just that until they prove otherwise. I believe in Olt. I believe in his power and I believe in his defense. I think he can be a key piece to this puzzle going forward, but he has to get the chance to see every day at bats so he has the chance to get in the groove. Young guys don’t tend to be successful when they’re constantly worried about losing their job. Give him the job and let him play himself into it permanently or play himself out of it. Either way, you have to know what you have before Kris Bryant pushes himself up to the Majors.

Valbuena adds OBP – If we’re set on moving Bonifacio to CF, it opens the 2B spot. Common sense would say to put Darwin Barney back in that spot because of his defense, but I’d argue that what you lose defensively with Valbuena at second, you make up for with plate discipline and offensive production. Valbuena has more power, which is something this lineup sorely needs, and he’s show the ability to get on base via the walk much more consistently than Barney. Offense has been the biggest weakness of this team. At this point, Valbuena brings more to the table offensively, so he should get the nod.

MVP – Aaron Hill (.504 WPA)

Look at the shift in the win probability on that graph. These are the type of graphs you hate to look at, but they really show you how it went down. The Cubs basically lulled the Diamondbacks to sleep until the 9th when the wheels fell off. In fact, I missed the 9th inning live because I was at work, figured the game was over when it was 5-2 going into the 9th so I turned the game off on my iPad. It wasn’t until I got home that evening and checked Twitter and found this tweet that I found out what happened.

On the surface you’d look at the loss and be pissed, but remember, this is a team that is a work in progress. Stuff like this is going to happen. Is it acceptable? Heck no, but is it expected? Of course, it’s a young team. When it comes down to it, this series could end with a win if we close it out tomorrow. Move on and focus there.

  • Really liked the throwback uniforms worn today. I love very plain uniforms that they used to wear when baseball was in it’s infancy. I love the baggy pants and high socks and I loved the plain hats and dark blue colors. Wonderful.
  • Jeff Samardzija continues to make himself more and more valuable with each and every start. Most figure that the Cubs have all but cut ties with him, but if the success continues, at what point do they rethink that and invest the money in him? It’s a tough call. I would have said that he wasn’t worth # 1 starter money prior to this season, but he’s been really really good so far. If he keeps it up, I think you have to consider it.
  • Please don’t comment bomb with all the comments that Pedro Strop is garbage. Just know that I’m sticking to my assertion that this bullpen, when all is said and done, will be top 5 in bullpen ERA in the NL. Mark it down and watch it happen.
  • Anyone at the game today? How were the cupcakes they were given out? Were they Jewel brand or did they spring for some higher quality cakes?

Mike Bolsinger

MLB.com

Bolsinger made his first Major League start Saturday against the Dodgers. He cruised through the first three innings but allowed a three-run homer in the fourth and was chased from the game in the fifth.

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A Winning Streak Has Begun

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

MVPJason Hammel (.306 WPA)

The Cubs finally put a winning streak together tonight beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2. Jason Hammel once again proved he was a great offseason acquisition stiffening the Diamondbacks for seven innings. He really knows how to pitch and has provided the young staff with great insight on how to pitch in certain counts and get out of jams. Hammel is 3-1 on the season and looks like a possible mid-season trade candidate if he keeps up this hot start. Justin Grimm provided Cubs fans with another great outing out of the bullpen. This has helped ease some of the pain caused by Jose Veras.

Grimm’s earned run average is under 1 at .84. Grimm had a very efficient outing of 18 pitches and 12 strikes which included a strikeout in his only inning of work. Overall the offense did an admirable job of hitting with runners in scoring position going 5 for 12 which is way above average for the Cubs this season.  Mike Olt had a clutch two out three run homerun in the fifth that spelled the end for Brandon McCarthy’s night. Luis Valbuena really stood out at the plate seeing forty pitches over five plate appearances. He looked great in the leadoff role and really set the table for the rest of the lineup. Rizzo continued his hot play going 1 for 3 and registering two walks while seeing 34 pitches. Starlin Castro provided the cubs with not only offense but great play in the field providing a diving stop and throw to first in the seventh inning.

Looking forward tomorrow’s matchup the Cubs send Jeff Samardzija to the mound as he looks to register his first win on the season against Wade Miley.

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Episode 12 – The OOTP Baseball Episode

Monday, April 21st, 2014

This week’s episode of the show we welcome special guest, Brad Cook of Out of the Park Developments to talk about the release of OOTP Baseball 15 and iOOTP14

Check out the game at www.ootpdevelopments.com


Download the Show (42 min / 10 MB)

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