Archive for May, 2014

Friday Cubs Trivia

Friday, May 30th, 2014

This year we saw a really weird occurrence where Jeff Samardzija pitched out of his mind and had zero wins to show for it. There were stats galore about if it had even been done before. I haven’t posted much about it this season, but I’m a big fan of Baseball Reference and their play index tool. I used that to come up with some questions. See if you can guess when the last time these events happened and by who.

Q. When was the last time a position player pitched for the Cubs in a game?

A. Click here for the answer. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to here.

Q. When was the last time a Cubs pitcher gave up 9 runs or more and still got a win?

A. It’s happened four times, but the most recent was here. Poor Samardzija.

Q. Who was the last Cub hitter to qualify for the batting title based on number of plate appearances, but hit under .200?

A. Mike Olt has hope because this guy did it in 1981

Q. Who holds the Cubs record for most games falling a single short of the cycle?

A. This guy has done it twice. Here were the individual games.

Hopefully that was some fun for you on this Friday. Here’s hoping for a series win against the Brewers this weekend.

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GirlieView (05/29/2014)

Thursday, May 29th, 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 2014 Season = 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. Let’s get to it!

Lizzies

  • I know umpiring is a tough job and perfection is not expected but a little humility would go a long way.
  • I saw a 4 top of umpires at Chrissy Ruth’s steak house, the porterhouse was outstanding.
  • I’ll be honest though, I went to bed last night with the Cubs up 7-2 and can’t say I was sure they would get the win.
  • Pre O.C. Raker would probably not have driven a Toyota minivan off the lot and told his buddies he had a SUV.
  • No minivan’s in the Raker household, ever. Mrs Raker does not care for minivans.
  • It is always good to know who the boss is.
  • The only difference between your SUV and a minivan is a sliding door and a bunch of Cheerios mashed into the upholstery.
  • The ghost of Marmol continues to haunt me.
  • Why 8 bullpen arms? The Cubs are so devoid of major league hitters why have an extra position player when the extra bullpen guy hits just as well as anyone else in the line up. This way we have an extra arm and an extra automatic out all in one.
  • I assume the playoff odds increased based on Monday’s game since last night sure didn’t insprire any additional hope for me.
  • Going from .9 to 1.2 is no small deal. Let’s enjoy it.
  • Don’t kid yourself, we are really at -218% which is on the wrong side of a snowballs chance in hell. 1.2% means we should of at least won one world series in the past 100 years and we all know the answer to that.
  • Baker to Rawlings for one box of gamers.
  • “This also depresses me that this is our topic – Trades and Smokies
  • At least batch cooking and spreadsheets are interesting. No wait that depresses me too.”
  • We know more than we want to know.
  • I’m thinking Hammel goes first, not that it’s what I want.
  • The Cubs just may have found their third baseman going forward as they move into their window of competing.
  • Heard from one of my brewers freinds today that Bob Ueker introduced him on the broadcast with “his era is just over 2 touchdowns”
  • Long time no hear………………the Cubs are having a losing season so far just to bring you up to speed….
  • Sorry for being away so long. Bob Brenly and I have been following Mister Mister around the country on their latest tour of state fairs. They rock.
  • I guess when I think of the “complete game” era, I think of the 50s and earlier. The time when bringing in a relief pitcher was an insult to your manhood.
  • Interesting fact: Rizzo has approximately 25% of the team’s walks so far this season.
  • Anthony Rizzo has shown tremendous maturity and patience at the plate, Shark is pitching out of his mind, Mike Olt has shown RIDIC power, and some of the young bullpen arms look outstanding.
  • This is an article that warms my heart to see, both because Casto is so much better but also all the statistical evidence. There almost should be a spreadsheet attached.
  • Keep an eye open for our missing Johnsons on your travels.
  • To sum up: Castro is getting better with age.
  • A very diverse Cubs site with other topics ranging from food to fitness, personal grooming to star wars, musical preferences and spreadsheets. I’m bracing for what’s next.
  • We need to quit wasting time on star wars themes and get back to our basic premise… dick jokes.
  • That’s a funny name…who is he?
  • I bet this ends well.
  • I’ve shoveled non-colloquial shit. It takes time. At least we’re not talking about a bunch of dudes on the fast track to Japan and Trey McNutt, even though those are some of the best things to talk about.
  • where is trey?
  • Post-op. Goes by Deuce now.
  • Impatience is for the masses that didn’t understand the organizational dysfunction of the Milton Bradley era.

Lizard

  • Being a Cubs fan is a lifestyle choice that I gladly make every day.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout out to Luke Jett for his first 2014-season Lizzies this week! Yay!

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Thanks for being here!

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

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
4. Joe Aiello
6. Doug S.
7. Chuck
8. Dork
9. Chet West
10. Jerry in Wisconsin

Chit Chat

I’ve asked this a few times now but for me it changes often and maybe for you too! Who is your favorite Cub right now? Is this a change from the beginning of the season?

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Resetting What it Means to be a Cubs Fan

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

In the summer of 1984 I was 15 years old.  Summer of ’84 saw Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and the Chicago Cubs have their best season in almost 40 years.  It was glorious! We had Ryno, Zonk, the Sarge, the Bull, and Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1. The ’84 squad is my favorite inclination of the Chicago National League ball club and will possibly never be topped. In the end…they lost…and I truly cried.

In 1989 I was in college and the Cubs surprised to win the National League East. I didn’t expect the Cubs to beat the Giants in the NLCS, therefore I took the loss healthier than in’ 84. (no tears)

In the 1990’s, Greg Maddux was my favorite player. $500,000 and a horrid front office decision kept him from being a Cub for life. The Cubs let one of the best pitchers in the history of the game walk away in his prime. This one stung for quite a few years.

In 2003 I was 35 years old with a family. The loss to the Marlins caused me a sleepless night…bordering on a nervous breakdown. If you have read my book you also know that this was a catalyst for a more mature life change…and lead me to writing that book.

In the 2000’s, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were to be the next Koufax and Drysdale, or at least Glavine and Maddux…that didn’t work out quite as expected.

Are you depressed yet?

If I sent some of you scurrying to get a prescription for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologize…that was not my intention. To the contrary, recalling these tragic events will begin to serve my point.

What are your earliest memories of being a Cubs’ fan? I remember getting teased from Sox fans in my neighborhood…or kids who really didn’t declare a team.  If they did root for a non-Chicago team it was the Yankees, or Dodgers…or another perpetual winner.  The kids would torment me about the loser Cubbies, and I didn’t really know how to fight back.  The Cubs have been losers more times than not…what was I supposed to say?  Almost 40 years later I realize that hidden within my Cubs’ love were qualities that would lead to accomplishments in life.  Reflecting back, I have had more success than many of those neighborhood kids. Is the reason the fact that I am a Cubs’ fan? No…but it plays a part.

I don’t give up.  In fact, this is the coping strategy I use to deal with stress in my life.  We all have days where “life kicks our a$$”.  As I am lying in bed at night after one of those days, I say to myself; “You got you’re a$$ kicked today…but tomorrow, you are going to scrape yourself up…and go in and fight again” Many times, I will get my a$$ kicked a second straight day.

Now before you view this as self-serving back-patting, allow me to elaborate in relation to being a Cubs’ fan.  I consider myself to be a Rockyologist. I have seen every Rocky film multiple times. (eh, Rocky V only 3-4 times) I am an absolute sucker for them, never mind the fact that all 6 are essentially the same story re-hashed.  Out of all 6 Rocky films I have one favorite scene that will never change.  You might presume it to be a fight scene or one of the many training montages. Nope…simple dialogue from a scene from Rocky II:

Apollo Creed is meeting with his advisors regarding strategies to lure Rocky to fight him again, after narrowly winning by decision in their first bout. Apollo insists on drawing Rocky out of his “retirement”, Apollo’s trainer and closest confidante Tony Duke suggests they go after “new meat”.

APOLLO: “What are you afraid of Tony?”

DUKE: “….Honest?”

APOLLO: “Yeah, honest.”

Duke looks back at the other advisers and approaches Apollo at his desk and speaks quietly…

DUKE: “He’s all wrong for us baby…I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man beat before…and the man kept COMING AFTER YOU! We don’t need that kind of man in our lives.”

Cubs’ fans…that’s us! How often have we had our hearts ripped out of our chests? We have had our hopes and dreams obliterated and snatched away when they were close enough to feel and touch.  We have ridden emotional roller coasters that constantly crash into a fury of despair.

…but we don’t stop.  We keep coming back…keep coming after it.  Others may scoff at this as naivety or stupidity…and our own insecurities have let that define us.  Resilient, irrepressible, tough…these are words we never hear used to describe Cubs’ fans…but we are.

I bet some of you could tell a story of a relative who has passed…a Cubs’ fan “up to their dying days.” I heard these stories all the time when I was at the Cubs Convention this year.  People who spend their whole lives dreaming, hoping…not giving up. Cubs’ fans should wear this as a badge of honor; instead we get labeled as Lemmings with paper bags over our heads that plunge into season after season.  Change the narrative!

“Yes, I am a Cubs fan…I will never give up!”

Next time a fan of a team that resides approximately 7.1 miles south of Wrigley derides you for rooting for “losers”….simply say:

“Yeah, I am not going to quit now. Quitting is the easy thing to do…that’s why some teams can’t get fans to show up to their games”

I know other fans have suffered greatly (I see you Cleveland!), but no team has endured the history of the Cubs.  Embrace it! Market it! Instead of using “Committed” and showing a guy with a Cubs tattoo on his head…present an older fan who has been through it all…and he or she will never give up.

There are great fans in all of sports, and I find it silly when the title of “best fans” is attempted to be quantified.  Cubs’ fans are not better fans than any other fans…yet our history differs from any other team.  There is no team that has missed as often as the Cubs…but generation after generation keeps coming back.

Some of you may find this corny, cheesy or whatever other food related reference to infer a naïve world view.  That’s fine… call it whatever you want…but I observe people quit in life often, in many avenues of their lives.

Cubs’ fans don’t…and instead of embracing the lovable losers’ moniker…we need to embrace a new image. “Wait ‘til next year” is a punch line used on the Cubs’ quite frequently.  Here are a few alternatives I would prefer:

We’ll be back.

Knock us down, we’ll get back up.

100 Years of Resiliency!

Still fighting!

You think 95 losses will get us down…Hah!

Okay…so that last one is kind of a joke.

I will finish my Cubs’ Psychology lesson with one final thought. Remember that neighborhood kid I mentioned that would root for the Yankees, or any other winner? Well, even an arm-chair psychiatrist like me can figure out why some kids do that…they are afraid…most likely of losing. Say what you want of Cubs’ fans…but we are definitely not afraid of losing!

Neither is Rocky…and that’s what makes him dangerous. Cue the theme music!

Da da da da dada da dada da..da da da da dada da dada da

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How Are the Top 5 Prospects Doing?

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Heading into the season, near unanimity existed regarding the identities of the Cubs’ top prospects: shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora, right fielder Jorge Soler, and right handed pitcher C.J. Edwards. Some publications put Edwards higher than Soler, some put Edwards behind all the position player prospects, but these were the Cubs’ top five prospects. Now, with nearly two months of play, behind us, how are they doing, and when can we expect to see them in Wrigley Field? Just as a note, all of my estimated times of arrival for theses prospects presume that the Cubs do not do something crazy like win 20 of 25 games to get back into contention. Of course, should the Cubs miraculously end up competing for a postseason spot, the timelines for at least some of these prospects, particularly Baez and Bryant, could speed up to improve the Major League team for a stretch run.

Javier Baez
Triple A Iowa Cubs, Age 21.
.225/.287/.437, 7 HRs, 33.5% K rate, 7.2% walk rate, 4 SB, 1 CS

Had this posted prior to May 17, just ten days ago, Javier Baez’s 2014 season would have been an unmitigated disaster. Through May 16, Baez was batting .145/.230/.255 with just 3 home runs and a 36.9% strikeout rate, looking wholly over matched as the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League. In the past ten days, on the other hand, Baez hit .439/.444/.927 with four home runs and a much more manageable 24.4% strikeout rate.

It’s possible Baez’s struggles were due in part to an early season injury. After struggling in his first few games of the season, Baez appeared to be turning it around early before going on the disabled list due to a badly rolled ankle, and struggled even more greatly upon his return. On the other hand, Baez may have been destined for a fairly extended struggle in his first season in Triple A. He had starts upon his promotions to both High A and Double A before making the adjustments that eventually allowed him to dominate the Florida State and Southern Leagues, and his approach, which involved swinging as hard as he could at any pitch he thought he could make contact with, was one that more advanced Triple A pitchers could take advantage of. There’s also the distinct possibility that this is just a hot streak, as opposed to Baez making real adjustments.

Either way, Baez’s extended early season struggles lead me to believe that Baez will not see the Majors until early to mid-2015. The extremely elevated strikeout rate, plus the extreme extent of Baez’s struggles through mid-May, give the front office more than enough reasons (or excuses, if you’d prefer to phrase it that way) to leave Baez in Iowa to get a full season of playing time at Triple A, and it’s unlikely the Cubs’ would add Baez to the 40 man roster in September, in turn removing someone else, to burn MLB service time in games that, for the Cubs, have a strong chance of being rather meaningless.

Kris Bryant
Double A Tennesse Smokies, Age 22.
.337/.431/.641, 14 HRs, 27.9% strikeout rate, 11.8% walk rate, 6 SB, 2 CS

If any prospect in the Cubs’ system has been close to a complete success, it’s Bryant. Not much could be said about Bryant beyond what the statistics already show you. Bryant is tied for the Southern League lead in on base percentage, leads the Southern League in home runs by 4, leads the Southern League in slugging percentage by more than 100 points, and leads the Southern League in OPS by nearly 130 points.

Bryant’s sole issues in his first full professional season have been an elevated strikeout rate and defensive issues at 3B. Bryant will always strike out a fairly high amount, but is a more complete hitter who can get around that issue as opposed to Baez, who has a greater chance of striking out too much to every reach his power. While prospect comparisons are dubious, I have been thinking something along the lines of a right handed Jim Thome as far as the contact/walks/power are concerned. Bryant has also made far too many errors at 3B, and the Cubs may be looking to move him to an outfield corner.

Which is precisely what I think the Cubs will do when they promote Bryant to Triple A in the next 45 days or so. As with Baez, I do not think the Cubs will promote Bryant to the Big League club this season, but he will an every day player in Wrigley Field sometime early of mid-season 2015. Meanwhile, I’d expect to see Bryant manning right field in the Pacific Coast League over the last two months of the season or so.

Albert Almora
High A Daytona Cubs, Age 20
.266/.287/.364, 2 HRs, 10.5% K rate, 2.2% BB rate, 3 SB, 3 CS

No one’s start has me more concerned than Almora’s. His offensive struggles in  the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League is not exactly a surprise because Almora lacks elite power, but precisely due to that lack of power Almora needs to be able to get on base to succeed offensively. It’s not that Almora is Emilio Bonifacio as far as power is concerned, but he’s more a guy that will top out around 15 home runs at his peak.

A 2.2% walk rate is not going to allow Almora to get on base enough, even with the extremely low strikeout rate. The word on Almora when he was drafted in 2012 was that he had an extremely advanced approach at the plate. At some point, that approach will have to lead to Almora getting on base much more than he is now, or Almora will no longer be a top prospect.

I find it unlikely that Almora will get a mid-season promotion to Double A Tennessee this season. As such, best case scenario is likely an early to mid-2016 debut in the Majors, and that is dependent on Almora getting on base at a much higher clip than he currently is.

Jorge Soler
Double A Tennessee Smokies, Age 22
.333/.407/.625, 0 HRs, 18.5% K rate, 11.1% BB rate, 0 SB, 0 CS

That batting line on Soler looks really nice, right? The problem is that he compiled it in only seven games due to a couple of leg injuries leading to a pair of disabled list stints, including one he is on right now due to a hamstring pull. The injuries are of the minor variety, but his career to this point has been hampered by such relatively minor injures. He needs to show he can stay on the field.

If Soler can get healthy, stay healthy, and produce, he could still be looking at a mid-2015 promotion to the Majors.

C.J. Edwards
Double A Tennessee Smokies, Age 22
4 GS, 20.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 8.71 K/9, 3.48 BB/9

Heading into the season, no one questioned Edwards’ stuff, which is top of the rotation quality. However, they did question whether his extremely thin frame could hold up to a starter’s work load. He started the season pitching quite well. Not as well as he pitched in 2013, but quite well nonetheless. Unfortunately, Edwards then felt some tightness in his right shoulder, and has been shut down since April 20.

The good news is that Edwards’ issues are not structural (in other words, they’re muscle related instead of joint and/or ligament related) , and Cubs’ brass indicated that, had Edwards been an MLB veteran as opposed to a young prospect, this is the sort of discomfort he likely would have pitched through. The bad news is that this adds fuel to the fire that Edwards’ future is in the bullpen, reducing his value in any trade, and that Edwards will not be back with the team until after the All Star Break (although it’s unclear whether the team was referring to the Southern League break in mid-June or the MLB break in mid-July).

Edwards was a pitcher some thought could see some time in the Cubs’ bullpen later this season. That is likely out the window at this point. Edwards could see the big league club as a reliever sometime in 2015, though, and potentially move into the rotation in 2016, if all else goes well.

Next time, we’ll look at a handful of the Cubs’ less known and less heralded prospects, including the two prospects most likely to make meaningful contributions on the Major League roster in 2014: right handed starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks and switch hitting second baseman Arismendy Alcantara.

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World Champs Struggling, Big Names Come Back & More!

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Another week, another load of baseball news to wrap up. This week was no different, and there were certainly some out-of-the-ordinary stories that deserved some attention.

Red Sox Sink Deeply Into Slump

To say that things haven’t went how the Red Sox expected this year would be a drastic understatement. They currently sit in last place in the AL East (one of the weaker divisions in baseball this year) and are on a horrific losing streak.

They’ve lost 9 games in a row, including a heart breaker against the Rays on Saturday in which they led at one point 5-0. They went on to lose that game in 15 innings, and that game serves as a good example of how their season has went as a whole.

Injuries have played a role in this, with Xander Boegarts and Shane Victorino both missing extended time this season. Overall, though, the team has just been completely incapable to string hits together.

The team didn’t lose it’s 28th game until June 14th last season, and they’re digging a hole that will be incredible difficult to get out of. Signing Stephen Drew was a step in the right direction in my mind, but more than a few players are going to have to get hot for them to have a chance this year. Do you think the Red Sox will end up making the playoffs?

Cubs Defeat Tanaka

THE CUBS HANDED MASAHIRO TANAKA HIS FIRST LOSS SINCE 2012!

Two Aces Return To Form

Unfortunately to start off this season, we had two of the best left-handed pitchers in the game put on the shelf after just a few starts. Both are obvious Cy Young contenders, and they each showed that as they made their way back from injury.

First, Clayton Kershaw returned to his award-winning form after getting roughed up last week. Against the Phillies, Kershaw threw 6 innings of 2-hit baseball, and struck out 9 batters on his way to his third win of the season.

Over in Chicago, Chris Sale came back with a bang after suffering a flexor muscle strain back in the middle of April. In 6 innings against the AL East-leading Yankees, Sale racked up 10 strikeouts and surrendered just 1 hit for his 4th win of the year.

It’s truly enjoyable to watch both of these guys pitch, and the fact that they’re only 25 (Sale) and 26 (Kershaw) makes it even better. What are the odds that each of these two win the Cy Young in their respective leagues this year?

Olivo Takes Notes From Tyson

Miguel Olivo, a career major leaguer, has found himself toiling in the minors over the past couple of seasons. Understandably, this shot to the ego could be a bit frustrating, but his actions towards a teammate were completely unexpected.

Olivo, who was playing in AAA for the Albuquerque Isotopes (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate), reportedly got into an altercation with infielder Alex Guerrero, who the team signed for $28 million this past offseason.

While clubhouse fights aren’t all that uncommon, the fighting style of Olivo was certainly out the ordinary. In a page taken straight out of the Tyson vs. Holyfield playbook, Olivo bit a piece of Guerrero’s ear off.

Of course, the Dodgers released him. At 35-years old, this might be it for the veteran backstop. While he had a pretty solid career that spanned a few organizations, he’ll undoubtedly be remembered for this incident. Is this the weirdest story from baseball this year?

Fielder Done For The Year

The baseball world was stunned this offseason when the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers completed a trade that sent Prince Fielder to Texas straight up for second baseman Ian Kinsler. So far, the early returns heavily favor the Tigers.

While Kinsler has become a steady bat at the top of the lineup for the World Series favorite Tigers, Fielder has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just 3 home runs and batting a lowly .247.

If the reports coming out lately are true, this season will be getting even worse for Prince. It is being reported that he will need season-ending neck surgery to correct a herniated disk in his neck, which is a big blow for both him and the team.

The Rangers have struggled to keep pace in the competitive AL West, and the loss of Fielder might cripple their chances of making the playoffs. After being expected to be one of the biggest bounce-back players of 2014, it’s safe to say that things haven’t gone Fielder’s way. Is there any way that he can return to the level of play that he was at in Milwaukee?

This Week’s MVP: Michael Brantley (.419/.500/.742, 2 HR, 7 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: C.J. Wilson (2-0, 0.59 ERA, 10 K)

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My Thoughts on Manny Ramirez and the Ricketts Video

Monday, May 26th, 2014

It’s been a little quiet on my end when it comes to putting up new content. To be honest, I hadn’t watched a full game or even close to it in two weeks, so it’s hard to write about something you’re not actually consuming. Sunday I watched the game in full, so it’s time to come out of hibernation and discuss some of the recent news around this team.

Manny Ramirez Signing – I posted the media release yesterday that the Cubs had signed the former Red Sox slugger to a deal that makes him a player / coach in AAA. What I find to be a load of BS is the statement from the Cubs about if Ramirez would be a member of the Major League roster.

While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs major league roster, we do think at this stage of his life he’s a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization.  Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects. If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the major leagues and help another team, but that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference.

That’s such a lie. You know that if he is crushing the ball in AAA, with ticket sales down, that the Cubs would purchase his contract and call him up with the hopes of generating a buzz before trading him to a contender. Just be honest with what you’re planning. I have no problem with him being here or the role they have brought him in to fill. He’s a great hitter and should have knowledge to impart, but don’t tell some garbage line about why he’s here. That crap pisses me off.

Tom Ricketts Video – If you haven’t seen the video yet, take a minute to watch it. At first, my reaction was that the video was cheesy and just another example of what makes us a laughing stock. However, as I look at it more, I think it was a good idea. I think it shows fans what the facilities are truly like. I don’t blame the Ricketts family for not doing some renovations while they wait for the jumbo-tron stuff to be sorted out. I wouldn’t throw money into a place that I might ultimately move from, either. Now the Ricketts family have put the ball in their court and it’s time to deliver. They’ve said they will move forward. Now it’s time to act on it

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Cubs Sign Manny Ramirez

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

From the Cubs Media Relation Department:

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs today signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract to be a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa.  President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who was with Ramirez for seven years in the Boston Red Sox organization, made the announcement.

“We are excited to welcome Manny to the Cubs organization and look forward to him working with our young hitters,” Epstein said.  “Manny is not only one of the best hitters of all time, he is also a dedicated student of hitting and has proven to be a gifted teacher with younger teammates who have worked with him in the batting cage.  Behind the scenes he has always been a tireless worker who is very serious about the craft of hitting.  Manny has made real mistakes in the past but he has owned up to them and moved his life in a positive direction the last couple of years.  He is in a really great place right now and wants to share the lessons he’s learned along the way.  We think he deserves another chance and that our young hitters will benefit from it.”

“While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs major league roster, we do think at this stage of his life he’s a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization.  Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects. If he shows there is still some magic in his bat, perhaps he will find his way to the major leagues and help another team, but that is not why he is here. We are thrilled that he wants to work with our young hitters and make a difference.”

Ramirez, 41, is a lifetime .312 hitter with 555 home runs in 2,302 games covering 19 major league seasons.

“I’m at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game that I love — the game that has meant so much to me and done so much for me and my family,” Ramirez said.  “I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation – both what to do and what not to do. The Cubs have some very talented young hitters, and I would love nothing more than to make a positive impact on their careers. I am passionate about baseball and about hitting, and I have a lot to offer. While I would love to return to the major leagues, I leave that in God’s hands. My focus will be on working with the young hitters, making sure they don’t make the same mistakes I made, and helping the team any way I can.”

Ramirez will report to the Cubs’ spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., for at-bats in extended spring training before joining Iowa.

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All-Galaxy Team Member signed by Reds

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

I have a very strange mind…I have no problem confessing to that fact.

My mind is a muddled labyrinth of trivial (useless?) information.  Sports facts and pop culture material make up the vast majority of data that inhabits my brain.  This helps immensely when embarking on a creative project (writing a book) but is useless with more practical tasks. (Like putting ANYTHING together)

For this reason, I encounter constant triggers; a particular situation reminds me of a film, I use movie lines constantly throughout the day, and a sports thought will enter every few seconds.  While perusing and consuming sports information this week, I encountered an old trigger; pitcher Jair Jurrjens.

Jair Jurrjens was signed this week to a minor league deal by the Cincinnati Reds. Jurrjens, who is still only 28, had three very good years for the Atlanta Braves, and was an All-Star as recently as 2011.  Yet, Jair Jurrjen’s pitching ability has never intrigued me.  What attracted me to Jair Jurrjens …was his name.

The very first time I read the name “Jair Jurrjens” an immediate connection entered my mind…Star Wars! The name Jair Jurrjens appeared like it could have been lifted directly from any of the six Star Wars films…either from the original trilogy (golden and glorious!) or the prequels (a very rusty bronze). I imagined Jair Jurrjens as a blaster wielding space mercenary, a wise-old Jedi, or even (yuck!) a Gungan.

Jair Jurrjens inspired me to examine other MLB names and to blog about my first ever All-Galaxy team, consisting of Major Leaguers whose monikers would fit nicely in George Lucas’ expansive Star Wars Universe.   Upon seeing Mr. Jurrjens name this week, I decided to update my team with current MLB players.  Thus I present my updated version of the MLB All-Galaxy team:

…a long time ago,

in a league far, far away…

 

PLAYER                     POS/TEAM                          COMMENTS                                               

Yordano Ventura   P/KCR                        “Y” names are common in Lucas-world

Ivan Nova                 P/NYY                        probably a Jedi, possible bounty-hunter

JA Happ                     P/TOR            swashbuckler “Solo” type space pirate

Ian Krol                     P/WAS           doesn’t “the Krol Galaxy” sound right?

Yu Darvish                P/TEX             first and last names work in Star Wars Universe

Joba Chamberlain  P/DET                        Jo-Ba…combined with Richard, Wilt and Neville

Jhoulys Chacin        P/COL                        Do you know how to pronounce that first name?

Michael Wacha       P/STL             What is a Wacha? Just sounds like it’s something

Koji Uehera              P/BOS                        Yes, Asian names works well…blame Lucas

Kyle Kendrick          P/PHI             lots of alliteration in Star Wars, like Kyle Kataran

Jair Jurrjens             P/CIN             will always be on the team in some capacity

Yan Gomes               C/CLE             short “Y” name…could be an alien

Yasmani Grandal    C/SDP                        Gosh…does he sound like a wise old Jedi!

Edwin Encarncion  1B/TOR         probably works at Bespin Cloud City with Lando

Dan Uggla                 2B/ATL          possible member of Trade Federation

Troy Tulowitzki       SS/COL          space hero… last name sounds like a gun

Yangervis Solarte   3B/NYY          just admire it…no comments necessary

Torii Hunter             OF/DET         take note of the unnecessary extra “i”

Yasiel Puig                OF/LAD         the “Puigs” sound like a race, like the “Hutts

Shin-Soo Choo        OF/TEX          once again, blame Lucas

Dayan Viciedo         OF/CHW       Dayan is a Jedi name, with Dark Side potential

Jedd Gyorko                        IF/SD              two “d’s” and last name sounds like a space lizard

Erick Aybar              IF/LAA           close to Ackbar, and weird “k” at end of Eric

Josmil Pinto              DH/MIN        many possibilities, but I will go with a young Jedi

Lucas Duda              1B/NYM        lives in Tatooine desert, likes power-converters

That makes up a functional 25 man roster…and it would truly be a pretty good team! Just for fun, here are some names that just missed the cut:

CC Sabathia, Wei Yin Chen, Vidal Nuno, Brock Holt, Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis, Nori Aoki, Chris Colabello, John Jaso, Coco Crisp, CJ Cron, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mat(1 “t”) Gamel, JP Arencibia, Tanner Roark, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Cole Hamels, Reid Brignac and DiDi Gregorius.

Yes, my level of Star Wars Geekdom is very high, but please don’t judge me as I am just as adept in my knowledge of manly tough-guy sports.  I wish not to offend anyone who may share these names with said players…if you do, I am envious! I would love a cool name like Skywalker, Han Solo or Dayan. As far as any cultural offense taken…blame Lucas.

Now…what would the team be called? The Tatooine Tusken Raiders? The Hoth Wampas? Kamino Cloners?

Okay…too much of my Star Wars nerd-side is showing again. How about the Cubs beating Tanaka? Boy, Hammel and EJax are really pitching well! Rizzo and Castro look great! Wait a minute…Starlin! How could I miss that?

Next team maybe…

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A Look at Starlin Castro’s Turnaround

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

It feels good to be back. I’ve been in the middle of a big move, and I’m still in a sort of limbo, but you, dear reader, have remained in my heart.

There hasn’t been much to get excited about as far as team accomplishments this season, but there have been some individual performances from young players that allow me to have hope for the future. Anthony Rizzo has shown tremendous maturity and patience at the plate, Shark is pitching out of his mind, Mike Olt has shown RIDIC power, and some of the young bullpen arms look outstanding. Today, though, I’d like to focus on the player who had the most question marks surrounding him coming into this season: Starlin Castro.

We all know the story of Castro’s 2013: it was awful. Apparently, there were attempts by the management to get him to adjust his approach to become a more patient, “selectively aggressive” hitter that just didn’t work out. To recap, his 2013 numbers were .245/.284/.347/.631 which was good for a -0.6 WAR and 72 OPS+ (by far career lows). [as a quick review for those that need it: WAR is Wins Against Replacement (so Castro in 2013 actually performed worse than a AAA replacement shortstop) and OPS+ is a normalized On-base plus Slugging metric in which 100 is league average - so Castro was 28% worse than league average - this was the first year he didn't have a 100 OPS+ or better].

It’s early in the season, but there’s no mistaking that Castro seems like a different player this year. Even without looking at the statistics, it’s obvious that Castro is driving the ball more, and he seems to be having more “fun” out there this year (does having fun lead to better production, or does better production lead to having more fun? I tend to think it’s more of the latter, but there’s probably a two-way relationship there). As for the numbers, they’re absolutely fantastic: .302/.341/.491/.832 with a 1.3 WAR (which is awesome – remember, WAR is cumulative, so to have that number in May is great – his career-high WAR for a season is 3.4, which he posted in 2012) and a 123 OPS+ (career high is 111 in 2011). Again, it’s early, but his slugging percentage is 60 points higher than his career high, as is his OPS. If this holds, this will be Castro’s best season by a significant margin. So far, Castro has been the second-best offensive shortstop in all of baseball (behind only Troy Tulowitzski, who is out of his mind).

The most striking difference is found in the power numbers. I’ve already referenced the career-high (so far) .491 slugging, but a look at Castro’s ISO can give us even more information [quick review: ISO (Isolated Power) is a measure of a player's raw power and is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage, which gives us a metric for extra base hits per at bat]. Castro’s ISO this year is a very-excellent (and career high by far) .189 (his previous career high was .147). [side note: Mike Olt's ISO is an insane .275 - dude basically either strikes out or hits a home run.] Castro already has 6 home runs and 12 doubles.

So, why is Castro playing so much better this season? Is it because he’s abandoned the “experiment” from last season and returned to his pure, “see-ball-hit-ball” instinctive approach? Or, is that “experiment” finally paying-off? After all, the point of that experiment was for Castro to wait for pitches that he can drive for extra-base power. Is it the positive influence of Rick Renteria? Is it the absence of the influence of Dale Sveum? Should we credit new hitting coach Bill Mueller? Is it simply a result of Castro’s natural maturation (after all, he’s still only 24)? Is he working harder now? Is his personal life in better shape? Is it due to the energy brought in by players like Bonofacio? Is it due to pressure from minor league players knocking at the door? Honestly, we’ll never really know, and I suspect that it’s a complex combination of all of the above. After all, human beings are messy, complicated creatures, and our behavior is rarely due to one factor. I’d love to hear your thoughts about Castro in the comments. Do you think he is going to sustain this over the course of the season and moving forward? If you wanted to trade Castro before, have you changed your mind?

Next time, I’ll have some thoughts on the upcoming – and very important – MLB Draft. Later!

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