Archive for June, 2014

Promotions For Everyone

Friday, June 20th, 2014

A late start for me this morning. Before we get to the news, I want to rant a little. I was clearing some brush in my yard over the weekend and got my first ever experience with poison ivy. Holy crap. That mess hurts. Thankfully it’s just on my right shin, but it feels like death. Any home remedies for me? On to the news.

In case you missed it, the Cubs promoted super prospect, Kris Bryant to AAA and he made his debut last night. When the dust cleared on the night, he had done what he always does…hit a home run. What’s exciting to me is that two of the core four of prospects are now just a phone call away in Iowa. Obviously we won’t see Bryant this quick, but you have to admit you’re starting to see the light at the end of the rebuild tunnel. I know I am. I’m still approaching with caution, but it’s hard not to get excited about 2015 and 2016 with these guys on the cusp.

Also promoted was this year’s first round pick, Kyle Schwarber, who spent just five games at short season level ball before being promoted to Kane County. My advice would be to go see him now before he’s moved again. College guys that hit the baseball tend to move through a system fairly quickly. In his five games at Boise, Schwarber hit .600 / .625 / .1350 with four home runs in those five games.

Finally, two more power arms for the bullpen were promoted. The first was my preseason pick to succeed, Arodys Vizcaino. I still maintain that he will make an impact on the Major league roster this year, and now he’s a step closer after being moved up to Iowa with Armando Rivero. Both are guys who could add depth to an already really good bullpen. What that does is free up the ability to move a guy like James Russell before the deadline.

The next few weeks will be an interesting couple weeks.

Finally, for the last few weeks, I’ve been toying with the idea of having a different theme to close a post out each day of the work week. Obviously this would have to include me actually posting each day of the work week, but what I’ve come up with is this.

Minor League Monday – A look at who’s hot over the last week and who’s not

Trivia Tuesday – Pretty self explanatory

Would You Rather Wednesday – Taken from my favorite podcast, the Waddle & Silvy show on ESPN 1000, I’ll give you some questions to answer

Baseball Reference Play Index Thursday – This one will be my favorite day, and I think you’ll see how cool it is once we do it.

Fake Team Friday / Friday Five – I will give you two special things on this day. First will be a look at the season I am simulating in OOTP Baseball with the Cubs. Basically an update on Joe’s Cub rebuild as he plays GM and leads the team to the World Series. Also included will be a top five list of some sort.

Should be fun, so be on the lookout for that and let’s get the series started off right today with a win this afternoon. Don’t look now, but this team is just 10 under .500.

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Be Careful of Contract Lunacy

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This weekend I was signing/selling books at a local summer festival. (Trust me; it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) All weekend, as I sat at my booth numerous non-book buyers would comment to me about the Chicago Cubs. Sox fans, would assert their “one World Series title in 100 year dominance” by taunting me.  Cardinal fans would give me their arrogant disapproving glances.  I also heard from the Chicago “meatheads”…one in particular who was quite amusing.

A fella came up to my booth with a combination swagger/drunken stumbling…and announced to me that he had the simple wisdom that apparently my book lacked.

“They never spend any f#&king money…that’s what it is…same thing with the f#&king Bears. V#gina(a very clever pun on Virginia) McCaskey won’t let em’ spend any money.” I found his rambling so entertaining that I decided to engage this guy with a very subtle response.

“But the Bears just signed Jared Allen…and Lamar Houston”, I stated in a calm purposefully understated tone.  The man used his right hand to simulate an obscene gesture around his nether regions, spouted a few more expletives, and staggered away from my booth.  He did not purchase my book, and apparently isn’t impressed with the Bears offseason moves thus far.  This seems to be the default mode for assessing blame of the Chicago fan base…when in doubt, just call them a bunch of cheap b#stards! In regards to our Cubs, this has been an accurate portrayal for portions of their history (see the 1970s); while the late 2000’s Zell spend-a-thon had the team with a $144 million payroll by 2010, its highest ever.

This “cheap” label has re-emerged during the Rickett’s era. The Cubs’ salary has dropped 35 percent from 2010…down to just $93 million. Considering that $14 million is going to Alfonso Soriano, the club essentially has a $79 million dollar Major League payroll…a number much too small for most fans’ liking. Possessing a $79 million dollar payroll for a big market team makes the organization an easy target… for fans like the gentleman who visited my booth.  To avoid being labeled a Kool-Aid drinking Ricketts’ apologist, perhaps that $79 million payroll does warrant criticism.  The question I always come back to though is; who would they be spending on?

  1. Do you spend to lock up Samardzjia?

I think with every outing my thoughts on this change.  At 30, even with limited arm wear and tear…I still think you only extend him if there is a bit of a “hometown discount”. The contracts that are brought up most often when discussing a Jeff Samardzjia extension are Homer Bailey and Matt Cain…the consensus being that a Samardzjia contract would be comparable or even higher.  Homer Bailey is 28 years old, and has a 4.68 ERA over 84 plus innings thus far in 2014.  Bailey has allowed 93 hits and struck out 76.  Bailey’s 2014 season is far from over, and he may yet prove to be a solid pitching investment.  Here is what the Reds will be paying Bailey:

2015-$10 million, 2016-$18 million, 2017-$19 million, 2018-$21 million, 2019-$23 million, and 2020-$25 million (mutual option…that I highly doubt will be exercised)

Considering the vile directed at the contract of Edwin Jackson, who is owed $13 million for each of 2015 and 2016, how might Cubs’ fans view a player with Bailey’s current performance and future earnings?  Now we look at Cain:

2014 through 2017- $20 million annually, 2018 $21 million club option

Bailey and Cain will be 33 and 34 respectively at the end of their deals…will they be worth it?  If I were a betting man (…I am actually), I would bet strongly against it.  This does give us a base-line for a Samardzjia extension; it will take $20 million annually and at least four years. At that price…I just don’t see it.  I don’t care how “young” his arm appears to be, pitching is too volatile.

  1. 2.     Do you sign a free-agent pitcher to a big deal?

How unpredictable is pitching? If Justin Verlander had been a free-agent in 2013, the Cubs would have been highly criticized for not attempting to sign him?  Verlander never hit the free market as the Tigers decided to lock up their ace. Verlander, a 31 year old former Cy-Young award winner, has struggled mightily this year to the tune of a 4.98 E.R.A. Verlander has allowed 111 hits in 97 innings and his strikeout rate is at its lowest, while his walk rate is at its peak.  Here is what the Tigers will paying Verlander until 2020:

2015- $28 million, 2016 -$28 million, 2017 -$28 million, 2018-$28 million, 2019-$28 million, 2020- $22 million vesting opt…sorry, I just burst out laughing at the idea that this “option” will be exercised

Yikes!  That contract is sheer lunacy…that’s $140 million dollars guaranteed after this season.  Verlander may well rebound from his horrid start to 2014, but unless he visits the same Roger Clemens’ fountain/pharmacy of youth, I don’t see a happy ending to this contract.

Ironically, while working on this piece, I was listening to Theo Epstein being interviewed on 670 AM the Score.  Theo was asked specifically about the Verlander contract:

It is a core tenet of our organizational philosophy that we can better predict positional player performance than pitcher performance. It’s hard for either one, but there’s more consistency with positional players. You can’t ignore pitching. Once we start to turn the corner and have the makings of a competitive team, it is possible to go out and get good, healthy, effective pitching – we’ve had some success before doing that. For a top of the rotation starter, you have to take on more risk. That’s just the nature of the beast – it’s a huge contract or a huge trade.”

Wow.  That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for Samardzjia or a big free-agent pitcher.  Earlier in the interview Epstein stated his fondness for Samardzjia, and that they had never “stopped talking extension”…we will know what the truth is sometime before July 31st.

  1. 3.     Do you spend on free-agent hitting?

For us older folks who have watched baseball since the dawn of the free-agent era, we have witnessed a huge shift in free-agency: teams rarely allow good players to reach free-agency prior to the age of 30. Although the deals of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro might have looked a bit shaky and premature last year…how do they look now?

RIZZO                                                                        CASTRO

2014              $1.535M                                                      $5.9M

2015              $5.286M                                                      $6.85M

2016              $5.286M                                                      $7.85M

2017              $7.286M                                                      $9.85M

2018              $7.286M                                                      $10.85M

2019              $11.286M                                                    $11.85M

 

Five full seasons from now, Castro and Rizzo will not be making collectively what Verlander will be earning in a single season. Let’s look at the Cubs core “two” (yeah, that’s really it right now) compared to all three pitchers:

Homer Bailey 5 years $91M, Matt Cain 5 years $100 M, Justin Verlander 5 years $140 M= 15 years of team control for $331 Million

Starlin Castro 5 years at $60 M, Anthony Rizzo 5 years at $40 M= 10 years of team control for $100 Million

Yes, I know, we are comparing apples and oranges (or however that saying goes), but simplistically…where is the most value?  Pitching is extremely expensive and highly unstable.  So let’s examine some hitting contracts…how would you like to have these on your teams’ “books”?

PLAYER                     2015              2016              2017              2018              2019             

Albert Pujols          $24M                        $25M                        $26M                        $27M                        $28M

Josh Hamilton        $25M                        $32M                        $32M                        FA

Prince Fielder         $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

Shin-Soo Choo        $14M                        $20M                        $20M                        $20M                        $21M

Robinson Cano       $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

All of the above players were free agents during the first two and a half years of Theo Epstein’s tenure…and I will admit I would have been excited had they signed any of them.  With hindsight, I am not sure any of them look like deals that you would like now.

I have to give one more example of sheer “contract lunacy”…let’s look at what the Dodgers will have on their ledger at the start of 2016:

Clayton Kershaw $34.5M, Zack Greinke $26M, Adrian Gonzalez $21.8, Matt Kemp $21.7, Carl Crawford $21.6, Andre Eithier $18M

Throwing in some other contracts, the Dodgers already have $170 million for the 2016 season!…I don’t care how much money your team has…good luck with that.

Reason 84 in my book of “105 Reasons It’s Been 105 Years” is the 2010 team, or what I call; The Worst Team Money Could Buy.  The Cubs’ team with the aforementioned $144 payroll included Alfonso Soriano $19M, Carlos Zambrano $18.9M, Aramis Ramirez $16.7M, Kosuke Fukudome $14M, and the following four; Ryan Dempster, Derek Lee, Ted Lilly and Carlos Silva all right at about $13M. Some highlights from this pathetic assortment:

-         Only one top 10 finisher in ANY offensive category(Soriano 6th in doubles)

-         Not one of these players finished in the top ten in voting for ANY major award.

-         None of these players were All-Stars

-         Back to the first one…no really, not one other offensive category did any of these players crack the top 10.

I apologize to you for bringing up this squad if you have already blocked it out of your memory.

Have the Cubs been cheap in the past? Absolutely. Have they also spent like mad? Check.  I will give the team the benefit of the doubt that they are currently taking a measured approach to future expenditures.  Although I am skeptical as to how much they were really “in” the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes last winter. (See what I did there? I played both sides of the fence) 2014 has been painful to watch, yet aside from landing Tanaka…I am not sure where money would have mattered.  The fan base has been assured that when it’s time to spend…the team will be able to do it…and with how smoothly the remodeling and expansion of Wrigley is going we are assured the Cubs’ coffers will soon be overflowing. (Where is that sarcasm font?)

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Trade Or Extension? What’s the Future for Samardzija?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

MVP – Garrett Jones (.394 WPA)

No, you’re not imagining it. There is a new post on the blog from me. It’s been a little while, but I’m back. Unfortunately the first day back resulted in a loss. Ah, who am I kidding, even when I’m here a lot it results in a loss. On to the notes.

Prior to the game, Theo Epstein was interviewed on both the Score and ESPN 1000 in Chicago. He didn’t really address anything new on the trade front, but there have been reports that the Cubs have made a new offer for an extension to Jeff Samardzija. Personally, I don’t think the return is out there to match what the Cubs are looking for. These days, while people want to acquire pitching, there is so much risk around pitcher health that it’s hard to mortgage your top prospects in order to acquire it. I am leaning toward rooting for an extension, but something in the three to four year range as opposed to 5+. What I found strange about the recent reports was news that the Cubs were listening to offers not only on Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who we knew about already, but also on Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta. Jackson can go at any time, as he’s garbage, but Arrieta? At some point, we have to have someone ready to pitch when the core four come to the big leagues. Arrieta and Travis Wood are building blocks and need to be part of that. A trio of them and Samardzija would be a great nucleus to a starting rotation that would be a strength.

As far as the game itself, it was a little frustrating seeing Brian Schlitter cough up the lead in his inning of work, but it’s going to happen from time to time. I continue to sing the praises of the bullpen, which currently ranks 4th in the NL. I believe I had that one.

It’s an early start today as we try to steal the series in Miami with a 12:40p EDT start. Arrieta takes the mound coming off one of the best starts of his career last time out. I expect a good outing from him and a series win. Baby steps.

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Machado Throws A Fit, Rollins Sets A Record & More!

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Here we are again, and back with even more action-packed baseball news. We saw some benches-clearing brawls and some records being broken, so let’s get to it!

Machado Has Some Growing Up To Do

After making a splash in his debut season at 19 years old a couple of years ago, things seemed to be heading in the right direction for Manny Machado. He made the All-Star team at just 20 years old last year and even received a few MVP votes. Though he tore a ligament in his knee at the end of last year, he was still expected to continue his ascent towards becoming a top player in the league.

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as well as he or the Orioles would have liked. He’s played in just 40 games this season, and when he’s had the opportunity to get in, he hasn’t looked like himself. He currently sits at 214th among position players as far as WAR, with a dismal 0.4.

Things continued to head downhill this week for him, as he made national headlines for his actions against the Oakland Athletics. First, he grossly overreacted to a tag placed on him by A’s third basemen Josh Donaldson (which led to Donaldson being beaned) and then the following game he completely went overboard.

After taking catcher Derek Norris out with two hits to the head from his backswing, Machado threw his bat at Donaldson. He couldn’t have made his intentions more blatant, and it was absolutely childish. He clearly had no respect for the safety of the people around him, and for that he was hit with a 5-game suspension. He clearly doesn’t understand the professionalism aspect of the game, which is unfortunate considering the amount of talent he has. As of this writing, where does Machado rank amongst the most disliked players in baseball?

Rollins Heads To The Record Books 

Though he may be nearing the end of his career, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins added yet another feather to his cap this week. In the 5th inning of the Phillies game against the Cubs, J-Roll became the all-time hits leader in the team’s illustrious history.

With this record, he passed one of the greatest third basemen of all-time in Mike Schmidt, and he did so in just 21 fewer at bats. This only adds to Rollins’ historic career in Philly, as his name is scattered all across the team’s record books.

He currently ranks in the top 10 in essentially every major category, ranging from home runs to stolen bases. This will be the case when you’ve put together as consistent of a career as he has, and playing 15 years for the same ball club certainly can’t hurt either.

While it’s been rumored that Rollins may be heading out of Philadelphia this season as the Phillies struggle to win games, it’s safe to say he’ll always have a place in the team’s history. If Rollins ends up getting traded, where do you think would be a good fit?

Pair Of Players Make Season Debuts

We’re already over a third of the way into the season (shocking, I know) and yet some players had yet to make their season debuts. No, these weren’t highly anticipated rookies, but rather established veterans who had been forced to sit out for one reason or another.

First was in Milwaukee, as Cincinnati Reds ace Mat Latos finally made his first appearance after missing the first few months of the season due to offseason knee surgery, as well as a strain in his elbow. He pitched incredibly well, holding the potent Brewers offense to just two hits over 6 innings, and didn’t surrender any runs.

The lesser of the two anticipated debuts was in Seattle, where the Mariners got back slugging designated hitter Jesus Montero from a 50-game PED suspension. While he certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations after coming over from New York (in a trade that somehow neither team won), his power should be able to find himself a place on a Mariners team that is just 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot.

While Latos may be the better player, Montero’s return will probably pay more immediate benefits, just because of the sole fact that he’ll be in the lineup every day. Though both sides have already disappointed, whom would you anoint as the winner of the Yankees/Mariners Pineda for Montero deal to this point?

This Week’s MVP: Andrew McCutchen (.483/.545/1.069, 4 HR, 13 RBI)
This Week’s Cy Young: Jordan Zimmerman (1-0, 0.53 ERA, 17 K)

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GirlieView (06/12/2014)

Thursday, June 12th, 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.

Lizzies

  • Long time lurker, first time poster…
  • I had to think about that, but I’ll go with Rizzo right now.
  • I am not sure I have a favorite cub, I am rooting the hardest for Olt. Hit the Ball Darn it!
  • Old Milwaukee Light in the cooler…help yourselves!
  • Ryan Braun light beer sounds like punishment.
  • Houston has won 6 games in a row leaving the cubs alone for the first pick in the 2015 draft. So we have that going for us. When is the last time the cubs have won 6 in a row?
  • Cite your spreadsheet and get back to us.
  • How in the hell did the cubs hit him? Another baffling thing about this team.
  • Hello Kim099 What brings you around here? Just an FYI, Seymour likes to take his dates to Subway, CAPS batch cooks eggs and oatmeal, Jswan is busy with 2 small children and I like a nice chewy Cab to go with my steak. My wife usually goes with a salad or fish which is OK by me, I love a nice piece of fish also. Mark your calendar for the VFTB spring training weekend next March. We hope to see you there.
  • Raker, you might want to click on her photo and read some of the posts before you get too excited about a new member.
  • I have some bad news my friends of VFTB. Our new visitor the other day, Kim , I don’t think she is a sincere Cubs fan
  • I think she’s a he.
  • I did not catch that EVW. Good thing I didn’t tell he/she where we would be dinning next March at the VFTB spring training weekend.
  • I try to be on my toes all the time.
  • How many Subways are there?
  • There are currently 32 Subways in Mesa AZ alone. I’ve been to several.
  • The one by the retirement community really hooks it up with the banana peppers.
  • The Chrissy Ruth’s in Scottsdale is nice. I brought my son there on our first father son spring training trip back in 2005. We ate like the ball players eat after a busy day of spring training. He had a mini filet medium rare, I let him taste my Caymus cabernet and then he fell asleep at the table. We put 2 chairs together and the waiter brought a table cloth to cover him up and let him sleep while Capn Obvious and I finished off the cab while talking Cubs baseball. It is one of my most favorite memories.
  • So I’m correct on the take that you have given alcohol to minors in public, that one such minor drank enough to pass out, and that you showed your concern by covering him with a shroud instead of a trip to the ER. Father of the year material .
  • Carbon dating definitively set the Shroud of Scottsdale in the Atkins Diet epoch. Doc gets a pass here.
  • Curses… the one person who appreciates sciences here is my undoing.
  • Veras gets the ol’ DFA. Perhaps he should track down Marmol and Gregg and start pitching a sitcom.
  • With both Rondon and Wright having babies in May is seem that they, or at least their wives, were focusing on something other than baseball last September.
  • Maybe they were trying to help Theo and Jed in the prospect department.
  • Joe, good to see you took some time to “dork out”
  • If someone else is willing and you can get back a huge amount of booty for him, make the deal.
  • I’m all for more booty.
  • When you’re team isn’t very good, it’s nice to have an off day.
  • Apparently if you get the game winning hit, it means you’ve turned the corner on your season.
  • While watching last night’s game I noticed that Arrieta wears Carlos Marmol’s old number (49) on his jersey. Based on this, I became convinced there was no chance of victory for the Cubs, fortunately they surprised me with a victory afterall. Perhaps Jake might want to consider another number going forward.
  • Obviously I wasn’t listening to Len’s call of the Coghlan at bat but I would assume it went something like, “Ball 1. Jimmy Buffett is in town next week, great seats still available. Strike 1 on the outside corner. I love that Margaritaville. Curve ball outside, 2-1.” DeShaies, “that’s a tough curve ball on a lefty hitter.” Len, “How many hits does Jimmy Buffett have?” DeShaies, “The Cubs just not getting much offense tonight, we need a base runner here.” Len, “Sirius XM radio has it’s own station devoted to Jimmy Buffett, I love listening to XM, the Bruce Springsteen station is pretty good to, love that sax player. There’s a deep drive, that could be, it’s outta here, 1-1 tie game. Why they took the Led Zeppelin station off XM I will never know, those guys are the best ever.” Deshaies, “A rare lefty lefty home run for Coghlan.” Len, “I hope we don’t go into extra innings, Boy George is on Jimmy Falon tonight.”
  • Of your OPS+ is significantly lower than Forrest Gump’s IQ, you should forfeit your spot on the 40-man roster.
  • Maybe filling the roster with a bunch of 5’10″ utility men wasn’t a great idea.
  • The Jim Hendry mediocre middle infielder roster syndrome strikes again. It’s a second strain of the dreaded MMIRS.
  • It has already spread to the outfield. Lord have mercy.
  • That’s a 3rd generation strain, MMORS.
  • Pat and Coomer are pretty good. It’s hard to call them Pat and Ron since Santo was the Ron I always think when I say Pat and Ron.
  • Though every game I watch, I want the Cubs to win, I also look at the standings and don’t want the Cubs to move out of that first place draft order. Kind of schizophrenic, I know.
  • Testing… I’m trying to get my picture back
  • Hey. There it is.
  • Hey, maybe our new visitor will like that picture. Good thinking.
  • It’s bigger and clearer than ever.
  • This team sweeping a series from anyone aside from St. Mary’s School for the Blind or my 8U USSSA team brings the blind squirrel theorem to mind.
  • “Welcome to beautiful Wrigley Field, Home of the Chicago Cubs, the winningest team in baseball in the month of June.”
  • Kendry lost $6.4M by not accepting the Seattle deal back in the spring.
  • Ego combined with a shady agent whispering lies in his ear is the likely reason.
  • Ken must have a very dry morale right about now.
  • I appreciate your wordplay, sir.
  • I appreciate your use of the word “sir”.
  • Get a room, you two.
  • 40 draft rounds and not one Carlos taken by the Cubs. We’re turning the corner.
  • I saw Yogi Berra at Don and Charlies in Scottsdale a few years ago. He was definitely lost.
  • You must have been lost as well, unless Don figured out how to make a Cold Cut Combo.
  • Chicken Schnitzel on rye, toasted. Seymour asked Don if he can pay an extra $1 for a bag of chips and a fountain drink. “You do the combo here Don?”
  • Isn’t this just a rehash of a comment I made a week or so ago? Can I get a contributor shout out here?

Lizard

  • Let’s all have a moment of silence for one of the great characters of the game, Don Zimmer

Shout Outs

  • Big shout out to SouthKakalakiCubsFan for his first 2014-season Lizzie this week! Welcome!!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Doc Raker our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Doc!

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

1. Doc Raker
1. jswanson
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
5. Joe Aiello
6. Chuck
6. Doug S.
8. Dork
9. Chet West
9. Jerry in Wisconsin
9. Mark From Toronto

Chit Chat

Anyone have any exciting vacation plans this summer?

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By Stats both Old and New: The Cubs Offense is bad.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

I began paying attention to the Cubs and Major League Baseball in the 1970’s.  Consequently I guess you could call me an “old-school” baseball fan.  I grew up playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, a game ahead of its time in valuing righty/lefty match-ups and Sabermetrics. Like most kids of the 70’s, I paid attention to batting average, homeruns, wins/losses and ERA.  Even though Strat-o-Matic valued guys who could walk…I gave little thought to On-Base-Percentage.  I gave even less thought to Slugging Percentage.  These two percentages never enter my vocabulary when discussing my favorite team.

The 1977 Cubs’ would be the first team I followed on a daily basis. The late Bobby Murcer was my favorite player…for two primary reasons; he wore number 7, Rick Monday’s old number (I was only 8 at the time) and Murcer clubbed 27 homers during the 1977 season. I had no idea that Murcer was second on the team with a respectable .810 OPS. (How could I, there was no such stat!)  I did realize that Bobby’s (I can call him Bobby, I was bat boy for a whole day) batting average was a pedestrian .265, yet I didn’t appreciate that Bobby’s On-Base Percentage was .355.  So using old stats or new, Bobby was a good choice to be favorite player.

Sabermetrics are now a widely accepted form of baseball analysis in all of the Major Leagues…outside of the Chicago White Sox TV booth.  As a former high school coach, I can honesty state I embraced OPS and other new metrics, yet I still think “old stats” can be useful and even fun! Example:

Mike Olt currently has a batting average of .153.  If Olt were to get 20 hits in his next 20 at bats (not bloody likely, in fact there is probably a greater chance of Elvis returning to Earth in a ship full of Aliens who know who really killed JFK) Olt’s average would rise to .261! .261 after going 20-20! (Once again…never happen) That is both extremely funny to me, and a bit sad about the prospects of Olt becoming a Major League hitter.

Therefore old stats can still be useful…or at least fun…but any serious baseball fan knows Sabermetrics are where it’s at.  Cubs’ fans following the 2014 season don’t need sabermetrics to quantify the fact that the team’s offense is bad…but sabermetrics can clarify the picture, and even provide a few rays of hope.  I will now examine the Cubs position by position OPS rankings in the National League. ***Warning…pregnant women or those with serious heart conditions should not read ALL of these rankings.

CATCHER-    CUBS .575    13of 15           NL AVG .712           1ST-BREWERS .908

Hmmm…I would wager if they had to do it over again the Cubs might re-think keeping John Baker over George Kattarras coming out of Spring Training. Prior to his injury, Wellington Castillo was at .672…close to the league average…but Bakers’ .396 and Whiteside’s .000 have sent Cubs backstops plummeting to the bottom.

1st BASE-       CUBS .876    2of 15             NL AVG .789         1ST-DIAMONDBACKS .913

Did you watch Anthony Rizzo’s at-bats during the last home stand? Rizzo appears confident, aggressive yet patient…and he looks like an absolute beast at the plate.  Imagine if/when we get some other actual Major League hitters around him? Acquiring Rizzo for the oft-injured Andrew Cashner… well done, Theo and Jed…well done.

2nd BASE-      CUBS .651 11of 15             NL AVG .679             1ST-PHILLIES .854

Take out Luis Valbuena’s (.808) in 12 games at this position and the numbers would be more dreadful.  Darwin Barney is a wonderful defensive player, but his .557 OPS is over 100 points below the league average and almost 300 below the leader. Translated…he cannot hit in the Major Leagues.  If I had my druthers, Arismendy Alcantara would be manning this position right now and batting 1st or 2nd.

SHORTSTOP-           CUBS .775 4 of 15         NL AVG .708                 1ST-ROCKIES 1.069

Starlin Castro has had a nice bounce back season…and when the “Where does Javy Baez play?” question finally has to be answered…Starlin’s OPS plays even better in the non-PED world of second-basemen.  Assuming Baez can cut it, the Cubs’ should be good OPS wise at both positions (no matter who plays where)…and don’t forget about Alcantara.

3rd BASE-      CUBS .720  9 of 15        NL AVG .718                 1ST-REDS .818

Luis Valbuena is one of the rare Cubs other than Rizzo and Castro who the more I watch…I actually kind of like.  I would like him best as a back-up/spot starter/pinch hitter…not as an everyday player.  Mike Olt’s .609 OPS, even with his .153 average, is a testament to his power and walk rates.  We can only speculate/drool whether Kris Bryants’ AA numbers will be replicated at the MLB level someday.

LEFTFIELD-               CUBS .796  3 of 15        NL AVG .723                 1ST-BRAVES .895

Upon first glance, you might say… “Wow, I didn’t realize Junior Lake was having such a good year”.  Actually, this is a bit of a statistical anomaly as Lake sits at .709.  The only explanation is that players with bad overall OPS numbers (Ryan Kalish and Chris Coghlan) performed much better in left than in center or right.  That being said, I still think Lake gets dismissed as a non-prospect too quickly…he is only 24 and you can’t teach his size and raw ability.

CENTERFIELD-         CUBS .605 14of 15            NL AVG .740           1ST-ROCKIES .919

Ugh.  Maybe this is why the afore mentioned Alcantara has been playing some center down in Iowa. (Yes…I like Arismendy as a prospect)  This is putrid production from a Major League outfielder, and should only be accepted on a team with a Gold Glove defender and 7 other really good hitters…neither of which the Cubs’ have.

RIGHTFIELD-            CUBS .593 15 of 15           NL AVG .766           1ST-DODGERS .999

If I used “ugh” for center, then this warrants “I just threw up in my mouth a little.” At the slugging position of right field the Cubs have a cumulative OPS of a weak hitting middle-infielder.

DESIGNATED HITTER- CUBS .610 7 of 15       NL AVG .606      1ST-DODGERS 1.115

With the incredibly silly (in my opinion) way that the inter-league schedule works today, NL teams technically have DH’s.  In a small sample size the Cubs’ are barely above the league average…yawn.

PINCH- HITTER-      CUBS .440 15 of 15           NL AVG .597            1ST-ROCKIES .800

Yikes! What’s more impressive/revolting…the Rockies’ .800 or the Cubs’ .440? Remember this example of Cubs’ ineptness the next time Ricky Renteria makes a late inning move.

PITCHER-      CUBS .416  1 of 15                        NL AVG .314                                   1ST-CUBS .416

Thank you Travis Wood! (Who should be one of the Cubs’ first pinch-hitting options late in games) Seriously, how Cubs-like is it that the only position they lead is Pitcher OPS…not exactly what great teams are built on.

So what does this position by position comparison tell us? Some things we already knew, and some we can now quantify:

  1. Anthony Rizzo is developing into one of the game’s best.
  2. Starlin Castro is closer to the player he was in 2010-2012, than the 2013 version.
  3. Darwin Barney flat-out s#cks as a Major League hitter.
  4. The Cubs outfielders hit like back-up infielders.
  5. Travis Wood is one of the Cubs’ better hitters.

These numbers paint a deeply disturbing portrait of what is supposed to be a major league offense.  Obviously the plan is that Bryant, Baez and (don’t foget!) Alcantara will soon arrive and fill these gaping line-up holes.

If not Theo, Jed and company will have to turn to Plan B…if there is one.

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Prospect Watch: Closest to the Majors Edition

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

 Two weeks ago, we explored the top of the Cubs’ system, who conveniently have continued to perform the similarly over the past two weeks, giving that piece at least a big of longevity. But the Cubs’ system wasn’t viewed as special heading into the season just because it had four of the top 50 position player prospects in baseball. It is also a deep system.

While Javier Baez’s and the Chicago Cubs’ poor starts make it much less likely we’ll see any of the Cubs’ top five prospects in Wrigley this season, several other legitimate prospects could make their Major League debuts with the Cubs this season. As a note, all statistics are through Sunday, June 8.

 Arismendy Alcantara (2B/SS) – Triple A Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.269/.307/.519, .351 wOBA, 107 wRC+, 8 HRs, 5.6% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, .331 BABIP, 10 SBs, 2 CSs

Outside of the Core Four position players and C.J. Edwards, Arismendy Alcantara is generally viewed as the Cubs’ best prospect, as well as a top 100 prospect in his own right, and Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks described Alcantara’s ceiling as Jose Reyes-lite. He showed an ability to get on base in Double A Tennessee last season, has above average power for a middle infielder, can steal bases, and should be at least a plus defensive second baseman, with gold glove ceiling as far as talent is concerned. Alcantara played shortstop through the Cubs’ system until Baez joined the Smokies in the middle of 2013.

Alcantara has shown good power in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but has not forced the issue of his promotion due to a .306 OBP. He has been a level a year type of player throughout the minors, and I would not be surprised to see the Cubs prefer Alcantara play almost all of, if not the entire, Triple A season in Iowa. However, since he is already on the 40 man roster, I also would not at all be surprised to see Alcantara make his debut when rosters expand in September, with his Major League debut being no later than late April 2015.

Kyle Hendricks (RHP) – Iowa Cubs – Age 24
11 GS, 67 IP, 3.90 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, .347 BABIP against

At the start of training camp, Hendricks was the Cubs plus control/command, average at best stuff pitcher of the year. Nearly every team in baseball has one of these guys every season. Unfortunately, few become more than back end of the rotation starters.

Hendricks has shown some good signs this season, though, particularly an increased strikeout rate. He is essentially a finished product, and with his fairly limited ceiling service time concerns are unlikely to come into play. Hendricks will likely be one of the first three Iowa pitchers called up, along with Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin, upon either injury or trade of a pitcher currently in the Cubs’ starting rotation. As such, he could make his MLB debut tomorrow, or he could end up waiting until early 2015.

Christian Villanueva (3B) – Iowa Cubs – Age 22
.222/.279/.384, .289 wOBA, 67 wRC+, 5 HRs, 7% BB rate, 26% K rate, .283 BABIP, 2 SBs, 1 CS

While Kris Bryant and Mike Olt got the lion’s share of the media attention (let’s be honest, they got ALL the media attention) at third base during spring training, Villanueva is a solid prospect in his own right, rated higher than Olt coming into this season by all publications and more likely to stay at the hot corner than Bryant.

 Villanueva’s bat has been disappointing for the Iowa Cubs this season, but his defense at third, which rates as plus-plus and been called the best in all of the minor leagues, means that if he can be a league average bat he’ll provide great value while he is cheap and under team control.

Villanueva, however, could end up the odd man out of the Cubs’ game of third base prospect musical chairs. If the Cubs decide Mike Olt is not the answer (and it sure doesn’t look like he is) AND the Cubs trade Luis Valbuena this season, Villanueva could get the call up in July, particularly if he starts hitting more consistently. But I don’t think the Cubs trade Valbuena, arguably their second best offensive player who is only in his first year of arbitration.

By next year, Kris Bryant could bang down the door to Wrigley and claim third base for at least the next 6 plus seasons… or the Cubs could move Bryant to a corner outfield spot. I would not be shocked to see Villanueva get a cup of coffee in the show with Alcantara in September, but, unlike Alcantara, I am not convinced Villanueva will be on the Major League active roster early in 2015. He could end up as trade bait as much as anything, where he would be a solid second or third piece in a trade for a bigger name on the trading block.

Arodys Vizcaino (RHP) – High A Daytona Cubs, Double A Tennessee Smokies – Age 23
At Daytona: 9 G, 9 IP, 1.00 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 10 K/9, 4 BB/9, .286 BABIP against
At Tennessee: 11 G, 11 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.93 FIP, 10.32 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, .231 BABIP against

Vizcaino is the only prospect not currently on the Iowa Cubs in this list, although he has been pitching in the High A Florida State and Double A Southern Leagues to start the season due to their friendlier weather than Iowa in April and May, not because he could not handle Triple A hittersg. Aside from one bad outing with the Smokies a couple of weeks ago where he allowed 3 earned runs in one inning, Vizcaino has been lights out this season, not allowing a run in his other 10 appearances in the Southern League. You know how good Hector Rondon and Neil Ramirez have been for the Cubs this season? Vizcaino’s ceiling as a late innings reliever is higher.

 The questions regarding Vizcaino’s arrival in Wrigley are: (1) when are the Cubs comfortable that he’s ready for the rigors of MLB bullpen usage? (2) Are the Cubs planning on trying to convert Vizcaino back to a starter? And (3) how are the Cubs viewing his service time issues? This is a bit more complicated for Vizcaino than most, since time on the disabled list (where Vizcaino spent 2012 and 2013) counts as service time towards arbitration, not minor league option years. As such, Vizcaino already has more than 2 years of MLB service time.

So we could see Vizcaino very soon. But, if the Cubs decide to convert Vizcaino back to a starter, which is viewed as unlikely but possible, he might not hit Wrigley until 2016. My guess is we see Vizcaino very late this season, once the Cubs will be sure he will not be a Super 2 player entering arbitration in 2015.

My guess on the order of call ups for these four: Hendricks, Vizcaino, Alcantara, Villanueva, with Villanueva having the highest odds of never suiting up as a Chicago Cub.

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Baseball Loses A Legend, Cubs Shock The World & More!

Monday, June 9th, 2014

It was a good week to be a fan of Cubs baseball to say the least. Unfortunately, not all the news this week was positive.

Baseball Mourns The Loss of Don Zimmer

We’ll begin this week’s article by getting some of the bad news out of the way first. Don Zimmer, known most for his time with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs passed away this week at the age of 83, and with that we lost one of the best men in baseball.

A servant of the game for seven decades, Zimmer was one of the most well respected guys in the entire league. To many, he was more than just a teammate or a coach; he was a close personal friend and basically a family member, as noted by Joe Torre early this week.

With a career that spanned from winning a World Series with Jackie Robinson to advising a Tampa Bay Rays team that also went to the big dance, it’s safe to say that Zimmer experienced just about as much baseball as anyone ever has.

The loss of Zimmer is one that will impact many lives in and out of the game of baseball, and it’s unfortunate to see a man of his caliber go. What was your favorite memory of Don Zimmer?

Santana Done For The Season, Possibly Forever

I decided to try to get all of the bad news out of the way first; I promise this is the last sad story! After signing with the Baltimore Orioles this offseason in an attempt to come back from a variety of injuries, Johan Santana has suffered a huge setback, this time in the form of a torn Achilles tendon.

This injury happens to be one of the more devastating in sports, especially to an athlete of Santana’s age. He’ll be out at least until the end of this year and many are speculating that this will end up being a career-ending injury for one of the game’s most dominating pitchers of the 2000’s.

If this does happen to be the end for Santana, we’ll have to unfortunately look back and think about what could have been. He was lights out for the Twins and in his early years for the Mets, as evidenced by his multiple Cy Young awards. Injuries took their toll, however, and he hasn’t been at peak form since 2011.

While he didn’t have the longevity to be considered as a Hall of Fame candidate, we’ll be able to look at his career fondly in retrospect. If he had remained healthy, where would you rank Santana among the top pitchers in today’s game?

Cubs Are On A Roll

Since this topic has been covered at length on here, I won’t go too deeply into it other than saying that the Cubs had an extended winning streak for the first time in what feels like forever. Oh, and according to ESPN and FanGraphs, they currently have a better chance of making the playoffs than the defending World Series champion Red Sox.

Morales Finally Signs

What Kendrys Morales experienced this offseason may become more and more common with the new terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. After being unable to reach a deal with the Mariners this offseason, any team that signed Morales before the MLB Draft would have to forfeit their first round pick.

While he is a productive player, it’d be tough to reason giving up a first round pick for someone of his caliber. Because of that, he waited and waited until the draft, and found himself signed within a day of the first round ending. While that was no surprise, the team that signed him certainly was.

Currently sitting in last place in the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins didn’t seem to be much of a “win-now” type of team. With the signing of Morales, it appears that they are serious about making a run this year. He should add some pop in their lineup and he might actually help them contend for a Wild Card spot this season.

If all else fails, he’ll be able to be put on display for about a month, after which the Twins could turn around and deal him to pick up some prospects. Can Morales help the Twins make the playoffs this year?

MLB Draft Actually Draws Some Coverage

Speaking of the draft, after years of being dwarfed by the NBA and NFL drafts, it appears the MLB is actually making some headway into making itself a spectacle like the other two. Full coverage from the MLB Network and sites like Bleacher Report were definitely a step in the right direction in terms of getting noticed on a wider scale.

As for the draft itself, there were some surprises early on, with the Miami Marlins selecting hard-throwing high school right-hander Tyler Kolek rather than highly touted lefty Carlos Rodon. Along with that, the Cubs turned a few heads by selecting catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber with the fourth pick, as he was expected to wind up in the middle of the first.

Much like in every draft, there were quite a few legacy picks, and a few big names taken late. Cal Ripken, Mariano Rivera and Magglio Ordonez all saw their sons go off the board in the middle-late rounds, and new Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel had his name called, too, despite not having played since his junior year of high school.

While some say picks like Manziel marginalize the importance of the draft, I really don’t see the problem with it. With as many rounds as there are, I think it was a smart move publicity-wise, and one that will probably pay off more than an actual selection. What are your thoughts on picks like these, and which team do you think had the best draft?

This Week’s MVP: Adam Jones (.444/.429/.815, 3 HR, 9 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Tanner Roark (1-0, 0.60 ERA, 15 K)

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Cubs 7, Mets 4 – Sweep Thoughts

Friday, June 6th, 2014

MVPAndrew Brown (.368 WPA)

Last night was draft night, and with the Cubs picking 4th, I wonder how many were watching the draft compared to the game. It doesn’t have as much excitement around it with the public like the NFL and NBA versions, but the MLB draft is beginning to develop a cult following. I had it on the DVR and then saw who the Cubs picked via e-mail blast, so I didn’t watch it. Let’s get right to the highlights from last night.

Fresh after I called for him to split time with Darwin Barney, Emilio Bonifacio found himself on the bench. Barney took advantage with a 2-for-4 day that included three runs score out of the 7th spot in the lineup. If we could get anywhere even close to that production from the lower part of the order on a semi-consistent basis it would do wonders for this team’s offensive struggles. Couple Barney’s night with the home run hit by Travis Wood and you’ve got the makings of some nice production from that part of the lineup.

Unfortunately, the starting pitching hasn’t been able to work deep into games lately as all three starters in the series failed to work more than five innings. Our pen has been a strength, but you have to get deeper outings from the starters, especially someone like Wood who you’re counting on to work deeper as a front of the rotation guy.

QUICK HITS

  • Anthony Rizzo hit his 11th home run of the season. Mike Olt needs to step up and get caught up.
  • With the win last night, Justin Grimm now has two and Jeff Samardzija still only has one. Gotta love the win stat.
  • Don Zimmer was honored with a moment of silence before the game
  • The Cubs selected Indiana C-OF Kyle Schwarber with the fourth pick in the draft. I am not even going to try to BS you with any analysis about it. All I’ve seen is that he’s got great power from the left side, which is always nice.

FIVE FOR FRIDAY

Since it’s Friday, I thought we could end on a little fun. I had a request to bring this question back into circulation so why not.

Q. If you could have an unlimited supply of only five condiments for the rest of your life and they would be dispensed from your four fingers and your thumb, what would they be and would there be any significance in what fingers got which? You would never be able to have any other condiments in your life other than your finger condiments.

For me, there would be no finger significance, but my five would be.

  1. Ketchup – I know it’s boring, but I use it on quite a few things and would miss it terribly.
  2. Chili’s Honey Mustard – I was going to go with Yellow mustard, but this is better and is still quite versatile.
  3. Honey – This is a very underrated condiment, in my opinion. It’s great with peanut butter on a sandwich. It’s great with chicken. Gotta have it.
  4. Tzatziki Sauce – If you’ve never had it, you gotta try it. It’s a Greek sauce made from yogurt and cucumber. It’s amazing.
  5. A1 Sauce – I wrestled with this one a lot. I love it on a burger and, as much as it makes me feel like a tool, I can’t eat steak without it.
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