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July 2014

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COMMENTS

Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break

Written by , Posted in General

When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher.  This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator.  It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything!  I find this grading system much better than using say…stars.  The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses.  The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion.  However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+.  An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!).  I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded.  So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:

NEIL RAMIREZ                   A

Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate.  The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA                  A

Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster.  For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS).  Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.

JAKE ARRIETA                   A

Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.

ANTHONY RIZZO               A-

A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.

JAMES RUSSELL                B+

Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.

STARLIN CASTRO              B

His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+.  I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen.  His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.

WESLEY WRIGHT              B

If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning.  His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.

HECTOR RONDON             B

Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.

LUIS VALBUENA       B

This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad.  Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.

EMILIO BONIFACIO          B (currently on DL)

I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club.  I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract.  His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.

PEDRO STROP           B-

Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion.  Strop is a possible flip candidate.

JUSTIN RUGGIANO & CHRIS COGHLAN            C+

I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty.  I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.

BRIAN SCHLITTER C+

Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%.  He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.

WELLINGTON CASTILLO                   C+

Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch.  Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)

JUSTIN GRIMM                   C

Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again.  Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever.  I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches.  He’s 25, so I still see much upside.

TRAVIS WOOD          C

Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must)  Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)

CARLOS VILLANUEVA     C-

That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.

NATE SCHIERHOLTZ        D+

A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.

JOHN BAKER             D+

With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him.  Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.

JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT               D+

There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now.  Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening.  I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered.  These two are way too young to give up on.

EDWIN JACKSON     D

Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment.  I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million?  From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.

DARWIN BARNEY     D

Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown.  Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug.  Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.

RYAN SWEENEY       F

Why is he on the team? That is all.

DALLAS BEELER, TSUYOSHI WADA, CHRIS RUSIN, & KYLE HENDRICKS        INC.

These players have basically just been added to the class.

BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH)                               INC.

Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.

CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH)                                 A

This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing.  The guy is doing something right.

RICKY RENTERIA              C

Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen.  I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4.  The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs.  Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media.  My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)

Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,

…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)

  • Doug S.

    I’d switch Villanueva and Jackson’s grades, then further demote newhouse. Jackson can have moments, though they’re not something you can count on. Villanueva? Just get rid of this bum.
    Attempted to watch the Espy’s last night. What a self serving, dribble packed piece of garbage. Too painful, had to stop.

  • Doug S.

    I’d switch Villanueva and Jackson’s grades, then further demote newhouse. Jackson can have moments, though they’re not something you can count on. Villanueva? Just get rid of this bum.
    Attempted to watch the Espy’s last night. What a self serving, dribble packed piece of garbage. Too painful, had to stop.

  • Doc Raker

    The Godfather A+

    Len Kasper F-

    JIm Deshaies B

    Pat Hughes A-

    Ron Coomer C+

  • Doc Raker

    The Godfather A+

    Len Kasper F-

    JIm Deshaies B

    Pat Hughes A-

    Ron Coomer C+

  • Dork

    Well done, I dont have much issue with the grades, I will give some thoughts though.
    Scheirholtz is my biggest disapointment, He is a carreer 725 ops guy, I keep expecting him to turn it around but it does not seem to be coming.
    I had hoped for better with Lake and Olt I read somewhere that with 2 strikes they have a 60% chance of striking out, leading the league. Seems a little low from my memories.
    Strop has pitched well enough I just don’t trust him, i get that queasy feeling when he goes in.
    I think I would like to see the cubs keep Coughlin and Valbuena

  • Dork

    Well done, I dont have much issue with the grades, I will give some thoughts though.
    Scheirholtz is my biggest disapointment, He is a carreer 725 ops guy, I keep expecting him to turn it around but it does not seem to be coming.
    I had hoped for better with Lake and Olt I read somewhere that with 2 strikes they have a 60% chance of striking out, leading the league. Seems a little low from my memories.
    Strop has pitched well enough I just don’t trust him, i get that queasy feeling when he goes in.
    I think I would like to see the cubs keep Coughlin and Valbuena

  • SouthKakalakiCubsFan

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned on here yet, but am I the only one that thought it was terribly stupid of MLB to keep Jeff Samardzija out of the All Star game? I mean it was the guy’s first trip and to keep him ineligible to play seemed kinda petty and frankly, down right stupid. It’s crap like that makes me want to know when a serious look at changing some of these out dated policies is going to happen

  • SouthKakalakiCubsFan

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned on here yet, but am I the only one that thought it was terribly stupid of MLB to keep Jeff Samardzija out of the All Star game? I mean it was the guy’s first trip and to keep him ineligible to play seemed kinda petty and frankly, down right stupid. It’s crap like that makes me want to know when a serious look at changing some of these out dated policies is going to happen

  • Eddie Von White

    – I think Darwin Barney’s baby cost him his job. Once he was out of the lineup Alcantara lit it up like the 4th of July. How can Ricky put Darwin back in there now?

    – I like the grade analysis. Way better than stickers and stars.

    • Seymour Butts

      It wouldn’t be the first time some guys little head cost him a bunch of cash.

    • lbmango

      Very astute observation. I thought exactly the same thing.

    • Doc Raker

      I thought Darwins feeble hitting cost him his job. It was only a matter of time that someone would come up and out hit him, baby or not.

      • Eddie Von White

        Even with his feeble hitting, he was still in the lineup. But not after paternity leave.

      • Doc Raker

        As it should be………..we all new Darwin’s swan song was approaching.

      • Seymour Butts

        you are just using bad grimmer to piss me off, aren’t you?

      • PLCB3

        Sucks to grammar.

  • Eddie Von White

    – I think Darwin Barney’s baby cost him his job. Once he was out of the lineup Alcantara lit it up like the 4th of July. How can Ricky put Darwin back in there now?

    – I like the grade analysis. Way better than stickers and stars.

    • Seymour Butts

      It wouldn’t be the first time some guys little head cost him a bunch of cash.

    • lbmango

      Very astute observation. I thought exactly the same thing.

    • Doc Raker

      I thought Darwins feeble hitting cost him his job. It was only a matter of time that someone would come up and out hit him, baby or not.

      • Eddie Von White

        Even with his feeble hitting, he was still in the lineup. But not after paternity leave.

      • Doc Raker

        As it should be………..we all new Darwin’s swan song was approaching.

      • Seymour Butts

        you are just using bad grimmer to piss me off, aren’t you?

      • AC0000000

        Sucks to grammar.

  • Mark_from_Toronto

    I can see the Jesus resemblance for Schlitter, although to me he looks more like someone that was cast off the duck dynasty show on A&E and took up baseball instead. Honorable mention goes to James Russell for sporting the same backwoods look. Hopefully one of them gets traded as I’m never quite sure which one is on the mound until the tv announcer mentions it.

    • Eddie Von White

      A couple weeks ago JD mentioned the herd mentality of major league players in the context of beards and facial hair. They all want to be individuals, he said, but they all want to look alike at the same time. Seemed a bit insightful.

      • Eddie Von White

        As well you should be. Never a finer mullet have I seen.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Dude, that is so ’80s

      • Gel is sort of expensive, but looking rad for a few decades is priceless, Jerry.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        The only things that go on my hair are water, shampoo, a comb, and my wife’s fingers.

      • PLCB3

        Water shampoo razor shaving gel and aftershave for me

      • Seems like the only thing you are missing are Jerry’s wife’s fingers.

      • PLCB3

        I’m single.

      • Watch out, Jerry.

      • PLCB3

        He has nothing to worry about. We’ve been over this. I don’t want to get married or have kids.

      • Seymour Butts

        Shocking

      • Doc Raker

        I don’t understand why young people want to look like homeless people.

      • PLCB3

        Save money on haircuts razors shaving gel and aftershave. I had wild hair and a beard when I was in college.

    • Jerry in Wisconsin

      I always referred to James Russell as the left handed Shark, because my wife always confused him with the Shark, I was happy she did not get to see Schlitter pitch, because I would not be able to differentiate him from the Shark. Now he will be the right handed Russell.

  • Mark_from_Toronto

    I can see the Jesus resemblance for Schlitter, although to me he looks more like someone that was cast off the duck dynasty show on A&E and took up baseball instead. Honorable mention goes to James Russell for sporting the same backwoods look. Hopefully one of them gets traded as I’m never quite sure which one is on the mound until the tv announcer mentions it.

    • Eddie Von White

      A couple weeks ago JD mentioned the herd mentality of major league players in the context of beards and facial hair. They all want to be individuals, he said, but they all want to look alike at the same time. Seemed a bit insightful.

      • Eddie Von White

        As well you should be. Never a finer mullet have I seen.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Dude, that is so ’80s

      • Gel is sort of expensive, but looking rad for a few decades is priceless, Jerry.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        The only things that go on my hair are water, shampoo, a comb, and my wife’s fingers.

      • AC0000000

        Water shampoo razor shaving gel and aftershave for me

      • Seems like the only thing you are missing are Jerry’s wife’s fingers.

      • AC0000000

        I’m single.

      • Watch out, Jerry.

      • AC0000000

        He has nothing to worry about. We’ve been over this. I don’t want to get married or have kids.

      • Seymour Butts

        Shocking

      • Doc Raker

        I don’t understand why young people want to look like homeless people.

      • AC0000000

        Save money on haircuts razors shaving gel and aftershave. I had wild hair and a beard when I was in college.

    • Jerry in Wisconsin

      I always referred to James Russell as the left handed Shark, because my wife always confused him with the Shark, I was happy she did not get to see Schlitter pitch, because I would not be able to differentiate him from the Shark. Now he will be the right handed Russell.

  • ddg

    Nate Schierholtz is the worst OFer in MLB in 2014 and he gets a D? Why include 2013 for him but not Castro or Rizzo?

    • Eddie Von White

      Teachers don’t have to explain their reasons. You just got yourself a demerit.

      • PLCB3

        One day I’m going to win a seat on the board of education and get you fired!

      • Eddie Von White

        You can’t fire me. I quit.

  • ddg

    Nate Schierholtz is the worst OFer in MLB in 2014 and he gets a D? Why include 2013 for him but not Castro or Rizzo?

    • Eddie Von White

      Teachers don’t have to explain their reasons. You just got yourself a demerit.

      • AC0000000

        One day I’m going to win a seat on the board of education and get you fired!

      • Eddie Von White

        You can’t fire me. I quit.

  • jayburd2020

    Can’t disagree with the grade to Ramirez, but can we stop touting K/9 inning rates? It’s sexy without being informative. It’s not just getting outs and “missing bats” during those outs (i.e., Ks), it’s what happens in between those outs. His WHIP (0.896) is far more impressive than the K rate. To illustrate, one need go back no further than Carlos Marmol who registered K rates of 11 and 12 per 9 innings, but with WHIPs as high as double Ramirez’s current WHIP. With just 25 innings under his belt, there’s no guarantee Ramirez remains equally dominant in the second half or if he remains just wild enough to be effective (which described Marmol in his best years).

    • Eddie Von White

      Agree

    • Noah_I

      WHIP isn’t a great stat because there’s too much noise based on what the defense does behind you. You’re right that K/9 doesn’t tell the whole story, but if you combine it with BB/9 it tells about 70% of the story. Ramirez is walking just over 3 per nine, while Marmol in 2012 and 2013 was walking nearly 7.5 per nine. That on its own is a half a point difference of WHIP between the two in just walks.

      The real issue in player examination is if the stat is predictive of future success or not. WHIP can vary too much year to year with all other factors being equal as compared to K/9.

      • jayburd2020

        Thank you for that non-sequitor. The point wasn’t 1.) that WHIP is the definitive stat (because there isn’t one), or 2.) to attempt to predict Ramirez’s future performance. The whole article was about giving grades on players’ 1st half performance. I.e., the past. It’s always interesting how people who are more eager to convince you of their superior intelligence often only demonstrate their inability to follow and contribute to a simpler conversation. It’s one of the yawning attributes of amateur sabermetricians. Anyone can be the smartest person in the room after you’ve emptied it.

      • That’s cool.

  • jayburd2020

    Can’t disagree with the grade to Ramirez, but can we stop touting K/9 inning rates? It’s sexy without being informative. It’s not just getting outs and “missing bats” during those outs (i.e., Ks), it’s what happens in between those outs. His WHIP (0.896) is far more impressive than the K rate. To illustrate, one need go back no further than Carlos Marmol who registered K rates of 11 and 12 per 9 innings, but with WHIPs as high as double Ramirez’s current WHIP. With just 25 innings under his belt, there’s no guarantee Ramirez remains equally dominant in the second half or if he remains just wild enough to be effective (which described Marmol in his best years).

    • Eddie Von White

      Agree

    • Noah_I

      WHIP isn’t a great stat because there’s too much noise based on what the defense does behind you. You’re right that K/9 doesn’t tell the whole story, but if you combine it with BB/9 it tells about 70% of the story. Ramirez is walking just over 3 per nine, while Marmol in 2012 and 2013 was walking nearly 7.5 per nine. That on its own is a half a point difference of WHIP between the two in just walks.

      The real issue in player examination is if the stat is predictive of future success or not. WHIP can vary too much year to year with all other factors being equal as compared to K/9.

      • jayburd2020

        Thank you for that non-sequitor. The point wasn’t 1.) that WHIP is the definitive stat (because there isn’t one), or 2.) to attempt to predict Ramirez’s future performance. The whole article was about giving grades on players’ 1st half performance. I.e., the past. It’s always interesting how people eager to convince you of their superior intelligence often only demonstrate their inability to follow and contribute to a simpler conversation. It’s one of the yawning attributes of amateur sabermetricians. Anyone can be the smartest person in the room after you’ve emptied it.

      • That’s cool.

  • Kevin B

    Bonifacio gets a B??? They guy hasn’t hit since April and his base running is horrible. He’s been caught stealing 6 times and picked off another 3.

  • Kevin B

    Bonifacio gets a B??? They guy hasn’t hit since April and his base running is horrible. He’s been caught stealing 6 times and picked off another 3.