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The Cubs Biggest Playoff Opponent – The Format

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

As a man who wrote an entire book describing “rational” reasons for the Cubs’108 year drought…I hope this does not come off as an excuse. The 2016 Cubs are clearly the best team in baseball…and that is not a subjective opinion. Whether one uses record, WAR, defensive metrics, pitching statistics, on-base percentage, the gaudy run differential…there really is no doubt. The Cubs are so good…that I would be willing to guarantee a title…if they didn’t have to play a five game series.

Of the major sports leagues, the MLB has always been the last to embrace any kind of change, and when they do make alterations… it results in half-assed or just plain bad results. For years the MLB resisted extra play-off teams:

  • From 1903-1968 there was one representative from the NL and AL that went to the World Series. For 58 of those seasons there were only 8 teams in each league…so…fine I guess.
  • In 1969 when the AL and NL each expanded to 12 teams, the leagues were split into 2 divisions of 6, so you had two play-off teams in each league playing in best of 5 league championship series. Of course the league championship series were changed to best of 7 in 1985…one year after the Cubs lost in 5 to the Padres.
  • This remained the status quo all the way up until 1995(forgive us for the strike…please!) when 4 teams from each league made the play-offs…3 division winners and a wild card.
  • In 2012 a fifth wild-card was added…to play a 1 game play-off with the other wild card entry.

While I love the idea of extra play-off teams, and regular season records do not always indicate who the best teams are, it is worth noting that:

  • Since the 1995 inception of the wild-card (21 seasons), the team with the overall best regular season record has won the World Series just 4 times. The good news? Twice it was the Red Sox with Theo players!
  • By comparison, there have been 6 wild card champions during that same time.

Examining year by year, one finds many examples of solid division champs that played in a tough division and hence had lesser regular season records, and therefore are deserved champs. Amongst the wild-card champs, you find the ’04 Red Sox who won 98 games finishing second to the Yankees only to vanquish them in the play-offs…a rightful champ. While I don’t want this to sound like a pre-emptive excuse for the ’16 Cubs, I believe the play-offs as currently structured allow for too much randomness. (See 2014 when both World Series teams won one game play-offs)

Obviously no one will ever be in favor of reducing the number of teams(Less money, less teams in the race), yet I think a bit more regular season relevance is needed. Why play 162 games if the “hot” team can win 1 game and is even with a team that has done it throughout 162?

Here is what I would suggest:

  • The two wild-card teams play a best of 3 series over three consecutive days.
  • The winners then play the #1 seed in a best of 7 (eliminate the 5 game series), then 7 NLCS, and 7 in the World Series.
  • Have the wild card games start in the last week of September…this could easily be done by (gasp) bringing back a few traditional double-headers throughout the year for teams.

Would you feel better knowing the Cubs, by virtue of winning the division, would have a 7 game series versus the wild-card winner?

I realize comparing sports is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, or really more like comparing apples with hard candy…yet I am going to use hockey to further illustrate my point. Hockey…much like baseball…is a random sport where the best team does not always win. Sometimes it just may take a hot goalie or “puck luck” for a team to win a hockey game. Yet as a Blackhawks fan, it has given me great comfort knowing that during this current run a team would have to beat the Hawks 4 times out of 7. Since 2010(the first cup), in three of the four years the Hawks didn’t win the Cup…they lost in game 7…twice in OT! In fact…if hockey series were the best of 5 rather than best of 7…the Hawks would not have won in any year in which they won the Stanley Cup! A 7 game hockey series takes as much of the randomness out as possible.

These last few weeks people have constantly asked my opinion of the Cubs chances…and my response is always the same-“the 5 game series scares me”. If I knew they would play three seven game series…I would almost be willing to guarantee a title.

Just like my Hawks! (In most years)

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One More With Velo (is all I am asking for)

Friday, July 8th, 2016

How many clichés have you heard regarding pitching in baseball?

You can never have enough, TINSTAAP, pitching and defense wins championships…

…none of them are wrong.  However, I do take umbrage when pundits make this statement; “velocity doesn’t matter”.

It does.

Of course things like secondary pitches, command, deception, movement, are all very important…and I would admit that velocity is not as important for starting pitchers.  Yet, if I am building a bullpen I want as many guys as possible who throw 95mph plus.

Duh! (Your response right now)…everyone does! Every freaking team in baseball does! Especially since most teams are trying to follow the Royals winning blueprint from last season.  Our Cubs are no different…yet right now their bullpen has been letting them down…and some of it may be due to a lack of velocity.

In Wednesday’s game, the Cubs lead 3-1 until Tucker Barnhart hit a 3 run homer off of Trevor Cahill and just like that…the game was gone.  Cahill has done a nice job over the last calendar year for the Cubs using his sinking fastball and his deceptive movement.

According to Fangraphs Cahill is averaging 92.3 MPH on his fastball.  Compare this to a pitcher the Cubs saw routinely in the 7th inning in the Miami series…David Barraclough…who is sitting at 95.5… or David Phelps who is throwing right at about 94.  At first glance those differences may not seem significant.  92? 94? 95.5? Only a couple of ticks on a radar gun right? Well…not really.

First…my not so scientific argument…these are averages…so Trevor Cahill(hey…I like Trevor Cahill) sits between 90 and 94 on his fastball…Phelps goes 92-96 and Barraclough sits 94-98…those are considerable differences.

Now the scientific evidence…

Last night I watched the documentary Fastball directed by Jonathon Hock and narrated by Kevin Costner (if its baseball or westerns for Costner…count me in!) For a baseball nerd (like me) I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it.  Without giving away any spoilers – Who threw the hardest pitch ever? Who did Ted Williams say was the fastest pitcher he ever saw? Could Bob Feller really throw harder than a speeding locomotive?- I will use some of the science involved.  There is an entire section called “92-100” which breaks down the difference anecdotally and scientifically between these important 8 miles per hour.  First, Fastball has hitters like Bryce Harper, Brandon Phillips, and Tori Hunter(whose description of a helpless at bat off of Joel Zumaya is wonderful) explain the noticeable difference in the batter’s box.  Which, once again…duh?!

Ah…but the science of Fastball!  I will explain this as simply as I can (for the reader and myself).  A hitter has 50 more milliseconds to react to a ball thrown at 92 mph than one at 100 mph.  50 milliseconds may not sound like much…but according to these fellas who are lot smarter than me…the brain is capable of about 25 times more brain computations during those 50 milliseconds.

Example- A pitch comes in at 92 MPH…the hitter can see the release, gauge the location, and possibly adjust in the last 5 feet of the balls flight.  A pitch comes in at 100 MPH…guess and swing…and many times the hitter can’t even see it in the last 5 feet!

The solution is simple…right? The Cubs just need to get a couple of 100 mph throwers.  Well we know the scarcity of these types of pitchers…and good freakin’ luck finding one. (At least one that doesn’t have a domestic violence incident in his background)  Let’s go back to those 50 milliseconds for a moment. Let’s say a 93-97 mph split computes to a 30 millisecond difference…that will still greatly affect the hitter’s ability to make decisions.  Would Tucker Barnhart been able to catch up to a 95mph fastball?

Currently Hector Rondon (once again according to Fangraphs) is sitting at 95.9 average mph…then Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Carl Edwards Jr. are all in the 94 and change range. If you peruse most MLB bullpens you will see similar breakdowns with a handful having two or three 95 plus guys.

So Theo and Jed…that’s all I am asking for…just ONE more 95 plus guy.  That’s it…maybe he’s already in the system (Corey Black), maybe he is on another team and has recently been demoted to the bullpen (Nathan Eovaldi)…but he is out there!

…and we need him. (Preferably sooner than later)

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Why Cubs Fans Need to Stop, Pause, and Enjoy

Friday, June 17th, 2016

I think it’s rather important when the Cubs are having a season like this…stop right there! …the modern day Cubs have never had a season like this.  I started following every Cubs game in 1977.  There are only two regular seasons that come remotely close; 1984 and last year.  The Cubs were very good in 2007 and 2008, yet in my opinion, any team that relied on Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot was never really that good.

I wrote on this blog earlier in the season about enjoying the ride, and not necessarily making this a World Champs or bust season.  With this amazing start…of course we will be disappointed if they don’t win it all…but I still think it’s important to stop…pause…and enjoy the season.

Let’s consider these facts:

  • The Cubs have won 23 games by 5 runs or more…more than half of their wins are “blowouts”.
  • The Cubs currently have a 9.5 game lead over the Cardinals and 11.5 over the Pirates.  Think about that for a second.
  • Going into Wednesday’s game…the Cubs have won exactly 22 games at home, and 22 games on the road.
  • The Pythagorean Win-Loss is a projection of what a team’s record should be based on the number of runs scored and allowed…here are the National League Division leaders:

Washington Nationals     40-25 actual               41-24 Pythagorean

San Francisco Giants       40-26 actual             37-29 Pythagorean

Chicago Cubs                     44-19 actual             48-15 Pythagorean

Yes…that’s right…statistically the Cubs should have a better record.

  • The Cubs currently lead the league in walks…if you read my book you know that EVERY time in their history that the Cubs lead the league in walks…they have won 95 plus games.
  • As I was watching Pedro Strop come into Tuesday Night’s game and make Nationals hitters look silly…I thought to myself…Wow! We got this guy for Scott Feldman? What a steal! …oh, and we acquired Jake Arrieta in that deal as well.
  • The Cub’s team ERA is 2.64…a full half a run ahead of the Mets 3.16 which is second in the League. The Cub’s pitching is definitely on a “regression” watch, yet even after a bit of normalization the Cubs staff will remain among the leagues’ best statistically.
  • Among National League position player leaders in WAR…the Cubs have 3 of the top 10…Zobrist, Fowler and Bryant.
  • Ahh…but what about defense? The Cubs have made some errors lately. Well, using Defensive Efficiency which is a measure of balls in play converted into outs…the Cubs lead the league at .733, followed by the Dodgers at .721 and the Nationals at .709 respectively.  Anyone still think Jason Heyward isn’t worth all of that money? In fact, the Cubs .733 is tops in both the NL and AL.
  • Okay, okay, its fan voting…but the Cubs could have 5 position players and the starting pitcher in the All-Star game.
  • This may seem petty…but the Cubs currently have a 13 game lead over the Chicago White Sox.  Put that one on the board.
  • While this is another area that may be difficult to statistically quantify…the Cubs are probably positioned as well as any team to make trades.  Even after the “graduations” of Bryant, Schwarber, Russell, Almora Jr., Baez, and Soler…they have players such as Dan Vogelbach…a lefty hitting first baseman who is still only 23 and has a slash line of .313/.434/.545 at AAA Iowa.  The Cubs have numerous assets from which to deal.  In my opinion they will be in the market for a reliever as well as another left-handed bat.
  • While Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist have regressed a bit…Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo are beginning to trend upward.  Barring injuries…the Cubs offense should improve over the last 100 games.

Wow… that’s some really good sh#t!  However, take it from this grizzled old-timer…don’t even think about the play-offs yet…just soak this in every day.  Cubs’ fans should make every game appointment TV…gaze over the stats with lovingly…and realize you are seeing something that has never happened before.  I hate to use these comparisons…but I have to:

I watched every game of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

I think I missed only 2 regular season games during the Bulls 1995-96, 72-10 title season.

…2016 has that kind of feel for our Chicago Cubs.

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Why I Won’t Be Disappointed If The Cubs Don’t Win the 2016 World Series

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

After two games, the Chicago Cubs have resembled a team worthy of being the ‘consensus’ pick to win the 2016 World Series.  The team boasts an incredibly deep, versatile and balanced line-up.  It feels surreal to objectively state the Cubs have the best line up in all of baseball…and to have that opinion shared by a majority of baseball observers.   The Cubs’ pitching staff, though not as deep, is also universally regarded as one of baseball’s best.  It feels rather bizarre…doesn’t it?

I am sure the fandoms of the 29 other MLB franchises are already tired of hearing about the Cubs.  I would imagine two in particular: 1). the attendance and attention starved, constant chip on their collective shoulders squad on the south side.  2). the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball, who hail from the mecca of racial peace and harmony that is St. Louis, Missouri.  The majority of those two groups will mutually be rooting against the Cubs every day…and will take great joy if the Cubs fail to win the 2016 World Series.   Conversely, the bulk of Cubs Nation will be despondent, dejected and communally crying out “not again!” or “why us?”

I will not be among them.

I know what you are thinking…well of course Chris… you just want to add another chapter to your critically acclaimed book Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 108 Reasons Why It’s Been 108 Years!

Nope…that’s not why. (However, if you feel like telling 10,000 of your friends to buy my book after that shameless plug…I won’t stop you.)

My actual reason is simple…historically it’s been really hard to win a World Series…really, really, really hard.  Winning a World Series is particularly difficult if you are not the Yankees, Cardinals, Giants, Red Sox, A’s or Dodgers.

Since its commencement in 1903, the World Series has been played 112 times. (RIP 1994)  An abundant amount of attention is given to the fact that the Cubs have not won a title since 1908.  I can’t argue with how ludicrous that drought seems…yet if one digs deep into World Series numbers…there are teams that are debatably as futile as the Chicago Cubs….or just one rung above them on the historically awful ladder.

The Yankees (duh) have the most titles with 27…which equal 24% of the total World Series championships.   The Cardinals (boo!) are second with 11, followed by the A’s at 9, Giants and Red Sox with 8, and the Dodgers with 6 respectively.   Thus, if you combine the top 6 teams in terms of titles won (Yankees, Cardinals, A’s Giants, Red Sox and Dodgers) they have won 69 championships…or 62%.  Consequently, in only 38% of MLB seasons has a team other than the Yankees, Cardinals, A’s, Giants, Red Sox or Dodgers won the World Series.  Therefore, according to baseball history, the odds are against you if you aren’t one of those teams.  A clearer image of the long odds of winning a World Series emerges as one delves deeper into World Series history.  Let’s take a look at the teams other than the above six… slotted into some nice little groupings:


These franchises have all been part of Major League Baseball since 1903.  Many of them have changed names, or relocated, but they have had 112 years of continuous opportunities to win a World Series….the results?

Reds 5-112, Pirates 5-112, Tigers 4-112, Braves 3-112, Orioles 3-112, White Sox 3-112, Twins 3-112, Cubs 2-112, Phillies 2-112 and Indians 2-112.

Once again…yes the Cubs’ drought is pathetic…but these franchises are just as inept or just nominally better.  For example, I have lived through both of the Phillies titles, and all three of the Orioles…therefore prior to 1968 these teams were traditionally bad.  Seven teams have played 112 seasons and won three titles or less!  Call it rationalization, but looking at these numbers puts World Series Championships in a different perspective.  These figures are a bit depressing…a franchise such as the Detroit Tigers…with a history of Hall of Fame players and great teams…have only won four World Series titles in 112 years.


These franchises have been around approximately half as long as the “originals” and their historical records are fairly inept:

Angels 1-55, Rangers 0-55, Astros 0-54, Mets 2-54, Royals 4-47, Nationals(Expos) 0-47, Padres 0-47, Brewers 0-47

Yikes! Only three of the eight have won a World Series…and they have seven titles out of 406 combined seasons.  Perhaps I live in a Cub-centric bubble, but I don’t recall ever hearing about the Rangers or Astros going 50 plus seasons without a title?


Both of these teams joined the league in 1977, and one of them has had respectable historic success:

Blue Jays 2-39, Mariners 0-39


Arriving in 1993 and ‘98 respectively, these teams have served as a source of embarrassment to Cubs’ fans as ALL four of them have at least been to a World Series.  Perhaps the arrival and relative quick success of these teams has further sullied the Cubs’ dismal past.  However, shouldn’t the Indians, Rangers or Astros be lumped in the same shame cycle?

Rockies 0-23, Marlins 2-23, Diamondbacks 1-18, Rays 0-18

The point of these statistics is not to dispute the fact that the Chicago Cubs have been traditionally proficient at losing. None of these teams above have a 108 year championship drought…and if that is the sole measuring stick, then yes, the Cubs are the suckiest sucks that ever sucked.  However these numbers display that the Chicago Cubs are not the only team that has found winning a World Series to be a daunting task.  If the Chicago Cubs do not win the World Series this year, Cubs’ fans should avoid viewing the season through a fatalistic lens.

Of course I want the Cubs to win it all this year…yet I have vowed to enjoy the season no matter what the end result.  The present and future has never appeared this bright for the Chicago Cubs…and unlike in previous sporadic winning seasons…I am confident the championship window will not be closed after 2016.

…and I really don’t want to add another reason to my book.

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THE MLB AWAKENS (Star Wars and the Majors)

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

***Warning…if you are not a baseball fan who also happens to be a Star Wars nerd, this write-up is not for you! It contains only silliness, and has no relevant rumors, news or information.

I have done this before…it just seems the timing requires I take another go at it.

I was nine years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and like most of us in our mid to upper forties…I was smitten. As the original trilogy spanned my 4th grade year until my freshman year of high school…the characters, story, and mythology had a huge impact on my cultural development. The series actually helped shape a part of who I am…and I am not embarrassed to say that. (…okay, maybe a little)

If anyone can relate to the words above…then you were most likely as disappointed as me in the “prequels”. Oh, there were some cool elements…Darth Maul, the Pod Race, Darth Maul, Emperor Palpatine, Ewan McGregor and Darth Maul…but most of it was just a big pile of Bantha crap! (…and don’t even get me started on Hayden Christensen…who makes Dave Coulier look like DeNiro!)

…but alas! A New Hope emerged when word broke that a real sequel was on the way! A new Jar-Jar, Battle Droid and midi chlorian-less version, with promise of Stormtroopers, Han and Chewie, the Falcon, Luke, Leia and the capacity to get it right! The thought of this actually happening had seemed so illogical, so remote that I have been giddy waiting for the film the last few years. I even showed incredible discipline by avoiding all trailers and spoilers…I wanted the film to be a complete surprise…and like most nerds my age-I saw it on the preview night prior to the actual release.

Expecting my thoughts on the film? I doubt you would care…everything I have stated so far is to qualify me as a Star Wars-ologist…not a film critic.

A few years ago, when Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens debuted I habitually identified it as a name straight out of the Star Wars Universe. It was just too perfect…Jair Jurrjens? It still makes me giggle…and since I am always searching for giggles, after Jair…I always look for MLB/Star Wars names.

“The Force Awakens” will soon become the highest grossing film of all time. (Take that Avatar! and by the way James Cameron…are you waiting thirty years to make a sequel to that?) The cultural relevance of Star Wars is at its zenith…therefore I present members of the current Star Wars/MLB team:

TEAM 1– Non-Force Sensitive Pilot Good-guy types – Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, CJ Cron, Kyle Kubitza, Troy Tulowitzki, Vance Worley, Zack Cozart, JA Happ, Boone Logan, Tommy Pham, Xavier Scruggs and Tanner Roark.

TEAM 2– Friend and Foe Non-Force Sensitive Alien Types- Nori Aoki, Didi Gregorius, Arismendy Alacantara, Tuffy Gosewich, Dan Uggla, Coco Crisp, Yan Gomes, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Reid Brignac, Jumbo Diaz, and Ivan Nova.

TEAM 3– Jedi (both alien and human)- Chase Utley, Brock Holt, Kole Calhoun, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Nola, Starlin Castro, Lucas Duda, Koji Uehara and Kolten Wong. (Kris Bryant may seem force sensitive…but sorry…)

TEAM 4– Sith Lords- Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Xander Bogaerts, Yasiel Puig, Ubaldo Jimenez, Slade Heathcott, Noah Syndergaard, Radhames Liz, Jung Ho Kang, Mike Matheny and any other member of the Cardinals organization not previously mentioned.

If you registered at least one giggle I am satisfied…and if you are a combo MLB/Star Wars nerd like me…I implore you to search the galaxy for future team members.

…and on a final note…my mention of the Cardinals organization was not just a spiteful jab at the Birds…picture the following scene:

Cardinals’ General Manager Admiral Mozeliak addresses his subordinates…beneath the Admiral lay sheets and sheets of information stolen from the Houston Astros’ database…

“…many Bothans died to bring us this information”

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