Author Archive

Missing Priorities

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

by Mark Strickler

‘Are you really better off than you were 8 years ago?’ ‘Where’s the beef?’ We all know these phrases from our past – they were poignant at the time and they also have some relevancy insofar as the 2014  Cubs. In 2010 the Ricketts family bought the Cubs – at the time Sam Zell was the owner and (for some curious reason) he decided to keep the unprofitable part of the organization (i.e. the Chicago Tribune and other print media) and jettison the profitable parts (the Cubs, it’s relationship with Comcast Sports and WGN.) Since that time the Cubs have belly-flopped – we’ve all been sold on a rebuild that promises the moon and the stars but offers next to nothing for now or the immediate future. The team has plummeted in terms of results since 2010 and it only improved a little last year. So what do we have to look forward to – is it a positive future or a shoeshine and a smile? My short term predictions are as follows:

  • The Cubs will be a below .500 team in 2014; lower attendance and sales will start to have more impact on liquidity for the Ricketts family. These results are due to a strategic fault by Joe/Tom Ricketts and Epstein – they miscalculated the importance of putting a decent product on the field during the rebuild. I expect the 2015 team to be close to or above 100 losses;
  • Some highly touted prospects will make appearances in 2014 and 2015. The results will be mixed – this also applies to major hopefuls that are currently on the roster. The “net net” is that the rebuild will not produce a serious contender for the foreseeable future;
  • The top management will devote too much of their attention toward construction projects and other lower priority objectives such as mascots and making Wrigley a better advertising platform and party area. They will also sever or greatly reduce their relationship with WGN and seriously erode their national exposure, future fan base and merchandise sales. Their myopic short-term vision will ultimately combine to force the upside-down Ricketts family to sell the Cubs and either “sell short” or barely break even.

So here’s why I’m thinking these things will happen. I invite reader comments so that we can discuss in a positive and analytical manner.

Last year’s Cubs team was better than the previous but still not enough to motivate many of us to watch regularly. The talent level was better than in 2012  but still produced a last place team. What makes us think that the 2014 team will be markedly better? This year’s offseason hasn’t produced any major signings that have led me to believe that this team will be better. I predict a worse record in 2014 than last year and another last place finish.

With regard to talent we got to see some of our future last year. Starlin Castro projects to be a decent hitter but I don’t see him ever being an average shortstop. He will never get to the level that Shawon Dunston was defensively and he can’t even dream about being the same kind of middle infielder that Don Kessinger was. My projection is that he will put on more muscle and eventually be an average to above average left fielder or an American League DH. As for Anthony Rizzo – he can really put some zip on his hits but I hate his mechanics. These flaws will become more apparent as he gets older, he is an average to above average first baseman with is glove. If he plateaus he will have a career similar to Derrek Lee’s. Wellington Castillo is a work in process at best – I will have to see more of him before I can rate him as anything more than average to above average. Travis Wood is an above average prospect but may not be in our future because of the money that he will want. Samardzija will likely be gone by the All Star game if not before. He probably won’t be worth the money he will get due to competitive considerations.

As for the guys in the minors – Baez can hit but he can’t field well (40+ errors and he isn’t 18 anymore.) He projects as a potential All Star left fielder. Kris Bryant also projects as a good-hitting potential All Star left fielder – how many guys can we put out there and who will play on the left side of the infield? Almora has all kinds of question marks for me. Good athletic build, good swing (unlike Corey Patterson) but not enough zip – I think he plateaus as an above average corner outfielder. Again, we have problems with how many guys we can put in left field and Almora doesn’t have the bat for right in my opinion. At starting pitcher we have two or three guys who might compete for the last two spots in the rotation and in the pen we might have a couple of guys to look at. To say the least I’m not thrilled about the future. We have future question marks at catcher, starting pitcher, relief, closer, first base, second base, third base and center field. I’m not convinced the rebuild is going so well.

What about the off-field activities? Will you and I really benefit from all the construction activities, billboards and (wow) a mascot? Let me preface my comments by first saying I hate mascots, I’d rather see “Pennywise the dancing clown” (from Stephen King’s book “It”) than Clark the Cub. Mascots suck and I put them in the same category as the Astros choo-choo, Hawk Harrelson, Ronnie Woo Woo and other baseball annoyances. The game is about balls and strikes, not smelly guys and gals in creepy-looking uniforms. The decision that the Ricketts family is contemplating (terminating the Cubs relationship with WGN) has more long lasting consequences. Generations have grown up watching the Cubs on WGN because it’s available almost everywhere and their grandfather or father were Cubs fans. Can they really keep that national fan base without national TV exposure? What about people like me that don’t live in Chicago that won’t pay for MLB Extra Innings just to watch a losing team who doesn’t improve? (Granted, I still get Extra Innings but now I watch the Indians because I’m so disgusted with the Cubs.) What will these fans do when they can’t watch the Cubs? My guess is that (like me) they will adopt other teams to watch.

In conclusion I’m not as optimistic as others about the Cubs future. This year is a “fish or cut bait” season for me after following the team for 45 years. Will they turn the corner? Or will I be so disillusioned with the team that I abandon them like I did the Blackhawks after William Wirtz sold that team down the river? It was too late for me when Rocky took over the Hawks and it might be too late when some future owner straightens out the Cubs. I hope it won’t be.

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Wood finally beats his former team. Cubs shutout the Reds 2-0

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

by Rob Willer

The Travis Wood trade has been an interesting one for both ball clubs over the past two seasons. Sean Marshall was a workhorse for many years in the Cubs pen and was due for a hefty raise as a reliever. The Cubs maximized his value and traded him to the Reds for Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes was traded to the Astros this year for international slot money which has proven to be quite valuable as it helped the Cubs sign some very impressive international talent. Sappelt has bounced around from the majors and minors this year and seems to be a fourth outfielder at best for his career recently designated for assignment. The real get in the trade for the Cubs was Travis Wood.  The 26-year-old Wood has enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Cubs thus far in 2013, pitching to a 2.79 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 33.7 percent ground-ball rate. He was 0-4 in his career against the Reds which of course included three losses this season against the pesky Reds. The Reds now are 13-4 against the Cubs this season. Wood went seven innings allowing six hits and fanned seven. Wood got his 22nd quality start and it was a beauty.

Kevin Gregg gave up a double in the ninth while earning his 31st save in 35 chances. Just think about that for a second Kevin Gregg has 31 saves after the Cubs got him for literally nothing probably one of the best in season moves this year. Pedro Strop continues his stellar performance out of the pen pitching a scoreless eight. His 2.93 earned average with the Cubs is very encouraging. Overall with the Cubs Strop has appeared in 29 games and turned in 26 scoreless relief outings.

Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena homered off Bronson Arroyo (13-11), who had won his last four starts against the Cubs. These would be the only runs of the game for each team as the Cubs would muster enough offense to get their all-star a win. The Reds squandered a perfect chance to be with in a game of first with 17 games to go in the regular season. After last night’s loss the Reds sit at 2 games back of the National League Central Leading Cardinals. If you look at the top three teams in the National League Central their playoff efficiency percentages range from 99.0 to 99.8 tough year to compete folks. Side Note: The Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched an above .500 season for the first time since 1992. Another astonishing stat that 21 years have passed since they finished above .500. We are only in our second year of the Epstein rebuild folks if we can above .500 in 2015 I’ll take it.

It was the Cubs’ sixth shutout this season which kinda surprised me that they had that many as team. The Cubs go with Edwin Jackson (7-15), who leads the NL in losses. Yippee 19 million dollars for 15 losses. Can’t wait for his second year under contract.

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A Look At the Under Armor Showcase

Monday, August 26th, 2013

by Rob Willer

Early Thoughts (Home-run Derby)-The day started off around 11:00 am where I met John Arguello of Cubs Den and Harry Pavlidis who contributes to a variety of things which include but are not limited to Baseball Prospectus, Washington Post and created Pitch/FX. We proceeded to the front row right next to the scout seats where the likes of Keith Law, Jim Hendry, Sahadev Sharma among many other great baseball minds. First up was the home-run derby and boy was that a show. The two stars of the day were Chase Vallot and Jacob Gatewood. Gatewood put up a very impressive six home-runs showing great bat speed as well as ability to drive the ball. Vallot followed Gatewood with an impressive performance of his own hitting 6 home-runs himself in the opening round. Projects more as a catcher but could end up at 1st base the ball really exploded off his bat. In the end, Gatewood won the derby by defeating Vallot in the final round setting the stage for the Under Armor Game.

Pitching Prospects

Touki Toussaint– Touki Toussaint is a RHP with a 6-2 195 lb. frame from Coral Springs, FL who attends Coral Springs Christian Academy. Toussaint was sitting 93-95 on his fastball through the inning he pitched.  Topping out around 97 while mixing in a big breaking curveball which sat around 73-75. Toussaint showed great poise by retiring the heart of the American League Lineup.

Dylan Cease– He repeats his delivery very well and seems very mature with his age. Like Toussaint he was bringing some serious heat sitting in the 92-95 range topping out at 97. When seeing him live it really seemed like his motion was very easy and retired the side 1-2-3. He ended the first with a high fastball to retire Dazmond Cameron quickly the pitch had a lot of movement on it.

Cobi Johnson- Johnson pitches for Mitchell High School in Holiday,Florida. He stands at a 6 foot 4 and provides us with a fastball that sits in 87-90 works well downhill as he gets a lot of downward movement. He mixed in a curve that sat at 77-79 mph, retired three of the five batters he faced giving up a walk and a single in his one inning of work.

Sam Hentges- Hentges is from Minnesota where he pitches at Mounds View High School. What makes Hentges unique is he is a left-hander that stands at 6 foot six he projects to be a power arm in the future. For his fastball he had it in the range from 86-88 and maxed at 89 on the radar gun for the day. Relatively uneventful half of an inning although he did make quick work of Alexis Pantoja striking him out on a high fastball. Overall has a solid delivery and looks to be ready for the MLB Draft already with his body type and track record.

Tyler Kolek- Kolek was the surprise of the day already looking like Jonathon Broxton mixing in a fastball that regularly sat between 94 and 97 miles per hour. His stocky build provides him with an established reliever body type. He measures at 6 foot 5 and 250 pounds with a power fastball that hit 99 miles on the gun. Very easy motion and repeated it well throughout his inning of work. Kolek definitely caught many scouts eyes when he regularly reached back for his plus fastball.

Tuesday: We will continue the Under Armor Recap with some of the top high school hitters in the country.

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Opponent OPS and Why It Should Be Used For Pitcher Evaluation

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

by John Dewan

Over the last several years, it’s been clear that pitching in Major League Baseball has become more dominant. In fact, it has been over 20 years since the league ERA has been as low as it has been so far this year. This year’s MLB ERA is 3.88, the lowest since the 3.75 mark in 1992.

Some of the high points in ERA in that time were 4.71 in 2000, 4.77 in 2001 and 4.53 in 2006. Since 2006 ERA has been trending downward as seen in this chart of MLB ERAs:

Season

ERA

Opponent OPS

2006

4.53

.768

2007

4.47

.758

2008

4.32

.749

2009

4.32

.751

2010

4.08

.728

2011

3.94

.720

2012

4.01

.724

2013

3.88

.714

ERA is a useful summary statistic, but my favorite stat for pitchers is Opponent OPS. For MLB, overall, Opponent OPS is pretty consistent with ERA, but for an individual pitcher, it is much more indicative of his true pitching performance than ERA. ERA has many biases that Opponent OPS does not have. For example, ERA rewards pitchers who allow most of their home runs with no runners on base or are able to strand runners at the end of innings, even though those events are generally believed to be random and out of the pitcher’s control. Another example is the effect a relief pitcher has on his predecessor’s ERA when it comes to stranded runners.

Here are the MLB leaders in Opponent OPS in 2013:

Best Opponent OPS (qualified starters)

Pitcher

Opponent OPS

Clayton Kershaw

.502

Matt Harvey

.509

Jose Fernandez

.534

Max Scherzer

.564

Madison Bumgarner

.566

And here are the MLB leaders in ERA this season:

Best ERA (qualified starters)

Pitcher

ERA

Clayton Kershaw

1.88

Matt Harvey

2.23

Felix Hernandez

2.28

Hiroki Kuroda

2.33

Jeff Locke

2.43

As you can see, the OPS leaders are bit different. Clayton Kershaw and Matt Harvey have been tremendous by any measure. However, that is where the similarities end. Opponent OPS prefers the rookie phenom Jose Fernandez, major-league win-leader Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner while ERA prefers Felix Hernandez, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jeff Locke.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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Farm Report: CJ Edwards Dominates

Monday, July 29th, 2013

by Rob Willer

The Cubs had added Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm to its already talented pool of prospects earlier this week and added Corey Brock on Friday. In this edition of Down on the Farm were going to take a look at C.J. Edwards and Corey Brock.

CJ Edwards

Acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the package for right-hander Matt Garza last week, the 6 foot 2 right hander made his Daytona Cubs debut Sunday night.Edwards was spectacular striking out the first seven hitters he faced with relative ease by retiring them with his mid 90’s fastball.

On the night Edwards finished with 8 strikeouts and only allowed one hit on just 63 pitches in five innings. He projects to be a number three starter to the back of the rotation all depending on development over the next few years. Either way today was a great start to the Edward’s era and gives Cubs fans hope with talented young pitching prospects. Overall this guy knows how to pitch and its going to be fun to watch him for the rest of the season.

Edwards Watch: His next start will be Friday in Daytona for his home debut..

Corey Black

We then transition to right-handed pitcher Corey Black who was acquired from the Yankees in the deal that sent outfield slugger Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx. Black is a 21 year old right hander who is considered to be a power arm and pitched in High A with the Yankees this season.

Stats-  Last year Black posted a 3.08 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a .222 opponents batting average in 52 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League Yankees, Class A Short-Season Staten Island and Class A Charleston. These numbers are great to see across all three levels with a such a young pitcher. Early indications are that Black most likely will end up in the bullpen with that dominant sinking fastball.

Corey Black Alert- Via Black’s twitter account he announced that he will be starting Thursday for his Cubs debut. Black features a high 90’s fastball with movement.

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