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6 Things I Learned From Cubs Baseball Last Week

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Week three is in the books so it’s time to check out what I learned this week. I learned a lot of things this week, so let’s get right to it.

The Cubs Can’t Score For Jeff Samardzija – As long and wavy that Samardzija’s hair is, you’d think it would lead to some sort of scoring. Unfortunately the Cubs just can’t do it. It’s as if the offense is wearing a chastity belt when Shark is on the mound and they expect him to do it all on his own. In four starts this season, he’s posted an ERA of 1.29. It’s not even fair that not only is he winless, but he’s 0-2. I feel like the first win is coming this week against Wade Miley, but even a matchup that you would think would be a given proves to be difficult.

Not Winning The Masahiro Tanaka Signing Sweepstakes May Have Been A Big Mistake – I wrote about it the other day, but it bears repeating. Tanaka has really really good stuff. What I was surprised to see, though, was that two other Cubs have “nasty stuff”. That was encouraging as both Travis Wood and Jason Hammel fit into the future in some way. For Wood, he’ll be here long term and Hammel should be able to bring a decent return before the deadline in a flip, which adds to the rebuild. However, the big question is how much the Cubs will regret not breaking the bank on Tanaka because he’s really good.

Billy Hamilton Can Look Really Bad at the Plate, but He’s Not the Worst – That distinction may belong to Bartolo Colon. In case you missed it, it’s worth a look at both and you can make the call.

I think I’m going to give the nod to Colon, but barely. That said, as bad as Hamilton looked, he looked really fast as he beat Anthony Rizzo to the bag on a grounder to first base. You don’t usually see that, but Rizzo hesitated just a small amount and that was all it took.

Wellington Castillo Can Be Stolen On – He’s just not throwing the ball as well as he was last year. He did get a great throw off in Sunday’s game that should have nailed Hamilton, but Castro flubbed the tag. I think we’ll see improvement soon. He can’t possibly finish this bad.

Jose Veras and Carlos Villanueva Need To Get Off My Roster – I can’t stand watching either of these clowns pitch. Villanueva looked awful yet again today and Veras, who came into the game in a low leverage situation wet the bed again. Carrie Muskat wrote about how Renteria wants to see him win back the closer job. Screw that. I don’t want his tail anywhere near the mound in a key situation.

There Are Still People Who Believe in Edwin Jackson – Need proof? See this article.


MVP – Homer Bailey (.249 WPA)

At what point will this team win a series. I’ve been talking about this all year, but the last time the Cubs won a series, it was the first part of September 2013. Today we had a chance, until you looked at who we had on the mound and then you realized it wasn’t going to happen. What makes me most frustrated is the fact that this team is either all in or all out when it comes to the result lately.

by Ryan Morrison (@InsidetheZona)

Like the Cubs, the Diamondbacks have five wins. Unlike the Cubs, the Diamondbacks have sixteen losses, and have lost eight of their last nine. As National League foes go, the D-backs are not the Cubs’ greatest challenge. In some ways, the D-backs have underachieved as a team: their offense is better than their team 82 wRC+ would indicate, and the bullpen has actually been quite decent, if not at the most critical times. The struggles of the rotation, however, are completely legitimate.

After 21 games and 106 innings, the D-backs rotation sports a 7.42 ERA, more than two full runs worse than the next-worst crew of starters. For the four-game series with Chicago, the Diamondbacks line up with Bronson Arroyo, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley and Mike Bolsinger. Arroyo is no different (or, certainly, not better) than his recent Reds days, and temporary fill-in Bolsinger might be the definition of replacement level (8 ER in 7 IP).

Miley, on the other hand, has been Arizona’s best and most consistent starter this season, pitching like a strong #3 starter. McCarthy’s results in 25.1 IP so far this season have not been good (7.11 ERA), but for what it’s worth, it has appeared as though he’s been burned by some critical missed strike calls and terrible luck with home runs. His 3.38 xFIP indicates that he’s a threat to be taken seriously.

On the offensive side, this is the same team that Cubs fans saw last year, except with a fully healthy Aaron Hill, rookie Chris Owings, and new acquisition Mark Trumbo, who shares the league lead with 6 home runs. Every everyday player not named Paul Goldschmidt is currently struggling to perform at 2013 levels.

With Owings installed at short, the D-backs boast what should be an above-average hitting infield, including Martin Prado at third. It’s the outfield that presents the real puzzle. A.J. “Action Jackson” Pollock and Gerardo Parra are both elite defenders with slightly below average bats, making them well above average overall. But Cody Ross has recently joined in the mix with Trumbo for playing time after being activated just a few days ago, and we’re likely to see at least three different outfield alignments during the series with the Cubs. Parra could get pushed to center field if Ross starts over Pollock, which is unfortunate for Arizona, as a huge part of Parra’s value comes from his throwing arm.

Meanwhile, at the plate, it’s just not clear what Cody Ross can bring to the table at this point, with his surgically repaired hip in his load leg. That makes the outfield an almost unsolvable puzzle, especially with Kirk Gibson favorite and former Cub atony Campana also likely to get work. But the outfield is also the D-backs’ main source of bench offense. Whichever outfielders sit in a given day will be accompanied by Eric Chavez as the D-backs’ main pinch hitting threats, as backup infielder Cliff Pennington offers little with the bat and backup catcher Tuffy Gosewisch offers nothing.

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Why Can’t The Cubs Score For Samardzija?

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

MVP – Alfredo Simon (.206 WPA)

I’m not sure what it is about when Jeff Samardzija pitches, but the Cubs just can’t seem to give him any run support. In his four starts so far, the Cubs have scored two or fewer runs for him in three out of the four games. As you might expect, that leads to an 0-2 record with an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of 1.07. It’s just another example as to why the pitcher win stat is not particularly useful, especially by itself. I don’t really want to get into that debate in this post, though feel free to engage in a civil manner in the comment section, but my point is that for some reason it seems like the offense puts it in a lower gear when Jeff is on the mound, and I’m not sure why. For this team to be successful, that has to change. You can’t waste games when you have your best person going for you.

Does it concern anyone else that the Reds stole five bases off the Cubs in this game? I understand they have Billy Hamilton, but he only accounted for one of them. Wellington Castillo now has a runner thrown out percentage of just 8%. Granted, it’s not all on the catcher. The pitcher on the mount at the time has a lot to do with the result, but it’s alarming given that he’s always been a better option when it comes to throwing out would be basestealers. To compound his day, he also had a catcher interference error, which oddly enough is the second one for the Cubs catchers this week (how weird is that), and he’s hitting just .209 after being one of the most productive members of the offense last season. I’m not overly concerned at this point, but for this rebuild to happen successfully, you can’t have guys you’re already counting on to be part of it suddenly regress. Let’s hope Castillo is just off to a cold start.

Finally, if you missed the game, you missed one of the worst, most awkward looking strikeouts I’ve ever seen by anyone, including amateurs. Hamilton fanned so badly in the first inning that I thought I was going to die laughing. This is why I posed the question as to if he would out steel Emilio Bonifacio this year. I don’t know that he can produce enough offensively to justify being on a Major League roster. Take a look.

Tony Cingrani

Cingrani gave up only two runs over 6 1/3 on Sunday vs. the Rays but had to escape some jams. “He was able to make pitches when he needed to, which was important. He was able to get outs with runners in scoring position,” catcher Devin Mesoraco said.

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Which Pitchers Have “Nasty” Stuff?

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Watching Masahiro Tanaka pitch against the Cubs and seeing how easily he put the lineup down via strikeout caused two things.

First, it caused a great deal of envy knowing we were so close to getting him. I don’t know how much he’d have helped this team this year, but being able to watch that every 5th day instead of Carlos Villanueva would be awfully nice. Second, and more importantly, it caused a lot of awe. I know our offense is not the best, but he was missing bats with ease. They talked a little about it on the broadcast, but I decided to pull some numbers to look at who has the “nasty stuff” in their arsenal.

The first stat we’re going to look at is related to pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. Any good pitcher will tell you that the key to pitching isn’t all about throwing the ball in the zone. It’s about strategically planning and placing the ball where you want, when you want. The goal is to get the batter to swing at a pitch that they really can do nothing with. To be able to be effective in that quest, you have to be able to get hitters to swing at balls outside of the zone. Let’s take a look at the leaders, coming into today’s games, in terms of getting hitters to swing at pitches outside of the zone.

O-Swing% – The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone. (League Average = 30%)

O-Contact% - The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat. (League Average = 68%)

Looking at these numbers, we see that Tanaka has been the best in the business when it comes to getting hitters to swing at bad pitches. Most likely he stuff looks so appealing and the movement so sharp that they can’t hold up and then can’t make contact when they do swing. Not only does he have a tremendous ranking when it comes to getting the guys to swing, but even when they do swing, half the time they don’t even hit the ball. Of the 46% of the time they actually make contact, those have resulted in an OPS of just .350. Remember, OPS is on base + slugging, so .350 is pathetic. Unfortunately, no Cubs made the list, but don’t worry, it gets a little better.

The next stat I looked at on my guest to find the nasty stuff guys was swinging strike percentage. Fan Graphs describes this stat as “The percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on.” League average is 8.5%. Here are the leaders for the season so far.

Once again we see Tanaka right at the top, but this list contains two names that weren’t on the other list. Both Travis Wood and Jason Hammel make this list, with Wood finishing in the top 5 so far. It’s interesting that Jeff Samardzija didn’t make the top 15 list. I would have generally hypothesized that he had better overall deception on his pitches.

The final list I ran was a list of overall contact rate. Again, Fangraphs describes this stat as “The overall percentage of a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.” League average is 81%.

Once again we see Tanaka up near the top, but once again we see Wood and Hammel making the list.

What does it mean? Well, for one thing, it’s clear that Tanaka as well as guys like Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana, Felix Hernandez, etc have nasty stuff, but it also shows that the Cubs have guys who can miss bats as well, and that is key to being successful.

  • Bizarre catcher interference play in the first game allowed Joe Girardi a chance to pick which result he wanted to go with. I liken it to when a coach in football has the option to decline or take a penalty on the other team based on the result of the play.
  • The Cubs came into the game with the longest streak of putting up at least four runs in a game. Needless to say that streak is over.
  • Zac Rosscup was the 26th man on the roster, which is allowed for the double headers and pitched 1.2 innings of scoreless ball in the 2nd game. Nice to see.
  • Darwin Barney‘s primary skill that he brings to the table is defense, so when he’s not hitting, the last thing he wants to do is make an error, but that’s what happened to him in game 2.

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Cubs Offensive WAR Leaders

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Since we had a rainout yesterday, I have nothing really to look at in terms of news. So, I have a quiz for you. We started the blog in October 2003. That means this is season # 11 for the site. Today we look at the offensive WAR leaders cumulative for the Cubs since the inception of the site. Below is the table with the names invisible, but with a link to them if you click the blank. How many can you guess.

Rk Player WAR/pos
1 Aramis Ramirez 23.3
2 Derrek Lee 22.5
3 Geovany Soto 9.3
4 Alfonso Soriano 7.9
5 Starlin Castro 7.8
6 Darwin Barney 6.2
7 Welington Castillo 6.1
8 Ryan Theriot 6.1
9 Michael Barrett 6.0
10 Carlos Zambrano 5.9
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Episode 11 – The Mustard Episode

Monday, April 14th, 2014

This week’s episode of the show was jam packed with a host of different topics:

The Week in Review

  • Resurgence from Starlin Castro & Anthony Rizzo
  • Emilio Bonifacio continues to hit
  • Bullpen wasn’t quite as good this week
  • Closer Change
  • What happens when Jake Arrieta comes back?

The Week Ahead

  • Two games at NYY then weekend series home vs. Reds

Mailbag Questions:



  • I think that a team’s record in 1 run games is a reflection on how good the bullpen is.  Do you agree?

More Or Less

  1. Will Emilio Bonifacio have MORE or LESS stolen bases than Billy Hamilton this season in the Majors?
  2. Will Starlin Castro’s home run total be MORE or LESS than his error total at SS this season?
  3. Will Jason Hammel make MORE or LESS starts than Jeff Samardzija for the Cubs this Season.

Download the Show (50 min / 11 MB)

Remember to subscribe to the show on iTunes and email the show with any questions or feedback you might have.

Follow the hosts on Twitter

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3 Things I Learned From Cubs Baseball This Week

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Week 2 is in the books and it yielded another pair of series losses. While that is disappointing, there is always something to be learned as you watch the games unfold. Let’s get right to it.

The Offense Is Not As Bad As We Thought – A big issue in week one was the inability for this team to put up runs. That really wasn’t an issue this week, which was encouraging especially given the caliber of pitching we faced in the Cardinal series. By no means do I think this team is ready to compete offensively with the big boys, but I also didn’t think they were as bad as we saw in week one. What is of particular encouragement is the start to the season by both Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. For both, this was a year to show they belonged and deserved the money they were given to lock them up through their arbitration years. There were a lot of pundits and fans who had given up on one or even both before the season. Both have answered the call early and that is encouraging.

The Starting Pitching Is Not As Good As We Thought – After week one I was all a glow about how well the starting staff did. Even Carlos Villanueva, who looked so bad in relief in two outings rebounded to have a nice first start. Week two was a little different. Watching the games on Saturday and Sunday, which featured a start by Villanueva and then Edwin Jackson, I felt like I was in hell. It really should be against the rules to have to run these two jokers out there in back to back games. We’ll get into the Jackson start in just a little bit, but let’s just say that this was not a fun weekend of watching Cubs starting pitching. The return of Jake Arrieta will hopefully help ease some of the burden, because it forces Villanueva out of the rotation and, if it were up to me, off the roster completely. The issue of having to see Jackson out there every fifth day still remains and all we can hope is that he gets his mess together or a bullpen that I feel could be a strength of this team is going to get taxed really quickly.

12 Man Pitching Staffs Are Incredibly Stupid – I wouldn’t say I learned this one this week, but rather confirmed it again. I have long been a critic of the way the Major League roster is assembled these days, with pitching staffs consisting of seven man bullpens. There just isn’t enough work to go around with the seven man pen and you end up with guys like Wesley Wright making his first appearance in nine days today. That kind of crap is unacceptable in my opinion. It doesn’t allow for a guy to stay sharp and simply wastes a roster spot that could either be used to allow for a pitch hitter late in the game or the ability to carry a third catcher. What really set me off about it this week was the fact that the Cubs made a move on Saturday to recall Chris Rusin (which I was fine with) because Rick Renteria said they had really taxed the pen. If I’m Wright, I’m interrupting that answer to the press and introducing myself to my manager because apparently he had forgotten Wright was even on the team. It sucks for Brian Schlitter, who was sent down to make room for Rusin, because he wasn’t able to be recalled right away and has to stay down there a little now when he wasn’t even pitching poorly.

MVP – Kevin Siegrist (.246 WPA)

  • We talked about Jackson’s start briefly, but let’s look at it a little closer. First, he allowed at least one base runner every inning he pitched, most of the time via a hit of some sort. When you do that and you’re a pitcher who notoriously struggles with control and had a tendency to walk hitters in excess, you’re asking for trouble. His WHIP is now up to 1.88, which is grossly unacceptable and needs to come down. Each and every inning he pitched himself into a jam of some sort. It was painful to watch and it’s not getting better. Take one run off the board and he’s got a quality start, which tells you everything you need to know about how stupid that stat is. It seems like each time he’s on the mound, the Cubs offense gets him some sort of help only to see him cough it right up and give it back in excess. About the only positive thing I can say about the outing was that he was able to come back and pitch a few innings after the rain delay to save the pen. Jesse Rogers had a nice piece on what to do with Jackson going forward.
  • Rizzo helped the team get off to an early 2-0 lead with a home run in the 1st. Overall the offense as a whole looked really effective in the inning, seeing a lot of pitches and coming away with a lead before the Cardinals even had a chance to take to the plate. Unfortunately that was about all from Rizzo at the plate, but I can’t complain about the day. He accounted for runs and that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Castro saw his mini hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-4 day at the plate.
  • We saw the season debut of a guy I thought should have made the club out of spring training, Blake Parker. Parker came in to pitch in relief and made me rethink my opinion. The two runs he gave up proved to be the difference in the game. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs recall Schlitter after his mandatory 10 day stay in AAA or stick with Parker until Arrieta returns.
  • Wright somehow made it into the game, though only for three pitches. Chin up, Wes.
  • Javier Baez was placed on the 7 day DL due to ankle soreness stemming from an issue on Friday when he was fielding pre-game ground balls. That puts 2 of the big 4 prospects on the DL early in the year, as Jorge Soler has been there since day 1.

Off day on Monday, which means we can’t possibly lose. It also means we get to stew over yet another series loss. Keep an eye out this afternoon for a look at the comings and goings in the rest of baseball with a post by Brian and don’t episode 11 of VFTB Radio due out around 9pm. It should be a good day. Feel free to send us a mailbag question to address on the show. It can be serious or silly.

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Should Carlos Villanueva Lose His Rotation Spot AND His Roster Spot?

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have not only sucked at something in our life, but we’ve probably been fired from doing that thing. It happens. A lot of times you can look at it as a gentle nudge toward something different. After today’s game, Carlos Villanueva may need to be checking his mail frequently as there may be a white envelope with a pink piece of paper inside.

If you missed the game today, you’re better for it. What you missed was a complete debacle from Villanueva who allowed nine earned runs in just three innings of work. That outing, paired with a few others this season, has caused his ERA to balloon to a hefty 11.57, and has me wondering if not only his spot in the rotation, but also his spot on this team could be in jeopardy as Jake Arrieta nears his return. Arrieta pitched his second rehab outing on Thursday, going 3.2 innings. Most likely he’ll need one more outing before returning on a shortened pitch count and then back to full strength. Prior to today, you would have thought that would mean one more start for Villanueva before a move to the bullpen. Instead we’re left to wonder where he stands in the team’s plan moving forward this season.

Most likely there are some out there who feel Villanueva is a better option than his likely replacement, Chris Rusin. Those people, as strange as it may sound, probably have a thing for guys with curly greasy mustaches. However, you can make a case for why Villanueva is the guy that should go.

1. He Has Added Nothing of Value This Season – Coming into the game today, albeit a small sample size of just 6.1 IP, Villanueva had posted a WAR of exactly 0.0. That, if you are unfamiliar with the stat, means that he had been a replacement level player so far. Throw in today’s debacle and that number is sure to decrease. Looking at his past, he’s been a what you see is what you get type of player. He’s not really going to wow you, but he serves a purpose. This season, that hasn’t been the case.

2. He Has One Option Year Remaining – This one gets a little complicated, but when you look at it, he does have an option year remaining, though it comes with some strings attached. Because of the amount of service time he has accrued in the Majors, there are a few things that would have to happen for him to be able to be optioned to AAA. Any player who has at least five years of MLB service must give their consent before being optioned to the minors. That could be a tricky one, as what incentive would there be for him to consent? The only reason I could see is that the Cubs go to him and express to him the fact that his time in the rotation is done with the Major League team and offer him the opportunity to start in AAA to not only audition for another option with the Cubs, but also with another team. The other sticking point with optioning Villanueva to the minors would also be related to service time. He would need to clear revocable waivers prior to being optioned. Given how he’s looked in the past, and the fact that he makes $5 million for this year only, that would seem to make him an attractive risk for a team hurting for innings, but it’s worth a try. If he’s claimed you can always pull him back and try to work out a trade or just elect to keep him.

3. Chris Rusin Is Younger – This team, whether you like it or not, is interested in looking at the talent they have in house. They are much more interested in seeing those guys get playing time to be evaluated than they are with veterans holding down a roster spot. Rusin came in today and pitched well in relief on somewhat short rest, given the fact that he made a start on Tuesday in AAA. By no means do I think Rusin is the long term answer, because he’s not, but at this point what do you have to lose? You know what Villanueva is and we’ve not quite learned what Rusin is. There was a time in July and August last year where he was outstanding, posting great numbers out of the rotation.

July 2.93 3 15.1 2 4 9 0.978 5.3 2.25
August 2.65 6 34.0 2 15 20 1.441 5.3 1.33
Sept/Oct 7.41 4 17.0 4 5 7 1.529 3.7 1.40

Why not let Rusin get the last start before Arrieta comes back and see what he can do with it? At that point, if you send him to the pen if gives you a long man to replace Villanueva and also another lefty, for those of you interested in the lefty / righty matchup stuff.

MVP – Daniel Descalso (.190 WPA)

  • In case you missed it, Rick Renteria mentioned before the game that, for now, Jose Veras would not be involved in closing out a game in a save situation and that they would use a closer by committee approach for the time being. We didn’t get to see it today, but you have to imagine that Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon are the leading candidates for that role going forward. Interesting nugget, Rondon currently has a 16 inning scoreless streak he’s working on.
  • Starlin Castro had a pair of hits today, a double and a single, and drove in his 8th run of the season. Last season it took till April 25th for Castro to have 8 RBI, and he had just 44 all year. If he’s going to hit in that 6th spot in the order, which I’m perfectly fine with, he’s going to need to capitalize on the opportunities that come his way to be a run producer and so far he’s doing just that.
  • Darwin Barney got the start at second base in favor Emilio Bonifacio to give him a day off. The result? 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Back to the bench you go, young man.

The Cubs have a chance to win their first series dating back to early September last season. They have not won a series in their last eight tries. To do it, they’ll have to get bast a tough cookie with a less than the best starting pitcher of their own. Let’s take a look at tomorrow’s opponent.

Michael Wacha

Wacha opened the year with two starts against the Reds, who have yet to solve him. Though his final line was impressive, Wacha labored through an 82-pitch effort Monday. The leadoff hitter reached against him four times in six innings.


Standing 6′ 6″ (78 inches (200 cm)) tall and weighing 210 pounds (95 kg), Wacha repeats the same delivery with all his pitches.Featuring a plus-plus sinking fastball that usually travels between 92 miles per hour (148 km/h) and 95 miles per hour (153 km/h), Wacha frequently shows velocity up to 97 miles per hour (156 km/h). His high arm angle and release point create substantial downward action on his fastball. Wacha’s fastball complement, a plus-plus changeup, features deep, fading movement to right-handed hitters with a 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) to 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) decrease in velocity from his fastball. Not only is his arm angle on the two pitches the same, the arm speed appears virtually identical to the hitter, thus disguising the difference in velocity.

Wacha’s third pitch is an average curveball that travels about 77 miles per hour (124 km/h) and has improved in break and consistency; in college, scouts considered his curveball a below average pitch. He has a fourth pitch, a slider, that lacks consistent break and darts horizontally similar to the cutter. Wacha attributed the increase in pitch velocity to gaining weight from physical exercise and increased food consumption, asserting that he “felt like the velocity just kept on increasing every single year. I changed my mechanics a little bit when I was in college, and that might have added a few ticks.”Wacha added a cut fastball (commonly called a “cutter”) late in the 2013 season, though he only threw the pitch 1.8% of the time. During the 2014 spring training, Wacha showed increased confidence in the pitch after finding a consistent grip.

Depending on the source, Wacha shows a wide range of potential. Scouting reports initially projected him for a potential of two plus-plus pitches (fastball and changeup) with command of both. Baseball Prospectus noted that his polish due to pitch command helped fast-track him to the Major Leagues. However, a dearth of vigorous fastball life escalates the importance of command. Wacha offsets the shortage of sizable vertical movement with the pronounced descent through which his fastball, changeup and curve travel to create an additional obstacle as hitters to attempt square the bat on the pitch. In addition, the drop in elevation changes the hitter’s eye level. Wacha was previously criticized for a heavy reliance on the fastball from lacking a solid breaking pitch. Before refining his curveball, Baseball Prospect Nation commented that development of a slider “to even only an occasional ‘show-me’ pitch would add another element to his game and allow him to become more refined in his pitch sequencing ability to work through a lineup.”

During each at-bat, Wacha does not easily give in to the batter. He maintains his composure on the mound. With both fastball and changeup being plus-plus pitches and improved command, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Prospect Nation conclude his likely future is as a solid number-three starter. However, as command of his curve has markedly improved, so have his projections. The same initial reports stated that if he could enhance his slider’s reliability, he may be able to become a low-end number two starter. Still others, such as scout Ralph Garr, Jr., and Kantrovitz, project him as a “future top-of-the-rotation guy.”

How He Pitches To Lefties / Righties

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The New ‘Blocking The Plate’ Rule is Stupid

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

If you missed the game, this was the play of the game that really was quite lame. Starlin Castro slid right into the tag and was clearly out, but was called safe because of the new rule.

Here was the press release put out by Major League Baseball almost two months ago that explained the new rule, and a highlight below.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

As a result, the Pirates got the shaft on the call. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of the rule, in spite of the fact that it went it our favor today. Call me a meatball, but I like collisions.

Glass Half Full – Despite the loss, we could easily take this viewpoint and make the case for the continued items of encouragement. If you look only at the first four innings, the offense looked great. They were taking advantage of the mistakes the Pirates were making. Emilio Bonifacio stole 2nd base and kept on going all the way to home. Wellington Castillo came up with a key hit to add another run in the 4th inning, which normally you wouldn’t expect. Throw in a nice start by Travis Wood when you scrap the 7th inning and you have a lot of reason to continue to be optimistic.

Glass Half Empty – This game got all the way into the 90% chance to win level and we wet the bed. If I take this stance, which today I do not, my biggest complaint was the bullpen usage. Why is it that Wesley Wright is not getting into a game? He hasn’t pitched all week and the spot that James Russell was inserted would have been the perfect time. Why carry 12 pitchers if you only play 11? I hate bullpen mismanagement.

The Cardinals come to town and the first opponent pitcher on the schedule is Joe Kelly. Let’s take a look at what we know about him.

Kelly showed some rust after a 13-day layoff, though he worked around trouble to allow one run in his 2014 debut. His curveball was sharp, but command of his sinker and changeup lacked. Both pitches should come around with the return of routine.


Kelly throws a lively fastball that can reach up to 100 miles per hour (MPH) and complements it with a sinking fastball and slider. His sinker is among the prized pitches in the game – it shows dramatic horizontal movement, while paradoxically, not showing the kind of vertical movement (sink or drop) other sinkerballers such as Justin Masterson – and is one of the fastest in the game, at about 93 MPH. He also throws a changeup to left-handed batters and an infrequent curveball. He control of his pitches – including his fastball – receives compliments.

Why the Cardinals Will Win The Series

The Cardinals enter the weekend tilt with the Cubs not quite themselves, having begun the season only 5-4. Led by their three Matts — Carpenter, Holliday and Adams — they’ve flashed some of the balanced offense and strong starting pitching that carried them to the NL pennant last year, but key players like Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta and Shelby Miller have yet to find their form.

The Cubs will have their work cut out for them on Saturday and Sunday when they face the top of the rotation in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, so their best chance to take down the reigning NL champs is in the series opener as fifth starter Joe Kelly takes the mound. Kelly’s 1.69 ERA in his first start belies a 4.55 FIP and 4.79 xFIP, so if Cub hitters are patient, they can coax some walks (he had a 3.2 career BB/9). He has a knack for slipping out of trouble, though, by inducing grounders — he had a 16% GIDP rate last year (league average was 11%).

Cub hurler Jeff Samardzija will want to watch out for Yadier Molina, who not only is off to a hot start with three home runs and a .390 wOBA but also hits the Cub righty well (.579 OBP/.588 SLG in 19 PAs). Cardinal left-handed-hitting center fielder Jon Jay, whom newcomer Peter Bourjos has displaced as the team’s default center fielder mainly for defensive reasons, may see more action this weekend with Samardzija and fellow righties Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson due to start. Cardinal manager Mike Matheny has been reluctant to start Jay even when he has a platoon advantage, having opted for the right-handed Bourjos against right-handed starters three of five opportunities. ~ Matthew Phillp (

Playoff Blackhawks hockey is almost here so let’s get excited about that with this song that played all year last year for their cup run.

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Are Platoons the Way For This Team?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Junior Lake was interviewed by Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago recently and expressed frustration with the fact that he was not being penciled in the lineup each and every game. For Lake, coming off a rookie year that saw him post a .284 / .332 / .428 slash line, you can understand some of his frustration when you look at some of the other options on this roster for the outfield. It’s not exactly a position bursting with talent. It’s a bunch of average guys who could all make the case to start. However, so far this season we’ve seen Rick Renteria use a platoon more than I would have expected. We’ve seen it with Lake and we’ve seen it with Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena at third base. In fact, we’ve even seen it a little at second base with Emilio Bonifacio and Darwin Barney, though that platoon may be sorting itself out on it’s own. However, is the platoon the way to go? In my opinion, a platoon is the way to go when there is an obvious reason for it. It’s not the way to go if you simply want to get everyone in the lineup. So, I wanted to take a look at some of the guys involved in the platoons and see if, from a career splits standpoint, it makes sense.

If you take a look at the splits numbers for Olt vs Valbuena, for example, what you’ll see is that against righties, Olt has struggled a little. However, his numbers are all based on minor league stats for the most part. Valbuena has more Major league at bats, but really hasn’t done much with them. It’s a tough balance for all parties. I understand where guys are coming from. If it were me, what I’d be doing is playing my highest ceiling guys first to give them every opportunity to win the job and run with it and, should they fail or slump, give the chance to the next in line. That said, I feel like Olt has the higher ceiling at third and Lake has the higher ceiling in the OF. Both should be in the lineup more often than they are not.

  • Baseball America recently had an article asking the question “Is the Cubs pitching underrated?“. We hear all the time about the bats that are soon to be making an impact at Wrigley. Guys like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all get you excited, but are there names on the mound that the common fan doesn’t know about but should? The general feeling is that while there aren’t a lot of top level guys, there are a lot of arms that could be serviceable. Stockpiling has been the goal of the new regime when it comes to arms, so it appears that people are recognizing and acknowledging that has come to fruition.
  • Joe Kaiser of ESPN Rumor Central had a post about Baez in which he asked if it was time to worry. His premise is the 0-for-9 start at the plate and the recent ejection for arguing balls and strikes. Seriously people. Is there not more to write about? Has media become so easy to access that the quality is severely declined? Wait, let me answer my own question. You’re coming here to read my opinion on something. Isn’t that proof enough?
  • We talked about baseball video games on the podcast a few episodes ago. The new RBI Baseball game is out. If anyone has played it for the iPad, I’d like to hear their review of it.

We talked on the podcast on Monday about the discouraging lack of offense. However, all this week we’ve seen the offense show some life. Tonight was more of the same, which was exciting because we didn’t have Edwin Jackson on the mound keeping it close.

  • Bonifacio continues to light up at the plate. We know he’s not capable of maintaining this pace all season so the question then becomes what to expect from him. It is entirely possible that this is just a breakout, career year for him and the Cubs are the beneficiary of that at a bargain basement price. I am still in the camp that believes he’s going to regress to a league average to below offensive player. If you look at his OPS+ prior to this year, he sits at 79, which is below average. I believe he’s on a hot streak and will show his true colors soon. I’d love to be wrong, though.
  • Jason Hammel has made two starts now for the Cubs and both have been excellent. We know the ultimate plan would be to net a healthy return for him before the trade deadline, but I wonder if that has any effect on a player. When you’ve seen the plan and are constantly asked the questions about how you feel about being on the block, does that change your outlook when it comes to taking the mound or even getting to know your teammates. It’s hard to invest in other guy’s lives when you know you may be on the move any moment.
  • Great to see Anthony Rizzo continue to improve against the lefties. Wandy Rodriguez is not a dominant starter, but he has his moments and Rizzo did just fine against him tonight. Top 10 MVP vote here we come.
  • It’s easy to say this after the fact and look like I’m saying it with the benefit of hindsight, but I was disappointed to see Pedro Strop get the call in the 9th tonight. I felt like Wesley Wright was the better option because of the fact that, as you can see on the bullpen health report, he hasn’t gotten in and needed the work. It was a non-save situation so why not rest a guy like Strop and even Jose Veras and go with Wright?

Well look at this, we’re in line for a potential series win. I’m telling you. This team is going to finish .500 this year. Mark my words. Winning the series is not going to be easy as we face the Pirates ace in Gerrit Cole. reports:

Cole hasn’t been around all that long, but he’ll already be looking for his third career win against the Cubs, whom he beat twice last season, striking out 13 in 13 innings. Included was a Sept. 24 outing in Wrigley Field.

Wikipedia Reports:

Cole features a four-seam and two-seam fastball that he regularly throws between 94 to 98 miles per hour (151–158 km/h), but has been clocked as high as 102 miles per hour (164 km/h). He also throws a slider and a changeup.

Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus also had a really nice scouting report article that is free to view and was written last year. For our lazy readers who don’t like to click on links, here is a sample.

Cole’s fastball is one that you can’t teach. It comes out of his hand effortlessly with natural velocity, helping to create the illusion of additional explosion.

Cole throws two fastballs – a four-seam version that routinely averages 96-97 mph throughout the course of a game and can hit as high as 100 mph, and a two-seam sinker, which typically averages 94-96 mph and can get as high as 98 mph.

Cole’s fastball is a true 80 pitch, not only because of the velocity, but also because of his ability to command them both. He throws them both for strikes and locates them well within the strike zone, allowing his velocity to play up even further.

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