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Should the Cubs Pass on Signing an Ace this Off-Season?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Last week I asked you all to ask me anything. I think that post went really well, so I think we’ll make that a semi-regular feature here on the site. So as to not get stale, we’ll probably run it once a month or every other week. Something to that effect.

I was intrigued by one of the questions and I wanted to give it a little more depth than I did in the comment section. Bryan asked:

Would you rather the Cubs have a starting rotation of one #1, one #3, and 3 #5s, or five #3′s?

I went with my gut reaction when I answered the question and as I reflected on it that day, I was paranoid that it went against all that I had done in terms of research on the topic recently for ESPN.

You’ll remember that I did a study on what defined each slot in the rotation. Looking at the numbers, we found that the average WAR produced by each spot in the rotation was:

#1 – 6.0

# 2 – 3.9

# 3 – 2.8

# 4 – 1.8

# 5 – 0.2

So, the simple answer to Bryan’s question would be to map it out. If we add the WAR for his two proposed rotations, whichever one is higher from a combined total would be the better option.

Option 1 (Mixed Rotation) – Total WAR = 9.4

Option 2 (All # 3 starters) – Total WAR = 14

So, not only is it option two, but it’s really not even close. With that said, would the Cubs be better off trying a non-traditional route as they seek to build around the plethora of young bats that are on the verge of breaking into the Majors? Perhaps the strategy shouldn’t be to invest this offseason in an ace, but rather to stock up on a two or three second and third tier type guys to fill out the rotation around what we have already?

I ran a list of what a “number three” starter would have looked like over the last four seasons to get an idea what we’re talking about. Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, I searched for pitchers who qualified for the ERA title and posted a WAR between 2.5 and 3.0 from 2010 – 2013. It yielded 34 results. What those results told me was that a pitcher in this category typically looks like the following:

12 – 10 record with an ERA of 3.58 over approximately 198 innings pitched. In 2013, the pitchers that fell in that category were Gio Gonzalez, Mike Leake, Jon Lester, Ervin Santana, Patrick Corbin, John Lackey, David Price, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Andy Pettitte. As you can see, there are some guys that may have had a down year, but other guys that aren’t really considered aces, like Corbin or Lackey.

So far this season, Jake Arrieta has posted a WAR of 3.9, so even if we pencil him in with a regression, we can expect at least a WAR of  3 from him. Kyle Hendricks has posted a WAR of 2.3 so far. Let’s assume he doesn’t get to three next year, but can be around 2.5, knowing that Arrieta can make up for him. That gives us two of the five we’ll need.

Looking at the internal candidates for the rotation next year, we’ve got Travis Wood, Dan Straily, Jacob Turner, and Edwin Jackson. I think it’s safe to say that we can rule out Jackson as being able to produce what we need, and I’d venture a guess that we can get 2.5 WAR out of one of Wood, Turner or Straily. That would mean we need two guys off the free agent or trade market to give us a rotation of at least five number three starters. That’s entirely doable. Chris Neitzel took a look recently at the market this 0ff-season. I think we can find our guys there and it doesn’t have to include someone like Lester (though I really want him), and given the nature of pitcher injuries these days, I think that may be the best route to go.

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Ask Joe Anything

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

We’re going to try something new here to see if it goes over well. If you are good, you can have nice things, but if not, we’ll take it away. The design here is an open forum for you to ask me anything. Maybe it’s questions to get to know me better. Maybe it’s questions regarding the Cubs or Major League baseball in general. Maybe it’s a sports question. Maybe it’s just a quirky random question. Whatever is on your mind, have fun with it. There are just a few rules.

1. The CAPS rule – Do not blow up the comments with a zillion questions by one person.

2. The Seymour rule – Try to keep it semi-clean knowing that if it’s too far past the line it won’t get answered.

3. The Sherm Rule – Don’t post something and then disappear. Come back and see the answer.

Follow those rules and we’ll have a lot of fun. Just to give you an idea on quirky questions, see one of the editions of the Deadspin Funbag and you’ll know what I mean.

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Back to the Cubs Future: A Look Back at the Baseball America Top 10 List from 2011

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

I grew up watching the Cubs as I was in middle school and high school in the early and mid-90′s. While I don’t have as much pain and heartache on my fan log, I do vividly remember following the team quite close. Since it was before social media and even before the internet, I lived for the morning newspaper. Weekly they would post the complete, updated stats for all the Major League teams. Every now and then, I’d get my hands on a sporting news publication, but nothing related to prospects.

Times have changed and now, in the midst of a massive rebuild of the farm system, fans are more interested in the prospects than they ever were before. At one point, ESPN Chicago had their beat writer, Jesse Rogers covering the team in Iowa rather than the big league club. It shows you just how far things have come when it comes to prospects. It’s hard not to get excited about the future as we see guys like Javier Baez come up and flex his power early in his career, but I thought it might be fun to take a look back to see what we were getting excited about just three short years ago.

Each year, Baseball America releases it’s top 10 list for each organization and then projects the lineup for the Major League team three years out. With this being 2014, I thought it interesting to take a gander at what that 2011 list looked like to see how they did. Here is the list in 2011 as Baseball America saw it:

At first glance, this doesn’t look so promising, and it really isn’t. A look at that list reveals no player currently on the Major League roster, with a good amount of them either out of the organization completely or on their way out. Let’s take a look at where these guys are now.

Chris ArcherThis one wasn’t a miss by the Jim Hendry regime when they acquired him from Cleveland in a Mark DeRosa trade. There is a reason he was the number one guy in the system at that time and he’s showing it in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation. Before we get frustrated that he’s not a part of our system, let’s see what he turned into. Archer was sent to the Rays before the 2011 season along with Hak-Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer. A quick look at the top ten list will reveal that three of those five names were in the at that time top 10 list. Keep in mind that the system was fairly barren at that time. In return, the Cubs received Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zac Rosscup. The Cubs would get quality production from Garza for 2011, 2012, and half of 2013 before shipping him to Texas for Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, and Neal Ramirez. So, while Archer isn’t a part of the organization right now, I feel like the overall result is OK.

Brett Jackson – He’s still in the system, but you would never know it given the hype and talk about the rest of the bats in this system. Jackson had his window open albeit briefly in 2012. He got the call late in the season, struggled to the tune of .173 / .303 / .342 and hasn’t seen a call up since. He’s no longer listed in top 20 lists and quickly moving off any radar whatsoever. In 2014, his 4th season with at bats in AAA, he’s hitting .210 / .300 / .352. At this point, the only reason he’s still in this organization is where he was drafted. It’s hard to admit a hiccup in the draft at the top and you tend to give those guys as much opportunity as possible to rebound. He’s on the 40 man roster still, but I don’t see him in the organization at the start of 2015. With the kids getting ready to come up soon, spots are going to be needed on the 40 man and Jackson is expendable. Look for him to be included as a wild card flyer in an off-season deal to acquire a starting pitcher.

Trey McNutt – McNutt had a tremendous first full season in the minors, going 10-1 with a sparkling 2.48 ERA in 2010 between A, High A, and AA. He was rising quick and looked to be a top arm in the system. Since then he’s faltered and has not pitched in 2014. To be honest, I can’t even find news as to if he’s even still a part of the organization.

Hak-Ju Lee – He was always compared to Starlin Castro and fans wondered what the Cubs would do when both players reached the Majors. Would Castro shift to 2B? Logjam at SS…sound familiar? Lee still hasn’t made it to the Majors and has struggled in AAA this season. Things don’t look so good for him.

Josh Vitters – He’s still quietly on the radar, but no longer a potential vital cog in the wheel. At this point, Vitters will either hit enough to find his way onto the roster as a 4th or 5th OF or get traded and get a chance to start fresh. Either way, this one looks very much like a miss.

Chris Carpenter – Not that one. We got the bad Carpenter. His claim to fame was his name and the fact that his trade to the Red Sox was met with much contention between Theo and his former employer. He’s pitched out of the pen in Japan this season after recovering from Tommy John, but nothing really to write home about.

Matt Szczur – He’s been a disappointment since being drafted in the 5th round. He has finally made it to AAA this season and has a slugging percentage lower than his on base percentage, which is hard to do.

Hayden Simpson – Don’t even get me started on this one. This pick had bust from the moment his name was announced. He didn’t pitch at all in 2010 after being drafted in June due to a bout with mono. When he finally took the mound in 2011 he sucked. In 2012 he sucked some more and found himself sucking for an independent team before being released due to severe suckage. In my mind, he’s one of the biggest bust picks by the Cubs in a long time.

Rafael Dolis – No longer in the organization. The fact that a MR was in the top 10 shows just how weak this list was.

Brandon Guyer – He’s in the lineup for the Rays, but not anything more than a spare outfielder.

Overall, not a good state of the system at that time. What makes me laugh is where our projected lineup was supposed to be for 2014.

Thank goodness we have a new era when it comes to talent down on the farm because this lineup is just a tad bit discouraging.

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Monday Musings

Monday, August 11th, 2014

While you were glued to the PGA Championship, which was a tremendously good finish, there was Cubs baseball going on that afternoon. Let’s get to some news nuggets.

The Cubs won the battle, but lost the war over the weekend – It was a rare series against the Rays, a team that features a number of former Cubs on their roster and in their system. After losing the first two games of the series, the Cubs managed to claw out a win with a walk off hit by Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the 12th inning on Sunday behind one of the better starts by Travis Wood in a little while. At this point, series wins and even game wins are fairly irrelevant. What’s important for the last month and a half is the continued development of the young talent on this roster, starting with Javier Baez. I think you’ll see him struggle a little, as he always does at a new level, and then begin to figure it out right as the season is coming to a close. That should set him up nicely to be ready to go for the start of the 2015 season.

Two pitchers added and two subtracted – In case you missed it, newly acquired pitcher Jacob Turner was added to the active roster along with Neal Ramirez. To make room, Brian Schlitter was placed on the 15 day DL with shoulder soreness and Chris Rusin was optioned back to AAA. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Turner and even Ramirez. Both have the ability and the stuff to be in a rotation and with the Cubs needing starting arms to build around for the future, I’m curious to see if both will get a look at the rotation before the end of the season. My guess is Ramirez will not, but will potentially be given the opportunity come spring training. I could see Turner getting a few looks down the stretch. Lord knows he’s got to be better than Edwin Jackson, right?

Ryan Kalish was outrighted to AAA after clearing waivers. – He was designated for assignment early in the week, cleared waivers and has been removed from the 40 man roster. It’s not a big story, but I know there are those that think highly of Kalish. I never really thought much of him. My guess is we won’t see him in a Cubs uniform again.

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5 Things Cub Fans Need to Know for August 4th

Monday, August 4th, 2014

1. The Cubs won on Sunday to cap off a series win against the Dodgers – I didn’t think we’d get the series win going into Sunday’s game, considering that Edwin Jackson was on the mound. When you rank dead last in the NL among qualified starting pitchers, you don’t garner much confidence. Jackson was decent and was able to give us six innings of work. Going forward, the plan has to be to ride Jackson over the 100 pitch mark each and every start, regardless of the result. The results of the games going forward are meaningless and right now it’s more about eating innings and giving the young arms in the bullpen some rest down the stretch until reinforcements arrive in September. At that point, Renteria will be in hog heaven as he’ll be able to carry a 15 man bullpen. He can over-manage the crap out of some late inning September situations.

Starlin Castro got the “day off” to rest, but still managed to make a pinch hit appearance late. Stuff like that drives me insane. Give the guy a true day off. Don’t play him. Let him just take some time to clear his head and make art with John Baker.

2. There are still names who could be leaving before September 1st – Just because July 31st has passed, it doesn’t mean the Cubs are 100% done dealing. Trades can still happen, but it takes a little more work. At this point, a player would need to clear waivers before being eligible to be traded. Looking at the list of guys on the roster, there are a couple names that stand out to me as potentials: Jackson (if for some reason someone thinks they can fix him), Carlos Villanueva, and Nate Schierholtz are all names I could see potentially having some interest if a team feels they can get them on the cheap (they can) and that they can fix them (they can’t).

3. Arismendy Alcantara can pick it – If you missed the game, he made a dandy play going to the shortstop side of the diamond on Sunday.

4. Jed Hoyer is still keeping Javier Baez in AAA – Or at least that’s what they are saying. It’s just a matter of time before Baez is called up. Honestly, I could see it happen Friday when the Cubs return from the west coast trip to start a home stand. It’s a weekend series against the Rays and it would make a great time to get him up here to drum up interest. Then, a few weeks later, you call up Jorge Soler and let the two show what they have for the remainder of the season. The problem for Baez is that he’s not on the 40 man roster, which means someone has to be cleared off to make room for him. Soler is already on the roster, so the call up for him would be easy.

5. Minor Matters – Since being acquired from the Athletics, Addison Russell has played 25 games for AA Tennessee and has hit 8 home runs. He’s hitting .295 / .333 / .566 over that time and my guess is that he’s close to being promoted to AAA Iowa to get a taste there before the end of the season.

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Five Things Cub Fans Should Know For Monday

Monday, July 14th, 2014

1. Arismendy Alcantara is making a case to stay – When Darwin Barney went on paternity leave, we were told that Alcantara was going to be recalled for the two days and then sent back down. The weekend is over and he’s still here and he’s still hitting. I just don’t see a point in sending him back now. As guys begin to get traded as we get closer to the non-waiver deadline, fans are going to need things to be excited about. They need a reason to watch the team. Having Alcantara on the team gives them a chance to see a glimpse at the future.

2. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez competed in the Futures Game – Why the game is not the showcased event on Sunday night before the All Star game is beyond me. This is an example of where I think MLB misses the mark. They miss opportunities to market their future stars and showcase them. It’s as if they are just so arrogant to think that there will always be interest in the sport and they don’t need to market. Nonetheless, both Bryant and Baez competed in the game. Baez went 1-for-2 with a two run home run in the 6th inning to give the World team a 2-1 lead. Bryant went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and walk.

3. Post All Star break pitching rotation announced – The Cubs announced that the weekend series following the break would feature Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and then Jake Arrieta. The next two slots were not announced. My guess is that it will be Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks based on their outings. Dallas Beeler struggled and Dan Straily has been so so in AAA since being acquired.

4. Trade Rumors have quieted – Don’t get too bummed. My guess is that we’re going to see things heat up after the break. Even GM’s need a little time off.

5. No Cubs in the HR Derby – I’m OK with that. Anthony Rizzo expressed interest in the spot, and it would be cool to see him represent, but that park is a tough park for HR hitters from the left side. I’d rather him not participate and risk not hitting any. Just get the video camera out and enjoy the show. My money is on Yoenes Cespedes to repeat.

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5 Things Cubs Fans Should Know for July 10

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of fans that are in panic mode, saying we’ll never win again, and that this management has no idea what it’s doing. They are riding the fact that we haven’t won a game since the big trade and that it was all a horrible mistake. To that I say: you’re a moron. Let’s get on with the five things you need to know to start your Cubs fan day.

1. The Cubs lost again to the Reds last night – It brings the losing streak to six games now, and like I mentioned, no wins since the trade. Dallas Beeler got start number two of his ML career, and I would describe it as mediocre. Then again, it’s important to know what Beeler brings to the table. He’s not a guy who is going to overpower you with his stuff. In his minor league career, he has averaged 5.8 strikeouts per 9 innings of work. He’s not that kind of pitcher. Even last night you saw him hovering in the upper 80′s and low 90′s so it’s important to know what we’re getting in a guy like him. We’re looking for serviceable back end of the rotation production, which if you read my piece yesterday, is hard to get. Generally 5th starters do not produce much value. Beeler wasn’t horrible last night and given the fact that our pen is generally regarded as above average, I think you can win with a guy like him in the 5th slot.

The biggest frustration about this series has been the lack of production when it comes to getting runners in. It wasn’t as much of a story this game, but overall so far this series, I feel like we’re wasting our chances and the Reds are taking advantage of just about every one of theirs. It’s been the difference.

2. I hate manager ejections – If you missed it, Ricky Renteria came out to argue a foul ball that was not reviewable about midway through the game and promptly got tossed by the third base umpire. That wasn’t enough and he proceeded to continue to follow the ump to try to get more in, despite the fact that the umpire continued to try to end the confrontation and walk away. Tell me I’m wrong if you will, but I cannot stand it when managers come out and argue to the point of getting tossed. There simply is no place for it and it’s classless. An umpire is not going to toss you unless you’re being disrespectful, generally, which means when there are guys getting tossed (Renteria five times this season), it’s because they crossed that boundary. I don’t like that. MLB has replay. If a call isn’t reviewable, you have no business being on the field unless you’re making a substitution…period. I don’t buy into this garbage that it fires up the team. If my players can’t self motivate, I don’t know that I want them on my team. I want players who are driven to succeed and don’t need me as the manager to act a fool to get them to produce.

3. Jason McLeod got paid – There were rumors about two weeks ago that McLeod was in the running as a candidate to go back to his former team, San Diego, to become their next general manager. McLeod plays a vital role for this team in the Theo / Jed regime so it’s good news to not only know he’s not going to leave to be a GM…yet…but that he’ll get rewarded with some money for staying.

4. Wrigley Renovation process continues…on paper – Is anyone else frustrated with this process? I don’t even like reporting on it. The guys in the Tribune had a nice update on the process yesterday:

With tweaks made at the request of the mayor, the Cubs are ready to present their latest plan to the landmarks panel. Emanuel also required the Cubs to continue negotiating with the rooftop owners as a condition of getting a hearing with the landmarks commission, a City Hall source said.

Another source said the Cubs’ proposal with five additional outfield signs is expected to be approved by the panel, with conditions placed on it.

5. Minor MattersAlbert Almora is on fire. I’ll be honest, I had begun to wonder and worry about his future as a top prospect, but he’s been playing tremendously lately. He went 2-for-3 last night and has his average up to .279. The Daytona Cubs tweeted out after his first hit that he had hit in 16 of the last 17 game and hit almost .500 over that time. I really hope he’s primed for a big second half so he can vault back into elite status because I think some people have soured slightly on him.

We try to end the losing streak behind a Major League debut from Kyle Hendricks today in a matinee game on WGN. I’m a big fan of Hendricks so I look for a quality start from him. We also have the latest edition of Girlieview later this afternoon and a post from Chris Neitzel on why there is no such thing as a shortstop logjam with a look at history.

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How Do You Define An Ace?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

As we watch prospects begin to develop or even see new players acquired via trade or free agency, when it comes to starting pitchers, everyone is always quick to classify the player into a spot in the rotation. We hear things like “He projects to be a low end # 2 or high end # 3 starter” or “He’s an ace.”, but what exactly does that mean? I decided to do a small bit of research as part of my Sunday afternoon and dive into numbers to see what exactly the spots in the rotation actually look like. There were a few things I found that I felt were fairly interesting.

If you’ve not ever played with it, the Baseball Reference Play Index Tool is an amazingly useful tool whenever you feel the need to dork out and immerse yourself in numbers. It requires a subscription, but it’s well worth it. For my study, I used the tool to gather data from 2000 – 2013 in a quest to find out what exactly an ace pitcher looks like.

To put a qualifier on the data, I filtered to only pull pitchers each year who qualified for the ERA title, which means they pitched at least 162 innings in the season. This basically gave me a group of pitchers that, essentially, pitched the entire year. They may have missed a few starts here or there, but for the most part it weeds out guys who either split time between the pen and the rotation as well as guys who pitched a small amount of time and either got hurt or replaced due to inefficiency. To make this list, you really had to be a starter all season long. All of my data was then collected and dumped into a spreadsheet where it could be massaged and summarized into useful nuggets of information.

If you’re like me, you feel a little frustration when your team can’t see five consistent starters in the rotation all season long. If you’ve been reading my blog at all over the last 10 years, I make no secret that I hate bullpens with a passion and believe strongly in filling them with guys from your system and spending money on other components of the team. However, exactly how feasible is that request when it comes to the rotation? I was a little surprised by what I found. Looking at the chart, you will see the number of players who pitched at least 162 innings in each season.

What this data showed me is that, to put it simply, there really aren’t enough guys who can give you 162+ innings to fill out each rotation in baseball. Over the last 14 seasons, the average number of guys who met the requirement per season was 87. That’s less than three per team. Stop and think about that for a second. If all was distributed equally, each team would only have two, maybe three pitchers who pitched enough innings to qualify. That’s insane to me. What’s even more insane is that we know that the pitchers are not distributed equally, which means there is the potential that a team could have no pitchers who meet the requirements. There simply isn’t enough talent there.

The other thing I noticed was that there really doesn’t appear to be any sort of trend with this data. It’s pretty random across each year as to what you’ll get. Some years we see over 90 guys and other years we see just below 80, but things seem to hover in the mid-80’s.

Now that we have the knowledge that there aren’t enough quality starters to go around, we have to figure out a good way to then classify pitchers. Seeing that we don’t have enough guys to simply take 1-30 and call them aces and downward through 150, I decided that I would simply divide the average number of qualifiers by five, the number of spots in a rotation, and group guys into one of those five tiers. What I got in terms of results was actually quite nice.

For sorting purposes, I decided to rank players by WAR, which summarizes nicely into a single number that tends to lend itself perfectly to Cy Young award / MVP voting. Generally the higher WAR guys tend to be right in the mix for those awards, so it seemed the most logical stat to use. After taking all the results, I organized it into a summary that showed the average WAR by spot in the rotation, assuming a 17 slot tier for each spot in the rotation. For the 5th spot, I used 17+ players as some years there were leftovers. The result was fascinating.

There were two main things that stood out to me about this data that I thought were worth pointing out.

First, we need some perspective as to what the scale is generally considered when it comes to WAR. Fan Graphs does a nice job explaining the stat and providing some context.

Aces, should you be able to get one, are huge difference makers. – A true # 1 starter is a guy who is capable of winning the Cy Young award when all is said and done. These are guys that are losing streak stoppers. They are guys that the other team comes into the game essentially expecting to punt and try again the next day. However, how difficult is it to get a guy who pitches so well that he compiles a WAR at 6+?

Seeing that I write a Cubs blog, I decided to look back at the rotations we’ve seen in the past and see what we find. I looked only at the expansion era (1961-2013) and came up with a total of just 15 instances where the Cubs had a player who did this. Here is the list:

It’s not as easy as you might think, so when it happens in Chicago, we need to pay attention. That’s what made 2003 so special. Watching guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood pitch was something I’ll never forget. That year was wonderful. Most teams don’t have a single guy with 6+ WAR and we had two of them that season. However, what’s even crazier is that, aside from Fergie Jenkins, we haven’t had a guy actually repeat this for more than a season.

The 5th starter spot is essentially garbage. – Looking at the chart and the legend, we see that the average WAR of 0.2 is essentially replacement level. Again Fan Graphs comes in handy to define this term:

We can define a replacement level player as one who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc. If we use replacement level as a baseline for our ‘runs above <x>’ statistics, we introduce durability into our statistic, and we’re therefore measuring marginal productivity, which is what we want.

Basically this is the equivalent to calling up that organizational filler type player and putting him into the starter role. That got me wondering if it was even worth it to go with the five man rotation. Would it be better to find a way to pitch on a four man rotation in an effort to get more out of the quality guys and simply use them less innings or is it better to go with the five man rotation? I’m not sure what the answer is there, but I’d like to know. Ultimately, it shows me that if you can have even a replacement level type guy in the 5th spot, you’re probably ahead of the game. Essentially just minimize the damage in that spot.

The other thing I found interesting was that over the last five seasons, there is a clear downward trend when it comes to the quality produced by the fifth spot in the rotation, and I don’t know a clear reason to account for that. It could just be small sample size and in the grand scheme we’d see it balance itself out, but I’m not sure. In the 14 year period, 2012 & 2013 were the only years we saw a negative production from the guys who were the back end guys. I feel like there is something there, I’m just not sure how important it is.

After collecting all the data and summarizing it into the chart that shows us what we can expect from each slot, I decided to go back to look to see how the Cubs grade out since 2000 on each of these spots in the rotation based only on guys who qualified for the ERA title with their WAR in parenthesis.

2000 – (65-97 record) – Jon Lieber (3.7) & Kevin Tapani (1.2)

2001 - (88-74 record) – Lieber (3.9), Wood (3.3), Jason Bere (1.7), Tapani (1.0) & Julian Tavarez (-0.1). (NOTE: Tavarez missed the 162 inning mark by 2 outs, so I included him anyway.)

2002 – (67-95 record) – Matt Clement (4.4) & Wood (4.3)

2003 – (88-74 record) – Prior (7.4), Wood (6.2), Carlos Zambrano (5.5) & Clement (2.8)

2004 – (89-73 record) – Zambrano (6.7), Clement (3.7) & Greg Maddux (3.2)

2005 – (79-83 record) – Zambrano (5.6), Prior (3.6) & Maddux (2.8)

2006 – (66-96 record) – Zambrano (5.2)

2007 – (85-77 record) – Ted Lilly (4.1), Zambrano (3.4), Rich Hill (3.4) & Jason Marquis (0.8)

2008 – (97-64 record) – Ryan Dempster (7.0), Zambrano (4.3), Lilly (4.1) & Marquis (2.5)

2009 – (83-78 record) – Lilly (5.0), Randy Wells (4.2), Dempster (3.5) & Zambrano (3.0)

2010 – (75-87 record) – Wells (3.2) & Dempster (3.0)

2011 – (71-91 record) – Matt Garza (2.8) & Dempster (0.8)

2012 – (61-101 record) – Jeff Samardzija (1.8)

2013 – (66-96 record) – Travis Wood (4.4), Samardzija (1.0) & Edwin Jackson (-1.3)

Finally, there were some interesting trivial things that I noticed doing my research that make for fun nuggets.

  • In 2000, Pedro Martinez was the top WAR pitcher with an astounding 11.7, which was 3.6 higher than the 2nd highest qualifier, Randy Johnson. It was also 7.7 above the 2nd place finisher, Tim Hudson, in the Cy Young race in the AL.
  • In 2011, Tim Lincecum finished the season ranked 17th, which put him in the top tier, “Ace” category. Just the next year he finished, not only in the bottom team, but with the lowest WAR of all qualified starters in baseball.
  • In 2010, James Shields did the opposite and finished with the worst WAR only to rebound the following year and be ranked in the “Ace” tier.
  • 2007 was the only year in my data that did not yield a pitcher with a 7+ WAR.

2013 yielded the lowest WAR of all the seasons examined and was turned in by Edinson Volquez, who posted a dreadful -2.4 WAR. What does that look like? Try a 5.71 ERA over 32 starts.

This article was originally published on the ESPN SweetSpot Blog.

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Five Things Every Cub Fan Needs To Know for July 9th, 2014

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

1. The Cubs were swept in a double header – I looked at game one as a probable loss. Travis Wood hasn’t been the same pitcher this year that he was last season. It’s a good thing I’m not running the team because I was ready to lock him up to a long term deal after the development last season. This year it’s just not been there. Throw in the fact that he had to face Johnny Cueto, one of the hottest starters in the game this season and you have the makings for the a loss. That’s not to say we didn’t have our chances in game one. When we fell down 3-0 early I thought it was over, but back to back home runs by Chris Coghlan and Ryan Sweeney in the 6th made it close. We had more chances from there that were wasted, including a bases loaded situation in the 7th with one out. We just couldn’t get the run in. It was frustrating to watch it happen again after we had chances the day before.

In game two, we saw the debut of Tsuyoshi Wada, who came over from Japan to sign a deal with the Orioles a few years ago, but never got a chance to pitch due to the need for Tommy John surgery. He’s not a young kid, so he’s not really a “prospect”, but then again you never know what he can bring to the table for the next few years and that’s all I look for in pitching. Wada threw the ball well enough to get a win, but the bullpen completely wet the bed. When Wada left the game after five, the Cubs had a 5-0 lead and things looked good. When all was said and done, every Cubs reliever that entered the game had been charged with an earned run, which I can’t remember happening any other time this season aside from when it’s been just one reliever entering, and the Cubs had coughed up the lead.

If we have to find positives, we saw continued hitting out of Coghlan. We saw Anthony Rizzo go deep for the 19th time this season and Mike Olt didn’t strike out every at bat, which means he hit a home run.

Kyle Hendricks gets the start today, making his big league debut and I can’t be more excited. The game is on WGN, which I’m thrilled about considering the fact that the package wet the bed last night and was basically unusable.

2. The Athletics Like Luis ValbuenaKen Rosenthal reported in his column on Tuesday that the A’s were trying to get the Cubs to include Valbuena as part of the deal over the weekend. Theo and Jed balked at the idea, but Rosenthal speculates that perhaps a deal may happen still prior to the non-waiver deadline. I have done a complete 180 on Valbuena. I can vividly remember calling for him to be off the team just two seasons ago and now he’s blossomed into a very useful part of this team. He has good patience at the plate and generally plays a good third base. With the plethora of infield talent in the farm, if we can turn that into more pieces, I’m all about it. His value should be higher given that he’s inexpensive and still under club control on the cheap.

3. Who Needs a Shortstop? – The Washington Nationals are rumored to be in the market to acquire a young shortstop. The Mets also need a shortstop, though Keith Hernandez doesn’t think Starlin Castro is any good and doesn’t want him. What I think is important to point out to reassure those who worry about the “logjam” at the shortstop position. There is no such thing as too many shortstops. Just the rumors over the last two days about people’s interested in middle infield help should be enough to reassure that we’re going to be just fine with these guys.

4.The Red Sox are looking to deal Jake Peavy – Peter Gammons is reporting that Peavy has said he’s ready to go if Boston finds a deal. That doesn’t have a direct influence on the Cubs, but it makes me wonder if they would also want to deal Jon Lester before the deadline since they’ve had a hard time in negotiations with him. I believe they missed their opportunity to sign him and that he’s going to walk at the end of the year. I want him in this rotation next year so I wonder if Boston will look to deal him. Ideally, I’d rather him come here via free agency, so my hope is that Boston will not deal him and then he walks. We shall see. The Sox are looking more and more like sellers.

5. Minor MattersKyle Schwarber continues his assault on minor league pitching since being drafted in June. He went 3-f0r-5 with two doubles, a run scored and two RBI. Since being drafted, Kyle has played in Boise and Kane County (Go see him now before you miss your chance if you’re in the Chicago area), and has posted a line of .436 / .511 / .872 with 8 HR and 23 RBI in 21 games. He’s a college hitter, so you’ll expect his bat to move quickly through the minors, but I didn’t expect him to come out this hot. I worry that his bat will far out pace his development at the catcher position and he’ll end up playing somewhere else. If we could develop him as a catcher it would be huge.

Bonus Thing To Know:

We’re giving away a copy of OOTP 15 – If you’ve never played the game, you need to. It’s a tremendous simulation baseball game and we’re giving away a copy of it at the end of the month to one lucky Twitter follower. Follow me on Twitter @vftb for a chance to win.

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