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Stat of the Week: Relief Pitcher Leaderboards

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Context is critically important in evaluating relievers. Beyond just the obvious requirement for a reliever to be deployed with a small lead at the end of a game to earn a save, different relievers face all kinds of more subtle differences in the difficulty of their relief appearances in order to earn saves and other good statistics. Pulling from The 2016 Bill James Handbook, here are a few leaderboards that provide a window into some greater context for relievers from 2015 than what saves alone can provide.

Tough Saves Leaders, 2015
Player Tough Saves
Cody Allen 7
Trevor Rosenthal 4
Dellin Betances 3
Zach Britton 3
Glen Perkins 3
Huston Street 3
Jeurys Familia 3
Brad Ziegler 3


Cody Allen finished outside the top 10 of relievers with 34 saves in 2015, but no one came close to his total of seven Tough Saves. A save is considered “tough” if the relief pitcher enters the game with the tying run on base. Many clubs are willing only to bring in their closers at the start of the ninth inning, but the Indians turned to Allen to help them out of many different jams this season, and he delivered.

Relief Opp On-base Plus Slugging Leaders, 2015
Min. 50 IP
Player Opp OPS
Wade Davis .451
Andrew Miller .475
Dellin Betances .510
Kenley Jansen .513
Brad Ziegler .524


While many of the best relievers are consistently used as their teams’ closers, some setup men are also among the best relievers in baseball. Dellin Betances of the Yankees is one such example. Batters had just a .510 opponent on-base plus slugging against him, better than all but two closers. Meanwhile, his teammate Andrew Miller finished second and new Yankee Aroldis Chapman finished eighth.

Reliever Leverage Index Leaders, 2015
Min. 50 IP
Player Leverage Index
Carson Smith 2.12
Huston Street 2.07
Trevor Rosenthal 2.06
Hector Rondon 2.03
Fernando Rodney 2.01

Tough Saves provide a piece of the reality that not all saves are created equal. Another realization of that concept is leverage index, which measures how critical each situation in a game is based on the possible changes in win expectancy. Just because a closer is used at the end of a game does not mean he is used at the most critical point, but because teams tend to rely on closers in close games, the five relievers with the highest average leverage index in 2015 were all closers, at least for part of the season. The leader, Carson Smith, is also the most interesting name for this offseason since he was recently traded to the Red Sox. Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox appear to have committed a lot of resources to solidifying the back of their bullpen. Everyone is eager to follow the blueprint established by the World Series champion Royals.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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December 27th – This Date in History

Sunday, December 27th, 2015


1981 - David Aardsma is born

2004 - After the Cubs decline Moises Alou‘s (.293, 39, 106) contract option, the Giants ink the free agent outfielder to a one-year contract with an option for a second year. The signing marks the second time the All-Star will be managed by his dad Felipe, as he did playing with the Expos from 1992-96.

2012 - Hisanori Takahashi signs as a free agent. Takahashi would make three appearances out of the pen for the Cubs in 2013.

2013 - Jose Veras signs as a free agent. Veras will be paid $3.85 mil in 2014 with a club option in 2015 worth $5.5 mil with a $0.15 mil buyout. Veras would be released by the Cubs on June 10, 2014 after being designated for assignment a few days before.


1874 - At Palmar de Junco, a Havanan team plays Matanzas in the first documented baseball game played in Cuba. The game is called after seven innings due to darkness with Havana leading, 51-9.

1963 - Jim Leyritz is born

1983 - Cole Hamels is born

2003 - Ivan Calderon murdered in a bar in Loiza, Puerto Rico

Police are still investigating the murder of former Major Leaguer Ivan Calderón, who was shot in the back on Dec. 27 in his hometown of Loíza, Puerto Rico. According to police reports, Calderon was shot on Dec. 27, 2003 around 8 p.m. at “El Trompo” bar in Loiza, a few blocks from the El Cabo community where he owned a home. Several killings have already been logged at the bar this year alone, police said.

Calderón, 41, was shot six times in the back and once in the head, while he was facing the counter of the bar. During Calderon’s 10-year major league career he played with five teams, finishing up with the Montreal Expos. (Source)


1980 - Calvin Murphy (Rockets) begins longest NBA free throw streak of 78

1981 - Wayne Gretzky becomes fastest NHLer to get 100 pts (38th game)

2004 - Peyton Manning breaks the NFL single season passing rating for touchdowns.


1932 - Radio City Music Hall opens (Story)

1968 – Apollo 8 returns to the United States (Story)

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The Sean Marshall Trade: A Look Back

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Four years ago today, the Cubs made a trade with the Cincinnati Reds that saw them trade Sean Marshall at the height of his value. Pundits will talk about a move and dissect it to death, but to fully know who won or lost  a trade you have to let it play out. It’s been four years so it’s time to take a look at where we stand.

The Trade

Cubs Send: Marshall (RP)

Reds Send: Travis Wood (SP), Dave Sappelt (OF), and Ronald Torreyes (2B)

The Initial Reaction

VFTB Said:

I like the trade a lot, despite the fact that Marshall was one of my favorite Cubs. People have clamored that he should have gotten the chance to move back to the rotation, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Look at the comparison between time as a starter vs. time as a reliever.

Split          ERA    IP HR  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
as Starter    4.86 311.0 45 1.434  6.1  1.79
as Reliever   2.67 219.0 11 1.183  9.4  3.12

Instead we pick up rotation depth with high upside as well as adding depth to the farm system in exchange for a bullpen arm.

Keith Law said:

The Cubs made out well, giving up a good reliever who is a year from free agency and getting back a big league starter and two mid-level prospects who will have major league value.

Sappelt looks like a very good extra outfielder. He has a simple swing, short to the ball with good use of his lower half, but he can’t handle center field except on an emergency basis, and his size and swing aren’t going to produce the power to profile every day in left. He makes a lot of contact, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit .300 — but without the OBP or power to make him a regular.

Torreyes is a tiny second baseman — Baseball-Reference has him at 5-foot-9, 140 pounds, and I would bet he’s shorter than that — but he has two above-average tools: hitting and running, with good bat speed and a simple swing for high contact rates. He could end up an average regular at second, but he is probably three full years away from the majors. Wood alone justifies this deal for the Cubs, but the chance that Torreyes becomes an everyday guy turns it into a potential big win.

Where We Stand

Most Cubs bloggers and fans felt the deal was a good one for the Cubs at the time. They were beginning to rebuild and Marshall was a luxury that simply wasn’t needed in a rebuild. Instead, Theo and Jed flipped him for what were considered three very usable pieces in the rebuild. In order to see where the trade stands as of now, let’s take a look at the WAR that each player has produced for their new team.

Marshall - He got his start with the Cubs after being drafted in the 6th round in the 2003 draft. He made his debut in 2006 as a starter and was converted to a lefty setup man out of the pen. In his six seasons with the Cubs, Marshall produced a total WAR of 8.4. Since the trade to the Reds, Marshall has seen his share of injuries. In 2012 he gave them exactly what they paid for, picking up right where he left off as a dominant lefty out of the pen, but 2013 was injury ridden as was 2014, at which point he was feared to be done with baseball all together due to an arm injury. Late in 2015, this article came out saying that Marshall still wanted to pitch, but my guess is that his days as a meaningful contributor of any kind are over. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 1.3

Wood - I want to still believe in Wood’s ability as a starter. Everything in me feels like a kid hanging on to the belief that Santa Clause is real, but the fact of the matter is that the days of Wood pitching as an effective member of the rotation are probably over. In his two seasons as a starter for the Reds, Wood posted a WAR of 1.2. You would assume that he will resume his role in the pen for the Cubs in 2016, but they did get meaningful time out of him as a starter. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 4.6

Sappelt - He never quite turned into the player some thought he could be. To be honest, he didn’t even play well enough to warrant a roster spot so after two seasons the Cubs released him and he’s not been to the Majors since. Closing in on age 29 now, it’s unlikely that Sappelt will amount to anything. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 0.2

Torreyes - He was not really in the system very long before being claimed by the Astros. He’s in the Dodgers system now and has not made a meaningful contribution as of yet in the Majors. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 0


CUBS – 4.8 WAR

REDS – 1.3 WAR

It appears that the Cubs are going to win this trade, but in the end it doesn’t appear to be as lopsided as you might have thought. Had Marshall stayed healthy, this was a fair deal for both sides.

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Why We Shouldn’t Rush to Judgement on the Off-Season So Far

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

I decided to play a little catch up today and give you my feelings on what we’ve seen so far this off-season. It’s funny, as life gets busier and busier for me, I find my time to post on the site to be less and less. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the other voices that are far more talented in the writing department and creativity department than I am, but I did want to weigh in on a few things we’ve seen so far this off-season so pardon my all over the map format, but I’m coming out spraying to all fields.

Heyward Signing

At the beginning of the off-season, I told a co-worker of mine that I thought a perfect off-season would be for the Cubs to sign Jason Heyward, John Lackey and trade for a young, cost controlled SP. We’re two-thirds of the way there and rumors of the third component continue to bubble. I’ve seen some that are not in favor of the money we gave Heyward or the length of the contract or both. That’s fine, you’re entitled to be wrong. It’s a free country. The fact is, Heyward makes sense.

  • This outfield is instantly better defensively – Given the fact that we saw major holes in the fielding skill set of Kyle Schwarber down the stretch and the very realistic possibility that LF continues to be his home, you have to get better somewhere defensively. Heyward does that and then some.
  • You have a player with power potential coming into his prime – Most good hitters do not hit free agency till 28 or 29 years old. Heyward got an early start, hence the early free agency eligibility. Power tends to come with age. Given the amount of huge bats in this lineup, you have to imagine there will be better pitches to hit and if he can grow into the power increase that comes with age, I believe we can see 30 home runs in a year as the ceiling for at least one of those years.
  • The deal has two opt out clauses – It’s not like the Alfonso Soriano deal where you knew that was going to be a weight around the neck for the life of the deal (and it was). This deal has potential to give Heyward a shot to opt out. If he’s opting out, it means he produced. If he produced, it was worth every penny because it probably means we have a World Series title.
  • The deal weakens St. Louis – It’s a kill two birds with one stone type of move and as much as they won’t admit it, you know it pisses Cardinal fans off that we stole both Heyward and John Lackey from them this 0ff-season.
  • The contract will be piddly when the new TV deal is finished – Remember when Ryne Sandberg signed his huge deal. It was unheard of. Remember Alex Rodriguez? Crazy. The fact is, the Cubs will have a Cubs TV channel very soon and it will bring crazy money. This deal is small given what this team is going to be able to afford in the big picture and ultimately, it’s not our money (it sort of is, but you know what I mean).

Lackey Signing

Two years for pitcher who will be 37 years old in 2016? Seriously? Again, this deal makes sense for a number of reasons.

  • There is no such thing as a bad two year deal – If year one sucks, you eat the second year. If year one is awesome what’s the worst that can happen in year two? He sucks? It’s worth the risk to, again, weaken St. Louis.
  • Lackey can be a jerk, but he wins and he’s a leader – Everything I read is that Lackey was one of the leaders in St. Louis and one of the leaders in Boston. He’s a guy that you want on the mound in big situations.
  • He’s friend’s with Lester – Not really a drop the mic type argument, but if they can play off each other and compete with each other, it makes everyone better.

Castro / Zobrist Combo Move

I feel like Theo and Jed went with the old Konami cheat code to get this done. Everything had to go in a perfect sequence or the deals couldn’t get done. When all was said and done, Theo had pressed Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start and we had moved Starlin Castro for Adam Warren and Ben Zobrist. Essentially that was what the combo of moves amounted to. It baffles my mind how a fan base could basically disown Starlin this season and ask for him to be shipped out of town, but then not see how we’re better as a result of the move.

Zobrist gives this team higher contact and more versatility for a player who was essentially all but worthless on the trade market. Remember that he cleared trade waivers after July 31. That means any team could have had him for just the waiver fee. No one claimed him. Getting Warren, who at the very least will be a good addition to the pen and on the high side could be a meaningful contributor to the rotation is phenomenal. Add in the flexibility it gave to sign Zobrist and it’s a no brainer. I know what you’re thinking about Warren. You’re thinking things like “Who is this guy and why did we settle for such a low return?” That got me wondering what people on the site thought about the trade to bring in Jake Arrieta, so I went back and looked and present this to you.

“Basically a starter with some command issues that, according to Keith Law, may be better suited for a late inning role. We’ll see what the plan is for him.” ~ Joe Aiello

“This just in. We still suck. Could have gotten more for Feldman. Feldman in PITCHING WELL THIS SEASON. There is a dearth of starting pitching available and in the “what have you done for anybody lately” column? Feldman could have brought a little more in return.” ~ Sherm

“The Cubs bought access to international picks, not talent. We hope they get talent, but it depends how the scouting dopes evaluate.” ~ Cap’n Obvious

We really nailed that one, huh? No one was excited about Arrieta. Will Warren turn into Arrieta? I don’t know. No one knows. For all we know, Arrieta turns back into a pumpkin. Baseball is a game of mystery when it comes to projecting what a player will turn into. What I know is that Warren has shown he can get Major League hitters out. If he can turn into a starter, that’s all the better. Don’t rush to judgement.

I’m happy with where things sit right now and I’m anxiously awaiting that final piece, but if it doesn’t come, that’s OK because I know that this team is better than last year’s team and will continue to improve. The Cubs are coming strong and they are coming fast because we all know they play hard. =)

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Can You Name the 7 Cubs with 75 HR and 75 SB as a Cub?

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Today’s trivia question is a combination of speed and power. Since 1901, only seven players have ever amassed at least 75 HR and 75 SB while playing for the Cubs. Can you name them all?

NOTE: Last Name answers are acceptable. No need to type the first name.

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Here is the Worst Prediction Job in History

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I try to be good at making predictions. Before the start of the 2014 year, I made some rather correct predictions and figured it would be easy to do it again in 2015. Guess again. I present to you the worst job of prognosticating in the history of prognostication.

1. Jorge Soler will lead the team in HR – I’m coming out of the box firing with this one. It’s easy to say that it will be Anthony Rizzo or even Kris Bryant, but I think Soler is flying under the radar and I think he’s going to be a great player, if he can stay healthy. He’s struggled with leg issues in the past, but if he can avoid the injury bug, his bat is for real.

2. The five starting pitchers with the most starts will combine for 900 innings. – Last year, the five guys with the most games started were Travis WoodJake ArrietaEdwin JacksonJason Hammel, and Jeff Samardzija. They combined for a total of just under 700 innings. My thinking here is that Jackson sucked, Wood sucked and Hammel and Samardzija both were traded. If everyone is healthy, the rotation should be improved this year and I think 900 IP is doable.

3. Tommy LaStella will start more games than Javier Baez at the Major League level this season. – I want to believe in Baez. I want to believe that he will use the demotion and go be ready to come up and crush it, but more and more I’m worried that he’s going to be the one who fails to reach the ceiling that has been set for him. I think LaStella can be a solid everyday guy that won’t wow you, but also won’t kill you and I think his versatility gets him more starts.

4. The Bullpen will finish in the top 5 in MLB in ERA – I put a lot of pressure on our pen last season, but I think it’s going to be even better this season with the addition of Jason Motte. In my opinion, that’s a signing that has flown under the radar.

5. Mike Olt will play well enough to push Bryant to the OF - It’s a make or break year for Olt and I think he’s going to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. Guys ranked that high on everyone’s prospect boards are there for a reason. They have talent. They don’t usually just completely stink. This year we’ll see Olt jump into the conversation as one of the future core.

6. Welington Castillo will be on the team for the entire year – I don’t think it will be a three catcher system the entire season, but I also don’t think that Jed and Theo like what the market is for Castillo at this point. It’s been said that they want him as insurance. It’s tough to see his trade value increasing with Miguel Montero in the starting role, but strange things and injuries can happen. I just don’t see the Cubs being offered enough in return to move him.

7. Starlin Castro will have 200+ hits – He’s done it before and has said he would like to play in all 162 games this season. His 162 game average so far in his career is 185 hits so to think he can’t eclipse 200 this year is silly. He’s going to be surrounded by talent. That tends to cause guys to raise their level of play and I think we’ll see that from Castro this year.

8. The right field bleachers will not be open until August – Nothing about this renovation project has been on time and I think the bleacher renovation will continue that trend. They have said right field will be ready by June, but I think something causes a delay and it doesn’t happen until August.

9. Kyle Hendricks will lead the team in pitcher wins - Granted, it’s a dumb stat, but I am a believer in what he can be. I think he’s going to show good things this year and will surprise a lot of people. I don’t think he’ll be the most dominant pitcher on the staff, but I just have a feeling he’s going to rack up some wins.

10. The Cubs will win 85 games, but miss the playoffs by 3 games – There are people everywhere that have gone hog wild picking the Cubs to win the world series, cure cancer, and establish world peace in 2015. I’m not going that far. I do think this team will be a fun year to watch, but I think the real fun begins in 2016.

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Sunday Trivia: Pitchers in 2015

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

I’m gonna try to make this a regular thing on Sunday mornings. We’ll run some sort of trivia or similar concept in the morning this off-season. Here is the first edition. Without Google, can you name the pitchers who took the mound for the Cubs in 2015? It’s harder than you think. You have 10 minutes to complete your mission. Please post your score in the comments section. Remember, no cheating.


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How the Cubs Should Address the CF Situation

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Q: The Cubs offered Dexter Fowler a qualifying offer, which he is likely to decline. What should the Cubs plan be for 2016 in CF?

Jared Wyllys

My first choice would be for the Cubs to pursue signing Jason Heyward to a long term deal as aggressively as they can. Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo (just barely, but still), and although the Cardinals and several other teams are likely to be chasing him as well, I think he’s worth it. He’s coming off of a career best year, and would be able to fill in a spot in the outfield very nicely. My only concern with him is that he has spent more time in RF in his career than CF, but I trust he could handle it.

Another intriguing option that popped up in the last couple of days is Denard Span. I actually hope the Cubs would try and sign him prior to the 2015 season. He did not have such a great year health-wise, so that’s a concern, but when he did play, he hit very well. If Heyward is not an affordable option, I say Span deserves a look.

Nick Dorey

The Cubs situation in center field is a tricky one. I think it all revolves around where the front office stands in regards to the future of Albert Almora Jr. I for one am a big believer in his skill set, and that he will be ready to go by next summer. His glove is ready for Wrigley and has been for a long time. It’s his offense that has needed major work. In the second half of last season, Almora made big strides in his offensive game, posting an average above .300 and an OPS over .800. As good as Dexter Fowler was on offense for the Cubs as a leadoff hitter, I think it would be wise to let someone else pay him the big contract that he is likely to earn.

I would rather see the Cubs spend that money on a starting pitcher and adding some help for the bullpen. In the gap between the beginning of the season and the time that Almora is ready, I could see the Cubs playing a combination of Austin Jackson, Matt Szczur, and Chris Denorfia to get by. The rest of the team has plenty of talent on offense to carry them through until Almora gets called up. There is another possibility of the Cubs trading Almora this offseason, given the rise in his stock from his strong second half. In that case, the Cubs should sign Fowler or another free agent center fielder (possibly Denard Span?) depending on the price and how much they are willing to spend.

Rob Willer

If I were acting as the Chicago Cubs general manager and Dexter Fowler turned down the qualifying offer I would look at three options. The first option would be to fill the role internally using a lot of what Joe Maddon has preached on player versatility. Throughout the season we saw Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Tommy La Stella and Addison Russell play a multitude of positions and in this option I can see the same for centerfield. During the season Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register noted that Baez would take fly balls during drills and I can see him splitting the time with a few others. This of course holds if the Cubs keep their offensive youth noted above and are using their versatility to get their big bats in the lineup.

In the second option if Castro we’re to get traded this off-season to field a deal for starting pitching I then could see Baez playing second and the Cubs trying to add a centerfielder. The hard part is that the market isn’t the greatest for outfielders there are candidates including Denard Span, Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward. I know the Cubs will have money to spend but I’m not sure they’re going to spend around 150 to 200 million on Heyward and injuries for Span worry me to sign him long term. Gordon is an intriguing name but he plays as more of a corner outfielder and I’m not sure that goes with the current roster as we have a surplus at the moment of corner outfielders. I would assume Schwarber gets half the starts in left-field and half at catcher or a tad below.

In the end I’m going with signing Austin Jackson back to play centerfield for this upcoming season to a two year deal for around 21 million. This in turn gives the cubs flexibility to combine option 1 and they get to keep grooming Almora in the minors for another season and still keep versatility intact. In this option the Cubs have the option to add a few more arms to their rotation and potentially another bullpen arm and be flexible more in contracts through free agency and trades.

Jeremiah Johnson

I’m not in love with any of the OF free agents. And even if I was, the best options are better suited for corner spots. So if I’m going to make a big splash in the OF, it’s not likely going to be at CF. That leaves me looking for a cheap option to bridge the gap until Almora or McKinney is ready to be promoted from the farm. I’ll probably sign someone like Austin Jackson to a short, cheap deal, bring a couple more guys to Spring Training on minor league deals, and let them duke it out with Matt Szczur for the starting job. I think it will be a lot harder to replace Fowler in the lineup than in the field, and I can live with a platoon there this season if I think the best answer is still in our farm system.

The only reason to go big now is if I have lost confidence in our prospects (not yet), or I think we’re just an OF bat away from a ring (nope). That said, I’d like to kick the tires on Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward, but neither of them really solve this particular problem for the Cubs.

Nate Head

It stings a bit, yes. But the Cubs will survive without outfielder Dexter Fowler–while saving some serious coin. Fowler’s pesky, switch-hitting presence at the plate was refreshing to a team who hasn’t seen Fowler-like production in the leadoff slot in recent memory. However, Fowler’s play (highlighted by his stellar second half) has rightfully earned him an expensive, multi-year price tag, one that simply isn’t in the cards for the Cubs.

Denard Span is the ideal candidate to replace Fowler. A left-handed hitter that has experience leading off, Span can be the immediate solution at the top of the order. Injuries plagued Span last season and limited him to 61 games, but he was terrific the year before–the 31-year-old free agent slapped 184 hits and swiped 31 bags, while hitting .302/.361/.416 in 2014. The long term future in center field is uncertain for the Cubs, but a veteran speedster like Span is the right place to start–just as it was last summer with Fowler.

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A Cubs OF Gets Suspended

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

It feels like the off-season is just itching to start and the moves are on the cusp of coming. While we wait, let’s catch up on some of the headlines.

Nationals Hire Dusty Baker to be their Manager (Full Story) – There are a lot of people that will hear this news and immediately laugh. For example, Keith Law things Baker is one of the worst managers in the game. Then again, he hates Net Yost as well and he just won a World Series. The fact is, Dusty gets a lot out of teams that are ready to win and the Nationals are loaded with talent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the NLCS or even the World Series as of right this minute.

Tsuyoshi Wada is Going Home (Full Story) – I don’t know what we had in Wada, exactly, but I’m surprised he didn’t get more of a chance. It also surprises me that no one, in a league always hunting for left-handed pitching, would take a chance and entice him to stay in the Majors. At his age, I doubt he comes back over to pitch here again.

Cubs Minor League Outfielder, Adron Chambers, Suspended for 50 Games (Full Story) – I don’t feel sorry for guys that get pinched for violating drug tests, but I also don’t blame them. If it means a potential suspension, but the opportunity to get looked at favorably and get to the Majors to make even a million dollars, isn’t that worth it for your family? It’s hard to say no to the temptation.


1959Ernie Banks (.304, 45, 143) wins his second consecutive MVP award. ‘Mr Cub’ garners 10 of the writers’ 21 first-place votes, with Eddie Mathews (5) and Hank Aaron (2) of the Braves and Dodger Wally Moon (4) names found on top of the remaining ballots.

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