Author Archive

Cubs’ Trade Value 2013 Edition

Friday, June 28th, 2013

I really enjoyed writing this last year and the discourse that followed so I want to tackle the potential value of the roster this year with the trade deadline looming on the horizon.

Disclaimer: I am blatantly ripping off Bill Simmons’ NBA Trade Value Column he does every year so if you’ve ever read that you’ll be familiar with this. I’ll examine the team’s assets and approximate the value and likelihood each player will be traded in descending order. I take into consideration current performance, future potential, cost, and the need of other teams for players at that position. In addition to rankings, I place an estimated return if these guys were traded.

Value Explanations:

Lottery ticket: A player with a high ceiling but far more likely to be a bust than anything significant
C prospect: Good chance to be a future bench player or bullpen arm
B prospect: Good chance to be a future everyday player or starter
A prospect: Good chance to be above average to all-star level player or starter

Note: This was written prior to releasing of Stewart and designating Marmol for assignment, I decided to leave them in to see what I said prior to those moves.

Wish You Were Healthy

28. Scott Baker
27. Kyuji Fujikawa

Will Trade for Anything

26. Ian Stewart – Stewart has been nothing but a headache this season. After having wrist surgery last summer, he started the year at AAA, struggled mightily, and then was outrighted off the 40man.  Not surprisingly, he went unclaimed and after taking a weekend – within his rights due to the CBA – to accept his designation to AAA he begrudgingly has went through the motions to earn his 2M paycheck this year. Money seems to be his only motivating factor right now and he has not put any effort to return to the bigs. Right now he’s serving a 10-game suspension for a twitter rant that claimed “Dale doesn’t like me and he’s running the show… there [sic] going to let me rott [sic] in AAA all season and then non tender me after.”  I think it’s more to do with the .201/.319/.417 triple slash line that he’s sporting in AAA than Sveum, but I digress.

As for Stewart’s trade value, I actually thought he began to turn around his season the week he got suspended.  Too bad he had to mouth off, because 3B is still a need for many teams and Stewart does bring a few valuable skills with his defense, ability to work the count, and power potential. However, there’s not a single team in the majors that’s going to trade for him barring some miraculous hot streak that lasts until August.

Trading for Stewart is probably the 2nd worst move the front office has made in the short time here, but at the time it was defensible. I don’t think Colvin is anything more than a platoon player and DJ LeMahieu, despite his good numbers in limited PAs, is just a bench player and the Cubs needed a major league 3B badly.  I also didn’t mind taking a 1 year – 2 million dollar flyer on the guy again this year, but that’s worked out about as bad as it possibly could.

Value:  A bottle of generic aspirin

25. Carlos Marmol – I was on the fence when we signed Marmol to a 3-year deal, buying out a year of free agency and his last 2 arbitration years but looking back, what a terrible move that was.  At best we saved a couple million and kept him away from leaving a year early after signing a monster deal in free agency, at worst, well we’re seeing the worst case scenario right now. Marmol was just too risky given his command issues which have now come to plague him. We should have went year by year in arbitration and then traded or let him walk in his free agent year.

Then I was on the fence with the Marmol trade proposed this offseason because I didn’t think Dan Haren had anything left – which results thus far look right about Haren but still looks pretty terrible given what Marmol is doing and that Haren is healthy and could still turn it around.

I did want to say one thing about Marmol, robot umps would significantly help him. There’s a lot of times, he’s wild but has pitches cross the plate that are called balls. Every outing, an at-bat is swung into the hitters favor because an ump blows a call. There was an at bat earlier this year where he threw 4 strikes according to pitch trax and it was called a 4 ball walk. Not saying Marmol hasn’t been bad this year, but he wouldn’t be this bad if we used the technology available to get the calls right.

Value:  Robots

At Least They’re Still Young

24. Julio Borbon
23. Hector Rondon
22. Michael Bowden – Bowden went unclaimed when we recently DFA’d him, so no team was interested in getting him for free, so no team is going to be giving anything up for him and the Cubs weren’t worried about losing him for nothing either. But Bowden has actually pitched very well since becoming a Cub and I think the front office knew he’d clear waivers and thought this was the way to keep all their players.

Value:  Lottery ticket prospect

Living off Last Year’s Value

21. Scott Camp
20. Scott Hairston – He’s been pretty horrible without every day reps but any glimpse of Hairston returning to form and he’d be a little more valuable for a team in need of a power bat off the bench.

Value:  Lottery ticket prospect

19. Darwin Barney – Barney was always seen as a defensive first, utility player on his way to the bigs and he fought off that label pretty well his first 2 seasons but this year he’s really struggled at the plate.  It doesn’t make sense for the Cubs to trade him at his lowest value, so he won’t be dealt but I don’t think any team sees him as a starter right now. Hypothetically,  if a team was looking for a great defensive back up, Barney should be near the top of their list.

Value:  C Prospect


More Valuable Than He Should Be Given The Results

18. Edwin Jackson – Not a great spot for our big free agent splash only 3 months into the season and what I believe is the worst move the front office has made.

Jackson is extremely divisive among baseball fans. I think the advanced statistic community – which I would say I am a part of – loves Jackson. However, I don’t. I really hated the signing of Jackson and thought it was an overreaction to losing out on Sanchez (who just hit the DL with a shoulder strain btw, so we may have dodged a bullet). I’ve always thought Jackson just a back end starter – overrated & now overpaid.

If you look at Fangraphs, you’ll see Jackson has a sparkling 3.77 FIP and has accumulated 1.0 fWAR thus far. I think that’s a crock of… crap. The reason Jackson’s FIP is that low and his fWAR is that high is because FIP removes balls put in play (hits or not) to neutralize defense and remove it from the equation. That means FIP & fWAR don’t take into account Jackson’s biggest weakness – he gives up a ton of hits – 9.5 H/9 throughout his career, which means he averages nearly one and a half baserunners per inning after including walks.

It’s been hammered into our head over the past decade that getting on base is one of the most important abilities because it leads to more runs, so isn’t it counterintuitive to say that Jackson is a good pitcher considering he lets a lot of people reach base?

If you look at baseball-reference,  he’s accumulated -0.7 bWAR this season and much less bWAR than fWAR over his career because bWAR uses ERA as a factor instead of FIP. That sounds much more accurate to me in this case.  There’s just no way I’m buying he’s been worth positive value given his results thus far this season – I’ve watched him pitch, he’s gotten shelled most of his outings and there’s no luck or defensive miscues about getting hit the way he has. Luckily for the Cubs, he’s starting to turn it around but I can’t see any team parting with anything significant to take on his contract given his terrible start.

Value:  C Prospect & a Lottery Ticket Prospect but we’re footing a big chunk of the bill
Anyone Could Have Had These Guys

17. Dioner Navarro – Couldn’t ask for more from Navarro. He’s been killing the ball in limited playing time and has established himself as a legitimate threat in pitch hitting opportunities.  A nice luxury for a contending team but he’s probably more valuable to the Cubs until the deadline to keep Garza’s value high.

Value:  C Prospect

16. Cody Ransom
15. Ryan Sweeney – Small sample size warning, but Sweeney has been crushing it for the Cubs this year at AAA and in the majors and is showing that those top 100 prospect rankings, albeit 5 years ago, might have been warranted.  He’s always been a decent OBP guy, but he’s developed some pop at the plate which makes him – the guy – I want us to hold on to and see if he was just a late bloomer.

Value: C+ Prospect

Sneaky Value

14. Carlos Villanueva – Villanueva wasn’t brought here to be flipped this season.  He was injury insurance and will get back into the rotation after Garza’s dealt to establish value for a trade next year.

Value: C+ Prospect

13. Kevin Gregg -  The Cubs are looking to quickly cash in on Gregg’s resurgence before he remembers he’s Kevin Gregg.

Value: C Prospect

12. Alfonso Soriano – Soriano hasn’t hit much this year after a great bounce back season last year. Despite, that he moves up 3 spots on this list because he’s 20M cheaper.  The front office has realized he still has a little left in the tank and is a leader of a very young team which makes him somewhat valuable to the Cubs.  Not 19M a year valuable, but not worth paying his entire contract to get nothing in return.

Value:  B Prospect if we pay the majority of his salary

Don’t Expect These Guys To Go Anywhere

11. James Russell – Our most consistent relief pitcher, still cheap and pitching extremely well… hard to see us parting with Russell this year unless some team bowls us over with an offer.   The only thing limiting Russell’s value is the fact he’s only a relief pitcher who isn’t a closer. Russell probably gets a shot at the closer role to start next year, and the Cubs will be around .500 team next year, so they’ll actually need a good closer.

Value: B Prospect

10. Welington Castillo – This might be a little high for Castillo given he has been up and down at the plate, but he’s young, great defensively, and a track record in the minors of some power with the bat, which should come around given more time at the majors, it’s hard to believe a team wouldn’t give up a couple good prospects for him.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

Should Definitely Be On The Move

9. David DeJesus – I reserve the right to drop DeJesus if his shoulder limits his ability after returning from the injury, but up until now, DeJesus has been our best outfielder by far.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect
8.  Scott Feldman – Hardest player to place. It’s difficult to guess if AL teams will be interested in Feldman given his results with the Rangers but it’s hard to ignore a guy pitching as well as he has and some teams might see it as a bonus that he has experience in the AL.  Looking over his stats the only thing that isn’t sustainable is a .250 BABIP, but even if you normalize that to his career average of .292, he has still been legitimately good.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

The Enigmas

7. Luis Valbuena – For the first time in his major league career, he’s been given the chance to play and he’s rewarded the Cubs for the opportunity. Valbuena has always been a great defender and patient at the plate which brings a lot of value to teams. I thought we should have sold high on Barney coming off a gold glove during the offseason and penciled in Valbuena as the starting second baseman.  Now that Barney is struggling, it doesn’t make sense until the offseason but I think Valbuena should be a future piece of this team at 2B while he is cheap.

Value: 1 B & 1 C Prospect

6. Nate Schierholtz – Schierholtz has been on fire almost all year. He’s on a 1 year deal, so there’s no point in keeping him around to finish the season. A number of teams should be interested in a left-handed power bat but his value is a little limited since he should be platoon.  I originally had Schierholtz behind DeJesus at #9, but given DeJesus’ injury and the way Nate just keeps hitting, I had to vault him higher for the final version.

Value:  1 B & 1 C Prospect

Arms Race

5. Matt Garza – I wanted to put Garza a spot higher, but given Garza’s injury risk, and the new CBA rules limiting a new team from getting compensation from him, I don’t see how I can rank Garza any higher.

However, he has pitched excellent over his last 3 starts and raised his value as high as it can be for a half year rental under these new CBA rules. Rumors have a lot of teams interested with the Rangers wanting him the most.

Value: 2 B Prospects

4. Travis Wood – You can pretty much make the same argument for Wood that you made for Feldman. Everything looks sustainable except his .214 BABIP; yet he has a career BABIP of .262 so he’s always been a guy that gets hitters to make weak contact to get them out consistently. Plus he’s still young, cheap, under team control for a few more years, and is left-handed.

I don’t Wood is going to be traded and I know Garza will be.

Value: 1 A & 1 B Prospect

In a Class of His Own

3. Starlin Castro – Impossible to accurately grade Starlin right now. There’s no way he’s being traded, but his results this year don’t warrant a ranking this high. Castro has a weakness against fastballs, especially ones off the plate away, and/or up in the zone and the league has taken advantage of that thus far this year. He needs to make an adjustment, and I know he will.

Value: 2 A Prospects with at least 1 top 20 overall prospect & a B prospect

Untouchables

2. Anthony Rizzo – In the midst of a solid second year, he’s been locked down long term and at a friendly contract for the Cubs. I expect Rizzo to have a Derrek Lee-esque career. A good all-around first baseman, with a few great years where Cubs fans argue he’s the best first baseman in the league.

Value: 3 A Prospects, with at least 1 top 10 overall prospect

1. Jeff Samardzija – Well so much for Samardzija’s 2012 season being a fluke. He’s followed up last year’s break out season with improved numbers almost entirely across the board. The only area where he’s dipped a little bit, is the amount of walks he’s surrendering, but with a K/9 that’s jumped over 10, it’s understandable that he’s giving up 1 more walk every 3 games than last year.

Value: What’s an established ace a few years away from free agency worth? I have no idea, they never get traded.

As always you can leave a comment below if you think I got something wrong and you also follow me on twitter at michael2jimenez.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Deconstructing the Development of Starlin Castro

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

This year has been a lot of the same old-same old for Starlin Castro and Cubs fans are quick to defend him with a plethora of excuses; while many are justifiable, he’s now accumulated nearly 2100 plate appearances and logged over 4200 innings at shortstop. At this point there should be some substantial improvements on the field but is he developing the way we all hope?

In this article I am going to re-evaluate Castro’s tools and potential using the standard 20-80 scouting scale alongside Castro’s previous potential.

 

Hit for Contact

Castro’s best tool has been his ability to make contact with nearly any pitch. A career .295 hitter, he’s always been able to carry a high batting average. His quick hands and short swing allow him to put the bat on the ball at an extremely proficient clip… and he uses that swing often.

For his career, Castro swings at nearly half the pitches he sees and he makes contact at a whopping 84.1% of the pitches he does swing at. He’s always hacked too much at pitches outside of the zone, but a scary trend has developed over his career – he’s starting to swing more and more at pitches out of the zone while making less contact overall at the pitches he’s seeing. As this trend developed his batting average has fallen and is currently sitting in the low .270s but his K% has remained relatively the same around the 14% area.


Castro showing his sweet swing on a 2-1 count to blast a walk off double.

This trend is especially worrisome with a hitter like Castro who’s success at the plate has been completely dependent on his batting average. Right now he’s still an above average contact hitter, but if this trend continues, his offensive ceiling would take a huge hit if his contact skills cannot carry him to a high batting average due to his complete lack of plate discipline.

I used to peg Castro as a .300-.330 hitter over his career, depending on the year, but now I’ve downgraded him to a .280-.310 hitter, a notch below where I originally projected him. Right now I’m definitely worried about these trends but I’m still leaning toward the optimistic side that a player with that much ability will figure it out.

Hit for Power

This is the one area that Castro has developed at a nice pace. His Isolated Power (ISO%) per year has increased along with his HR totals. While his doubles did drop last year compared to the previous season, I think that was an outlier more than anything substantial, and this season he already has 10 doubles only a fourth of the way through the season. It’s too early right now to worry about the dip in SLG & ISO you can chalk that up to a number of uncontrollable factors, like the bad weather all of baseball has had to contend with.

As long as Castro’s contact abilities do not decline, there’s no reason not to think Castro is going to be a 20-homer guy every year, possibly starting this year.

Plate Discipline

Obviously, this is Starlin’s biggest weakness and he has made zero progress in this regard. You could make a legitimate argument that he’s actually regressed in this department. This season it has looked like he’s making a conscious to take pitches (and that shows in his pitches per plate appearance) but in that effort, Castro goes up to the plate and just takes a pitch to take a pitch. I never expect him to be an on-base machine, but he does need to lay off pitches that will almost certainly will produce an easy out.

At this point, he still has little-to-no idea how to work the count in his favor and his ability to make contact on nearly any pitch has led to his over-aggressiveness at the plate increasing his K% to a career high while dropping his BB% and OBP% to a career lows.


An all too familiar sight recently, Starlin Castro going well out of the zone to get himself out.

You can live with a guy who only walks 5% of the time if he’s hitting around .300, but if he’s hitting in the .270s and only walking 5%, that’s a below .320 OBP over the course of a season- a serious problem for any starter.

Baserunning Ability

Castro, like all homegrown Cubs talent in recent years, lacks the basic baserunning knowledge that most teams instill in their young players. At the moment, he has enough speed to swipe 25-30 stolen bases a year, but he’s also caught stealing nearly 40% of the time negating most of that benefit. His poor decisions and mind lapses on the bases also outweigh his above average speed.

Two new metrics I included are Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing runs above average (wSB) which compares him to an average runner (0.0) and Ultimate Base Running (UBR) in runs above average which only monitors his baserunning in non-steal situations against average runners. Both stats back up what my eye test tells me, he’s an average at best baserunner and a below average base stealer. I expect as he continues to fill out he’ll lose some of those stolen bases, but hopefully with better coaching and more experience he will cut down on the blunders as well.

Defense

Defensively, Castro is improving even though you can’t tell by the error numbers. He still has above average range, a solid glove and a strong arm, plus all the work on his throwing mechanics seems to be paying off with his throwing errors being cut in half last year (working with another excellent defensive first baseman in Anthony Rizzo helps too). Like his baserunning, where Castro gets in trouble is when he loses focus or tries to do too much.


Castro flashing his amazing range and hand eye coordination to snare a would-be bloop single. Plays like this show Castro’s potential at Shortstop, his range is matched by only a handful of players in all of baseball right now.

While his excellent range, makes up for a lot of the errors, he’s still a fringy fielder right now, and if he slows down and doesn’t keep his head in the game, he could be moving to 2B in the future. I’m still willing to bet experience and maturity will help him defensively but the Cubs are going to need to make a decision on his position in the next year or two so they know where their holes are going to be in the free agent and trade markets.

Conclusion

I think we have a good idea what Castro is going to be in the future, and that’s not the superstar we all hoped for and even expected. The alarming trends with his plate discipline, cause his offensive potential to be downgraded from his previous ceiling when he was coming up as a prospect. I never expect him to lead the league in walks but working the count into his favor, and laying off pitcher’s pitches , are two skills he still hasn’t developed. He’s been labeled a bad ball hitter, and while that is a nice skill to have, he’s not going to realize his potential without developing a strike zone and adhering to it. He’s still going to be a valuable position player at a premium position who will have a couple of great years due to his raw talent but without a significant overhaul in his approach at the plate he’s going to be more average than superstar.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

An Interview with ESPN’s Keith Law

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Keith Law writes for ESPN providing analysis on all baseball topics.  He also writes about food, literature, and other subjects on his personal blog, The Dish.  You can follow Keith on twitter, @keithlaw. I think he’s a must follow for any baseball fan.  I’d also like to thank Keith for taking the time to do the interview with such a busy schedule.

Q: Since the regime change last winter, many baseball experts have said the Cubs have really smart guys running things and fans just need to be patient.  On the other hand, looking at Boston this year, you can make a legitimate case Epstein’s moves put the Red Sox in the predicament they were in before the Dodgers bailed them out.  What is your overall impression of the Cubs new front office? What do they do right? And why should Cubs fans be patient instead of skeptical?

I think they’re absolutely headed in the right direction, including spending money on Soler ahead of the implementation of the new CBA, going after higher-probability players in the draft without significantly sacrificing ceiling, and giving opportunities to potentially undervalued players like Bryan LaHair (even if that didn’t work out).

I don’t see why Cubs fans would be skeptical, though. What has the regime done so far to merit that skepticism? I also think that if you’re going to debit Epstein for the free agent disasters in Boston, you also need to credit Hoyer and McLeod for building the majors’ best farm system in San Diego.

Q: The new CBA was a total game changer especially for the Cubs who were just starting to exploit the old system’s market inefficiencies.  Except spending more than other teams on their 25-man roster, how can the team still use their financial advantage?

I’d expect them to be more active with players coming from NPB or KBO [Japan and Korea], since those players aren’t subject to the CBA’s limits on international players. I also think their financial advantage allows them to make moves where they take on a bad contract to get a player or prospect they really want – in effect, buying talent through an indirect route.

Q: Speaking of market inefficiencies, I recently published a study on the success rates of first round draft picks from 1990-2006. Overall, teams averaged ~30% success rate on their first round picks. However, the teams employing Tim Wilken were at 57%.  I’m a little disappointed the Cubs moved Wilken out of the Scouting Director position as he’s been so successful for such a long period of time. How do you feel about Wilken’s first round picks since joining the Cubs? Do you know anything about his new role with the team? What can you tell us about his replacement Jaron Madison?

I’ve known Tim for ages and have a ton of respect for him as an evaluator and a director – but I think your method is a little simplistic, primarily since first-round picks are almost never a unilateral decision by a scouting director. Almora was a group decision that included everyone we’ve discussed so far here, as well as other evaluators with the Cubs. My understanding is that Tim will still see potential selections for the team’s top picks, but it sounds like he’ll also be used more on the pro side, seeing possible trade targets and evaluating the Cubs’ own prospects, which is a great use of his abilities.

Q: What are your thoughts on Starlin Castro’s development and his recent extension?

Love the extension – the downside is extremely limited, so even if he doesn’t become the kind of star I expect him to become, it’s still a reasonable deal for the team. I’d like to see more improvement in his approach at the plate – more walks would be great, but I’d settle for better at bats – but I also think it’s going to take time for the new regime to implement that philosophy in the Cubs’ system. Plate discipline wasn’t a priority under Jim Hendry, and it’s a hard enough thing to teach even when it is a priority, so I’d expect it to take a few years before we’ll see an effect up and down the system.

Q: When teams call up their top prospects, they normally want to give them a lot of playing time. Josh Vitters on the other hand is being platooned with Luis Valbuena.  Why is that the case in this situation?  What’s Vitters future moving forward?

I don’t see a future there. He’s long had one of my favorite swings in the minors, but his approach is all but nonexistent, and I don’t see how he’ll ever hit enough to make that swing (and the power it could provide) matter in the majors. If he had Matt Dominguez’ glove, it’d be a different story, but Vitters is at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

Q: Can you tell us about the Cubs prospects you do like & when can we expect to see these guys at Wrigley?  

I’m going to defer that till I do my prospect coverage this offseason. There will be plenty of Cubs content in there. I’ll also see Javier Baez a bit in the AFL, so I’ll be writing about him more in October. I’m a big fan.

Q: On the 20-80 scale, how do you rate Matt Szczur’s present and future tools? You’ve been pretty critical of Szczur and his “short, slappy swing” saying unless that changes he will not produce any power at the majors.  What kind of chance does he have at being an everyday lead-off hitter type that brings value by getting on base, using his speed on the bases and playing defense despite a lack of power?

I don’t see him as an everyday player. He doesn’t have the kind of patience to be the player you describe, nor is he a 70 or 80 runner. I think he’s been overrated because of the bone marrow transplant story (which is an amazing thing, just not relevant to his future as a player) and because Cubs fans didn’t have better prospects to whom they could pin their hopes. Now you have Baez, Almora, Soler, Paniagua … players worth getting excited over. The Vitters and the Szczurs will get less attention as a result.

Q:  Some fans bring up Prince Fielder when talking about Dan Vogelbach’s chance to play first base.  I’ve always thought of Fielder as pretty agile for a such big guy which makes him a unique case.  Other than being fat guys who hit for a ton of power, are there any other similarities between the two? Is there any chance Vogelbach plays first base at the major league level?

Fielder’s a much better athlete than Vogelbach, even light on his feet considering his size, and Fielder’s not even a good first baseman. I can’t see Vogelbach playing any position but DH in the majors. He’s a one tool guy.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Many fans and players believe in outside forces that affect a team.  Be it luck, the baseball gods, or an almighty curse, some things just defy logic.  The past 2 seasons the Cubs were in prime position to get a top draft pick then inexplicably performed better to finish each season.  On July 30th of last year the Cubs were 42-65 (.393) and lined up for the second draft pick.  They finished the year 29-26 (.527) and ended up with the sixth pick.  In 2010 the team was 50-73 (.407) on August 20th for the 5th worst record. They finished the year 25-14 (.641) and ended up with the 9th pick.  It’s been frustrating watching the team be terrible most of the year and then turn it around at the worst possible time.  This year I’ve worried about the same thing.

On September 6th the team was 5 games ahead of Colorado for the second pick in next year’s draft.   Since then the Cubs went 7-4 and have slipped to a half game lead over Colorado.  Dropping one spot wouldn’t be terrible but we’re also now only 3 games ahead of Cleveland and Minnesota.

Looking at the remaining schedules, the Cubs seem to have the easiest.  Each team has two series at home and two on the road.  The Cubs get the Cards at home – who they always play tough despite the standings;  head to Coors in a pivotal series for draft positioning; the team then travels to Arizona who are still clinging on to playoff hopes; and finish the season at home against Houston, who has only won 16 games on the road all year.   The Rockies schedule isn’t all that much tougher only facing one team over .500 – the Dodgers – but they do face Arizona for 7 games who are not out of the playoff picture just yet.  Colorado also has one more game than the other 3 teams and it’s at home.  The Indians have the most balanced schedule facing the 9th best and 8th worst teams in baseball twice each.  The Twins on the other hand have a brutal schedule with 9 of their remaining 12 games against teams fighting for their playoff lives.

If the Cubs over-perform the final weeks of the season, it could easily knock us down to 5th in next year’s draft.  But does that really matter?  In the 2011 draft we ended up with Javier Baez at 9th and he is now our top prospect, and should be in – or pretty damn close – to the top 25 prospects lists beginning next year.  This year we took Albert Almora 6th, and after the draft the Cubs claimed he was #1 on their draft board anyway.  This is supported a bit by the Cubs passing on Mark Appel who was seen as the best player going into the draft.   Those picks look pretty good right now despite the Cubs late season success.

If you looked at my study on the Success Rates of MLB Draft Picks by Slot, you would know that it’s extremely important to be in the top 5 for rebuilding teams.  It’s the smartest way to turn around a ball club.  The Cubs are all but locked in there.  Within the top 5, other than being number one overall, the results are pretty similar 2-4, with number 5 falling off a bit.  Since the Cubs have relatively no chance to catch Houston for the first pick and are locked in to the top 5, statistically speaking, I have no problem with them finishing out the season as strong as possible.  While I am less-than-thrilled about their recent and the potential to close the year with a pick worse than #2, I’d rather not have to root against the team.  And  If there are baseball gods, then don’t the Cubs deserve to be rewarded (again?) for playing hard the whole year.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Jeff Samardzija: Ace in the Making

Monday, September 10th, 2012

On April 8th Jeff Samardzija reintroduced himself to the world. He pitched 8.2 innings, giving up only one earned run on a solo shot in the 9th, allowed 4 base runners in total while striking out 8, and dismissed all concerns that his Spring Training was just a fluke. Five months later he finished off the best season of his young career with a complete game, allowing 5 base runners, 2 earned runs and struck out 9 Pirates as the Cubs decided to shut him down with 3-plus weeks to go. From an outside perspective, a 3.81 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 3.5 WAR in 174.2 innings pitched is along the lines of a solid mid-rotation starter. It’s a good season but not great; however, the stats don’t tell the whole story.

The knock on Samardzija until this year was his results never matched his stuff. Most importantly, he lacked a strike out pitch despite his overpowering velocity. His fastball was too straight to accrue swings and misses, so throughout his minors career he attempted to develop new pitches to find that elusive out pitch. When Samardzija was first called up, he relied on 3 pitches: a 4-seam fastball, slider, and changeup combination. In 2009, he added a cutter and started experimenting with a curveball; and then in 2011 he added a two-seam fastball. The new pitches added to his repertoire but he never found the out pitch he was looking for, until this year.

During the offseason, Samardzija developed a split-finger fastball which has quickly turned into one of the best in baseball. He only used the split finger about 17% of the time; however, it resulted in an astounding 48% of his strikeouts and batters hit a measly .128 against his split-finger with only 7 extra base hits. The addition of the split-finger immediately made Samardzija a solid option in the starting rotation; but he was not done tinkering with his arsenal. During the month of June, Jeff tried to utilize his curveball instead of his slider with disastrous results.

During the 3 starts where he scrapped his slider in favor of the curve, Jeff gave up 17 ER in only 14.2 IP. In July, when he went back to using his slider as his 3rd pitch, his results returned to his form before the curveball experiment. If you remove the 3 starts where he experimented with a curveball his numbers look outstanding:

In fact, if you compare his 25 starts without the curveball to the seasons of the top 10 NL pitchers according to FanGraph’s WAR, Samardzija’s stats are comparable:

As you can see Shark’s season – sans curveball experiment – was among the best pitchers in the NL. Moving forward you would assume he will stop trying to add the curveball and focus on the 5 pitch combination he had great success with in 2012. Even though Samardzija has had an up and down career, I feel very confident he’s turned the corner and should be projected as a front-line starter for the foreseeable future. I would let Samardzija go through arbitration this season, then if he does maintain his performance in 2013, look to extend him 4-5 years buying out 2-3 years of free agency and keep him under control for his age 28-32 seasons.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

An Interview with Jim Callis of Baseball America

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Jim Callis is the Executive Editor at Baseball America and you can follow him on twitter @JimCallisBA. In my opinion, he’s one of the most knowledgeable and more approachable guys in the industry and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to get inside of his head for a while.

Q: Hi Jim, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule. What exactly does your job with BA entail?

A: I work out of my home rather than in our main office, so I’m not as involved with day-to-day issues. My biggest responsibilities are headlining our draft coverage and overseeing all of our prospect rankings, including being the primary editor on our annual Prospect Handbook. I write a weekly Ask BA column where I answer reader questions, and do a weekly chat as well. I also write a draft/prospects-related column in ever issue of the magazine.

Q: What is your off-season schedule like?

A: Our offseason is busier than most people realize. From October through December, I spend nearly every waking hour editing the Prospect Handbook, which contains 900 detailed scouting reports and plenty more. After that goes to print, I write our Early Draft Preview and then start preparing for the draft in the spring.

Q: What do you look for when you are scouting a prospect?

A: I’d consider myself more of an analyst than a scout. A lot of our information comes from talking to scouts, not going out with a radar gun and stopwatch and seeing games on a daily basis. I look for a combination of tools and performance, with performance mattering more as you get closer to the major leagues. I could give you thousands of words on this subject, but the short answer is power and speed for hitters and arm strength and command for pitchers from a tools standpoint, and ability to make consistent hard contact for hitters or miss bats for pitchers from a performance standpoint.

Q: It’s been reported that the Cubs previous regime was well behind modern front offices. How has the new front office changed scouting and player development within the organization?

A: I can’t quote specific philosophies or practices, but the obvious answer is that they’ve made sweeping changes. Jason McLeod oversees the entire scouting and player development operation and vice president of Oneri Fleita is gone. Former scouting director Tim Wilken has been promoted to special assistant, with Jaron Madison taking over as director. Joe Boehringer was hired to fill the new position of pro scouting director. Those are the most significant changes.

Q: I’m a little disappointed the Cubs moved Tim Wilken out of the Scouting Director position as he’s been so successful for such a long period of time. How do you feel about Wilken’s first round picks since joining the Cubs? Do you know anything about his new role with the team? And what can you tell us about his replacement Jaron Madison?

A: Wilken’s first-round picks were, in order, Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson, Hayden Simpson, Javier Baez and Albert Almora. Colvin has gotten back on track since being traded to Colorado, and I could see Andrew Cashner eventually emerging as a closer in San Diego. I don’t see Vitters as a big league regular on a contender, and Simpson has been a disaster. I do like Jackson, despite the increased strikeouts this year, and think he can be a solid regular. Baez and Almora are the two best prospects in the system. In his new role, Wilken still will contribute to the draft, but he’ll also contribute in other areas as well, such as major league and international decisions. Madison was the scouting director for the last three years with the Padres, and had some promising drafts to help rebuild the system. He was hired by Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod in San Diego.

Q: Right now, who do you think are the Cubs top 5 prospects?

A: In order: Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arodys Vizcaino, Christian Villanueva.

Q: Age relative to league is very important when evaluating prospects. After seeing Jeff Samardzija break out this year after being all but written off, should two-sport college athletes be given more leniency when being evaluated?

A: Yes, they should. Age relative to league is important, but so is “baseball age,” i.e. how long the player has focused on baseball. With Samardzija, though, the toughest thing to reconcile always was his overpowering velocity and relatively low strikeout rates in the minors. He just didn’t miss as many bats as he should, and he didn’t at Notre Dame either. The Cubs have done a nice job developing him, and the finished major league product is a different story.

Q: Speaking of two-sport college athletes, Matt Szczur had a roller coaster season which saw him finish the year struggling at AA-Tennessee. You’ve always been pretty high on Szczur. What are your thoughts now that you’ve had another season to evaluate him?

A: I still like him but I’ve also cooled a little on him. I still think he can be a big league regular, though he might have a hard time keeping the center-field job away from Albert Almora. Szczur is fast but not a blazer, and he can hit but doesn’t have a ton of power.

Q: The Cubs have recently signed Juan Carlos Paniagua for 1.5 million. This is the third time Paniagua has signed with a club but only the first time it was approved after he used an assumed identity and fraudulent identification papers in his first two attempts. His listed date of birth is still unconfirmed by the MLB. Is this something that could come back to bite the Cubs later? What can you tell us about Paniagua’s pitching ability and where would you guess he fits in the Cubs top prospects?

A: It can’t come back to bite the Cubs in terms of having this deal voided. They know his birth date is unconfirmed and made the decision to sign him anyway. He has a tremendous arm, clocked up to 98 mph with his fastball and backing it up with a hard slider. I think he’ll fit in the 6-10 range when I do our Cubs Top 30 Prospects list in the offseason, but I don’t have a great feel for him yet.

Q: Josh Vitters had a mini-break out at AAA this season but he’s really struggled since being called up to the majors. The swing is still there but so are the defensive, plate patience and work ethic concerns. What are realistic expectations for the former #3 overall pick moving forward?

A: He has been tough to figure out, because he’s always been young for his league and made some progress here and there. I just don’t see him as a regular on a contender. I think he can hit for a solid average, but I don’t think the power and defense profile well enough at third base. I could see him hitting .275 with 15 or so homers, not a lot of walks and substandard defense if he played every day.

Q: It seems the only starting pitching prospects worth mentioning in the Cubs’ system have been recently acquired. Are there any holdovers from the Hendry days that Cubs fans should still be interested in?

A: I don’t see any Hendry holdovers that look like good bets to pitch in the front half of a big league rotation. The old regime had those hopes for Dillon Maples after signing him for $2.5 million next year, and maybe he’ll fulfill them, but he has barely been able to pitch this year. Robert Whitenack was making some encouraging progress before having Tommy John surgery last year. There are some lower-level guys like Starlin Peralta who are pretty far away. There’s not much in the way of upper-level pitching in the system.

Q: The Cubs drafted Albert Almora with their first round pick this year. I’ve been surprised by the amount of power he’s shown in limited playing time thus far. What are his current and potential tools on the 20-80 scale? How quickly should he move through the minors?

A: Almora has advanced instincts for a high school player, so he could move quickly than most. Projecting him down the road, he could have plus tools across the board. He handles the bat very well, could develop into a 20-homer guy as he fills out and he’s an above-average defender with a quality arm. His stopwatch speed is closer to average, but he plays above those times.

Q: It feels like Junior Lake has been around forever but hasn’t made much progress in developing all those tools. He had another solid yet unspectacular season statistically in 2012. What kind of future do you think he has with the Cubs? Is there any chance they try him out as a pitcher in the near future?

A: You described Lake well. He has one of the strongest infield arms in the minors, above-average raw power and speed to match once he gets going. The problem is he hasn’t been able to refine his tools into skills. He doesn’t control the strike zone, which holds him back at the plate, and he’s really too big to be a full-time shortstop. I don’t see him as a regular on a contender, but he could get a shot at third base in the near future if Vitters doesn’t work out. He’s showing enough as a position player that I don’t think the Cubs are going to try him on the mound anytime soon.

Q: Top 5 guys aside, if you had to bet your life on one guy being a successful big league player, who would it be?

A: I definitely wouldn’t want to bet my life. There aren’t a lot of upper-level guys, especially after all the promotions, to hang your hat on. Dan Vogelbach has had a great year, but he’s an all-bat first baseman, and those guys are typically boom or bust. If I’m betting my life, I’m picking Szczur, but he might be more of a Reed Johnson than a true regular. I do think he can hit and run and play defense well enough to have a long-term role in the majors.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Starlin Castro: Dictating his Future

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Mo Money, Less Problems
This week the Cubs have announced a 7-year $60 million extension that buys out the first 3 years of Castro’s free agency. He will receive a 6M signing bonus, there’s also a club option for 16M for an 8th year (1M buyout, part of the 60M) and an MVP incentive that could bump the final 2 years up an additional 2M. In total Castro could earn 79M over the next 8 season. Here’s the yearly breakdown:

2013 (age 23): 5M
2014 (age 24): 5M
2015 (age 25): 6M
2016 (age 26): 7M
2017 (age 27): 9M
2018 (age 28): 10M
2019 (age 29): 11M (2M MVP clause if he wins or finishes top 5 in voting twice)
2020 (age 30): 16M (1M buyout & the 2M MVP clause if he wins or finishes top 5 in voting twice)

Here’s the many reasons why I love this deal. First, the team put a big chunk of the money at the beginning of the deal. Keeping Castro at basically 10M annually during his first 3 seasons he would have been a free agent is a savvy move. This will open up more money for the rest of the team, during seasons the Cubs will be competitive.

Second, the team is buying low. Castro is having his worst season statistically of his young career. This was a perfect time to lock him down long-term if you believe he’s just going to keep getting better. If Castro has a breakout season in the next year or two, he would be owed a lot more than what he just got. Even if Castro doesn’t improve but maintains a similar level of production the team still saved money. For example, look at Hunter Pence, a solid 3-4WAR player who also was a Super Two. He will make 35M during his 4 arbitration seasons. Including the signing bonus, Castro will make only 29M over his first four years.

Finally, the team now has control of Castro’s prime seasons (26-30). They will also be in an excellent position to extend Castro again before he hits free agency to buy out the rest of his productive years (31-34). If the team approaches Castro and offer another 8 year extension when he has 3 seasons left on his current deal, the Cubs could have Castro’s entire productive career at a discount, without having to pay big money for his decline seasons (35+). If the Cubs do not want Castro past his prime, they can trade him before the end of the 2019 season as his 10/5 rights won’t kick in unless the team accepts his option for 2020. This is a very shrewd move by a front office who looks to have learned from long term mistakes of the past.

Getting Better Despite the Numbers
It’s easy to look at Castro’s dip in batting average, abysmal OBP and errors then argue that Castro hasn’t improved at all this year and the Cubs are taking on a huge risk with this long term deal; however, in the two areas that concerned the Cubs the most, Castro has made marked improvements. Castro’s defense is much improved to the point I believe, and even more importantly, the Cubs believe, Castro is a long-term SS. His footwork and throwing look much better than his first two seasons and the advanced metrics show him as an above average defender (3.2 UZR). While he still makes his share of errors usually due to his concentration issues, he makes more difficult defensive plays that outweigh these negatives.

He’s also made some huge strides with his plate approach since late June. On June 24th, Castro was hitting above .300, however he was walking a measly 1.9% of the time in 312 PAs. In the 232 PAs since then, we’ve seen Castro’s average dip to .276 but his walk rate has increased to 9.9% of the time, his swing rate on pitches out of the zone dropped by nearly 10% and Castro has seen nearly 2 more pitches per plate appearance. That’s a remarkable improvement.

Add these improvements to his 3rd straight season with improving power numbers and stolen bases, a desire to continue getting better, take into account he’s only 22 and already has 3 seasons under his belt when players his age are usually at double-A, and it’s no wonder the Cubs see Castro as a player worth the 60 million dollar risk.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Success Rate of MLB Draft Picks by Slot

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

It’s no secret that MLB prospect success rates are rather low.  There’s been a couple great studies on prospect success rates like Scott McKinney’s study on the success of BA’s top prospects  and Matt Garrioch’s study on the draft’s success by round; however, I have not seen any studies on the success rates of draft picks by each individual slot.  This has peaked my interest recently as the Cubs are tanking the 2012 season for as high of a draft pick as possible.  Many of you already know I am working on a Ph.D. in History so something like this is right up my alley (too bad I chose a Civil Rights topic for my dissertation instead of a topic on baseball or I’d be done already).  I decided to do my own study tracking the success rate of every draft pick in the first round from 1990-2006.

Methodology

I separated the 17 years into three separate brackets. 1990-1995, 1996-2000, and 2000-2006.  I chose to stop at the year 2006, because many of 2007′s prospects have their fates yet to be decided. The number 3 pick for instance, Josh Vitters, just hit the majors.  Is it fair to call him a bust when he’s had 25 plate appearances and is still only 22 years old? Granted the more recent years will still be a little shady as well, especially players drafted out of high school, but at this point successful players should be performing at the majors.

Establishing what would be deemed a “successful” draft pick was the most difficult part of this study.  I asked a few of the popular prospect experts how they would define success of an MLB draft pick, and the responses all came back similar; it depends on each individual case, the money involved, and where they were selected. There was no one way to define “success” that would cover every draft pick.  So instead I chose three separate approaches.

First, I went with  a similar methodology to Scott McKinney’s study on BA’s top 100 prospects.   I used FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as the tool for measurement.  I took  the average of WAR at the MLB level during the player’s controllable years excluding seasons under 100 plate appearances or 25 innings pitched if they occurred in the first 1 or 2 consecutive seasons of reaching the majors. McKinney wrote  that he “was attempting to account for the fact that many players get very little playing time in their first or second season, and I did not want to give them equal weight in the average WAR calculation.  At the same time, I didn’t want to omit all short or partial seasons over a player’s cost controlled years because they are often due to injury or poor performance.” I agreed with this premise and decided to keep this stipulation.  This is labeled as cWAR.

That means for a player to be deemed a “success,” they must post at least a 1.5 WAR average in the 6 years before they could hit free agency.  In addition, there would be a “superior” category in which the player would need a 2.5 WAR average over that same time period.

Second, I looked  at the peak of the player’s career.  I evaluated the players’ best 5-year stretch using higher minimum WAR requirements than the first approach and labeled it as pWAR.  Since I cherry picked the best 5 consecutive seasons of a player’s career, I increased the WAR to fit the basic definitions for a league average and superior player.  That means the minimum success WAR was raised to 2.0, while the minimum superior WAR was raised to a 3.0 average.  This would give “late-bloomers” a chance at being called a success, or some successes to be bumped up to superior players.

Lastly, I looked at the longevity of a career.  To play in the majors for an extended period of time shows a player had enough skill to stick around at the highest level.  I wanted a number high enough that the player received either a multiple year contract or multiple contracts after they hit free agency.  I decided to use 10 years as the amount to be deemed a success for draft picks.  There were 2 players in the next bracket who are both still active and sitting at 9 years, I decided these 2 players deserved the success as longevity; they are R.A. Dickey and Matt Thornton.  After 1999 there were no players who were successful via only the longevity clause which was expected as there’s just not enough time to develop through the minors and reach 10 seasons yet.  The same minimum requirements of 100 PAs or 25 innings pitched for the first year or two apply.  I also decided to add a similar stipulation to the tail end of careers to eliminate failed comeback attempts to avoid artificially inflating a player’s length of career.  Overall, a very small percentage of players were deemed a success via only longevity so I was very happy with how this approach turned out.

Results

Without further ado, the results spreadsheet for your viewing pleasure

As you probably expected, the further the study went, the more fuzzy the picture became on some draft picks. These were guys, usually called up within the past few seasons, who sat on the fringe of success and could go either way depending on how the rest of their career goes.  There wasn’t a significant amount of players affected to alter the results but there will definitely be an influx of more successful players as time goes by in addition to the handful of the successful by longevity guys as well. This type is actually rather easy to predict.  Usually they are just on the border of being a good player.   The majority were actually converted starting pitchers who went to the bullpen and found some success there after failing as a starter.  Guys I would expect to see hit the 10 year mark include Phil Hughes, Chris Volstad, and Carlos Quentin among others.  The study predicted players that I perceive as borderline very well.  In all, I agreed with nearly every determination in the study.  The few that I disagreed with, tended to have injuries skew their statistics.

One question I wanted definitively answered was if tanking actually helped teams rebuild quicker.  I would answer that with a resounding yes after seeing how successful the higher draft picks were compared to the mid to low picks especially when separated into the brackets.

Teams that chose in the top half of the draft had at least a 36% to find a successful player moving forward.  Teams choosing in the top 5 had nearly a 50/50 chance.  While teams had a little better than a 1 in 5 chance to land a quality player in the 16-25 range, if you weren’t making the playoffs, you absolutely wanted to draft as high as possible.

As you can see the chance to find a superior player also drastically decreases the further you get in the draft.  It was even more important for rebuilding teams to stay in the bottom 10 in the standings to have the best chance at acquiring impact talent.  After the top 10, there is a significant drop off that levels off until the final bracket.

The second question I wanted to answer was if drafting had improved over the years as scouting and saber metrics had advanced.   This is a little more difficult to answer but based purely on my research I would lean towards no.  In the 90-95 bracket  teams found a successful player 34% of the time and a superior player 18% of the time; however, those numbers dropped in the 96-00 bracket to 27% and 16%.  In the final bracket, those numbers rebounded to 30% and 20%.  While the successful player percentage is still lower than the first bracket, if you take into account that many players drafted between 00-06 have not been in the majors long enough to get out of their controlled years and there were zero longevity successes in this bracket, you could predict an increase of 12 more successes.  That would increase the success percentage to 37% still within 3% of the 90-95′s success rate.  With modern medical advances, nutrition awareness, and less general wear and tear on players, I think there’s a case to be made that we are seeing more successful players because injuries are less career threatening than ever before and players were able to keep a higher production and hang around the majors longer.  You could also make the case that the 02′ and 05′ drafts are two of the best draft classes ever and those are skewing the numbers more positively.  Moreover, there were a few cases like Brian Bogusevic who haven’t been in the majors very long, put up a really good season, and that one year that carried him to a success result.  In any case, there’s no definitive evidence to conclude there was an improvement in scouting.

As for the Cubs, the organization wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Out of 17 draft picks in the first round, they came away with 5 good picks and 2 superior players for just shy of a 30% success rate.  The average success rate was 30.64%, and the Cubs were tied for 14th, right in the middle of the pack.  However, there were two problems.  Foremost, three of their picks’ careers were derailed by injury – Kerry Wood, Corey Patterson, and Mark Prior – and the team traded away Doug Glanville and Jon Garland for past their prime veterans.  Second, there were zero successful picks after 2001. As Scouting Director from 1996-2002, Jim Hendry chose 4 of the 5 successful picks for a 57% success rate. The guy that assumed the role after Hendry, John Stockstill, went 0-3 before he left to join the Orioles.  After Hendry turned to Tim Wilken, you can see a noticeable difference in talent through the draft with all four of his first picks already playing in the majors.  Speaking of Tim Wilken, there’s a good reason he’s so highly regarded around the major leagues.  While with Toronto and Tampa the two organizations went a combined 9-16 (56%).  I am very happy the new front office kept him on board and have expanded his roles with the team.

Conclusion

I enjoyed working on this quite a bit.  It was fun to take a stroll down memory lane, and it was also interesting to see what players I perceived as better or worse than they actually were.  I had to triple check Corey Patterson’s numbers after they said he was a success… and he wasn’t the only player/team I was surprised by.

I’m not done with this study.  I’m already expanding to the team stats and I will definitely revisit the study in a few years to update and expand it for more recent drafts.  I will probably go back earlier than 1990 as well to continue to investigate if the success rate of organizations has improved or diminished over the decades.

If you have any suggestions how to improve the study, found an error or want to share any surprises you found, please leave them in the comments.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Just a Few Things I’ve Been Thinking About…

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Initially, I was going to go see Daytona play the Lakeland Flying Tigers on Tuesday night, in which I had planned on taking videos of Javier Baez and provide you all with a first-hand scouting report on the Cubs top prospect, but the game was postponed due to unplayable field conditions… so instead of getting some awesome analysis and videos of the best bat in our system you get some lingering thoughts about the team… enjoy!

I still like Chris Volstad

Despite being terrible this entire season after giving up another big inning in his last start, I still want Volstad on the team next year.  Not really about advanced numbers saying he’s better than he’s been, believing Volstad is a part of the future, or any crazy idea like that.  I think Volstad could be valuable to a contender next deadline – It’s a lottery ticket system.  I’m buying another Volstad ticket and hopefully this time we win. His stuff isn’t bad…  so he’s gotta be tipping his pitches.  Or at least that’s what I will continue saying next year when he’s getting shelled.

When will the Cubs be competitive again?

Looking at what we have now and where our prospects are… I am leaning towards 2016 now  instead of my initial guess…  2015 still has a shot, but everything needs to go right – which just doesn’t happen often for the Cubs.  We’d need Castro to rebound, Rizzo & Samardzija to continue to develop, Baez & Soler to shoot through the minors, Vizcaino to return and stay healthy… and probably another piece or two to work out.  Then the rest is depth for the bench, bullpen, injuries and trade bait.  We need a core of young players to build around before we entertain free agency.

It’s not only chicks that dig the long ball

You ask Kevin Goldstein or Keith Law why Matt Szczur is seen only as a 4th outfielder and their answer is because he’s a slap hitter with no power potential.  Despite plus speed, hitting for a high average and showing good discipline he’s seen “nothing to get excited about.”  On the other hand, you ask why Jim Callis likes Szczur so much, it’s because he saw a Szczur batting practice where Szczur was crushing balls in Arizona, flashing power that he has yet to tap into in games.  I’ve wondered why fans fall in love with guys like Colvin and LaHair over a hot month of hitting… and will flat out trash valuable players like a Kosuke Fukudome or David DeJesus…. I’ve come to the conclusion, dudes dig the long ball too.  No matter how good advanced metrics tell you a player is, if he doesn’t hit HRs the majority of fans don’t care.

Speaking of LaHair

What would you do in his situation?  He’s not part of the Cubs’ long term plans.  He’s not a lock to be on the 25-man roster next season.  He’s not even a sure thing to be retained by the team given his age, production drop off, and state of the roster with recent call-ups.  Japanese teams called last year, and it’s a pretty safe assumption they’d still be interested this season.

Would you go over there and make a bazillion yen (conversion rate may not be accurate), be worshipped by an entire country just to hit mammoth HRs or would you chase the dream of staying in the majors at only 500K a year.

Has any player ever made the ASG in their first full season and by the next year be out of the MLB because they couldn’t hack it?

Soriano’s bat change

A lot was made out of Soriano going to a lighter and shorter bat, but has anything really changed?

I would say the only thing that has changed is his BABIP normalized to league average this season after a career low last year(and for his career it’s .303).  Everything else is right in line with standard deviation.

Next year’s draft

Looks as we are pretty safe in top 3 and have a good chance at the second pick.  I would love to get #2, which would nearly guarantee us Mark Appel, if we want him.  I don’t think Houston would take him after what happened with this year’s draft.

I don’t normally advocate for drafting for need, but in this case I would.  Appel should be ready for AA by the end of next season given that he’s a 4 year college arm.  Slotting him with a 2014 late season call up, and in the rotation by 2015, the same time the core of our farm should be hitting the majors.  The trio of Samardzija, Vizcaino, and Appel would be a nice foundation for a rotation.

Darwin Barney’s Defense

First, I think Barney is deserving of a gold glove this year.  Even though he has a few weaknesses, he’s steadily improved since becoming the everyday 2B.   He’s been the best defensive second basemen in baseball this year, but these types of rewards are more based on reputation than merit, so watch out for Brandon Phillips getting another.

Second, at some point this week Barney’s WAR was 4.6 and Ryan Braun’s WAR was 4.5.  People were calling this a limitation of WAR because no one in their right mind would choose Barney over Braun.  But is it?

While I wouldn’t take Barney over Braun either… but can you not win the game with defense just as easily with offense?  If you make a great play that stops the tying run from scoring, isn’t that just as important as the guy who knocked in the winning run?

I think baseball just needs more straightforward defensive stats like other sports for the masses to truly understand what players are doing.  You can say their UZR/TZR is +15, but what does that really mean?  You can laugh at people who try to mention fielding % & errors in arguing how good a player is defensively, but is it really their fault?  Now if I said Barney made 22 plays that saved a run more than the next second basemen, you understand that.  If I said Rizzo made 64 picks this season that saved errant throws, that’s easily understood.  That’s why people still cling to errors, fielding %, and assists so much, they’re easy to understand.    We need simpler defensive stats to make it easier to decipher who’s actually good at defense and who’s not.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: