- As you know, Rick Renteria is the new manager for the Cubs. It blows me away (but it doesn’t surprise me) that some fans are already calling the hire a failure BEFORE HE HAS EVEN GIVEN A PRESS CONFERENCE, MUCH LESS MANAGED A GAME. The front office really took their time and vetted all their candidates, so there’s no reason to think they aren’t confident that he is the right man for the job. The Renteria hire has been praised by many in baseball, and the Padres consider this a significant loss. I mean, who were we supposed to hire as manager, Jesus Christ? The most important task for the new manager is to facilitate the development of the young players that will be coming up to the big league club in the next few years, and, by all accounts, Renteria is a good teacher. His Latino heritage can only be seen as a plus in this area as well. I, for one, am happy with the move, and I’m looking forward to rooting for his success (rather than proclaiming him to be a failure in November). Besides, if you read my post from October 11, you’ll see that managers don’t really matter all that much anyway!
- As far as Renteria’s staff is concerned, we already know one member. Chris Bosio has agreed to a two-year deal to remain the Cubs’ pitching coach. I really like this move – Bosio’s work with Travis Wood, among others, has been impressive. I think his emphasis on ground balls will serve our young pitchers well in Wrigley going forward.
- Via Crain’s, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks granted the Cubs permission to expand the outer right field wall 25 feet into Sheffield Avenue. This step was necessary since the wall will jut into public property. The original plan was to extend the wall by 15 feet, but this compromise was reached when the Clark Street bridge plan was scrapped, along with adjustments to the hotel plans and a reduction in night games from 46 to 43. The battle with the rooftops rages on as ever (ugh). Let the barely-tangential, broad-sweeping political comments begin!
- Who would you like to see replace Keith Moreland on the radio broadcasts? Gracey would be fun (if unlikely), and I’ve heard Kerry Wood’s name being mentioned. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I hope everyone had a great Halloween. I had a dentist appointment yesterday – worlds colliding or worlds aligning?
- The Cubs installed another mock-up of the proposed sign in right field at Wrigley. The Cubs contend it doesn’t block rooftop views – and of course the rooftop folks contend that it does. Check it out for yourself here. A couple of caveats: it doesn’t look like the sign was completely in place when the photo was taken, and the sign will be 15 feet closer to the rooftops once the extension to the outer wall is complete (which should lower the sign from the rooftops point of view). Obviously, there is money to be made (and potentially lost) on both sides here, so I expect this issue to remain contentious. Maybe the Ricketts could put an end to this issue once and for all and just buy the rooftops in question. (http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2013/10/24/source-cubs-could-buy-rooftops)
- Free agency has begun, and we should all expect the Cubs to be relatively inactive. The only moves I can see the team making are minor – filling out the bench, minor league depth, etc.. I agree completely with this approach, since a) it’s not a smart way to build a team for long-term success, b) there’s really no one out there worth pursuing anyway, especially for the cost, c) the young “core” isn’t ready, so it doesn’t make sense to load up on free agents for a team that is a few years away. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs go hard after Masahiro Tanaka, though. His age and position make total sense for the club at this point (and how often do you get a change to acquire a proven – albeit in the Japanese league – starting pitcher and give up none of your prospects in return?). For what it’s worth, the Cubs free agents are Scott Baker, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, and Dioner Navarro. (meh)
- In case you missed it: THE CARDINALS LOST THE WORLD SERIES
- Speaking of the Cardinals, there have been whispers that they are looking for a shortstop and could be interested in Starlin Castro. This was apparently discussed on MLB Radio, but I’ll do some more digging and report back if I hear anything more substantive. The guys over at Cubs Den are looking into it as well. I don’t see this having legs – but we all know that if he is traded to the Cardinals, he’ll be a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
- Bloomberg put together an awesome interactive article related to the value of major league baseball franchises. The Cubs are in fifth place in overall value behind, in order, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Mets, and ahead of the Giants (the Orioles are listed as the seventh most valuable franchise – I would have NEVER guessed that). This is a great piece that lets you explore how teams compare to each other on a variety of metrics, including all sources of incoming and outgoing revenue. The area in which the Cubs fall short in relation to other incoming revenue areas is in “sponsorship” – which may make it easier to understand why the Cubs are busy trying to maximize the value of signage and other ad potential at Wrigley Field.
- Cubs farmhand (acquired in the Matt Garza trade) C.J. Edwards was named MiLB.com’s Pitcher of the Year (that’s considering all pitchers at all levels in the minors – pretty awesome). If you don’t know much about Edwards, you’ll probably find yourself rooting hard for the kid after reading this profile on him.
- Someone is suing the City of Chicago and Cubs-affiliated entities over the proposed hotel-on-Wrigley-property construction.
- The Cardinals lost Game 1 of the World Series, and of course they’re complaining that Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester cheated. You can judge the evidence in question for yourself over at Hardball Talk.
- “Asia’s Heartbeat,” Arirang News (“Arirang,” by the way, is the title of a traditional Korean folk song) reports that the Cubs could be one of the favorites to land Korean RHP Suk-Min Yoon, a 27-year-old who probably projects to be a reliever in MLB. He’s young and has had some success in Korea, so he would be an intriguing target for the Cubs. He doesn’t appear to be the caliber of pitcher that the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is, though.
- Dave Martinez interviewed for the Cubs’ managerial gig yesterday. His work with Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay seems to be his strongest résumé bullet. I won’t go into the rumors regarding the situation with Martinez and Ryne Sandberg’s wife, because you can read it on virtually every other page on the internet. It looks like the next Cubs manager is going to be one of Martinez, Renteria, Acta, or Hinch.
- Daniel Bard – the once-awesome reliever that the Cubs picked up off waivers from the Red Sox – will pitch for the Puerto Rican Winter League. If he can reclaim even 80% of his old form, it will be a great pickup for the Cubs.
- WGN Radio is taking the option to renegotiate their deal with the Cubs. Like many Cubs fans, I have a special, nostalgic place in my heart for WGN (both radio and TV). Apparently, WGN Radio is losing money on Cubs games, so they’d like to start paying less for them. Maybe this opens the door for other stations.
Happy Friday, fellow Viewers!
I wrote in August about the concept of team “chemistry,” and whether that nebulous concept had in bearing on baseball team performance. In this post, I’m going to look at a separate but related issue that’s a hot topic of late: the manager’s effect on the W/L record.
A few studies have examined the effect of the manager on team performance, and the results have been mixed. An analysis by Smart and Wolfe (2003) found that managers accounted for a little more than 1% of the variance in team wins, although their operationalization of “leadership” may have been too narrow. For a really thorough look at the managerial effect, check out Chris Jaffe’s (The Hardball Times) book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008. It’s worth a read, but essentially Jaffe’s analysis breaks-down to this: managers are very hard to evaluate on an isolated basis. Managers cannot be separated from their team environments, and it’s that interaction between person and environment that matters most. Context is key. In Jaffe’s words: “Managers are first and foremost managers of men. Managing the game is only a secondary job function.” He believes that a manager, alone, accounts for maybe a couple of wins a year, although the effect of a manager could be more than that in a given situation – again, it’s all about environment.
Here’s an interesting bit from an SI.com article from Cliff Corcoran. “It’s interesting to note, however, that Cliff’s 2006 study did make one relatively firm conclusion regarding the impact of certain in-game decisions. ‘Only six times in thirty-three years has any manager used sacrifice attempts, stolen base attempts, and intentional walks to increase his team’s win expectation over an entire season. Even the best managers cost their team more than a game per season by employing these tactics. At worst they can cost a team three games per season.’ Over multiple seasons, no manager employed those tactics for a positive effect.” This seems to support the idea that the manager’s most important job is managing the players: the manager’s in-game strategy (the subject of rabid ire by fans on blogs) seems to have little impact on team record. As Cliff notes (pun not intended): “That supports the belief that the best baseball manager is one with a strong roster who is smart enough to let his players play and stay out of the way.” In football, a coach like Chip Kelly is directly involved with every one of his teams offense plays, since he calls each play in real time in reaction to the game context. Even in basketball, Phil Jackson could yell “Scottie” and position players and call plays and defenses during the game. If you’re a baseball manager, when your guy is in the box or on the mound, you’re a spectator just like the rest of us.
I think that’s the key thing to remember: successful managers tend to be those that have good players, and managers with poor records tend to have weak rosters. Let’s be honest – if we could pencil-in the ’27 Yankees starting lineup every night, most of us could probably at least manage them to the playoffs. On the other hand, not even Joe McCarthy (who is, according to Jaffe, the undisputed best manager of all time) could have managed the 2013 Cubs to a winning record. I’m not saying that dropping Sveum was the wrong move – I’m just saying that we can’t blame him for the Cubs poor record this year. It was a bad roster.
I was in an annoying “conversation” earlier in the season with some folks on Twitter who insisted that we could have been a playoff team this season if only Ryno was the manager. Yes, I know, that’s absurd. The reason given was “I’ve never seen the Peoria Chiefs play better than when he was manager.” Um…yeah…I’m just going to leave that out there with no further comment.
So, what should the Cubs be looking for in the next manager? Well, as Bill James said, “the only indispensable quality for a manager to have is the respect of the players.” Since managers tend to have more of an effect by allotting playing time properly, motivating players, creating a positive work environment, and generally staying out of the way, the Cubs should (and I trust will) look for a manager that manages “men” first – and whose philosophy of player development aligns with that of the front office. As we’ve seen, the in-game strategies of any given manager don’t seem to matter that much over the long haul.
So, to address the question, do managers matter? Well, it’s hard to say – it’s a complex issue, and it’s very difficult to tease out exactly what factors are due to one manager vs. another. If the players respect him and feel comfortable playing for him, he’s probably going to be as good as anyone else. In baseball, the general manager is greater than the manager, so I’m going to be much more interested in who’s actually on the field for the Cubs going forward.
We heard from two of the Cubs’ leaders this week in regard to the team’s financial situation….well, it doesn’t sound too rosy. On Sunday, Theo Epstein gave an interview to WSCR in Chicago and, among many other things, gave his thoughts about the team’s ability to spend on free agents:
“We simply don’t have the payroll flexibility that we would need for a quicker talent infusion given some of the limitations and timing of our business plan and the realities of a lot of circumstances surrounding the ball club right now.”
That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Obviously, we don’t know just how much this is a bit of posturing to put pressure on the stakeholders involved in the renovation discussions – or how much is a hedge in case 2014 is as long a season as it appears it will be. Given the popularity of the Cubs – and how valuable the franchise is overall – it may seem obvious that the Cubs could have a top-end payroll if they wanted it.
Well, things may not be so bad. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke to Gordon Wittenmyer on Wednesday, and he said that the long-term rebuilding strategy, not money, is the main reason that the Cubs won’t be going after high-priced free agents this winter. From the Wittenmyer piece:
“I know it’s not a money issue,’’ Ricketts said of the methods the baseball department is using to restock the farm system and overhaul the organization — and the consequent results at the big-league level. “You can’t just throw money at the problem. We have to build the organization from the ground up. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Despite these quotes from the front office (or perhaps because of them) we still don’t really have a clear picture of the team’s finances. For me, it actually doesn’t matter at this point, and here’s why: spending big on free agents this off-season isn’t going to do anything for the long-term development of this team into a consistent winner. First, I don’t see any young, big-time free agents becoming available this off-season that would really be the kind of player that could help turn a franchise around. Second, the timing isn’t right: it would be better to sign a major free agent or two to compliment the young “core” (whatever that winds-up being) so that the team is ready to compete top-to-bottom when they’re ready – we’re not there yet. Third, and this is a secondary concern, I don’t want to block any up-and-coming prospects before they have a chance to show what they can do in the big leagues.
The one free agent I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs pursue (in fact, I would love it) is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is considered by most scouts to be the best Japanese pitching prospect since Yu Darvish, and he has top-of-the-rotation potential (some have said he may have the best splitter on the planet). He’s only 24, so Tanaka would fit the mold of a player who could be in his prime when the Cubs young “core” is ready for the bigs. I’d love to see the Cubs go all in on him (and if they don’t win the bid…please, please don’t let it be the Dodgers!). John Arguello over at Cubs Den seems to think that the Cubs will be in on Tanaka, so we’ll see.
OK, Cubs fans, I have a question for you. All of us that read, and especially post (and especially write articles!), for Cubs blogs are obviously die hard fans who have stuck – and will stick – with this team through the tough times. However, even Job had a limit, so the question is this: when, if ever, will you throw your hands in the air and stop caring about this team? I’m not asking if any of you would ever stop being fans of the Cubs (I doubt any of you would say that), but will there come a time when you’re just going to refuse to put in any emotional investment? I know that I haven’t been watching all the games lately. My classes have started back, so I’m busier than I was most of the summer, but I’ve also grown a little weary. Moreover, I’ll have to admit that even though I root for the Cubs to win every game I watch, I’m actually hoping that they lose when I don’t watch. I want the better draft pick next summer (although I always hope that Castro and Rizzo have good games). So, when will it be for you? Middle of next season? 2015? Will you ever stop checking Cubs blogs or keeping up with the farm system? I’d love to hear what you think.
I’ve been thinking about this issue quite a bit lately. “Chemistry” is a word that one usually hears thrown around by fans of struggling teams. It seems, to me, like a convenient factor to point to when looking for reasons to blame for failures. What do we really know about “chemistry” as it relates to professional baseball?
Here’s a quote from Joe Torre, as quoted by Jim Caple “Winning creates chemistry more than the other way around. I’ve seen clubs that don’t necessarily like each other, but they respected each other once they got on the field, and that’s more important than being happy to go out to dinner with each other.” (Source) Ozzie Guillen (I know, I’m referencing Ozzie) said that chemistry follows winning, and clubhouse strife follows losing, not the other way around.
Caple, in the same article, references the 2002 National League Champion Giants – the team of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent (who were never accused of being great team guys). Caple quotes Jason Schmidt, who played for the Giants that season, and he provided a few gems:
“I’ve been on teams where there was one guy — and it wasn’t Barry — who made everyone miserable. But you’re not thinking about that when you’re on the field. Not at all. It’s a nonissue. I don’t really see how it affects the team’s play. Will you throw 95 instead of 90 because you’re happier in the clubhouse? Will you throw strikes?”
Since I’m writing this article, I guess I’ll give you my personal opinion. Most of us are not professional athletes, but most of us are a professionals of some sort that work as part of a “team” (however you want to define it), and we all know, anecdotally, that one’s work environment can affect your job performance and morale. So, I think there is probably something to “chemistry,” even if it can’t be quantified – but the question is, how much does it actually affect the bottom line of wins and losses? Moreover, is there any evidence, beyond our own personal anecdotes (which can’t be generalized to other situations, especially situations as unique as a pro baseball clubhouse), that “chemistry” makes any real difference in the end?
It seems that whatever bad “mojo” Bonds and Kent brought to the 2002 Giants was far outweighed by their production on the field (Schmidt’s quote indicates that he agrees). So, as much as we romanticize the idea of “chemistry” – and as much as it makes intuitive sense to us – I don’t think the evidence is there for us to focus upon it as the main reason for any team’s struggles or success. If a team were better on the field, they’d probably have better chemistry, and that’s probably the most important interaction between the two concepts.
I think a better approach would be to be more precise in our language. In my day job, I do quantitative and qualitative research, so I’m not just a numbers geek – numbers can tell us what is happening, but not always why. Since we’re dealing with human beings, there really are factors at play that help determine why we’re seeing a particular quantitative result, and it can differ greatly from person to person (morale, motivation, comfort-level, etc.. are all legitimate concerns). Guessing blindly about the interpersonal factors that are affecting a player without evidence seems counterproductive, though.
One of the most important things for digging beneath the surface of numbers to examine qualitative factors is to define terms clearly and precisely. The term “chemistry” is just ill-defined. What does it mean? It’s impossible to determine the effect of something when we don’t have a precise definition of it in the first place. For me, “chemistry” is right up there with TWTW (Hawk Harrelson’s “The Will to Win”), “bellyfire” and “grit.” It’s the old-school “gut feeling” approach to analysis that doesn’t really get us anywhere, but it can make us sound like we vaguely know what we’re talking about. I think we’d be better served to be more precise: what is actually happening, and what are the exact factors that may be contributing to a team’s (or an individual’s) performance? Even if we are just guessing, I think we’ll advance the conversation – and gain more insight – if we stick to precise, knowable concepts. I could go on – and I’ll probably return to this topic in the future – but you don’t want to spend an hour reading this post (thank you if you’ve stuck with me this far).
Aside: Speaking of research, here’s a terrible example. I came across a Psychology Today article attempting to determine the effect of “chemistry” on team performance. One of the factors they examined was how much a good manager could mitigate bad team chemistry. As a measure of manager effectiveness, they defined good managers as those that had won or had been named a finalist for the Manager of the Year award. Well, you can probably see the problem here: MOY winners and finalists are always from good teams! Of course bad chemistry wasn’t hurting those teams. Ugh, bad research, it makes me angry. Anyway, they used the Uptons as a test case (it was written before this season). Following their premise (that the Uptons are bad chemistry guys), chemistry doesn’t matter at all, since the Braves are crushing.
Do we really want to relive this game? The Cubs offense returned to their usual form, with the only runs coming off solo shots from Brian Bogusevic and Donnie “Babe Ruth” Murphy. The game was actually close until the ninth, when the Nationals put up two runs to make the game all but out of reach. Chris Rusin was banged around a lot, although he only gave up two runs in 5.2 innings. On the other side, almost-Cub Dan Haren pitched really well for D.C.. I think we’re going to see a ton of games like this one from here on out. Bring on the race for a better draft pick.
Follow Sean Powell on Twitter @powell_sean
In news that I think is only tangential to the Cubs, yet another Cuban über-prospect, 26-year-old Jose Abreu, has apparently escaped Cuba has plans to defect, and will subsequently break the bank of some MLB team. Check out his stats from the last three years:
2010-2011: .453/.597/.986 (37 HRs in 77 games)
Kids playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard think those numbers are ridiculous. Here’s a link to a Grantland story in which Jonah Keri says he “might be the best hitter in the world.”
He even compares Abreu to, gulp, Miguel Cabrera. Abreu is huge (6’2” 260 lbs.), and is, by all accounts, a 1B/DH-only type (his glove is apparently well below average). That’s the main reason that I don’t see the Cubs going all out for him (and going all out is going to be what it will take to sign him). We have a good, young, 1B signed long-term, and I don’t think a team can afford to have a defensive liability at first base, even if he is a great hitter. If the FO had some insight that the NL was on the verge of adopting the DH, I think we’d have a different story. It would be an exiting move, though, and I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least if the Cubs made a serious run at the guy. Either way, with his numbers, and the recent success of fellow Cubans Puig and Cespedes, Abreu is going to demand HUGE dollars.
We’re in the deep doldrums period with the major league club right now, but there’s actually a few interesting things going on with the organization.
I was about to write a blurb about the rumors of the looming promotion of Kris Bryant. Well, as you’ve probably heard, Bryant was just promoted from Boise to Class High-A Daytona. Several writers had speculated that he would skip Low-A Kane County, and that turned out to be what occurred. Bryant was absolutely destroying the Northwest League, so I really like the move. However, I am concerned about the amount of rain-outs in Daytona. I really hope Bryant can get enough consistent at-bats to keep his rapid development rolling.
In news that has been rumored for a few weeks, the Cubs officially announced the signing of Taiwanese pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng ($1.625 million signing bonus). Tseng, a veteran of the World Baseball Classic, is 6’1”, 200 lbs. and features a 4-pitch mix with a 95-mph fastball. He was ranked 23rd on BAs international prospects list, making Tseng the 4th Cubs signee this year ranked in the top 23.
There’s not much to say here. Mat Latos dominated the Cubs, who were shutout for third straight game at home – the first time that has happened since 1924. Travis Wood pitched well again…but he might as well have given up 100 runs, since he got exactly zero run support. Also, Aroldis Chapman throws baseballs really fast.
STATE OF THE SYSTEM
by Rob Willer
Top Prospect: Albert Almora
Bio: The Cubs number one pick in 2012, outfielder Albert Almora projects to be a Cubs star one day soon. Signed when he was only 18, he’s a couple of years away from full development, but he’s already got most scouts checking up on his progression from high school. Its crazy to think that Almora is only 19 years old but you wouldn’t notice it on the field for how well he shows leadership and poise. Almora was the Cubs’ first round draft pick going sixth overall in the 2012 draft becoming Theo Epstein’s first draft pick.
2012 Season: He’s a good athlete with off the charts instincts and mental makeup. Almora started off his Cubs career at Rookie Ball in 2012 where you guessed hit over .300. Almora hit .321/.331/.464 to be exact over 145 at bats across Rookie Ball and Short Season A Boise while scoring 27 runs. It seems the only thing in his development that hasn’t come is the power in relation to home-runs where he only had two homers on the season. For now we’ll take his production and ability to get on base over the home-runs and tendency to strikeout.
Projection: Almora has good pitch recognition skills, so that should eventually translate into an ability to grind out ABs and take walks. Most scouts have him pegged as hitting .300 as an everyday center-fielder in the major leagues. The projections of home-runs varies but in my mind I would say 15 home-runs would be a solid estimate when he finally gets the call to the big league club sometime in 2016.
2013 Season: Almora has played at Kane County for all of this year after recovering from his injury early on in the season. Through 61 games Almora has 82 hits in 249 at bats which is good for a .329 batting average. Some other key numbers to remember are his 17 doubles, four triples and his .842 OPS. Overall Almora has done everything the Cubs’ have asked since returning from injury. Recently Almora went on the seven day disabled list with a groin injury which is probably the only reason he is still at Kane County. In my mind I believe he gets the call-up to Daytona by the end of the month baring any setbacks from the groin injury.
Sleeper Prospect: Trey Martin
Bio: Trey Martin, 19, signed an over-slot contract in 2011 as a 13th round draft pick out of a Georgia high school. Martin played the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball where he turned in a decent season .243/.289/.357 with only four extra base hits in 76 at bats. After playing the 2011 campaign at Rookie Ball he reported back there to start the 2012 season. Looking at his vast improvement at Rookie Ball in the 2012 season it looks like the Cubs did the right thing by sending him back there to start the season. He finished his Rookie Ball campaign with a line of .448/.515/.690 through seven games going 13 for 29 with six extra base hits. Finally Martin made the move to Boise Idaho to join the Boise Hawks where he would play the rest of the season (57 games) with a line of .270/.318/.377 including 12 extra base hits and six steals in 11 attempts.
2013 Season: Martin batted .200 in 11 games with Class A Kane County this year, but the 13th-round pick in 2011 injured his left shoulder, and needed surgery. He began the year 20th on the top 20 in the MLB.com ratings of the Cubs system. Since Almora is due for a call-up very soon Martin should get the regular at bats in center unless the Cubs move Oliver Zapata there. Martin most definitely will start the season again at Kane County after playing in only 11 games this year. Hopefully his shoulder will heal in time for spring training and he can return to his pre-injury status of projecting to be a very solid major league outfielder with above average defense. Stay Tuned as the Outfield Projections conclude with Left Field tomorrow morning.
Thomas Neal is the newest Cub. Neal is 25 years old, big (6’2’, 225 lbs.), and he throws and bats right-handed. He was recently DFA’d by the Yankees, and was hitting .325/.391/.411 over 297 plate appearances with AAA at Scranton Wilkes-Barre (a nice line, for sure, but he only hit 2 hr – that’s a little worrisome). He was a former top 10 prospect in the Giants system, but he’s had a few injuries. Hopefully, he’s healthy and can assume an upward trajectory. It would be nice if he could be the Cubs 4th outfielder or assume a platoon role in 2014 – although the fact that he’s been let go by three teams (Giants, Indians, Yankees) within the last two years is definitely a red flag. Rafael Dolis (remember him?) was added to the 60-day DL to make room for Neal on the 40-man roster.
I heard an intriguing interview with Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein today on NPR’s Fresh Air. He has a new book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, which sounds so good that I think I’m going to buy it. Anyway, Epstein has dug into the research on genetics as it relates to sports performance. He spends a good deal of the interview discussing how major league hitters are able to recognize a pitch, decide to swing, and finally make contact. A few of the highlights: 1) “reflexes” are largely mythical in this context – in fact, baseball players often don’t score that well on tests of reflexes, 2) visual pitch recognition out of the pitcher’s hand is the real key, 3) baseball players might as well close their eyes once the ball is halfway to the plate, because all of the mental processes and mechanical actions must be in motion by then, 4) the average pro baseball player has 20/12 vision – so, a good way to tell if a kid might be a good hitter one day is to get his/her vision tested (good vision won’t make him/her a good hitter, but poor vision would probably prevent it), 5) talent is being redefined as the genetic predisposition to respond well to training. Overall, it’s a highly interesting interview. Best of all, you can listen free here:
Ugh, I suppose I should comment on the biggest story of the day, the Biogenesis scandal. I’m sure you’ve read about this from the 349382749837 sources covering the story today. The short version: 12 players were suspended 50 games (included the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz, the Padres’ Everth Cabrera, and the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta) and suspending Alex Rodriguez through the end of the 2014 season. Apparently, A-Rod intends to appeal, blah, blah, blah. Does anyone care anymore? Is there anyone who isn’t completely sick of A-Rod’s act? Guys like A-Rod and Lance Armstrong just need to go away. We can debate on the actual effects of steroids on performance (considering the information from the interview above, Lasik surgery might be a more effective way to “cheat”) and the moral/ethical issues. That debate aside, it is against the rules of the sport, so these players knowingly did something they knew was wrong and hoped to get away with it. The great thing for all of us is that no Cubs players were involved (insert joke about how obvious that should have been). Honestly, I see this as a failure of baseball: the sport turned a blind eye to the issue for years, and now this “harsh justice” seems disingenuous. I’m looking forward to the day when the most reported baseball stories are positive – it seems like we’re a long way from that point, though.
STATE OF THE SYSTEM
by Rob Willer
Top Prospect: Dan Vogelbach who was the second round pick by the Cubs in 2011. Vogelbach played in just six games after signing, hitting three doubles and bombing his first professional home run. Played in 24 games with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs, hitting .324/.391/.686 that season. After those 24 games he was promoted to rookie-level Boise and hit at a very similar line .329/.391/.696 in 20 games at that level. Vogelbach has the type of offensive tools in approach, hitting ability and legitimate power but that set of skills has to fully mature for him to be an impact player at an offense-oriented position. For the 2013 season we have seen Vogelbach play at Kane County which is the Cubs Low A Minor League Affiliate. His stats continue to be great as he moves through the system which includes 16 home-runs and 68 runs batted while having a line of .283/.360/.450. Vogelbach seems to only project as a designated hitter/first baseman due to his lack of speed and defense which raises questions since Anthony Rizzo just signed a seven year contract who also plays 1st Base for the Cubs presently. Most scouts say that he has the potential to hit 30 home-runs in a season consistently and also hit for average as well. The problems that arise with Vogelbach are his defense which becomes limited with his lack of range and athleticism due to his size. His speed is below average which is what you would expect but even for first base his speed is way below average. I have personally seen Vogelbach at Kane County this summer and have seen him do wonders with the bat which makes him a very intriguing prospect over the next couple years. Considering that the Cubs are replenishing their system I definitely could see him being a throw in to a deal to acquire a Top Pitcher/ Impact Bat in the near future.
Sleeper: Justin Bour was highly touted in 2012 after completing the year at Double A Tennessee. In 506 at bats he clubbed 17 home-runs and 110 runs batted in while having a slash line of .283/360/455. After Anthony Rizzo got called up last year to the Cubs most people believe Bour would get a chance at Triple A after he proved through out the year he was ready. Bour didn’t get that chance and ended up back at Tennessee this spring where he has struggled hitting for average as his batting average has dropped 53 points since 2012. A positive to take away from this season is his slugging percentage went up 50 points to .493 and he has hit 15 home-runs in 300 less at bats than last year. He is a big first baseman at 6’4″, 250 lbs he finally seems to be harnessing that power that some what alluded him in 2012. If you take a look at Bour’s advanced stats on FanGraphs something that jumped out to me was that he lowered his strikeout rate while increasing his walk rate which is tremendous. Bour’s story relates to Rafael Lopez in yesterday’s post about how they have talent but are still stuck at Double A and they’re not getting any younger. As long as Bour get’s called up Triple A by the end of the summer I see no reason for him not to get called up in the summer time of 2014 barring any injuries