Archive for the ‘General’ Category

GirlieView (07/24/2014)

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2014 Season = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • Homer Simpson is a fictitious character
  • I listened to the Iowa game last night after the cubs blew up. More interesting at this point.
  • the odds of someone like Sale becoming available anytime soon are somewhere between the odds of me winning the lottery and my son becoming the King of England.
  • Well written and very well thought out, Noah. I think the long play is going to work out regardless of the bits.
  • I have done a complete 180 on Valbuena.
  • Great to be in Chicago and walk into a bar with the Cubs game on by default.
  • I really lost interest in the won and loss record and I am focusing on all these fine young prospects for the future.
  • if you are 26 and still in AAA, you are “ready” regardless if you really are ready. It is s**t-or-get-off-the-pot time for you.
  • They asked the same question at the Miss America Pageant this past year. You stole Miss Montana’s answer
  • I want players who are driven to succeed and don’t need me as the manager to act a fool to get them to produce.
  • At this point, the team doesn’t have much to lose, so why not take more chances in an attempt to score.
  • the Cubs winning or losing this season actually has very little bearing on how close they are to being competitive.
  • Marla Collins.
  • Lizzie said busts, plural. I’d go with Marla and Don Zimmer.
  • Going to miss my bestest baseball buddy and most loyal Cubs fan
  • My cousin Don Hausser Jr will be throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs game today, Sunday July 13. He will be in his formal service dress, this is part of the Cubs honoring our military. I was hoping cousin Don would be allowed to pitch instead of Edwin Jackson yesterday but unfortunately Jackson was allowed to pitched and gave up an era busting 9 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. Cousin Don could have done better.
  • See a win today and my glass is half full again.
  • Unless you have a cup column going, now would be the time to add a folder of that name to your desktop.
  • If you look at the totality of the pitching acquisitions (and what they were turned into) the Cubs have made in the Jeo era, we are ecstatic.
  • I don’t know about you, but the next 2 days are pretty lean for me as far as sports go. There’s CFL football and British Open golf. As I said, lean.
  • I think Darwin Barney’s baby cost him his job.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time some guys little head cost him a bunch of cash.
  • I can see the Jesus resemblance for Schlitter, although to me he looks more like someone that was cast off the duck dynasty show on A&E and took up baseball instead. Honorable mention goes to James Russell for sporting the same backwoods look. Hopefully one of them gets traded as I’m never quite sure which one is on the mound until the tv announcer mentions it.
  • A couple weeks ago JD mentioned the herd mentality of major league players in the context of beards and facial hair. They all want to be individuals, he said, but they all want to look alike at the same time. Seemed a bit insightful.
  • I’m still rocking the Mitch Williams
  • As well you should be. Never a finer mullet have I seen.
  • Good news! Ian Stewart is available again!
  • I still think people overrate what Dunn would have done for the 2009 Cubs because he would have had to play RF and his defense would have been historically terrible.
  • Joe saw Murton naked, and we don’t talk about that nearly enough.
  • I simply walked up to him and asked him to remove his clothes. Isn’t that how you guys do it?
  • Very professional. Most of us would have gone with the curtains/drapes bit, I’d expect.
  • A tenth of a percent chances to win it all and cheap prom dresses. You win some, you lose some.
  • Nate “I knew it was going to come around” Scheirholtz was a study in despair yesterday
  • Wood still pitches hard.
  • Good Wood is hard…I believe the old saying goes.
  • Looks like the Darwin Barney era has ended.

Lizard

  • Statistics, in and of themselves, don’t always provide answers. Rather, the statistics tell you where to go start looking for possible solutions and/or useful inferences. The article (and comments by all!) have illustrated this extremely well.

Shout Outs

  • A hearty 2014-Season welcome to Kac, who made his first in-season appearance in the GirlieView this time around. With the Lizard no less! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go jswan!

Top 10 of the 2014 Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Eddie Von White
4. Seymour Butts
5. Joe Aiello
6. Chuck
6. Dork
6. Doug S.
9. Mark From Toronto
10. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. Noah Eisner

Chit Chat

Right now on the 25-man roster, who are your three favorite Cubs? And who are your three least-favorite? We’ll see who among them remain on the team as the weeks march on!

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It’s Just Darwinism…..

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Darwinism -

1:   a theory of the origin and perpetuation of new species of animals and plants that offspring of a given organism vary, that natural selection favors the survival of some of these variations over others, that new species have arisen and may continue to arise by these processes, and that widely divergent groups of plants and animals have arisen from the same ancestors

2:  a theory that inherent dynamic forces allow only the fittest persons or organizations to prosper in a competitive environment or situation

For a minute, let Webster’s second meaning, listed above, soak in….now apply that to the Cubs current state.

Darwin Barney typifies the model and make of that old home grown Cub product to come and go over the past 15 years.  Overall, just above average when at his best and rarely above average for an extended period.  More Specifically, I should say, he represents Cub prospects drafted or traded for between 1998 and 2011, usually never drafted in the top 2 or 3 rounds, or sometimes the side effect of a bigger trade.  I will give you a few names that share these qualities…..

Ryan Theriot

Brendan Harris

Geovany Soto

Sam Fuld

Tyler Colvin

Eric Patterson

Corey Patterson

Brandon Guyer

Tony Campana

DJ Lemahieu

Brett Jackson

Josh Vitters

Micah Hoffpauir

Jason Dubois

 

The above list is made up of just about every position player I can think of,  drafted or traded for since 1998 up through 2011, that at least made it for a small sample size of Major League experience with the Cubs.  The rest of them never saw the field, or at least not for more than a game or two.   You’ll notice, a few of those players were first round picks, but the majority were further down the list.  You may wonder why I make mention of their draft position, well, one of the most astounding qualities of all these drafts was the 1st and 2nd rounders.  They were horrible in most cases.  Many never made it past A ball.

I left pitchers off the list, there was a bit more success there (think towel drills), but not much.  I also left international signings off the list, which were by far the most successful signings of the era in that they alone yielded Starlin Castro, Carlos Zambrano, and a brief but impressive year or so for Carlos Marmol.  Otherwise, as far as players at the prospect level (i.e., Aramis Ramirez and Derek Lee don’t count as they were not prospects at the time of the trade), the above list is what was developed in their system.

Arismendy Alcantara started the Darwinian process over the past week or two when he came up for what was supposed to be a quick stop and turned it into his own little version of Hunger Games.  The infield got crowded and somebody had to go…Darwin Barney proved to be the weakest link.  A .230 Average and a .265 OBP aren’t going to be enough when there is talent starting to ripen at the levels below, which is exactly what is happening.  Over the past few years a guy like Barney may have lasted the year, he still has some decent defense to give (only two years removed from a Gold Glove) but his bat was never that great.

Most of the guys on the list above created some sort of excitement for a bit but never really panned out.  Cue the guy who is going to tell me that Corey Patterson was better then average, okay fine he was,  for about one year at the most.

You never know how everything will pan out. Some of these guys coming won’t adjust to the bigs well, some will have injury troubles, but some will make it.

There isn’t much left from the previous regime.  Granted prospects such as Mendy and Baez are products of that regime, However a bulk of their handling since has been all Thed.  The only players with Major League time as Cubs, prior to Epstein and Co. taking the reigns, currently on the roster are James Russell, Wellington Castillo, and Starlin Castro.  I would not be surprised to see them go prior to this team being competitive again.

Darwin’s theory is very fitting for this organization.  We could also apply a portion of the first meaning, “…that natural selection favors the survival of some of these variations over others, that new species have arisen and may continue to arise by these processes…”, which is exactly what is happening in Wrigleyville.  The old specie of Cub is fading and a stronger specie is rising.

So readers, who will be the next player to fall? Who will be the next to rise?

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Who Is the Real Travis Wood?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Travis Wood was one of the few bright spots for the 2013 Chicago Cubs. Wood was the Cubs’ lone All Star in 2013, when he posted a 3.11 ERA in 200 innings over 32 starts, good for 4.4 rWAR, Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculation. Wood was also the Cubs’ most consistently good pitcher by a significant margin, particularly after the trades of Scot Feldman and Matt Garza. This led to some talking about Wood as a potential rotation cornerstone, maybe a solid 2 behind whomever the Cubs find to be their ace in 2015 or 2016. It was hard to find a Cubs fan who didn’t think Wood was at least a very good 3 in most rotations.

Unfortunately, 2014 has not been as kind to Wood. In 116 innings over 20 starts he pitched to a 5.12 ERA, a below replacement level performance (-0.4 rWAR on the mound). So which is the real Travis Wood? The one who looked like a potential near piece to build a rotation around in 2013, or the one who has provided more value in the batter’s box than on the mound and looks like he perhaps should face competition heading into 2015 to earn a spot in the starting rotation?

The answer is neither. A pitcher’s ERA correlates highly with 6 peripheral statistics: strikeout rate, walk rate, ground ball rate, home runs per fly ball, bating average on balls in play (BABIP), and left on base rate (LOB%). A pitcher with high strikeout, ground ball and left on base rates, along with low walk and HR/FB rates and a low BABIP will have a very, very good ERA. But the ability of these statistics to provide information regarding what to expect from a pitcher going forward varies greatly.

Strikeout. walk, and ground ball rates are the most predictive of these peripherals. Unless a pitcher’s stuff improves or declines, or if a pitcher meaningfully changes the way he pitches (which few do successfully), the variation in these peripherals tends to stay fairly small on a season to season basis. The predictability of HR/FB seems to depend on the pitcher. Some pitchers have an ability to control whether their fly balls leave the park, although a majority do not. BABIP and LOB% tend to not be predictive season to season, although some pitchers do have lower natural BABIPs than others.

The sabermetrics community developed two statistics to use the more predictable peripherals to determine, given an average BABIP and left on base rate and a neural ballpark environment and defense, what a pitcher’s expected ERA is. The first, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) looks at K/9, BB/9, and HR/FB. FanGraphs later developed xFIP, on the basis that most pitchers exert greater control on whether ball are hit on the ground or in the air than they do on whether the balls that are hit in the air clear the outfield fence or not. The question of whether FIP or xFIP is more predictive for any particular pitcher rests on the question of if the pitcher has that ability to induce fly balls that do not become home runs at a reduced rate, or if he is allows balls to fly out of the ballpark with abandon.

In 2013, Wood’s FIP was 3.89, and his xFIP was 4.50. So Wood outperformed his FIP by more than 3/4 of a run, and outperformed his xFIP by over 1.25 runs. As Wood’s BB/9 is a a full walk higher in 2014 than it was in 2013, those numbers have gone up in 2014, but not drastically so: his FIP is 4.29 and his xFIP is 4.69.

So what’s causing the 2 run difference between Wood’s 2013 ERA and his 2014 ERA? BABIP and LOB%. In 2013, Wood posted well batter than average in both of those peripheral statistics, putting up a .248 BABIP (league average hovers around .300) and stranding 77.4% of base runners (league average hovers around 70%, with a few percentage points making a big difference in ERA).

To this point in 2014 Wood has a .315 BABIP and stranded just 66.2% of men who get on base. With 7% more of the runners he faces getting on base, and 11% more of the runners who get on base reaching home plate, Wood’s ERA has ballooned.

It’s not all bad news, though. Wood continues to show an ability, like many left handed pitchers who induce more fly balls than average, to limit the number of home runs he gives up on fly balls, consistently keeping that number between 6.3% and 7.4% (league average is around 10%, with, again, small changes resulting in big ERA differences). This means that Wood’s FIP, which for his career is about 1/3 of a run lower than his xFIP, is a better indication Wood’s true talent.

In other words, Wood’s expected ERA is between the high 3s and low 4s, not the low 3s  ERA he posted in 2013 or the low 5s ERA he currently has.. That turns Wood into a solid, innings eating, 3/4 type in a starting rotation… just like the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed Edwin Jackson prior to 2013. But he’s not a 2, and no one should expect him to be.

So what does this mean for the long term with Wood? Well, if he is willing to sign a long term extension well below market value for a pitcher like him (say $10 million per year in the free agent seasons he would give up), it would like still be worth it for the Cubs to do so. But if he’s looking for a big payday, the Cubs should go year to year with him through arbitration and let him leave via free agency or trade him if they have better options.

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American League Gets Home Field, Home Run Derby Flops & More!

Monday, July 21st, 2014

With the MLB All-Star game taking place this week, there was a bit of a shortage of baseball news. Fortunately for us, there was more than enough storylines to hold us over until real games started back up.

AL Trumps NL Again

The American League continued their recent dominance over the National League in this year’s All-Star game, as they picked up their seventh win in the last ten contests with a 5-3 win.

The NL was done in by a pair of St. Louis Cardinals pitchers, with Adam Wainwright and Pat Neshek combined to allow all 5 runs. It was Wainwright who started the game and he got in trouble quickly. He allowed a leadoff double to Derek Jeter, followed by a triple by Mike Trout and then two batters later, a home run to Miguel Cabrera.

On the other side, the pitching for the AL was stellar (aside from John Lester’s bumpy two-run second inning). Reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer picked up the win, while Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins had a 1-2-3 ninth inning to pick up the save.

After losing 3 games in a row to the NL during the past decade, the American League now has it’s second straight win. Based on this year’s roster and every team’s prospects, however, I doubt that the games will continue to swing towards the American League so consistently. Overall, what were your thoughts on this year’s All-Star game?

Home Run Derby Flops

It used to be one of the most exciting events in sports, but the Home Run Derby has really died down in recent years. This year was no different, and the rain delay to kick things off really did nothing to help the cause.

Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes took home the trophy for the second year in a row, defeating Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier 9-1 in the final round. To get to the finals, he had to run through his American League teammates in the new bracket-style format.

Unfortunately, even this new format didn’t help the Derby from dragging on, much like it has in recent years. The TV ratings seem to support that, as they were there lowest since at least 1997 (ratings aren’t available prior to that) and down 17% from just last year.

It isn’t that baseball is getting less popular (ratings are actually up a decent amount), it’s just that the Home Run Derby lasts too long and really just doesn’t have the excitement that it once did. While I wouldn’t say that the MLB should get rid of the event, something needs to be done to liven things up a bit. Did you enjoy this year’s Home Run Derby? What improvements would you make to it?

Halos Bolster Bullpen

Currently sitting atop the American League Wildcard standings and a game and a half back of the Oakland Athletics in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels made a move to improve one of their most glaring weaknesses.

The team picked up reliever Huston Street from the San Diego Padres, who will replace Joe Smith at the back end of the team’s bullpen. While Smith has certainly been impressive this year, the addition of Street should add even more consistency at the end of games for a team that needed it.

In exchange for Street, the Padres picked up a top 100 prospect in Taylor Lindsey, a flame-throwing reliever in RJ Alvarez, a high-upside shortstop in Jose Rondon and the Angles fourth round pick from last year, Elliot Morris.

Even with the addition of Street, it’s tough to argue that the Angels got the better end of this deal. Prospects often don’t turn out as expected, but the team just sent four solid one’s over and their depleted farm system is now essentially empty. Street will help them in the short-term, and this deal might have even been a necessary evil just considering the make-up of their roster, but the Padres definitely get the W in this one. Do you think the Angels over-payed for Street?

This Week’s MVP: Chris Johnson (.500/.533/.786, 2 HR, 6 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: David Price (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 14 K) 

 

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How the Astros are falling, and the Cubs thriving

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Fast-forward to the 2017 World Series, as Sports Illustrated did. They predicted that the Astros would win the World Series over the Cubs. Now, obviously, a ton has to go right for just one of these teams to be in playoff contention. Each team has picked in the top 5 of the draft the last two years. It looks like 2015 will see those two teams up towards the top of the draft board again, as both teams could finish in last place again. These two teams have been often compared to each other during their respective rebuilds. The rebuild has been acquire minor league talent by drafting high and trading major league players for more minor league talent. For the Cubs that is looking pretty good. For the Astros, it is not working out so much.

Both the Cubs and the Astros ranked in the top 5 of farm systems in baseball at the beginning of the season, according to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. The top prospects on the lists for each team was Javier Baez for the Cubs and Carlos Correa for the Astros, both shortstops. Baez’s stats are known throughout Cub land. Through the first half, Baez has a .240/.305/.449 slash line in AAA Iowa with incredible bat speed and power that has led to 14 home runs so far this year. To go with those solid numbers, Baez also participated in the Future’s Game and got two at bats. One of which, off of Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito, he took a curveball the other way for a home run. Correa, however, hasn’t had the luck that a top prospect usually has. The former number one overall pick was hitting .325/.416/.510 at High A Lancaster in 62 games. Unfortunately, the 19 year fractured his fibula in late June and has been lost for the season. Who knows in Correa will come back the same; regardless, he has lost a year of development.

In the 2013 MLB Draft, the Astros picked number 1 and the Cubs picked number 2. Houston selected a right handed pitcher from Stanford, Mark Appel. To follow, the Cubs selected a third baseman from San Diego University, Kris Bryant. Appel was the sought after top pick. He failed to sign with the Pirates the year before after being drafted 8th overall by Pittsburgh. The right hander had a decent start to his professional career in 2013, compiling a 3.79 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 10 starts that covered 38 innings. 2014 has been a complete disaster for Appel. The 2013 top pick has pitched all year in High A Lancaster. In 38.1 innings, the right hander has been shelled to the tune of a 10.80 ERA, 69 hits, and 49 runs (46 earned). In Appel’s last two starts, he has pitched a combined 6 innings while giving up 20 hits and 14 earned runs. On the other hand, Kris Bryant has flown through the Cubs system up to AAA Iowa. The third baseman has played 128 games and 463 at bats in his professional career and compiled a slash line of .343/.430/.698 to go with 40 homeruns and 113 RBIs. In 2014, Bryant has spent time in AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa while hitting .346/.444/.701 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs. Keith Law of ESPN has ranked Kris Bryant the number 1 overall prospect in all of baseball in his midseason rankings.

Now in the 2014 MLB Draft, the Astros again picked number one overall and the Cubs picked 4th. While the Astros took the top talent available, high school lefty Brady Aiken, fears about his elbow have made negotiations between the two sides very tense. As the deadline for signing draft picks approaches, it is possible that the Astros lose Aiken, and possibly other picks that were signed with the savings they thought they would get by signing Aiken. It could turn into a complete mess with the Astros getting a compensation pick in next year’s draft. As for the Cubs fourth overall pick, Kyle Schwarber has made his way all the way up to High A Daytona in just 28 games. Through those 28 games and one game with Daytona, in which he went 0-2 with two walks, he has hit .400/484/.733 with 8 home runs and 9 doubles.

As the rebuilding efforts continue for both teams, the Cubs seem to have the upper hand. The Astros have been that Cinderella story earlier in the season with George Springer and Jonathan Singleton coming up and getting on Sports Illustrated, but that magic has faded as they have come back down to the second worst team in baseball. As for the Cubs, they would pick 5th in the draft next year. They probably have the top farm system in the game and the talent is close to the big leagues. The Astros on the other hand have talent, but it is in the lower minors. Sports Illustrated was correct with their pick of the Cubs to represent the NL in the 2017 World Series, but the Astros might be a few more years after that.

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Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher.  This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator.  It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything!  I find this grading system much better than using say…stars.  The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses.  The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion.  However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+.  An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!).  I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded.  So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:

NEIL RAMIREZ                   A

Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate.  The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA                  A

Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster.  For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS).  Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.

JAKE ARRIETA                   A

Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.

ANTHONY RIZZO               A-

A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.

JAMES RUSSELL                B+

Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.

STARLIN CASTRO              B

His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+.  I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen.  His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.

WESLEY WRIGHT              B

If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning.  His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.

HECTOR RONDON             B

Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.

LUIS VALBUENA       B

This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad.  Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.

EMILIO BONIFACIO          B (currently on DL)

I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club.  I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract.  His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.

PEDRO STROP           B-

Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion.  Strop is a possible flip candidate.

JUSTIN RUGGIANO & CHRIS COGHLAN            C+

I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty.  I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.

BRIAN SCHLITTER C+

Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%.  He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.

WELLINGTON CASTILLO                   C+

Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch.  Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)

JUSTIN GRIMM                   C

Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again.  Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever.  I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches.  He’s 25, so I still see much upside.

TRAVIS WOOD          C

Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must)  Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)

CARLOS VILLANUEVA     C-

That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.

NATE SCHIERHOLTZ        D+

A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.

JOHN BAKER             D+

With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him.  Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.

JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT               D+

There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now.  Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening.  I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered.  These two are way too young to give up on.

EDWIN JACKSON     D

Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment.  I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million?  From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.

DARWIN BARNEY     D

Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown.  Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug.  Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.

RYAN SWEENEY       F

Why is he on the team? That is all.

DALLAS BEELER, TSUYOSHI WADA, CHRIS RUSIN, & KYLE HENDRICKS        INC.

These players have basically just been added to the class.

BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH)                               INC.

Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.

CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH)                                 A

This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing.  The guy is doing something right.

RICKY RENTERIA              C

Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen.  I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4.  The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs.  Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media.  My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)

Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,

…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)

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What to do with Edwin Jackson?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Heading into the winter of 2012, the Cubs’ biggest free agency target was right handed starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, offering him a 5 year, $75 million deal. Unfortunately for the Cubs and their fans, Sanchez made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Detroit Tigers, the team he was traded to the previous summer, and gave the Tigers the opportunity to match or beat any offer he received from other teams. When the Tigers offered Sanchez a 5 year, $80 million deal, the Cubs moved on to plan B: Edwin Jackson, on a 4 year, $52 million contract.

While no one ever thought Jackson was as good as Sanchez, evidenced by the nearly $30 million difference between their contracts, Jackson had been a solid mid-rotation starter who could eat innings from 2009 to 2012. Yet while Sanchez found the next gear in his career since the start of the 2013 season,  progressing from a solid 2/3 to an ace caliber pitcher in 2013, Jackson took several steps back. While he’s eaten up innings, he’s done it at well below replacement value according the Baseball-Reference’s WAR.

There was an argument last season that it was just bad luck or random variation. His FIP and xFIP have been better than his ERA as a Cub (4.98 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.86 xFIP in 2013; 5.64 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 4.04 xFIP in 2014) and his strikeout and walk rates were close to his more successful stretch from 2009-2012, particularly last season. But we’re nearly 300 innings in, he has not been able to get consistent results (except when they’re consistently bad), and nearly 27% of batted balls against him in 2014 have been line drives (league average is 20%), leading credence to the argument that he’s being squared up by opposing hitters this season.

The real question, with nearly two and a half years and approximately $27 million left on Jackson’s deal and the Cubs likely looking to be more competitive next season, what can the Cubs do with Jackson?

The all the stars aligning answer is some fringe contender thinking they can fix what ails Jackson and offering to take a fair amount of the money off the Cubs hands for some lottery ticket prospect.  But is there a team that desperate, or a general manager that dumb with the Phillies being terrible? Probably not. The best target may actually be the Yankees, who just need arms to throw innings with all the injuries they’ve dealt with, and are always capable of adding payroll, but I’d be surprised if Cashman would take on a struggling 30 year old starter with a contract that long this month.

Should Jackson not be tradeable, as presumed, the Cubs really have no choice but to keep pitching Edwin Jackson for the remainder of 2014 to see if Jackson can turn it around. If he can’t? Can the Cubs really go into 2015 planning on Edwin Jackson throwing 180 innings or more? I don’t think so. It would mean admitting an expensive mistake, but not as expensive as continuing to throw Jackson as is out there every fifth game, particularly considering the Cubs’ ability to find solid mid-rotation arms on short term deals. The next two and a half months, though, are going to be very important for the future of Edwin Jackson’s career, and the construction of the 2015 starting rotation.

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All-Star Teams Are Announced, Another Ace Goes Down & More!

Monday, July 14th, 2014

It’s hard to believe, but the MLB All-Star break is now upon us. So much has happened in the first half of the season, and this week was no different. Let’s get to it!

All-Star Teams Finally Set

After being released towards the beginning of last week, the All-Star rosters are finally set following the All-Star Final Vote and the adjustment of the teams due to injuries and starting pitchers having thrown to close to Tuesday’s game.

Fans in Chicago had to be elated at the results of the Final Vote, as it was a clean sweep for the Windy City with Chris Sale and Anthony Rizzo both earning a spot on the respective teams. Rizzo, especially, has a reason to be proud, as he was the leading vote getter among all of the players eligible.

Much like every year, there were a few players who have a right to be upset about the results of the voting. Los Angeles Angels starter Garrett Richards has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this year but didn’t get the nod, and Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee didn’t make the cut even though he leads all third basemen in hits, and leads National League third basemen in RBI’s.

It’s impossible to create a team like this without leaving out some worthy players, however, so it’s tough to get too upset. With as much talent as there is in baseball, this would be a difficult game to bet on, but if I had to guess I’d say that the National League will wind up taking this one home. Who do you think was the biggest ASG snub? And what are your predictions for the game?

Home Run Derby Contestants Named

One of the best parts of baseball’s All-Star weekend is undoubtedly the Home Run Derby. This year should be no different in terms of excitement, especially considering the heavy hitters that are on both squads.

For the American League, Jose Bautista and reigning champion Yoenis Cespedes should be considered the favorites, but Brian Dozier, Adam Jones and Josh Donaldson certainly won’t be pushovers. With the new bracket-style format, I expect that Cespedes will again make his way to the finals.

Over on the National League side of things, youngsters Giancarlo Stanton and Yasiel Puig headline a team that’s full of pop. They also have a former champion on their side in Justin Morneau, but Todd Frazier and Troy Tulowitzki can’t be forgotten. Ultimately, I think Stanton’s raw power will allow him to advance to take on Cespedes.

If the final ends up being Stanton and Cespedes like I predict, we’re going to be in for quite a show. Stanton has become known for the light tower power that he exhibits, and Cespedes put himself on the scene last year with his performance. When it comes down to it, though, I’m taking Stanton to win it all. Who’s your pick in this year’s Derby? How do you feel about the new bracket format?

Tanaka To Miss Time With Elbow Issues

The dreaded injury bug has taken claim to yet another promising young arm, this time being New York Yankees star Masahiro Tanaka. After leaving against Cleveland this week, the initial reports aren’t that promising, though they could definitely be worse.

It was reported that Tanaka has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. This is the last thing you want to hear about a pitcher, as it’s tears in this ligament that often result in the infamous Tommy John surgery, which can keep players out for over a year.

Fortunately for the Yankees and Tanaka, it doesn’t appear to warrant surgery at this point. They’re going to go with a six-week plan of rest, rehab and platelet-rich-plasma therapy, which is known to drastically improve recovery times in injuries involving tendons.

It’s far too early to make any judgment regarding the injury, but this could doom the Yankees. Their starting pitching took a hit with the loss of CC Sabathia last week, and Tanaka has been infinitely more important to the team thus far. You have to wonder if the years of strain placed on his arm in Japan had anything to do with this injury. If this injury winds up being season-ending, do you think it could affect the contracts of others making the jump from international leagues to the MLB?

This Week’s MVP: Andrew McCutchen (.357/.406/.929, 4 HR, 8 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Hisashi Iwakuma (2-0, 1.15 ERA, 18 K)

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Five Things Cub Fans Should Know For Monday

Monday, July 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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