Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Building a Bullpen

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In an alternate universe* where I am the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history—take that Theo—I find the building of a bullpen to be the most fascinating of activities.

While starters get the big-money contracts and deadline buzz, bullpens are pieced together with some strange concoction of failed starters, big-stuff young guns and a handful of oft-travelled veterans. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen to (hopefully) preserve the occasional tight win.

I’m a bit of a sucker for good relief pitchers, as evidenced by my unnecessary hogging of holds leaders and surprising save-by-committee-competition winners in my friends-only fantasy league every year. But how exactly does a (real) team catch lightning in a bottle and create a group of pitchers that will eek out late-inning wins rather than give up the traumatic gopher ball in the closing moments?

There are two general trains of thought when it comes to building a pen, at least in my experience: developing or buying. Both strategies are rather self explanatory with developing bullpens focusing on mid-level arms in the draft and buying bullpens getting put together with a flurry of back-page trades or free-agent signings.

While I would love to spend the next three years of my life studying what strategy is better is a stand-alone recipe for success—my day job will come calling eventually—so I’ll tell you what I THINK I know.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the two strategies. Okay fine, maybe this is a copout of a response, “Surely no team builds a bullpen solely one way or the other,” you say. I’ll give you that, but every team has a different identity in how they build their pen, whether their focus is international players or live arms or whatever redeeming quality a front office may want.

The teams with the best bullpens know how to get the most of the guys in their system, while also supplementing them with an assortment of wily vets. The problem with building a bullpen is that, by nature, they are volatile from both performance and longevity standpoint.

Mariano Rivera’s and Lee Smith’s don’t just grow on trees anymore. Injuries, contract demands and lack of sentimentality among players have led to shortened careers or 10-stop careers. For many relievers, this is the life you live. Just ask a guy like Latroy Hawkins.

Only closers get the somewhat royal treatment that starters receive, but even their shimmer as a high-priced cog for teams is fading. My buddy Dave, who I probably reference way too much, always rags on teams who spend big money on closers in free agency. “Teams should instead,” he says, “focus on building up their closer spot from within and spend money elsewhere.” It’s hard to look at the contract doled out to traveling closers in recent years and disagree with his sentiment.

Middle relief is an underappreciated art—that is until something goes wrong. However, I tend to find that the most beloved Cubbies in recent years have been of the mid-inning-eater variety. James Russell and Sean Marshall are two guys that instantly come to mind, as solidly developed guys who have been the glue holding a middling pen from falling completely apart. On the flip side, the Cubs have had their fair share of over-priced closers take a shot at becoming a fix in the role. Unfortunately few, if any, have worked out in the team’s favor in trying times.

The late-night heartburn caused from too many agonizing Carlos Marmol and Hawkins’ blown saves has been relieved a bit after the early-season release of Jose Veras—another example of a FA closer not working out. Sure the Cubs are still losing games at an exorbitant rate, but the losses seem to be piling up more because of a youthful offense in comparison to gauge-your-eyes out collapses.

Chicago’s makeshift bullpen in 2014 has been far from perfect, but their current rank of 17th in ESPN’s relief category is a drastic improvement from their ranks of 29th and dead-last in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Interestingly enough, the Cubs bullpen this year is still seeing time in plenty of pressure situations because of the low ERA numbers on an individual basis from the rotation. Despite an offensive power outage, many of the guys coming in during the middle innings have seen a large number of toss-up scores.

The record might not be any different in 2014, but again, there are many reasons for why this is the case that most educated fans understand. But it is interesting to see the improvement in the pen, despite a lot of question marks surrounding the future of its makeup.

Currently, not a single player in the pen has a set-figure salary following the season. Carlos Villanueva is an unrestricted free agent and a probable goner, while everyone else minus Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter is arb-eligible. There is the hope, as always, that most of these deals will get done sooner rather than later and the Cubs have shown that arbitration needs to be avoided at all cost. Who can blame them, arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).

Wesley Wright and Russell could both be moved by the time this article is posted, which changes the dynamic of the unit a bit for the remainder of the year.

Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will be mainstays in the back half for the time being, as are probable cheap options Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter. Outside of that the Cubs will probable see another offseason of turnover in the middle of the pen. Management will need to decide if they see Chris Rusin and freshly acquired Felix Doubront as back-end starters or middle relievers.

The continued improvement of the young relievers in their system has been one of the least talked about goals for the team. A farm full of big bats will be able to mask many deficiencies with the staff, as well the likelihood of adding a top-flight pitcher by the time Opening Day in 2016 rolls around. However, figuring out the right collection of players in the bullpen, both current and future, will have a lasting impact on how high the arrow can actually go up for the franchise.

 

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This universe actually exists in the program called Out of the Park Baseball and not in Josh’s delusional brain.

So what say you VFTBr’s, what does your bullpen look like in two years?

 

 

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A Belated Cubs’ Hall of Fame Point

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

I am old…okay 45…not that old.  My experience as a Cubs’ fan growing up was much different than many of you. My favorite players were Rick Monday, Rick Reuschel, Bruce Sutter, Bill Buckner and Bobby Murcer. Of course in the ‘80s,  I was a huge fan of Ryno and the ’84 team  However as I aged, and the players were the same age as me…and then even younger than men…it just kind of felt weird.  The last player that I was truly just a “fan” of was Greg Maddux.  Oh I love watching Rizzo, and ‘Mendy might currently be my favorite Cub, but I have viewed players through a different lens for many years.

So Maddux is the last one whose cards I collect, am proud to have his autograph, etc.  Obviously, I was not a happy fan when he went to Atlanta.  Therefore when I wrote my book (not a plug), I knew that the Cubs’ handling of the situation was going to be one of my main “reasons”.  Instead of rehashing what I wrote, I have decided to include an excerpt from the book(not a plug).  This section comes from Reason 91 “The Crimes of Larry Himes”:

Greg Maddux could have stayed with the Cubs; he even wanted to stay with the Cubs! Larry Himes is the man most responsible for the exit of Greg Maddux. The following excerpt (an excerpt within an excerpt!) is from the November 22, 1992 edition of the Rome Daily Times:

            The Chicago Cubs decided Saturday to give up bidding for 1992 CY Young winner Greg Maddux. General manager Larry Himes said that a $27.5 million, five-year offer which Maddux rejected in July still stands-but maybe not for long. Himes said the offer will be withdrawn as soon as he signs someone else.  “I looked at myself bidding against myself and decided to stop.” Himes said.

Himes wasn’t bidding against himself; he was bidding against the Yankees and the Braves.  Himes’ “bidding against myself” statement may have been an attempt to paint Maddux and agent Scott Boras as unreasonable or greedy.  A few facts shred any argument that Himes would make in that regard:

  1. 1.     Maddux was ready to sign a five-year, $25 million extension the previous winter until it was Himes who dragged his feet on the deal and did not return a call to Maddux and Boras.  This event prompted Maddux to go into the 1992 season without a deal in place.
  2. 2.     Maddux eventually signed with the Braves for $28 million over five years…a whopping $500,000 more than the Cubs’ offer. 
  3. 3.     The Yankees were offering Maddux a reported $ 9 million more than the Braves; if Maddux was greedy…he takes the Yankees deal.

Mr. Himes made a horrendous mistake that cost Cubs’ fans the prime years of arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.  I am not sure if Mr. Himes was lacking intelligence, was too arrogant, or let his pride get in the way.  If Himes would have simply beaten the Braves offer by $1-2 million over the course of the deal, Maddux likely remains a Cub.  The Tribune Company had the money; Himes went and spent it on the wonderful Jose Guzman, Randy Myers, and Candy Maldonado combination!

The Chicago Cubs decided that they did not need or want Greg Maddux anymore; and that decision was made by Larry Himes. This idiotic choice earns Larry Himes the distinction of being Reason 91.

Ugh! I get angry just reading that again! The reason I felt it relevant is that during his HOF induction speech on Sunday Maddux stated “I went to Atlanta to start a family and win a World Series…sorry Chicago”. On Monday I heard longtime Chicago scribe, and Maddux confidant Barry Rozner reflect on that comment:

“That was a little revisionist history by Greg, he didn’t want to leave Chicago, he was kicked out of the house”.  Wow…let that sink in.  355 wins, 17 straight 15 wins seasons, the only pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks…and the Cubs kicked him out.

If you have never been to the Hall of Fame, its great of course, but it’s out in the middle of nowhere and there is like one way in…and one way out.  You seemingly drive forever down a never ending road, and then have to back track on the same road to get back to normal civilization.  I had absolutely zero interest in going to Cooperstown this weekend…because to me it wasn’t a celebration…at least not as a Cubs’ fan.  To me, it was a grim reminder of one of the most incompetent decisions my favorite baseball team has ever made.

Wow…that was kind of depressing.

Well…let’s try this…Jake Arrieta is pitching awesome! Rizzo leads the NL in homers! It seems Bryant, Baez, and Russell are doing something remarkable every day! Barney got traded!

Ahhh…that feels better.

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An Ode to Darwin Barney

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

It has become official. Darwin Barney is no longer a Cub. On Monday, the second baseman was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers with a cash consideration for a Player to be Named Later. The Cubs had only a few days left to trade their third longest tenured Cub after designating him for assignment last week. After the trade became official, I figured I would do a tribute to Barney’s time with the Cubs organization. Before this, I’ll make a few notes. I completely agree with and understand the DFA and trade. This isn’t a, “OMG! Epstink is terrible!!” piece, I promise. This is purely a final ode to the Cubs life of Darwin Barney.

In the 2007 draft, the Cubs had the third pick in the fourth round, number 127 overall. The Royals had the pick before the Cubs and they selected Mitch Hodge, who never made it past Low A. With their selection, the Cubs took a shortstop from Oregon State University, fresh off of back to back national titles. On June 7th, Darwin James Kunane Barney was a Cub. He signed on July 9th and was ready to get back on the field.

Barney started his Cubs career in Arizona in the Rookie League. He only played 5 games and was ready for a new challenge. The shortstop hit .444 (8-18) with three doubles to go along with a .545 OBP and a 1.157 OPS. He moved to Low A Peoria to finish his first pro season. In 44 games, Barney hit .273/.313/.392 with nine doubles and 27 runs scored. In the field, he made eight errors in 165 chances at short in those 44 games. Was he ready for High A Daytona after just 49 games in pro ball? Apparently he was, as he was promoted to start the 2008 season. Barney spent all year in Daytona, playing shortstop for 123 games. In his first full pro season, Darwin didn’t blow anyone away with the bat, as he hit .262/.325/.357 with 107 hits, 22 doubles, and 46 runs scored while making 21 errors at short in 565 chances.

Going into the 2009 season, the fast moving Barney found his way onto the AA Tennessee roster. The shortstop played in 74 games with the Smokies, hitting a career high .317 with an OPS of .769. 12 more doubles for the former OSU Beaver and 30 runs scored as Barney was one step closer to the big leagues after being promoted to AAA Iowa mid-season. He spent the rest of 2009 and the majority of 2010 with the I-Cubs. Barney played 177 games during that span with Iowa, compiling 199 hits, 36 doubles, and scoring 97 runs. On August 12th, 2010, the dream was realized.

Barney made his major league debut by being a defensive replacement at second base in San Francisco that night. The next night, he started for the first time, batting seventh and playing second base in St. Louis against the Cardinals. Barney went 0-4, but did not strikeout and did not make an error in the Cubs 6-3 loss. From that point on, Darwin Barney was the second baseman of the Cubs future. In 2011, Barney moved permanently to second base, playing 143 games that year and hitting like a key piece to the Cubs future plans. The second baseman hit .276/.313/.353 in 2011 compiling 146 hits, 23 doubles, scoring 66 runs, and driving in 43, while putting together a 1.7 WAR season. He did make 12 errors in 135 games a second, but it was still an adjusting period. None of us, however, could possibly imagine what he was going to do in 2012.

Darwin Barney cemented himself as one of the best defensive players in baseball in 2012. He played in a career high 156 games, all but one of which was at second. Incredibly, he posted a .997 fielding percentage, while only making two (!!) errors in 731 chances at second base. He was honored at the end of the year with the Gold Glove at second, beating out the Reds’ Brandon Phillips for the honor. Oh, and he didn’t hit terrible in 2012, but nothing compared to his defensive value (you see a theme developing). Barney hit .254/.288/.354 in that season, with 139 hits and 26 doubles, along with a career high seven home runs and compiling a 4.6 WAR season, largely in part to his defense. In 2013, however, the downfall began.

In 144 games in 2013, Barney only hit a measly .208 with a .569 OPS. He did hit seven home runs, matching a career high, but only had a total of 104 hits in those 144 games. The defense was there, again, but a .993 fielding percentage wasn’t good enough to win his second straight Gold Glove. Barney’s WAR fell from 4.6 in 2012 to -0.5 in 2013. His struggles continued, as Barney had a combination of lack of hitting, .230 with a .593 OPS in 72 games, and young prospects coming up to diminish his role on the team. As he left for paternity leave on August 9th, Arismendy Alcantara took his spot on the roster. Barney only played two games after coming back and was DFA’d by the Cubs on July 22nd.

The Darwin Barney era in Chicago will always be remembered, whether it was for his unbelievable plays at second or his inability to get a big hit when the Cubs needed it. I’ll always have a spot for Darwin in my Cubs history books. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but unfortunately a good thing can’t last forever.

Goodbye, Darwin.

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Trades Shake Up Playoff Picture, Hall of Fame Adds Members and More!

Monday, July 28th, 2014

With the All-Star Game now in the rear view mirror, teams are really starting to set their eyes on the beginning of the postseason. The trade deadline is just days away, and we’ve already started to see some jockeying by the league’s top contenders. Let’s get to it!

Multiple Contenders Make Moves

We’re still a few days away from the July 31st trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean that teams are waiting for that day to come around. In fact, there were 5 trades made this week, with each one having the ability to impact the playoff race. 

First, the New York Yankees kicked things off by acquiring Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres after years of trade rumors surrounding the third baseman. He’s off to a great start in the Bronx, collecting a walk-off hit in his first game with the team. For what the Yankees gave up (essentially nothing), this could be a great move. In addition to grabbing Headley, the Yanks picked up left-hander Chris Capuano from the Colorado Rockies; he should be able to adequately fill the void for a lefty in their rotation.

Next up was the Detroit Tigers, who carried on their recent penchant for Texas Rangers relief pitchers by picking up Joakim Soria in return for two prospects. With the struggles that former Ranger Joe Nathan has experienced this year, this was a move that the Tigers had to make. The addition of Soria could be a game-changer for one of baseball’s best teams.

Staying in the Midwest, the Minnesota Twins shipped Kendrys Morales back to the Seattle Mariners after he had spent just 39 games with the team. The Mariners are looking to compete for a playoff birth this year and getting Morales’ bat back certainly won’t hinder them in doing so.

The last move of the week was between the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants. The defending champions looking to be moving more towards a selling phase after this season went far from what they planned. Shipping Jake Peavy off to the Giants for two pitching prospects who now rank #7 and #17 in their prospect rankings was quite a respectable return.

With all of this action going down before the deadline, we could see the 31st being a bit quieter than usual. Are there any other moves out there that you could see happening? Who do you think were the winners from these 5 trades?

Hall of Fame Adds Top Notch Members

In what was hailed as one of the best Hall of Fame classes in recent memory, the 2014 group of individuals finally got their plaques officially into Cooperstown. The six men that entered were truly some of the best that this generation of fans has ever seen.

In what should have been a unanimous selection (thanks for that, Ken Gurnick), Greg Maddux made his way into the Hall of Fame as one of the better right-handed pitchers of all-time. He never had overpowering stuff, but his pinpoint control was the stuff that legends are made of.

Joining him in the class was one of his partners in the dominant Braves rotations, Tom Glavine. Much like Maddux, Glavine never possessed the mid-to-high 90’s fastball that many coaches look for, but it’s safe to say he got the job done. With them was their manager, Bobby Cox, who won an astounding 2,504 games in his career.

Along with Cox were two other managers, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa. Of course, both of their impacts were not just on the coaching side of things, but that’s probably where they’ll both be best remembered. The Yankees and Cardinals won a combined 7 championships under the direction of these two legends.

Last, but not least was “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas. While north-siders may have been a bit jealous of the Chicago White Sox getting to have a player of Thomas’ caliber for so long, I can safely say that everyone who has watched him play respects him. He was one of baseball’s nicest guys by all accounts and the impact he had on games was unforgettable.

When thinking of all of the historic Hall of Fame classes throughout time, where would you rank this legendary 2014 class?

Trades Potentially Upcoming For Big Names

While there were some moves already made to adjust the rest of this MLB season, the names that have been floated around recently may change the landscape of some division races entirely. Rather than being baseless rumors, these actually have some validity to them.

In Philadelphia, first baseman Ryan Howard has fallen a long way since his days of competing for MVP’s year-in and year-out. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they’re still paying him like his, so Ruben Amaro has been aggressively trying to find him a new home. They’re said to be willing to eat a large portion of his contract, which could help in moving him. He’s not the player he once was, but he would be able to bring some pop to any team’s lineup.

Moving along with MVP candidates, the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to clear up the logjam that they currently have in the outfield and it appears that Matt Kemp could be the odd man out. They’ve had talks with multiple teams regarding the former MVP runner-up and while he’s also had a down year, his 30/30 potentially would be gladly welcomed from a team in need of some star power.

The last name that’s reportedly out there is definitely the biggest; Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo, who happens to be the best shortstop in baseball when he’s healthy, is seemingly tired of being in the Mile High City and wants out, presumably to a contender. The package that would have to be put together to acquire a player of his caliber would be astounding, but he’s more than worth it.

Looking ahead a couple of days, do you see any of these three players getting moved? If so, where do you see them going, and which will have the biggest impact on their new team?

This Week’s MVP: Carlos Santana (.444/.531/1.000, 4 HR, 6 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Steve Cishek (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 SV, 7 K)

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How Do Shifts Affect League-Wide BABIP?

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

by John Dewan

I was recently asked the following question [by Rob Neyer]: If infield shifts work so well, why aren’t league-wide BABIPs (Batting Average on Balls in Play) dropping? It’s a great question. Shifts are designed to to take hits away from certain pull-heavy hitters, and with the huge increase that we have seen in the number of shifts used across baseball over the last few years, intuitively we would think that this would affect the league’s batting average. And it does! However, the effect is almost imperceptible because the number of batted balls against a shift is still a small percentage of all batted balls put in play.

First, for reference let’s look at what the league-wide BABIP has been over the last 10 years, as well as the shifts data that we have been collecting at Baseball Info Solutions since 2010:

Season

BABIP

Shifts

2014

.299

13,789*

2013

.297

8,134

2012

.297

4,577

2011

.295

2,357

2010

.297

2,464

2009

.299

-

2008

.300

-

2007

.303

-

2006

.301

-

2005

.295

-

*Projected by year end

Based on research that we have done at BIS, we know that the shift lowers the batting average on grounders and short liners (the ball in play types most affected by the shift) by about 30 points. So far this season, the batting average on grounders and short liners on shifted plays has been .230, and on non-shifted plays it has been .265. That’s a significant difference. However, despite the shift being employed far more often this season than any previous season, it has still only been used about 10% of the time. Therefore, the overall batting average on all grounders and short liners in baseball has been .262, only a 3 point difference from the .265 average on non-shifted plays.

And that’s just grounders and short liners. If you factor in ALL balls in play, that 3 points gets diluted even further, because the infield shift has no effect on balls hit to the outfield. The league-wide BABIP this season is .299, but it would be .300 without the shifting. So, in general the shift is only going to lower the overall BABIP by about 1 or 2 points, and that gets lost in the noise when looking at year-to-year BABIPs.

However, just because it might be difficult to see the impact that shifting has had when looking at year-to-year numbers doesn’t mean that shifting hasn’t had a meaningful effect. So far this season teams have saved 127 runs throughout baseball by shifting. If we assume all those runs would have been earned, that means the league’s overall ERA of 3.80 would actually be 3.85 if teams weren’t shifting. So, the shift does make a difference.

On Tuesday, Tom Verducci published an article for Sports Illustrated supporting the idea that MLB should at least consider making the defensive shift illegal. The thought is that scoring in baseball has declined too much in recent years, so let’s regulate the options available to the defense to keep things more exciting for fans. However, as the data above shows, the shift is just a small part of run prevention. A difference of 1 or 2 points in league-wide batting average is nothing compared to, for example, when the pitcher’s mound was lowered after the 1968 season. While shifting definitely makes a difference, regulating it isn’t going to reverse recent run-scoring trends. In fact, by taking away the shift and limiting the strategies that teams can use to gain an edge, MLB would actually be making the game less exciting.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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A Look at Potential Free Agent Pitching Acquisitions

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Hello Friends. It’s been a minute. I write to you from sunny Denton, Texas, where it is a refreshing 102 degrees.

We all know about the impending rise of the Cubs’ positional super-prospects, with Baez, Bryant, and Soler waiting in AAA and Russell and Almora right behind them in AA. Add in Kyle Schwarber, who looks like a fast riser, Alcantara already playing full-time on the big league club, and Castro and Rizzo playing at an all-star level, and the Cubs offensive future looks bright indeed.

So how about the starting rotation? Although the Cubs do have some interesting pitching prospects, they are either 4/5 types (e.g., Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler) or a few years away from the big leagues (Jen-Ho Tseng, Pierce Johnson, this year’s draftees like Dylan Cease), and there doesn’t seem to be a sure “ace” in the making among the group. Well, I still think the Cubs are well-positioned to build a solid rotation over the next few years. First, they have built the most highly-regarded farm system in baseball by stocking up on elite positional talent, so they have the pieces to trade for pitching when appropriate. Second, they have cleared salary off the MLB squad, so they should have the money available to pursue free agent pitching (they should also have increased revenue from the Wrigley renovations, but that’s another article).

When done in the right way, I think acquiring pitching through free agency and through trades is a lower-risk proposition than spending first-round draft picks on pitching. We’ve seen this philosophy played-out in the Cubs approach to drafting over the last few years. Select a high-ceiling/high-floor positional player with the first round pick, and then attack pitching through volume with the remaining picks. Why do I think this strategy is the right way to go? Simply put, pitchers are a huge risk. Pitchers can break down at any time. Just look at the rash of Tommy John surgeries this year, not to mention the failed signing of first overall pick Brady Aiken, whose MRI results scared the Astros (and he didn’t even have any injury yet!). By choosing safer positional players with early picks (Bryant, Almora, and Schwarber look like really smart picks so far), you reduce the risk of drafting a player who is a higher injury (and thus, bust) risk and you replace that risk with a lower risk: pursuing a pitcher with a track-record of success through trade or free agency. I didn’t really get what this FO was doing when they selected Kris Bryant over Jonathan Gray last year, but that just shows you what I know – he’s now the #1 prospect in all of baseball.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at a few pitchers who will become free agents after this season. Remember, just because a pitcher has done well in the past and is on the market doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to throw the bank at them. You want to pay for what a pitcher will do in the future, not what they’ve done in the past, and it’s a rare event when a big, long-term contract given to an older-than-30 pitcher works out.

John Lester

Career Stats: 3.65 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 120 ERA+, 2.61 SO/BB

2014 States: 2.50 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 157 ERA+, 4.58 SO/BB

Lester is having a fantastic year, and he has a relationship with Theo Epstein from his time with the Red Sox. There seems to be mutual respect there. Lester seems like a no-brainer, but he is 30, and is certain to begin a decline over the next few years. What would be a reasonable contract for him? We offered Shark 5 years and 85 million, and it seems like Lester would command more than that on the open market. Are we going to be competitive enough in the next 2 years or so to make paying him big money in is age 33, 34, and 35 seasons worth it? I guess it depends on how much you think the team will improve with the additions of Baez, Bryant, and Soler next year. Even though these guys are awesome propects, they will be rookies. I wouldn’t hate it if the Cubs signed Lester, I just don’t want to regret years 4, 5, 6 of his contract if we can’t put it together in the first 3.

Max Scherzer

Career Stats: 3.64 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 116 ERA+, 3.36 SO/BB

2014 Stats: 3.37 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 1.21 ERA+, 4.03 SO/BB

Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, has always been solid, but he’s really come on the last two years. He has everything you want in a front-line starter, but he will turn 30 next season. I think I’d like Scherzer over Lester if they could be had for the same contract, but I think Scherzer is going to cost a king’s ransom on the open market. The fact that Scott Boras is his agent doesn’t help.

Justin Masterson

Career Stats: 4.16 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 96 ERA+, 2.03 SO/BB

2014 Stats: 5.51 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 68 ERA+, 1.66 SO/BB

Masterson, an all-star in 2013 (although he had a better year in 2011), is having a down year. However, this may be an opportunity for the Cubs to sign him to a shorter, “prove yourself” deal. If the Cubs could get Masterson on a 2-year deal, I wouldn’t hesitate to strike. If he can revert back to his 2011-2013 self, you have something, either as a piece of a competitive rotation or a trade chip. If not, you’re not saddled with a long-term albatross. I like the potential for a bargain here. Masterson will turn 30 in March.

You can see the theme here: It’s become very difficult to find front-line starters on the free agent market younger than 30. That’s why I was so enthusiastic about trying to sign Tanaka, since he was 25 and only cost money (and those type of pitchers just don’t make it to market these days). Tanaka is another illustration of just how risky signing pitcher to big contracts is – even if he was young and had a track record of durability.

There are a few other names on the market, like James Shields (he’s 32) and Brandon McCarthy (31) that could be interesting targets for shorter deals. It will also be interesting to see if the FO goes for any more of those one-year flip candidates again, since they’ve been so successful with those in the past (Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel, etc…). At some point, though, the team will have to stop flipping and start accumulating long-term pitching assets.

Until next time, have a great weekend.

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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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