Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

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)

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

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.

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

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.

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

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!

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

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?

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

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.

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

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) 

 

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

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.

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

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.)

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