Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

World Series Matchup Carved Out, Ishikawa A Hero & More!

Monday, October 20th, 2014

We’ve nearly reached the end of the line. With the League Championship Series’ behind us and the World Series set to commence, let’s take a look at what happened in the last week to get here.

Friedman Hired By Dodgers

Before we get to the games, there was some action in the management front last week. Aside from the Texas Rangers hiring a new manager (Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Jeff Bannister), the big news was a personnel move by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were eliminated in the NLDS.

Looking for the extra push that was needed to get their team in World Series contention, the Dodgers turned to Tampa Bay Rays General Manager/Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman to be their new President of Baseball Operations.

Friedman, who had been in his position with the Rays for the past 8 years, is one of the best minds in baseball, to say the least. He has consistently been able to keep the Rays in playoff contention year-in and year-out despite a shoestring budget. The situation that he’ll be walking into is almost a polar opposite.

The Dodgers, who sport the highest payroll of any of the four major professional sports teams, offer much more freedom financially, which could be scary given Friedman’s eye for talent. The team’s heavy spending on any and every big name player that hits the market may have come to an end, but I expect their decisions to be much more wise with Friedman at the helm. What do you think of this move? Who do you think the best General Manager in baseball is?

Ishikawa Catapults The Giants To The World Series

You could find an example of it every week, but the phrase “You can’t predict baseball,” has never rang more true for the finale of Game 5 of the NLCS between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

To give a bit of background, Travis Ishikawa, a natural first baseman, was playing left field for the Giants (a position he had never played prior to this year). Earlier in the game, he had misjudged a fly ball in the outfield, which allowed a run to score. Luckily for him, however, he would have a chance to rectify his mistake.

With Michael Wacha on the mound and two men on base, the 31-year old journeyman turned on a 2-0 pitch and drilled it over the wall in right field to send the Giants to their third World Series in 5 years. Fittingly, it was the first home run of his postseason career.

It’s great to see someone like Ishikawa, a player who has been up and down from the minor leagues throughout his career, make a play on a big stage like that. It’s certainly a moment that he, his family or Giants fans will never forget. What are some of your favorite examples of surprising players who make a big impact?

World Series Matchup Set

Coming into this season, the odds on the Giants facing off with the Kansas City Royals in the World Series were 38,000 to 1. Looking back, I wish I had thrown the entirety of my bank account at that one. The series is set, but the favorite is far from clear.

The Giants come into this one riding the high of the previously mentioned Ishikawa walk-off home run to close off the Cardinals. The pitching is certainly there, with Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson manning the rotation. The question is if they’ll have enough hitting, but that problem has not arisen at any point throughout these playoffs.

The Royals, on the other side of things, have all the momentum in the world coming into this matchup. They have not lost a game thus far throughout the postseason and they’ve also done that on the backs of some solid pitching performances, namely a lights out bullpen.

While this doesn’t feature any big name, high spending teams, this has the makings of one of the better World Series’ in recent memory. I wouldn’t bet on either of these teams given that it should be such a toss-up, but if I had to I think that I would lean towards the Royals in 6 or 7 games. Who’s your pick to win the World Series?

This Week’s MVP: Lorenzo Cain (.533/.588/.667, 1 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Wade Davis (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 K)

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GirlieView (10/16/2014)

Thursday, October 16th, 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 Offeason = 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

  • Drinks on me!
  • sweet………..crashed the top 25! Gives me something to aim for next year, the top 10
  • Congrats to Jswan on the season ending leading Lizzie board dude! Congrats to me for being second place ahead of Seymour’s butt, that’s one place you don’t want to be is behind Seymour’s butt.
  • Whew. Glad I’ve got Joe and Eddie between me and Seymour’s butt.
  • I am in a sad, sad state of affairs. I’m afraid to look up.
  • Well, I am glad Jedi slipped in right in front of me, because I would not want a Johnson behind me.
  • 7th not bad for a rook, even more impressive for a Dork
  • All those spreadsheets paid off, and your wife said you were waisting your time. Ha to her.
  • Good choice for the Lizard, even though I did not say it. The fact that it is true is what makes VFTB must read material (sorry saber geeks).
  • Greetings from Iowa. Somebody sold something we don’t really make, so off to this place to figure out how to make said something. I missed the corn, but saw some corn mazes from a few thousand feet. These guys and their corn.
  • Say hello to Kris Bryant.
  • Say hello to Chuck.
  • Don’t say hello to anyone (unless you want to lose an hour listening to a stranger’s life story).
  • Ortiz could be an interesting guy to have in the mix for a LHP reliever spot next season.
  • Interesting how? As a pitcher or does he know a lot of trivia which makes interesting conversation? Is Ortiz someone that Seymour would want to dine with at Subway? Ortiz is one step away from fantasy camp.
  • He is familiar with a few bands from his hometown.
  • Are new acquisitions in the bullpen automatically relegated to carrying the my little pony back pack of snacks, or does MLB time served count? This I find interesting about Ortiz.
  • I think time served counts. I can’t see a veteran carrying the pink back pack into the bullpen. What’s in the back pack could be interesting.
  • This is what I get for posting something and not checking back for a day.
  • I know little of his musical preferences and how they line up with Len Kasper’s.
  • Aw, and I was waiting on Jswan’s discussion on what could possibly be in the bullpen backpack.
  • Seeds, gum, and one of Darwin Barney’s old purses.
  • Who is Darwin Barney? Will he be paying to attend Randy’s camp this January?
  • The Cardinals are cock a roches.
  • I’m guessing we’re all Giants fans today…we should get some shirts made up.
  • I am hoping the Giants every other year thing continues.
  • I am rooting for a Giants vs Royals WS, I really like the way the Royals play the game. The Royals play an exciting brand of baseball, I find Royals baseball very interesting.
  • Good thing there’s football tonight or I’d really have to do something weird like talk to my girlfriend or something.
  • Spin her tall tales of doctors who eat sandwiches and docs who sell Ray Bans.
  • What does Dick Allen, Dom DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson, Darrell Porter, Chris Sabo, Kyle Farnsworth and “Deacon” Danny MacFayden all have in common?
  • They are all has beens?
  • They all had better eyes than Dale Scott?
  • They all once killed a man just to watch him die?
  • The metric for this is the: Big Hits for Non Studs- BHNS- the average BHNS is calculated on a per game basis. The BHNS regular season median for 2014 was 1.8. The Royals are running a 3.2 BHNS in the playoffs. The Cubs had a 0.7 BHNS the first half of 2014 and a 1.4 BHNS the second half of 2014.
  • so what you are saying is that the Royals in the playoffs have nice BHNS
  • So Adam is Done?
  • If you talk to Sox fans he was actually done a few years back.
  • Maybe we’ll get lucky and Edwin Jackson will retire.

Lizard

  • Did you hear Joe got DFA’d? They said they weren’t getting enough production out of him.

Shout Outs

  • It’s the first offseason Lizzie for everyone who got a Lizzie this time. Shout outs to all!!!!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Doc Raker, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Doc!

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

1. Doc Raker
2. Eddie Von White
3. Jerry in Wisconsin
3. jswanson
5. Seymour Butts
6. Noah Eisner
7. Dork
7. Doug S.
8. Jedi
8. SBardo
8. SouthKakalakiCubsFan

Chit Chat

  • What will you do for entertainment once the World Series is over? Football? Hockey? Talk to your girlfriend? ;-)
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The Post-Season Concoction

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

If you were constructing a playoff team what would your recipe look like?  Would you litter the starting lineup with OBP and power?  Would you stock up on a stable full of studs for your rotation?  How about the bullpen, is good enough actually enough? What about fielding and baserunning, are these critical to the post-season equation?  Do managers matter…ever?

As October baseball once again washes over me, and as a fan of a developing Cubs team, I am left wondering what it takes to not only make it to October baseball, but what does a team need to advance through the bonus month?

After watching the Tigers, Dodgers, and Angels get eaten alive in the opening round I began to wonder, what did the Orioles, Royals and Giants have that those teams did not?

My hunch throughout the playoffs was that the Royals success lies somewhere in there fielding and pitching.  Sure enough, a quick look at Fangraphs and you will see that the Orioles and Royals both place in the top third in most defensive categories.  They are not far off that mark where pitching is concerned either.  Meanwhile, the Tigers for instance, have a dominant starting staff and massive offensive numbers, but a bullpen that probably would have trouble getting out of an inning with the Mudhens.  Let’s not even start with their defensive liabilities that litter the diamond.  There weaknesses showed up tenfold the second the competition heated up.

All this being said, what about the Royals, Orioles, Giants and Cardinals?  Surely their weaknesses will haunt them? One thing I found prominent in each teams success is that sixth tool…..luck.  Okay, call it timing, clutch, mojo, whatever floats your boat, it’s all the same.  The Royals are defying the regular season stats and have found some offense in the post-season.  All of the sudden Mike Moustakas. who was sent down for a spell at the start of the season, is Mr. October.  Couple that with the surging Eric Hosmer, who hit well in the regular season but not .400 well, and you have the makings of a magic run.

The playoffs have a way of sorting out those weaknesses and showing them in full light at the most inopportune times.  My bet is the Royals real offense shows up.  My bet is, if they grab this third game from the Orioles, those weaknesses will prevail in the World Series.  Those hitting stats from the regular season are bound turn their ugly head, or at least come down from their otherworldy perch and make winning a much more difficult task.

But I digress, I wanted to know what you thought was the right mix for a post-season birth and then a run.  What makes the Cardinals, the Cardinals? (I can’t wait to see these comments) What makes the Giants appear so beatable in the regular season and then turn them into a juggernaut in the post-season?  Where did the powerhouse Dodgers fall short? What’s your post-season concoction?

During this post-season, when I start to think the Cubs are getting close, I look at these teams and compare.  Depending on the team I compare them too, they can look real far away from the ultimate goal…or really close.

 

 

 

 

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Royals Keep Rolling, Big Name Retires and More!

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Wow! What a week of baseball. For those that say, “baseball is boring” I would instruct you to watch any game from this postseason and see if that argument holds up. We’re in the middle of LCS’s, but let’s take a look at the past week.

Royals Take Commanding Lead

After missing out on the postseason for nearly three consecutive decades, the Kansas City Royals are sure making up for lost time. They won their play-in game against the Oakland Athletics and followed that up with a sweep over the Los Angeles Angels (who were the top American League team this year).

There success has carried on into the ALCS, where they’ve taken a commanding 2-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles. This feat is impressive on it’s own, but what makes it even more surprising is that both games were in Baltimore. They’ll head home on Monday where they hope to finish off the series and be on their way to the World Series.

This team has really come out of nowhere to be a playoff force and their reliance on small-ball is a throwback of sorts. They’re never going to outslug you (aside from Game 2 of the ALCS), but they have an endless amount of speed as a team, their starters are solid and their bullpen has been lights out throughout the entire season (Wade Davis and Greg Holland, especially).

The whole country (aside from Baltimore, San Francisco and St. Louis) appears to be rooting for these underdog Royals. With their scrappy style of play and prior playoff drought, I can definitely see why. I doubted their ability going into the playoffs, but it’s clear that this team has a very good chance of going all the way. Are you rooting for the Royals currently? If not, which team are you supporting (if any)?

Bumgarner Blanks Cards 

If the country wasn’t aware of who Madison Bumgarner was prior to the playoffs, they are now. The 25-year old has been under the radar for a majority of his career, as many haven’t noticed that he took the reigns as the ace of the Giants as opposed to Matt Cain, but this postseason has changed that.

He was shaky as a 23-year old in the 2012 postseason (other than a phenomenal start over the Detroit Tigers in the World Series), but he’s turned that around in a big way this year. After blanking the Pittsburgh Pirates over 9 innings in the one game play-in, Bumgarner stepped up against the red-hot Cardinals and silenced their bats over 7.2 innings, which sent his name into the record books.

With his playoff dominance, Bumgarner has set the record for most consecutive postseason shutout innings on the road with 24, which dates all the way back to the 2010 playoffs. He’s been impressive all season long, but it feels as if he’s pitching his best when it matters most.

We’ve seen many players collapse under the pressure of the postseason, but its clear Bumgarner is not one of those guys. Every time he steps on the mound you know you’re in for a performance and I can’t wait until the next time he’s on the rubber. Has he been the best pitcher from this postseason? Historically, what’s the best pitching performance over the course of a postseason that you can remember?

Beckett, Dempster Call It A Career

The retirements in baseball keep mounting. We knew at the start of the season that this was Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko’s last season, but we’ve had Adam Dunn surprisingly announce that he was finished and just this week we added another two names to that list.

First was Ryan Dempster, who decided to hang up the cleats after sitting out all of this season. He was owed $13.25 million from the Boston Red Sox, but he had nagging health issues that he didn’t want to, or couldn’t, play through. He spent his time as an analyst with MLB Network, so he won’t be far from the game.

Josh Beckett, another former Red Sox player, turned a few heads with his decision to call it quits, too. He had thrown a no-hitter this past season and was still capable of quality starts, but at 34 he had had enough. He retired with 138 wins over 14 years and has 2 championship rings to his name.

With the season a few weeks from coming to a close (I don’t want to think about it, either), we’ll probably see even more retirement announcements. For the sake of entertainment, let’s hope 43-year old Jason Giambi is not one of those names. Are there any other players you could see retiring at the end of this season?

This Week’s MVP: Lorenzo Cain (.750/.800/1.000, 1 RBI, 1 SB)

This Week’s Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 K)

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Cubs Claim LHP, Joseph Ortiz, Off Waivers From Texas

Monday, October 6th, 2014

From the Cubs Media Relations Dept:

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs today claimed left-handed pitcher Joseph Ortiz off waivers from the Texas Rangers.  The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 40 players.

Ortiz, 24, went 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA (21 ER/44.2 IP) in 32 relief appearances for the Rangers in 2013 before being limited to only 15 minor league appearances last season due to a fractured left foot.  The southpaw began the 2014 season on the 60-day disabled list and made two rehab appearances with the organization’s rookie-league club in Arizona in July before completing his campaign with 13 relief outings with Double-A Frisco (0-2, one save, 4.50 ERA).

A native of Venezuela, Ortiz originally signed with Texas as a non-drafted free agent on August 28, 2006.  He is 18-15 with 31 saves and a 2.44 ERA (87 ER/320.2 IP) in 217 relief appearances covering eight minor league seasons.

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Playoffs Are Underway, Coaches Get Axed & More!

Monday, October 6th, 2014

We’re now into October, believe it or not. All of the regular season records can get thrown out the window because postseason baseball is its own animal (Clayton Kershaw can attest to that fact). Let’s see what the last week has brought us!

Playoffs Are Underway

If you would’ve told me at the start of the season that we could be looking at a Kansas City Royals/Baltimore Orioles showdown in the ALCS, I would’ve immediately called you crazy. Sure, the Royals were expected to be improved and the Orioles had playoff aspirations, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming.

In Los Angeles, the Royals took two from the Angels in a pair of thrilling games that both went beyond nine innings. That, coupled with their huge comeback victory over the Athletics, has shown many that they might be the hottest team in baseball at the moment.

Over in Baltimore, the O’s have used huge 8th innings (and some crucial mistakes by Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus) to take a commanding lead in the series. Just a little ways away in Washington, the Nationals have dropped their first two games to the Giants and are on the verge of elimination.

There is one series that did not go 2-0, which is the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals matchup. From the way that those games have been decided, I fully expect that this will go the full 5 games. As we’ve been able to see, I’m pretty terrible at predicting how each series is going to go. If things hold up in the series that are 2-0, I will be 0-3 with my picks; Yikes. How are your predictions going, and what have you thought about the playoffs thus far?

Giants/Nationals Go 18 Innings

As noted in the previous section, the San Francisco Giants managed to steal two games on the road in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. In these two games, however, they’ve managed to play enough innings for three full games.

That’s because on Saturday night, the teams went punch-for-punch in a pitcher’s duel that lasted an astounding 18 innings, and qualified itself as the longest postseason game in MLB history (not a great game to watch for those who complain about the length of games).

It was a 1-1 game all throughout extra innings, until Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who had been 0-6 leading up to his final at-bat, took Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark out of the park for the team’s second run of the game. Hunter Strickland, who was brought in to close out the game in the bottom half of the 18th, certainly made things interesting (needing 29 pitches to end it) but he wound up getting the job done.

I had personally tuned into the game right around the 3rd inning, but eventually ended up leaving my house in the 7th. I came back (assuming the game was over) and started watching football, when, to my surprise, I saw on the bottom ticker that the game was in the 16th inning. I was incredibly pleased with my decision, as every pitch had you on the edge of your seat. Did you watch any of the game?

Teams Make Managerial Decisions

One of the best managers that this generation of baseball fans has seen is now on the open market, as the Minnesota Twins decided to let go of their longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire, who had been with the team for 13 years, is surely at the top of many team’s wish lists.

Along with Gardenhire, Kirk Gibson was let go in Arizona. He got off to a hot start his first year in the desert, leading the team to the playoffs as well as being named Manager of the Year, but things went south pretty quickly. He went 81-81 the next two years and finally bottom out this year at 64-98.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Houston Astros announced their new manager. A.J. Hinch, also a former manager of the Diamondbacks, was signed on to lead the slowly improving team. His stint in Arizona left a lot to be desired, but he should be able to follow the plan that management sets in place for him.

We’ve just begun October, which means there will certainly be more moves to be made in the coaching world. The Atlanta Braves announced that Fredi Gonzalez would be back, so whom do you think will be the next manager to get fired?

This Week’s MVP: A.J. Ellis (.625/.667/1.125, 1 HR, 2 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 1.04 ERA, 6 K)

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GirlieView (10/02/2014)

Thursday, October 2nd, 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

  • A researched, well though out piece he has time for. But answering our burning questions of frivolity has to wait…priorities, man.
  • 16-5 final, I could have won $0.98 on the Edwin Jackson verses Clayton Kershaw sure thing. Does anyone know of any other event that was a more secure sure thing than this game?
  • This is a major let-down. All that anticipation on Joe’s wise answers and this is what we get?
  • Agreed…that was sort of anticlimactic. Life is way to short to maintain a Dorito purist mindset.
  • I always figured Joe for a Mrs. Howell kinda guy – glad I was wrong.
  • Mrs. Howell would be the ticket to owning the Cubs.
  • I bet the Professor could break down Baez approach to the plate and he would be hitting coconuts off the island in no time.
  • Good for Kansas City and their playoff push. It is always good to see young players develop into winners. There is hope for our Cubs!
  • While listening to the Dodger radio broadcast since it features no Len Kasper, Rick Monday and Kevin Kennedy were talking about what an easy out Baez is for a good pitcher. “Sure he has a great swing but he is so aggressive I would imagine he will be an easy out for the better pitchers in the league.” I agree Rick and thanks for not being Len Kasper.
  • On the flip side of that, you’re left with no idea of where Oingo Boingo is playing this weekend.
  • While I’m not necessarily concerned about the current length of games, I think there is some merit in trying to shorten games. Do batters really need to adjust their batting gloves after every pitch? Do pitchers have to take off and readjust their hat between every pitch?
  • My wood bat league hasn’t banned me from horsing around with my cup between pitches. Thankfully.
  • If WGN drops the Cubs their network ratings will drop across the board.
  • Not only WGN but cable and satellite TV will lose money as well. I upgraded my satellite in order to get WGN. Now I don’t care so I will downgrade and save a couple dollars a month. I’ve seen enough Funniest Home Videos reruns for a while.
  • My favorite AFV is the one where the kid was confused and said something funny. Classic.
  • Yeah – or that one where that guy fell down.
  • Or the one where the animal had on clothes.
  • What about the one where the dad gets hit in the balls while not paying attention to his kid…that one hits home for me.
  • The AFV with Matt Murton setting Bryan LaHair’s shoe on fire was hilarious. If you look closely you can see Javier Baez in the background laughing. Baez is negotiating with the Japanese AFV but is losing leverage with every strike out.
  • Did you see the one where Joe saw Matt Murton naked just before the whiffle ball hit him in the go-nads? I laughed and laughed…
  • Why haven’t the playoff odds been updated since July 26th?
  • I’d guess that must have been the last date there was even the slightest bit of hope.
  • I actually Like Len Kasper, but I also once owned a Slipknot CD so I guess that eliminates my opinions from counting.
  • This no-hitter was undoubtedly one of the biggest moments of Zimmermann’s now 5-year career and it goes to show the unbelievable depth that the Nationals have behind Stephen Strasburg in the starting rotation. Do the Nationals have the best rotation out of the playoff teams?
  • Random question: I heard JD say Rizzo was going to do some postseason TV…any idea what station he will be with or will it just be local?
  • I think they meant he’d be on TV for declining autographs, pushing the elderly and disabled into oncoming traffic, and swearing at kids.
  • Cameo with Murton and LaHair actually. The fellas try to get Rizzo’s autograph at the Tokyo baseball expo, but Matt brings an ebi roll instead of a sharpie. Clasic Murton…
  • Getting a straight answer on this blog is harder than getting a quality start from Edwin
  • If you wanted an answer, you should’ve asked it of Joe on his Ask Joe Anything day. Though I would suggest that you call it a random thought – not a random question. And maybe don’t count on an answer then either…
  • There wasn’t a person that was hired after Hendry left who was been willing to commit to a specific accomplishment that is aimed to be achieved in a specific year. It’s always been a generic “we want to get better” kind of thing.
  • Yeah, I think there were some implications that they were looking at a time frame where competing was, at earliest, 2014, and, at latest, 2016, but there was definitely nothing explicit.

Lizard

  • Well these guys will do anything to get a Lizzie.

Shout Outs

  • No one submitted their first 2014 in-season Lizzie this time around so let’s just give a big end-of-season shout out for everyone! Thanks for being here! Please stick around for the off-season, we usually have a lot of laughs (and we need all the help we can get!)

MVL

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

2014 Season Final Standings (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
5. Joe Aiello
6. Doug S.
7. Dork
8. Chuck
9. Mark From Toronto
10. Jedi
10. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. Noah Eisner
10. Sean Powell
14. Dusty Baylor
14. Sherm
16. Buddy
17. cap’n obvious
17. Chet West
19. Bryan
20. Darlin Starlin
21. Brian Rzeppa
21. Kac
21. LVCubFan
21. SouthKakalakiCubsFan
25. Chris Neitzel
25. Josh Cornwall
25. Katie
28. Jim Jones
28. Kizzfastfists
28. Let’s Get in the 21st Century
28. Luke Jett
28. Michael Rice
28. Rob Willer
28. Ryno
28. Timo

Chit Chat

Next time we’ll start fresh with cleared Lizzie standings since we usually have a more concentrated audience during the off-season. Everyone starts off even again. I’ll see you in two weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy the playoffs and may anyone but the Cardinals win it all!

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Revisiting My Terrible 2014 Cubs’ “Award” Winner Predictions

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

My apologies for being gone from posting for about a month. Unfortunately, my oldest son was dealing with a set of not very serious but very annoying and time consuming (from the parental perspective) maladies that resulted in my writing time evaporating. With that taken care of, though, we now return to your regularly scheduled analytics-based programming.

Early in the season, I made a host of predictions regarding which Cubs would win a host of awards. Well, a host of fictional awards. And man, were my predictions terrible. Of my 7 predictions, I was right on only one: Least Valuable Cub. On the “good fictional awards” front, here’s the short version: Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta were really, really good in 2014.

Most Valuable Player
Opening Day Guess: Starlin Castro (SS)
End of Season Winner
: Anthony Rizzo (1B)

This actually wasn’t a horrible guess, as Castro was the Cubs’ second most valuable every day player according to both fWAR and rWAR despite missing the last month of the season due to an ankle injury. And my reasoning was solid. If Castro rebounded following his poor 2013 campaign, Rizzo needed to become an elite hitter to be more valuable than Castro. Of course, Rizzo went ahead and became an elite hitter, posting a 5.3 fWAR, tied with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu for the best in baseball among first basemen.

Cy Young
Opening Day Guess: Jeff Samardzija (SP)
End of Season Winner: Jake Arrieta (SP)

I guessed that Samardzija would not be traded this season, and was clearly wrong on that front, as Samardzija was no longer a Cub by the time Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum got finished with those aliens. Yes, that was a terrible Independence Day joke. Also, like everyone in baseball not affiliated with the Cubs’ organization, I did not see Jake Arrieta’s emergence. On a start for start basis, Arrieta was as good as any pitcher in the National League not named Clayton Kershaw, and was the Cubs’ best pitcher by a country mile. Arrieta very likely would have been the winner here even if Samardzija was not traded.

Rookie of the Year
Opening Day Guess: Mike Olt (3B)
End of Season Winner: Tie between Neil Ramirez (RP) and Kyle Hendricks
(SP)

Olt was awful at the MLB level, striking out in nearly 39% of his plate appearances and batting just .160. At age 26, the odds of him having a meaningful MLB career are slim to none at this point. Ramirez came up and put up a phenomenal year out of the pen, showing both the ability to tally strikeouts and limit walks. Hendricks exceeded expectations after coming up, pitching to a 2.46 ERA over 13 starts and undoubtedly earning a spot on the 2015 Opening Day starting rotation. Jorge Soler earns an honorable mention for his solid debut in right field, but was only up for a month.

First Player Traded
Opening Day Guess: Nate Schierholtz (RF)
Actual: Samardzija and Jason Hammel (SP)

Schierholtz was terrible this season, and the Cubs eventually designated him for assignment and released him. The Cubs’ first trade of the season ended up being their biggest: Starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for their top two prospects, Addison Russell (who is a Top 10 prospect in all of baseball) and Billy McKinney, as well as starting pitcher Dan Straily.

Least Valuable Player
Opening Day Guess: Junior Lake (OF)
End of Season “Winner”: Lake

Hey, one I was right on! FanGraphs had three players as equally terrible for the Cubs at -0.9 fWAR (Ryan Kalish, Schierholtz and John Baker), but Baseball-Reference breaks the tie by having Lake at -1.4 rWAR, besting (or is worsting the right word?) the other Cubs by -0.3 WAR. Lake remains an interesting physical talent with terrible baseball skills. I’d still like to see the Cubs try to convert his cannon of an arm to the mound, where he could be a late innings reliever fairly quickly with any semblance of control.

Player Who Will Look Most Improved Despite Changing Nothing
Opening Day Guess: Edwin Jackson (SP)
End of Season Winner: Luis Valbuena (3B)

Jackson would have been the worst starting pitcher in baseball by ERA had he thrown enough innings to be eligible for the ERA title, but he just missed that one. While I stand by my argument that in 2013 Jackson’s issues were bad luck as much as anything else, in 2014 he was just terrible with his walk rate climbing and his ground ball rate tanking. Valbuena did most of the same things at the plate this season that he did in 2013: walked, hit for a modest amount of pop, struck out around a league average or slightly better amount. Yet his OPS climbed 68 points this season. What was the difference? In 2013, Valbuena’s BABIP was .233; this season, it was .294.

Most Actually Improved Player
Opening Day Guess: Welington Castillo (C)
End of Season Winners: Rizzo and Arrieta

Looking back on this, Castillo may have been my worst prediction at the start of the season. His solid offensive batting average and on base percentage in 2013 were propped up by a .347 BABIP (of all people, I should be looking for a BABIP regression), and the hope that Castillo would improve his pitch framing abilities was solely that, a hope. Reports are that Castillo’s pitch framing remains below average, and his BABIP dropping to .288 was the primary cause of a 60 point drop in his OPS from 2013 to 2014. As discussed above, Rizzo emerged as one of the best hitters in the National League and Arrieta emerged as one of baseball’s best starting pitchers, clearly being the most improved players on the team. According to fWAR, Rizzo was worth 3.6 more wins in 2014 than he was in 2013, and Arrieta was worth 4.8 more wins. In other words, Rizzo and Arrieta were the reason the Cubs won 7 more games this season than they did last season. If you throw Castro in that mix, you could argue that those three players are the reason the Cubs didn’t lose 100 games again.

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Playoffs Set, Jeter Finishes Career & More!

Monday, September 29th, 2014

It feels like just yesterday I was writing this article to recap the first week of the season, but somehow we’ve already reached the end of the regular season road. This week was one of the most action-packed, emotion-filled weeks of the year, so let’s get right to it!

Jeter Calls It A Career

If you’ve been under a rock for this whole year, you may have missed that Derek Jeter decided this season would be his last. After trotting around from stadium to stadium, receiving gifts and showings of respect, Jeter has finally reached the end of the line.

This storybook career had an ending that couldn’t have been better even if you scripted it. In Jeter’s last at bat in New York, the town that he has spent half of his life in, he hit a walk-off single to help the team down the division leading Baltimore Orioles.

If you weren’t a fan of Jeter this week may have been a tough one to handle. Clips of his highlights were being displayed endlessly, drawing responses from both sides of the argument. In my opinion the attention was warranted given his standing in the game and everything that he has done over the course of his career, but I can definitely see how it would get tiring.

With his retirement, the Yankees lose not only their captain, but also a top-50 all-time player and one of the ten best players in their team’s history. The impact that he has left on the Yankees is simply irreplaceable and he’ll be remembered for generations beyond this one. Where do you rank Jeter all-time amongst position players? Shortstops?

Playoff Matchups Are Set

Normally by the last week in the season all of the playoff matchups are set, but that obviously was not the case in this chaotic MLB year. Two of the division winners, the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, didn’t lock up their playoff seed until the last possible day.

Starting in Detroit, the Tigers had stumbled through two games with the Minnesota Twins, which allowed the Kansas City Royals some life. The Tigers desperately needed to come out on top Sunday, and they did on the back of ace David Price (it still feels weird to type that).

Over in Arizona, the Cardinals needed a win against the Diamondbacks in order to kill the Pittsburgh Pirates chances of taking home the division crown. With a 1-0 win, the team captured the top spot in the division for the second year in a row.

With these games coming to their conclusions that they did, it now sets up the Los Angeles Angels to play the winner of the Royals/Oakland Athletics play-in game and the Orioles to play the Tigers. On the National League side, the Nationals will face off with the San Francisco Giants/Pirates winner and the Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the Cardinals.

After seeing how the pieces have fallen and looking at the matchups, I think it will be the Tigers taking on the Angels in the ALCS, with the Nationals taking on the Dodgers in the NLCS. From there, I’ll take the Tigers and Dodgers to square off in the World Series with the Tigers eventually coming out on top. Who are you taking to win the World Series?

Zimmermann No-Hits Marlins

The Washington Nationals, already riding high having clinched the top spot in the National League, have even more reason to be thinking that they can make a deep run in this year’s postseason.

In the team’s final game of the season, Jordan Zimmermann (who has been one of the team’s most consistent pitchers over the last two seasons), tossed his first career no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.

The 104-pitch, 10-strikeout affair was almost tainted with one out to go in the ninth inning. Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich came to the plate and lined a hit into the left-center field gap. It looked like a hit that typically drops for extra bases, but left fielder Steven Souza, a defensive replacement, made a gorgeous diving catch and preserved history.

This no-hitter was undoubtedly one of the biggest moments of Zimmermann’s now 5-year career and it goes to show the unbelievable depth that the Nationals have behind Stephen Strasburg in the starting rotation. Do the Nationals have the best rotation out of the playoff teams?

This Week’s MVP: Andrew McCutchen (.429/.567/.810, 2 HR, 8 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 10 K, No-Hitter)

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