Archive for the ‘General’ Category

4 (possibly knee-jerk) reactions to the first week of spring training

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Joe Maddon is going to show us batting orders that we aren’t used to seeing in Chicago.

Some of it looks LaRussa-esque, but it’s been nice to see some willingness to manipulate the traditional batting order. Before the spring training games started, Maddon hinted at the possibility of batting the pitcher 8th in some, if not all, of his lineups. This, of course, isn’t revolutionary ground in the baseball world, but it’s still a pretty scarcely seen approach to the lineup. What’s the advantage to putting the pitcher 8th? It provides an opportunity for a better hitter to finish up the bottom of the order and hopefully get on base before the order starts over. This also provides opportunity for the 3rd hitter in the order – most likely Anthony Rizzo – to hit with more runners on base. Ultimately, the hope is to maximize offensive opportunities later in the game. I’ve always seen it as a better way of looking at the lineup, since it wraps around as you move from inning to inning, rather than just functioning as a static list, or order, that always stays the same.

Speaking of Rizzo, however, Maddon has toyed with the idea of batting him 2nd, which is intriguing. In the lineups in which Rizzo has appeared so far (three), Rizzo has been second in the order twice. It’s likely that this is just an opportunity to see how he responds to batting in that spot, which has often been Starlin Castro’s place in the order, but Rizzo has a higher OBP and he draws a lot more walks than Castro does. For what that’s worth, flipping Castro and Rizzo in the order might be a worthy idea. And, if the pitcher does bat 8th, putting Rizzo 2nd in the order is like treating him as the “3rd hitter” later in the game.

Our starting pitching is going to surprise a lot of people.

I know what you’re thinking: “They signed Jon Lester. Of course.” While that is true, two other starters on the Cubs staff will have as much of an impact, in my opinion. Between Jake Arrieta and a hopeful resurgence of Travis Wood, our 1-2-3 will be nothing to sniff at. Yes, it looks like we’re probably stuck with Edwin Jackson, but the front three in the rotation should more than make up for that. If Arrieta can keep doing what he’s done since coming to Chicago (2.81, 205 Ks vs. 65 BBs, and a WHIP of 1.022), then he’s easily the #2 starter behind Lester. And the argument could be made that he would be the #1 under different circumstances. Wood is a less reliable example, but as has been documented here before, a return to his 2013 form, or at least something pretty close to that means that he could anchor the rotation rather nicely. Lastly, Kyle Hendricks is probably the starting pitcher that I’m most excited to see more of this season. His sample size from 2014 is pretty small, but the numbers are impressive: 2.46, 47 Ks to 15 BBs, and a WHIP at 1.083. These numbers are pretty consistent with how he performed in the minors, so it’s safe to say that he’s likely to pitch similarly in 2015. Leaving Wood out of the equation, Just having a 1-2-3 of Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks is pretty exciting.

Mike Olt!

My favorite cult-hero Cubs player, if for no other reason than the most popular internet meme for him involves my favorite TV show. That aside, his performance in spring training so far has been fun to watch. He offers the intriguing possibility of manning third base until Kris Bryant is called up, and potentially allowing Bryant greater opportunity to try his hand at LF once he is in the majors. Granted, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that he’ll maintain the level of performance where he currently finds himself even as spring training goes on, but something even fairly close to what he’s done in Iowa would be awfully nice. The potential upside for Olt is that he is a solid fill-in at 3B until Bryant comes up and is able to split time at the corner infield spots, and even potentially perform well enough to force his way into the lineup on a regular basis. The power potential is there, but his average and OBP are still pretty paltry. The fear with Olt is that he fits the mold of the perennial AAAA player a little too well (remember Micah Hoffpauir?). Either way, I look forward to seeing my Twitter feed fill up with Olt memes every time he hits a homerun.

This is your yearly reminder that Spring Training standings are mostly meaningless.

If not entirely. I would go so far as to propose the possibility that they not be kept track of at all, but I can’t see that ever happening. It’s too easy, after 6 games or so without a win, to start fretting and wringing one’s hands. We have had a lengthy offseason of hype surrounding this year’s team, and now that they are (finally!) playing some games, it could be unsettling that they haven’t won any of those games yet. There are a few important things to remember when it comes to the final score in these games though:

The pitchers are not being used like they normally would be. Your starter pitches two, maybe three innings and your closer and setup guy often appear in the middle of the game, rather than at the end (so they can face better hitters). Spring training is often a time to allow minor league pitchers to face major league hitters, so you’re rarely seeing the best against the best, so it’s not a true test of how those two teams would fare against each other under typical circumstances.

The lineup doesn’t look like it typically would. At all. Much of the time, your “starters” don’t begin the game, especially at first (Rizzo has only appeared in the starting lineup three times so far), and they usually make only two plate appearances in a game. It isn’t until close to opening day that you see a starting lineup more like what will appear in the regular season, along with seeing those starters remain in the game.

Players are often working on new things. Hitters are working on taking more pitches, adjusting to a swing that’s seen some tweaking in the offseason, and sometimes managing a different spot in the lineup or position defensively. This is the time for them to experiment with those things in a relatively low risk environment (overreacting fans notwithstanding). Pitchers may be working on a new pitch, refining an old one, or learning a new role on the pitching staff.

In all, it’s very hard to judge game outcomes as much of anything at all. So, please, pay no attention to the standings. They really, really don’t matter.

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Midday Musings: What Do You Do With Edwin Jackson

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

We had a scheduled post for today, but unfortunately, life happened and the author had more pressing things to tend to. No worries. Let’s catch up on the spring notes.

Phil Coke Signs a Contract – This one has been around the news for the last few days, but Carrie Muskat (aka Lizzie) announced that the deal is a minor league deal with a Major League paycheck if he makes the team. Coke would receive $2.25 mil and the opportunity to earn up to an additional $900K in incentives. Personally, I was fine with going into opening day with guys like Zac Rosscup and Joe Ortiz competing for that lefty spot in the rotation, but bringing Coke in on a minor league deal with a chance to impress is fine. More competition = more better.

What Do We Do With Edwin Jackson? – He has become the butt of a lot of Cubs fans jokes and the cause for much frustration, but when you look at it overall, he’s really one of the few mistakes this front office has made so far that we can tell. The problem now becomes what do you do with him? Maddon has already come out and said that Kyle Hendricks has the rotation spot and would have to play himself out of it. That leaves Jackson fighting for a 5th spot and not at all being the front runner for that spot. He got his first outing of the spring on Monday and it was less than desirable.

When you look at the play log, as the game wasn’t televised, you see a harmless first inning in which he got Cameron Maybin to strike out swinging, Alexi Amarista to fly out to left, and then Justin Upton to fly out to center. 1-2-3 first innings are good. The second inning was where the problems were. While the inning DID start out with an error by Starlin Castro, that can’t be all to blame for his day. The very next play, Jackson himself made a throwing error. It went down hill from there and when the dust had settled, the Padres had four runs on the board. Typical Jackson bad inning blow up.

So what do you do? Jackson is slated to make $11 mil this year and $11 mil next year. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re going to just eat the salary. You can’t just send him to the minors as he’d have to accept that assignment. At this point, you either have to hope he can figure things out this spring and post enough intrigue to someone like Texas who just lost Yu Darvish to where you can move him for essentially nothing just so you save the salary.

Shawn Camp Retires – He announced his intentions on Monday. At 36, he really did have a decent year for the Cubs in 2012. 2013, not so much.

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Getting to Know Jen-Ho Tseng

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Blame it on a farm system chock full of big name players; blame it on Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres for stealing the spotlight back in 2013. Each could be a viable explanation for Cub fans’ tendency to overlook former Taiwanese pitching prodigy Jen-Ho Tseng. After taking home hardware in his first season in the organization, he is very deserving of your attention.

The young righty made a name for himself at the 18U Championship in 2012, where he tossed aside hitters like only an ace could. As Ben Badler pointed out in a Baseball America article last March, Tseng showed an incredible knack for fanning batters at a very young age. He absolutely dominated that tournament, and would later dispatch a veteran South Korea lineup in the same fashion. His stock was skyrocketing, as not many 18 year-olds have the ability to mow down professionals like Tseng did. Still 18, Tseng pitched in the World Baseball Classic shortly after his other tournament appearances. His stock soon fell off the table like a Jose Fernandez curveball, with every element of his game regressing badly. The mechanics and secondary pitches that made him so dangerous now hampered him. Credit the Cubs for not giving up on him, though. No reports surfaced of injuries to Tseng’s arm or shoulder, and he was, in all likelihood, pressing from having to face the world’s best hitters. As a result of Tseng’s stock drastically falling, his price tag dropped, as well. Even though the team infamously blew past their cap limit in that signing period, Tseng would not have been affordable if he was commanding the type of contract it was previously anticipated he would receive, in the three million dollar range (Jimenez received $2.8 million as the first pick). The road has been something of a roller coaster thus far, yet there are many reasons for optimism in the near future.

It only took one season for Tseng to turn heads, both from the Cubs and from the teams that decided his WBC performance was indicative of how his future would play out. Tseng was vital to the success of the 2014 Midwest League champion Kane County Cougars, and earned the game one victory in the title series against the Lake County Captains. Over the course of the team’s 91 win season, Tseng fanned 85 batters and walked just 15 over 105 innings. His tremendous 2.40 ERA in 2014 was supplemented by a 3.28 FIP, meaning that he was not simply a beneficiary of good defense behind him. The .230 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) that he sported speaks to the lack of solid contact that he allowed. The control and command that put Tseng on the map reemerged in a huge way. The end result of Tseng finding his rhythm again, and leading the Cougars to a title, involved the Cubs naming him their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. His fellow honoree, Minor League Hitter of the Year Kris Bryant, will likely see the Friendly Confines significantly before Tseng does, but both players have lofty expectations going into the 2015 season.

The case could be made that Tseng is the most polished pitcher in the Cubs system, and it could be his age that slows his rise through the minor league ranks. He pitched at extremely high levels at just 18 years old, but the Cubs will undoubtedly stick with their organizational philosophy and let him marinate in the lower levels until they feel he is ready. One of the many things that make Tseng an anomaly from the rest of the promising young arms in the Cubs’ system is that he does not have red flags that point to trouble at higher levels, or in the future in general. His frame is wide and scouts love his durability, contrary to that of C.J. Edwards. His arm mechanics do not scream Tommy John surgery, like some believe Duane Underwood’s do. Still just 20, it is seemingly out of the question that Tseng will make it to the show in 2015. Seeing whether he can replicate his 2014 campaign will be the most important obstacle for him this season, though. It seems fairly unlikely that he will add to his fastball, which tops out at 95 and usually resides in the low 90s. His changeup does not rate as an 80 on the 20-80 scale, but scouts believe it has the potential to be a plus pitch. Tseng’s curveball will be a project going into the 2015 season. He made the transition from throwing a slider to a curve in his first full season, and it is still a work in progress. Additionally, his confidence on the mound is noticeable (like a watered down Javier Baez), and make him even more enjoyable to watch.

Tseng should receive a quick promotion to High A Myrtle Beach this spring, if he does not start there outright. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he finishes the season with a Smokies uniform on, but it might depend on how his curveball continues to develop. Hopefully, he continues to show the ability to adapt quickly, and he moves quickly up the ladder. A bat-heavy system like the Cubs have could use an infusion of someone exactly like Tseng.

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Inside the Box Score – 3/5/15

Friday, March 6th, 2015

BASEBALL IS BACK!!!!!

If you’ve been around this site for awhile, and we’ve been here since 2003, you know that I hate spring training. I hate the hype and I hate the overreaction to spring performances. This year, I’m excited. I was super excited to fire up the MLB.com app and stream the audio from the first spring games of the season. There was not one, but two games yesterday, so let’s pull some nuggets from each.

Cubs 2, Oakland 2

  • Joe Maddon came out the other day and said that as of right now, Kyle Hendricks has a hold on the 4th starter spot behind Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel. Unless he screws it up, that leaves just one spot for a long list of names to compete over. Travis Wood is one of those names and he got the start in this one. I didn’t get a chance to listen to his 2nd inning as closely as the 1st inning, but in that 1st inning he sounded great. It was very uneventful inning. Wood is who I’m rooting for in the 5th starter race, but I fear he will either be traded or converted to a bullpen arm. I’m of the opinion that he was tipping pitches last year and I believe we’ll see a major change this year. Today was, hopefully, the first step.
  • This was the game that had the bulk of the potential starters in the lineup, but offense was hard to come by. The lone offense came from a two run shot to left by Mike Olt off Barry Zito. Take that for what it is. One one had it is nice to see Olt go deep, but it was off Zito.
  • Javier Baez got two at bats and didn’t strike out. That’s it, Manny Ramirez must have fixed him.

Cubs 6, San Francisco 8

  • Jacob Turner got a start in this one. Like Wood, he’s battling for a spot on this team and I don’t see him as one of the favorites. He pitched two scoreless today in his outing, so that’s a good start.
  • Kyle Schwarber, who was celebrating a birthday today, hit a grand slam to right in his first ML spring training at bat. If you go to the linked box score, there is video of it. I’m getting more and more excited about him as he continues to hit. This lineup, if these bats continue to develop, is going to be loaded with power. Billy McKinney, another top prospect, hit a solo shot in the 8th.
  • Corey Black took down Hunter Pence with a pitch that broke his arm. Pence is expected out 6-8 weeks so adjust your fantasy outfield rankings.
  • Umpire, Dale Scott, was injured behind the plate so Jim Joyce took over ball / strike calls from behind the mound.

NEWS & NOTES

The Cubs signed veteran reliever, Phil Coke to a minor league deal and some think he has a really good shot at making the team out of spring training.

Carrie Muskat reports on some housekeeping transactions:

The Cubs have agreed to contracts with all 20 players on the 40-man roster with zero to three years of Major League service.

The list includes pitchers Dallas Beeler, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Blake Parker, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Brian Schlitter, Drake Britton, Eric Jokisch, Joe Ortiz and Zac Rosscup.

Also agreeing to contracts were catcher Rafael Lopez, infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella, Mike Olt, and Christian Villanueva, and outfielders Junior Lake and Matt Szczur.

 

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GirlieView (03/05/2015)

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

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 2014-2015 Offseason = 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

  • Maybe I just have a thing for good Wood
  • And in summation, Wood pitches hard.
  • I think we all have an appreciation for good Wood.
  • I think Joe uses the words, wood, hand, wrap, and off way to frequently in this article.
  • that would change my opinion and I’d think the Cubs should hold on to Wood for this season.
  • Is that last sentence a d*ck joke?
  • Joe- try not to hand this bunch easy genitalia jokes. It makes it difficult to digest my meatball sub with marinara and ranch dressing.
  • I like Travis Wood because he hits better than Darwin Barney.
  • Statistical analysis and “traditional baseball knowledge” can (and need to!) interact to enhance each other.
  • Kac, do you use a spreadsheet for stuff like this?
  • Only when needed. I’ll leave that to Dork.
  • Why I want the Cubs to keep Travis Wood: because Edwin Jackson is still on the roster.
  • To show my appreciation, I am going to finally buy that prom dress from the sponsor site.
  • I expect the Cubs to be significantly improved in 2015, with a prediction of an 82 win season.
  • But I have seen a lot of Cubs fans (significantly less so at this site than others) with playoff dreams in their comments
  • Success should be gauged on development of the kids, not a post season berth (or lack thereof).
  • I liken the current rooftop situation to eating at hooters, you do it once to say you did it, after that you realize there are better options.
  • Wait… there are better options than Hooters?
  • The rooftops are interesting to look at and give Wrigley special character, but I wouldn’t want to watch a game from there.
  • the fact that we long for the days in which we could “converse with Dwight Smith and Chico Walker” is perhaps the best indication of how far baseball has fallen.
  • There wasn’t even a Subway in Mesa back then…Seymour had to pack homemade sandwiches to the players in an Igloo cooler.
  • I definitely agree when it comes to the rooftops. I think they lost their true character probably a couple decades ago. No sense in preserving that aspect of Wrigley anymore.
  • Prediction: Edwin Jackson gets invited to Randy’s camp next year as a former Cub. No prediction on what Jackson orders at Subway with Seymour.
  • EJ is definitely going with the meatball.
  • I predict a few EJ meatballs end up on Waveland this year.
  • We could create a MBOW% stat, which would basically be the percentage of meatballs hit onto Waveland. I just don’t think it will stick with the advanced stat crowd.
  • Probably what befell Hoffapauir in the late 00s.
  • Did you know Micah Hoffapauir, Bryan LaHair and Jason Dubois have never been seen together in the same room.
  • But Matt Murton has…
  • And I’ve seen it.
  • Ouch. You like the Cubs and the LIONS? And I thought I enjoyed pain.
  • Chet also enjoys in-grown toenails, root canals, being waterboarded, and getting hit in the balls.
  • it seems strange that a statistic that is so clearly the product of factors beyond the pitcher’s control is still not only attached to that pitcher individually, but also still generally used to gauge the pitcher’s effectiveness.
  • You are preaching to the believers. Jswan has been a big believer in FIP ever since he figured out the vagaries of BABIP.
  • to give $20 million dollar pitchers the idea that all they have to do is pitch 6 innings and give up a run every other inning to be quality is askew with my expectations of said $20M pitcher.
  • I can agree on the lack of utility of W-L. However, I’m a big fan of the Whip.
  • Funny. Just this morning I was wondering if the Smokies were going to hand out Pat Summitt bobbleheads this season.
  • I am selling mine on eBay but you can have it for free, all you pay is $39.95 for shipping and handling.
  • As a fielding bible literalist, I find this biblical talk of hitting and pitching horribly offensive.
  • Which book is best for middle infielders? The book of John or the book of Matthew?
  • Thy Book of Mullet. c. 2008
  • If you’ve been to Safeco to see Felix pitch, it’s fun. There’s a section way down the third base line called The King’s Court. You get a game ticket, T-shirt and K card for around 30 bucks. Every time there’s 2 strikes on the opposing teams batter these guys are waving their K cards like crazy, then celebrate if he gets the K.
  • there’s a good opportunity for the Cubs when Edwin Jackson pitches. The last row of the bleachers could be sold for $400, but the ticket comes complete with a set of protective catcher’s gear, and a crappy nitrite filled hero sangwich from a national chain. Every time the opponents power hitters come to the plate, the whole row can don their gear, fearfully shake in unison, and then celebrate with a bite of sandwich and a swig of G. Heilemans Old Style if they don’t get domed by the home run. The proceeds can go to Kids Care. Fencl Tufo Chevrolet and Torco can sponsor…they can have their logos on the catcher’s gear. The Ogden’s will line up to participate.
  • Obviously. You should think about changing your name.
  • Not to say fantasy leagues aren’t fun, Lord knows Seymour has spent many a dollar bill in a league he can only fantasize about.
  • Dez Bryant has a better chance of playing CF for the Cubs than Kris Bryant does.
  • Who gives a damn about Troy Glaus
  • watch your mouth
  • Where did CJ Edwards fall? … He fell between the bars of a storm grate when he tried to walk over it.

Lizard

  • Baseball on my phone live right now. Man it’s been way too long.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to Jared Wyllys, Kac, and Troy’s Mom for their first 2014-2015 off-season Lizzies!!!! Thanks for being here!

MVL

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

Top 10 of the 2014-2015 Offseason (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Eddie Von White
2. jswanson
3. Doc Raker
4. Seymour Butts
5. Doug S.
6. Noah Eisner
7. Dork
7. Jedi
9. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. cap’n realist

Chit Chat

  • Today, yes T-O-D-A-Y at 2:05 p.m. Central Standard Time, the Cubs will be playing their first Spring Training game. It’s a split squad, half visiting San Francisco’s facility and the other half hosting Oakland. Audio broadcast of the latter will be available via MLB.com. The first free audio broadcast of a spring training game will be Saturday, Mar 7 visiting the Colorado team, at 2:10pm local time on Chicago’s WBBM AM 780. The first WGN-televised game will be Sunday, March 15 at 3:05pm CDT, vs. Cincinnati. Enjoy!

 

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The End of the Cubs “Maddon-ing” Lack of Managerial Instability?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

I love HBO.  I consider it to be the finest network in the history of the universe; The Sopranos, Deadwood, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, True Detective and on and on and on.Another of my HBO favorites is Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. While Bryant may not be everyone’s cup of tea (unless you like your tea with a dash of arrogance), I think the show’s segments are exceptionally captivating more times than not.  In April of 2012 one of the pieces was a feature on then Tampa Bay Rays’ skipper Joe Maddon.  The segment centered on Joe’s unique leadership style; using humor and fun, while still getting grown men to play hard for him.  The section of the show also focused on Maddon’s ability to prod his teams to overachieve.  I had already formed a positive opinion of Maddon as a manager prior to this viewing, but the Real Sports episode cemented Joe as one of the guys in the game I really admired.  Never (I can’t emphasize that “never” enough) in my wildest, wildest Cubbie dreams did I ever think Joe Maddon would be managing the Cubs.

It is for this reason, that I have constantly caught myself saying “I can’t believe the Cubs got Joe Maddon” at random times since last fall.  The idea is still too surreal for me. The Cubs have gotten their man before (i.e. Baker, Piniella), but this time they landed the guy many consider to be the man.  Skeptics will say that Joe will ultimately fail like Dusty and Lou before him, and that certainly would seem to fit with our beloved team’s history.  Nevertheless, irrespective of the wins and losses, I am excited about a different aspect I believe Maddon will give the Cubs: stability.

In my critically acclaimed (and soon to be updated) book Beyond Bartman, Curses &Goats: 105 Reasons Why It’s Been 105 Years, Reason 94 is the Cubs’ total instability at the managerial position.  Of all National League franchises, would you care to guess which team historically has had the most managerial changes?

I bet you answered correctly.

In the chart below, this fact will be illustrated with clear data.  I researched every National League franchise and came up with their AMT (Average Manager Tenure).  The AMT is not really a complex formula; I divided a team’s total number of managers by the number of years they have been in existence since 1908. (1908 is year one in regards to data collection in my book for reasons obvious to a Cubs’ fan.)  The only caveat is I only included men who managed at least 25 for their respective club, so interim managers were included…but their 25 game stints seemed like a less “interim” starting point for me.  Below are the 16 current National League franchises, complete with their AMTs, and World Series appearances and titles.

Numbers can be confusing, a little scary, and one can manipulate them in many instances. However, if this chart makes sense to you, there are two overwhelming conclusions that can be drawn.

  1. The Cubs have the worst AMT amongst all National League franchises since 1908.  The Marlins, a team with two World Series titles (you know, in case you forgot about that one in 2003), is the only team that is close.  For the last 106 years the Cubs have changed their field manager (on average) every two seasons.  Think about that for a minute…starting all over again…every two years!
  2. The teams that have represented the National League in the World Series over fifty percent of the time since 1908 have AMTs of 3.9, 4.9 and 5.7 respectfully.  The Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers have AMTs that double and almost triple (in the Dodgers’ case) the Cubs.  There may be a bit of a chicken/egg conundrum here…good players on good teams equals a long and successful managerial career.  Yet a number as low as the Cubs’ 2.0, indicates a history of impatience and poor decisions.

This brings me back to my school-girl like giddiness over the hiring of Joe Maddon.  For a fan that has seen the likes of Herman Franks, Preston Gomez, Lee Elia, Jim Essian, Tom Treblehorn, Mike Quade and the aforementioned Baker and Piniella, this just feels different to me.  I see Maddon managing the Cubs for at least five seasons, which would be double their current AMT!  Call it a hunch, blind-faith, or whatever you would like, but that segment I watched about a manager I never dreamed would be a Cub one day stuck with me.

Recently I read some spring training quotes from Maddon talking about his affinity for The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm (ahem…HBO).  Joe even mentioned one of his prize possessions is a signed 8X10 of Larry David, the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I wonder what Larry thinks about the Cubs’ new manager?

…he’s pretty, pretty good!

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3 Cubs Prospects to Keep Your Eye On in 2015

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

By now, every serious Cubs fan is fully aware of the grand praise that our farm system has been receiving, particularly as system rankings and individual prospect rankings have been released over the last several weeks. In each, the Cubs and their players have been seen all over the top of those rankings. While it is certainly easy to get the most excited about Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and maybe even Javier Baez, we can’t miss some of the players who are a little farther away from making it to the majors. Here are three in particular that I think deserve our attention this season:

Albert Almora

Remember him? The 6th overall pick in the 2012 draft? You know, the guy who went from high school baseball to absolutely tearing up rookie ball before forcing a promotion to low A Boise all in the same season? Most guys are 20 or 21 in low A, but the brand new high school graduate was still able to hit .292 with 7 doubles and just 5 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances in his inaugural season in the minors. I had the opportunity to watch him in person several times the following season in Kane County, and he provides ample reason for excitement. There’s potential for a guy who can excel in hitting XBH (he had 17 doubles and 4 triples in 82 hits in 2013), and he has shown so far that he can keep his strikeouts down. As I outlined in a previous post here, the Cubs are a team that is probably going to strike out a lot in the coming years. So, while I would like it if he walked more, I’m happy with a guy who can keep his strikeouts down.

So why has he fallen off of the radar? I think it’s almost entirely because he had a less than impressive 2014, at least by his own standards. More specifically, he struggled when he made the move to AA Tennessee. His batting average and OBP were lower than where he usually performs, but he continued to produce XBH at his usual rate and he was able to hit for power. His struggles after making the jump to AA last year may have been because of lingering injury issues (he missed large portions of 2013 due to various injuries), but they may also have been because he was playing at a level probably significantly above where he would usually be. I tend to pay close attention to the age of a player versus the average age of those around him while a guy is in the minors, and during his short stint in Tennessee last year, Almora was 4.5 years younger than the average. That may not be a significant spread when you’re in the majors, but it is for a guy who had just turned 20 as the season was starting.

So when he 2015 season begins, I think he’s an important player to keep an eye on, because if you remove his 36 games in AA last year, his minor leagues are genuinely impressive. Even with them included, he’s still at .294/.322/.424 in just over 200 games. His injury history is concerning, but I’d like to see him start in AA this year, and strive for a full season at that level. I don’t think there’s any reason that the organization needs to rush Almora, even though CF is a bit of a hole that I’d love to see him fill one day.

Mark Zagunis

Of course Kyle Schwarber is the catching prospect that has everyone’s attention these days, but I suspect that Zagunis is the one who stands a more likely chance to stick at catcher defensively, even though his time in the Cubs’ farm system so far has shown a pretty even split between C and OF. All signs seem to point to Schwarber moving to the outfield before he reaches the majors, and catcher is a position organizationally that looks a bit thin otherwise. So, considering what he can offer defensively, I think Zagunis is worth paying closer attention to this year. His minor league experience is very limited so far, but his performance across three levels just last season is noteworthy. The Cubs picked him out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the third round last year, and after a very brief (2 games) stint in rookie ball, he spend the bulk of 2014 in Boise. What stands out to me the most is the way he gets on base. He hits well, and hits for extra bases consistently, but he draws a lot of walks. Again, this will be important on a team that is probably going to strike out at a high rate for years to come.

I think he’s been overshadowed so far because his trajectory last season followed Schwarber’s pretty closely, so they were often playing at the same level at the same time, and while Schwarber is a first rounder out of a D1 school, Zagunis is a third rounder from a school most of us have never heard of. Schwarber will probably move through the ranks more quickly than Zagunis, which is fine, because I think it will provide him with the opportunity to play catcher with greater frequency.

For that reason, I’d like to see him start 2015 in South Bend. Though he spent part of last season at that level in Kane County, I think 4-6 weeks (or even more) at the beginning of this season in A ball will be a good thing. I’m guessing Schwarber will start 2015 at high A in Myrtle Beach, if not all the way to AA. That gives Zagunis the opportunity to continue to play catcher more regularly at both A and high A when he eventually moves up. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to see Zagunis cross three levels of the minor league system in 2015, but even if he doesn’t, I think he’s definitely a player to keep your eye on this year.

C.J. Edwards

He’s increasingly popping up on the radar (Baseball America and MLB.com both have him in the top 100 prospects for 2015, and Baseball Prospectus had him in their top 100 in 2014), and I suspect that 2015 will be the year that he really breaks out. He projects to be a very reliable middle of the rotation starter, but one of the things that I find most intriguing about him is the number of strikeouts he elicits from the hitters he faces. At every level he’s seen so far, he’s averaged at least a strikeout per inning pitched, if not more. Along with that, he does an excellent job of keeping men off of the basepaths, with a WHIP that sits right around 1.00 at every level. In fact, his average across 3 seasons (237 innings) is .0975. I’m a big fan of pitchers who can strike people out and keep them off of the basepaths. That, combined with the fact that he is quite stingy with the HRs he allows (a whopping 2 during his time in the minors so far), leads me to think he’s worth more careful consideration this season.

Because he missed such a large portion of last season with a shoulder injury, I think he absolutely needs to start 2015 in Tennessee. He logged just 48 innings in AA last year because of the injury, so I’d like to see him start there to begin the season, but provided he can stay healthy of course, I think he can make his way to Iowa by the end of the season, and then eventually onto the 40 man roster by the start of 2016. In a farm system that is bursting with offensive strength, Edwards is a guy who has consistently put up good numbers so far, and I suspect he can do the same when he eventually pitches at Wrigley. But that probably doesn’t happen until next year.

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Prospect Watch: Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

As the unanimous, at least as far as I’ve seen, opinion that the Cubs have the best farm system in baseball indicates, the Cubs have a number of talents in their minor league system who project as quality Major Leaguers. Two of these players with elite prospect status are likely to get the opportunity to make big impacts in the Majors early in 2015: Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.

Kris Bryant (3B, 23 years old)

2014 Stats:
Tennessee (Double A): 297 PAs, .355/.458/.702, 22 HRs, 26% K rate, 14% BB rate, .347 ISO, .440 BABIP, 220 wRC+, 8 SB, 2 CS
Iowa (Triple A): 297 PAs, .295/.418/.619, 21 HRs, 29% K rate, 14% BB rate, .324 ISO, .367 BABIP, 164 wRC+, 7 SBs, 2 CS

Analysis:

Along with Twins CF Byron Buxton, Bryant has been one of two players mentioned in the top prospect slot in top 100 lists this winter. Bryant has an elite power bat, with at least 70 power on the scouting scale, and a strong ability to get on base.

Bryant’s only offensive concern is a high strikeout rate, but Bryant does not show the concerns that Javier Baez does. Baez incurs a high strikeout rate because of a poor approach and an inability to read breaking balls early enough. Bryant has a typical high power/high walks/high strikeouts approach. He’s going to look for a pitch he can crush, will take pitches until he gets one, and won’t cheat to contact much with two strikes. It’s a Giancarlo Stanton like approach, and Bryant has similar offensive gifts as the Marlins’ slugger.

There are also defensive questions about Bryant, although most scouts I’ve seen have said he should be able to at least be acceptable, if not average, at the hot corner for now. The bigger concern is if, at his size (he’s listed at 6’5”, 215 pounds), his body can hold up to the demands of the position long term. While he’s likely to at least start his career at 3B, he could be moving to an outfield corner based on the success of players like Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Addison Russell, and in any case will likely be headed to the outfield meaningfully before his 30th birthday.

A comp I’ve heard frequently for Bryant is Troy Glaus. And before you say “ugh, Troy Glaus?!”, just go ahead and look at Glaus’s early career numbers before the injuries started piling up. If Bryant can avoid injuries and maintain that type of offensive production throughout the next seven season, Cubs fans will be very, very happy.

Bryant will almost certainly start the season in Iowa under some pretense to gain an extra year of service time before he hits free agency. He will be up once that extra year accrues, which should happen on April 15. So it might be a very happy tax day for Cubs fans.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Iowa.

MLB Debut: Mid-April to early May 2015.

Jorge Soler (RF, 23 years old)

2014 Stats:
Tennessee: 79 PAs, .415/.494/.862, 6 HRs, 19% K rate, 15% BB rate, .447 ISO, .457 BABIP, 265 wRC+, 0 SBs, 0 CS
Iowa: 127 PAs, .282/.378/.618, 8 HRs, 20% K rate, 13% BB rate, .336 ISO, .303 BABIP, 149 wRC+, 0 SBs, 1 CS
MLB: 97 PAs, .262/.318/.470, 5 HRs, 25% K rate, 6 % walk rate, .208 ISO, .295 BABIP, 146 wRC+, 1 SB, 0 CS

Soler entered 2014 as the prospect Cubs fans were most wary about due to a somewhat down 2013 season heavily affected by injuries. While he continued to struggle through a couple of hamstring injuries over the first half of the season, Soler’s production when healthy answered any questions of whether he could play at an elite level.

Soler tore up the Southern League so masterfully the Cubs sent him up to Triple A after just 79 plate apperancess, and then beat up the Pacific Coast League to nearly the same extent as Bryant did before Soler received his MLB call up. In both minor league stops, Soler showed an ability to hit for power, get on base, and limit strikeouts to a respectable level.

I think some Cub fans are overrating Soler’s MLB debut based upon their first looks at him because he had such an amazing first five games (.526/.550/1.211, 3 HRs, 391 wRC+ in 20 PAs).  Soler struggled for his remaining 19 games of the season (.229/.273/.400, 2 HRs, 82 wRC+ in 77 PAs). By no means, however, does this mean I’m down on Soler. He has elite tools, and is very refined for both his age and amount of professional experience. He should continue to hit for power, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it take a couple of seasons for the walk and strikeout rates to return to his dominant minor league levels. If not for Bryant, he’d likely be the front runner for NL Rookie of the Year.

Likely 2015 Starting Spot: Chicago. The only way Soler won’t start the season as the right fielder in Wrigley is if he isn’t healthy on Opening Day.

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Who Will Be The 2015 Statistical Leaders?

Friday, February 27th, 2015

by John Dewan

In addition to our projected Defensive Runs Saved leaders, which we highlighted in a Stat of the Week a few weeks ago and will be expounded upon in The Fielding Bible—Volume IV to be released on March 1, we provide a spring update to the Bill James Projections each year to account for players who have changed teams and gained or lost apparent playing time as teams have put together their rosters. That update will also be released on March 1, so let’s look at which hitters and pitchers are projected to lead baseball in various categories.

First, here are the projected hitting leaders:

Projected Hitting Stat Leaders, 2015
Stat Player Projected Total
AVG Miguel Cabrera .321
Yasiel Puig .316
Jose Altuve .316
HR Giancarlo Stanton 40
Jose Abreu 38
George Springer 38
RBI Miguel Cabrera 123
Jose Abreu 121
Paul Goldschmidt 115
Runs Mike Trout 131
Mookie Betts 112
Paul Goldschmidt 107

A few of the usual suspects like Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt make their way back on to the projected leaderboards, but the 2015 leaders also have some new blood. Jose Abreu was a star in his first season in MLB, smashing 36 home runs and knocking in 107 runners despite a DL stint that held him to 145 games. This year, we like Abreu to exceed those numbers in a full, healthy season.

George Springer hit 20 home runs in his first major league action in 2014 in only 345 plate appearances. We think he’ll come close to doubling his playing time and home run total in 2015. And while Mike Trout has a healthy lead in projected runs scored, we expect Mookie Betts to play well and benefit from hitting atop the powerful Red Sox lineup in route to scoring 112 runs.

Projected Pitching Stat Leaders, 2015
Stat Player Projected Total
Wins Clayton Kershaw 21
Adam Wainwright 17
Felix Hernandez 16
Stephen Strasburg 16
Saves Trevor Rosenthal 49
Craig Kimbrel 47
Fernando Rodney 47
Aroldis Chapman 47
ERA Clayton Kershaw 2.37
Michael Pineda 2.74
Matt Harvey 2.84
K Yu Darvish 248
Clayton Kershaw 245
Stephen Strasburg 237

Clayton Kershaw will lead both leagues in wins and ERA but fall three strikeouts short of the MLB triple crown for pitchers based on our projections. He’s amazing. He’s joined by other elite starters including Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg at the heads of those lists.

The ERA leaders are particularly interesting. Behind Kershaw, both Michael Pineda and Matt Harvey are coming back from injuries. Pineda was outstanding in 76.1 innings last season, maintaining a 1.89 ERA and a miniscule 0.8 walks per nine innings. He’s been great whenever he’s been healthy in his career, but unfortunately, the healthy stints have been few and far between. Harvey is coming back from Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of the 2014 season.

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

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