Archive for the ‘General’ Category

GirlieView (01/21/2016)

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

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 2015 Off-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.


  • Jared owes 1.2B on his student loans.
  • Sounds familiar.
  • I would tag along with Raker.
  • I’d buy the place next to Raker’s house and send my kids over there to raise hell.
  • Treat Seymour to a fancy sub, like a chicken bacon ranch melt. Oh, and some Sun Chips.
  • Did I mention I attended the no-hit game?
  • No shit?
  • one too many letters.
  • I think Maddon gets credit for alleviating the yips
  • So, St. Louis loses Jason Heyward. I feel bad for them, but at least they still have professional football. Oh, wait…
  • the prices for these things just keep going up, but fans keep spending the money, so we can’t really complain too loudly at the organizations.
  • All I can say is free market. Every game is sold out at Wrigley. People are willing to pay 9 bucks a beer and 120 to get in, so that’s what they charge.
  • I know many were disappointed when he didn’t get the managing job here several years ago, but it wouldn’t have turned out well. It was probably better to let Mike Quade take the reins at the time.
  • I am a big Ryne Sandberg fan but I had no delusions he would be a good manager. Great players don’t always make good managers.
  • cue the Cindy Sandberg jokes in 3…2…
  • Dave Martinez, Raphael Palmeiro and Seattle Slew walk into a bar…
  • Why the long face?
  • 12″ pianist?
  • I now expect to see balls and strikes called automatically in my lifetime.
  • Yes balls are now under constant observation and protection. No more just throwing the sack in a heap on the ground until needed. They now receive great care. We can all thank Tom Brady for that…or maybe it was Ming Sue at the massage parlor, I forget which.
  • Did you know campers at Randy’s camp can request a high or low pitch from the pitching machine. “Hey, Randy, set that thing for thigh high cookies, can’t rake with pitches at my eyes.”
  • Randy must not have heard about the 1887 rule change.
  • Half of the campers love it, since camp rules like this take them back to the rules of their childhood.
  • Right…and the other half are the older ones who can’t remember anything at all.
  • It includes groupies, they bus them in from Sunset Assisted Living.
  • Worth every penny – without question. Incredible once in a lifetime event. Except for Seymour, to whom it is an annual thing, kind of like a birthday, Christmas, or shower.
  • They may have changed the strike zone in 1969, but they forgot to tell the umpires
  • We had an intern start today… Calvin, spelled Kalvyn. Just stop it everyone.
  • Probably best not to even talk to him. Parents must have raised him to be litigious.


  • The league is going to do its best to adjust to this young team, and now they need to avoid any sophomore jinxes, and keep improving.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout out to cap’n realist for his first 2015 Off-Season Lizzie!!!! Thanks for dropping by!


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

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

1. Sherm
2. jswanson
3. Doc Raker
4. Doug S
5. Eddie von White
5. Jared
7. Seymour Butts
8. Bryan
9. Nate Usher
10. Bartz
10. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. Joe Aiello
10. Sean Powell

Chit Chat

I might have hinted last time at maybe being a little bit tired of the off-season jibber jabber … look back, look ahead, what to expect, what went right, what went wrong, all of which points directly to our off-season boredom. So I’m going the pop culture route today. And it’s ok if you don’t like it. I’m sure a real baseball column will follow shortly!

I’m curious about what people like/dislike on TV. Especially during the winter months, which is pretty much the only time I watch any. I don’t watch much. But these shows come to mind for one reason or another, some of them because I watch them, others because they’re in the news, and others just to round out the list.

How about you? Do you watch and/or have any opinions about any of these shows?

a. Fargo (the series, not the 90s movie)
b. American Idol (you can admit it. We won’t hold it against you.)
c. Making a Murderer
d. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
e. Angie Tribeca
f. Last Man on Earth
g. Schitt’s Creek
h. Bloodline

And, do you have any other favorites? Just curious. Consider it a bit of a sociology experiment. And thanks for answering. You probably realize your participation in my chit chat (especially when it’s a silly topic) makes me happy. And a happy Lizzie awards more Lizzies. ;-)

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Two Pitchers that need to take a step forward if the Cubs want to improve

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Anyone who follows the Cubs knows that most of the “experts” picked to Cubs to finish with a .500 record, and finish 3rd in the National League’s Central Division last year. As we all know, they surpassed these expectations and took many of these “experts” by surprise. This year, the expectations are much higher. Many believe that this is the year the Cubs will take the torch from the Cardinals, and become kings of the NL Central. Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ front office have made pitching a priority this offseason, and I would like to talk about two pitchers who need to take a step forward for the Cubs to achieve their lofty expectations.

Hector Rondon

Going into last year, it seemed as if Rondon had established himself as the Cubs’ closer of the future. As a matter of fact, early in the year, it seemed as though Rondon was going to have a dominant season as the Cubs closer. Through his first 6 outings, Rondon allowed 0 earned runs, while walking only 1, and allowing only 4 hits. He rounded out the month of April posting solid numbers: 10 innings, 4 saves in 5 opportunities, 9 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 9 strike outs. Honestly, those are pretty dominant numbers when you consider that both runs were allowed in 1 game. May was much less routine for Rondon. He converted 5 of his 7 save opportunities, but allowed 6 runs to score in only 12 and 1/3 innings of work. Rondon lost his closer role in early June after several unstable outings; however, he went on to post good numbers in June, and began to get his “mojo” back in early July. In the second half of the season, Rondon gave Cubs fans a few scares, but overall he was able to have a fairly successful 2015 campaign. His finals numbers were: 6-4 with a 1.67 ERA. 30 Saves in 34 opportunities. 69 Strike Outs through 70 Innings. His 30 Saves were good enough to put him in a tie for 10th in Saves in the National League. Those numbers are not bad at all. However, in order for the Cubs to progress this season, Rondon will have to be someone who has 40+ saves. The Cubs cannot afford to make a change at the closer spot halfway through the season like they did last year. While looking over some stats, an area where Rondon could improve would be with two outs. Last year, his ERA with no one out was 0.78, with one out 0.76, then with two outs 3.47 (Stats curiosity of Often times, you hear of a guy relaxing when he gets two outs, particularly when people are on base. These stats show that Rondon is clearly a guy who has had trouble with that in the past. In 2016, I look for Rondon to assert himself as the closer in Spring Training, then continue his dominance throughout the year. Hopefully, Rondon can be top 3 in the NL in Saves, because ideally the Cubs will be giving him plenty of opportunities.

Jon Lester

If you were to just look at his final numbers, one could see that Jon Lester did not have that bad of a 2015 season. If you watched his starts, especially early in the year, you know that something was off with him. It may have been the pressure of the new contract that he had just signed, it may have been the injury that kept him out for most of Spring Training. Whatever it was, Jon Lester was just not good for the first month of the season. In April, Lester had an 0-2 record, posting a 6.23 ERA in 21 and 2/3 innings pitched. He allowed 29 hits in the month of April, while walking 5 and striking out 24. It looked as though Lester was out of his “funk” when he had a dazzling month of May. The numbers were better, and his stuff just looked sharper. A poor month of June left Cubs fans wondering if the front office had spent their money on the wrong guy. The problem for Lester in 2015 was consistency. Month to month, he looked like a different guy. He had really solid months in May, July, and September, but bad months in April, June, and August. Everyone in baseball heard about his issue of not being able to throw to bases, and I’m not suggesting that it was not part of the problem, but the issue was absolutely overblown. I think that issue will be resolved in 2016. With some of the pressure shifting to Jake Arrieta and the position players, it would not surprise me to see Jon Lester bounce back in a big way this season.

Last year, when the Cubs were successful, it came as somewhat of a surprise to a large population of baseball fans. This year, the expectations are much higher. Most expect the offense to carry the load, but no team is complete without solid pitching. Hector Rondon, out of the bullpen, and Jon Lester, as a starter, must take steps forward for the Cubs to achieve their ultimate goal.

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Watching Ryan Williams

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

In 2016, I’m taking a look at Ryan Williams who I think has a chance to do great things for the Cubs in the future. He could be a future back end rotation member of the 2017 rotation.

Williams was a 10th round draft pick for the Cubs in 2014 out of East Carolina. He’s from Morgan Hill, California and played high school baseball at Ann Sobrato. After attending West Valley College for two years he then went to East Carolina for his junior and senior seasons. In his junior year he appeared in 18 games in which 15 we’re starts and pitched to a 6-2 record. He tied fellow draftee Jeff Hoffman in wins that year and was poised for a big senior season.

He features a fastball that sits in the 90-93 range while also featuring a curveball and a slider. The curveball is a 12-6 and sits around 82-84 mph and is quite devastating to hitters. He’s pitched in both the closers and starter role and definitely has the demeanor of a closer on the mound.

In Williams’ senior season he broke out by having the 11th best strikeout to walk ratio in the nation.  He pitched 99.1 innings and had a 1.81 earned run average. He accounted for a save or a win in 18 of the 33 Eastern Carolina games. After Eastern Carolina Williams took his talents to the Cubs minor league system. At age 22 he dominated at the Cubs Short Season Affiliate by pitching in nine games giving up only four earned runs in 24 and 2/3 innings.

In 2015, Williams was due for a promotion and began the year at Low A Affiliate South Bend where he finally got his chance to start. He pitched in 9 games (8 starts) and had a 1.17 earned run average to go along with 37 strikeouts to 2 walks. The strikeout to walk ratio is 17.5 absolutely ludicrous and a common theme occurred that Williams was too advanced for the league. He then got promoted to Tennessee the Cubs Double A affiliate where he outperformed expectations once again.

Williams then pitched in 17 games (16 starts) at a 2.97 earned run average clip. He pitched 88 innings with 61 strikeouts to 16 walks or a 3.81 K/BB ratio. Williams has had success everywhere he’s been and I look for him to continue to do that in 2016. He’ll most likely be at Triple A Iowa for the majority of the 2016 season. In other words, I look for him to develop and showcase his skills in Triple A and look to build up his arsenal going forward. I’m projecting 25 starts at Triple A with a earned run average under three with around 135 strikeouts to 38 walks for the season.

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Saturday, January 16th, 2016

With apologies to Sidney J. Harris, this posting is about things I learned while trying to research an altogether different idea for VFTB. My initial idea relates to one of the hoary, old myths in Cubs folklore. But I have not run to ground all of the information that I want in order to write it.  Then serendipity barged in. While researching my first idea, which I am going to continue noodling for the future, I became interested in an unrelated topic, namely, rules changes in baseball down the years.

Did you know that once upon a time, a batter could request a high or low pitch? It’s true. In 1867, before the advent of the National League and while baseball’s official rules were still called the Knickerbocker Rules, the batter was given the “privilege” of calling for a high or low pitch. That privilege lasted until 1887, when the rule was rescinded.

In those early days, the pitcher pitched from a “pitching box”. The pitcher was restricted to the box, but it was quite spacious. In 1863, the pitcher’s box was required by rule to be twelve by six feet. In 1867, the box was made smaller and square, measuring six by six feet, but the pitcher was allowed to move around within the box though there were other rules restricting the wind-up, delivery and placement of the feet.

In 1893, the pitching mound was established. The new rule called for a twelve by four inches rubber slab. As is still true today, the pitcher was required to maintain contact between the rubber and his rear foot. Also, the pitching distance was increased that year from 50 feet to 60 feet and six inches where it has remained. In 1899, the pitching rubber was increased in size to twenty-four by six inches.

The height of the mound was tweaked a few more times over the years, including in 1969 when the height of the mound was lowered by five inches (after several years of dominant pitching), but otherwise the basic pitching set up has remained mostly constant since the 1890s.

It also took a number of decades to work out the rules for a base on balls. Called strikes were introduced by a rule adopted in 1858.  In 1879, a rule was adopted allowing a batter to take first base after nine “called balls”. In 1880, the rule was changed to eight called balls. Then in 1884, it became six called balls. In 1887, five called balls. That same year, a rule was adopted for one season only defining a strike out as four “called strikes”. I read that to mean that for the 1887 season a batter could still strike out swinging on three swings and misses though to strike out on a called strike, it took four. In 1889, the base on balls finally became defined as four called balls.

There were many other changes over the years too dealing with questions of fly outs, first bounce outs, interference with runners, infield flies, distracting batters, balks, doctoring pitches, equipment and etc.

In more recent times, there have been a handful of significant changes to the rules. First, in 1969, the strike zone was reduced to from the batter’s armpits to the top of his knees. Even after that change, the American League continued to be regarded as having a higher strike zone than the National League. That ended in 2000 when umpiring crews for all games were integrated with umps from both leagues.

In 1969, “the save” was introduced as an official baseball statistic. The father of the save was iconic Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, who conceived of the save as a statistic and successfully advocated its adoption. Holtzman also had the biggest eyebrows in Cook County, Illinois, I am fairly certain.

In 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter provisionally. The rationale was straightforward. Many believed that fans were bored watching pitchers bat. By substituting a DH for the pitcher’s at bat, the league hoped to enliven the game and eliminate the “automatic out” that fans expected from most pitchers. The change generally accomplished what was intended. Of course, it also changed the strategy of the game and made life easier for American League managers. Some of us still prefer the National League game because it presents more strategic choices even if some hitting is sacrificed.

In 2008, baseball adopted the instant replay. This change was forced by technology. Fans could see on their TVs that some crucial calls were unmistakably wrong. This did not sit well, particularly where a home run had been called a foul ball or vice versa. Baseball had to take steps to address the problem. Since then, the replay has come to be used more widely. Although there was initial opposition, most of us have come to acknowledge that baseball is better when we can see umpires fixing incorrect calls with the help of technology. I now expect to see balls and strikes called automatically in my lifetime. The technology is already being used successfully for line calls in tennis.

In 2014, managers were given the ability to challenge a call. This change has been well-received, but the mechanics are under discussion this off season and likely will be tweaked.

In 2014, baseball introduced a rule limiting when a catcher can block the plate on a scoring play. The rule is meant to reduce collisions and injuries at home plate. This rule is provisional and caused a good deal of confusion in the 2015 season. It requires refinement.

In 2015, baseball adopted a set of rules designed to speed up the pace of play. At about three hours, I do not think that games are too long, though for the fan in the ball park, the game is fatiguing in a new way. There is too much noise and distraction in the giant video and walk up music era. Live baseball is no longer a pastoral and restorative experience. It has become a frenzied, multi-media onslaught on the five senses. Too often, the hubub is disconnected from the game being contested on the field. Worse, it interferes with the simple pleasure of conversing with your neighbor about the game.  Me: ”Is Rizzo holding his hands higher again?” Neighbor: “What?” Me: “Rizzo. Is he holding his hands higher again?” Neighbor: “No. They fixed that.” Me: “I know that. But I am asking if his hands are getting higher again.” Neighbor: “What?” Me: “Never mind.”

The new rules seem to have caused the average time of a game to speed up by several minutes. That’s fine, but it fails to address my bigger problem.

Which brings me back to Sidney J. Harris. He was a columnist at the Chicago Daily News and Sun Times. He had broad interests and wrote about a wide range of things. In his day, he was considered an intellectual – which was not a pejorative.  His specialty was wit and erudition. He knew his job was to entertain and amuse. But he did so with the higher goal of being genuinely thoughtful. He is relevant here because he was a thoroughgoing Chicagoan. He also invented the newspaper column ‘things I learned while looking up other things’.  It’s good to remember him.

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5 Things for Cubs Fans to Know on January 15

Friday, January 15th, 2016


During the season, Joe had the wise idea to start a “5 Things to Know” post for each morning in place of the game recaps, and it feels like it’s been since the season ended that there were that many pieces of Cubs related news to follow. Maybe it’s the excitement of the Cubs Convention that starts today, but there are some things worth attention. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been in the news lately.

Fangraphs projections

If you missed it, take a few minutes to peruse the Fangraphs projections for the 2016 standings. Not that any projection system ever gets it totally right, but it’s reason for optimism. The Cubs are projected to have the best record in baseball with 95 wins, three games above the Red Sox. The Cardinals are projected to finish 11 games behind, and the Pirates a game behind them. This seems a little low for both of those teams, given how much they’ll be playing the Reds and Brewers. Still, it’s exciting to see the Cubs viewed so highly going into a season, as that really hasn’t been the case in quite some time.

You can take a look at the full team projections here, but I think my favorite part is the projection for our probable rotation:

This seems quite optimistic for Jason Hammel, but if he’s anywhere near a 2 fWAR pitcher, I’ll be thrilled.

Sandberg returns

Say what you will about him these days, but Ryne Sandberg was always a favorite of mine when I was first watching the Cubs when I was a kid, and now he’s back with a team after a hiatus with the Phillies.

I know many were disappointed when he didn’t get the managing job here several years ago, but it wouldn’t have turned out well. It was probably better to let Mike Quade take the reins at the time.

Arrieta contract

Coming off of the brilliant 2015 season that Jake Arrieta had, it seems like the Cubs would be wise to assure him a long term contract. No such deal is in place yet, but it does not appear that Arrieta is at all concerned about it yet. Read full stories here and here, but when asked about it recently, here’s what he said:

I am just waiting on some phone calls. I try to stay out of it to the very end. Obviously, things are going to work out. This has never really been a concern of mine. They might be having talks. I don’t want all the details coming out until until something is ready to go.

Though Arrieta will turn 30 right around the time that spring training games start, his career workload has been much lighter than most pitchers his age, so I would not complain about a deal that keeps him with the Cubs for 6 or even 7 more seasons. We probably saw him at his best this past year, but even with normal regression, he’s poised to be our top pitcher for years to come.

Slim Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo has had quite the week. Early in the week, there were reports of significant weight loss so far this offseason, first from David Kaplan:

Rizzo is already a strong and athletic first baseman, so anything that improves upon that is reason to be happy. During the long course of the season, it can be harder and harder for players to maintain their fitness levels, so this kind of thing happens during the offseason pretty often. I can remember very similar reports about Marlon Byrd not too many winters ago.

From there, Rizzo tried his hand at hockey with the Blackhawks early in the week, and, well, I think you can say confidently that we don’t have to worry about him pulling a Michael Jordan and retiring to try another sport any time soon.

Lastly, he had his Laugh-Off for Cancer in Chicago last night, leading up to the Convention that starts later today.

Cubs-Rays trade in the works?

The Cubs are in a very nice position right now where any kind of trade to improve the team feels a little bit like gravy. I have no qualms about them sitting on what they have done so far and taking this roster into the season, but at the same time, the Rays seem determined to make a move before April, and the Cubs are a logical trade partner. The Rays would be looking to move one of their pitchers, and the Cubs only stand to improve on what looks to be a very strong rotation. There has been speculation this week that the Rays and the Cubs are talking with each other and that the Cubs might not be done.

The Rays have the pitching that the Cubs could stand to add, and the Cubs have the offense that the Rays could use. Phil Rogers speculated on a few of these trade possibilities a couple of days ago, but here’s a brief rundown:

1. Jake McGee for Billy McKinney

2. Alex Cobb and McGee for Chris Coghlan, McKinney, Willson Contreras, and Dan Vogelbach

3. Jake Odirizzi and McGee for Javier Baez, McKinney, and Vogelbach

4. Chris Archer and McGee for Jorge Soler, Baez, McKinney, and Vogelbach

5. Archer, McGee, and Kevin Kiermaier for Kyle Schwarber, Baez, McKinney, and Gleyber Torres

Obviously a couple of this are him thinking big, but if the Cubs do line up with the Rays, I think moving Vogelbach is a must. Defensively, he has no future in the National League. I actually wouldn’t mind trade number four if that meant moving Jason Heyward to right field and signing Dexter Fowler to come back and play center, but trade number two is honestly the one that makes the most sense to me.


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Salaries Gone Wild

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Are you tired of the escalating price of going to see your favorite baseball team?  This fan is.

In July of last year, my daughter and I went to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the White Sox.  Our seats were in the Budweiser Bleachers.  The per ticket price I initially paid to Stub Hub was about $120.00.  However, a few weeks before the game, I received an email about a Master Card Priceless promotion offering the same general admission bleacher tickets for only $80.00 apiece.   Not only were they less, the promotion included additional perks, like getting in early to watch batting practice and Cubs Cash in return.  I immediately purchased those tickets and sold my original ones to an Ebay bidder.

Who knows if I will be lucky enough to get a great deal like that again when I return to The Friendly Confines.  You know what would be a better deal?  If all tickets came down in price so more fans, especially families, could afford to go.  How can this be achieved?  Salary caps and MLB TV revenue wealth-sharing, that’s how.

First of all, I am sick to death of hearing that the MLB players’ union won’t allow a hard cap.  Players need to stop looking for and expecting top dollar contracts, particularly when they reach free agency.  Example:  Jason Heyward’s contract with the Cubs is a mind-boggling $184 million over eight years.  That breaks down to $141,975 for every game whether he plays or not.  Now, ask yourself, lovers of the game.  Is this right?  Hell no! I’m sorry, but the luxury tax, aka soft cap, is doing little for the ones who are keeping the game of baseball alive.  The fans.

It’s not just Heyward and the Cubs dipping into the bottomless bat bag of gold, it’s all of MLB.  It taints every aspect of the game.  Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees, who have the highest salaries, receive constant criticism over netting the best players via their large bankrolls.  Postseason appearances seem to almost always fall into the laps of these teams.  Who is paying for these increased salaries?  You and I.    Higher ticket prices along with ridiculous gouging on beer and food.  Higher everything.  If we don’t act soon we will have to cough up $20 for a beer and $15.00 for a box of popcorn.  Won’t that be nice.  The cost of renovation and development being passed on to the fan is already steep enough.  I don’t have a problem with that, because those improvements benefit everyone who attends a game.  But when I have to pay more just so a prima donna player can take offseason trips to Tahiti it rankles me to no end.  Get off your high horse players and take a damn cut or two.   I’m sorry if you can’t buy your kids a private tutor or Calvin Klein jeans.  I couldn’t afford that for my kids, either.   In a few years, I won’t be able to afford to attend a game, period.  Maybe when the seats at Wrigley are empty because fans can’t afford them anymore, the MLB Network will lift its blackouts.  How ironic would that be.

Small market teams like the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates might not make it as far as they did last year.   Salary caps will give them more of a fighting chance.  It will also help fill empty seats at other stadiums because competition will be increased.  Parity will even the playing fields.  Let’s stop enabling big markets and start to facilitate the smaller ones who deserve an equal opportunity in scoring top notch players. More so, let’s expect the hard-capping of player contracts to trickle down to the ticket price level.  And by down I mean affordable.  Yes, we run the risk of another strike.  So what.  As much as I love the Cubs and baseball I have reached my fill of these outrageously high salaries.   Let me throw out a challenge to the MLBPU. Conduct fan polls and surveys, asking diehards if they feel it’s time for hard salary caps.   I can already predict the results.

This is the one aspect of baseball and professional sports in general, that really makes me mad.  The money factor.  Why can’t more players emulate what Kerry Wood did and take a salary reduction?  I’m not asking for them to get sent to the poor house for crying out loud.  There is not a more well-respected player in baseball than Kerry for what he did.  At least not in my opinion.  He showed he cared more about the game.  Yes, he was past his prime and top value but let’s get one thing straight.  Current players are simply not worth what they are getting paid.   We all know it.   It’s time to throw hard caps back into the next collective bargaining meeting which will take place in 2017.  The current  CBA, can be found here.  I’m hoping for salary shakedowns the next time around.

Phase in the hard caps gradually so both owners and players will be able to adjust.  This is where the Cubs currently stand on salaries:   Cubs Payroll 2016.  Are they eventually going to be like the Yanks, constantly paying luxury tax penalties??  I certainly hope not.  That’s not the kind of team I want to root for.

Secondly, it’s time to pass a portion of the massive MLB television profits on to the paying baseball consumer.  This piece from Mike Lopresti of USA Today, although written a few years ago, has even greater import for upcoming years:   With MLB rolling in TV cash, why not lower ticket prices?  I couldn’t agree with this article more.  His last sentence says it all. Take the prices down, MLB.  Fill the empty seats.  Get more families into stadiums so their kids can enjoy the magic that is baseball.  So that their kids, in turn, can continue the tradition without breaking the bank.  The ever-increasing television revenue will offset a reduction. Or, at the very least, bring the price of a beer and hotdog back down to under $10.00.   Please, before my appetite for baseball becomes as stagnant as a Marlins game……

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Stat of the Week: Relief Pitcher Leaderboards

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Context is critically important in evaluating relievers. Beyond just the obvious requirement for a reliever to be deployed with a small lead at the end of a game to earn a save, different relievers face all kinds of more subtle differences in the difficulty of their relief appearances in order to earn saves and other good statistics. Pulling from The 2016 Bill James Handbook, here are a few leaderboards that provide a window into some greater context for relievers from 2015 than what saves alone can provide.

Tough Saves Leaders, 2015
Player Tough Saves
Cody Allen 7
Trevor Rosenthal 4
Dellin Betances 3
Zach Britton 3
Glen Perkins 3
Huston Street 3
Jeurys Familia 3
Brad Ziegler 3


Cody Allen finished outside the top 10 of relievers with 34 saves in 2015, but no one came close to his total of seven Tough Saves. A save is considered “tough” if the relief pitcher enters the game with the tying run on base. Many clubs are willing only to bring in their closers at the start of the ninth inning, but the Indians turned to Allen to help them out of many different jams this season, and he delivered.

Relief Opp On-base Plus Slugging Leaders, 2015
Min. 50 IP
Player Opp OPS
Wade Davis .451
Andrew Miller .475
Dellin Betances .510
Kenley Jansen .513
Brad Ziegler .524


While many of the best relievers are consistently used as their teams’ closers, some setup men are also among the best relievers in baseball. Dellin Betances of the Yankees is one such example. Batters had just a .510 opponent on-base plus slugging against him, better than all but two closers. Meanwhile, his teammate Andrew Miller finished second and new Yankee Aroldis Chapman finished eighth.

Reliever Leverage Index Leaders, 2015
Min. 50 IP
Player Leverage Index
Carson Smith 2.12
Huston Street 2.07
Trevor Rosenthal 2.06
Hector Rondon 2.03
Fernando Rodney 2.01

Tough Saves provide a piece of the reality that not all saves are created equal. Another realization of that concept is leverage index, which measures how critical each situation in a game is based on the possible changes in win expectancy. Just because a closer is used at the end of a game does not mean he is used at the most critical point, but because teams tend to rely on closers in close games, the five relievers with the highest average leverage index in 2015 were all closers, at least for part of the season. The leader, Carson Smith, is also the most interesting name for this offseason since he was recently traded to the Red Sox. Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox appear to have committed a lot of resources to solidifying the back of their bullpen. Everyone is eager to follow the blueprint established by the World Series champion Royals.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®,

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The day that changed the Cubs’ 2015 season

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Let’s think back to July 2015. Truthfully, it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. At the 2015 All-Star Break in July, the Cubs were 47-40, and they had been struggling. If you will remember, they had just lost 2 of 3 to the White Sox on the North Side, and had it not been for Jake Arrieta, they may have been swept. The last game before the break, Arrieta tossed a complete game two-hitter, allowing one run, and striking out 9. He also hit a home run in the fifth inning. That was just the beginning of Arrieta’s dominance. However, the Cubs were in somewhat of a rut, and the break could not come fast enough. After the break, the Cubs took 2 of 3 in Atlanta and all seemed well, but a split of a four-game series in Cincinnati began to give Cubs fans cause for concern. The Cubs traveled back home for a 3-game series with the Phillies, which I’m sure most fans hoped would be a sweep to reenergize the players. In the first game of the series, Jon Lester threw 7 innings and left with a 3-2 lead. Hector Rondon, who had been relieved of his closing duties at the time, came in and worked a scoreless 8th. Then, Jason Motte surrendered the tying run in the 9th. The Cubs did nothing in the bottom of the 9th, and then in the top of the 10th inning, Jeff Francoeur hit a two-run homerun over the left field fence to give the Phillies a 5-3 lead. The Cubs didn’t have any magic left in them for the bottom of the 10th and some of the Cubs faithful begin to lose hope. The next day, July 25, 2015 is the day that, I believe, changed the Cubs season for the good.

Let’s set the scene: Amid a flurry of trade rumors, Cole Hamels was set to take the ball against Jake Arrieta. Coming into the game, it was clear that the wind was going to play a factor, and it was blowing pretty hard in from right-center field. Most of you reading this know what happened in the game. Arrieta pitched a decent game, Cole Hamels just had his best stuff on that day, and with the help of the wind on a few balls, he threw a no-hitter. In his post-game press conference, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was very complimentary of Hamels. He did not want to take anything away from what he had just accomplished. Obviously, none of us know what was said in the clubhouse after the game, or between the players after the game, but whatever it was, it worked.

After the Hamels no-hitter, the Cubs’ record was 51-45. They would go on to finish the year 46-22 in their last 68 games, and finish with a final record of 97-65. Clearly, they didn’t play a perfect second half, but things began to come together. Dexter Fowler began fueling the offense at the top of the lineup, and in early August, Joe Maddon made the call to bench Starlin Castro. After an average 15-12 record for the month of July, the Cubs were dominant in August to the tune of a 19-9 overall record. Things continued to improve as the playoffs drew closer. The key, in my eyes, was that the Cubs were finding ways to win games in a variety of ways. They had games where the offense carried them to victories, which was expected, but when the offense was having an off game, the pitching picked them up. To me, probably the best example of this was on September 28, the Cubs were playing at home against the defending American League champion Kansas City Royals. Yordano Ventura was on the mound for the Royals and he carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the 6th inning. Kyle Hendricks was on the mound for the Cubs, and he wasn’t rattled by the outstanding performance of Ventura. After Hendricks, 5 Cubs relievers combined to throw 5 innings of shutout ball, while only allowing 2 hits. On the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning, Chris Denorfia (pictured below) obliterated a ball into the left field bleachers to send the fans home happy.

This is just one of the several examples I could’ve used from the second half of the season. The point is, sometimes you have to be at rock bottom (being no-hit) to get out of a rut. And that is just what Cole Hamels did for the Cubs. As we can recall, the Cubs had a phenomenal second half, and one that Cubs fans will not soon forget. There will be a lot of things to remember from this 2015 season: Kris Bryant winning Rookie of the Year, Jake Arrieta’s historic second half and Cy Young, knocking the Cardinals off in the first meeting between the Cubs and Cardinals in the playoffs, the beginning of an era. But one thing that I will always remember as a turning point in the 2015 season will be the day that Cole Hamels ruled Wrigley.

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Players to watch in 2016: Kyle Hendricks

Friday, January 8th, 2016


I should first say that I am tackling the subject of Kyle Hendricks with some trepidation, and for a few reasons. First, because my feelings about him as a pitcher have been, until recently, largely predicated on the “eye test.” As much as I love and pay close attention to the advanced stats, there are still some players who catch my attention without them, and it wasn’t until taking the time to educate myself on him as a pitcher that I felt validated about some of my hypotheses that had arisen from just watching him. The second reason is that much has been written by at least one person much more qualified than I (@RianWatt  – read his thoughts here, here, here, and here), so I will somewhat shamelessly seek only to supplement what he was already done so well here, rather than attempt to break any new ground. The subject of Hendricks has been covered so well that I will only attempt not to get in the way. The third reason is that to spend so much time on someone who will be either the 4th or 5th starter might seem silly, but we are at the rarified air with the Cubs that even as you move down the tiers of the roster, the talent is still there. I know that is probably a bit homerish of me, but I don’t care.

So, with that said, let’s take a look at the guy who has drawn comparisons to the likes of Greg Maddux and Mike Scott (weirdly one of my favorite childhood players, but that’s a long story). First, when you look at what he’s done in the majors so far, he’s actually pitched rather well. True, some of this may have come from the fact that he is often pulled relatively early from starts to avoid damage in the third trip through a lineup (in 32 starts he threw 180 innings in 2015, and for comparison, John Lackey had just one more start than Hendricks did and he threw 218 innings), which was a problem spot for him, and here I’ll borrow Watt’s words on that problem:

13 times in 2015, he failed to go deeper than the fifth inning. That puts extra pressure on the relief corps, and in an ideal world, you’d like to see him learn to pitch a little farther into games; that won’t happen so long as he keeps giving up an .894 OPS to hitters the third time through the order.

This is not to say that he has not produced some attention catching numbers, of course. Most notably, his increased ability to get strikeouts. He had a K/9 rate jump from 5.3 in 2014 to 8.4 this past season. Percentage-wise, he increased his K% 8 points from 2014 to 2015, but other than that, his numbers aren’t necessarily all that impressive. However, he’s not there to blow people away. He’s there to get outs and eat innings. The question then becomes whether or not he can figure out how to do that, and at least push his way into the 6th, and even 7th innings when he starts.

Hendricks does not possess much velocity, as he averages just under 90 on his fastball in 2015, and when his changeup usually touches 80, that can sometimes be an insufficient difference to keep hitters out of balance. He will never be a hard thrower, of course, so location and pitch selection will be the keys to his success. 2015 saw an increased use of his fastball with a corresponding decrease in the cutter (down to 4.6% in 2015 from 12.4% in 2014).

In terms of projections, I’ll take a look at three different projection systems, just to give you a sense for the range of what can happen. His PECOTA projections for 2016 have him throwing closer to 200 innings and keeping his WHIP nice and low at 1.08, which is more in line with what he did in 2014. His K/9 rate is projected to drop somewhat to 7.8, but in all he’s projected to have a perfectly fine WARP of 3.2.

The Steamer projections look a little different:

Not dramatically, of course, but the big difference for me here is the WHIP projection of 1.21, and though it is not in the above image, that projection calls for a much smaller number of innings, at 166.

In my post last week, I mentioned the overall ZiPS projections for the team, and I’ll refer again to those for a different look at what we might see from Hendricks in 2016. These projections call for only 159.7 innings from Hendricks, and the K/9 rate to drop to 7.04. He’s projected there to have a zWAR of 2.5. Of course, it should go without saying that these three projection systems are calling for such different numbers from him because they are not run the same way, and the point is to get a sense for the possible range of performance, all other variables excluded.

In all, Hendricks is intriguing to me because of the potential he offers to make the 1-4 of the Cubs rotation quite formidable. If you look around the league, most teams have troubling black holes at the back of their rotations, so the fact that Hendricks will be a part of ours should be encouraging. His biggest question, I think, will be his ability to figure out the third trip through a lineup, and push his way beyond the 5th inning in as many of his starts as possible. He shouldn’t be expected to do much more than that, for although our bullpen showed itself to be more than capable of picking up games for struggling starters in 2015, the less they are called upon to do that in 2016, the better. Hendricks will likely be a subtle part of what makes the Cubs successful this season, and perhaps so subtle that if he does his job effectively, a lot of people won’t really take notice. But, I consider him worthy of attention going into this season, and look forward to watching his starts closely. Sometimes we want players to be greater than they are, and in that, we miss the real value that they add. This is the case, I think, with Hendricks.


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