Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Episode 11 – The Mustard Episode

Monday, April 14th, 2014

This week’s episode of the show was jam packed with a host of different topics:

The Week in Review

  • Resurgence from Starlin Castro & Anthony Rizzo
  • Emilio Bonifacio continues to hit
  • Bullpen wasn’t quite as good this week
  • Closer Change
  • What happens when Jake Arrieta comes back?

The Week Ahead

  • Two games at NYY then weekend series home vs. Reds

Mailbag Questions:

Greg

Jerry

  • I think that a team’s record in 1 run games is a reflection on how good the bullpen is.  Do you agree?

More Or Less

  1. Will Emilio Bonifacio have MORE or LESS stolen bases than Billy Hamilton this season in the Majors?
  2. Will Starlin Castro’s home run total be MORE or LESS than his error total at SS this season?
  3. Will Jason Hammel make MORE or LESS starts than Jeff Samardzija for the Cubs this Season.

Download the Show (50 min / 11 MB)

Remember to subscribe to the show on iTunes and email the show with any questions or feedback you might have.

Follow the hosts on Twitter

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Rule Changes Draw Criticism, Big Time Injury News and More!

Monday, April 14th, 2014

We’re now headed into the third week of the MLB season, and it appears as if some things are starting to level out. The Miami Marlins and Houston Astros have regained their positions at the back of the pack, and star players who got off to slow starts like Bryce Harper are finally starting to turn things around.

Even with all of the action going on on the field, it seems as if the major headlines took place either in the video review booth, or in the trainer’s room.

Controversy In New York

The always highly-anticipated Red Sox/Yankees matchup featured quite a bit of intense action, but most of what had many fans up in arms had nothing to do with traditional baseball issues.

The first incident happened when Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was on the mound. It was spotted in his previous start, but it was drawn to our attention in his second start that he had covered his hand in pine tar, and it didn’t really even seem as if he was trying to conceal it.

The next was late in the game on Saturday, when Yankees backup infielder Dean Anna was attempting to steal second base. He got there first, but as he was getting himself up, he lost contact with the base, all while Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts kept the tag on. While it was an obvious call, the umpires went to replay and eventually ruled Anna safe.

For the Pineda incident, he claimed that it was dirt, but it was widely accepted by both sides that it was, in fact, pine tar. He was not suspended for this, which I think is outrageous. Not disciplining him sets a bad precedent for pitchers doctoring the ball, and we’ll now probably see more of it.

With the replay error, we saw that the MLB still has some kinks to work out in its system. Anna was clearly out, but the umpires seemed to rush through their decision. The fact that the MLB admitted their error following the game helps, and I don’t expect it to be too much of a problem moving forward.

Questionable Rule Changes, and Possible Rule Changes Don’t Sit Well

When it was announced that the MLB was going to be banning collisions at the plate, many questioned the decision. Sure, it might prevent an injury or two, but it seemed as if these plays were more spur-of-the-moment type instances rather than a player actively trying to hurt someone.

It appeared as if the base runners were going to be losing a big edge when they came to the plate, but a rule change regarding catchers blocking the plate was supposed to curtail that. As Joe noted his recent article (LINK to your story), we saw this in action in a recent Cubs game, and it personally didn’t sit well with me.

Along with that, we had another suggested rule change that was touched on by Chris Neitzel earlier this week. Fans of traditional baseball should probably stop reading right here if they’re offended easily.

One MLB executive suggested that the league change from 9-inning games to 7 innings in an effort to appeal to a larger audience who may currently find baseball boring. I have no comment on this idea, other than that it’s the worst.

Injuries Cloud Headlines

It didn’t take long for the injury bug to start biting, and unfortunately for some teams it has started to take out some of their key players, and in some cases for potentially long periods of time.

On the mound, the Tampa Bay Rays have been hit pretty hard lately by injuries, as Matt Moore may be done for the year. He’s going to try to throw soon, but if things don’t work out, they’ll shut him down. On top of that, Alex Cobb is also headed to the DL.

Mariners young lefty James Paxton also found himself placed on the injured list, as did Cole Hamels, Brett Anderson (big surprise), and Yankees closer David Robertson. Across town, the Mets lost their closer, Bobby Parnell, for the season and have now resorted to using Jose Valverde to end games (Yikes!).

In the field, teams have also been plenty affected. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is going to be out 4-6 weeks with a broken thumb, Josh Hamilton will be out 6-8 weeks with thumb problems, Shane Victorino is out with shoulder issues, Avisail Garcia is done for the year, also with shoulder problems, and star shortstop Jose Reyes has yet again started the year by getting injured.

Not all of this injury news is bad news, fortunately, as Aroldis Chapman, who as you remember was hit in the head with a line drive in Spring Training, has begun to throw again. Manny Machado, who tore his Achilles, is set to start hitting again, and Clayton Kershaw is bound to return at any time after nursing a sore muscle in his back.

This Week’s MVP: Ryan Braun (.458/.462/.917, 3 HR, 10 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Yu Darvish (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 15 K)

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3 Things I Learned From Cubs Baseball This Week

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Week 2 is in the books and it yielded another pair of series losses. While that is disappointing, there is always something to be learned as you watch the games unfold. Let’s get right to it.

The Offense Is Not As Bad As We Thought – A big issue in week one was the inability for this team to put up runs. That really wasn’t an issue this week, which was encouraging especially given the caliber of pitching we faced in the Cardinal series. By no means do I think this team is ready to compete offensively with the big boys, but I also didn’t think they were as bad as we saw in week one. What is of particular encouragement is the start to the season by both Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. For both, this was a year to show they belonged and deserved the money they were given to lock them up through their arbitration years. There were a lot of pundits and fans who had given up on one or even both before the season. Both have answered the call early and that is encouraging.

The Starting Pitching Is Not As Good As We Thought – After week one I was all a glow about how well the starting staff did. Even Carlos Villanueva, who looked so bad in relief in two outings rebounded to have a nice first start. Week two was a little different. Watching the games on Saturday and Sunday, which featured a start by Villanueva and then Edwin Jackson, I felt like I was in hell. It really should be against the rules to have to run these two jokers out there in back to back games. We’ll get into the Jackson start in just a little bit, but let’s just say that this was not a fun weekend of watching Cubs starting pitching. The return of Jake Arrieta will hopefully help ease some of the burden, because it forces Villanueva out of the rotation and, if it were up to me, off the roster completely. The issue of having to see Jackson out there every fifth day still remains and all we can hope is that he gets his mess together or a bullpen that I feel could be a strength of this team is going to get taxed really quickly.

12 Man Pitching Staffs Are Incredibly Stupid – I wouldn’t say I learned this one this week, but rather confirmed it again. I have long been a critic of the way the Major League roster is assembled these days, with pitching staffs consisting of seven man bullpens. There just isn’t enough work to go around with the seven man pen and you end up with guys like Wesley Wright making his first appearance in nine days today. That kind of crap is unacceptable in my opinion. It doesn’t allow for a guy to stay sharp and simply wastes a roster spot that could either be used to allow for a pitch hitter late in the game or the ability to carry a third catcher. What really set me off about it this week was the fact that the Cubs made a move on Saturday to recall Chris Rusin (which I was fine with) because Rick Renteria said they had really taxed the pen. If I’m Wright, I’m interrupting that answer to the press and introducing myself to my manager because apparently he had forgotten Wright was even on the team. It sucks for Brian Schlitter, who was sent down to make room for Rusin, because he wasn’t able to be recalled right away and has to stay down there a little now when he wasn’t even pitching poorly.


MVP – Kevin Siegrist (.246 WPA)

  • We talked about Jackson’s start briefly, but let’s look at it a little closer. First, he allowed at least one base runner every inning he pitched, most of the time via a hit of some sort. When you do that and you’re a pitcher who notoriously struggles with control and had a tendency to walk hitters in excess, you’re asking for trouble. His WHIP is now up to 1.88, which is grossly unacceptable and needs to come down. Each and every inning he pitched himself into a jam of some sort. It was painful to watch and it’s not getting better. Take one run off the board and he’s got a quality start, which tells you everything you need to know about how stupid that stat is. It seems like each time he’s on the mound, the Cubs offense gets him some sort of help only to see him cough it right up and give it back in excess. About the only positive thing I can say about the outing was that he was able to come back and pitch a few innings after the rain delay to save the pen. Jesse Rogers had a nice piece on what to do with Jackson going forward.
  • Rizzo helped the team get off to an early 2-0 lead with a home run in the 1st. Overall the offense as a whole looked really effective in the inning, seeing a lot of pitches and coming away with a lead before the Cardinals even had a chance to take to the plate. Unfortunately that was about all from Rizzo at the plate, but I can’t complain about the day. He accounted for runs and that’s what you’re looking for.
  • Castro saw his mini hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-4 day at the plate.
  • We saw the season debut of a guy I thought should have made the club out of spring training, Blake Parker. Parker came in to pitch in relief and made me rethink my opinion. The two runs he gave up proved to be the difference in the game. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs recall Schlitter after his mandatory 10 day stay in AAA or stick with Parker until Arrieta returns.
  • Wright somehow made it into the game, though only for three pitches. Chin up, Wes.
  • Javier Baez was placed on the 7 day DL due to ankle soreness stemming from an issue on Friday when he was fielding pre-game ground balls. That puts 2 of the big 4 prospects on the DL early in the year, as Jorge Soler has been there since day 1.

Off day on Monday, which means we can’t possibly lose. It also means we get to stew over yet another series loss. Keep an eye out this afternoon for a look at the comings and goings in the rest of baseball with a post by Brian and don’t episode 11 of VFTB Radio due out around 9pm. It should be a good day. Feel free to send us a mailbag question to address on the show. It can be serious or silly.


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Should Carlos Villanueva Lose His Rotation Spot AND His Roster Spot?

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have not only sucked at something in our life, but we’ve probably been fired from doing that thing. It happens. A lot of times you can look at it as a gentle nudge toward something different. After today’s game, Carlos Villanueva may need to be checking his mail frequently as there may be a white envelope with a pink piece of paper inside.

If you missed the game today, you’re better for it. What you missed was a complete debacle from Villanueva who allowed nine earned runs in just three innings of work. That outing, paired with a few others this season, has caused his ERA to balloon to a hefty 11.57, and has me wondering if not only his spot in the rotation, but also his spot on this team could be in jeopardy as Jake Arrieta nears his return. Arrieta pitched his second rehab outing on Thursday, going 3.2 innings. Most likely he’ll need one more outing before returning on a shortened pitch count and then back to full strength. Prior to today, you would have thought that would mean one more start for Villanueva before a move to the bullpen. Instead we’re left to wonder where he stands in the team’s plan moving forward this season.

Most likely there are some out there who feel Villanueva is a better option than his likely replacement, Chris Rusin. Those people, as strange as it may sound, probably have a thing for guys with curly greasy mustaches. However, you can make a case for why Villanueva is the guy that should go.

1. He Has Added Nothing of Value This Season – Coming into the game today, albeit a small sample size of just 6.1 IP, Villanueva had posted a WAR of exactly 0.0. That, if you are unfamiliar with the stat, means that he had been a replacement level player so far. Throw in today’s debacle and that number is sure to decrease. Looking at his past, he’s been a what you see is what you get type of player. He’s not really going to wow you, but he serves a purpose. This season, that hasn’t been the case.

2. He Has One Option Year Remaining – This one gets a little complicated, but when you look at it, he does have an option year remaining, though it comes with some strings attached. Because of the amount of service time he has accrued in the Majors, there are a few things that would have to happen for him to be able to be optioned to AAA. Any player who has at least five years of MLB service must give their consent before being optioned to the minors. That could be a tricky one, as what incentive would there be for him to consent? The only reason I could see is that the Cubs go to him and express to him the fact that his time in the rotation is done with the Major League team and offer him the opportunity to start in AAA to not only audition for another option with the Cubs, but also with another team. The other sticking point with optioning Villanueva to the minors would also be related to service time. He would need to clear revocable waivers prior to being optioned. Given how he’s looked in the past, and the fact that he makes $5 million for this year only, that would seem to make him an attractive risk for a team hurting for innings, but it’s worth a try. If he’s claimed you can always pull him back and try to work out a trade or just elect to keep him.

3. Chris Rusin Is Younger – This team, whether you like it or not, is interested in looking at the talent they have in house. They are much more interested in seeing those guys get playing time to be evaluated than they are with veterans holding down a roster spot. Rusin came in today and pitched well in relief on somewhat short rest, given the fact that he made a start on Tuesday in AAA. By no means do I think Rusin is the long term answer, because he’s not, but at this point what do you have to lose? You know what Villanueva is and we’ve not quite learned what Rusin is. There was a time in July and August last year where he was outstanding, posting great numbers out of the rotation.

Split ERA GS IP HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
July 2.93 3 15.1 2 4 9 0.978 5.3 2.25
August 2.65 6 34.0 2 15 20 1.441 5.3 1.33
Sept/Oct 7.41 4 17.0 4 5 7 1.529 3.7 1.40

Why not let Rusin get the last start before Arrieta comes back and see what he can do with it? At that point, if you send him to the pen if gives you a long man to replace Villanueva and also another lefty, for those of you interested in the lefty / righty matchup stuff.


MVP – Daniel Descalso (.190 WPA)

  • In case you missed it, Rick Renteria mentioned before the game that, for now, Jose Veras would not be involved in closing out a game in a save situation and that they would use a closer by committee approach for the time being. We didn’t get to see it today, but you have to imagine that Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon are the leading candidates for that role going forward. Interesting nugget, Rondon currently has a 16 inning scoreless streak he’s working on.
  • Starlin Castro had a pair of hits today, a double and a single, and drove in his 8th run of the season. Last season it took till April 25th for Castro to have 8 RBI, and he had just 44 all year. If he’s going to hit in that 6th spot in the order, which I’m perfectly fine with, he’s going to need to capitalize on the opportunities that come his way to be a run producer and so far he’s doing just that.
  • Darwin Barney got the start at second base in favor Emilio Bonifacio to give him a day off. The result? 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Back to the bench you go, young man.

The Cubs have a chance to win their first series dating back to early September last season. They have not won a series in their last eight tries. To do it, they’ll have to get bast a tough cookie with a less than the best starting pitcher of their own. Let’s take a look at tomorrow’s opponent.

Michael Wacha

MLB.com

Wacha opened the year with two starts against the Reds, who have yet to solve him. Though his final line was impressive, Wacha labored through an 82-pitch effort Monday. The leadoff hitter reached against him four times in six innings.

Wikipedia

Standing 6′ 6″ (78 inches (200 cm)) tall and weighing 210 pounds (95 kg), Wacha repeats the same delivery with all his pitches.Featuring a plus-plus sinking fastball that usually travels between 92 miles per hour (148 km/h) and 95 miles per hour (153 km/h), Wacha frequently shows velocity up to 97 miles per hour (156 km/h). His high arm angle and release point create substantial downward action on his fastball. Wacha’s fastball complement, a plus-plus changeup, features deep, fading movement to right-handed hitters with a 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) to 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) decrease in velocity from his fastball. Not only is his arm angle on the two pitches the same, the arm speed appears virtually identical to the hitter, thus disguising the difference in velocity.

Wacha’s third pitch is an average curveball that travels about 77 miles per hour (124 km/h) and has improved in break and consistency; in college, scouts considered his curveball a below average pitch. He has a fourth pitch, a slider, that lacks consistent break and darts horizontally similar to the cutter. Wacha attributed the increase in pitch velocity to gaining weight from physical exercise and increased food consumption, asserting that he “felt like the velocity just kept on increasing every single year. I changed my mechanics a little bit when I was in college, and that might have added a few ticks.”Wacha added a cut fastball (commonly called a “cutter”) late in the 2013 season, though he only threw the pitch 1.8% of the time. During the 2014 spring training, Wacha showed increased confidence in the pitch after finding a consistent grip.

Depending on the source, Wacha shows a wide range of potential. Scouting reports initially projected him for a potential of two plus-plus pitches (fastball and changeup) with command of both. Baseball Prospectus noted that his polish due to pitch command helped fast-track him to the Major Leagues. However, a dearth of vigorous fastball life escalates the importance of command. Wacha offsets the shortage of sizable vertical movement with the pronounced descent through which his fastball, changeup and curve travel to create an additional obstacle as hitters to attempt square the bat on the pitch. In addition, the drop in elevation changes the hitter’s eye level. Wacha was previously criticized for a heavy reliance on the fastball from lacking a solid breaking pitch. Before refining his curveball, Baseball Prospect Nation commented that development of a slider “to even only an occasional ‘show-me’ pitch would add another element to his game and allow him to become more refined in his pitch sequencing ability to work through a lineup.”

During each at-bat, Wacha does not easily give in to the batter. He maintains his composure on the mound. With both fastball and changeup being plus-plus pitches and improved command, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Prospect Nation conclude his likely future is as a solid number-three starter. However, as command of his curve has markedly improved, so have his projections. The same initial reports stated that if he could enhance his slider’s reliability, he may be able to become a low-end number two starter. Still others, such as scout Ralph Garr, Jr., and Kantrovitz, project him as a “future top-of-the-rotation guy.”

How He Pitches To Lefties / Righties


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Castillo wins it in the 11th after bullpen blows another late lead

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

by Luke Jett

After another rough outing for Cubs closer Jose Veras, is it time for manager Rick Renteria to make a switch? The right hander blew a two run lead in the ninth inning Friday night to give the Cardinals life heading into extra innings. In the inning, he surrendered the two runs, but only on one hit. He hit two guys and walked another, coupled with a passed ball, to recap a horrendous inning for the Cubs closer.

Is it time to make a switch? I was tending to lean on the small sample size and the relatively short outings so far. But after tonight’s debacle, it has me thinking maybe it is time for a change. Veras now has an ERA north of 12 in his four appearances and in both save opportunities, he has blown them. There is one reason Renteria would keep him in the closers role and that is for the chance that he bounces back and becomes a flippable piece at the deadline.

I find this theory highly unlikely, seeing as they have Veras under an option for next year. I would like to see Pedro Strop or Hector Rondon get a shot to close. Both pitchers threw scoreless innings tonight and Rondon picked up his first career save. The Cubs went through basically the same scenario with Carlos Marmol last year. You have got to wonder how long Renteria’s leash is on Veras.


With two outs in the 11th inning, Welington Castillo parked a three run home run and Rondon shut the door to give the Cubs a 6-3 win.  This all coming after Jose Veras blew another save. The Cubs led 3-1 going into the ninth before Veras allowed two runs on just one hit to go along with two hit batsman and a walk.

The Cubs had to come back once again after Yadier Molina’s second inning RBI single, the only run starter Jeff Samardzija allowed. Ryan Sweeney cracked a single into left to score Anthony Rizzo in the 7th to tie the game. The Cubs broke the tie with a sacrifice fly from Rizzo and a RBI single from Nate Schierholtz, which gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the 8th.

  • Rondon closed out the 11th inning to pick up his first career save and continued his scoreless innings streak that is up to 16 now.
  • Emilio Bonifacio went 1-3 today. He has reached base safely in all 10 games so far.
  • Schierholtz went 4-5 with a double and a RBI in the win. He raised his average from .185 to .281 just tonight. Early numbers are fun.

Tomorrow won’t be any easier for the Cubs as they will face Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright who supports a 1.29 ERA in his first two starts. He will be opposed by Cubs swing man Carlos Villanueva, who picked up the win in his only start of the year last Sunday against the Phillies. He gave up one run in five innings of work in that start. Let’s take a look at Wainwright’s scouting report.

MLB.com

Wainwright pitched well in a loss Sunday, hurt by two two-out doubles. He’s already walked six after issuing only 34 free passes in 2013. Wainwright is still trying to find the feel for his cutter, but he doesn’t believe he’s far from getting it.

Wikipedia

Wainwright has a sinkerball, throwing it in the 90-92 mph range. He also throws a good deal of cutters (85–88) and curveballs (72–76)That has dropped more than 8 inches before from top to bottom of the pitch. Less commonly, he also throws a four-seam fastball (90–94, tops out at the mid 90s) and changeup (83–86). He uses all of his pitches against left-handed hitters, but he does not use the changeup against right-handers. Wainwright’s most-used pitch in 2-strike counts is his curveball.

In spring training of 2013, he started incorporating an elevated four-seam fastball, making his curveball more effective.

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The New ‘Blocking The Plate’ Rule is Stupid

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

If you missed the game, this was the play of the game that really was quite lame. Starlin Castro slid right into the tag and was clearly out, but was called safe because of the new rule.

Here was the press release put out by Major League Baseball almost two months ago that explained the new rule, and a highlight below.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

As a result, the Pirates got the shaft on the call. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of the rule, in spite of the fact that it went it our favor today. Call me a meatball, but I like collisions.

Glass Half Full – Despite the loss, we could easily take this viewpoint and make the case for the continued items of encouragement. If you look only at the first four innings, the offense looked great. They were taking advantage of the mistakes the Pirates were making. Emilio Bonifacio stole 2nd base and kept on going all the way to home. Wellington Castillo came up with a key hit to add another run in the 4th inning, which normally you wouldn’t expect. Throw in a nice start by Travis Wood when you scrap the 7th inning and you have a lot of reason to continue to be optimistic.

Glass Half Empty – This game got all the way into the 90% chance to win level and we wet the bed. If I take this stance, which today I do not, my biggest complaint was the bullpen usage. Why is it that Wesley Wright is not getting into a game? He hasn’t pitched all week and the spot that James Russell was inserted would have been the perfect time. Why carry 12 pitchers if you only play 11? I hate bullpen mismanagement.

The Cardinals come to town and the first opponent pitcher on the schedule is Joe Kelly. Let’s take a look at what we know about him.

MLB.com

Kelly showed some rust after a 13-day layoff, though he worked around trouble to allow one run in his 2014 debut. His curveball was sharp, but command of his sinker and changeup lacked. Both pitches should come around with the return of routine.

Wikipedia

Kelly throws a lively fastball that can reach up to 100 miles per hour (MPH) and complements it with a sinking fastball and slider. His sinker is among the prized pitches in the game – it shows dramatic horizontal movement, while paradoxically, not showing the kind of vertical movement (sink or drop) other sinkerballers such as Justin Masterson – and is one of the fastest in the game, at about 93 MPH. He also throws a changeup to left-handed batters and an infrequent curveball. He control of his pitches – including his fastball – receives compliments.

Why the Cardinals Will Win The Series

The Cardinals enter the weekend tilt with the Cubs not quite themselves, having begun the season only 5-4. Led by their three Matts — Carpenter, Holliday and Adams — they’ve flashed some of the balanced offense and strong starting pitching that carried them to the NL pennant last year, but key players like Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta and Shelby Miller have yet to find their form.

The Cubs will have their work cut out for them on Saturday and Sunday when they face the top of the rotation in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, so their best chance to take down the reigning NL champs is in the series opener as fifth starter Joe Kelly takes the mound. Kelly’s 1.69 ERA in his first start belies a 4.55 FIP and 4.79 xFIP, so if Cub hitters are patient, they can coax some walks (he had a 3.2 career BB/9). He has a knack for slipping out of trouble, though, by inducing grounders — he had a 16% GIDP rate last year (league average was 11%).

Cub hurler Jeff Samardzija will want to watch out for Yadier Molina, who not only is off to a hot start with three home runs and a .390 wOBA but also hits the Cub righty well (.579 OBP/.588 SLG in 19 PAs). Cardinal left-handed-hitting center fielder Jon Jay, whom newcomer Peter Bourjos has displaced as the team’s default center fielder mainly for defensive reasons, may see more action this weekend with Samardzija and fellow righties Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson due to start. Cardinal manager Mike Matheny has been reluctant to start Jay even when he has a platoon advantage, having opted for the right-handed Bourjos against right-handed starters three of five opportunities. ~ Matthew Phillp (www.fungoes.net)

Playoff Blackhawks hockey is almost here so let’s get excited about that with this song that played all year last year for their cup run.

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Are Platoons the Way For This Team?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Junior Lake was interviewed by Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago recently and expressed frustration with the fact that he was not being penciled in the lineup each and every game. For Lake, coming off a rookie year that saw him post a .284 / .332 / .428 slash line, you can understand some of his frustration when you look at some of the other options on this roster for the outfield. It’s not exactly a position bursting with talent. It’s a bunch of average guys who could all make the case to start. However, so far this season we’ve seen Rick Renteria use a platoon more than I would have expected. We’ve seen it with Lake and we’ve seen it with Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena at third base. In fact, we’ve even seen it a little at second base with Emilio Bonifacio and Darwin Barney, though that platoon may be sorting itself out on it’s own. However, is the platoon the way to go? In my opinion, a platoon is the way to go when there is an obvious reason for it. It’s not the way to go if you simply want to get everyone in the lineup. So, I wanted to take a look at some of the guys involved in the platoons and see if, from a career splits standpoint, it makes sense.

If you take a look at the splits numbers for Olt vs Valbuena, for example, what you’ll see is that against righties, Olt has struggled a little. However, his numbers are all based on minor league stats for the most part. Valbuena has more Major league at bats, but really hasn’t done much with them. It’s a tough balance for all parties. I understand where guys are coming from. If it were me, what I’d be doing is playing my highest ceiling guys first to give them every opportunity to win the job and run with it and, should they fail or slump, give the chance to the next in line. That said, I feel like Olt has the higher ceiling at third and Lake has the higher ceiling in the OF. Both should be in the lineup more often than they are not.

  • Baseball America recently had an article asking the question “Is the Cubs pitching underrated?“. We hear all the time about the bats that are soon to be making an impact at Wrigley. Guys like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all get you excited, but are there names on the mound that the common fan doesn’t know about but should? The general feeling is that while there aren’t a lot of top level guys, there are a lot of arms that could be serviceable. Stockpiling has been the goal of the new regime when it comes to arms, so it appears that people are recognizing and acknowledging that has come to fruition.
  • Joe Kaiser of ESPN Rumor Central had a post about Baez in which he asked if it was time to worry. His premise is the 0-for-9 start at the plate and the recent ejection for arguing balls and strikes. Seriously people. Is there not more to write about? Has media become so easy to access that the quality is severely declined? Wait, let me answer my own question. You’re coming here to read my opinion on something. Isn’t that proof enough?
  • We talked about baseball video games on the podcast a few episodes ago. The new RBI Baseball game is out. If anyone has played it for the iPad, I’d like to hear their review of it.

We talked on the podcast on Monday about the discouraging lack of offense. However, all this week we’ve seen the offense show some life. Tonight was more of the same, which was exciting because we didn’t have Edwin Jackson on the mound keeping it close.

  • Bonifacio continues to light up at the plate. We know he’s not capable of maintaining this pace all season so the question then becomes what to expect from him. It is entirely possible that this is just a breakout, career year for him and the Cubs are the beneficiary of that at a bargain basement price. I am still in the camp that believes he’s going to regress to a league average to below offensive player. If you look at his OPS+ prior to this year, he sits at 79, which is below average. I believe he’s on a hot streak and will show his true colors soon. I’d love to be wrong, though.
  • Jason Hammel has made two starts now for the Cubs and both have been excellent. We know the ultimate plan would be to net a healthy return for him before the trade deadline, but I wonder if that has any effect on a player. When you’ve seen the plan and are constantly asked the questions about how you feel about being on the block, does that change your outlook when it comes to taking the mound or even getting to know your teammates. It’s hard to invest in other guy’s lives when you know you may be on the move any moment.
  • Great to see Anthony Rizzo continue to improve against the lefties. Wandy Rodriguez is not a dominant starter, but he has his moments and Rizzo did just fine against him tonight. Top 10 MVP vote here we come.
  • It’s easy to say this after the fact and look like I’m saying it with the benefit of hindsight, but I was disappointed to see Pedro Strop get the call in the 9th tonight. I felt like Wesley Wright was the better option because of the fact that, as you can see on the bullpen health report, he hasn’t gotten in and needed the work. It was a non-save situation so why not rest a guy like Strop and even Jose Veras and go with Wright?

Well look at this, we’re in line for a potential series win. I’m telling you. This team is going to finish .500 this year. Mark my words. Winning the series is not going to be easy as we face the Pirates ace in Gerrit Cole.

MLB.com reports:

Cole hasn’t been around all that long, but he’ll already be looking for his third career win against the Cubs, whom he beat twice last season, striking out 13 in 13 innings. Included was a Sept. 24 outing in Wrigley Field.

Wikipedia Reports:

Cole features a four-seam and two-seam fastball that he regularly throws between 94 to 98 miles per hour (151–158 km/h), but has been clocked as high as 102 miles per hour (164 km/h). He also throws a slider and a changeup.

Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus also had a really nice scouting report article that is free to view and was written last year. For our lazy readers who don’t like to click on links, here is a sample.

Cole’s fastball is one that you can’t teach. It comes out of his hand effortlessly with natural velocity, helping to create the illusion of additional explosion.

Cole throws two fastballs – a four-seam version that routinely averages 96-97 mph throughout the course of a game and can hit as high as 100 mph, and a two-seam sinker, which typically averages 94-96 mph and can get as high as 98 mph.

Cole’s fastball is a true 80 pitch, not only because of the velocity, but also because of his ability to command them both. He throws them both for strikes and locates them well within the strike zone, allowing his velocity to play up even further.

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Commenting On One of the Dumbest Ideas for MLB I’ve Ever Heard

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

I consider myself to be a progressive person in most areas in life, especially when it comes to baseball.  I believe the game needs to constantly look for ways to adapt and change to remain relevant.  You see, I am old. (…okay, okay only 46) Yet I reminisce about a time when the World Series was the most hallowed event in all of sport. In elementary school; every kid watched it, talked about it, and then we would go outside and emulate it after school. In present day, the NFL Pro Bowl routinely gets higher ratings than the World Series. I love the NFL, but the Pro Bowl?

So I get it. Baseball desires to stay significant in the sporting world. MLB revenues are at all-time highs, but the game must continue to grow and attract young fans. Baseball bores my 9 year old son, and many of his friends.  One of the biggest complaints that casual fans have (and even hard-core fans) is that MLB games are too long. MLB games today are averaging around 2 hours and 57 minutes. (up from about 2 hours and 30 minutes in those glorious 70s!)  That’s an average, so most games are going over the 3 hour mark.  I don’t know about you, but I won’t go to a movie if I see that it has a 3 hour price tag on it.  I think we can all agree…we love baseball, but it is just a bit long and shortening the games could be beneficial.

However, we don’t need ludicrous suggestions like the one Buster Olney reported on yesterday. Olney cited a “Major League executive” who suggested shortening the games to 7 innings.  As progressive and open to new ideas as I may be, this idea seems as sacrilegious to me as the Star Wars prequels were. (Damn you George Lucas!)

7 innings…really? I hope the person that suggested this isn’t one of those who are vehemently opposed to a National League DH.  The DH in the NL would be a “tweak” to the rules compared with the seismic shift that a 7 inning major league game would be.  7 innings? That’s for Quakers. (…obscure movie reference)

Why not two outs?  How about starting all hitters with a 1-1 count like they do in Men’s slow-pitch Softball? (not sure why it’s not just 3 balls and 2 strikes…it’s a bit like saying turn it up to 11!….another movie reference)  Of course these ideas are ridiculous (so is a 7 inning game)…but I have to offer several real and some not so real suggestions:

  • During an intentional walk, do we really need the pitcher to throw the four balls? When I coached High School, we could just say “put him on”.  When was the last time you saw something exciting on an intentional walk?
  • For replay… no challenges, no managers coming out to stall… just a person in a control room who watches every play.  If something needs to be reviewed, he turns on a red light on the scoreboard, looks at it, and then makes a ruling.
  • Although I understand the strategy, I hate the “specialist” relief pitchers that have developed over the last 30 years. As with most bad things in my life, I blame Tony LaRussa for this.  These moves make the last few innings tedious to watch.  Bear with me here as this is radical, but how about a limit to the number of active pitchers a team can have for a game?  If a manager only had 10 pitchers to use for a game, then he can’t burn a lefty to face one freaking batter in the 7th inning! I realize there are many flaws (union issues, pitcher usage,) with drastic change such as this. How about a larger roster like the NFL and NHL and then have players who are “scratched” or “inactive” that day? How about a 30 man roster…with 5 players who are inactive that game?
  • A pitch clock? This might work, and umps are already supposed to be speeding this up…but umpires don’t like to be told what to do.

…and now for the really radical (and not really serious… yet still better ideas than a 7 inning game)

  • Step one, fire every Major League Umpire. Step two, offer them their jobs back only if they can pass a “We will no longer be pompous a$$holes who are more important than the game” test. There may be some union issues to deal with.
  • A one minute between innings clock and the pitcher can just start throwing to the catcher if the batter is not up in time. To make up for lost advertising revenue, have commercials “picture in picture” during the game at opportune times.
  • Get rid of the 7th inning stretch (don’t shoot me yet)…except at Wrigley Field.
  • An extra-inning game shall be settled with a home run derby…like hockey does with the shoot-out.
  • Allow players to go into the stands to attempt to catch foul balls.
  • Fire every umpire…oh…sorry…did that one already.
  • Taking a cue from the NFL, let the pitcher and manager communicate via a microphone in the player’s cap.  Then eliminate all mound visits.
  • Instead of trotting after a home run, players can elect to just bow to the crowd and strut back to the dugout.
  • Robot bat boys on hover boards
  • Like a “Get of Jail Free” card, allow each manager 1 automatic out that they can use at any time in the game. Think of the strategy! Do you shut down the rally, or do you save it for the last out of the game?
  • No pick-off attempts on slow-players.

A couple more play-off spots added in MLB? Sure, why not?

The DH in the National League?  I will think about it.

A 7 inning major league game? You are out of your mind.

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Close Only Counts In Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Do you ever feel like you’re so close to something only to realize that you’re either still very far away or, despite how close you are, it doesn’t matter because it means nothing until you reach what you’re aiming at? That’s sort of the way I feel about the Cubs right now. We’re so close to the beginning of competitive baseball that we can begin to smell it. We hear about the prospects that are going to be making and impact and we know they are “close”. Sometimes it’s just hard to have patience, but I assure you, it will be worth it. By the end of next year, I have a strong feeling you’re going to like the status of your baseball team.

Keeping with the close, but not close enough mantra, that seemed to be the theme of this game completely. It looked to be over before we even came to bat as Edwin Jackson gave up four early runs in the 1st. You kind of saw it coming when Starling Marte hit the first pitch he saw with authority down the line and was on base before one minute had a chance to tick away on the clock. The game started at 7:05p CDT and he was on base before 7:06p. The big story will be Starlin Castro, but Jackson’s night really should not and cannot be ignored. What we take from it, I’m not quite sure. There are those on Twitter who are already saying that his signing was “the worst in Cubs history”. Asinine statements like that deserve no comment, but I find it amusing that people will completely ignore the past and look only to the what have you done for me lately matra. I’m not trying to sugarcoat it. The start was bad, with a final line of 4.2 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. However, his first start was not. Jackson has a history of being a back and forth guy when it comes to success, so you have to take starts like this with a grain of salt and move on.

The game didn’t end after the poor start by Jackson. I mentioned early in the game that I had a feeling that four runs wasn’t going to be enough, and it wasn’t, largely thanks to Castro, who has shown a nice resurgence over the last few games and seems to be adjusting OK to hitting a little lower in the order. Personally, I think the 6th spot is a good one for him. It doesn’t force him to have to take a lot of pitches and it lets him do what he does best as a hitter, which is: See Ball, Swing at Ball. In case you missed this one, it would be worth your time to go back and watch his at bats, if nothing else. One of the at bats, I have no idea how he made contact with the ball, let alone dropped it in for a hit. The other two were critical home runs that were fun to admire. A great night for him got us close, but not close enough.

Other News & Notes

  • Emilio Bonifacio continues to be an impact player at that leadoff spot. He went 3-for-5, raising his average to .515 and even drove in a run. He continues to do things that Darwin Barney doesn’t seem capable of doing. If that continues to be the case, it’s hard to make a case that Barney should be playing much at all.
  • The bullpen, outside of a small hiccup by Pedro Strop, continues to look strong and effective and contributed nicely to keep it close. It’s not fun going to that many guys in the first game of the series, so we’ll need a strong outing tonight for the starting pitching.
  • Rick Renteria got ejected, making him the first manager to challenge a call this year and the first manager to get ejected. What does it mean? Nothing.
  • Gordon Wittenmyer turned in another edition of his semi-regular “I Hate The Cubs” series. Honestly, he used to be one of my favorite beat writers, but it’s always the same thing now out of his mouth. He’s slowly morphing into a clone of Paul Sullivan.
  • For some reason, this is newsworthy.

Wandy Rodriguez

Continuing a successful comeback from a forearm injury, the lefty now looks for his first win since May 26. He was solid last week in a quality start against the Cubs, holding them to five hits and three runs in six innings. ~ MLB.com

It’s not easy to face the same team in consecutive starts. That appeared to be true with last night’s matchup and most likely it will be true tonight.

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