Archive for the ‘General’ Category

GirlieView (01/07/2016)

Thursday, January 7th, 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.

Lizzies

  • Montero as trade bait seems a little unlikely at present, of course a baseball season stretching over 2 calendar years also seems unlikely.
  • Ross was the easiest out in the line up except for Jon Lester, all the other pitchers hit better than Ross.
  • Can’t get enough of this blossoming friendship.
  • I’ve fallen out of the top 10 leaderboard. Either my checks to Lizzie have been bouncing or it’s proof you actually have to comment once in a while to win a lizzie or two.
  • This “Team of Zobrists” idea is not original to me (credit to Gunther Dabynsky for this), but I think it’s very much what we are seeing the philosophy of the team turn into, at least defensively.
  • This is probably more amusing to me than it should be, but I am delighting more than a little bit in how much the Cardinals fans are sweating the Cubs.
  • Merry Christmas, I hope no one bought the Cubs ugly sweater because it is really ugly.
  • My bold prediction – in 35 starts, David Ross bats .455 with 21 homers and 77 RBI. He also spot-starts and throws a perfect game to newly re-acquired 48-year-old catcher Rick Wilkins, who was picked up after Montero went down with explosive diarrhea after binging on all-you-can-eat wings at Golden Corral. I figure the bolder, the better.
  • No way Golden Coral is still offering all you can eat wings in 2016.
  • I am still so broken up over the accusations against Tyler Teaparty that I can barely work today. Tanner Teapot was one of my favorite players, and for that Al Jazz-eared guy to say those things was off-putting, to say the least. How our heroes can fall. And I was hoping that Thurston Teesdale would catch on as Kyle Hendrick’s personal receiver.
  • The fact that David Ross got so many starts hints at Teagen Taygarden’s value to the Cubs.
  • David Ross homered as a pitcher this year…but NOT as a catcher.
  • This moment makes the cut because I was at Wrigley to witness this game, and I can tell you, it was the most electric regular-season-in-negative-million-degrees-meaningless-game I’ve ever attended.
  • Only went to two games this year. Saw Bryant’s first homer in Milwaukee and his scoreboard shot at Wrigley on my birthday. Good stuff.
  • What I’ll miss about Castro is simply the child-like enjoyment he seemed to get from the game of baseball.
  • Surprised nobody posted “Schlitter being sent to Iowa” in their top 5.
  • Jake’s PJs were decorated with moustaches and he was happy to appear before the cameras decked out in his night wear. I guess the Cubs should have expected nothing less on that unusual night in an unusual season for an unusually talented pitcher.
  • Steve Stone: Watching how the Houston Astros approached him that day, for one day in the life of Kerry Wood, he probably understood how it felt to be godly as far as a pitcher is concerned, because they didn’t touch the ball. They didn’t get close to another hit. It was impossible. Len Kasper: I really dig when Pete Townshend smashes his guitar while on stage.
  • Maybe not making a move really isn’t a “move” but not making a move is certainly a DECISION…and it’s one I’m okay with at this point.
  • This is must see baseball.
  • I don’t know how many of you will take the time to read VFTB first thing in the morning on New Year’s Day, but I have to say how much I appreciate the people who take the time to read each post.
  • We don’t always agree on things but no doubt the dialogue on VFTB is far more entertaining and informative then other places
  • Baseball is cerebral, its played as much between the ears as it is with skill.
  • There is no stat for a hitter that is absolutely intimidated by a pitcher who could tell him what he’s throwing and it wouldn’t matter, or a hitter who is so locked in that it won’t matter what is thrown, he’s going to hit it, and hard.
  • It’s still the only sport I’m aware of where the defense controls the ball, and that makes it for me.
  • Well I guess I’ll read this again.
  • this year I’ll be headed to Mesa to partake in the spring training festivities for the first time, crossing something off my “baseball bucket list” that has been there for quite a while.
  • Realized I left David Ross off of this hypothetical bench, so that makes things even more interesting.
  • That’s the only bench he belongs on…other than maybe a park bench.
  • My advice on Spring Training: Have a great time. I can’t imagine any destination more fun than Spring Training – especially this year with the Cubs.

Lizard

  • In all, it’s been a really, really nice December for Cubs fans.

Shout Outs

  • No one had their very first 2015 Off-Season Lizzie this time so let’s have a shout out for everyone! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Jared Wyllys, 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. Jared
6. Eddie von White
7. Bryan
8. Seymour Butts
9. Nate Usher
10. Bartz
10. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. Joe Aiello
10. Sean Powell

Chit Chat

  • It’s always difficult to think of things to chat about in mid-January. We’ve done a whole lot of “look back at last season” and “what to think about next season” posts so let’s talk about something fun. The PowerBall, as I write this, sits at $500 million. By the time you read this in the morning, you will know that you didn’t win the PowerBall and I will know that I didn’t either. But let’s pretend you did. What’s something fun you would do with the money?
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A (probably too early) look at spring training

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Though it might be hard to imagine it now, the 2016 baseball season is quite a bit closer than we think. The first game of the Cactus League season is in just under two months, and the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting is much, much sooner than that. There’s some hope in the air in spite of the brutal weeks of winter that still lie ahead if you are in the Midwest like me because I am mentally ticking off the days until spring training starts. Even in the first couple of weeks before any games take place, it warms me knowing that baseball is happening again. This year, in particular, I am excited for the start of spring training, as I will be heading to Arizona for the first time in my life. I’ve driven through a corner of the state technically, but this year I’ll be headed to Mesa to partake in the spring training festivities for the first time, crossing something off my “baseball bucket list” that has been there for quite a while. I’m taking my oldest son (he’ll be 5 by the time we go),  so for any of you who have done this before, I’m in the market for tips and suggestions.

But with that said, there are a couple of story lines that I think will be worth watching. Whether or not the Cubs will make another trade before the season begins in April looks less and less likely, so we’ll move forward with the assumption that this is the roster we have. You can see the current 40 man roster here, and with that, we’ll look at some things that will be of interest to follow when the time comes.

The rotation

This is, at least for me, the thing that will intrigue me the most, or at least I think it will. I imagine that 4 of the 5 rotation spots will be filled by Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks, so the 5th spot will be a competition between the likes of Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Jason Hammel, and possibly even Travis Wood and Clayton Richard.

There have been hints that an “extended” rotation might be in consideration, and that at times a 6th starter could be used, but with the talent that will be residing at the top of this rotation, I can’t imagine that Joe Maddon is going to be looking to keep them off of the mound.

With these things in mind, I think that the battle for that last rotation spot will be an interesting one. This type of thing is quite common in spring trainings across baseball, but with the level of pitching ability that will be competing for this spot, it’s worth keeping a closer eye on this as things progress.

How many position players?

Along these lines, the outcome of some of these pitching battles will hold sway over how many of the 25 roster spots will be available to hitters as the Cubs close up shop on spring training in early April. There have been some suggestions that improvements to the bullpen are not done yet (interesting thoughts on Andrew Miller here), and that would only make things more interesting.

Assuming that your starters defensively look something like this most days:

Miguel Montero C

Anthony Rizzo 1B

Ben Zobrist 2B

Addison Russell SS

Kris Bryant 3B

Kyle Schwarber LF

Jason Heyward CF

Jorge Soler RF

This leaves names like Javier Baez, Chris Coghlan, and maybe Matt Szczur and Tommy La Stella on the bench. Given the emphasis on defensive flexibility, the Cubs might be able to pull off having a shorter bench offensively to allow more room for relief pitchers. I will be looking forward to seeing how many bats vs. how man arms they choose to take with them as the season starts. If I had to predict, I’d guess at 13 pitchers to 12 hitters, and the remaining four hitters are probably the names I’ve mentioned above. Coghlan and Baez will presumably have pretty wide defensive flexibility, so they will be able to provide spot starts as needed. The trick here will be how to get Baez in the lineup as much as possible, as I still think he is deserving.

On the farm

When players are sent to minor league camp, I will be curious to see where some of them land, particularly Albert Almora, Willson Contreras, Pierce Johnson, and Carson Sands. I’m excited also about the prospects for Mark Zagunis and Gleyber Torres, as both had standout seasons in 2015, particularly Torres. As was written about here just a few days ago, there is a second wave of talent brimming the surface, but given the high degree of very young talent currently on our major league roster, some of these names (like Zagunis and Dan Vogelbach) are good candidates to be playing in a different organization very soon, and probably making their major league debuts – especially in Vogelbach’s case – in a different uniform.

Tickets for the spring training games go on sale on Saturday, so when I decide when in March I’m headed to Arizona, I’ll post an update. And, of course, after my trip down there, I’ll be sure to post something here documenting that experience.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1950: Uncomfortable with front office duties, Charlie Grimm leaves the Cubs as a vice president to manage the Dallas Eagles in the Texas League for a record salary of $90,000. As the Chicago skipper, ‘Jolly Cholly’ had led the team to National League pennants in 1932, 1935 and 1945.

2009: The Cubs acquire right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino from the Rockies in exchange for starting pitcher Jason Marquis and cash. The deal, which frees up $9 million from the Chicago 2009 payroll, gives the club more flexibility in signing free-agent outfielder Milton Bradley.

2010: In his ninth year on the BBWAA’s ballot, Andre Dawson is the only player to receive 75 percent or more of the writers’ votes (77.9) needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The former National League Rookie of the Year (1977 – Montreal) and Most Valuable Player (1987 – Chicago), who spent 21 seasons patrolling the outfield for the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins, is one of only three players to exceed 400 homers and 300 stolen bases during his major league career.

 

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The interesting case of Albert Almora and the second wave of prospects

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Albert Almora is 21 years old and is in his fifth season with the Chicago Cubs system. He was drafted in the first round out of Mater Academy Charter, Hialeah Gardens, FL sixth overall becoming Theo Epstein’s first draft pick. Almora was a highly decorated player on the U-18 team in 2011 being named tournament MVP of the 9-0 team. Almora began his career where most of the high draft picks begin at Boise, Idaho for short season ball and also spent time with the Arizona Rookie League. He combined for a .331.464/.795 line over 140 at bats while only striking out 13 times and walking twice.

After an impressive opening campaign in 2012 he earned a promotion to the Kane County Cougars the Cubs Low A team at the time. It became another breakout year for the youngster as he hit .376/.466/.842. He also should great plate discipline as he struck out thirty times and then walked 17 times. The interesting thing for that season was that Almora couldn’t stay healthy having a wrist injury and some leg injuries. He was limited to 61 games and while he performed adequately actually better than his 1st campaign he wasn’t able to be promoted to Daytona that season.

In 2014, Almora took a step back as he played his most games a pro 125 games to be exact but he struggled after his midseason promotion to the Tennessee Smokies. The Daytona Cubs got a huge boost from Almora as he posted a line .306/.406/.712 but as mentioned above he struggled with the advanced pitching in Double A. It was a small sample size but only 36 games but 141 at bats as his line of .255/.355/.605 was his lowest as a Cubs minor leaguer. One thing about Almora that stood out was his strikeouts for that portion of games. His groundouts vs airouts percentage rose to the highest as a minor leaguer 1.68 where on average 1.25 was around where Almora sat the past three season.

As 2015 hit he spent the entire season at Tennessee looking to rebound on the end of 2014 struggles. In 106 games he moved his line to .327/.400/.727 and looks poised to start the 2016 season at Iowa and a potential call up after the all star break. I’m projecting around 85 games at Iowa with a similar line .345/.400/.745 while limiting the strikeouts and getting his walk to strikeout rate around .75. I would like to see Almora to get a shot at the centerfield job later on this year but at worst be a fifth outfielder if he continues to improve.

Some interesting cases to watch besides Albert Almora are Jeimer Candelario, Billy McKinney and Wilson Contreras. Contreras had the best season of the group combining to go .413/.478/.891 and unreal season while winning the batting title. He’s only 23 years old and is certain to start this season at Triple A after dominating with the Smokies in 2015. It will be interesting to see him in action handling a staff that will have a lot of diversity. At Iowa we’ll see some rotational depth guys as well as some prospects that will be looking to make it to the majors soon. A few names that can possibly be there for Contreras to catch are Ryan Williams the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year, Pierce Johnson potentially mid-season, Edgar Almos and Andury Acevedo. The latter two would be bullpen arms if they can’t make the Cubs roster out of Spring Training. If Contreras can continue to hit at such a high rate and continue to develop as a game caller the Cubs may have found a long term catcher. As mentioned above since the Cubs signed him so early and he got to start in rookie league at 17 he’s had ample time to develop his game.

Candelario is an interesting case because like Kyle Schwarber at the time he really doesn’t have a position. In Candelario’s case it’s that he is blocked by the Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant at third base. He’s on the 40 man roster and like Contreras will probably start the season at Iowa or have a short stay at Tennessee and then be called up to Iowa. He’s only 22 years old and was one of the youngest players in the Midwest league in 2013 at age 20. I have interviewed Candelario before and he comes off as a very determined baseball player. He’s admitted he had struggles adjusting to Daytona in 2014 but rectified those changes last year by shortening up his swing. In reality a demotion can go one of two ways for a player it can shut them down and they’ll continue to struggle or it revitalizes them and we see them make changes and come back better than ever. His power numbers have been very consistent the last three years averaging around 10 home runs while driving in around 60 runs while his extra base hits jumped to 49 including 35 doubles. It gives me hope that he’ll continue to drive the ball to the gap with his new and improved swing and drive to all fields. An impressive stat for Candelario at Tennessee was the strikeout to walk ratio he walked 22 times to 21 strikeouts. It reminds you of a Joey Votto approach obviously in a smaller capacity at lower levels but he’s not swinging at pitches out of the zone and when it’s in the zone he’s not missing.

The Iowa Cubs should be once again and interesting place to watch the next wave of Cubs prospects. I make an annual trip to visit Tommy Birch the Iowa Cubs beat reporter for the Des Moines Register and I recommend making the trip to the stadium. The owner is still very involved while the staff showcases a great experience for fans of all ages. I’m excited to see Williams, Candelario, Contreras, McKinney and maybe even Duane Underwood if he advances quickly through the season. Thanks for reading as always!

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Pearl Jam at Wrigley

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

The summer of 2013 was a really hot one in Chicago. Hot enough to spawn severe thunderstorms that delayed the July 19th Pearl Jam concert well into the soggy night.

I confess that I used to hate Eddie Vedder’s vibrato-laden voice when he sang “Last Kiss”, but in early 2013 I heard “Yellow Ledbetter” for the first time and fell in love with Mike McCready’s plaintive guitar chords and Eddie’s garbled lyrics. It was just what I needed to send me into a Pearl Jam tizzy. I had, (and still do), quite a playlist of their hits on my iPod that I rocked out to, like “Black” and “Still Alive”. When I found out they were coming to Wrigley, I knew I needed to at least try for tickets. Luckily, I scored decent seats in the upper deck directly across from the centerfield stage!

None of my girlfriends, coworkers, or family was really into Pearl Jam, but my youngest daughter, Natalie, wanted to go shopping the next day after the concert. She agreed to join me and promised to keep an open mind toward grunge-rock. Make no mistake, though, meandering down The Magnificent Mile was her ulterior motive. I had booked a room at the Inn of Lincoln Park, an old, two-star hotel, about 1 ½ miles southeast of Wrigley Field.

On the drive up to Chicago I played several Pearl Jam songs to Nat, so she could get a taste of what they sounded like. She feigned interest quite well. We arrived at the hotel around 3:00 and checked in at the front desk. Our room number was 225. After receiving the card key, we took the tiny elevator up to the second floor. It lurched to an abrupt stop. Both of us had to use the restroom terribly. When we got to the end of the hall, there was no room 225!? The numbers stopped at 224. After giving each other deer-in-the-headlight stares, we opened the door into the stairwell. By this time, we were at the end of our bladder control levels. I’m pretty sure I had already started to lose it. Luckily, instead of running down the stairs to ask the clerk where in the hell our room was, we looked to the right and there it was, tucked inside the stairwell! The obscure, corner unit was a real deal. Not. The air conditioning didn’t work and there was constant construction noise for the duration of our stay. Other than that, it was tolerable, because of its close proximity to the ballpark.

Nat and I found a Greek café down the street and ordered some tasty salads. After we hit a few shops we returned to our room to get ready for the show!

We decided to leave early for the Confines. It was approximately 105’. My straightened hair frizzed immediately. At first, we started off at a normal pace, enjoying the flow of the crowd and the electric atmosphere of a big event. All of a sudden, Natalie decided to morph into a mall-walking ninja. She picked up the pace and told me I was going too slow. I told her, “Fine, let’s kick it in!” About half way to Wrigley the soles of my feet started to burn from the sandals I had on. I tried getting Nat to slow down but she was on a mission to get there in record-setting fashion. She belongs in the military. The friction from quick, repetitive blows to the pavement turned my feet into a blistered mess by the time we got to our seats. I promptly gestured to the beer vendor to bring me a cold one. Nothing soothes injuries like a good beer buzz! It was weird to see so many people gathering for a concert instead of a ballgame.

Pearl Jam started their show with “Release”. Ignoring my sore feet, I stood up to sing along with the crowd. Damn, it was fun! Even Natalie was enjoying it. Unfortunately, rain started coming down in torrents after only seven tunes. Everyone on the field had to exit because of the risk of lightning. It didn’t take long for Wrigley to become a steamy cauldron of rain-bedraggled fans. We had to hang out for 3 hours waiting for the all clear. Concession workers were bombarded with people. Throngs hung out on ramps and walkways or wandered around. Shoulder to shoulder. Beer to beer. Nat drank a delicious cup of water for only $4 since she was just 19. What a steal…

When Pearl Jam finally took the stage again, deep into the night, it was almost surreal when Eddie, who is a lifelong Cubs fan, sang his ode to the team, “All The Way.” The melody floated out through the warm, misty air like ripples on a pond, washing over the mesmerized crowd.

It was freaking epic, especially when legend and former Cub Ernie Banks took the stage with him. I feel so honored to have seen one of my favorite players that night! Nat and I even snuck down to the vacated seats a few rows behind home plate for the rest of the show. We also saw quite a few inebriated fans steal beer from the coolers that were left unattended. I was going to go for one but Nat wouldn’t let me. When we walked out of the park Pearl Jam was still blasting Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”. The music followed us back to the inn.

Enjoying a great concert under the magical lights at Wrigley was very cool, in spite of the weather. Were you there? Tell me what you remember most about it. I’ll remember Eddie singing:

“We are not fair-weather but foul-weather fans”. No truer words were ever sung about those of us who truly bleed blue.

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The Game We Love

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Now that a new year has begun, and with only around 6 weeks until pitchers and catchers report it would be easy to do a year in review or what’s to come in 2016. And there may well be a bit of both. For the most part I just want to talk baseball and why it’s a way of life, why it can inspire such passion and divisiveness. As the great Ted Williams said “I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball”. With Pete Rose saying, “It’s a round ball and a round bat, and you got to hit it square.” The skill required to play this game at the highest level is truly rare, it’s why teams are willing to pay millions for potential. Players can spend 10 years working their way up, and hoping for a shot. Baseball is cerebral, its played as much between the ears as it is with skill. Once this game gets a hold of you, it really can be for life. It’s not for everyone however, and it seems the casual fan is growing more rare.
I want to think out loud and share. For everything that stats can bring to this beautiful game that we all love, nothing beats watching a perfect pitch. Which if you haven’t yet, check out Pitchers List on Twitter. They put up the nastiest pitches for a day.

Pitch f/X can tell us that a given pitch was a slider. And that it broke so far on the X and Z axis. Just watching a hitter look silly, the ol’ turn away from a strike or swinging at a pitch that should hit a batter gets me giddy. Or that unmistakable sound of a home run. And not the one where it sounds like he got all of it, but when he DID get all of it. Where everyone knows it. The pitcher doesn’t look, the outfielder doesn’t move, and the guys in the dugout simultaneously jump up to get a glimpse and celebrate with their friend and teammate.

This is why we watch, when it’s going well, it’s our team and we cheer. Their is no joy like it, on a moment like those there are millions that are watching and sharing in your love of the game. It brings us together, and like it or not, it’s why some people say “we” when referring to their team. Something I’m guilty of and ok with. I ride the emotional roller coaster. There’s an energy, a momentum that cannot be quantified. There is no stat for a hitter that is absolutely intimidated by a pitcher who could tell him what he’s throwing and it wouldn’t matter, or a hitter who is so locked in that it won’t matter what is thrown, he’s going to hit it, and hard. It’s what creates rivalries, moments that become history, not just in the record books but in the hearts and minds of fans. It’s why, regardless of who is playing for the other team, you dislike them and why switching teams can turn you into a fan of them. It can make for families divided six months a year. It can make you cheer for results even if you don’t like a player, rooting for the greater good. And this is why I’m a fan, because I do feel these things. Because I do say “we”, why I choose to watch, talk and write about baseball. Because there is nothing quite like it. Sure there are other sports, and football is clearly king among American sports, and soccer the game of the world. But this game where failing 7 out of 10 times is considered success is where my heart is at, where my hope springs eternal every spring. Where nothing is guaranteed, except that everyone is tied for first place on opening day.

Last year was one of the best seasons of Cubs baseball I’ve ever seen, but the way the postseason played out can only be described as “baseball”. A red hot Mets team quickly dispatched one of the best regular season teams in the Cubs, only to get shown the postseason door by the Royals who largely were the same team that lost 2 of 3 to the Cubs.

With only a draft and free agents left to remind us of 2015, we as fans turn our attention to 2016. It’s why projections are popular, it’s why we tune in to our favorite blogs and sites to see if our opinions align, if someone else sees what we see. And we do, we see baseball and fandom in its purest states. The anticipation, the fresh start, the clean slate and it fills us with a sense of community like few things can. And that’s why I can’t wait to see what “we” do next. With a revamped line up and the longest tenured Cub in Castro traded away. A pitching staff that added a veteran presence with insurance at the major league level, there are so many interesting story lines to follow with this team both on the field and off. The new year brings with it a new set of expectations in life and in baseball and I’m excited to see what 2016 brings. Happy New Year everyone!

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Happy New Year: A look at 2016 projections

Friday, January 1st, 2016

First of all, Happy New Year to all of you. I don’t know how many of you will take the time to read VFTB first thing in the morning on New Year’s Day, but I have to say how much I appreciate the people who take the time to read each post. There are so many good people who contribute to this blog, and Joe truly does a marvelous job of welcoming in new writers and providing the opportunity to people like me to improve on their writing skills and hone their craft. I wrote my first post here early this year, and I have had nothing but a good time posting here regularly ever since, and I like to think that I have gotten better at this blogging thing since then.

With all of this said, and on the first day of 2016, I want to take a look at the ZiPS projections for the Cubs in 2016, especially because there’s a lot to be excited about. If you are not familiar, the ZiPS projections are the work of Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski), and his projections for the Cubs came out just a couple of days ago:

I’ll break down a few of the highlights from the projections, but you can see the whole thing here as well. To begin, the projections from both Steamer and ZiPS have the Cubs as the collectively strongest team in baseball going into the next season, based on total WAR. Here’s a snippet:

the club possessed then —and still possesses today — the league’s best collective Steamer WAR projection. Given the numbers one finds below, it wouldn’t be surprising to find — when the present series of forecasts is complete — that the Cubs possess the top projected record by ZiPS, as well.

While this is nice, it is worth considering that these projections are usually fairly conservative, so the Cubs of next season could surpass even these expectations. The Cubs of 2015 certainly surprised everyone, so while they may win a smaller number of regular season games in 2016, I think the chances of an even better playoff run this coming season are promising. That’s a very hard thing to predict, but with all things considered, our front office has put the Cubs in a great position to be as successful as possible next season. I think @ManuclearBomb puts it rather nicely:

Getting back to the projections the strength of the offense will come from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, and Anthony Rizzo, to no surprise. They are expected to combine for 15 wins this next season, a total that’s better than several other teams as a whole in 2016:

As a trio, however, that group is expected to log around 15 wins. That figure alone would represent a better mark than the overall totals posted by the position players of eight clubs in 2015.

Otherwise, I was most interested to see what Szymborski had to say about Adam Warren, who the Cubs got in exchange for Starlin Castro just a few weeks ago:

Among pitchers, the recently acquired Adam Warren (101.2 IP, 1.9 zWAR) receives a markedly optimistic projection.

Along with that, the projections call for four different Cubs hitters to launch more than 20 home runs this upcoming season, with two over 30. Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are the ones expected to go above 30, and Bryant and Javier Baez with at least 20 apiece. Needless to say, the Cubs project to have an offense that is filled with firepower this next season.

To be fair, this same projection has Arismendy Alcantara hitting 16 home runs in 2016, so take it all with a grain of salt, of course. The important point is that the Cubs will probably score a lot of runs next season. Couple this with a strong pitching staff, and things could get interesting. For as average as most of us expected them to be last year, they won 97 games, for goodness sake.

The projections call for Jake Arrieta to lead the team in FIP and ERA and come in second in innings pitched to Jon Lester. This is a nice change to see, as I fear that is workload in 2015 is one that he should not repeat.

Interestingly, Kyle Hendricks is close to the top of this list in a variety of ways as well. I have high hopes for him in 2016, and plan to include a closer look at him in my “players to watch” posts in the next few weeks. Heck, Hendricks is getting comps on Fangraphs to this guy named Mike Scott, so perhaps we should be more excited about him going forward than we had expected (oh, and Arrieta is drawing comps to Orel Hershiser).

In all, I believe that, unlike 1985, 2004, and 2009, we are not in store for a letdown season, as the philosophy of the front office and ownership has changed dramatically from what it was in those years. They have built on the success of the previous season in a way that we haven’t seen in a while. So, with that, enjoy your New Year’s Day, and I look forward to celebrating the success of the 2016 Cubs with you.

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THE MLB AWAKENS (Star Wars and the Majors)

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

***Warning…if you are not a baseball fan who also happens to be a Star Wars nerd, this write-up is not for you! It contains only silliness, and has no relevant rumors, news or information.

I have done this before…it just seems the timing requires I take another go at it.

I was nine years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and like most of us in our mid to upper forties…I was smitten. As the original trilogy spanned my 4th grade year until my freshman year of high school…the characters, story, and mythology had a huge impact on my cultural development. The series actually helped shape a part of who I am…and I am not embarrassed to say that. (…okay, maybe a little)

If anyone can relate to the words above…then you were most likely as disappointed as me in the “prequels”. Oh, there were some cool elements…Darth Maul, the Pod Race, Darth Maul, Emperor Palpatine, Ewan McGregor and Darth Maul…but most of it was just a big pile of Bantha crap! (…and don’t even get me started on Hayden Christensen…who makes Dave Coulier look like DeNiro!)

…but alas! A New Hope emerged when word broke that a real sequel was on the way! A new Jar-Jar, Battle Droid and midi chlorian-less version, with promise of Stormtroopers, Han and Chewie, the Falcon, Luke, Leia and the capacity to get it right! The thought of this actually happening had seemed so illogical, so remote that I have been giddy waiting for the film the last few years. I even showed incredible discipline by avoiding all trailers and spoilers…I wanted the film to be a complete surprise…and like most nerds my age-I saw it on the preview night prior to the actual release.

Expecting my thoughts on the film? I doubt you would care…everything I have stated so far is to qualify me as a Star Wars-ologist…not a film critic.

A few years ago, when Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens debuted I habitually identified it as a name straight out of the Star Wars Universe. It was just too perfect…Jair Jurrjens? It still makes me giggle…and since I am always searching for giggles, after Jair…I always look for MLB/Star Wars names.

“The Force Awakens” will soon become the highest grossing film of all time. (Take that Avatar! and by the way James Cameron…are you waiting thirty years to make a sequel to that?) The cultural relevance of Star Wars is at its zenith…therefore I present members of the current Star Wars/MLB team:

TEAM 1- Non-Force Sensitive Pilot Good-guy types – Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, CJ Cron, Kyle Kubitza, Troy Tulowitzki, Vance Worley, Zack Cozart, JA Happ, Boone Logan, Tommy Pham, Xavier Scruggs and Tanner Roark.

TEAM 2- Friend and Foe Non-Force Sensitive Alien Types- Nori Aoki, Didi Gregorius, Arismendy Alacantara, Tuffy Gosewich, Dan Uggla, Coco Crisp, Yan Gomes, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Reid Brignac, Jumbo Diaz, and Ivan Nova.

TEAM 3- Jedi (both alien and human)- Chase Utley, Brock Holt, Kole Calhoun, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Nola, Starlin Castro, Lucas Duda, Koji Uehara and Kolten Wong. (Kris Bryant may seem force sensitive…but sorry…)

TEAM 4- Sith Lords- Yoenis Cespedes, Lorenzo Cain, Xander Bogaerts, Yasiel Puig, Ubaldo Jimenez, Slade Heathcott, Noah Syndergaard, Radhames Liz, Jung Ho Kang, Mike Matheny and any other member of the Cardinals organization not previously mentioned.

If you registered at least one giggle I am satisfied…and if you are a combo MLB/Star Wars nerd like me…I implore you to search the galaxy for future team members.

…and on a final note…my mention of the Cardinals organization was not just a spiteful jab at the Birds…picture the following scene:

Cardinals’ General Manager Admiral Mozeliak addresses his subordinates…beneath the Admiral lay sheets and sheets of information stolen from the Houston Astros’ database…

“…many Bothans died to bring us this information”

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Why Not Making a Move is the Right Move

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

The upside of two trade targets, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, is not worth the Cubs exploring that option right now. Keeping Soler and Baez helps the Cubs for 2016 and the rotation is better and deeper than people realize. There could be a move at the deadline for one of these pitchers, but right now is not the right time for the Cubs.

Lets flashback to December 11th for a moment. That is the day rumors came out that Jason Heyward was going to sign with the Cubs. The happiness and jubilation filled every Cubs fan’s heart. Just dreaming about the lineup, with Ben Zobrist signed earlier in that week, was something that made every Cubs fan want the calendar to flip to February for Spring Training. However, there was one rumor that came out that same day about a different Cubs player, Jorge Soler. Soler, along with Javier Baez, has been rumored to be a possible center piece of a trade to acquire a young, cost controlled starting pitcher. While there are arguments that say trading for one of these pitchers can help not only the 2016 team, but the team for the next three to four years, there are a few reasons why the Cubs should stand pat with their team right now, but the upside of these young players isn’t worth trading them.

Acquiring a young starting pitcher would help the Cubs anchor a rotation that could change in a big way in two or three years. However, there isn’t a realistic deal for the Cubs to make to trade for one of these pitchers without including a part of their young core, namely Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. Let’s start with Soler. The 23-year-old outfielder is signed through 2020, after signing a 9 year/$30 million deal in the summer of 2012. Soler has struggled to stay on the field in his time in professional ball, while dealing with a number of injuries. In 2015, Soler missed time with an ankle sprain and an oblique injury. The outfielder only accumulated 404 plate appearances in 101 games over the season, but the postseason is where Soler thrived. In his first playoff appearance, Soler reached base safely in his first nine plate appearances and in all seven postseason games that he played in, while finishing with a .474/.600/1.105 slash line, three doubles, and three home runs. While Soler was only worth 0.1 fWAR and the defense is shaky at times, Soler slides perfectly into the right field spot for the 2016 Cubs, with new outfielder Jason Heyward in centerfield. If the Cubs were to part with Soler, that moves Heyward to right field, and an outside option, most likely, to play centerfield.

Another young Cubs position player who flourished in his postseason debut was Javier Baez. The 23-year-old started in place of the injured Addison Russell in Game 4 of the NLDS and Baez responded with a booming, opposite-field 3-run home run in the second inning, which gave the Cubs the lead. Baez has come under some criticism for his 2014 rookie year performance, where he hit .169 with a 53 wRC+, a 41.5% K rate, and was worth -0.8 fWAR in 434 plate appearances. In 2015, Baez missed time on bereavement, dealing with the death of his sister, and a broken finger, as the young infielder only had 80 plate appearances in the majors, which were all in September. However, in his time in the majors, Baez did improve. Baez ended with a .289 average, a 98 wRC+, a decreased K rate of 30%, and a final fWAR of 0.5 in 28 games. The upside with Baez is that he can play three positions in the infield, all above average, and is now working in Winter Ball playing some centerfield. The Cubs signed Zobrist in the offseason, and they may have a different version of Zobrist in Baez.

While the Cubs current rotation is a reason for concern with most people, it actually looks better than last year’s. The 2015 Cubs rotation actually ended with the highest starting pitcher fWAR in baseball at 19.2. Pointing at the lack of starting pitching in the playoffs is a viable argument. Then enter John Lackey, who is coming off a career year in St. Louis last year with a 2.77 ERA, a 3.57 FIP, and 3.6 fWAR to lead the Cardinals rotation. Lackey fits into the three spot in the Cubs rotation, behind NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta and last offseason’s free agent prize Jon Lester. While the backend of the rotation was a revolving door, especially the 5 spot, the depth has been answered. Kyle Hendricks likely has the 4th slot locked down, coming off a sophomore year where he compiled a 3.95 ERA, a 3.36 FIP, a 3.25 xFIP, and 3.4 fWAR. For the last spot in the rotation, there are a number of interesting options that including Jason Hammel, who was a star in the first half of 2015, and a number of swingmen like newly-acquired Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, and Clayton Richard, who all will be stretched out in the spring to battle for the last rotation spot. With these pitchers that can move from the rotation to the pen and back to the rotation gives the Cubs flexibility if there were an injury were to happen in the rotation, a spot the Cubs were not suited for last year.

While trading for a Carlos Carrasco or a Tyson Ross would certainly help the Cubs rotation and make it possibly the best rotation in baseball, the Cubs are in a great position right now. They don’t have to make a move. The 2015 Cubs won 97 games and added three key free agents and rotation depth. While Soler and Baez both have flaws and could not end up as projected, there is a ton of upside for both players. Soler should be the starting right fielder on Opening Day, and Baez could possibly play four different positions and provide much needed power off the bench. As for the rotation, the newly acquired depth is a key attribute and can help the Cubs in the long run of the season. There are many reason to make a move, but right now, the Cubs should sit back and get ready for the season with the team they have now.

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Remembering Jake’s No No

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

The weather outside is finally frightful, as the song goes, so we turn to the hot stove for comforting thoughts of baseball and summer time. Many recent VFB postings look forward to next summer and dreams of a championship. But today, I want to look back to one very extraordinary game last August 30. That night, Jake Arrieta no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers allowing only two base runners, while striking out twelve hitters. It was a dominating performance and only the fourteenth no-hitter in the Cubs’ history.

It was both likely and unlikely to happen. The stage was set for Arrieta. He was peaking and everyone in baseball knew it. The second half of the ’15 season, Arrieta was the best pitcher on the planet. By the latter days of August, Arrieta’s name was being tossed around as a serious Cy Young candidate, even though Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were both enjoying Cy Young –worthy seasons themselves and had out-pitched Arrieta the first half. Yet, that Sunday night of August 30, the Cubs played on national TV (ESPN) and Arrieta had everyone’s attention. He had 14 consecutive quality starts, going 5-0 during August, heading into the final game of the series in Los Angeles. Baseball people knew that Jake had a no-hitter in him. During the ’14 season, he had taken a no-hitter into the 7th inning three separate times. No Cubs pitcher had done that in decades.

But a no-hitter is always unlikely. And the Dodgers had been no-hit only ten nights earlier, when Mike Fiers blanked the Dodgers and left them hitless in Houston. How unlikely was it that the western division leading Dodgers could be no-hit twice in a ten day period?

More than that, the no-hitter is simply a rare and special thing in baseball. As mentioned, there had been only thirteen in the Cubs’ 144-plus years before Arrieta’s no-hitter. Only eight of those occurred in the modern era (after the beginning of play in the World Series in 1903). And the majority of the Cubs’ no-hitters can be characterized as strange, at least in some of the circumstances. The last one before Jake’s was Carlos Zambrano’s unusual no-hitter in 2008 against the Astros, a home game for the Astros, but played in Milwaukee because Hurricane Ike was threatening Houston. Before that was Milt Pappas’ bid for a perfect game in September 1972. He lost the perfect game when he walked pinch hitter Larry Stahl on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth. Pappas preserved the no-hitter when he induced the next batter to pop-up to second, but losing a perfect game with two outs in the ninth had never happened before in a major league baseball game. Pappas was preceded by Burt Hooton’s 1972 no-hitter in only his fourth major league start. Hooton was preceded by Kenny Holtzman’s two no-hitters, one in ’69 and the second in ’71. In the ’69 game, Holtzman did not strike out a single hitter. In the ’71 game, he scored the only run of the game. So, the Cubs’ history with no-hitters was littered with weird occurrences.
But there was nothing weird about Arrieta’s baseball performance against the Dodger’s last August. It was masterly. The game began with a promising top of the first for the Cubs. Kris Bryant hit a two run homer to put the Cubs up and it looked like the Cubs might have a good offensive night. Then Jake went to work. He neatly avoided trouble early, while he appeared to get stronger and stronger. He sat the first six hitters down with no hint of worry and he was throwing all of his pitches for swinging strikes.

In the third, however, Arrieta benefitted from a close call that might have been more controversial if it had occurred in the later innings. Kike Hernandez hit a sharp one hopper directly at Starlin Castro at second base. Castro tried to make the play on the short hop, but failed to stay down. The ball bounded up and off Castro’s mid-section to his right and he could not retrieve it in time to make the play. You can see it here http://m.mlb.com/news/article/146416620/starlin-castro-says-he-made-error-in-no-hitter .

Jerry White, the official scorer, ruled it an error. ESPN News later reported that White saw the play four times: once live, once on replay and twice in slow motion and had no doubt that Castro’s misplay was an error. Adrian Gonzalez, however, claimed after the game that several Cubs admitted to him that the play could have been ruled a hit. Jake graciously conceded the same after the game.

After that play, Arrieta allowed only one more runner when he walked Jimmy Rollins with two out in the sixth inning. Thereafter, Jake was in command and seemingly became stronger each inning. Castro contributed a nice grab of Carl Crawford’s line drive up the middle to end the 7th. And Addison Russell made a quality play to throw out Hernandez on a hard ground ball, which Arrieta failed to snag in the 8th. Arrieta capped off the game by striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth. He finished efficiently with 116 pitches thrown. It was a classic performance by a gifted power pitcher at the top of his game. Cubs fans are unlikely to see a better performance in a long time to come.

Not to be forgotten is that Arrieta made Bryant’s homer in the first hold up. Although the Cubs had men on base numerous times during the game, they failed to score after the top of the first. The final score was Cubs 2 – Dodgers 0.

After the 27th out, things finally got weird in the best Cubs’ tradition. Jake appeared for his post game interviews in a one-piece pajama suit. By happenstance, Joe Maddon had scheduled a PJ party for the flight home to Chicago after the game. It was another unconventional step in our unconventional manager’s successful campaign to keep things loose during the pressure of the run up to the post-season.

Jake’s PJs were decorated with moustaches and he was happy to appear before the cameras decked out in his night wear. I guess the Cubs should have expected nothing less on that unusual night in an unusual season for an unusually talented pitcher.

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