Joe Aiello joined Marty Tirrell and Trent Condon this afternoon on ESPN 1490 The Jock to talk about the Cubs on a variety of topics. Our thanks to ESPN 1490 for providing the audio.
Download the Audio (3 MB)
Joe Aiello joined Marty Tirrell and Trent Condon this afternoon on ESPN 1490 The Jock to talk about the Cubs on a variety of topics. Our thanks to ESPN 1490 for providing the audio.
Download the Audio (3 MB)
During the course of researching 105 years of Cubs’ futility, I was amazed at the amount of futility I was able to cultivate. No matter the premise, category, or idea that I was investigating…Cubs’ history never disappointed in providing disappointing results. For this week’s entry, I decided to revisit some of my research methods and apply them to a timely theme…opening day!
Every new baseball season provides opening day line-ups for each team that are over scrutinized by their collective fan bases. The 2014 Cubs’ version, in my opinion, offers a palpable improvement over the 2013 model. I see versatility, youth, and more upside than I saw last year.
Nevertheless, when viewing the “ghosts of Cubs’ opening day line-ups past”…the last few seasons appear positively accomplished.
The year was 1981, and I was a twelve-year old lad in my prime Cubbie rooting period. It would be years still before my Cubs’ soul would be crushed into a bloody mess of cynicism and discontent. That process would begin in earnest in just three short years with the crushing defeat that was 1984. Still in my state of Cubs naiveté, I viewed 1981 with unlimited faith. 1981 would be an eventful year in Major league baseball as it would “Fernandomania” with the emergence of Fernando Valenzuela. A players’ strike would wipe out June and July of the 1981 season…mercifully in the Cubs’ case. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty One correspondingly was a year the Chicago Cubs composed a truly putrid opening day line-up. Let’s examine the line-up the Cubs rolled out on Thursday, April 9, 1981, against the New York Mets:
Leading off, and playing shortstop was Ivan De Jesus. De Jesus was one of my favorite players during this period, as he was one of the only Cubs’ who could steal bases. (… a big part of the game in the late 70’s and early 1980’s.) From 1977-1980, De Jesus was a productive lead-off hitter for the Cubs…reaching base at a respectable .342 clip. DeJesus’ batting average would plummet to .194 in 1981, and his OBP plunged to a dismal .233. 1981 would be DeJesus’ last year with the Cubs. (The Phillies obviously did not think DeJesus was done as they would trade Larry Bowa and one Ryne Sandberg for him during the offseason…thank you, Dallas Green!)
Batting second for the Cubs that day was newly acquired second baseman Joe Strain. Strain was acquired from the Giants for outfielder Jerry Martin in December of 1980. Strain went 2 for 3 on Opening day 1981! Regrettably, Strain would garner only 12 more hits out of 71 at bats for a .189 average…and was gone for good by June 2.
First baseman Bill Buckner was in the third hole on that April day. Buckner was coming off of winning the NL batting title (.324) in 1980, and I cannot say a disparaging word about him. One of my beloved players, Billy “Buck” would amass over 2700 career hits, yet is best known for his error in the 1986 World Series.(Question for you Boston fans: What about Bob Stanley? He threw the wild pitch that tied the game?) Buckner further cemented his place in my personal “Hall of Fame” by appearing in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Buckner would go on to hit .311 and lead the league in doubles in 1981.
The fourth and fifth slots were manned by leftfielder Steve Henderson, and rookie right fielder Leon Durham respectively. Henderson hit .293 with a .382 OBP, but slugged an un-clean-up hitter-like .411. Durham hit .290 with 10 homers and 25 steals during the strike shortened campaign.
Thus ends any decency from the Cubs’ 1981 opening day line-up.
Third baseman Ken Reitz, who was acquired along with Durham for Bruce Sutter, batted sixth on April 9, 1981…and went 3-3! Reitz would not be the Ron Santo replacement the Cubs were chasing; finishing with a .215 batting average and slugging (yes, slugging)percentage of .281. Not surprisingly, 1981 was Reitz’s last year as a starting third baseman in the Major Leagues.
Batting seventh was center fielder Scot Thompson. Poor Scot Thompson, he merits his own reason in my book of 105. Apparently the Cubs were still hoping Thompson would show some of the slight promise he displayed in 1979 when he hit .289. In 127 plate appearances in 1981, Thompson would hit…prepare yourself….165! The .165 average sported by Thompson would have placed him third…amongst the team’s starting pitchers.
If you ever saw switch-hitting catcher Tim Blackwell hit, then you couldn’t help but notice the grapefruit size “chew” in his mouth. Blackwell was one of the rare 1981 opening day starters who would outperform his career average, .234 to .228. With one homer, Blackwell’s .342 slugging percentage put Reitz to shame. 1981 did see the arrival of rookie catcher Jody Davis, forcing Blackwell to the bench.
Rick “Big Daddy” Reuschel would make his fifth straight opening day start for the Cubs in 1981. Reuschel was traded during the 1981 season to the Yankees for Doug Bird (yuck) and Mike Griffin (who?). Reuschel would return to the Cubs in 1983, and the team would cast him aside for good following the 1984 season. Five years later Reuschel would be helping the Giants get past the Cubs in the 1989 NLDS. I guess he wasn’t done.
Now let’s neatly sum up the 1981 Chicago Cubs opening day line-up:
PLAYER COMMENTS/1981 RESULTS
Wow. There is a whole lotta bad in that line-up! To be fair, many of these players were eventually replaced…but to start the season with this load of (fill in own term for excrement)?…amazing.
So, next time you youngsters out there in your 20s and 30s start griping about the current state of the Cubs, take a look back at this inept squad that a young boy attached his hopes and dreams to.
…and yes, I had to walk uphill three miles in the snow to watch the games back then…in non-HD.
No game yesterday, but it was April Fool’s day. I don’t generally participate in the foolishness, and I can say that my day went off without a hitch. I’m curious how the day went for all of you. Did you pull any pranks? Were you pranked? Tell us about it in the comment section. Now then, on to the news:
Game 2 of the opening series with the Pirates pits Edwin Jackson against some dude named Charlie Morton. He’s made 108 starts in the majors and yet I’ve never heard of him. That’s my bad, I guess. Let’s take a look a little deeper at Morton and know what we can expect.
“The new anchor of the rotation begins to earn his three-year, $21 million contract against a Cubs team he has beaten only twice in nine career starts. Morton had a solid spring, putting up a 1.13 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts.”
OK, so apparently he’s good. That makes me feel even worse. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say in terms of his scouting report:
Morton’s repertoire consisted in 2013 of a four-seam fastball (93–95 mph), a sinker (92–94 mph), a curveball (78–80 mph), and a split-finger fastball (84–88 mph).Morton picked up the splitter in 2011, having previously thrown a changeup. He also has previously thrown a slider and a cutter.Morton’s sinker was his most common pitch, especially against right-handed hitters. His curveball was his most common pitch with 2 strikes.
Due to the changes in his delivery and the emphasis he has placed on the sinker, Morton has spawned comparisons to the Philadelphia Phillies’ two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay.Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict had previously encouraged Morton to emulate Halladay’s delivery during spring training. Morton has featured his new sinker almost exclusively in his first starts of the 2011 season, resulting in an increased groundball rate but also more bases on balls. Pirates’ fans have christened him with the nickname “Ground Chuck.”
Well, that should make us feel a little better. We’re facing Halladay today and how do we counter? With Edwin freaking Jackson. Fantastic!!
Let’s get to three predictions for the game today.
I found this pretty, pink logo so I have to use it now. This will be a regular feature where we get a look not necessarily at what songs are actually on my iPod, though some are, but rather songs that I am listening to currently. Enjoy!!! Today’s selection is by P.O.D..
The Cubs are unlikely to have any players compete for the big awards in baseball this season. It’s highly doubtful that there is a National League MVP or Cy Young Award contender among on the 2014 roster. But, on a team wide basis, these are the players who I believe deserve some good, and some not so good, designations.
Most Valuable Player
Starlin Castro – I struggled between the Cubs’ shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I think Rizzo will outhit Castro, but if Castro puts up 2011 or 2012 numbers at shortstop while playing even average defense at the position, Rizzo is going to have to put up close to an .850 OPS to surpass Castro’s overall value. I’ll go conservative on this one, and bid on Castro doing something he has done before over Rizzo doing something he has not, despite my belief that Rizzo’s ceiling is higher than Castro’s long term.
Jeff Samardzija - I struggled again with this choice, here between Samardzija and Travis Wood largely because it is unclear if Samardzija will spend the full season with the Cubs or not. Wood had some luck statistics go his way in 2013 (.244 BABIP, 77.4% left on base rate), so I think a negative regression to the mean is likely. I still think Wood has good odds of being the Cubs’ second best pitcher.
But I’ve come to the opinion that Samardzija won’t be traded in 2013. If Samardzija looks like a top of the rotation starter consistently in the first half, the Cubs will extend him. If Samardzija continues to look like a mid-rotation starter who occasionally flashes elite performances, the Cubs will wait another half season to see if he can show top of the rotation consistency in the second half of the season.
Rookie of the Year
Mike Olt - Unlike my picks for Cubs’ MVP and Cy Young, Olt actually could win the NL Rookie of the Year Award if his eye issues truly lie behind him. Olt will likely never be a huge batting average type, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put up a .260/.350/.450 line with 25 HRs while playing plus defense at third base. Just as a note, I’m not saying I expect Olt to do that, merely that I think it is a legitimate possibility.
I also would not be surprised if Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara put up a better batting line than Olt, but I think Olt will have a large enough lead in games played and plate appearances to make him the Cubs’ most valuable rookie.
First Player Traded
Nate Schierholtz - The Cubs want Ryan Kalish to get regular playing time. Schierholtz would be a significant upgrade for numerous contenders in a corner outfield role, headlined by the Detroit Tigers’ and Cincinnati Reds’ holes in left field, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hole in right. I expect one contender with a corner outfield hole to get off to a slow start, and overpay for Schierholtz in response.
Least Valuable Player
Junior Lake – It is not a mystery that I don’t think Lake’s strikeout/walk rate combination can succeed in the Majors, but I think his athletic gifts will enable him to go on enough brief hot streaks to get him 350 to 400 total plate appearances of replacement level baseball.
Player Who Will Look Most Improved Despite Changing Nothing
Edwin Jackson - Just as Travis Wood had some good luck on the BABIP and left on base fronts, Edwin Jackson posted well worse than average rates in both of those heavily luck dependent indicators. He’ll regress to the mean and look like a solid mid-rotation pitcher. Darwin Barney is the runner up in this award, but he’ll still be a wells below average hitter following a BABIP improvement.
Most Actually Improved Player
Welington Castillo - First, what does this mean? This means a player who doesn’t post a crazy high BABIP, but instead does something to actually change some aspect of his game to become a better player in a sustainable way. Castillo had a great year in 2013 as far as OBP and throwing out runners is concerned, but he did not hit for much power and his pitch framing left much to be desired. I think those two skill sets improve, moving Castillo solidly into one of the top ten catchers in baseball.
I posted yesterday in my 10 bold predictions that I felt like it was certainly a possibility that the Cubs would finish the season with a record of 81-81. Not quite a winning season, but certainly a huge improvement on the road toward respectability. After sitting down later and thinking about that statement, it occurred to me that I never really thought about what I’m actually expecting to see this team do in 2014. Sure, bold predictions are fun and they generate readers, but when it comes right down to it, it’s a lofty goal and may not happen. That said, what should be the acceptable result when all is said and done in 2014? Allow me a short semi-political rant to explain.
As many of you may or may not know, my day job is as an independent insurance agent. One of the things I help people with is health insurance with Blue Cross & Blue Shield. Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last six months, you’ve undoubtedly seen that the deadline to enroll in a new plan was yesterday. People have known this deadline was coming for months and yet they still waited to the last minute. One such case was a guy who came to me for assistance around 4pm. I try to help everyone, but this joker was the straw that broke this camel’s back. As I patiently tried to guide him through the process, we got to a place where he had to establish a username and password for his online account. Thankfully, this was early in the process so I didn’t waste a whole lot of time with this guy. When I asked him what password he wanted to use, he replied “Deeznutz”. Annoyed, I asked him how he would like to spell that. He spelled it out, with no realization at the fact that may not be the best password or that the person helping may be annoyed with him. At that point, he needed to verify his account in his e-mail. When I asked him to do that, he said he didn’t know the password for his e-mail. Needless to say, that guy probably is not going to get coverage by the end of the day today, because I can’t fix stupid.
Where I’m going with that is this. When I talked to that guy, I had an idea based on observations and social clues what I could expect from him. The Cubs in 2014 seem to be a lot like that. I look up and down the team and know not to get too excited. The question then becomes: What can we accept? When we go into the season knowing the team is going to still be bad, can we accept worse than 2013 when everyone says 2015 is the year we’re supposed to compete? What is acceptable this year? For me, I think 75 wins is a realistic mid-level goal, but for me, the worst I would accept is 72 wins. That’s six more than last year and it’s my floor. What about you?
Grade the Umpire - A look at the accuracy of the judgement pitch calls.
John Hirschbeck is our first victim. We started this last year a little. I want to look at how the ump did on pitches that were not swung at. These are pitches the umpire had to made a decision on. League average on correct calls is 88%. Our boy Hirsh had himself an 85% correct call rate today, which would be considered worst in the league if he did that every game. Here is a breakdown of his rate by zone.
Off day today so we leave you with a video from one of my favorite bands, Nickel Creek, who have a new album out today.
Download the Episode – (50 min / 11 MB)
Subscribe to the show in iTunes (Please remember to review and rate the show) Follow us on Twitter: Joe – @vftb / Josh – @JCstats / Sean – @powell_sean E-mail the mailbag – email@example.com
After the season kicked off in Australia about a week ago, the excitement for baseball’s return had reached its peak. Players were finally returning from Florida and Arizona, and games were actually going to mean something.
Before we could get to that point, though, we had to make it through one more week of essentially meaningless games, and although nothing too relevant happened on the field, there was more than enough to keep everyone busy.
The two best position players in baseball each signed lucrative contract extensions, and they happened to be within 48 hours of each other. Though they’re both undoubtedly proven players, the reactions that were elicited from each contract were completely different.
The first deal to get done was the Detroit Tigers pact with reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. The eye-popping 10-year, $292 million deal was the richest in total value in MLB history, and many fans and analysts alike panned it due to a combination of Cabrera’s age, and the length of the contract.
On the other hand, the 6-year, $144.5 million contract for the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout was widely considered to be a smart move for both sides, as it takes Trout through his arbitration years and ends when he is 29. When that time comes, he’ll likely unseat Cabrera (or potentially a different player) for the largest contract in history.
From my perspective, I’d have to say that I’m not against the Cabrera deal as many people are. Of course, many executives around the league are criticizing it, but that’s probably because the cost of the best player on their team just skyrocketed, along with any free agents they may bring in. Cabrera should remain one of the better hitters in the game throughout the course of his contract, as his blend of contact and power, and his utilization of the entire field will allow him to age well.
Somehow, the MLB quietly agreed to a system that will enforce performance-enhancing drugs better than any of the four major sports leagues. It won’t get much mainstream media coverage, but Bud Selig, new Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark, and the rest of the executives really knocked this one out of the park.
Under the new guidelines, the penalties for positive tests will be much more strict than before. A first positive test will result in an 80-game suspension, which is up from 50 in the previous agreement, the second will be worth a full season (162 games), and a third will be a permanent suspension from Major League Baseball.
It’s not just the penalties that stiffened, but the testing process as well. Each player will be required to take Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry tests, which show if HGH was in a player’s system in the past two weeks. Along with that, there will be around 1,800 more urine samples collected (Side note: I never thought I’d ever write about urine at any point).
That’s not even the end of it, either. There will also be increased blood testing for HGH, and, as a positive for players, there will be some leniency with unintentional positive tests which puts an end to the “No Tolerance” era.
It’s about time. After going through about a month-long tease, we’re finally going to be treated to regular season baseball, and I think I speak for everyone in saying that it couldn’t have come quick enough.
Throughout this spring, we got to see old faces in new places, like Robinson Cano in Seattle and Prince Fielder in Texas. These two players, specifically, stepped up to the plate for their teams and will look to build on their successes from MLB’s preseason. Of course, some teams weren’t so lucky with their big acquisitions, as the Yankees couldn’t have been happy with Jacoby Ellsbury’s play, same for the Twins and Ricky Nolasco.
Like every spring, there were some standout young players that made their mark on their team, as players like Nick Castellanos, Javier Baez and Addison Russell all put on a show throughout March. While those three might not all get up to the big league this year (Castellanos will start at third for the Tigers, and Baez should be up in no time at all), they showed that they’ll be a big part of their respective team’s futures.
It’s great to see all of the young players get to play against top-level competition, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that Spring Training couldn’t have ended soon enough. It’s finally time, ladies and gentlemen. Play Ball!
Happy Opening Day everyone. If you’re like me, this is a personal holiday for you. I’ve taken it as a holiday from work and/or school for as long as I can remember. I’m definitely one who is on the bandwagon to make the day a national holiday. If the sport is our “National Pastime”, then the day should be a holiday.
I make no secret that I am not a fan of spring training. I don’t get excited about the season until it’s here. As far as I’m concerned, spring training is a necessary evil. That said, I’m excited about this team and excited about this season. I am much more excited about the 2014 season than I was about last season. I am going to go on record with 10 bold predictions for the season. Take these with a grain of salt for two reasons. First, note the key word, bold. They aren’t intended to all come true. Second, know that I completely suck at predictions. ESPN recently asked me to fill out my ballot for the 2014 season for various questions and then tabbed me in their “expert panel”. I laughed at that. So, away we go.
1. Mike Olt will lead the team in home runs – If you’ve listened to our podcast at all, you know we’re all fans of Olt and we want him to succeed. This year, after reportedly clearing up the vision issues that caused his development to come off the track, he will come out and not only solidify his claim to the third base job, but do it in such a manner that it causes the front office to wonder why they even considered using Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy there to begin with. Olt has power and it will be on display in 2014.
2. Javier Baez will have started at least 15 games at shortstop for the Cubs by September 1. – I haven’t decided if I think this will be a result of an injury or issue with Starlin Castro and his production, or if it will simply be an element of Baez pushing his way into the lineup. Regardless of the reason, Baez is close and we’re going to see him sooner rather than later.
3. Anthony Rizzo will finish in the top 10 for the NL MVP race. – So many people are down on Rizzo and the season he had in 2013, but when you really look at the numbers, they weren’t horrible. This year he continues to improve and rebounds strongly to begin to make a name for himself in the NL.
4. Kyle Hendricks will make at least 10 starts for the Cubs – I like Hendricks a lot and I feel like he’s next man up in the event of an injury or poor performance. Nevermind the fact that it came down to Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin for the last spot in the rotation. Hendricks is the guy who will get the longer look.
5. Pedro Strop will finish the season with more saves than Jose Veras – I was actually a little surprised when the Cubs brought in Veras. There was no question that the pen needed to be improved, and it has been, but the move to bring in a closer when at the end of 2013 you let Strop audition for the job seems weird.
6. The bullpen will finish in the top 5 in the NL for ERA – It’s improved and bolstered with power arms. Be excited.
7. More than one player will represent the Cubs in the All Star game. – If I have to pick, I’m going with Rizzo and Travis Wood.
8. Castro will be traded by the July 31 deadline and Darwin Barney will not. – Just a hunch.
9. People will quickly see why Arodys Vizcaino was considered a top prospect when he announces his presence with authority after being recalled from Iowa and becomes one of the top arms in the pen. – I believe very strongly in this guy, so much that I called for him to make the opening day roster. He didn’t, but watch what happens when he comes up. At least 10 K/9 ratio and an ERA under 3.00.
10. The Cubs will win 81 games in 2014 – I hinted at this in the last few weeks on the podcast and I’m locking it in now in writing. This team will be .500 when all is said and done. You heard it here first.
Opening day means all the teams throw their best. Personally, I think Wood is the best pitcher in the rotation, but you can’t deny that Samardzija is a good choice after the monster performance he posted last year against the Pirates on opening day. His opponent is Francisco Liriano, who really turned his career around last year after signing with Pittsburgh. Since he’s spent the majority of his career in the American League, very few members of the roster have seen him for any amount of time. He’s a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Slider, and Change). What I find interesting is that last year we saw a drop in the amount he used the fastball despite the velocity staying the same. As a result, he saw a significant increase in production. Another interesting note: Date back to 2009 reports that vs. lefties he simply does not use the change up, only throwing it 1.8% of the time. Compare that with how he approaches the righties, where he uses the change 24.3% of the time.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer announced yesterday that Mike Olt and Ryan Kalish have made the Cubs MLB roster (making my early roster predictions look AMAZING – and making Joe’s predictions look TERRIBLE). So, with George Kottaras and Donnie Murphy gone, the positional roster looks like this:
1B – Anthony Rizzo
SS – Starlin Castro
…and here’s where it gets interesting:
3B – Olt / Valbuena
The challenge for Rick Renteria is going to be shuffling around players enough to give everyone enough at-bats to stay productive, while also not shuffling so much that the younger guys don’t get consistent at-bats. As you can see, I think Bonifacio will play in both the infield and the outfield, while Valbuena will likely see time at both 2B and 3B. However, I don’t think you have Olt on the roster to sit on the bench – given his upside – so finding time for all these guys is going to be quite difficult. There is, of course, a chance that a trade or two could still happen – but opening day is just around the corner (yay!), so those moves are becoming less likely. The Barney and Schierholtz trade rumors are still hanging around…
To me, Barney has to be the odd man out. He’s pretty much a glove-only guy at this point (even with the expected positive regression at the plate) – so you don’t want him to be taking at-bats away from guys who hit better (and have more developmental upside). Of course, he’s also not a good pinch-hit option coming off the bench. I just have a hard time finding a reason to have him on this team at this point (aside from the intangibles like “leadership”). Every time he’s in the lineup, I can see myself wishing that someone else was playing instead.
The only roster questions that remain involve the 5th starter (Carlos Villanueva or Chris Rusin) and the last bullpen spot (Rusin / Alberto Cabrera / Justin Grimm). My money is on Villanueva to grab the 5th starter spot (until Jake Arrieta comes back) and for Cabrera to take the bullpen gig (out of options). I’d rather have Rusin remain a starter in AAA anyway – I’m sure we’ll need him at some point later in the season for a spot start or two.
How Renteria handles these playing-time issues will be a huge test for the first-year manager. If he pulls this off, we may have found ourselves a keeper.
I’ll be in Chicago next weekend for opening day at Wrigley Field. I’ll be in the bleachers on Friday and Saturday. If you’re around, and you happen to see me, feel free to say “hi.” Since I’ve been living in Georgia the last 6 years, I’ve become quite the wimp, so I’ll probably be so bundled-up you won’t recognize me anyway.
In the meantime, please head over to iTunes to subscribe to, rate, and review the VFTB podcast.