Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Real Strength of the 2014 Cubs: The Bullpen

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

All of the attention surrounding the Cubs right now is focused in on the prospects and young stars, and rightfully so. These kids are exciting and it is perfectly fine to zone in on the top prospects, but that isn’t the only part of the puzzle that seems to be solved. The part that might be the best section on the major league club right now is the bullpen.

Now when you look at the stats as a whole, it doesn’t look impressive. A 3.57 ERA in 375.1 innings this year is good for 8th best in the NL. However, you have to think that Jose Veras’ 8.10 ERA (12 ER in 13.1 innings) is included in there. If you exclude Veras’ numbers, the bullpen has a 3.42 ERA, which is good for 6th in the NL and 13th overall in baseball. To go along with that ERA, the relievers have combined for a FIP of 3.42, which is 9th in MLB and included Veras’ stats. This year’s bullpen is far better than the bullpen that posted a 4.04 ERA in 474 innings last season (25th in MLB) and the second worst FIP at 4.23.

There are a few reasons for the resurgence of the ‘pen. One of these reasons is a stable closer. Cubs’ fans have gotten used to seeing Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras blow games in such a way only they could. Since Veras’ release in June, Hector Rondon has taken over the closers role and performed terrifically. A Rule Five draft selection last year, Rondon has posted a 3.45 ERA in 44.1 innings while striking out 49, posting a 2.10 FIP, and converting 14 of 18 save opportunities.

Another reason for the improvement in the bullpen is the power, middle relief arms. The Cubs received two bullpen arms in the Matt Garza deal last year, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm. The first of which, Ramirez, has pitched in 28.2 innings this season and has only given up 4 runs. To go along with his sparkling 1.26 ERA, his FIP is 2.89 and he has struck out 36 over those 28.2 innings. Grimm, on the other hand, has struggled a bit, but has an average 4.21 ERA in 51.1 innings. Also, his FIP is above average at 3.70 and has struck out more than a batter per inning (52 in 51.1 innings). Another guy that has emerged this year, actually it started last year, is Pedro Strop. Acquired in early July last year for Scott Feldman, has pitched 43.1 innings this season compiling a 2.70 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. During that span, Strop has struck out 49 batters and owns a 1.11 WHIP.

The final reason for the bullpen’s bounce back season is the help of some crafty pitchers. The leader in appearances for the ‘pen this year is none other than Brian Schlitter. Wait, what? Yes, Schlitter in his first full season in the big leagues leads the Cubs with 53 games pitched. In 49.1 innings through this year, Schlitter has a 3.47 ERA, 3.68 FIP, a 1.18 WHIP, and only giving up 0.4 HR/9. Another crafty veteran is swing man Carlos Villanueva. Besides having an amazing mustache, Villanueva has been one of the most reliable pieces in the Cubs bullpen the last two years. After starting the season in the rotation and getting hit hard, the right hander has turned it around in the ‘pen. In 42 relief innings, Villanueva has a 2.57 ERA and a .222 batting average against while giving the Cubs a long relief option out of the pen. The lone lefty that has been in the bullpen all year is first year Cub, Wesley Wright. A free agent signee in December, Wright has compiled a 2.78 ERA and a 3.39 FIP in 35.2 innings over 45 games. Actually, the lefty has fared better against right handed batters. Righties are hitting .213 with a .617 OPS against Wright while lefties are hitting .293 with a .626 OPS.

There are other names that have plugged in the bullpen this year including Zac Rosscup, Blake Parker, Chris Rusin, and Kyuji Fujikawa among others. Also, the future looks bright for the bullpen as well. In AAA Iowa, two top prospects are lighting up the radar gun and mowing down Pacific Coast League batters. Armando Rivero and Arodys Vizcaino both should get a nod in September and will have a shot in spring training next March to make the bullpen in 2015.

Regardless, any way you look at it, the bullpen in much improved from last year. My favorite stat comparing the two bullpens is: 2013 bullpen -0.5 WAR, 2014 bullpen 2.8 WAR. That is ridiculous. As much as a crazy thought it is, the facts are the facts. The bullpen is the strength of this team and could be another strength, with the mega lineup, in 2015 and beyond.

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Back to the Cubs Future: A Look Back at the Baseball America Top 10 List from 2011

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

I grew up watching the Cubs as I was in middle school and high school in the early and mid-90′s. While I don’t have as much pain and heartache on my fan log, I do vividly remember following the team quite close. Since it was before social media and even before the internet, I lived for the morning newspaper. Weekly they would post the complete, updated stats for all the Major League teams. Every now and then, I’d get my hands on a sporting news publication, but nothing related to prospects.

Times have changed and now, in the midst of a massive rebuild of the farm system, fans are more interested in the prospects than they ever were before. At one point, ESPN Chicago had their beat writer, Jesse Rogers covering the team in Iowa rather than the big league club. It shows you just how far things have come when it comes to prospects. It’s hard not to get excited about the future as we see guys like Javier Baez come up and flex his power early in his career, but I thought it might be fun to take a look back to see what we were getting excited about just three short years ago.

Each year, Baseball America releases it’s top 10 list for each organization and then projects the lineup for the Major League team three years out. With this being 2014, I thought it interesting to take a gander at what that 2011 list looked like to see how they did. Here is the list in 2011 as Baseball America saw it:

At first glance, this doesn’t look so promising, and it really isn’t. A look at that list reveals no player currently on the Major League roster, with a good amount of them either out of the organization completely or on their way out. Let’s take a look at where these guys are now.

Chris ArcherThis one wasn’t a miss by the Jim Hendry regime when they acquired him from Cleveland in a Mark DeRosa trade. There is a reason he was the number one guy in the system at that time and he’s showing it in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation. Before we get frustrated that he’s not a part of our system, let’s see what he turned into. Archer was sent to the Rays before the 2011 season along with Hak-Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, and Brandon Guyer. A quick look at the top ten list will reveal that three of those five names were in the at that time top 10 list. Keep in mind that the system was fairly barren at that time. In return, the Cubs received Matt Garza, Fernando Perez, and Zac Rosscup. The Cubs would get quality production from Garza for 2011, 2012, and half of 2013 before shipping him to Texas for Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, and Neal Ramirez. So, while Archer isn’t a part of the organization right now, I feel like the overall result is OK.

Brett Jackson – He’s still in the system, but you would never know it given the hype and talk about the rest of the bats in this system. Jackson had his window open albeit briefly in 2012. He got the call late in the season, struggled to the tune of .173 / .303 / .342 and hasn’t seen a call up since. He’s no longer listed in top 20 lists and quickly moving off any radar whatsoever. In 2014, his 4th season with at bats in AAA, he’s hitting .210 / .300 / .352. At this point, the only reason he’s still in this organization is where he was drafted. It’s hard to admit a hiccup in the draft at the top and you tend to give those guys as much opportunity as possible to rebound. He’s on the 40 man roster still, but I don’t see him in the organization at the start of 2015. With the kids getting ready to come up soon, spots are going to be needed on the 40 man and Jackson is expendable. Look for him to be included as a wild card flyer in an off-season deal to acquire a starting pitcher.

Trey McNutt – McNutt had a tremendous first full season in the minors, going 10-1 with a sparkling 2.48 ERA in 2010 between A, High A, and AA. He was rising quick and looked to be a top arm in the system. Since then he’s faltered and has not pitched in 2014. To be honest, I can’t even find news as to if he’s even still a part of the organization.

Hak-Ju Lee – He was always compared to Starlin Castro and fans wondered what the Cubs would do when both players reached the Majors. Would Castro shift to 2B? Logjam at SS…sound familiar? Lee still hasn’t made it to the Majors and has struggled in AAA this season. Things don’t look so good for him.

Josh Vitters – He’s still quietly on the radar, but no longer a potential vital cog in the wheel. At this point, Vitters will either hit enough to find his way onto the roster as a 4th or 5th OF or get traded and get a chance to start fresh. Either way, this one looks very much like a miss.

Chris Carpenter – Not that one. We got the bad Carpenter. His claim to fame was his name and the fact that his trade to the Red Sox was met with much contention between Theo and his former employer. He’s pitched out of the pen in Japan this season after recovering from Tommy John, but nothing really to write home about.

Matt Szczur – He’s been a disappointment since being drafted in the 5th round. He has finally made it to AAA this season and has a slugging percentage lower than his on base percentage, which is hard to do.

Hayden Simpson – Don’t even get me started on this one. This pick had bust from the moment his name was announced. He didn’t pitch at all in 2010 after being drafted in June due to a bout with mono. When he finally took the mound in 2011 he sucked. In 2012 he sucked some more and found himself sucking for an independent team before being released due to severe suckage. In my mind, he’s one of the biggest bust picks by the Cubs in a long time.

Rafael Dolis – No longer in the organization. The fact that a MR was in the top 10 shows just how weak this list was.

Brandon Guyer – He’s in the lineup for the Rays, but not anything more than a spare outfielder.

Overall, not a good state of the system at that time. What makes me laugh is where our projected lineup was supposed to be for 2014.

Thank goodness we have a new era when it comes to talent down on the farm because this lineup is just a tad bit discouraging.

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Division Races Begin To Heat Up, Record Books Change & More!

Monday, August 11th, 2014

After a week away from the column, I’m back in business. Over the past week, even though I’ve been on vacation, I’ve still got to soak in quite a bit of baseball (including a look at the Daytona Cubs ballpark). With that said, let’s get to it!

AL Central Race Tightens

Going into the season, the Detroit Tigers were seen by many as World Series favorites and many also thought that they’d easily plow through to yet another AL Central title. Much like last year, though, the division hasn’t been the cakewalk they expected.

Just about three-quarters of the way through the season, the Tigers hold the lead in the Central by just a half of a game, and that lead is withering away with every day that passes as the red-hot Kansas City Royals have rattled off 7 games in a row.

Many of the problems that Detroit has faced have been blamed on their bullpen (I’m looking at you, Joe Nathan), but their supposedly daunting lineup has come up flat over the past week. Miguel Cabrera has found himself in a rare slump and it appears as if JD Martinez is finally coming back to earth.

With one of the highest payrolls in the league, it would be a colossal failure if the Tigers somehow managed to lose their lead on the division. With the upstart Royals coming for their heads, they’re going to need to figure things out quickly. With all of this being said, however, I still see them taking home the division crown. How do you think the AL Central will shake out? Will the Royals grab a Wild Card spot if they don’t win the division?

Jeter Moves Up Hit List 

No, not that kind of hit list.

In what has been a farewell tour of a season for New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, he has reached yet another historic milestone in his illustrious career. Though a Hall of Fame spot is already locked up, this only adds to his resume.

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, Jeter came up to the plate against Corey Kluber (who was 9 years old when Jeter made his MLB debut). He hit a slow-rolling grounder to the third baseman, but beat it out and in turn moved up to 6th on the all-time hits list.

Realistically, this is probably where he’ll stay given that he’s 84 hits behind the player in 5th place (Tris Speaker). Also with his hit, he moved past Honus Wagner and became the leading hitter amongst shortstops in the history of the game.

With all of this being said and all of his accomplishments being taken into account, what do you think are the chances that Jeter becomes the first player to get into the Hall of Fame unanimously? Along with that, where do you place him amongst the best shortstops of all-time?

Brad Penny Starts, Wins Game For Marlins

Don’t worry; you didn’t hit your head. This is actually 2014, not 2004 like you may think from the headline. That’s right, Brad Penny (now 36) started and won a game for the Miami Marlins (he probably had to get directions to the new stadium) this week.

After spending the last decade bouncing around both the MLB and Japan, Penny has found himself back in the place he called home for the first four and a half years of his career. He spent last year overseas, but the Marlins signed him to a minor-league deal back in June.

His homecoming of sorts (the game was in Cincinnati) was a successful one, as he tossed 5 innings of one-run ball and put the Marlins in a position to win. His 4 walks were a tad bit concerning, but overall it was an impressive effort for someone who’s been a bit down on their luck the past few years.

With all of the injuries that have occurred to the Marlins staff, there’s a decent change that Penny could stick around as an innings-eater if he’s able to pitch well enough. All that’s needed for the Marlins is to trade for A.J. Burnett and sign Dontrelle Willis and they’d be right back in business. With a nostalgic story like Penny, who’s one non-star player you’d like to see back in a Cubs uniform?

This Week’s MVP: J.J. Hardy (.423/.444/.769, 2 HR, 7 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: James Shields (2-0, 1.06 ERA, 7 K)

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Monday Musings

Monday, August 11th, 2014

While you were glued to the PGA Championship, which was a tremendously good finish, there was Cubs baseball going on that afternoon. Let’s get to some news nuggets.

The Cubs won the battle, but lost the war over the weekend – It was a rare series against the Rays, a team that features a number of former Cubs on their roster and in their system. After losing the first two games of the series, the Cubs managed to claw out a win with a walk off hit by Anthony Rizzo in the bottom of the 12th inning on Sunday behind one of the better starts by Travis Wood in a little while. At this point, series wins and even game wins are fairly irrelevant. What’s important for the last month and a half is the continued development of the young talent on this roster, starting with Javier Baez. I think you’ll see him struggle a little, as he always does at a new level, and then begin to figure it out right as the season is coming to a close. That should set him up nicely to be ready to go for the start of the 2015 season.

Two pitchers added and two subtracted – In case you missed it, newly acquired pitcher Jacob Turner was added to the active roster along with Neal Ramirez. To make room, Brian Schlitter was placed on the 15 day DL with shoulder soreness and Chris Rusin was optioned back to AAA. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Turner and even Ramirez. Both have the ability and the stuff to be in a rotation and with the Cubs needing starting arms to build around for the future, I’m curious to see if both will get a look at the rotation before the end of the season. My guess is Ramirez will not, but will potentially be given the opportunity come spring training. I could see Turner getting a few looks down the stretch. Lord knows he’s got to be better than Edwin Jackson, right?

Ryan Kalish was outrighted to AAA after clearing waivers. – He was designated for assignment early in the week, cleared waivers and has been removed from the 40 man roster. It’s not a big story, but I know there are those that think highly of Kalish. I never really thought much of him. My guess is we won’t see him in a Cubs uniform again.

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Welcome to the Bandwagon

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Today, Javier Baez made his Wrigley Field debut. For those of us who have followed Cubs prospects the last few years (“prospect hipsters” according to Jon Greenberg), this marks the beginning of the long-awaited turnaround. Perhaps this is the “Tipping Point” that Chris wrote about.

I totally understand that most fans are casual fans. That is, they keep up with the overall play of the big league club and don’t care too much about the minor leagues – I get it. I also understand that even more serious fans aren’t going to be interested in the teams’ prospects as much as someone who writes for a blog or is active in the Cubs Twitter community is. Most fans are going to lose quite a bit of interest if the major league club isn’t playing well…or, they will complain loudly that this team is the “same old losers”/Ricketts is a cheap bum/Theo is overrated/whatever. Now that the prospects that many of us were following and anxiously anticipating are finally making it to the big league team, many bandwagon fans will follow. You know what? I’m OK with that. After all, we’re all on the same side, and I think Cubs fans spend a little too much energy criticizing each other (it happens out in the bleachers all the time). Yes, I find it absolutely frustrating when I hear ignorant folks criticize the front office for moves that they totally don’t understand (it’s usually the same people that argue that wins are the most important stat for a pitcher), but I’m ready to welcome those fans aboard the prospect-driven bandwagon with open arms. Come on in, it should be a fun ride.

I have a theory about why so many baseball fans don’t see to understand the farm system/prospect development aspect of baseball. I blame the NFL and NBA. In those leagues, players who are drafted (especially those who are early-round picks in the NFL and lottery picks in the NBA) can often step right into the starting lineup of a team and contribute right away. In those sports, if you are a gifted athlete, you can use your talents to play the game at a high level right away while learning the finer nuances of the sport as you go. Baseball is more about applying athleticism to discrete skills – and those skills simply take time to develop. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but if you can’t recognize pitches at the plate or control a breaking ball, it’s all for naught. It’s very rare to have a player like Bryce Harper who can come straight out of high school and play at the major league level. Many casual fans – who are influenced by the way things work in those other sports – don’t understand this need for skill development. I’ve had friends ask me why it took Javier Baez (if he’s so great) so long to make the majors – and he’s TWENTY-ONE YEARS OLD.

So, like I said, I get it. It’s up to those of us who follow prospects to educate those who don’t understand, although it can be difficult in the face of so many losing seasons. It’s been fun to follow these prospects in the minors the last few years, but I am looking forward to shifting my attention to the big league club. I just hope that the “casual” fan can appreciate the planning and patience it took to build the system the way it was built – the pay-off is coming. After all, all great players were once prospects. I mean, we can’t all own Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler Tennessee Smokies shirseys.

In other news:

  • The Cubs completed the trade for Marlins’ starter Jacob Turner, and the Cubs gave up a pair of minor league relievers – Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer. This is a slam-dunk no-brainer for the Cubs. Turner is a former top prospect with good velocity, solid stuff, and promising peripherals. He’s been down lately, but the potential is there. With Chris Bosio’s track record of success working with these type of pitchers (see Arrieta, Jake), it makes so much sense to make this deal. Arias and Bremer’s absolute ceilings were as middle relievers, and they are a dime a dozen (have any of you stayed up late to see Arias/Bremer stat lines from recaps?). Turner had to be added to the 25- and 40-man rosters, so the Cubs DFA’d Ryan Kalish, who showed so much promise during spring training.

[As an aside, I remember being laughed at in the comments when I mentioned that the decision to keep Bosio on the staff was a great one because of his work turning around pitchers and increasing ground ball rates through work on the two-seam fastball – and it was by the same guy who defended pitcher wins.]

  • The Cubs did not complete a trade for Cole Hamels, whom they had claimed off waivers from the Phillies. Apparently, the Phillies were asking for Addison Russell as the beginning of any package, and I think it makes sense for both teams that the trade wasn’t made right now. At least we know that the Cubs were willing to take on his hefty contract, which is a great sign (and should – but won’t – silence critics who say that Ricketts won’t spend money). Perhaps they will revisit acquiring Hamels in the offseason.
  • The Cubs held a private workout at Wrigley Field for Cuban 3B/OF free agent Rusney Castillo. Scouting reports on Castillo vary from top-of-the-order impact player to good fourth outfielder. The Cubs seem to be interested, especially since they did the “sell job” of working him out at Wrigley rather than at their spring training facility in Arizona. It will be interesting to follow this story. The Cubs could certainly use another outfielder going into next season, even with the impending arrival of Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.

 

Happy Weekend!

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GirlieView (08/07/2014)

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2014 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

  • “Theory” is not a guess…In academic usage, the word theory refers to analytical tools for understanding, explaining, and making predictions in various fields of study.
  • Get off your soapbox. Just yesterday our insightful Wood commentary was praised by a newcomer.
  • I need some vodka for my kool aid.
  • I shall send you some.
  • Should Rizzo even be in consideration at all? I mean with his well documented anti-social behavior in Iowa and all.
  • Moot. He hit two homers for a sick kid, so we’re good to go.
  • I believe that in all of the commotion of Jeff and Jason leaving someone forgot to close the door and the Bupkiss’ dogs came in and ate all of the homework
  • Instead of following the unsolicited advice of Mark from Toronto and making sure I get enough sleep every night, I stayed up to watch the Cubs
  • I’m on the west coast. The time zone means I’m awake for Cubs games, good and train wrecks like last night.
  • I couldn’t take it I flipped over to the Iowa cubs
  • Congrats Jswan. Let’s meet at the Vegan Eaterie for a granola bar and some soymilk to celebrate your commentary brilliance. How about around 4PM, Seymours Chevy Volt starts running out of battery power around 5PM so we need to do a blue hair special.
  • I could use some flax.
  • I write to you from sunny Denton, Texas, where it is a refreshing 102 degrees.
  • When done in the right way, I think acquiring pitching through free agency and through trades is a lower-risk proposition than spending first-round draft picks on pitching.
  • I think that the nature of the market these days is that it’s unavoidable to assume some of the age-related risks of established starters. It’s the other side of the coin of avoiding assuming the risk of first-round pitching prospects in the draft … Either you’re going to assume the risk in the front end with the draft, or on the back end in the after-30 years.
  • Shift ban. I’ve heard it all now.
  • That only leaves 2 options. Direct drive, or a continuously variable transmission.
  • I have an idea – why don’t the hitters just learn how to hit better?
  • that’s just crazy talk
  • Looks like the Cubs officially have no chance at the playoffs now as I see the playoff odds are now down to 0.0%. At least that also means those odds can’t get any worse!
  • That’s lower than a prom dress at 1:15AM.
  • Darwin Barney traded to the Dodgers for a PTBNL …good for him.
  • I bet it’s Puig.
  • Everyone knows the next chapter in this story right? Plays well for the Dodgers, makes playoff roster, gets World Series ring.
  • Disney approaching Barney this week for movie deal. Johnny Depp lined up for role.
  • I met Darwin in the locker room at Fitch Park a few years ago. Over the past few seasons I’ve also had conversations there with Jeff Samardzija and Ryan Dempster. Perhaps speaking to me is not in the best interest of any player who wants to stay a Cub.
  • I met Seymour in the locker room at Fitch Park, we chatted. I didn’t get signed to be a Cub. Now I know why.
  • This comment is not Lizzie-worthy because realism.
  • FYI – there are other reasons that your comment isn’t Lizzie-worthy, but hey, why rub it in?
  • Just subtly mention wieners and you’ll be good to go.
  • What is this “subtly” of which you speak.
  • I am pretty sure that if Baez, Bryant, and Soler hit .350 with 35 HR each season coupled with normal progress from Castro and Rizzo and the rest of the guys, Theo could cobble together a pitching staff good enough to make the playoffs. The Cubs would have the #1 offence in the NL by far. Heck, even Edwin Jackson would be able to win a game or three with that kind of run support.
  • If Theo can shop Jackson at his contract price he’s a genius….or a swindler.
  • Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen
  • arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).
  • Switch hitting catcher/3b – #7 prospect in the ATL organization, so I wouldn’t say hosed. You think those two trade aways were long term in the Cubs plans? I don’t.
  • A 20 year old at that. A good trade, thought the net hair balance is unchanged on the club
  • Wait. What? The NHB?
  • Bonny bald – Russell well a few too many hairs – it all evens out
  • I still haven’t figured out why they all want to look like Karen Carpenter on the mound. Real intimidating, fellas.
  • If we can just get Schlitter to tone down his mountain-man look we can have a presentable ball club again.
  • The Cubs received their player to be named from the Dodgers in the Darwin Barney trade – and hey, he isn’t nothing!
  • For now, Doubront has been placed on the disabled list with a, ahem, *cough* real leg injury, so the Cubs won’t have to find a spot for him on the MLB team right now. Isn’t it convenient that this injury would pop up right now? I mean, what are the odds?!
  • I almost think that they are hoping he will struggle and use that as motivation to make the final tweaks he needs to make in order to get back and stay for good.
  • Is it time for the hope wood pitches hard tomorrow comments?
  • Not quite. But if he gets a start in Boston on Patriots Day, it would be morning wood. I think we all know how hard that can be.
  • Unobjective homerism is fun and all, but not meaningful analysis.
  • Finally, please, for the sake of the children, never say the phrase “splash the cash” again. Every time you say that phrase, a kitten is swallowed up by the earth right in front of her child owner, who has no friends aside for that kitten.
  • I know it won’t happen, but I hope enough fans are patient enough that he’s allowed to struggle and adjust without too much pressure.
  • I have high hopes for this week’s ode as well.

Lizard

  • When your worst case scenario is sending a 22 year old player back to Triple A for a half season to work on a pitch recognition and plate approach refinement, you’re in pretty good shape.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to cap’n obvious, Jim Jones, and Josh Cornwall for their first 2014 in-season Lizzies!!!! Thanks for being here. Except for Jim. He’s not particularly welcome.

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson and Seymour Butts, our co-Most Valuable Lizzie-ers this time! Thank you for giving us so many laughs!

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

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
5. Joe Aiello
6. Dork
7. Doug S.
8. Chuck
9. Noah Eisner
10. Mark From Toronto
10. Sean Powell

Chit Chat

Which would you rather, and why?
a.) A 2015 team which is in the playoff race all season long with no assurance of post season appearance or success
or
b.) A mediocre 2015 team but a guaranteed playoff spot in 2016?
(Yes I am aware this is fiction. Just trying to see how hungry you are, or if you’d be willing to sit through another season of boredom if the 2016 payoff was guaranteed good.)

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Are the Chicago Cubs at the Tipping Point?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

95,242. That’s my place in line.

This morning I decided to sign up for the Cubs’ season ticket waiting list.  I did so knowing I would have no chance of having them anytime soon. Considering I will have a child in college for 12 of the next 13 years, my disposable income will be…let’s just say… limited. I joined just to see where I would place on the list. I have heard unconfirmed (maybe one of you can confirm) reports that waiting listers were getting calls just last winter from the Chicago Cubs…stating that their numbers had come up and they could get tickets.  If this is true, and anyone passed…that person may be waiting a long time for another opportunity.

I know very little about the ins and outs of season tickets and ticket brokering, but I know a little about supply and demand.  For the last couple of summers, I have heard angry callers to sports radio begin conversations with “I am a season-ticket holder, and…” they then rant about Jeff Samardzija being traded or whatever other move they are upset about.  My thought when I hear these rants? Get rid of your tickets then. I have a friend who has a ticket business on the side…and I have listened to him lament for the last 3 summers regarding the Cubs.  This may sound insensitive to those who have had tickets for the last 3 summers, and watched bad, bad baseball…but they didn’t have to keep them.  Yet if you did, I think you are about to be rewarded for your patience.  I view season tickets like stocks…buy low, sell high. If you bought Chicago Blackhawks season tickets in 2006, the idea would have seemed rather silly. Yet, in 2014, those lucky enough to have done so have 41 sold-out dates each year to use or sell at their leisure….and they have benefited greatly during two Stanley Cup runs.

I spoke with my long-time friend, Dale Bradley, a financial adviser with 25 years of experience, of Bradley Investment Center in Evanston…and a Cubs’ season ticket holder for the last 20 years. In regards to his tickets, Bradley stated; “You love them and you hate them…when times are bad you are tempted to sell.  When times are good, they are golden”. In my opinion…times are about to be very good for the patient ones.

This brings me to my “Tipping Point” regarding the Chicago Cubs.  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that combines economics, human nature, and social trends.  The book may be a bit “thinky” for some, but here is how Gladwell defines a tipping point: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.   Gladwell demonstrates messages, ideas, products and behaviors that race like wildfire through our society…after reaching their tipping point.  In my opinion, as year three of the Theo Epstein regime comes to a close…the Cubs are either at a tipping point or on the precipice of one.

Am I just a Cubbie blue Kool-Aid drinker?  I will let the reader be the judge, as I give my reasons why the tipping point for the Cubs’ organization is nigh:

  1. Before we get to the fun stuff (players)…lets address an off the field issue.  It appears as though the renovations to Wrigley will finally begin.  With the way this issue has played out, I will keep my fingers and toes crossed, but the Cubs finally give the impression that they have their “ducks in a row” on this. The dark cloud regarding future revenues concerning the park…might finally be lifting.  In fact (fingers crossed, fingers crossed), we may see some of these changes take root during the 2015 season.
  2. The contract of Alfonso Soriano (the equivalent of two Presidential terms) is finally off the books in 2015.  Not including players eligible for arbitration, the Cubs currently have $31.2 million allotted to salaries in 2015.  Let’s give them a modest payroll of $85 million for 2015…you are looking at a heck of a lot of dough the Cubs will have to allocate to free-agents.  They will not enter 2015 with a $40 million dollar salary.  However, I would like to caution those of you who already have Jon Lester in the 2015 Cubs’ rotation…if Lester wants anything more than a five-year deal…that might not be where the money goes.  Regardless of Jon Lester and other top of the line free-agents, the Cubs will have the flexibility to sign, and trade for contracts they have not had for the past six off seasons.
  3. Recent events, the call ups of Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and now (cue, shining light coming through the clouds) Javy Baez, have me thinking that Theo and Jed are ready to at least compete in 2015.  They have stated numerous times they like to call players up to stay…if that’s true, these players will be on the opening day roster in 2015.  A line-up that will include the current NL home-run leader in Rizzo…and perhaps some of the other amazing offensive prospects the Cubs have in the system. These call-ups signal to me that the regime is not concerned about tanking the last two months. I am not alluding that Baez, Alcantara and Hendricks are going to give the Cubs a winning record for August and September…but I get the feeling that the regime isn’t  worried as much if the pick 3rd or 7th overall next June.
  4.  I know some people will always be suspicious of prospects…but when you have respected national writers stating that this may be the best assortment of position prospects ever assembled…you can dismiss those thoughts of Ty Griffin, Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber seem to hit home runs daily.  Alcantara (yes, small sample size) has looked as smooth to me as any prospect in recent memory upon arriving in the Majors.  The Cubs system is “boiling over” with offensive potential.  The “graduation” of these prospects will not leave the minors barren of talent, as players such as Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres will ascend to the top of prospect lists.
  5. Almost under the radar, the Cubs have done an excellent job of stockpiling young power arms for the bullpen.  Justin Grimm has shown flashes, yet still inconsistent. (side not…you don’t have to pitch him every day Ricky) Hector Rondon has stepped in nicely as the current closer, and Neil Ramirez has been filthy for most of the season.  Pedro Strop, although not as young, has displayed his magic slider recently.  At Iowa, the Cubs actually may have the two best power relievers in the system in Armando Rivero (83 k’s in 54 innings) and Arodys Vizcaino.  The Cubs could enter spring training next year with 6-7 relievers who throw 95 mph.

I have had this Tipping Point concept floating in my head for the last month or so…and I finally decided to own it.  I loved Gladwell’s book and the analogies made sense to me.  Some of you may take a much more pessimistic view about 2015 for the Chicago Cubs…and that’s fine. If you do have a negative outlook on the future for the Cubs…please try to convince the 95,241 people ahead of me on the season ticket list that they should drop off.

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What to Expect from Javier Baez

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Nearly a month ago, the first fruits of the Cubs’ elite farm system reached Wrigley Field when the team recalled Arismendy Alcantara. Tonight, Javier Baez, one of the Cubs’ top three prospects and one of the top ten prospects in baseball, makes his Chicago Cubs debut at second base against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Whereas most Cub fans felt that Alcantara was ready for the call up, Baez is a bit more controversial due to an extremely slow start in Iowa and season numbers (.260/.323/.510, 23 HRs, 8% walk rate, 30% strikeout rate) that are good, but not indicative of destroying the PCL. In particular, the high strikeout rate concerns many Cub fans and prospect analysts.

However, Baez’s season is probably best described in three separate portions. The first is from Opening Day to May 16, when he was terrible. The second is from May 17 to June 30, when he was much better. The third is from July 1 to August 3, when he was flat out awesome.

Opening Day to May 16: 122 PAs, .145/.230/.255, 36.9 K%, 8.2 BB%, 3 HRs

May 17 to June 30: 176 PAs, .310/.358/.563, 29.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 8 HRs

July 1 to August 3: 136 PAs, .300/.360/.675, 24.3 K%, 8.1 BB%, 12 HRs

This type of progression is not out of the ordinary for Baez. Since moving up from the Low A Peoria Chiefs to the High A Daytona Cubs in 2012, Baez has struggled upon reaching each new level before, eventually, dominating enough that he spent no more than four months at any level of the minors.

The Cubs have been fairly aggressive in promoting Baez, moving him up a level once he showed a month or so of consistent performance demonstrating improvement on his problems upon each promotion, typically dealing with his overaggressive approach leading to struggles with improved breaking pitches he saw as he moved up. This call up is right in line with that approach.

But what should we expect from Baez in his first stint in the Majors?

I’d caution not to set expectations too high. As I stated above, Baez struggled at each of the three highest levels of the Minor Leagues before adjusting, and he will consistently face pitchers with better stuff and control than at any prior point in his career. Nor would Baez be the first elite prospect to struggle in his first stint in the Majors and have a bright career soon thereafter. Antony Rizzo’s struggles in his first call up to San Diego in 2011 were widely reported, hitting just .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Rizzo has emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball this season. Mike Trout, who has a meaningful chance of being the best baseball player many of us have ever seen when his career is finished, hit just .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances in the Show.

If Baez hits .250/.300/.400 and keeps his strikeout rate below 30%, I’ll be fairly pleased. If the slugging percentage is .450, meaning he’s making solid enough contact to get to his power, I’ll be quite happy. Anything beyond that from a 21 year old middle infielder with historical troubles upon moving up to a new level making him MLB debut? Well, my wife may need to tell me stop doing my ridiculous happy dance a few times over the rest of the season.

But if Baez does struggle, people should hold off on the Felix Pie/Gary Scott/etc. comparisons. When your worst case scenario is sending a 22 year old player back to Triple A for a half season to work on a pitch recognition and plate approach refinement, you’re in pretty good shape.

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5 Things Cub Fans Need to Know for August 4th

Monday, August 4th, 2014

1. The Cubs won on Sunday to cap off a series win against the Dodgers – I didn’t think we’d get the series win going into Sunday’s game, considering that Edwin Jackson was on the mound. When you rank dead last in the NL among qualified starting pitchers, you don’t garner much confidence. Jackson was decent and was able to give us six innings of work. Going forward, the plan has to be to ride Jackson over the 100 pitch mark each and every start, regardless of the result. The results of the games going forward are meaningless and right now it’s more about eating innings and giving the young arms in the bullpen some rest down the stretch until reinforcements arrive in September. At that point, Renteria will be in hog heaven as he’ll be able to carry a 15 man bullpen. He can over-manage the crap out of some late inning September situations.

Starlin Castro got the “day off” to rest, but still managed to make a pinch hit appearance late. Stuff like that drives me insane. Give the guy a true day off. Don’t play him. Let him just take some time to clear his head and make art with John Baker.

2. There are still names who could be leaving before September 1st – Just because July 31st has passed, it doesn’t mean the Cubs are 100% done dealing. Trades can still happen, but it takes a little more work. At this point, a player would need to clear waivers before being eligible to be traded. Looking at the list of guys on the roster, there are a couple names that stand out to me as potentials: Jackson (if for some reason someone thinks they can fix him), Carlos Villanueva, and Nate Schierholtz are all names I could see potentially having some interest if a team feels they can get them on the cheap (they can) and that they can fix them (they can’t).

3. Arismendy Alcantara can pick it – If you missed the game, he made a dandy play going to the shortstop side of the diamond on Sunday.

4. Jed Hoyer is still keeping Javier Baez in AAA – Or at least that’s what they are saying. It’s just a matter of time before Baez is called up. Honestly, I could see it happen Friday when the Cubs return from the west coast trip to start a home stand. It’s a weekend series against the Rays and it would make a great time to get him up here to drum up interest. Then, a few weeks later, you call up Jorge Soler and let the two show what they have for the remainder of the season. The problem for Baez is that he’s not on the 40 man roster, which means someone has to be cleared off to make room for him. Soler is already on the roster, so the call up for him would be easy.

5. Minor Matters – Since being acquired from the Athletics, Addison Russell has played 25 games for AA Tennessee and has hit 8 home runs. He’s hitting .295 / .333 / .566 over that time and my guess is that he’s close to being promoted to AAA Iowa to get a taste there before the end of the season.

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