Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quick reminder why Dusty is not missed

While reading over this article I was reminded why Lou Piniella is such a breath of fresh air from the Dusty Baker Era, even three years after it ended.

Yes, the bigger issue here is how Carlos Marmol's pouting might impact his performance, but I still find some enjoyment in the swift, not-so-subtle justice that Lou reigns down on his players from time to time. This quote brought a smile to my face
I'm sure he is somewhat disappointed, or he is disappointed," Piniella said. "But he needs to get over it and pitch and help us win baseball games. And I know he will. He's a good young man, and he competes well.

Lou just has an uncanny way of slapping his players on the butt while patting them on the back at the same time. There is a lot made of how he can "get the most out of his players," and a lot of that I just think is just nonsensical cliches, but quotes like this show Lou has a conscious way of getting the message across to his players. A quote like this toes the fine line of being a hard-core motivator and player's best friend perfectly.

I have always thought that fiery managerial styles a la Billy Martin and ultra-supportive ones like Dusty Baker's are problematic. Both have their upsides when it comes to a manager's interaction with players, but both also have clear downsides that I think outweigh the positives.

With Dusty I think Cub fans saw the negatives of his cuddly, teddy bear approach to his players. How many times did Aramis appear lethargic, most likely because there was no fear of backlash from his manager? How much nonsense did Sammy Sosa get away with (though I admit he would have been a chore for any manager)? How many meaningless at bats did Cub fans witness by the likes of Ramon Martinez and Neifi Perez because Dusty felt some kind of misguided loyalty to them?

Picture Lou in any of those situations, and I think it is pretty obvious that Aramis and Sammy would encounter a red-faced manager in the clubhouse and players like Martinez and Perez would be replaced (see Cesar Izturis replaced by Ryan Theriot), and thank god for that.

- Greg M.

The Big C's

So I got on Twitter today (as I do now because I'm cool) and I read from Joe Cowley that Ozzie says Colon and Contreras are the 4/5 starters. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? But apparently he was not kidding me. This indeed does seem to be the case which leaves Clayton Richard in the bullpen it appears (possibly back to Triple-A).

I could not disagree with this decision any more than I do. These two guys are very similar and I don't know that it is worth the risk to rely on both of them. Odds are one will be decent (possibly even good) and the other will be awful. Therefore placing them both in the rotation is asking for failure.

By leaving Richard out of the rotation you lose a huge advantage that I think the Sox would have had by having 3 lefties. There's a certain allure to having so many lefties in the rotation to me. Maybe it's because I'm not used to it being the case for the Sox, and in the past the Sox have been awful against left-handed pitching.

But not matter what the case is, Richard needs to be given a chance, and by leaving him out it may be a shot to his confidence. "Yeah you made the team, but you will be in the 'pen behind two old, possibly washed up, guys we are paying more to than we are to you." Not sure that's what we need to be telling our young guys.

I just think this is a terrible decision by Ozzie and the rest of the staff. But at least those 3 games against Minnesota at the end of next week will be interesting.

Finding a Happy Medium Between Stats and Your Eyes

"I don't have to see stats to know that Manny is a good hitter"

That was said last year by a friend of ours when we were discussing how we look at stats in baseball. The more I think of that statement, the more truth I find in it both ways. More and more new stats are coming into the world of the baseball fan and changing our long held opinions of certain players. I think that is both a good thing and a bad thing. I've linked fangraphs on the sidebar and they obviously operate a stats based website that uses things like BABIP or wOBA to evaluate players. I find these stats to be very helpful, they do a great job of explaining why a guy had a career season out of nowhere (aside from using steroids) and they can help explain why some players suddenly aren't as good as they were in previous years.

Stats can also be a bad thing when they are used as the absolute end all of any baseball argument. I'll use Fukudome as an example of this. Anybody who watched the Cubs play last season knows that Fukudome wasn't good. Sure he played lights out defense, but he was awful at the plate. I can represent his awful season by pointing to things like a OPS of .738 or a batting average of .257. Virtually every stat about Fukudome says he isn't a good hitter, however on another website last week when I was trying to explain this to people, I was given the stat that he had a league average wOBA. That was used to show me that Fukudome wasn't bad and could have hope for a solid 2009 season. This is where I feel stats can go bad, beside the fact that Fukudome isn't here to be "league average," if you are going to argue that this one stat shows he isn't that bad, you're wrong. Some players just are not good, especially in comparison to their contract.

Now back to good things stats do. Defensively I love stats, even though that is the hardest thing to quantify in stats. I did a couple pieces earlier using UZR to figure out who is good at defense and who isn't. Derek Jeter is the classic example of this, he won the Gold Glove from 2004-2006 despite posting UZRs of -.4, -13.7, and -6.5 these are not the numbers of a Gold Glover. People's eyes have deceived them in this case and in many other cases.

So what have we learned? Its simple stats are awesome and most of the time can be used to support an argument. The problem is some people treat them as the end all of every argument, and use them to ignore the obvious fact of a player not being good. For every Fukudome who people misuse stats to support them, there are 50 Jeter's who people have overrated based on things they think they are seeing. It seems like I contradict myself with those statements, but think about what I'm saying. If I were to make the argument that Rickie Weeks was actually not that bad last year because he had a wOBA of .334 I think most baseball fans would smack me. On the other hand if I were to tell you that 2008 SS Gold Glove winner was actually not good at defense because he had a UZR of -2.5 I think most baseball fans would agree with me.

Stats are useful, just don't rely on them alone for the basis of a basketball argument. Just like people shouldn't ignore stats completely. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sox Thoughts of the Day

I will start with the news that Dewayne Wise has been named the White Sox starting CF and leadoff hitter. This to me is great news. I do not trust Jerry Owens and frankly I don't really like Brian Anderson (except when he was yelling 'no way' on the Podsednik walk-off). Therefore to give Wise his first chance as an everyday starter for the Sox seems like the right move to me. He's clearly out-performed the others in ST so there's really no argument there. The idea of needing extra speed out of Owens or the better defense out of Anderson to me is irrational because the Sox are not going to be able to afford guys flirting with the Mendoza-Line (.200 AVG) all year.

Jermaine Dye is scaring me. JD (god I hate when blogs use nicknames) is hitting a whopping .177 this spring. He's hit the ball out of the ballpark once, and only has 4 total extra base hits. As it turns out you are supposed to do well in Spring and then decline a little when the season starts and the pitching gets better and the weather colder. Let's hope I'm agonizing over something stupid here and Jermaine comes out and kills the ball Opening Week.

Finally, the Big C's as I like to call them (again with the nicknames, but it's better than the other racial epithets I may have used otherwise). They were both doing well. This is no longer the case. See today's (Monday) box score. They pitched all 9 innings between them and 13 runs were allowed. 7 to Colon, 6 to Contreras. Not good. Someone is going to have to take that 4th/5th starter slot, and right now I'd say throw their names in a hat and pick one out. Again though, I may be putting too much weight on pre-season baseball scorelines, hopefully this is true.

D-Day for Rich Harden, We have a Backup Catcher

Rich Harden is getting another spring start today against the Royals. This start is big for Harden because he needs has to be able to throw more than 80 pitches a game if he is going to be in the rotation. His next start will be at the new Yankee Stadium where he will hopefully get to face a pretty solid lineup of major league players.

I've downplayed Harden's importance to the team in terms of making the playoffs, but if he is going to be in the rotation he does need to be able to throw 110 pitches sometimes. The bullpen cannot be forced to throw 4 innings every 5 days, because it doesn't allow for the other starters to have down games. Of course all of this talk is pointless once his arm gives out in mid-May, but until then I would rather the bullpen not get taxed every Harden start which just puts more pressure on the other starters.

In other news the basically meaningless backup catcher position has been filled. Paul Bako was cut and Koyie Hill will be the once a week catcher. Bako isn't very good at baseball so this was kind of an inevitable decision. Neither guy is a great hitter, but I think that Hill will be at least decent with the bat. If Soto were to get injured and needed to sit out and extended period of time prospect Wellington Castillo would probably get called up to handle the everyday job anyway.

We are a week away from opening day and while there are still some minor issues (the Fukudome problem that the Cubs won't talk about), it seems like everything is coming together for the Cubs to make another run at winning a title. Hopefully this run ends with at least one playoff win.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cubs Name Closer

True to his word Lou Pinella named Kevin Gregg the closer for the Chicago Cubs. Gregg beat out Carlos Marmol for the slot by having a great spring. Gregg has put up a 0.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts and only two walks in 8.3 IP. Meanwhile Marmol has struggled a bit with a 4.50 ERA in 8 IP. Marmol also had some issues in the WBC which may or may not have factored into Lou's decision.

I've said I wanted Gregg to close the whole spring, mostly because of Marmol's ability to get out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings. Gregg will do a fine job as closer and if he does have issues, Marmol will be ready to take over. I'm not claiming that Gregg will be as good as Kerry Wood was a year ago, but he should provide more reliable health and will still be able to get the saves.

A separate issue for me has been the recent struggles of Marmol. I'm a big believer in spring training numbers not meaning anything, however Marmol is an emotional guy. He feeds off his confidence in order to dominate hitters in big situations, and his emotions can also hurt him (see Zambrano, Carlos for another example). His blown save in the WBC cost his country, and in the Dominican Republic they actually care about that sort of thing. I think Marmol has had that blown save in the back of his head the rest of spring, and hopefully this second setback to his confidence doesn't hurt him further. Once the season starts one of the things I'll be watching very closely is Marmol's demeanor on the mound, and also how often he throws his fastball. 

The rest of the bullpen is also a concern for me. Aside from Aaron Heilman who has been awesome this spring, I have concerns with all the members of the bullpen. Luis Vizcaino  has had somewhat decent numbers in the spring, but I don't trust him at all. Unfortunately his salary promises him a spot in the bullpen unless Jim Hendry can find somebody to take him on. Neal Cotts is the only lefty in the bullpen and he did a decent enough job last season. I don't trust him especially as the only lefty in the pen. Then we come to the Chad Gaudin issue. The man was pretty impressive when he first came over, then he got drunk and fell into a dumpster. Every since he has been awful. He is another player who has a salary that demands him a roster spot and again hopefully Jim Hendry finds somebody who needs a garbage starter or swingman. 

I think the final bullpen spot should go to rule 5 pickup David Patton. He has been awfully impressive this spring with a 0.93 ERA and Jeff Samardzija should be sent to AAA to work on being a starter. Samardzija will serve his purpose in the big leagues, and if we have luck in the injury department he can come up and help in the bullpen in August and September. 

As strong a starting pitching staff and potentially strong end of the game pitching the Cubs have, middle relief is going to be a struggle all season unless a couple guys step up and get lots of guys out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Love Milton Bradley

Honestly this guy never needs to play a game for the Cubs now. After this article in the Tribune I will love him forever.

When asked if he was surprised that people are picking the Cubs to win the NL Central, Bradley replied with this gem that is sure to set off every Cardinal fan.

"They should, I'm Here."

You go Milton Bradley.

Cubs-Yankees Excitement

A few month ago when it was announced that the Cubs would be the first team to play in the new Yankee Stadium, I was very excited. Sure they are two meaningless exhibition games that mean nothing, but for me its really cool to face the Yankees. 

The matchup got a little bit cooler this week as the teams have started to leak potential starting pitchers. The Yankees announced that Chien-Ming Wang will start April 3, the Cubs will counter that day with either Ted Lilly or Rich Harden. The Cub who doesn't start Friday will be the Saturday starter. This is pretty cool in my opinion, I thought originally that each team would toss out some useless AAA pitchers to fill up the innings while the star hitters left after 4 innings. Odds are this will still happen, but at least for 4 innings or so real major league hitters and pitchers will be facing off.

The only thing that is missing is Ted Lilly striking out A-Rod to finish off a no-hitter. I guess I'll have to wait until the World Series (HA!) for that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

There is a Fourth Starter, and Rich Harden is Hurt

Now that the NCAA tourney is taking a few days off, the Cubs are back on my radar. The biggest news isn't really that shocking of news: Sean Marshall will be the final member of the starting rotation. It's almost impossible to argue with Lou Pinella on this one, Marshall has been good all spring going 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA. Aaron Heilman was his only true competition, and he has also had a solid spring, but his services will be needed in the bullpen (more on that crisis tonight). I really like Sean Marshall and if he can stay healthy I think he will prove to be a reliable starter over the course of the season. 

In other shocking news Rich Harden is hurt. The Cubs can fling this "flu" crap at me all they want, but the fact is Harden has a tear in his shoulder. He had it coming into spring training and it isn't going anywhere. Instead of just stepping up and admitting that Harden's shoulder won't be ready for opening day, this flu thing will be used as an excuse for Harden missing the first few trips around the rotation. I'm still pissed about the Wood and Prior lies that Jim Hendry and the Cubs told, and last year Wood's blister became a lie, and now this year we get to deal with Rich Harden lies. Honestly I don't care if Harden is too hurt to pitch at the start of the season. His value is in August, September, and October. His health will not affect the Cubs making or not making the playoffs. 

One final note, the backup third base spot will most likely belong to Mike Fontenot. He got a start at third the other day, and Lou seems to have faith in Fontenot's ability to play third for small periods of time. I have no problem with this plan for the occasional Sunday off, but when the annual Aramis muscle pull happens in late July Fontenot/Miles can't fill the need for three weeks. Hopefully before the trading deadline Hendry will address this issue. Corey Koskie would have been a nice addition, but obviously he made the right decision and retired instead of risking permanent damage to himself. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sox Sign Floyd to Extension

The reports that I have seen have said 4 years, $15.5 million.

I don't have much to say about it other than, YES.

I've heard there were some deals offered to Danks and Quentin that were both turned down, I'll update this when I find out more.

UPDATE - The AP story claims deals were also offered to Quentin and Danks at the same meeting but deals were not reached. Danks apparently was offered the same contract extension as Floyd. I do not have details on the offer to Carlos.

I'm happy to see that Kenny isn't wasting time trying to get these guys signed. Danks, Floyd and Carlos are the future of the team and retaining all of them is critical. Hopefully they are able to strike up deals before to long.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getz Named Starter at Second

According to WhiteSox.com Chris Getz has been named the starter at second base.

I am not surprised by this at all, but I am a little surprised by the timing of it. Why now? There are still more than 2 weeks left before Opening Day. I would have waited at least a few more days and maybe more like a week. You don't want him to just settle in for the rest of Spring Training. There is still a lot of work that Getz needs to do before he becomes a great player. So telling him now seems like it may allow for a let down for him performance wise.

On the other hand, I guess informing him now lets him know that the organization has faith in him and he doesn't need to worry any more. He will be able to play a little more relaxed and not have to worry about impressing the coaching staff any more.

I think it was too early, but I can understand why to do it now. But it doesn't really matter what I think because come April 6th, Chris Getz will be the starting second basemen.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Konerko and Betemit

Yeah, it's been a while. Cry about it it. The tournament is on, give us a break.
But back to baseball for a few minutes.

We need to take a moment to look at how well Konerko and Betemit have been doing so far this spring. Look at the numbers so far...

Konerko - .396 AVG, 4 HR, 3 2B, .431 OBP
Betemit - .324 AVG, 4 HR, 1 2B, .390 OBP

I'll start by talking about Konerko. The White Sox need Paul Konerko to be good this year if they want to have any success. Last year Konerko was kind of down, yeah he had his hot spurts but as a whole not the best year of his career. But every once in a while he has a year that he just rakes. Watching him this spring has made me think that this may be the year (at least I hope). Konerko needs to prove why he still belongs not only on this team but in this league. He has been seeing all of the guys out there that have been finding a hard time getting a job and he has to be thinking to himself, 'I need to do well to keep my job.'

I don't think his impact can be overlooked. A healthy and hitting Paul Konerko makes the Sox lineup an extremely tough one to face. Quentin, Dye, Thome, Konerko with the compliments of Pierzynski and Ramirez makes there 6 good hitters possibly in a row in that lineup. Throw a few role players including some speed and some fundamentals and theres no lapse in the lineup. A Sox lineup with a struggling Konerko just is not as strong as one in which he's going through rough patches.

On to Wilson Betemit. If this blog existed at the time when he was acquired by the Sox I would be able to point to my thoughts on him at the time in writing, but it didn't so you will have to trust me. When I heard Betemit was part of the deal I felt that he could be the best part of that trade. I like Marquez for the future, but I thought then, and I know now, that Betemit is going to impact the 2009 White Sox. Having a good switch hitting utility guy on the bench is key to a winning ballclub. He can play 3rd, 1st, and even a little SS (a very little, he does struggle there, but it's possible and he's done it in the past).

Betemit gives the Sox a lot of flexibility which is something they need. Konerko needs a day off in the field he can DH and Betemit plays 1st, Fields needs a day off Wilson plays 3rd that day, and he's actually a good enough hitter to DH in certain situations (like against some lefties). He basically gives the Sox a 10th everyday player, and I think if he's used properly you will see him a lot and not really notice that regular starters are missing on those days.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slow Week

Posting here has obviously slowed down recently, but it will pick up again soon. A combination of mid-terms, papers, and NCAA Basketball along with this slow part of spring training means there isn't much to talk about. Never fear, spring break is next week so I will have plenty of time to post. We will try and get another Cubs writer, Greg, to get some stuff up, and as the season gets closer more stuff will get written. For the one random person who actually reads this crap, content will explode starting next week, and once the season starts things will only get better.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Center Field

Let me start by updating the stats for each of the candidates for the position of center field.

Dewayne Wise - .391 (9 for 23), 1 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, 6 RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS
Jerry Owens - .200 (7 for 35), 0 HR/3B/2B, 3 RBI, 0 SB, 3 CS
Brian Anderson - .200 (6 for 30), 1 HR, 0 3B/2B, 3 RBI, 0SB/CS

Going by the numbers it's pretty clear that Wise is the starting center fielder. However, I think it would be intelligent to keep Anderson on the roster for defensive purposes as well as to play against lefties. Anderson just hit a home run today against a lefty and over his career he has fared real well against the left handers (well at least better than Wise is vs. lefties). I know Owens is supposed to infuse the speed into the lineup that Kenny wanted, but 0 for 3 in the spring is not good, and frankly when I've watched he doesn't look like a great base stealer.

I posed this earlier and I'll talk about it again, I think it might be wise (pardon the pun) to give Alexei a shot in center if Beckham is going to continue playing as well as he is. That being said, you can't just make that move. Alexei will have to play some in center this spring if he is going to play there when the season starts, and I think they are trying to get him as many games at short as possible to get him acquainted with that spot. So don't bet on Alexei in center and Beckham at short, but I don't want to rule this out totally.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Milton Bradley

Every since last season at the trading deadline when I heard his name being mentioned a bit as a Jim Hendry target, I've wanted Milton Bradley to be a Cub. This offseason my wish was granted and the Cubs signed Bradley to a 3 year $30 million contract. So without a doubt Bradley is one of my favorite Cubs right away. 

I seem to be in the minority on this, many Cub fans don't like the Bradley signing because of his injury history and also because he likes to say some dumb things at times. People also feel that Bradley was given way too much money considering what Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu ended up signing for. Dunn actually received the same amount of money per year as Milton, just on a two year deal instead of three. Abreu signed a one year $5 million deal, but that deal would not have been possible when the Cubs were in the market for a new right fielder. Hendry wanted to sign a right fielder as soon as possible this offseason, and I can only imagine the outcry of fans if Hendry waited until after Valentine's Day to sign Abreu.

So for the next two or three years we have Milton Bradley to play right field. The reality of Bradley is that he will play about 120 games and put up good numbers. Last season he hit .321/.436/.563 with Texas. It's almost impossible to expect him to repeat those numbers, but he will still hit around .300 and be a good switch-hitting cleanup guy for the Cubs. Sure he will sit out a game or two where other players might played, but his 120 game production will be better than the 162 game production of most players. In fact I will predict right now that Bradley has more homers and RBI than Fukudome even though he will probably play a lot less games.

If you are on the fence about liking Bradley, remember that no matter what he will be around for a while. He's going to put his foot in his mouth a lot and he might piss some fans off when he sits out with a "sore quad". I'm positive that Bradley will be a pleasure to watch and will make a positive impact on this Cubs team in 2009.

Some Albert Pujols Praise and Other Things

When it comes to Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols, I usually have nothing nice to say. He is the star player on the Cubs biggest rival and he usually is good for a three-homer weekend every time the Cubs and Cardinals play. I think Pujols is one of the dumbest people alive, and he seems to turn out two or three downright stupid comments a season. All that being said Pujols has done something very positive for baseball, he skipped the WBC and because of that the Dominican Republic was eliminated. They had no real first baseman and it cost them late. Felipe Alou is pissed about it. I hope Pujols sticks to his guns and doesn't apologize for skipping the WBC. He has to prepare for the real major league season, and if the Cardinals have even a prayer of challenging the Cubs he has to play 162 games. So kudos to Pujols for skipping the WBC and concentrating on the real, meaningful baseball season.

Now I do have a criticism for Pujols as well. This weeks Sports Illustrated has a big article about why we can trust that Pujols isn't on steroids and that he never did steroids. While the intention of the article is good, A-Rod is obviously no better than any other the other cheaters out there and Pujols is next in line for the label as best player in baseball, I think its a bit dumb of Pujols to come out and proclaim his innocence. A-Rod did it, Rafael Palmeiro did it, Roger Clemens did it, and the list goes on. I would ask each and every baseball player to shut the hell up and just play. You are all guilty, each and every one of you. No matter how much Pujols denies it, I don't believe him. He is surrounded by steroid use in an era of steroid use. 

The Cardinals are perhaps the dirtiest team not named the Yankees when it comes to the steroid problem. Manager Tony LaRussa has been defending steroid users for years, he managed and won a World Series with two of the steroid poster boys Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. He has defending Rick Ankiel who was caught with HGH. Other Cardinals who used steroids or HGH include Gary Bennett, Ryan Franklin, Fernando Vina, Troy Glaus, David Bell, Larry Bigbie, Jason Christiansen, Darren Holmes, Cody McKay, and Kent Mercker. LaRussa and his first base coach Dave McKay were recently profiled by ESPN as steroid enablers. Lets just say this is a franchise that employs quite a few people who have enjoyed the benefits of steroid use.

Quickly back to Pujols. I've presented the evidence, it's mostly guilt by association. Perhaps Pujols is clean, somehow he ignored all the use around him and played it clean. Realistically he joins Sammy Sosa as two very stupid people who were able to outsmart the system. They were smart enough to buy their steroids in cash and most likely in the Dominican where the steroid sellers are probably loyal to their buyers unlike the United States sellers.

I'll have some Cub thoughts later in the day, most likely about Milton Bradley. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Second Base Update

While the last time I took the time to talk about the second base spot I was on the Brent Lillibridge bandwagon, I have since jumped off. I now believe it is Chris Getz's spot. He has been doing well this spring (.286, HR, 4 RBI), and I feel like he deserves it more than Lillbridge or Nix do at this point.

That being said I still believe Beckham deserves a shot on this team come April 6th and that spot is now SS. Beckham hitting .333 with 2 HR should not be moved away from his natural position when the guy filling that position is being moved from last year.

Alexei is now my center fielder and Anderson and Owens are battling for a backup spot.

Also, a Viciedo update. He's hitting .238 with 2 HR. He may not be ready yet. Hopefully I'm wrong and he can turn it around quickly, but I'm afraid to say he will probably start the year in Triple A.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Defense Part 2 of a Lot: Cubs Outfield

The second part of my new found love of defense and defensive statistics we will take a look at something the media has deemed a potential issue for the Cubs this season; outfield defense. The Cubs projected starting outfield is Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley. Most people look at that and assume it will be on of the worst defensive outfields in baseball, I'm going to see if that's true.

Last season with a general outfield of Soriano, Jim Edmonds, and Fukudome the Cubs finished in the middle of baseball in outfield defense. They had the 15th ranked UZR for overall outfield and 3.9. The Rays were the best in baseball at 47.1 while the Rockies were worst at -48.3. So the Cubs finished right in the middle. 

Obviously Soriano will play everyday in left, popular opinion is that he is an awful defensive outfielder. Soriano is certainly guilty of making some bad plays, dropping some balls that he shouldn't, and taking bad routes to chase down balls. Surprisingly Soriano is rated at slightly above average in left, registering a 2.4 UZR. Even more surprisingly he posted a 18.5 UZR in 2007 in leftfield. He also has a damn good arm, leading the NL in outfield assists in 2006 and 2007 and getting 10 in his limited time in 2008. I'm not saying that Soriano should be getting a gold glove, or even that he should be considered a "good" fielder. I'm just saying that the idea that he is horrid out there is a myth. 

Fukudome was one of the best defensive rightfielders in baseball last year, but his bat can't hit at the level necessary to play rightfield. He will instead start the season platooning with Reed Johnson in center. Last year Johnson played some center and had a -4.7 UZR, his best position is left, and he is also pretty solid in right. Fukudome played a very limited amount in center so his true value is unknown, he put up a -2.3 UZR in that limited time so I would guess he ends up around average, maybe slightly below average. No matter what he is an upgrade defensively from Jim Edmonds, who posted an awful UZR of -7.7 in center last season.

Milton Bradley is the true wild card. Lots of people assume because he was a DH last season that Bradley is an awful defensive player. Actually his time in right field has been rather solid, the most time he played in right was the 2006 season in Oakland. He put up an 8.4 UZR, in 2008 in 19 games with the Rangers he put up a 5.2 UZR. So he won't be as bad as lots of people are expecting.

The fifth outfielder will most likely be Joey Gathright. He has played primarily center in his career, though I expect Lou will want him to play all three positions. His centerfield UZR was 2.3 last season, he really doesn't have any experience in the corners so that is an unknown. Gathright won't really see enough playing time to make a true impact either positively or negatively.

I'm not claiming here that the Cubs have this awesome lights out defensive outfield, but the myth being spread (I'm looking at you St. Louis) about the Cubs having this bad defensive outfield is laughable. Sure its only league average, but with Soriano and Bradley their bats more than make up for any defensive problems. I would love to have an awesome defensive outfield like the Rays or the Mets, but its not going to happen right now. For a team that hits like the Cubs should, the main concern with the defense, especially the outfield, is that they don't give up runs they shouldn't. That's what this outfield should do.

Lou is Pissed

A new addition has been made to the doghouse. The entire Cubs offense gets mocked in the upper left corner because Lou called them out yesterday. I have two thoughts on this, first obviously the offense has been awful and I completely understand that Lou doesn't want to keep losing games. On the other hand the results of these games don't matter, the pitchers have been really good (the ones who will be on the team), and Geo hasn't been around.

Something tells me once Ted gets back from the WBC the offense will get back into gear. 

A quick WBC note or three, Ted pitches in the next Team USA game, Mark DeRosa reminded me why I'm gonna miss him a ton this year (he had at least one triple), and Carlos Marmol struck out the side on Saturday in his only appearance so far.

Later today I'll have some thoughts on the Cubs outfield defense, and maybe a Rich Harden rant. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

USA Advances

Due to the fantastic pitching performance by Matt Thornton (1 IP, 0 ER) in Game 1 against Canada, coupled with Thornton's fantastic enthusiasm exerted from the bench in Game 2 vs. Venezuela, the United States are through to the next round.

Don't bother trying to order Matt Thornton USA jersey shirts on MLB.com, because I have purchased 365 of them so I will be wearing a new one every day starting on the day I get them. I'll keep you posted on their arrival.

In all seriousness it is nice to see the US doing well in this tournament. 3 years ago was somewhat of an embarrasment for the US and they are doing a good job of righting the ship so far. Game 1 was a real good game and Game 2 was one in which the Americans were able to just dominate from the 6th inning on. Lilly will be pitching the next game, so odds are Justin will be all over that one.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Fangraphs isn't a new website, but it is one that I am just discovering. It's awesome, it has solid articles and detailed stats for offense and defense. I added it to the sidebar for websites I like, check it out because I'm going to start using it a lot in posts.

Defense Part 1 of a Lot: White Sox CF

As simple as the title is, that's how important defense is in baseball. In football and basketball the saying is that "defense wins championships", and while its pitching that is most important thing come playoff time, defense plays an important role. Especially defense up the middle, meaning SS, second base, centerfield, and catcher.

Look at the 2008 Phillies. They won with great pitching from Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge, but also because of their defense. Charlie Manual made it a point to play better defensive players in the World Series. 

Now look at the 2008 Cubs and White Sox, ultimately both teams were overmatching in their playoff series. Defense played a part in that, Game 2 of the NLDS the Cubs defense broke down behind Carlos Zambrano. That's because they had bad defenders at second and short. Theriot is an average at best shortstop and DeRosa isn't very good at second. The White Sox defensive problem was at second base where Alexei Ramierez was the third worst regular defensive second baseman. They also had some defensive problems in the outfield, especially on days when Brian Anderson wasn't starting in center. Now obviously each team can't have a perfect fielder at each position, and a lot of the time a guy is such a good hitter that you can put up with his bad defense (see all three of the guys I mentioned as bad at defense earlier). 

Coming into this season the plan for both sides of town should be to try and maximize their defense when possible. That's the plan I think the White Sox should take when it comes to their open spot in center.

Lets start with the Sox centerfield competition. I think there are three guys competing Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens, and Dewayne Wise. Out of the three, none are good hitters, Owens has the upside of being able to leadoff and steal bases, Wise and Anderson can give you an occasional homer. The problem is that Owens has never shown that he can hit major league pitching, and Wise and Anderson both suck. Really it comes down to who can give you the best defense while not killing you offensively. So if I'm the White Sox, that takes Wise out of the running to start in center. Owens has a UZR of .05 and Anderson has one of .01 which makes them both essentially average. In my opinion (and Ken probably has better knowledge of this) Anderson will give you somewhat of something on offense, while Owens has the potential to be average, but also the potential to be just awful. I would think that if Anderson can hit .250 he has to be the regular starter. Maximize your defense and put Anderson in center, especially since Jermaine Dye (UZR -18.2) and Carlos Quentin (-3.7) aren't good defenders. 

Much, much more to come about defense on both sides of town. I'll have something about the Cubs outfield defense sometime this weekend.

The Soultion up the Middle

The White Sox have open spots at two starting fielding positions, second base and center field. The candidates for these spots according to most major media are Chris Getz, Brent Lillibridge, Jayson Nix, Jerry Owens, and Brian Anderson. But rather than picking two of these guys to fill these spots, there's a better option which doesn't even involce a guy mentioned in those candidates. That would be Gordon Beckham.

Beckham was the Sox first pick in last years draft. He's a 22 year old shortstop from the University of Georgia. So far this spring Beckham has hit 2 home runs and a double in 13 AB's and has not struck out once.

So I propose that he be the starting shortstop. So where does that leave Alexei? Centerfield? Second base? That's up to our original candidates to decide. Rather than having 2 spots for 5 guys, why not utilize Alexei's versatility and open up the competition to more players?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Can We Expect From the Cubs Rotation

When people talk about why the Cubs should have another good season in 2009 their first reason is usually the Cubs strong starting rotation. While I do agree that the Cubs have a pretty great rotation on paper, injuries and performance history makes me a bit skeptical. So I'm going to take a look at each potential starter and what we should realistically expect out of them.

Carlos Zambrano (2008 14-6 3.91 ERA 114 ERA+; Career 3.48 ERA 128 ERA+)
Big Z is the ace of this staff. I don't care if people think he isn't a true ace, last years playoff series proved that Big Z is the man who you want on the mound if the Cubs need to win one game. While Dumpster and Harden crapped their pants Big Z brought it, only to have his defense fail. Z had a great first half of 2008, then shoulder problems gave him issues in the second half. He did toss a no-hitter in September, but had bad starts the rest of the way.
I am pretty concerned that Z will have to go on the DL once or twice this season even if its just to give his arm a break. I think we will get 30 starts out of Z and numbers pretty much around his career averages. An ERA in the low to mid threes, good strikeout numbers and 16-19 wins.
My Projection: 30 starts, 205 IP, 17-8, 3.35 ERA, 150 K

Ryan Dempster (2008 17-8 2.96 ERA, 151 ERA+, Career 4.55 ERA, 95 ERA+)
Dempster was probably the Cubs best starter last season, but before anybody thinks that he is going to have another season of ace quality production, remember that he was in a contract year. He also fell apart in the playoffs walking seven 4 2/3 innings. Now that he has a four year contract and doesn't have to worry about getting paid, Dempster will almost certainly fall off. I don't care how hard he works and how dedicated he is, the man is an average career pitcher who had a great season when it was time for him to get a new contract. 
Hopefully we can get 35 starts out of Dempster and hopefully he can be at least above average throughout the season. Pinella is considering him as the opening day starter, and that's fine because Dempster deserves to get one last reward for his excellent work last year. An ERA around 3.9 to 4.1 would be ideal, especially if he can keep his walks down and his strikeouts up.
My Projection 13-9, 210 IP, 4.11 ERA, 165 K

Ted Lilly (2008 17-9 4.09 ERA, 109 ERA+ Career 4.40 ERA, 103 ERA+)
Ted has been pretty damn consistent since he signed a much maligned 4 year $4o million contract. I pretty much expect the same sort of numbers out of Ted, but probably not as many wins. Ted is pitching for Team USA in the WBC this year, his hope is that it might help him overcome the slow start he had last season. Ted was pretty bad in April, but more than made up for it down the stretch.
Unless there is an unforeseen injury, Ted is going to give us 35 starts and have the same solid numbers.
My Projection 15-8, 210 IP, 4.05 ERA, 175 K

At this point I have 100 of the 162 needed starts covered unless there is a serious injury. I'm going to get a little creative with the last 62 starts because of the uncertainty of the remaining pitchers health.

Sean Marshall (2008 3-5, 3.86 ERA, 116 ERA+, Career 4.62 ERA, 100 ERA+)
Marshall has been in and out of the starting rotation the last 3 years, and this season is his time to shine. He is the leader for the final starting spot right now, and I'm sure he will do a solid job. The problem is that coming into this season his career high innings pitched is 125 2/3. I can't expect more than 160 innings out of him this season. Maybe about 25 starts if he stays healthy.
If he gets to start he will have around a 4.3 ERA and maybe 12 wins. 
My Projection 12-9, 160 IP, 4.30 ERA, 140 K

Rich Harden (2008 10-2 2.07 ERA, 206 ERA+, Career 3.23 ERA, 136 ERA+)
Harden is one of the best pitchers in baseball when he is healthy, his numbers for the Cubs before his arm gave out were disgusting. But everything I just wrote is the problem with Harden. He is never healthy, the entire time he was on the Cubs last season there was a giant cloud of "please don't get hurt" around every Harden start. He has already said that he has a tear in his shoulder going into this season. This is probably something that surgery should take care of, but the Cubs and Harden both think rest and a smart approach will make it a non-issue. I know better than that, its an issue and Harden has already been delayed in his start to spring training, he is about 10 days behind the rest of the pitching staff. That isn't a big deal at this point of the season, but it shows that his outlook has to include obligatory time on the DL.
I'll take Harden to miss a ton of starts and give Cub fans a giant headache the entire season. If I was Jim Hendry and I thought that the Cubs could win the division without Harden pitching at all, I would put him on the shelf until August. Work him into shape in August and let him get a start or two in September that way come playoff time his is rounding into top form. Of course that won't happen, Harden will start three or four games in April and then miss a few months before coming back at 75% sometime in late August. Don't expect more than 15 starts out of Harden this season, and even that would probably be an optimistic outlook. He will have great numbers for the five innings a game he gives us and maybe he will be healthy in the playoffs.
My projection 5-2, 70 IP, 2.50 ERA, 70 K

Now we still have to fill in 27 starts, and I think a combination of Samardzija, Randy Wells, and Chad Gaudin will fill those starts in. Between those three I think you can get maybe 13 wins and a 4.75 ERA in those starts. For most divisions that might not get the job done, but I think that the rest of the team is just good enough for the Cubs to get away with it.

Without injuries this is one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Since half the starters are on high risk injury watch, it will be interesting to see how the team responds when these guys do go down. Either way right now on paper the Cubs have a starting rotation that could carry them a long way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Micah Hoffpauir

Spring Training tends to be a cesspool of stupid rumors and dumb stories about how every player in camp is in the best shape ever and how everybody looks great. You can also count on one or two guys to have amazing springs that lead to people thinking that they have to make the team. This year has been particularly bad in Cubs camp, and most of this comes from one man- Micah Hoffpauir.

It all started last spring training when Hoffpauir had a great spring training and Lou Pinella wanted to get him on the team, but couldn't find a spot for him because he plays first base and Derrek Lee obviously has that spot locked down. Hoffpauir can also be played in left field, though he would be a disaster there if he played it on a regular basis. After an early season injury at AAA, and then a return that saw him hit 25 home runs in 290 at-bats. Hoffpauir came up a few times and ended up playing a few games during garbage time and was pretty successful, putting up a 137 OPS+ in 73 at bats.

He's back at it again this spring training, and Cubs fans are desperate to find a place to play him. I have some advice for those people. Step back at take a look and realize that this guy is a career minor leaguer who doesn't have a position and will most likely end up as a very very very average hitter if he plays on a daily basis. He is 29 years old and he can't play defense. His role on the major league team will be to pinch hit in the big situation and start three times a month when the starters need a day off. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spring Training Home Opener

This is just a series of thoughts from the first game ever at Camelback Ranch.

  • Camelback Ranch is an awesome place. The "tour" from Brooks Boyer as well as the views from around the stadium were really neat. I'm going to need to take a trip down there at some point. Also, Camelback Ranch is a weird name, it sounds like Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, which is never good.
  • Mark Buehrle was pretty good. Nothing overwhelming, nothing underwhelming, just pretty good. No complaints from me.
  • Viciedo looks good at the plate, but he didn't do anything to blow me away. I'm still waiting.
  • Beckham's homerun was nice to see. I really hope this guy gets a shot at making the team. There's no reason Alexei can't go back to 2nd and Beckham at short if we think he's better than Getz, Lillibridge, or Nix.
  • Why is Corky Miller so low on the backup catcher spot? He laced a double, threw a guy out at 2nd and I thought threw a second guy out an inning later. I haven't seen many of the other guys, but he looked good.
  • Wilson Betemit + Shortstop = FAIL
That's all I have for this game. Tomorrow's game against Seattle is on the whitesox.com webcast. I'll probably have more thoughts about that game.