Thursday, May 31, 2007
speculation hereabouts was that it was going to in the main be about mean reversion in pitching as the offense -- in spite of the expectations of so many -- simply refused to much improve. in so doing, that flotsam such as too-short samples of run differential to which the drowning were then clinging would prove soon enough to be just as tenuous as the ship itself.
it is with methodical melancholy that the cubs have largely gone about working out the verity of these probabilities as they were noted since. from may 17, the cub pitching staff has allowed 5.31 runs/game while scoring just 4.08, going 4-9 to get to 22-29. the club has now scored 231 and allowed 220 to date, dashing many earlier silly visions of a good team struggling to emerge from beneath the obscuring onus of one-run losses -- always only half an observation, unfortunately, which refused to address the team's unbalanced record in blowouts, which has now also started to mean revert and stands still at 9-5. pitchers rich hill (0-2 in 3 gs, 4.50 era), jason marquis (0-1 in 3 gs, 5.00 era), ted lilly (1-1 in 3 gs, 6.39 era), neal cotts (3 g, 18.00 era) and ryan dempster (5 g, 12.27 era) -- all of whom had been earmarked here for mean reversion -- have contributed.
to be sure, milwaukee has played just as poorly -- a possibility here noted for both clubs on may 14 -- and some two games have returned against the worst deficit. but the divisional difference remains as obstinate and inert on may 30 as it was may 16 as it was on april 24. particularly given the recent sorry performance of the team, it should be transparent even to the most sinfully unhinged eye that the wherewithal and firepower to stage a scintinllating comeback -- even against a flawed club like milwaukee -- is sadly lacking.
lou piniella, faced with disaster unwarned and uncomprehending, reduced to the same timeworn babble cubs fans know so well, now furiously shuffles the inadequate cards he has been dealt by outgoing buffoon jim hendry and desperately draws for help that isn't forthcoming. this is a managerial game we've all seen before, and it normally doesn't end well.
and yours truly is left once again to ruminate on how, for the fourth year running, close analysis and a careful tempering of hope came anyway to overestimation in predicting 82 wins (a mark that the team would now have to record 60-51, or .540 over 111 games, to touch). rather than the average, the zeroeth expectation looks once again to be the one closest to final reality. these last trying years have been the darkest days of cubdom, dear reader, and hope abridged remains the theme.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Since the final week of 2004, the Cubs have disappointed us fans with 2+ lousy seasons. Injuries to the pitching staff have repeatedly been used as an excuse. What about the offense? The offense has not been the same since Sosa and Alou departed at the end of 2004. This despite some real talent in the lineup, including the Lee/Ramirez/Barrett trio. All three are leading offensive players at their positions. Still even with these three, something with the offense has not worked. It has not worked since the start of 2005.
While the Cubs runs per game fell dramatically from the 4.87 in 2004 to 4.34 in 2005, it rose again in 2006 to 4.42 runs per game and thus far this season the Cubs are averaging 4.62 runs per game. Those numbers really don't tell you the whole story, so you have to look at where they rank compared to the rest of the NL. Over the same time (2004-present) their rank in the league in runs scored has went from 7th to 9th to 15th and stands at 8th in the NL this year. Besides 2006 the Cubs have really been middle of the road in the league in scoring runs over the past few years.
Still I think this is a case where the numbers above don't tell the whole story. The Cubs in 2005, 2006 and thus far in 2007 have not been able to put up the offensive numbers needed to win. While Lee, Ramirez and Barrett have all had good stats for players at their positions, something is just missing. The team more times than not has been unable to add on to leads, they have been unable to put teams away and the offense has been very inconsistant. These issues are not new to the club this season. They have been the same issues since 2004 ended.
Now it is not fair to blame all of this on Lee, Ramirez and Barrett. There is plenty of blame to go to all the other players that have taken AB's in Cub blue the past few seasons. But, these three are the main three everyday players that have been with this club over that period of time. They are the core that this team has been built around offensively, and something just is not working with this offense.
Maybe one of the issues is how right handed they are. The Cub offense has been very right handed heavy as long as I can remember, so it's no surprise that Hendry's core all swing the bat from that side. I can't put my finger on the problem. In 2005 Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett both had career years and won Silver Slugger Awards. Ramirez just puts up offensive numbers every year. But something is missing. Winning baseball games is missing. Like it or not, these guys have all played a part in that.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Barrett has always had his defensive shortcomings but he's not producing near enough at the plate this year to make up for them. He's definitely pressing at the plate and should have a seat on the pine until he gets it straightened out.
Was it the end of the world last year when Hank White had to fill in for him? Of course not and it won't be this year either if Blanco gets some extended playing time.
is one of the only middle of the road free agents that can actually do the primary thing he's acquired for. Play solid defense. Who knows, he might actually have a similar affect on the relievers that he has with Zambrano.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I don't know but seriously doubt, any major moves to improve the club at the trading deadline will take place unless the Cubs are within a game or two of the division lead.
If that is the case, Uncle Lou has to find a set lineup to play most everyday he can evaluate. Then make his pitch to Hendry on what he needs to make a playoff run.
When we look at a team that has a good batting average like the Cubs do, it's natural to assume that they would score more than they do. However, Piniella's instance to rotate outfielders in different positions and up and down the lineup while in the beginning of the year was understandable to determine their strengths and weaknesses, is now just creating inconsistent performances. Same goes for the middle infield. By now Piniella should know who his starters are and who should come off the bench.
Who should start? I'm sure we all have our opinions and they may vary somewhat but I think all of us would agree that Piniella has to construct his lineup to be more productive. That means putting his best OBP hitters, regardless of their speed at the top of the order followed by the big boppers, with whiff machines no higher than 5th. in the order. If the team has some defensive weaknesses because of it, Piniella is going to have to consider if the offensive performances will out weigh them. If Piniella is wrong, at least it will become clearer to him what is needed.
Guzman, like most of the position players has been jerked around without a defined role on the team. If Marshall looks to be the 5th starter then Guzman, who's arm has been stretched out already is the best candidate to be first out of the pen, period. Only in blowouts, one way or the other should Eyre come into a game and Wuertz, independent of Howry's previous experience should be the 8th. inning man. Fill in the others as you will but at least the bullpen will have a set long man, situational lefty, setup man and closer.
A little over a quarter of the season is over and after Piniella's instance of hitting lead off with Soriano and the late inning maneuvers of the bullpen, it's getting harder and harder to tell if this guy...
is that much different than this guy...
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Here were the standings after games were completed on May 10th.
Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 24 10 .706 -
Chicago 16 16 .500 7.0
Houston 16 18 .471 8.0
Pittsburgh 15 18 .455 8.5
St. Louis 14 18 .438 9.0
Cincinnati 15 20 .429 9.5
Teams records from May 11th through yesterday are as follows:
St. Louis 6-8
Tony LaRussa and the Cardeinals would be dead and buried in most other divisions in baseball. Not in the NL Central. Following a 6-8 run the Cardinals have made a gain of 2-1/2 games on the Brew Crew. Giving us the current NL Central Standings:
Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 28 21 .571 - -
Chicago 22 25 .468 5.0
Pittsburgh 21 27 .438 6.5
St. Louis 20 26 .435 6.5
Houston 21 28 .429 7.0
Cincinnati 18 32 .360 10.5
The Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates have all quietly made up at least 2 games on the front runners. If one of these teams had actually been hot... Well you know. At the back of the pack are the Reds. The Cincinnati's are baseballs worst team heading for a major shakeup. At this point they are probably the only team in the division that can be ruled out of it.
And this brings us to the Chicago National League Ballclub. You can choose to take one of two paths on this one. On the positive side: they have made up two games since May 11th. (actually they have made up 3.0 games if you look at the standings on May 12th when they trailed the Brewers by 8 full games). As I am writing this they are in sole possesion of second place which means they do not have to worry about any of the teams between them and the Brewers. On the negative side: during this time they have had tremendous opportunities to make that gap smaller. There was this game against the Phillies, this one versus the Mets or this memorable ninth inning implosion that same series with the Mets. So far on the trip out West the Cubs can point to this loss in San Diego and Friday nights debacle with the Dodgers. Looking back at these games you can see the Cubs had the opportunity to do some big things over the past few weeks, much bigger than picking up two games in a lousy division. Still, what is done is done. The Cubs just have to take care of business on the field. Get to the .500 mark and look toward Milwaukee. They will have enough head to head matches with the Brewers to do some damage. Now they need to take care of business outside the division.
So I ask, at 3 games under and 5.0 games back in the central midway through the Memorial Day weekend, is the glass of Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid half empty or half full?
Saturday, May 26, 2007
"It's a tough game to lose, but what are you going to do?" Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Nobody's trying to give it to them. They're hard losses to take, but what are you going to do? You walk out of here and feel good about the effort, and you come back and play tomorrow. That's all we can do. Nothing more, nothing less."
Lou is starting to sound like he's been cubbed. His postgame comments are becoming way too familiar. They have started to sound alot like postgame comments made by Baylor, Riggleman, Baker (throw in a couple of dudes) and all the rest. Yesterday Rick Morrissey had a great piece in the Tribune about the state of Uncle Lou:
To hear Piniella a little more than a quarter into the season is to hear a man who has come face to face with something a lot of people take for granted around here: the brutal reality of having an attachment to the Cubs, whether it be emotional, financial or both.
To some of us, Piniella has looked doddering, the stereotypical assumption being that his 63 years are creeping up on him. Now it's obvious that what we're seeing is the early onset of Cubdementia, which is characterized by one's face often being buried in one's hands.
LMAO. Brilliant! I don't think it can be stated much better. Nice job Mr. Morrissey. Here's a little more from the Fearless Cubbie Uncle Lou:
"Everything was OK for seven innings," Piniella said. "Then it got a little bit out of hand in the eighth. What are you going to do? We scored off their bullpen, and they scored off ours."
Thanks dude. And here's just a little more fodder, Lou is also beginning to figure out that in Cub-dumb close is good enough:
"We battled," Piniella said. "We gave it back to them but we battled. I'm happy that we battled. It's good to see us swing the bats the way we did. The bullpen didn't get the job done today, but we'll go out and get them tomorrow."
Excuse me while I go throw up. This is not what the Cubs hired when the went out and signed Piniella. Now onto the players. Cliff Floyd came to the Cubs from the defending NL East Champion New York Mets. But he grew up in Chicago. So he knows exactly how to form the obligatory turn around comment:
"For the most part, we're in this together. I won't say it's a long season, because it's 50 games in. Things have to turn. Things have to turn around for us and hopefully it will soon."
Man, the Cubs have their own lingo. Generations of managers and players saying the same thing year after year after year after year after year...
Friday, May 25, 2007
In the past few weeks I've seen Cub pitchers in two similar situations, although not in as dire of straights as having a man on third with no outs, pitch up in the strike zone. I mean the catcher is actually calling for the ball up in the strike zone, WTF? I don't know if it's the redneck's call or the pitch location came from the dugout, but in both instances the opposing hitter was able to get a fly ball into the outfield and drive in a run.
I would sure like to know who is making these calls, wouldn't you?
Thursday, May 24, 2007
"My goal is singular," McDonough said in a news conference following the Cubs season finale, an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies. "The purpose of why I've been asked to do this job is for the Cubs to win the World Series -- not win the Wild Card or win the division or win the pennant. It's time to win. It's time to win the World Series."
"I think we need to reward these tens of millions of fans who have waited for a long time," McDonough said. "I just witnessed something miraculous. We're 30 games under .500 and you see 30,000 people standing in unison at the last out singing, 'Go, Cubs, Go,' at the end, as if we had just clinched the division. They need to be rewarded, we need to win. We will win. We will win the World Series. The goal is to win consistently. Anything short of that, I will not be doing my job."
That boys and girls was the day that as Cub fans we were told to expect more from this franchise. We were not told this by the television or radio announcers or some idiots on a crappy/unpopular blog. We were told this by the president of the ballclub. What do we get? We get the firing (or should I say not renewing the contract) of an idiot manager, but somehow the idiotic general manager survives. Not only does the idiotic general manager survive. He's allowed to go out and spend money like a drunken sailor. But it's not money for this season. It's all backloaded because the team is gonna be sold. In the spending spree that wasn't, we see the Cubs general manager admit that his farm system sucks. The 2006-7 offseason will go down as Mother Tribunes last attempt to build a "quick fix" winner.
This all brings me back to McDonough's promise above. Honestly, what was the point? At the time I wanted to give McDonough the benefit of the doubt. I really did. It seems that my friend and 1060west guru gaius marius wasn't buying at the time it happened:
sadly, dear reader, very little. placing the mastermind of "beer-and-ivy-and-who-cares-what-the-score-is" at the head of the team tells everyone everything they need to know about what tribco's priorities are and have always been -- now such a noncontroversial fact that the tribune itself will tell you so. enticing words from dennis fitzsimons or mcdonough mean nothing. this club is concerned about profitability, not winning; mcdonough's promotion is yet another in a long, long line of crystalline signs confirming the verity of that statement.There is a reason to be a skeptic when it comes to this franchise people. I have never figured out why optimism rules the day in Cubdom. Yeah, it might feel good and taste good at the time, but like any drunken binge you will pay for it at a later time.
the hard truth is that the baseball operations of this franchise are a disaster from head to foot. with extremely little positive except ticket sales to talk about, nothing will be revolutionized in a day -- the scale of the troubles is simply far too great for quick fixes. the process of rehabilitating the chicago national league ballclub will take years, probably several years. dumping macfail and baker -- while certainly necessary -- is but a minor first step. the words spoken by fitzsimons and mcdonough are signal of nothing so much as their complete lack of understanding of just exactly how horrifying the condition of their ballclub is. and why should they know? neither of them has the faintest idea about how to evaluate anything related to baseball operations.
this writer would like to call the events of the last day a great step forward for accountability for this ballclub, to say that they gave rare credence to those who would argue that the management really do notice what happens on the field and take it seriously. but it seems that just the opposite is the deeper message of these events -- particularly in light of the continuing presence of the incompetent boob most responsible for the ridiculous state of the team, general manager jim hendry.
This brings me to my disappointment in the first quarter of the season. I think my disappointment is more in myself as a fan, than it is in the Cubs. You see I bought McDonough's charade. The sad truth is McDonough made the comments above (and the Cubs spent the money) to stop the growth of empty seats that popped up at the end of last season. Today's no-shows are tomorrow's unsold seats. McDonough is no fool. He knows this. He made the above statement, and in doing so made suckers, like me, think you can wave a magic wand and win. Well that dog don't hunt. As much as I would like to see a quick fix, a quick turnaround, that ain't the way it should be done. Quality baseball organizations take years to build and grow. Over the Tribune's rule of this ballclub they have never made the commitment to building a quality organization.
As we all know there is no action that can be taken now against the Tribune. The Cubs are going to be sold at the end of the season. While the new owner won't inherit a healthy baseball oraganization, they will inherit the hopes and dreams that all of us Cub fans have for this club. I just hope the next owner can be a responsible steward of this franchise. Instead of making promises he can't keep, focus on building this organization from the bottom up. Focus on getting good baseball people to run the baseball operations. Building this team into a contender is going to take time (Jim Hendry's made sure of that). Don't worry about empty seats, after the misguided Trib ownership I expect the new owner will get a long honeymoon period.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"I've got a headline for you," Dempster said. " 'Dempster taken out of rotation after one non-start.' "
Man, I thought Dusty Baker's teams were a soap opera.
It appears that after a quarter of the season Lou Piniella has seen enough of his pitching staff as constructed. He's gotten out the sawzall and duck tape and he's bound and determined to put this thing back together again.
Apparently the plan calls for Angel Guzman to move to the bullpen and eventually take over the closer role. Not a bad idea. This change for Guzman will be the third of the season for the Cub right hander. After competing for the fifth spot with Wade Miller and one of the often injured RHP, Guzman started the regular season as the long man out of the pen. By mid-April he was sent to Iowa to stretch his arm out to take the fifth spot from the struggling Wade Miller. Now he finds himself the Cubs closer of the future. Ryan Dempster will groom him for that spot. Carlos Marmol will also play a bigger role in the Cub pen.
So to make some of this plan take shape, the Cubs are going to recall Sean Marshall and put him in the rotation. Marking the first time that I can remember the Cubs having three left handers in the starting rotation. To get this done, struggling Neil Cotts will be sent to Iowa.
The whole thing gives this Cub fan a headache. Here are a few things that we do know. Guzman has the power arm that Piniella would like to have closing ballgames(so does Marmol). Despite the loss last Thursday, Dempster has not had the struggles Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre have had this year. Dempster also has not been a decent starting pitcher for years. It appears to me that the Cubs really don't have a role for Dempster, in Lou's reworked pitching staff.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I was all set to publish a piece today about the Cubs reaching the quarter pole of the season in disappointing fashion. Something has changed the last few days. Following what may have been the most discouraging loss of the season Thursday afternoon in New York, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field and showed some real heart and grit. The Cubs have taken two games from the rival Sox, and both days they have done it in dramatic comeback fashion. Making all of this even sweeter has been the fact that the Minnesota Twins have taken care of the Milwaukee Brewers the last few nights, moving the Cubs to within 5 games of the NL Central lead.
There were big plays throughout the game today. The Cubs and Sox played one of those Wrigley Field games that everybody talks about. Wind blowing out, several homeruns and several lead changes. Michael Barrett and Jason Marquis would hit dramatic homeruns for the Cubs. Joe Crede would counter for the Sox.
The eighth inning would be the most dramatic of the game. The inning would start out as a real bummer for the Cubs and us fans. In the top of the inning Paul Konerko took Bobby Howry deep to give the Southsiders a one run lead. Baseball fans know that on a day like this with the wind blowing out a one run lead is not safe. Thankfully that was the case today. What followed in the bottom of the inning has to be one of the most exciting half innings the Cubs have played in recent years. The bottom of the eighth inning would see two triples and a grand slam(has that ever happened?). Just for fun, here was the glorious inning:
Bottom 8th: Chi Cubs
- D. Aardsma relieved
- R. Sweeney in left field
- R. Theriot tripled to deep right
- C. Floyd hit for M. Murton
- C. Floyd grounded out to second
- A. Soriano singled to left center, R. Theriot scored
- A. Ramirez tripled to deep right, A. Soriano scored
- D. Ward intentionally walked
- M. Barrett singled to pitcher, D. Ward to second
- B. Logan relieved D. Aardsma
- D. Lee hit for J. Jones
- D. Lee homered to deep right, M. Barrett, D. Ward and A. Ramirez scored
- A. Pagan hit for B. Howry
- A. Pagan popped out to shallow left
- C. Izturis singled to center
- R. Theriot struck out swinging
6 runs, 6 hits, 0 errors
Chi White Sox 6, Chi Cubs 11
Oh what fun it was! Where to start? Once again Theriot got the rally started. This time with a leadoff triple. The Floyd AB had me thinking: "here they go again". But Soriano took the first pitch from Aardsma and swiftly singled too left to tie the ballgame. Next Ramirez tripled to right(if you get a chance to hear the radio audio it's classic. Santo yelling at Soriano to score. I was doing the same thing at home.). Aramis' triple gave the Cubs the lead!
The most dramatic moment of the inning and game would come three hitters later when Derrek Lee stepped out of the Cubs dugout and headed to the plate, playing the role of Roy Hobbs (alright maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but it was pretty damn close--hell for Cub fans it was better). Lee who has been sidelined for nearly a week with back troubles looked rusty and fooled on the first pitch from Boone Logan. Then with a 3-1 count, the shot heard round Chicago. Lee delivered a grand slam to right center and uncharatcteristically showed emotion with a fist pump. In my quiet neighborhood on Northwest side of Chicago people watching and listening to the game screamed out in joy(yours truly sitting on my back deck included!). Carlos Marmol would close the game out, and the party was on in Wrigleyville.
What a game! What a game! What a game! In years past the Cubs would not have won these games following the debacle on Thursday. I hand it to Lou Piniella and the players for not allowing Thursday to spiral into more losses.
So we head to Sunday. Now it is up to Big Z as the Cubs look to get their record back to .500 and Cub fans look for their brooms. Sweeping the Sox would be grand.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Here's my take on what should happen.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
You have to hand it to the Chicago Cubs. I don't think there is another professional sports franchise out there that repeatedly finds such crusing ways to lose. The graph above really says it all.
On Thursday afternoon the Cubs lined up against a Mets lineup that didn't include All Stars David Wright, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes. The Mets started a pitcher that just came up from triple-A. The Cubs were playing against a triple A team.
It looked like the Cubs pocketed this game in the top of the sixth when Aramis Ramirez homered to give the club a 5-1 lead. The Cubs offense, as has been there tradition as long as I can remember, went on cruise control. Didn't add on any runs, and frankly it may not have mattered. Because in the ninth inning Ryan Dempster and Scott Eyre couldn't get outs. That led to the 11th loss by the Cub bullpen this season.
Games like today propel teams like the Mets to bigger things. If you're a Mets fan you circle this game on the pocket schedule. You know you will see it on the end of year commemorative DVD. As far as the Cubs go, I really don't know how many losses like this a team has to go through. With every heartbreaking loss like today it becomes more and more clear this team isn't going to go anywhere. It's only May 17th and the Cubs have already lost more than their share of these types of games. I've really grown quite numb to these types of losses over the past five years. Strange enough, in a weird way I have come to expect them.
Ohhh well. It's just a game.
Have a great weekend everybody. Here come the Sox.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
As far back as spring training I was trying to tell Piniella that this is what a lead off man looks like...
and this is not...
Way to go Lou!
The next order of business is to get the hard hats out of the outfield. Soriano of course, is not who I'm talking about as we all know his bat is why we got him, but Murton is going to kill himself or his CF partner if allowed to play regularly in RF. Trade J Jones and bring up Pie to play everyday in CF and install Pagan everyday in RF. Then work Murton and Floyd in whenever possible. All hitters go in slumps but speed and defense never do. With a lineup of Soriano, Pie, Pagan and The Riot, the team speed goes way up, not to mention the upgrade to the defense.
The Cubs have plenty of offensive punch with Lee, Ramirez and Soriano in the middle of the order and Barrett and DeRosa can add a little punch to the order as well.
So have a little faith in the youngsters and play them regularly Lou. It's not like the team is playing lights out the way it's configured now anyway.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
someone has to be to blame for losing, and right now the bullpen shouldering the brunt -- not least from lou piniella.
"The bullpen … we thought that was going to be the strong part of our pitching staff," Piniella said. "I haven't seen it."
The bullpen is 2-10 with seven blown saves in 15 opportunities. Piniella has tried using combinations in late-inning roles, but no one has stepped up besides closer Ryan Dempster.
Asked if he was running out of ideas, Piniella replied: "What do we do with it? You know what, I'm going to find out if there are some kids down in Triple A throwing the ball, and maybe that's the answer—get some different kids in here that can throw the ball.
"I don't know what else to say. I've tried everybody out there. You keep hoping it comes around, but we're getting into the middle of May now."
but in truth they have been predictably average as a group to date, placing 6th in the league in era, with the unexpectedly good performances of dempster, rocky cherry and neal cotts offsetting the bad of scott eyre, will ohman and bob howry. this is all part of the vicissitude of small samples, and is no reason to dismantle the bullpen regardless of what piniella's brain stem is telling him.
as frustrating as it is, much of the cubs' troubles in capitalizing on a brilliant spurt of run differential has been plain and simple bad luck -- but if an aspect of the team is underperforming expectation, it has to be the offense. despite what many fans perceived to be twin massive upgrades on 2006 -- alfonso soriano and a healthy derrek lee -- the club rates just 7th in the nl with 4.64 runs/game.
as has been noted, the team has actually benefitted offensively by running a high babip (.317, 3rd in the nl), which in turn boosts on-base percentage. the cubs as a team are currently getting aboard at a .337 clip -- 6th in the nl in spite of placing an entirely typical 14th in walks. this would figure to revert slightly in time as well, though it need not -- in 2006, for example, the range of nl team babips was .313 to .284, with a median of .303 -- and with it will come some of the on-base percentage.
so if obp is as good as it gets, and run scoring is still disappointing -- even from this writer's cold-eyed estimate of 4.81 with a low range of 4.68 -- what is the matter?
in a word, power. the above table also lists gross production average (gpa), which can be taken as a statistical proxy for estimated run scoring. gpa is a weighted average of obp and slugging percentage in which obp counts for 1.8 times slugging. as statistical study has shown, this weighting most closely mimics real scoring -- and it may not be too much to say that, if obp isn't improving, slugging must in order for scoring to rise.
and indeed, the cubs are currently slugging .424 (6th in the nl) and are on pace to clout 144 homers -- a total that many would consider disappointing, especially in the aftermath of adding soriano to in situ power sources lee, aramis ramirez, jacque jones and michael barrett.
what has happened? ramirez and barrett cannot be much faulted -- both are providing isolated power (or iso) at rates down from somewhat from last season, with ramirez coming in at .235 (vs .269 in 2006, down 34 points) and barrett at .157 (vs .211 in 2006, down 54).
but jones, soriano and lee are another story.
jacque provided 27 homers to the 2006 club in a flourish that this page was not shy about characterizing as a fluke year for an ageing player. in so doing he posted an iso of .214 -- which one gathers many expected to see repeated in 2007. but jones has foundered, underperforming even this writer's low expectation to date, knocking just one home run while posting an iso of .099 -- down 115 points.
in 2005, 2004 and 2003 in minnesota, jones posted iso readings of .189, .173 and .161 -- this is clearly not a player of which 27 homers is to be expected at age 33. there is room to improve here, but one must wonder if jacque's slow slide into infirmity, one which must visit all players in time, hasn't taken a leap. this writer would wager for things to improve, but to nothing like 2006 levels.
soriano smashed 46 homers in in 2006, forging an iso of .283. but most close observers understood that to be an outlier in soriano's sample -- his 2005, 2004 and 2003 seasons in texas and new york yielded measures of .243, .204 and .235. soriano looks set to confirm the strangeness of 2006 so far this year, having posted an iso of .203 to date -- down 80 points -- while hitting just four homers in 30 games. again, there is room and likelihood of improvement here -- and that improvement is already underway, it would seem -- but this page sincerely doubts any repeat of 2006 is in soriano's future.
many fans likewise remembered the 2005 of derrek lee, when he crushed 46 homers while putting on a run at the nl mvp, slugging .662 and casting a ridiculous iso of .327. in 2006, lee's injury-shortened campaign reduced his iso to .189 -- but most were prepared to waive the season (not unreasonably) in light of events. lee, however, also posted an iso of .226 in a healthy 2004 campaign and measures in florida of .237 in 2003 and .224 in 2002. while florida's cavernous park certainly allows for some increase in power upon leaving, lee also played road games for the marlins -- the jump to be expected isn't overwhleming.
however, even given that lee's iso would be expected to fall around .240 given his experience both in florida and chicago, his paltry .163 -- down 164 points from 2005 -- is surprising. but watching lee in 2007 has been watching a different hitter altogether from 2005, and one must wonder if the forearm injury that wrecked his 2006 hasn't had some carryon effects that have changed lee's approach.
this is a chart of lee's flyballs and home runs at wrigley field in 2005, and it shows pull power in home runs as well as a healthy smattering of fly balls to left.
this is the 2007 chart for lee, who is the same man but apparently a different hitter. is this a durable change provoked by recovery from injury? is it a result of the league making adjustments and taking a different approach to lee? this page wouldn't feel qualified to speculate, frankly, but both options must be on the table for consideration.
in any case, what seems to be true in general is that power going forward should probably not be the issue that it has been year-to-date -- this club may well hit more home runs as the weather improves into june and july.
but weather is not necessarily the panacea one might think for run scoring. the past four seasons have indicated that there is very little reason in general to believe in a strong positive weather-driven trend in runs scored as the season in chicago progresses from cold to mild to hot.
scoring may improve, but it would seem the weather is not a foolproof rationale for expecting so. instead, this page would expect it simply because all five of the major power sources on the club are underperforming their long-term expectations of isolated power -- and the durability of such an imbalance is not often strong. it would also, however, expect a decline in team babip to reduce on-base percentage, nullifying some of the offensive gains of improved slugging. in the final analysis, the team seems very much on track to approach the preseason offensive estimate here offered.
Am I blaming Sweet Lou for the state of affairs of our beloved men in blue? Not at all. I actually believe that the attitude of accountability he has brought into the clubhouse as been both refreshing and needed.
However, certain responsibilities do lie at the doorstep of the manager when a game goes south. We all understand that the game is won or lost primarily by the players, but the manager does quite often have a direct impact with his strategic decisions made late in a game.
Time for the obligatory Dusty Baker bashing segment of this article; Well let's just leave it to say that the words, 'strategic and Baker' very seldom collided in the same sentence.
Sweet Lou, yesterday pulls Marquis in the 5th inning with a pitch count in the mid-eighties. WTF? If the whiff machine would've made the play in LF, Marquis would have had the opportunity to get out of the inning with a double play. Even with runners on 1st & 2nd, a move to the bullpen didn't seem appropriate as Marquis, although maybe not his sharpest, had yielded only on a couple of hits. Still Uncle Lou steps out of the dugout to start the relief man parade, sometimes up to four in one inning mind you, with Marquis holding a 4-2 lead. Again I say WTF?
Marquis has been one of the bright spots on the staff this year and Piniella decides to play Russian Roulette with the suspect at best middle relief? WTF?
Yes we can talk again and again about the Cubs hitters not being able to add on runs after they have a lead, but the pitchers on the other team have a little to do with that, don't you think?
Have you ever wondered when our pitchers hold a team down and the Cubs win, the press comments on the masterful job of the Cubs pitching but when they lose, it's the Cub hitters that get bashed.
Let's face it, pitching has the greatest single impact on the outcome of a game and Uncle Lou's strategic decisions late in the game definitely can skew the outcome.
No this loss is on Sweet Lou.
Monday, May 14, 2007
We all know where the Cubs stand in the table (17-18, tied for second, 7 games behind first place Milwaukee-despite the fact that Milwaukee just lost two of three to the Mets). Heading into tonite's game the Mets (23-13) find themselves in second place (1/2 game back)--in what could be the NL's best race this summer with the retooled Atlanta Braves--in the NL East. What we will find out over the next four days is where the Cubs stand is a short series against a contender in front of a hostile crowd.
When all is said and done, the Mets who won 97 games last year, should find themselves as the class of the National League and a legitimate contender to represent the senior circuit in the fall classic. The Mets early season offensive leaders have been Jose Reyes, Shawn Green and Carlos Beltran. Usual suspects David Wright and Carlos Delgado have been pretty quiet thus far in 2007. Hopefully Cub pitching can keep these two quiet the next four days. Offensively we all know the Mets are stacked and so far this year their pitching has been better than expected. The Mets starting staff is second in the league with a 3.39 ERA. (The Cubs starting staff ranks 4th with a 3.63 ERA.)
Speaking of pitching, here are the pitching matchups for the series:
Tonite: Jason Marquis (5-1, 1.70) vs. future HOFer Tom Glavine (4-1, 2.98)
Tuesday: Carlos Zambrano (3-3, 5.83) vs. John Maine (5-0, 1.79)
Wednesday: Rich Hill (4-2, 2.51) vs. Jorge Sosa (2-0, 2.77)
Thursday: Angel Guzman (0-0, 3.57) vs. TBA
For those of you outside of Chicago, tonite's game will be on the 4 letter networks Monday Night Baseball coverage. Here in Chicago the game will be on WCIU with the hometown call of Len and Bob.
As the 2007 Cubs continue to bounce around the .500 mark they have to look at this series as an opportunity to showcase how they match up with the NL favorite. When this series is over the Cubs will have played 40 games this season. They could be anywhere from three games over .500 to five games under. While the season has a long ways to go, this series could tell us a lot about the 2007 Cubs.
Numbers: since 1962 the Cubs are 331-329 vs. the Mets. Their record at Shea is 143-160 since '64.
Think not? Tell me why?
Why I think so?
#1 Yankees are more desperate than the Cubs.
#2 Yankees pitching is worse than the Cubs.
#3 Zambrano probably walks after this year.
#3 Yankee fans will ditch this team and not come to the park if their slide continues much further.
#4 Yankees need a horse in the rotation that can eat innings.
#5 Yankees get a LHRP, always a valuable commodity with the short RF porch there.
#6 Yankees get a serviceable replacement at 3B.
#7 Cubs get a SS that can actually hit. When was the last time that happened?
#8 Might be the only thing that can save Hendry's ass, not that actually I care.
Let's understand I prefaced this article by saying Bull Shit, but it actually makes sense for Jimbo to give Cashman a call and run it by him. If Hendry had to tweak the deal with Ohman instead of Eyre or one of the present OF'ers not named Soriano that should be explored as well.
saturday's loss not only put the cubs eight back of the milwaukee brewers, but proved to be a crossover point in terms of run differential. with the trend having turned negative -- in spite of not reaching an upside extreme -- it would seem that run differential data are indicating that the cubs best work may be behind them, at least temporarily. the shorter-term measure of pythagorean record, while still positive, is collapsing; crossover points are normally followed by a move of the 12-game measure into sub-.500 territory. this needn't indicate a disaster for the team -- as the calendar advances, past wins will be falling out of the 12-game sample. it's conceivable (though perhaps unlikely) that the club will play winning baseball even if probability holds and their differential contracts further over the coming week.
it should be noted that the resolution of this downswing may tell us a very great deal indeed about the 2007 cubs. in general, it seems in the study conducted thusfar that downside crossovers for stronger teams tend to be (not unexpectedly, of course) milder events. the 2004 club tended to see its 12-game pythagorean dip into sub-.500 territory usually only for brief spells of a handful of games, during with the macd line would touch a local minima and rebound smartly. moreover, as previously noted, pythagorean record for the year-to-date begins calming down as the sample size approaches 60 games, often giving a significantly better indication of how the team will fare over the remainder of the year than we can have now. at 35 games, the figure is .579 and trending down; where it trends down to in early june may be revealing.
one might also note the indications of the milwaukee brewers.
in spite of hope for a correction following game 33, the brewers' trend instead fought its way to a much higher maxima in their saturday win in new york. from a 12-game pythagorean reaching .866, a correction is nearly inevitable -- such runs of success are simply unsustainable. like the cubs, the games falling out of the back of the 12-game average are wins, some considerable -- again, this doesn't necessarily presage a total collapse, and the signal is perhaps not as pessimistic as the crossover which has befallen the cubs. but a moderation of their pace is nonetheless to be expected.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
You have to hand it to Ol' Jimbo, he tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. This time with a boat load of cash. Unfortunately, 20+ years of mismanagement just can't be undone overnight. The new Cubs owner hopefully will choose his organizational leaders with a plan in mind.
Super Jock will probably fetch a good prospect come trading deadline, unless of course the Cubs are within 20 games of the wild card spot. Ha Ha. I seriously doubt Hendry will pull the plug on this team and be sellers at All-Star break unless they're in last place. Unfortunately for Piniella, Hendry's MO shows he's incapable of facing reality.
Is anyone else getting tired of these outbursts of emotion that single handedly blow the game in just one inning? This is not how your Ace acts, is it? We will get value for Zambrano at the trading deadline but just not as much if we moved him before the start of the season. Just another reactive move by our crack front office.
Not that I thought he had much chance of sticking on the team next year anyway with contract negotiations coming up this fall, but Barrett would certainly interest more than a few teams come trading deadline. With the most value coming from a trade to the AL, where Barrett won't have to pretend to be a catcher anymore.
Trade whichever one brings the most value and quit the musical chairs in the outfield. If it's Floyd then platoon Pagan and Murton. If it's Murton, start Pagan.
I'm sure there are others that you'd like to see gone, but I believe that the Cubs have a great power nucleus with Lee, Ramirez and Soriano, if they hit 3,4 5, and there is no reason not to bring up and trade for some youth and fill the roster out that way. If you question that just take a look on the south side. They were 3 games out of few years ago and made a management decision that the team wasn't good enough to win it all, and traded Bartolo Colon for goodness sake. It's unfortunate Hendry wasn't purged with McPhail, but what else could you expect from the beancounters in the Tribune Tower?
As I said before, the winning teams have a plan throughout their organization and until the Cubs realize that they're doomed
Saturday, May 12, 2007
but will ohman came on in the bottom half of the frame, and after retiring two allowed a single to aaron rowand and a double to chase utley to make it 7-6 cubs. bob howry came on to plug the gap, but a walk to pat burrell was followed by a greg dobbs triple on his way to a 4-for-4 performance standing in for ryan howard, and it didn't stop there. the cubs had plated six in the top half to take the lead; the phils took it all back in the bottom half and went on to win 11-7 in a heartbreaker.
the game was peppered with some of the frustrating quality of play that has dogged this team all year. third base coach mike quade managed to get two runners thrown out at the plate thanks to philly rightfielder shane victorino -- one of them being soriano as he visibly labored to run at two-thirds speed, apparently having aggravated his early-season hamstring injury while stealing second in the sixth. soriano was limited to jogging after balls in the left field gap thereafter. errors from murton and jones helped confirm the dismal fielding reputation of the cub outfield.
with the milwaukee brewers having hammered the new york mets earlier in the day, the 16-18 cubs fell to a season-worst eight games back of the division leader, who went to 25-11 behind ben sheets and five rbi from a streaking j.j. hardy. heretofore-unnoticed houston also won, climbing into a second-place tie with the northsiders at 17-19.
the phillies in the last two days have sadly landed a couple of blows that this page might have foreseen. it has been stated here that much of the cubs' scintillating run differential early this year seemed to be a consequence of some unsustainable trends -- the club's lopsided positive record in blowout wins, some extraordinary luck for the starting pitching, and an offense whose early quietude in power was being ameliorated by a high babip.
the babip of the offense remains largely intact, thanks to derrek lee's continuing scalding run (having gone 4-for-5 again today to raise his average to .393). but the run differential has taken a little beating, contracting to +25 and driving the season-to-date pythagorean estimate for the cubs record down from a .607 winning percentage to .571 in just two days. and it's come at the expense of the pitching -- rich hill saw his era jump from 1.73 to a still-extremely-good 2.51 in being touched up friday by burrell as the phils added a second blowout loss to counter the seven such wins; and guzman, eyre, ohman and howry all did their part today to nearly add another. ted lilly tries to dodge the sweep tomorrow.
but the hardest news to swallow must be this: going back to april 24 -- the day this page declared their playoff hopes dead at the hands of a dismal start -- the cubs have played probably about as well as they can, going 9-5.
they had previously fallen back of the brewers by five games in just 19 tries, hitting ebb tide at 7-13 on april 24 at six back.
in the ensuing 14, in spite of their play, they've fallen back two more.
it might at this point be instructive to remember may 12, 2006. the cincinnati reds -- a ballclub that most knew to be insufficient to take home a title even in baseball's weakest division -- had run out to a 23-13 start not dissimilar (though not nearly so impressive in terms of run differential) to this year's run by milwaukee. the saint louis cardinals and houston astros stayed along, managed to keep within a game or two as all three charged out of the gate. it was expected by nearly every observer that the reds, being an inferior club, would fall to the wayside -- and they did, going just 57-69 thereafter.
but even in so doing, the reds gave back just four games to houston and 3.5 to the eventual division and world series champion saint louis club.
that cardinal club may be a yet more relevant comparison. in getting to 23-13 a year ago, they had plated 176 times and allowed 135 -- a .618 pythagorean percentage. it did them little good thereafter, however, as they showed themselves to be the faulted team that many knew they were in scoring 605 and allowing 627 the rest of the way.
it would seem to this page that these lessons are relevant today for this cub club. milwaukee will in every likelihood come back to earth one of these days, and probably not long from now -- like the 2006 redbirds, their monster +45 run differential and .624 pythagorean estimated record will prove ephemeral; and like the 2006 reds, their 25-11 pace will not last.
but neither will the cubs imposing run differential and pythagorean estimate -- the foundations it is built upon are every bit as unsustainable as those in wisconsin and maybe a bit moreso: the brewers are just 6-5 in blowouts, and their babips both offensive (.297) and pitching (.296) are quite normal, particularly when compared to the cubs' (.312 and .265, respectively).
and the difference of course is that they, unlike the cubs, have used their run of outperformance. should milwaukee play just break-even baseball from here to the end, they will now finish 88-74 -- a tally that the 16-18 cubs would now have to go 72-56 (.562) to match. indeed, such has been their start that even if they should match the collapse of the 2006 reds -- a team they are, beyond a doubt, better than -- they would end 82-80, a record that the cubs to date have shown precious little inclination toward reaching, regardless of their imagined capacity.
in the hard light of close examination, dear reader, it seems far more likely that, rather than closing the gap, the cubs will continue to bleed games to milwaukee in fits and starts for the remainder of the season as they have to date. not only have the brewers posted a much larger run differential and greater theoretical record thusfar, not only have they done so on far less anomalous measures of luck, but they've actually won games doing it on a strength of schedule that is essentially no different from the cubs'. it is well past time for milwaukee's doubters to reconsider -- this writer picked hesitantly picked them to win the 2007 nl central, but had little inkling that so much of the young club's massive potential would be so quickly realized. it would seem that the worst of the growing pains mentioned here are now past them. and -- amazingly -- they figure to add the (arguable) best ready hitter in the minor leagues as well as the (arguable) best ready pitcher in the minor leagues within the next month.
this page would like to be able to recommend that wise observers shift to a wild card race in which the team finds itself 5.5 back of the 22-13 mets -- but it is also there looking up at six teams, with a correspondingly high probability that at least one of them will outperform the cubs the rest of the way.
indeed, in every respect the chicago cubs seem more dead today than they were on april 24. hope remains for a longshot or two to come in and rescue this team, but serious discussions of club planning for 2008 and beyond should now begin to come to the fore.
isn't going to be able to fix the $300 million Cadillac.
Instead of Hendry going to a real mechanic when he first saw this train wreck coming, Prior and Wood, he installed a 6 disk CD player.
Hendry replaces Alou and Sosa's production with Dubois, Hollandsworth, and Burnitz, then tells us we won't miss a beat? That had to be the whopper of all whoppers.
As the '05 team is sliding into the abyss around All-Star break, he fails to pull the trigger on a Maddux trade that would've yielded at least one quality prospect.
The Hendry trades 3 prospects for Pierre and when the team is in the tank yet again, doesn't make a trade to recoup some prospects.
Don't even get me started on the Maddux for Izturis deal.
Hendry doesn't sign just one setup man going into '06 but two, and gives them both three year deals to boot! Duh, Howry and Eyre aren't what you call kids you know and isn't it fitting that Hendry overpays based on both coming off career years.
This years orgy of spending was nothing more than slapping a fresh coat of paint on the ol' gas guzzler before it's sold.
Let's face it, some people are proactive and some like Hendry, are reactive. Is there any doubt this man has as much chance as a snowball's in HELL of surviving the inevitable purge that will come once the team is sold.
It's no mistake winning organizations have a well thought out plan and are proactive. Hopefully the new owner is a sound baseball man with a passion for winning. We already know he's going to half to have money and we also know money alone just isn't going to get it done.
Friday, May 11, 2007
quantitative analytics for forecasting fractal patterns into the future is still a very primitive art. as is so often the case in humankind, the bulk of the work has been directed to profit, and virtually everything to be applied in this post can be found in any primer on financial quantitative methods. at this stage particularly, the intention is to keep it simple.
it should go without saying that forecasting the future is an error-prone business. the average person in this society is hopelessly manichaean, totally incapable of assessing odds as opposed to thinking in dire absolutes, and faced constantly with the prospect of reducing beyond utility or merely discarding many of life's important (and not-so-important) complexities. many will see what is about to be presented as so much sound and fury signifying nothing. nor would one hope to teach such people much about how to trade in markets, or quantitatively manage most any significant human enterprise. so be it. but for those with a capacity and willingness to assess not in black and white but a multitude of grays, what follows will hopefully be engaging if not enlightening.
these four charts represent the last four years' pythagorean records over three timeframes -- year-to-date in dark gray, prior 26 games in orange, prior 12 games in yellow. also recorded is the actual winning percentage of the club in a lighter gray.
overlaid on a second axis is a moving average convergence-divergence line (macd), which quantifies the difference between the 12-game and 26-game net run differential.
what can we learn from these charts?
first, in taking over all four the difference between actual winning percentage and the year-to-date pythagorean estimate, one can begin to see that the two first start to materially converge -- in 2003, in 2005, in 2006 -- at a point beyond 60 games played. the apparent exception would at first seem to be 2004, where a gap persisted between the two records for the duration of the season -- but a finer interpretation notes that the gap in fact largely stabilizes outward from the 60-game area. indeed, in 2004, the team -- much as they have to date this year -- significantly underperformed their pythagorean record early in the year. on june 1 of that year the cubs stood 27-24 in spite of having scored 247 and allowed 206, yielding a pythagorean estimate of .582 or 30-21. the club never regained those three games against their estimate, and in fact finished the year five under.
what this confirms for us is two things, neither particularly hopeful for the 2007 cubs. first is that holding a pythagorean estimate of .607 at this juncture (150 scored and 118 allowed) is not as indicative of future success as might be imagined. the variance of the sample of this size is still too great -- though it is certainly a great contribution to the sample of the first 60 games, which may tell us something far more significant. the second lesson -- taken from the 2004 club -- is that lost opportunities are lost. that the cubs have put on a brilliant run of scoring more than the opposition must be tempered by the knowledge that they've come out of it at a disappointing 16-16. they won't be handed back the three games they've underperformed their estimate by, except through the unlikely action of some future spurt of good luck to cancel the bad they've suffered.
but what more particularly might be said about the trends in the data?
it should be noted that crossover points in the 12-game and 26-game run differential correspond to points where the two exchange positions, superior to inferior -- when the two are equal, the macd line is zero. what is the subsequent behavior of the estimated records following such crossover points?
in general, it can be seen that, when the the macd line crosses into positive territory and 12-game record exceeds the 26-game, the subsequent behavior of the 26-game record in general and with exceptions is to improve. it can also be noted that the 12-game record, although it naturally anticipates the 26-game, also tends to continue trending higher after the fact -- usually for a period of some 10-20 games. this verifies the earlier assertion that, in general, run differential behaves with a self-affirming trend -- if it has increased in the previous interval, its tendency is to continue increasing in the next. the opposite behavior is also generally observed.
so one might use these crossover points as a means of anticipating positive performance for the club over the subsequent set of games, somewhere between 10-20 games in duration.
another observed feature of the behavior of the macd line over the four years is its tendency to reverse from extremes -- that is, when the gap between the 12-game and 26-game run differential grows very large, it often indicates a reversal in trend to be imminent.
this is perhaps most clearly seen in 2006, when the macd line was twice driven down to or below (-2.0), both times presaging a reversal in play which eventually saw the club up to a highwatermark 12-game estimate of .600+. the opposite again is observed as well -- from maximum values in 2006 over +1.5, play reverted for the worse, driving down both the pythagorean estimates and the actual winning percentage. similar reversals from extrema are seen in all four years -- generally from a macd absolute reading in excess of 1.5.
this introductory work leaves much still to be desired, and it would one hopes go without saying (at least in more thoughtful circles) that forecasting is not prophecy. but it is at least a basis for future endeavor, as well perhaps as a rudimentary tool to be applied to the current season.
the youth of the year is no longer a hindrance in observing 26-game samples, and so one is able to now see that the macd line is both positive and not at an extreme, and 12-game is superior to the 26-game estimated record. while not a prophecy of dominance headed into a difficult seven-game east coast swing, these must be considered positive indications going forward, suggesting that the improving trend of pythagorean record has potential distance left to run.
also of interest may be the chart of another nearby ballclub.
this chart suggests that the brewers' amazing 24-10 start, which has put the cubs a season-high (or -low, really) seven games back headed into today's games, may be coming to a head. it may be viewed as hopeful that the macd line here has hit a local maxima of 1.49 -- a typically dangerous level -- and a decline from this point is an event that would commonly initiate any decline to and through a crossover point.
the future remains unknowable, of course, but the conclusion of this view must be that the cubs may be on the cusp of an opportunity to close at least some of the very wide gap that sits between them and the division-leading brewer ballclub.