Saturday, March 31, 2007

Open Forum: 2007 Predictions

Back by popular demand are our 2007 predictions. Here's a look back at last years.

I'm gonna do this a bit different this year. The questions are below. You can cut and paste these into your comment.


  • How many games will the Cubs win this year?
  • Will they make the playoffs?
  • Will any Cub player or managemnt member win an end of season award(NL MVP, NL Cy Young, NL ROY, NL Manager of Year, NL Executive of Years, etc...)? If so, who and what?

STARTING PITCHING QUESTIONS: Name the Cubs starter that will...

  • make the most starts
  • pitch the most innings
  • record the most k's
  • have the most wins
  • have the best WHIP (min 160 IP)
  • have the lowest ERA (min 160 IP)

RELIEF PITCHING QUESTIONS: Name the Cubs reliever that will...

  • have the most appearances
  • have the most saves
  • have the most holds
  • have the best WHIP
  • have the lowest ERA

HITTING QUESTIONS: Name the Cub everyday player who...

  • plays in the most games
  • has the highest batting average (min 502 AB's)
  • has the most hits
  • has the most doubles
  • has the most triples
  • has the most homeruns
  • has the most Runs scored
  • has the most RBi
  • has the most stolen bases


  • What are you watching for in 2007?
  • Will the Cubs be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? If buyers, what position will they pursue? If sellers, who will go?
  • When will the Cubs call up Felix Pie? What impact will he have?

MLB QUESTIONS: Who do think will win the following?

  • AL East
  • AL Central
  • AL West
  • AL Wildcard
  • NL East
  • NL West
  • NL Wildcard
  • AL Pennant
  • NL Pennant
  • 2007 World Series Champs

Friday, March 30, 2007

2007 cubs: hope and starting pitching

over the years, there have been a lot of words expended on this page disparaging in one way or another the stupidity of useless hope. there are those in the world who see it as their mission to not only hope for success but expect it regardless of the material conditions and probabilities. useless hope has often found a home with the fans, and too often with the management, of the chicago national league ballclub, nearly always to its detriment -- and sometimes catastrophically so, enabling dimwitted decisions that run contrary to the probable best interests of the team in reality.

in saying so (and loudly), we here have often been accused of being bereft of any hope at all -- of being incapable of seeing the brighter side, even of tolerating success. that is of course often a counteraccusation emitted from someone who, consciously or not, knows themself to trade in the kinds of hope here called useless -- but sometimes not. sometimes, the mission of this page -- to provide the highest resolution of perspicacious criticism possible in an effort to highlight how the chicago cubs might be made a better team -- is so easy, so full of opportunity as to make it sound a siren of negativity. at other times the finer grains of criticism are thought to be holding disproportionate attention, calling into question the dispassionate objectivity of the critic.

this writer, for one, is sure to have made both errors at some time or another. but the balance of the page, in the context of its mission, is thought here to be rather positive -- indeed, often too much so. one obvious piece of evidence supporting has been that the consensus opinion of the contributors has in fact overestimated the final win total of each of the last three cub teams -- as has this writer's own notional estimate, to the tune of about six wins per year.

but that this page doesn't gush with abject and senseless love at every trifling opportunity is a product of its commitment to a rational hope -- a grounded assessment of the most probable course of future events first, only then yielding hope to the sunnier aspects of that appraisal. such an approach seems increasingly a lost art in a western world centuries inured to the elevation of irrational sentimentalism promulgated by rousseau, hamann, herder and byron long before trickling down to the cub marketing department -- and it certainly gains little but popular scorn, especially in spring. but it does have a habit of coming close to truth with alarming frequency, and that in and of itself will have to be enough.

moreover, one needn't dig into ancient history to find such rationally hopeful perspectives. this page has been agitating over many months for the immanentization of the cadre of ready youthful pitching -- rich hill, juan mateo, angel guzman, carlos marmol, jae-kuk ryu, reynel pinto, ricky nolasco, jermaine van buren, jerome williams -- that has swollen the rosters of iowa and west tenn because it considers this lot of pitchers (now short several traded names) to be the solid basis of a winning pitching staff behind veteran carlos zambrano. this page has been looking eagerly to a change in ownership that, though its ultimate outcome remains unsure, holds the good possibility of bringing an activist philosophy that will finally give on-field performance at least equal status with turning a buck, something that hasn't been true of any cub ownership since the death of william wrigley in 1932 -- not coindicentally, in the same decade as the last unqualified cub pennant. there is much to look forward to, dear reader -- indeed, at few points in the last five decades could the intermediate-term outlook for this club have been brighter.

but that, unfortunately, does not necessarily translate into an unambiguously glorious near-term outlook for the 2007 season.

much has already been said here about its probable fate and where the rational hope lies for this ballclub -- an initial appraisal in december; more rumination centering on rich hill and mark prior in december, january and then (disappointingly) february; followed by a look at the offense; not to mention a glance around the division and some context for what it may mean; as well as a peek at piniella's toughest test. so this writer is going to forego the laborious and (frankly) overweening five-part outlook of last year -- as much can be done with less.

the offense is what it is -- the signing of alfonso soriano is a considerable addition over juan pierre, but the club in the field is otherwise fairly familiar. the return of a healthy derrek lee means almost as much. and hopefully ronny cedeno won't see the field much.

but this was a club that plated just 4.4 runs a game in 2006, and all these improvements -- built on so low a base -- seem still to fall shy of the kind of offense that the cubs mustered in 2003 and 2004. some of the solutions to problems -- notably career-utilityman-cum-starting-second-baseman mark derosa -- are extremely suspicious. others -- cliff floyd and quite probably cesar izturis, who has been limited this spring -- may not see the field quite as much as one would like (particularly with cedeno lurking). there are plenty enough candidates for the negative production that some honorable baseball erudites have noted to correlate as well or better with october baseball as top-shelf performances, and which the 2006 version was swamped in.

the bullpen too is unremarkable and mostly unchanged from last season -- this club will still somehow give gascan ryan dempster the ball in the ninth, use the fine bob howry and the less-fine scott eyre as primary setups, and a familiar cast of characters will fill out the middle innings. neal cotts seems little improvement over anything the cubs had previously, and a spate of spring injuries -- kerry wood, michael wuertz, roberto novoa -- have raised the same questions about depth that seem to appear every spring. nonetheless, the unit looks set to reprise a middle-third performance again this year.

so rational hope for something beyond september, such as can be found, resides as it so often does in the starting rotation -- and here largely in two players: rich hill and mark prior.

so much is hanging on hill and expectations so radically revised in light of his brilliant 2006 second half that few seem to remember how widely reviled he was at this time last year -- or how tenuous his foothold in the majors may yet be. but he has done his part thusfar in 2007 -- he has been steady, posting a .302 obpa and 1.09 whip in his 15.2 innings, striking out 16 and walking none. he has played every bit the part that this page has long hoped for him and more recently come to expect -- though this is just his second year and his propensity to give up the long ball will almost certainly hurt him from time to time, he looks set to become the second man behind zambrano.

carlos zambrano, for his part, continued in 2006 to be the force of nature to which cub fans have become accustomed. while concerns linger in the mind of this writer about the huge number of pitches he has been asked to throw in recent seasons, not to mention his nl-leading walk total from last year, there's little enough reason to suspect zambrano will falter.

prior, however, has been another story.

a view of the rest of the rotation evidences the absolute need of his success. ted lilly has long been a league-average starter in the american league, and one should expect no better than that from him in the national. moreover, the unvarnished truth is that jason marquis and wade miller are very probably bad starting pitchers. miller will never recover the stuff that labrum surgery took from him, and he has never exhibited the kind of control that would enable him to pitch effectively without it. a spring line including a 1.52 whip and .372 obpa seems to validate pessimism in as much as any 20-inning line can -- for as long as he holds a rotation spot, one suspects, he will be in jeopardy. marquis may not be the 6-era pitcher he was last year in saint louis, but he is every bit a 5+ era pitcher who is going often enough to be cursed by the mouth of every attentive fan; worse still, his ill-advised free agent contract all but guarantees that, if healthy, he will take his turn all year without question.

in light of a merely adequate offense, this cub team badly needs a superior third starter to stand alongside zambrano and hill to make its pitching staff formidable. in a long shot, that pitcher could be the long-touted angel guzman -- but a long history of both injury and contact rather tempers expectations even if he finds his confidence. a yet longer shot could be donald veal, whose dominance at the lower levels of the minors could if continued in tennessee expedite his rise.

but the surest candidate for such success remains prior, who has dominated at the major league level before and remains one of the best five cub starters by luck-adjusted runs allowed of the last 25 years. a return to form following three scattershot seasons of injury and control problems is, however improbable, the single most likely event that could catapult a merely decent cub rotation into a playoff-hungry engine of success.

there is some small reason for hope here. prior, despite last year's devastation, managed 172.2 innings at all levels in 2005 and 131.1 in 2004 of what ended up being at the major league level an aggregate 3.82 era. it is true that his spring has been wretchedly disappointing for anyone who still invested any belief in his resurrection from 2006 -- scheduled throwing has been missed or delayed, his control has been ephemeral at best, and his velocity and mechanics indicate the probability of some admixture of current pain and permanent damage.

but his start on the 22nd -- four hits and two walks in four innings with three strikeouts and a run allowed -- and particularly his comments following offered at least some fertilizer for that seed.

"We have about a week left to go," he said. "I'm ready to rock 'n' roll and get out of this place and move on." ... "They weren't taking that many good swings off me," he said. "And they didn't really hit too many balls hard. It was a good outing. … There are still some things I need to fine-tune, but I think I'm ready to go."

perhaps -- though one suspects that prior understands as well as anyone that this is not only his free agent year but that his future in baseball probably hangs in the balance. he might say anything now to get the chance to take a chance in chicago.

nonetheless, a prior that can -- again, however improbable it may seem now -- work his way back over the next month to a low-90s fastball and an ability to hit spots with both fastball and curve is still the first, best hope for a playoff appearance for this team in 2007. he could be the talisman that changes the balance of a mediocre pitching staff. despite his demotion to iowa for the start of the year -- a demotion that this writer freely admits may never be reversed -- this writer would still not at all be surprised to see prior given every opportunity to succeed in the rotation this year.

for this writer thinks that jim hendry and lou piniella, if they don't know it yet, will come to understand just how dependent their postseason chances still are on the arm and health of mark prior.

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisMichael WuertzNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Kerry WoodAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanRocky CherryRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorTomas PerezBuck Coats*
8Juan Mateo

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Opening Day Lineup

Barring any injuries, Comcast Sports Net is reporting this will be Lou Piniella's lineup on Monday:

Soriano CF
Murton LF
Lee 1B
Ramirez 3B
Jones RF
Barrett C
DeRosa 2B
Izturis SS
Zambrano P

This Cubs lineup will face Aaron Harang on Monday in the Queen City.

tribune decision imminent

chuck from ivy chat has been the one-stop source for the news of tribune company's troubles from the start, and there's more to report today.

tribune will apparently decide to accept the offer of chicago real estate magnate sam zell.

Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Cubs, will probably accept real estate billionaire Sam Zell's $8 billion takeover offer by the end of the week, according to people familiar with the matter.

An agreement is likely by Tribune's self-imposed deadline of March 31, said the people, who declined to be named because no decision has been made. Zell's offer of $33 a share is 6.8 percent above yesterday's close.

Zell said this month that he plans to keep the company's television stations and newspapers intact, including the Chicago Tribune and stakes in the Food Network and CareerBuilder Inc., a Web site that lists job openings and resumes of job-seekers.

``My intention is not to break it up,'' Zell, 65, said in a March 12 interview.

such may be zell's intention, but markets may insist otherwise.

The perceived risk of owning Tribune's bonds yesterday rose to the highest in almost five months as credit-default swap investors increased bets that the company will also be loaded up with debt in a Zell buyout.

Credit-default swaps based on $10 million of the company's bonds jumped $35,000 to $194,000, according to prices compiled by CMA Datavision in London. An increase in the contracts, used to speculate on the company's ability to repay its debt, indicates deterioration in the perception of credit quality.

with tribune's bonds suffering, the market is making the servicing the debt from the buyout much more difficult -- a point which may force zell to liquidate some of the assets of tribune to reduce the overall debt and assuage bond investors. candidate #1? you guessed it.

Zell has indicated he has no plans to break apart Tribune, and there have been no indications about whether the Chandler Trust, which owns a 20 percent equity stake in the company, and the McCormick Foundation, which owns a 13 percent equity stake, will participate with Zell, Barclays Capital analyst Hale Holden said in a report on Tuesday.

However, "assuming no asset sales and both the Chandler Trust and McCormick Foundation sell their stake, we estimate pro forma leverage slightly greater than 10 times, which we do not view as a realistic capital structure for a structurally declining business," Holden said.

A more realistic scenario would be a sale of the Cubs and Tribune's 31 percent stake in the Food Network, in addition to rolling over the McCormick Trust's equity stake and potentially their proceeds from the dividend, estimated at $548 million, into the LBO financing, the bank said. A sale of the cubs is valued between $450 million and $500 million and the company's stake in the Food Network is valued around $700 million to $750 million.

This would lead to pro forma leverage of 7.8 times to 8 times, which would likely push swap spreads wider to between 275 and 300 basis points.

"Even leveraged at 8 times, we think Tribune could trade relatively poorly given uncertainty regarding the long-term outlook for major market newspapers, recent weakness in rating performance of Tribunes' CW (television network) affiliates, and multiple contractions at public peers," Barclays' Holden said.

by saturday, the chicago national league ballclub may be quite a lot closer to the endgame that could finally decouple it from tribco or any other extraneous cash flow siphon, which have stunted the growth of payroll (yes, even now) even as revenues have disproportionately skyrocketed.

the fallacy of the weak division

in edified circles, many an optimistic analysis of how the chicago cubs might fare in 2007 in terms of wins and losses has for some months hinged on the argument of the weakness of the division in which the cubs play. it is a point this page has made with reference not only to this year but 2006 as well -- more's the pity.

to the credit of analytical optimists commenting on the 2007 cubs, few have been trying to say the cubs are really any good -- just that they're better than their selected lot. indeed, a recent back-of-the-napkin figuring for the pitching staff runs as follows:

taking an average factor for injury:

zambrano - 220 ip - 3.75 ra ... hill - 200 ip - 4.30 ra ... lilly - 120 ip - 4.60 ra ... marquis - 200 ip - 5.20 ra ... this is what to expect out of the starting five, imo -- 740 innings in which they allow about 365 runs -- ~4.43 runs a game. the team is going to have to pitch about 1460 innings.

that means the rest of the staff -- wade miller, angel guzman, sean marshall and whomever else ends up with a start -- plus the extended bullpen that includes wood, novoa, cherry and whomever else -- pitch about 720.

with wood out, the bullpen is not radically changed this year from last -- nor is the starting staff probably going to eat vastly more innings. last year the cubs pen tossed 562 innings allowing 282 runs. let's say they go 540 allowing 280 (which is better than i think they'll actually do, fwiw). totals so far -- 1280 ip -- 645 runs.

now, the remaining 180 innings are usually a disaster for most clubs which highlights their lack of rotation depth. not unusual for this to be 6+ r/g spread over several spot starters -- in the cubs case, miller, guzman, cotts, marshall, etc.

if we figure (conservatively) 6.00 for these last 180, we get about 120 runs. our new totals -- 1460 ip -- 765 runs.

that's 4.71 runs a game, and a 74-run improvement on 2006's 834. in last year's nl, that would've been good for 6th among all staffs. and this is the conservative estimate, mind you. i'll personally be surprised if the staff ra gets under 4.8 runs/game.

this is only one of a few different casual approximations that puts the cub staff in this area. offensive calculations for run generation have already settled in an area around 4.8 runs per game -- making the cubs then to score about as much as they allow, the very definition of a .500 baseball club.

this all, however, is a framework constructed to establish the cubs in a historical context contrasted to the national league in general. should the proper context in fact allow for the projected division instead?

there's merit to that, but only to a point.

the league weights the schedule to intensify divisional play, and central teams indeed play about half their games in division -- a greater proportion than either east or west thanks to the extra team in the central, but still just half. for half the schedule, the team is playing the divisions on either coast. so while half clearly are played against what is probably the weakest division in baseball, the equal remainder are not. but what is that worth?

first, it must be recognized that if, say, the nl west is the weakest division, the difference between that situation and this is one-quarter of the games played -- where you expect now to play half in the weakest division, you would have played a quarter. this amounts to 40 games or so.

second, how much weaker is weak -- that is, what advantage in winning percentage can be expected? in a sport in which the best clubs beat the worst clubs perhaps seven times in ten while evenly matched clubs play to loggerheads, it should be seen that -- even if the cubs were the metaphorical 1927 yankees and the weak division consisted of 1962 mets all -- the difference over 40 games would amount to about eight contests. that is of course very significant -- but the cubs are not the 1927 yankees. they're an average ballclub. in that context, this page would estimate the advantage to the cubs for playing in the weakest division in baseball as opposed to a historically average one probably amounts to no more than two wins.

that is a fair enough basis in reason. but can more be said empirically?

 St. Louis39420.48139260.600

in 2006, the central was also the weakest division in the game as measured by extradivisional wins and losses (a record of 179-213, or .457). did the leaders indeed fatten up on the sorry clubs of the bottom rung with the advantage of playing them more often, offsetting their sorry beatings to teams like the mets and dodgers?

as it turns out, insignificantly. the two leading clubs -- saint louis and houston, the only two winning records in the division -- went an aggregate 84-74 (.531) within the central and 69-63 (.522) outside of it (the remainder of the games having been played against the american league). the difference in winning percentages implies, over a 40-game sample, a net gain to each club of 0.4 wins.

this experiment can of course be repeated for past seasons as well -- so this page did, for 2005 and 2004.


in 2005, the weakest division in the league was the west, with an aggregate extradivisional winning percentage of just .440; its lone winning club, san diego at 82-80, went 39-34 (.534) in division and 36-35 (.507) outside of it. the implied difference in wins over a 40-game lot is 1.1.

  269  269 0.500 191  169 0.531

in 2004 the weakling was again the west at .462; weighted down by not only 68-win colorado but an epically bad 51-win arizona club. surely here, the division leaders must have feasted -- but the data shows that the dodgers, giants and padres, all of whom won 87 or more, went an aggregate 130-98 in division (.570) and 112-92 (.549) without. again, the implied difference in wins over a 40-game lot is 0.8.

as should now be clear, playing in the weak sister of divisions is not the panacea that many a cub fan (including yours truly) would like it to be -- and to that we must add the uncertainty about whether or not the central will really be as weak as so many expect. it seems to this page that many have overestimated the likely benefit, and in so doing committed a common-enough error of selection bias without thorough statistical vetting. if playing in the central adds a win to the cub total in the end, so much the better -- but this cub club is going to have to stand on its own merits, and not the weaknesses (real or perceived) of its geographic rivals.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wood to start season on the DL

The title of this article is the equivalent of "The sky is blue". Let's face it we all knew this was coming. Despite #34's proclamations that he was ready to go. We all knew he wasn't. In today's Bright One there is confirmation:

It was unclear whether Wood aggravated the triceps strain that sidelined him for close to two weeks this month, but a team source confirmed that Wood was hurt again after he pitched one inning of relief Sunday and that he's scheduled to be examined by the team doctor this morning.

We'll probably know later today what is wrong with Wood. Speculation in the article points to one pitch Wood made to Angels super-prospect Howie Kendrick:

Wood, who threw a powerful nine-pitch inning in his previous appearance Friday, looked uncomfortable at times Sunday, especially after a fastball got away from him well high and outside while pitching to Howie Kendrick with one out and one on.

Catcher Michael Barrett went to the mound after that pitch. Barrett was not available to the media after the game.

Thankfully this team is no longer counting on this guy.

UPDATE 1:02 PM: According to the worldwide leader the issue for Wood is his right shoulder. There's a surprise (yawn).

Baseball blog aficionado Paul Sullivan has Wood being shutdown "until further notice".

Sunday, March 25, 2007

No shortcuts

If you ever had doubts about differences between Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker, take a look at the last few days. On Thursday in Peoria Mark Prior had his first decent outing of the spring and declared himself ready to go:

"We have about a week left to go," he said. "I'm ready to rock 'n' roll and get out of this place and move on."

On Friday the Cubs other often-injured RHP Kerry Wood threw one inning of scoreless baseball and decided he was ready to head north with the club. It's hard to fault the two righthanders who are chomping at the bit to go out there and prove the skeptics (this page included)wrong. The trouble with the declarations of readiness is Dusty Baker is no longer at the helm of this club. Lou Piniella is not buying any of it. His response to Wood was great:

When Piniella was told Wood was wondering why he was being singled out for not being ready when no one else had thrown in back-to-back games, he turned the tables on his veteran reliever.

"He shouldn't be questioning anybody, truthfully," Piniella said. "All I'm saying is when we [say we want] back-to-back and two-inning [stints], that's the proper way to get the bullpen prepared for the start of a season.

"With Kerry that hasn't been the plan, obviously, and the reason I say that is because he has had a couple of setbacks. Now, if he hadn't had those setbacks, that would be the plan."

Wood is scheduled to pitch one-inning stints Monday, Wednesday and either Friday or Saturday in Las Vegas. Piniella has said he will have his roster set by the time the team leaves Arizona on Thursday, so Wood doesn't figure to get a reprieve because he won't have the innings, the back-to-backs or the two-inning stint.

Piniella seemed surprised to hear Wood was told he didn't need back-to-back outings in spring training.

"I don't know what was talked about in the off-season," Piniella said. "All I know is the way I've been preparing bullpens … I've always had pretty good success with my bullpens, kept them nice and healthy and strong all year. But you have to lay the foundation in spring training.

"You can't not use them here that way, and then all of a sudden the first week of the season you start piling up work for them. They're not ready for it. That's how you hurt yourself."

" have to lay the foundation in spring training." Amen Uncle Lou! Neither Mark Prior nor Kerry Wood has laid that foundation this spring (or in recent springs for that matter).

Saturday's impressive performance by Wade Miller in Scottsdale pretty much locked up the fifth starters spot for Miller and that leaves Mark Prior in extended spring training where he belongs. If Prior over the next few weeks can make the advances that Miller made this spring the Cubs will have a real good problem on their hands come mid- to late-April.

Piniella met with Wood on Saturday and the rhetoric may be nicer, but the message is the same. Wood and Piniella seem to be heading for a fight at the end of the week. (Can somebody dust off the Dibble/Piniella fight footage for Woody?) Kerry's odds of winning this one are very slim. Anyways here's what Lou said about his talk with Kerry Wood:

"Basically I told him what I want him to do is make sure he's ready when the season starts," Piniella said. "Because I'd like to see Woody pitching for us for a long, long time in our bullpen. We haven't rushed him, or anybody else, so there's no sense in really, really rushing him this last week in camp to make a major-league roster."

Piniella said Wood does not have to throw in back-to-back appearances yet. Wood is unlikely to go on the DL without a fight.

"He has been on the DL before and doesn't like that," Piniella said. "I don't want that for him either. But if he's not quite ready, [he has] to be honest with us and let us know."

While the previous Cub manager claimed to be in the "earn it business" it's starting to look like their new skipper really is. He doesn't care about the name on the back of the jersey. His expectations for the players are they do the work and be prepared for the season. It's a shame Wood and Prior didn't get the memo.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

cedeno earns final roster spot

the more things change, dear reader, the more they remain the same.

Ronny Cedeno struggled last year after being handed the starting shortstop job in the off-season and was considered a long shot to make the team when camp opened in mid-February.

But after working with former shortstop Alan Trammell, Cedeno's fielding has improved this spring and he's considered a cinch to make the final roster next week.

"I've been very comfortable with seeing the progress Cedeno has made in camp," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've asked him to do a few things both defensively and offensively, and he has responded.

"I told [general manager Jim Hendry] this morning, I don't think we need to go out and do anything, unless he really thinks we're going to improve our team. I'm comfortable with all the pieces we have here. We can make it work with what we have here."

it seems to this writer that one or more of a few things can be learned here.

perhaps captain lou isn't quite the judge of talent we'd all like him to be, especially now in the honeymoon (which is shortly enough to end).

perhaps general manager jim hendry has forced his idiot will upon piniella, refusing to find him the proper middle infielder that jacque jones could almost certainly bring in trade.

but the most likely thing to be learned, one suspects, is that cesar izturis is not going to play anything like a full season at shortstop. if izturis were healthy, there's simply little reason to keep cedeno on the roster. this team is short both an outfielder who can hit righthanded pitching and a competent defensive outfielder -- a role that angel pagan could fill. not one of the cub outfielders at present is an even average defender. moreover, cedeno can't hit -- and only the slight improvement of his range over ryan theriot's or mark derosa's recommends him to shortstop, for his fielding overall is catastrophic and frankly as far beyond the means of new coach alan trammel to fix this spring as it was for cub coaching to fix all last year (as was repeatedly promised to the gullible in the midst of cedeno's travails).

instead, it seems that izturis' problematic hamstring -- which has limited him to just 28 at-bats this spring -- will force cedeno into the lineup with disgusting regularity until or unless an actually-competent backup shortstop can be found. despite what piniella is saying to the press, the club clearly needs one desperately.

as spring training enters the final week, hendry stands a good chance at finding just such a player among the late cuts of the other clubs in baseball. time will tell who hits the wire, but this page is here pleading -- cruller jim, find us someone. anyone. anyone but cedeno. giving this player 200 at-bats spelling izturis is not something a winning club can do.

the updated chart:

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisMichael WuertzNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Kerry WoodAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanRocky CherryRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorTomas PerezBuck Coats*

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Oh the humanity...Cubs Raise Beer Prices

In another swift kick to the groin of you the Cub fan, the Cubs have followed up their single game ticket price increase with (gasp) an increase in beer prices. According to the Bright One's Quick Hitter Elliott Harris the Northsiders are about to increase beer prices to (drum roll) $6.00. That 16 oz. wax cup of Old Style, Old Style Light or the beers that shall remain nameless from Missouri will now cost you 25 cents more than last year. (And you thought gas prices sucked)

Along with on-field expectations at Cubs games, beer prices at Wrigley Field will be going up. A reliable source says vendors were informed at orientation last week the cost of a 16-ounce can will be $6 this season, a 25-cent increase from 2006. That would mean the Cubs have caught up to the White Sox -- in terms of what a fan would pay for a beer. Except that the Sox are expected to raise their beer price from last season's $6 by 25-50 cents.
I gave up watching the Cubs sober years ago, like when I was 13. What are these people trying to do to me. The only thing that many of us have left is a cold one errrr six at the ballpark. Somebody needs to stop the madness.

Where is our Arte Moreno? Where is this franchises savior for the everyday Joe, the common man? Somebody needs to lower the price of beer! Help me out please. I demand that interim team President John McDonough step in and do something! Take action. Please. I'm desperate.

Oh well, I tried.

floyd benched

reports the trib:

"One thing, with Cliff, we want to make sure he's ready for the stretch run in August and September," manager Lou Piniella said before Tuesday's game at Hi Corbett Field.

"It gets awfully cold up north early in the season, and the worst thing we can do is get too comfortable and all of a sudden have a setback.

"We're going to take it easy. He's going to get some at-bats, no question, but at the same time, overusing him? Not only from my perspective, but from our team's medical perspective … they said to be very careful. We will be prudent."

General manager Jim Hendry said earlier this spring that Floyd was upset with him for holding him out until March 12, so it's possible Floyd won't be satisfied with a lesser role than he may have envisioned when he signed. Floyd did not make the trip to Tucson but is expected to play Wednesday against Texas at HoHoKam Park.

Piniella has dealt with similar situations in the past.

"I'll probably get a knock on my door," he said. "I understand the competitive nature of it. These kids all want to play and do well.

"But at the same time, you have to be realistic. He's coming off of a serious injury and we had to hold him back in spring training. What's the sense of wasting all that rehab period by going full bore with something that from a medical standpoint is not going to be good for him?"

if this is the case, dear reader, why doesn't floyd stay in extended spring with mark prior and kerry wood? if he can't go "full bore", why should he be made to limp along? would it not be more prudent still to place floyd on the disabled list and retain either (or both) buck coats or angel pagan? why would the cubs limit their options by carrying an injured player on their bench for the month of april?

this is most probably a decision being made to placate egos -- those of cliff floyd and jim hendry, it is suspected. floyd understands that he has been tagged as a perpetually injured player following a four-season stretch in new york in which he has failed to amass 400 ab three times, and it is a tag that isn't good for business. hendry, for his part, took a chance on floyd's recovery from achilles tendon surgery and has probably has enough by now of being made a fool of by mother nature and her proclivity to strike down his cubs against his apparent expectations.

the smart thing would be to place floyd on the 15-day disabled list and let him get to whatever point he will ultimately get to in his rehabilitation -- he's clearly not well now, as his utterly ghastly performance in the field this spring attests. indeed, floyd may never be able to run or field like he used to, and that's fine. but it serves no utilitarian purpose whatsoever to stick him on the bench for a few pinch-hit appearances when he could be in mesa getting well enough to actually contribute to the club.

the cubs made further roster cuts tuesday, sending geovany soto to iowa and ryan o'malley, jake fox, carmen pignatiello, casey mcgehee and micah hoffpauir to minor league camp. coats and pagan are both still in camp, which breaks after nine more cactus league exhibitions. this page for one hopes that one of them takes floyd's spot on opening day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the last spots

further roster clarity has arrived via and the sun-times. the team trumpet:

Michael Wuertz has made the Opening Day 25-man roster.

"He competes well, he throws strikes, he's done a nice job," Piniella said of the right-hander, who compiled a 2.66 ERA in 41 games last season for the Cubs. "As long as he stays healthy the rest of the spring and gets his work in, he'll be on the team."

That leaves one bullpen spot open, and youngsters Angel Guzman and Rocky Cherry are battling for that vacancy. Both have impressed Piniella this spring.

it's excellent news that the cubs think wuertz -- one of their most effective relievers of 2006 -- will be ready, though it's somewhat worse news for cherry. moreover, the bright one thinks that battle isn't a fair one at this point.

Manager Lou Piniella said after Monday's split-squad sweep of Seattle and Milwaukee that two jobs remained open, including one in the bullpen, but barring an injury or unforeseen meltdown by Angel Guzman today, the 12-man pitching staff appears sewn up.

cherry seems set for iowa. but the bad news is clearly that kerry wood's triceps tear isn't responding as well as anyone would like, and that he will join mark prior in extended spring training.

Neither Wood nor Prior has had enough innings this spring to be ready, and only two weeks remain before the start of the regular season. Wood has pitched in three games and gone one inning in each. Prior has totaled 3 1/3 innings in two games, and he also threw four innings in a Minor League intrasquad game.

The 30-year-old Wood, who is switching from the rotation to the bullpen, could make four more spring outings before the Cubs head to Cincinnati for their regular-season opener. Since this is a new role for Wood, the Cubs would prefer to ease him into it.

"That's not a lot [of innings]," Piniella said. "In fairness to the pitcher, give him 10, 12, 13, 14 innings of work, and back-to-back days, and maybe a two-inning stint at one time, and that's part of a bullpen regimen.

"We're running out of time, as far as that's concerned," Piniella said.

Both pitchers could remain in Arizona when the team breaks camp. Prior has opened the season on the disabled list the last three years, while Wood began last year on the DL. The two have been one of the pregame topics Piniella has had to address nearly every day this spring.

which leaves the last roster battle still to be decided:

That leaves a potentially critical spot on what already will be a thin bench, and Piniella said he's not sure whether it'll go to an infielder (Tomas Perez, Ronny Cedeno?) or an outfielder (Angel Pagan?).

Pinch-hitter Daryle Ward, who's defensively limited to left field and first base, has one of the five bench spots, along with backup catcher Henry Blanco and versatile utility man Ryan Theriot (four hits Monday and four positions played this spring). Another is taken by the Cliff Floyd/Matt Murton half of the left-field pseudo-platoon that isn't playing on a particular day.

The Cubs are looking at the possibility of trading for an infielder to fill that spot, but the trade winds have moved slowly this year for all teams, and it seems more likely that job will be filled from within.
Either way, Piniella said he's seeking versatility from that last bench player to help overcome the limitations he already faces on the bench.

''That's why once we cut down here, we'll start moving people around even a little more, just to try to take care of that,'' said Piniella, who plans to make a second round of substantial cuts after today's trip to Tucson.

this page is glad to see someone in a major publication call the bench what it is -- "thin". considering how little cesar izturis has seen the field, as previously mentioned, it would sadly be no surprise to see the cubs take cedeno and relegate pagan to the minors. perez, as a non-roster invitee without a spot on the 40-man, seems much less likely a choice.

ryan theriot, though he did play shortstop as high as double-a, may not be the kind of defensive player that can handle the position in the majors. his minor league fielding record, which indicates 40 errors in 817 chances over 189 games at the position -- a .951 fielding percentage, well under izturis' .961, and indicative perhaps of a lack of range in managing just 4.3 chances a game. if izturis is going to play only two of every three days, the cubs may want someone who can field the position better than that regardless of his offense.

of course, cedeno is no answer to that problem. theriot's fielding percentage as a shortstop rather shames cedeno's egregious .936 at all levels, and anyone who watched cedeno in 2006 saw clearly that he is not a major league player. but this is the cubs, after all, and that cedeno has been tagged by the general manager as a "shortstop prospect" is traditionally ninety percent of what matters.

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisMichael WuertzNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Kerry WoodAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanRocky CherryRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorTomas PerezBuck Coats*

Monday, March 19, 2007

moving jacque

it hasn't been a secret that jacque jones wants out of chicago. following some perceived rough treatment at wrigley last year, jones requested a move, and by many reports general manager jim hendry has made some attempts to accomodate him.

word is around that hendry is still actively seeking to make a deal.

Jacque Jones, Cubs. He had a decent first year with the Cubs, hitting 27 homers, yet he's mediocre defensively, and the Cubs would like to create more playing time for youngster Matt Murton and former Met Cliff Floyd. Jones, with poor on-base and defensive skills, is not quite in demand. As one official from an American League team put it, the Cubs are "continuing to try to foist Jacque Jones off on someone." Ouch.

this writer once exclaimed that jones' contract was such a boondoggle as to be untradeable, but the free agent market of 2006-7 put an end to that as much as jones' better-than-average year. indeed, jacque is not only tradeable but the cubs may even be reasonably situated to make such a trade. while making a bigger hole for the oft-injured floyd seems folly, alfonso soriano could as easily slide over to right from his planned adventure in center as he is probably going to be a subpar defensive outfielder in either place. and that move could make room for much-touted felix pie to take over center on the heels of a spring in which he has performed reasonably well.

pie has in 40 spring at-bats posted a 350/409/375 line -- but most importantly struck out just four times. strikeouts have been of grave concern to many pie watchers, as he has fanned 438 times in 1945 career minor league at-bats against just 164 walks -- a 2.7 k:bb ratio and a strikeout every 4.4 ab. if anything, pie is likely to fan more often in the majors. with a career .812 ops, he hasn't as a player demonstrated the kind of power that will justify that sort of profligacy -- a point reinforced by his notching just one extra-base hit in arizona.

perhaps nothing great is to be expected of pie -- his power is limited, he is likely to strike out often and won't draw anything like the walks he should to get on base and exploit his speed. he almost certainly wouldn't be able to fill even jacque's shoes with the bat, and he is probably not yet a truly good defensive outfielder regardless of what he may become (though he would certainly be the best defensive outfielder on this club). but he is the cubs' most heralded prospect and he will get his chance with the cubs sooner or later. perhaps the time is now.

on the other hand, it seems clear that the cubs have weaknesses to be filled as well.

jon lieber is on the block in philadelphia, though it isn't at all clear that jacque would be enough to obtain him -- nor would the phillies seem to have an outfield vacancy yet. but pat gillick is also trying to move centerfielder aaron rowand for bullpen help -- is it possible that gillick could create a spot for jacque by moving rowand? indeed, could lieber and rowand both return to chicago in return for jacque and younger cub arms from a pool of angel guzman, neal cotts, will ohman, roberto novoa, michael wuertz and others? at this point a philly starter instead looks to be headed to the pen, but such a deal is at least within the realm of speculation even if the cubs feel they have settled the back of their rotation with jason marquis, rich hill and wade miller.

the other trouble spot may be middle infield, where this page has noted the return of ronny cedeno into the roster mix as a sign that not all is well with cesar izturis and his troublesome hamstrings. jacque would probably be fuel enough for a deal to solidify shortstop, but the speculative question then becomes one of finding a partner. ken rosenthal has speculated that the cubs are shopping for someone who would effectively put cedeno in the minors permanently, and mlbtraderumors has further mentioned speculations on the braves' yunel escobar, martin prado and chris woodward. jacque could platoon in right with jeff francoeur, who posted a 248/278/424 line vs rhp last season. escobar was the braves' second-rounder in 2005, has hit well this spring and is a reasonable if excessive bounty, if the braves are willing to move him. a journeyman like woodward seems somewhat less appropriate a counterweight.

rosenthal has also mentioned clint barmes in the same breath as the cubs. barmes was one of the only position players to be a greater disaster than cedeno in 2006, and he has consistently failed to impress this writer. but it is hard to envision a role for jacque on a team with brad hawpe and matt holliday in the corners -- and that hugely demanding centerfield to patrol at coors.

the marlins' robert andino has also been mentioned, but in exchange for angel pagan. like woodward but moreso, andino seems too light to balance jacque.

perhaps none of the aforementioned options are offensively exciting, but then jacque isn't much of a commodity -- a highly questionable defensive outfielder on the decline at 32 and fit only for a platoon, coming also with a $6mm pricetag for each of 2007 and 2008. regardless of what many cub fans may want or believe him to be, jacque simply isn't worth a whole lot in trade. and if even the defensively-average woodward can keep cedeno from getting 250 at-bats and committing 15 errors while spelling izturis at short, he may be what the cubs need.

guzman slotted for long relief

says the trib:

With the ability of Angel Guzman and the versatility of Ryan Theriot in mind, manager Lou Piniella is inching closer to finalizing his 25-man squad.

On Sunday, he virtually named Guzman the team's long reliever, a spot he believes is vitally important in case one of his starters struggles early. That leaves Wade Miller as the fifth starter and Prior in limbo.

Piniella has professed his love of Guzman all spring, despite mixed results. And now he said he believes he has found Guzman's problem.

"We moved him over to the right side of the rubber," Piniella said after watching a Sunday morning throwing session. "It creates a different angle to the hitter. He felt comfortable with it. I feel that it will help him, especially to right-handed hitters."

Bringing Guzman along as a long man, Piniella said, will finally make the one-time hot prospect into a legitimate big-league pitcher.

"Quite frankly, that's the way you should bring up a young pitcher," he said. "Put him in long relief and let him get some experience there. … He can be protected, but at the same time he'll get his work and watch other major-league pitchers the way they go about their pitches."

it's a fitting result for guzman, who pitched well in his latest trial and measurably better than miller all spring.

confirming what was previously expected, kerry wood's performance this week will sway the fate of rocky cherry:

Piniella said Wood threw on flat ground Sunday, and he is expected to throw a side session Tuesday.

"If he can do that, then we can get him pitching by Thursday or Friday," Piniella said. "If not … time is running out on him. He's only pitched three innings all spring, so we'll see.

"I like Guzman and I like Cherry. I would feel very comfortable with either kid in our mix. Whether that happens or not, I don't know, but I like both pitchers."

it's difficult for this page to comprehend why the contest would be between wood, michael wuertz and cherry while neal cotts is somehow not mentioned. cotts has been one of the worst pitchers in camp coming off a disaster year in 2006. this could well be a case of the general manager's ego driving a roster decision -- jim hendry traded david aardsma for cotts this offseason, and certainly doesn't want to be seen to take the short end of the stick though aardsma has not been impressive thusfar this spring either -- but the injuries to wood and wuertz tend to cloud the situation from such a judgment. more will be known if or when a healthy wuertz and cherry remain in iowa while cotts stays in the majors.

but it does look as though ronny cedeno is still alive, at the expense of angel pagan.

With 12 pitchers, the Cubs have room for only five extra players, four not counting backup catcher Henry Blanco.

The favorites are Theriot, Daryle Ward, the winner of the Ronny Cedeno/Tomas Perez infield battle and the left fielder who doesn't start, either Matt Murton or Cliff Floyd.

Though that would seem to leave the Cubs an outfielder short—if injury-slowed Angel Pagan indeed doesn't make it—the hole would be covered by Theriot or Mark DeRosa, infielders who have been used in right field.

"I could put one of those two kids in right field … when I rest Jacque Jones [against left-handers]," Piniella said. "Theriot grows on you. He's a sparkplug-type of little player. He's got a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy."

theriot will do little, however, to shore up a poor defensive outfield. the concerns that have lingered about cesar izturis' hamstring have cast a long shadow over pagan, it seems -- izturis has, after all, taken only 22 at-bats this spring in 11 games. the team apparently (and perhaps rightfully) doesn't consider mark derosa or theriot to be sufficient cover for shortstop, putting cedeno or (though a much longer shot as a non-roster invitee) tomas perez in a position to make the club. this writer would dourly submit that it says something ghastly about the team that cedeno may make the cut; one has to hope that he doesn't much see the field.

the updated chart:

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisKerry WoodNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Rocky CherryAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanMichael WuertzRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorTomas Perez**Buck Coats*

Sunday, March 18, 2007

guzman out, miller in

wade miller was aided in his quest to return to a major league rotation by the chicago white sox, who touched angel guzman friday to the tune of seven hits and five runs over 3.1, with just one base on balls and no strikeouts.

guzman deserved better. the laborious and tedious pattern noted for him here of falling behind early in the count and coming back with fastballs late in order to avoid the walk was nowhere to be seen. working with henry blanco, guzman went to the fastball early and often, locating it brilliantly throughout and mixing in a rare, effective curve which he also threw largely for strikes. the one walk was a ten-pitch affair. he rarely fell behind anyone. he forced odd swings from a number of sox.

what did him in more than anything was the cub defense, which playing like this will be the bane of many a cub pitcher this year. there was no spectacular gaffe -- this was death by a thousand small cuts. alfonso soriano missing a cutoff man here, cliff floyd coming up with alligator arms there; mark derosa having too little range on a slow grounder into the hole here, aramis ramirez not getting his glove on a wormburner to his left there -- and suddenly guzman, who has always allowed his share of legitimate hits and did friday as well, was buried. this writer has rarely seen a pitcher throw so well and rewarded so little for it.

and so much the worse for him, as miller now seems certain to start the year as the cubs' fifth.

in other news of interest, arizona phil and al yellon both documented firsthand another difficult outing for mark prior. it seems very probable that prior will stay in extended spring training for the foreseeable future. the camp doesn't dissolve until the start of short season league in june, and prior -- though on the 15-day disabled list -- will not accrue service time and not be on official rehab there. extended spring is the limbo of baseball, and prior will await judgment in mesa. if he progresses before june, some kind of official rehab in the minors is the likely prize; if not -- be it for the admission of some injury or a mere inability to improve -- probably a move to the 60-day disabled list and a slow, quiet wait for free agency in november.

Friday, March 16, 2007

wood hurt again; more roster thoughts

the cubs are reporting that kerry wood has sustained a triceps strain in his throwing arm.

"The hole in the mound, he was extending past it to avoid it and had a little strain in his triceps," general manager Jim Hendry said. "It was not where he was cut on [for labrum or elbow surgery]. We'll give it a couple of days and I'm not anticipating any long-term difficulties."

"hole in the mound" -- right.

the cubs are minimizing this thing, but frankly -- for a pitcher with wood's litany of injury, which is becoming truly epic in length -- there is simply no such thing as a minor injury anymore. apparently trivial incidents have led too regularly to major complications in wood's career, and even where they haven't the frequency of minor diversions seems all too certain to force the cubs to put in a permanent reservation on the bus that shuttles between chicago and des moines.

in any case, more thoughts on the roster have found voice at another cubs blog, speculating on the probability of a 12-man pitching staff as well as wood's latest pratfall. particularly in light of this most recent development, which brings wood's vulnerability to the fore once again and reminds all parties of his persistent fragility, this writer is forced to agree -- no matter how lou piniella is predisposed to the 11-man pitching staff in theory, exigencies of reality force a prudent hand to allocate an extra spot to the bullpen.

the updated roster chart, then:

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisKerry WoodNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Rocky CherryAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanMichael WuertzRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorBuck Coats*

the inclination is to treat wood's injury as the "minor setback" they claim it is for the time being, and to presume he stays off the disabled list to begin the year. wood has already demonstrated the capacity to pitch his single inning at velocity, and carrying a twelfth pitcher would give piniella the luxury of working him into final form in the majors despite some short layoff this week. that may not happen -- particularly if wood's injury doesn't respond as well as they cubs are claiming it will -- and if wood isn't ready to go for april, one suspects that angel guzman would be the beneficiary.

michael wuertz threw in a minor league game for the first time this spring, and is scheduled to make a cactus league appearance this weekend. it's already march 16, and it is not at all certain that wuertz -- who is easily the superior of either rocky cherry or roberto novoa -- will be available in time. there's no trouble about that, however, as wuertz can as easily start in iowa or extended spring and be brought up to the club sometime in the first three weeks of the year.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

roster picture settling

with the first round of cuts behind, players likely to break with the club are going to be getting more time on the field this week as the battle for the few final roster spots heats up.

the trib weighs in with comments from captain lou. the synopsis:

  • * wade miller is in the lead again for the fifth starter spot; he hit 90 on the gun and allowed two in four innings; lou says:

    "[Miller's] quietly doing a really nice job," Piniella said after a four-inning, two-run outing Tuesday. "He's getting a little better every time out. He knows how to pitch. You have to like what you see."

  • * neal cotts, having a singularly awful spring, is bullpen bound:

    "I don't think we have enough time in two weeks to stretch everybody out," Piniella said. "I think what we'll do with Cotts is settle him into the bullpen."

  • * mark prior to extended spring;

  • * angel guzman probably to iowa, though it isn't settled between him and miller:

    "I'll let you know Friday after Guzman," Piniella said of an outing against the White Sox.

  • * and ronny fucking cedeno for the 25th man, for the love of any other backup middle infielder (here's looking at you, tomas perez):

    "I see an athletic kid who has a lot of athletic ability but who needs some polish," Piniella said. "Anybody can play at the big-league level. Can you play at the big-league level to win? That's really what you look for."

    Piniella worked with Cedeno before Tuesday's game on hitting the ball toward right-center, which could cut down on his 109 strikeouts last season.

    "I have to work on a couple of things, like making an adjustment at home plate, hitting with two strikes," Cedeno said. "I can do that."

    this page begs to differ, young man.

all this is bad news for felix pie, perez and several others who figure to start 2007 somewhere in the cub minors or beyond.

the initial roster projection at this point would seem to be as follows:

1Carlos ZambranoRyan DempsterScott Eyre*Michael BarrettDerrek LeeMatt Murton
2Ted Lilly*Bob HowryWill Ohman*Henry BlancoMark DerosaAlfonso Soriano
3Jason MarquisKerry WoodNeal Cotts*Cesar Izturis**Jacque Jones*
4Rich Hill*Rocky CherryAramis RamirezCliff Floyd*
5Wade MillerRoberto NovoaRyan TheriotDaryle Ward*
6Angel GuzmanMichael WuertzRonny CedenoAngel Pagan**
7Mark PriorBuck Coats*

probables are in blue, unlikelies are in gray. there's some chance the team would break with twelve pitchers, endangering cedeno and helping either cherry or novoa (as wuertz still hasn't thrown this spring).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cubs reduce spring roster

Following a 10-5 Cactus League win vs. the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, the Cubs reduced their Spring Roster by 14 players. Barring any injuries we pretty much know what the Cubs Opening Day Roster will be, so there were no surprises with the moves made Monday night.

Optioned to Iowa (AAA)
IF Scott Moore
LHP Clay Rapada

Optioned to Tenn (AA)
1B Brian Dopirak

Optioned to Daytona (A)
RHP Jeff Samardzija

The following non-roster invitees were sent to the minor league camp:
RHP Jason Anderson
RHP Sean Gallagher
RHP Adam Harben
RHP Ben Howard
RHP John Webb
RHP Randy Wells
IF-OF Mike Kinkade
2B Eric Patterson
OF Tyler Colvin
OF Chris Walker

According to AZ Phil at the Cub Reporter Adam Harben is rehabbing from off-season Tommy John surgery at Fitch Park and Mike Kinkade is out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand.

Jeff Samardzija capped off his first big league camp with two scoreless innings in Scottsdale. The Cubs brain trust was impressed with the golden domers poise this spring in camp. This from Jim Hendry:
"It was very entertaining," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said, "but I've been excited about this kid since the day we got him. He handled himself like a pro with a lot of poise. He's a big-time guy."

and Uncle Lou:
"He's pitched like a veteran really," Piniella said. "You could see that he's had big-time exposure playing football at Notre Dame. This hasn't fazed him too much. I think he's looked at some of our veteran pitchers and how they go about their business, what it takes to be a big leaguer, and he'll take that with him. I wouldn't be surprised that he'll have good, steady progress in the Minor League system."

I am very interested to see how the Cubs handle Samardzija. On this springs television broadcasts Len commented that he is on the "fast track" to the big leagues. So it will be fun to watch how he progresses this summmer-his first as a baseball player only.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

prior falls out of fifth starter race

the tribune reports:

After meeting Sunday morning with Prior, manager Lou Piniella said the right-hander will pitch in a minor-league game Thursday.

"What we want Prior to do is continue to get his work, and whether it's the major-league level or the minor-league level, it doesn't make any difference," Piniella said. "He can go down there and relax and just pitch. I had a nice meeting with him, got a little game plan going forward."

Asked about Prior's mind-set, Piniella said Prior is eager to return to the form of three or four years ago but then referred to him as a kid whose "confidence is playing with him a little bit."

When Prior was asked about Piniella's comment on his apparent lack of confidence, he replied, "We had a meeting. It's really not that big of a deal. He has meetings with everybody. That's what managers are here for."

Prior insisted he was OK with the idea of pitching to minor-leaguers instead of in a Cactus League game.

"It's fine," Prior said. "I'm throwing. … They wanted me to throw in a minor-league game. It happens all the time."

But when it happens to a pitcher who finished third in Cy Young Award voting only four years ago, it's a major story.

"Look, this is the right approach," Piniella said. "If I didn't think it was the right approach, we wouldn't send him down there. Get him to go down there and relax, and just pitch. He doesn't have to answer to the media. Hopefully you guys will all be over [at HoHoKam Park] at the 'A' game. Leave him alone, and let him pitch."

the battle for the final rotation spot -- after carlos zambrano, ted lilly, jason marquis and rich hill -- is down to wade miller, neal cotts and angel guzman. but concern has to follow prior, who now looks to be pitching in some respects for his professional career. the blunt assessments of piniella mark just how far prior's star has fallen from 2003.

Piniella said Prior has thrown 15 or 16 breaking balls in his two outings, "and he hasn't thrown one for a strike."

but it remains the comments of prior himself that trouble this page most.

Prior acknowledged he has had mechanical problems he needs to correct.

"That's part of it," he said. "Things haven't felt as good as I would've hoped to feel, but just keep working. That's all I can say.

"You guys are looking for an answer, something to latch onto. It's more feelings of what you know and what you feel. … There's nothing I can put into words. It's just something you know and you feel. You know what you've got to do, and you know where you've got to be."

on the heels of last week's comments:

“Go out, get my work in and hope it goes well,” he said. “For me, everything’s kind of over and done with. I can’t really dwell on it. I know it’s good storylines and fills pages, but what’s done is done and over with, and I’m moving on and just worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

“Everybody’s been kind of writing me off anyway. It seems a lot of you are still at my locker every day. I know if I go out there and pitch and keep pitching every fifth day, there’s no story. It really doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t bother me. I’m just doing everything I can to pitch. Until my body tells me otherwise, I just keep going about my business.”

“I just do what I do,” he said. “When people were blowing me up after ’02 and ’03, it didn’t really change the way I approach things at all. Obviously, things have turned, but that’s just the nature of the business. It’s, ‘What have you done lately, and what are you going to do for me tomorrow?’

“It doesn’t change the focus of what I’ll put into a game or the way I prepare for game. I don’t work one way or another based on how things are going.

“If I prove I’m healthy, I’ll have a position (on the team). At the end of the spring, if (because of) numbers or crunch time where that is, who knows? That’s not really up to me. The only thing I’m focused on is going out and pitching.”

"hope it goes well"... "everything's kinda over and done with"... "everybody’s been kind of writing me off anyway"... "if I prove I’m healthy"... this isn't a man brimming over with purpose and confidence, and his (probably subconscious) use of language that carries obvious double meaning is disturbing.

this writer has no idea how prior's shoulder feels, but -- in light not only of such comments but of performance -- it begs credulity to presume that there's no pain there. managing a consistent fastball only in the mid-80s last week, prior was crushed again saturday.

Prior allowed four runs on four hits and three walks in two innings of relief in a 6-5 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, throwing 40 pitches, including 20 strikes. He picked up a little speed on his fastball, going from the mid-80s in his first outing to 86 to 88 m.p.h. Saturday and topping out at 89.

But Prior has an 18.90 ERA, and of the 34 swings taken against him in his two outings, only three have missed, an alarming ratio. Prior threw more breaking balls than usual Saturday but couldn't throw them for strikes.

watching it -- the game was carried in chicagoland -- was far worse than that description. no one can say for certain what velocity he had -- the radar gun was reading erratically all game long -- but kansas city's minor leaguers had no difficulty at all getting around on prior's fastball even when off the plate inside. and both fastball and curve were off the plate all the time -- neither prior nor henry blanco seemed to have any idea where the ball was going. no velocity, no location, no secondary pitch... prior looked a beaten man, and this decision by piniella and the club almost seems an afterthought.

again, one should not overestimate how damaging this may be to the 2007 cubs. for all that's been said and believed this spring (as every spring) in the hubris of the return of the game, this club is no offensive powerhouse and will need good starting pitching to win -- and that, in the estimation here, put the weight of the season on rich hill and mark prior.

without prior, the margin for further error has already whittled down to a precious little.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

estimating the cub offense

there has been considerable quality discussion regarding the cub offense around baseball and on this blog. in light of the acquisition of alfonso soriano, many cub fans are primed for an offensive revolution -- this club, after all, is likely to approach 200 home runs.

this page has taken a more moderate tack from the beginning. understanding just how bad the 2006 ballclub was, and how easily incited to emotional release upon the signing of soriano a cub fan can be -- with no exception for yours truly -- in combination with the general euphoria of springtime... let us simply say, dear reader, that moderation is a vigilant watchword here, and expectations of blistering offense are therefore tempered.

quantitative analysis backing this view is now forthcoming, as a specific result of the rewarding dialogue that takes place in the comments of this page.

frequent commenter maddog of another cubs blog recently posted a series of projections that were the average of a handful of statistical estimates for cub starters in 2007. these estimates are what they are -- the outputs of a number of quantitative methodologies equally weighted without further examination -- and are useful and probably fairly accurate representations of the likely performance of the starting eight.

these can be transformed through the lineup analyzer at baseball musings to observe that, given these players playing at these levels, the output of the lineup would optimize at a level of about 5.22 runs/game. as can be seen, this output would have corresponded to that of the third-most-productive offense in the national league last year -- giving hope to fans of an offense that can drag even a mediocre pitching staff to 90 wins.

unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple. originally posted here, the analyzer correlates a regression of on-base percentage and slugging percentage to runs scored (much as this page has on occasion) and runs a monte carlo engine to compile a scoring mean probability for every possible lineup, then ranking the lineups, best and worst. it's a brilliant little application of technology to the sport.

but it doesn't present an accurate picture of how a team will score over the course of a season. this is, of course, because it is analyzing only the scoring potential of the given lineup and not the club. teams in reality sustain injuries, play backups and callups, get years of overperformance and underperformance out of individuals -- the myriad of perturbations to the ideal that constitute reality.

so what magnitude of difference can be observed between the analysis and the reality?

if one uses 2006 figures for obp% and slg% of the starting eight -- that is, the eight players who took more innings at each position than any other -- into the analyzer and you get optimal output of 4.87 runs/game. however, as we can see, the club actually scored 4.42 -- a shortfall of 0.45 runs/game. this is a very significant difference -- an 9% difference that, translated over a 162-game season, means some 73 runs.

one can do same for the 2005 cubs, finding an optimal theoretical output of 4.88 runs/game versus an actual of 4.34. for 2004 -- the offense that this writer finds most similar in recent seasons to this one -- one finds a 5.20 runs/game optimal output; that club actually scored 4.87 a game. for 2003, a theoretical 4.78 against an actual 4.47.

in other words -- if one believes the obp/slg projections derived above are substantially accurate -- the analyzer will (at least in the case of the cubs of recent vintage) return a runs-per-game figure that overestimates the actual output of the club by an average of 0.41 runs/game (with a range 0.31-0.54).

therefore -- when we sink the aforementioned average projections into the analyzer -- believing those estimates to be close to accurate reflections of what those players will really do, at least in aggregate if not in every simultaneous particular -- and get a mean optimal estimate of 5.22 -- what we're really looking at is an probable mean output of 4.81 runs/game, with a range from 4.91 to 4.68.

and one should further note that this overestimates the likely output. how? there exists also the probability that one or more of the starting eight that we imagine today will not take the majority of the innings at his assigned position -- that, by the office of injury or some other unforeseen intermediation, some inferior player will overtake him. to be sure, there also exists a possibility that a better player would supplant one of our supposed starters -- but the balance of the overall risk is almost certainly skewed to the negative. one may argue that this probability is negligible, but it is certainly not zero and could be prominent. the most notable occurence in reality of this was 2004 and the injury to nomar garciaparra, who was subsequently replaced by ramon martinez. had nomar factored into the 2004 theoretical, it would've predicted an even higher figure -- and the falloff to reality then been that much larger.

so how does that situate the 2007 cubs for putting up numbers on national league pitching? a total of 4.81 runs/game would have placed this club, in last year's league, 7th of 16 and 2nd of 6 in the division. this conforms well with the parallel drawn to 2004, a team which placed 7th in nl offense.

but it might be a bit better than all that would seem -- for taking the pecota projections of the other clubs in the central through the analyzer shows the cubs with a marginal offensive lead over their rivals for the central crown. it may not be a world-beating lineup, dear reader, but with some good pitching it might possibly be good enough.