Tuesday, February 28, 2006

2006 cubs: the outfield

that time of year is again approaching when hapless souls endeavor to forecast something about the 2006 cubs season which will not mortally embarrass them forever after. in the interests of the best possible prospect of suffering such chagrin, this writer has decided to offer a more detailed look than last year's forecast -- and, with more said, more probability of humiliation.

the first part of this analysis has already been posted as an examination of overall payroll and efficiency in a recent historical context. now for the outfield.

matt murton looks to start the year in left field if he is not traded before the end of spring. his blistering stint with the big club last year has set expectations very high for his sophomore campaign -- indeed, probably far too high.

if murton produces 265/320/420 with 17 hr and 67 rbi to equal last year's aggregate cub left field, this page would be pleased. that sort of output is quite a lot to ask of a player with only 140 major-league at-bats to his credit, and demanding more seems a bit foolish. many people forget that he hit .380 vs lhp in 2005 -- a small sample which isn't likely to extrapolate over an entire year -- and went 260/330/480 vs rhp despite being in the hottest streak he could ask for, hitting for the kind of power he simply has never hit for over any sizable length of time in the minors. this time through, if allowed to play everyday, murton is going to take three-quarters of his plate appearances vs rhp. while murton is well capable of playing as a major-league-average left fielder, and may be a fine if somewhat powerless hitter in time, one must be prepared for a bit of a letdown.

moreover, he'll have to play well from the get-go in order to keep his spot. one should be prepared for the appearance of marquis grissom in the lineup more often than one would wish. grissom played very poorly in 2005, and there is some question as to whether or not, at age 39, he has lost his capacity to play the game well (or as well as he ever did). but he's almost sure to be defensively superior to murton and may still have enough offensive potential -- 280/320/430 with 15 homers -- to displace an unproven player who struggles, regardless of being in the twilight of his career.

juan pierre arrives in chicago in lieu of the team's big free agent signing, and he will be a welcome and massive upgrade over korey patterson. pierre's defense may not be everything one would hope for -- particularly a weak throwing arm -- but his offensive potential as a leadoff hitter can fill a gaping need. 2005 was not pierre's best season, and it's quite reasonable to expect a return to 310/360/400 over 600+ at bats and 50+ stolen bases. his work ethic and conditioning is rumored to be remarkable, which is important for a team that has no replacement for him at the top of the order.

this writer feels that a lot of people are going to be amazed not only at how bad jacque jones is compared to what he's been advertised as, but how he's unexpectedly worse than 2005's right fielder, jeromy burnitz.

burnitz, for all his manifold shortcomings, was a good fielder with an accurate arm. jones is a strong thrower but is not at all accurate -- is in fact wild, will overthrow/underthrow cutoffs and bases regularly and probably launch a couple into the stands this year, as he always does. in combination with pierre's underpowered arm, one can expect a lot of national league teams to take the extra base on any ball hit into the right field gap or corner.

offensively, burnitz fanned 109 times in 605 ab last year; jones is a mortal lock for 130 fans if he gets that many at-bats, and he'll walk half as often. he'll struggle to reach burnitz's meager 2005 output of 24 homers, going from the metrodome's hefty bag to wrigley's deep rightfield alley, and burnie's 87 rbi would represent a career high for jacque. this is a guy who would ostensibly hit fourth between lee and ramirez to set up the right-left-right lineup? not on a good team. though he may rebound a bit from last year's dismal performance, it won't be enough to keep jones from representing a downgrade in right field -- and one with a regrettable three-year contract.

john mabry and jerry hairston will offer other options in backup roles, but barring injury should see relatively little time in the outfield. angel pagan, should he see chicago at all, will probably do so in a situation where the cubs fate has already been decided.

on the whole, then, this outfield unit is marginally upgraded from last year's version, which was here touted at the worst outfield in the league. pierre will almost certainly keep it from that lowly status, but it is nonetheless a major team weakness still. the defense will be poor, the power and production likely well below the average major league outfield much less that which will carry the offenses of winning teams -- and remains a far cry from that which this team fielded as recently as 2004.

part 1: payroll and expectation
part 2: the outfield
part 3: relief pitching
part 4: the infield
part 5: starting pitching

Monday, February 27, 2006

flea market pitching

the cubs this weekend quietly signed brian boehringer (see the very last line) to a minor league contract, joining jason simontacchi and wade miller as the product of this year's adventure into the most neglected recesses of the pitching market in an effort to discover value.

it has become clear that this is how the cubs under the tutelage of andy macfail build the margins of the pitching staff. they take unwanted failures and rejects and sift for deep value. past examples of rehabilitated value signings include glendon rusch, tim worrell, todd van poppel and joe borowski -- testament to the possible upside of bottom fishing.

but this is a team with one of the highest revenue bases in the sport -- employing a strategy fit for the twins or royals. the cubs are clearly very capable of signing four or five really good relievers like bob howry and building reliable pitching depth. there were certainly plenty of quality arms on the market this year again. but it's cheaper to take these chances than to pay for known quality -- and profit is where the priority lies.

many would argue that that the strategy is essentially cost free -- the players sign minor-league contracts for nothing and are not guaranteed anything. i completely disagree. it's all well and good to cite van poppel, worrell and borowski -- but with the good, you have to cite the bad.

jimmy anderson. alan benes. manny aybar. jerry spradlin. brian williams. all these stiffs and more have poisoned the pitching well of a cub team at some time or another in the last several years. and their trials by loss and blown save are a necessary consequence of the strategy -- because the cubs can often have no idea which will work out and which won't until those that won't have already helped lose a few games for them.

does that mean the strategy is worthless? certainly not -- one could argue that the rewards of the success of the few who work out are worth the cost of the failure of the many. but this is a team with financial resources more than capable of putting them beyond this flea-market method of pitching depth construction.

sadly, most paying cub fans still don't demand they employ those resources.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Opening Day Boxscore

The Cubs opened 1964 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Bob Kennedy's Cubs were actually coming off a winning season (82-80) in 1963. Sadly, tragedy struck the Cubs during the offseason. On February 15, 1964 second baseman and 1962 NL Rookie Of the Year Ken Hubbs died when his plane crashed near Provo, UT.

Future Hall of Famer Billy Williams would again provide some heroics. On this day Billy would homer again in extra innings on Opening Day. This time it would provide insurance for the Bruins opening day win in Pittsburgh. Here is Opening Day 1964.

Chicago Cubs 8, Pittsburgh Pirates 4
Played on Tuesday, April 14, 1964 (D)
at Forbes Field
CHI N 1 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 4 - 8 13 0
PIT N 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 - 4 10 1

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Stewart 2b 4 2 2 0 1 0 3 2
Brock rf 5 1 1 1 0 2 0 0
Williams lf 5 1 2 2 0 1 1 0
Santo 3b 4 1 2 1 1 0 1 5
Banks 1b 5 0 0 0 0 2 14 1
Rodgers ss 5 2 3 2 0 0 1 4
Cowan cf 4 0 1 0 1 1 2 0
Bertell c 5 1 2 2 0 0 7 1
Jackson p 4 0 0 0 0 2 1 5
McDaniel p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 41 8 13 8 3 8 30 18

2B: Santo 2 (2,off Veale,off Face); Rodgers 2 (2,off Veale,off Sisk); Cowan
(1,off McBean); Stewart (1,off Face).
HR: Rodgers (1,7th inning off Veale 0 on, 0 out); Bertell (1,7th inning off
Veale 0 on, 1 out); Williams (1,10th inning off Face 1 on, 0 out).
SH: Jackson (1,off Veale).
IBB: Cowan (1,by Sisk).
Team LOB: 7.

CS: Santo (1,2nd base by McBean/Pagliaroni).

Pittsburgh Pirates AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Schofield ss 4 1 1 0 1 0 0 2
Virdon cf 5 0 1 0 0 1 5 0
Clemente rf 5 1 2 1 0 0 2 0
Stargell lf 5 1 2 0 0 1 0 0
Clendenon 1b 5 1 2 2 0 0 9 1
Bailey 3b 5 0 1 0 0 2 2 0
Mazeroski 2b 3 0 1 1 1 0 4 3
Pagliaroni c 3 0 0 0 0 0 8 1
Lynch ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Face p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sisk p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Veale p 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Freese ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
McBean p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
Burgess ph 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
McFarlane pr,c 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 39 4 10 4 3 6 30 10

DP: 1.
E: Bailey (1).

2B: Stargell 2 (2,off Jackson 2); Clendenon (1,off Jackson); Clemente (1,off
IBB: Burgess (1,by Jackson).
Team LOB: 8.

SB: Bailey (1,2nd base off Jackson/Bertell); Mazeroski (1,2nd base off Jackson/Bertell).
CS: Clendenon (1,2nd base by Jackson/Bertell).

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Jackson W(1-0) 9 9 4 4 3 4 0
McDaniel SV(1) 1 1 0 0 0 2 0
Totals 10 10 4 4 3 6 0

Pittsburgh Pirates IP H R ER BB SO HR
Veale 7 7 4 4 2 7 2
McBean 2 1 0 0 0 1 0
Face L(0-1) 0 4 4 4 0 0 1
Sisk 1 1 0 0 1 0 0
Totals 10 13 8 8 3 8 3
WP: Veale (1), McBean (1).
IBB: Jackson (1,Burgess); Sisk (1,Cowan).
Umpires: Vinnie Smith, Chris Pelekoudas, Tom Gorman, Bill Williams

Time of Game: 2:47 Attendance: 26,377

Friday, February 24, 2006

Confessions from the Virtual Waiting Room:

Here's a little log of my attempt to get Opening Day seats. Welcome to the Virtual Waiting Room:

10:05 AM – Johnny B’s broadcast is over in the Loop. I guess I could go over to Cubs.com and see if I can get something decent for Opening Day.

10:31 AM – Ok, the VWR screen refreshes every thirty seconds, so the screen has refreshed 52 times already. Scary.

10:33 AM – If I have to hear about my coworker’s condo woes anymore (this has gone one for more than a year), I’m going to scream.

10:40 AM – I just love some of the rock music on the Loop. Journey’s Separate Ways is playing, it doesn’t have to be good to be a classic.

10:51 AM – There’s nothing that sucks more than a day in prairie dog town. I really wish I had an office right now. 92 refreshes of the VWR. I think I’ll close the window after 1,000 refreshes.

11:13 AM – Just had a little conversation on competitive eating. Yeah, slow day in the office. I’m not even going into how ridiculous that “sport” even sounds.

11:17 AM – 144 refreshes in the VWR. I am honestly working, I just check the browser screen every few minutes to see if there is a change. So far, nothing.

11:31 AM – Just read a “discussion” at another Cub site. Realized that I need to take up another hobby, possibly bonsai tree sculpting. 172 refreshes and no change. VWR, VWR, VWR, whoo hoo.

11:37 AM – an actual update. Tickets are no longer available at this time for the Cubs vs. White Sox game 7/1/2006. Just my opinion and I live two blocks from Wrigley, but the last place I would want to be on that day is there for a Cubs vs. Sox game. I can’t possibly imagine the amount of fights in the stands, streets and bars and Sox fans have a lot to hold over the heads of Cub fans.

11:47 AM – I wonder if Premium Tickets has Opening Day seats. I know this is the Cubs “attempt” to stop scalpers from cornering the market, but let’s be honest with ourselves, is this even possible. They can’t even keep them from jumping the line for SRO tickets.

11:54 AM – The VWR has got to be worse than the DMV. This is about the second or third time I’ve gone online to get single game tickets on the first day they go on sale and have faced the same result. 218 refreshes so far. Now this is just a battle of will to see if I keep it open all day today.

11:57 AM – More sold out games: Cubs vs. Cardinals 4/7/2006; Cubs vs. White Sox 7/2/2006. SRO for Opening Day, here I come.

Well, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it. I’ll post updates as I see fit, but the only seats I wanted were for Opening Day. I’m now just going to see how long it does take to get another screen.


1:08 PM - Its been three hours and 366 refreshes of the VWR browser. The following games are now sold out (or at least for the purposes of this discussion, you are really never truly shut out of any event it just boils down to how much you're willing to pay)

Cubs vs. Cardinals 4/7/2006
Cubs vs. White Sox 6/30/2006
Cubs vs. White Sox 7/1/2006
Cubs vs. White Sox 7/2/2006
Cubs vs. Cardinals 7/29/2006
Cubs vs. Cardinals 8/19/2006


3:06 PM - Ok, I just had to see how long it would take to get through and to even see if there was a chance at tickets, so I checked the browser and the April schedule popped up. I decided to give it a shot and get bleacher seats. This will be my one and only return to the bleachers (the last time I was there was Opening Day 2004). So, April 24th, I'll be there.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Avoiding the VWR

You know that feeling you get when you know you are supposed to be doing something. Something that you always do, year after year after year. But, this year you aren't doing it. That's the feeling that absorbed me over the past few days. Something is missing in the latter days of my February this year.

For the first time in over a decade I will not spend the "Friday ticket-day" in line at Wrigley Field or on my computer in the Virtual Waiting Room(in recent years). For Full Disclosure: I am not going on a boycott or anything like that. I still share a partial season ticket plan with a large group of people so I will get tickets for about 5 games this season. I'll go to a few of those and give the rest to customers or a 1060west reader or two. Basically, I'm not buying any additional seats this coming season.

Over the past few weeks I have e-mailed and talked tickets with friends. Nobody is making any special plans for Friday. Nobody is taking the day off, nothing. That's not how it used to be. Years ago, a few of us were young and dumb enough to wait in line overnite for tix. Since the start of online ticketing we have spent a ton of time scheming up ways to get into the system early and often. Not this year though. None of it.

I get the feeling that I am not the only one taking this approach with the Cubs this year. Ticket sales are down in Mesa and Al over BCB(UPDATE: for those interested you should click here to goto BCB if you want to know the winning wristband number) is reporting that the lines for wristbands are actually easy to get through quickly this year. And here were some comments posted earlier this week on my favorite "crappy/unpopular" blog:

...i am only 1 man; i am keeping my cash in my pockets this friday, for the first time in several years. that decision was made some time ago; not sure how prior's presence or absence could influence prospective buyers....



I'm tired of this mess. I don't have any particular interest in going to the North Side Mall. Perhaps I'll sell all my tickets this year. F-em all.

Who needs two?



Excellent post. This is why I'm not giving away my money to this franchise this season. I've been fooled way too many times over the years. They are taking us for complete fools.

Scott LaRock


Something is in the air folks. I am not sure what it is. Maybe the hangover from 2003 & 2004 has set in. Maybe it was a 79 win season in '05. Maybe the Sox championship has sent all the fair-weather fans south. Maybe the PR nightmare's --McGuire's flip-flop a few weeks ago or lying about fragile right arms -- are coming home to roost. I don't know kids, something isn't so warm and fuzzy in Cubland.

I am not here to tell you fans not to buy tickets or anything crazy like that. I still happen to think an afternoon at the ballpark is one of the best excuses there is to take a day off. It's good clean all-american fun. All of you are at different points in your lives than me. Many of you younger readers enjoy Wrigley Field for the extracurricular activities both in and around the ballpark. You should. Lord knows most of the dysfunctionals on this page spent large amounts of time and money in and around the park in their 20's. Those of you with children probably love taking your kids to the ballpark. What is better than watching baseball with your child over hot dogs and peanuts at a ballpark? Enjoy these times. I am not saying don't buy tickets. I am just observing that something is different.

Over this weekend the Cubs will sell a ton of individual game tickets. I'm sure on Monday, John McDonough will take bows in the Tribune. Scalpers will probably buy up most of the big dates in the summer. Still, something feels different this time through. I have to wonder if a worm is turning. From where I sit, this ticket thing seems to be losing a little luster.

Anyhow, I'm wondering what your plans are for Friday. Are you gonna spend time in the VWR? Do you have a wristband? or are you just gonna blow the whole thing off? I will say this, I won't miss the VWR.

managing expectations

as this page has said before, the tribune has often in the past telegraphed its intentions with respect to the cubs by broadcasting them in one or more of their house organs. this was the case with sammy sosa in 2004, and again with korey patterson in 2005. this is known in management parlance as news management or managing expectations -- essentially, the manipulation of hearts and minds.

it isn't a foolproof tell, of course -- the management of expectations must occur in anticipation of the event, and sometimes only in the anticipation of projected likelihoods. with sosa's contract expiring in 2001, for example, with sosa being a 10-and-5 player with veto rights on any trade, the tribune began to manage expectations and opinions in 2000 as a contingency to being unable to come to terms with their most popular player by putting a megaphone to the contrived antagonism of dutiful manager don baylor. of course, they ultimately did come to terms -- and, once it became clear through sosa's agent adam katz that they would get cooperation in either a trade or a contract, the tone of the tribune's coverage changed character almost immediately, transferring the mantle of scapegoat from sosa to hapless general manager ed lynch, who took a nasty lesson in corporate politics.

but we examine this phenomena of media ownership today because one of the kept men of the tribune is today making the case for jim hendry's extension -- in all likelihood telegraphing the result of a decision already made within the tribune's corporate hierarchy and, by implication, confirming the retention of team president andy macfail.

the opinion of this page regarding the tenure of macfail and his general managers is well articulated -- but, despite a stunning ineptitude on the field, one is hard pressed to say that the cubs are not a wild success by another measure: income. and, seeing as the sole measure of success not only for macfail and hendry but any officer of the tribune company is wealth creation, it is hard to make the case -- using the tribune's own standards of success -- to see why these men would not be retained.

but the insightful observer should be made to understand -- the citation of tangible on-field "progress" or "improvement", such as might be hypothesized by the likes of phil rogers, has utterly nothing to do with that retention nor with virtually any important decision the tribune makes. the record demonstrates clearly that macfail's tenure -- indeed, the entire era of the tribune's ownership -- is little or no improvement on the previous periods. the reason for the decision is, always has been and always will be nothing other than money.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the scapegoat

as the winds of rumor swirl again through cubs camp this spring, it is edifying to watch ownership act upon the currents of popular opinion in an effort to manage the team's image through its mouthpieces. there are few things that so clearly illustrate the methodology of a management as a mild crisis.

so how has tribco responded to the cacophony of angst over mark prior's delayed start? by circling the wagons -- paul sullivan promotes the alienation angle in an effort to emotionalize the issue and draw a line in the sand between Us and Them.

first a bit of reinforcement to set the receptive loyal into a positive mood:

A new season brings new challenges, but the Cubs' goals haven't changed. And with a new attitude, fresh faces and a collective chip on their shoulders, that goal can be attained.

never mind that this team has cut total payroll outlays and is staring down the barrel of .500 yet again -- that goal can be attained! to reinforce the good vibes, sullivan then scribes a few paragraphs of puff centering on the abject joy of centerfielder juan pierre as having reached the nirvana of a 97-year experiment in profitable failure.

stage set, enter the villain -- the bloggers -- and cue the crowd to boo.

While Pierre was relishing the moment, Prior was forced to rehash old comments after an Internet report suggested he looked "weak and tired" and was hiding a shoulder injury.

"It's par for the course now," Prior said. "Everybody seems to want to find something wrong. That's just life. You deal with it. I'm not going to sit here and defend or validate it. There have been a lot of rumors in my short career and this is just part of it.

"I can't control what people write and what people think. That's people's opinions. They have the right to their opinions, and in this country they have the right to make those opinions public."

And because anyone with access to a Web site can pretend to be a journalist, they often do. Prior said he feels good and expects to be throwing off a mound within the next few days.

... "I'm not naive," he said. "I know what my history has been. … Donovan McNabb said it best a couple of weeks ago. Some people like you, some people don't like you and, for whatever reason, a lot of those people have voices."

note how easily prior takes a question of his health -- which arises, one might add, while he should be and yet is not pitching -- and, without warrant, emotionalizes it into a personal vendetta, a manifestation of a presupposed hatred.

so, you see, the problem isn't in prior's arm nor in the cubs' reflexive and repeated corporate dishonesty -- it's in those who would analyze the facts and innuendoes as they are known critically in light of the fact that the problems in the past have indeed been in prior's arm and the cubs' reflexive and repeated corporate dishonesty. these disingenuous evil few, for their part, are presumed to be motivated not by any search for truth but by a twisted and irrational hatred.

sullivan perhaps accidentally makes part of a good point, which is that bloggers are not reporters. whether or not he or anyone at the trib actually understands that is another question -- the company line in demonizing bloggers is clearly that bloggers are frustrated reporters, which is far from the truth. indeed, bloggers are analysts -- reporters (at least theoretically) gather facts and innuendoes and report them. analysts take reported facts and study them for patterns.

as to why analysts should be the problem with the world, one can only wonder -- but this analyst would suggest that the need to demonize close and critical examinations of the intentions of corporate hierarchy intermingle with the role of myth in human societies, in this case cub nation.

jack lule wrote a deeply fascinating book some years ago, based on the work of philosopher and critic kenneth burke, regarding the role of mythology in news media, detailing the great degree of overlap between news stories and seven timeless modes of storytelling that permeate human religion and mythology -- one of which is, of course, The Scapegoat. indeed, it is not too much to say that news media since its advent in a secularizing society has assumed from religion in decline the role of society's primary disseminator of myth and social reinforcement.

philip hunt has quickly elaborated on The Scapegoat, using anecdotal examples from his experience to discuss the role of this mythic mode in reinforcing social norms -- that is, defining Us -- and isolating that which challenges the established order -- that is, defining Them. scapegoating is seen thus as a sort of social preservative in the face of potential disorder -- a way of shouting "la la la, i can't hear you" -- regardless of whether that disorder works ultimately in the service of the ultimately constructive or ultimately destructive because of the high premium we as people rightly put on social peace.

this writer has before suggested in this space that the tribune company is merely the most pertinent example to this page of a human hierarchy that has worked meticulously to create a self-reinforcing society of conformism surrounding this team which it can manage to its advantage and toward its desired ends without regard for inconveniences like reality. its use of mythology and its forms (but particularly scapegoating) is critical, as with any society, in framing the terms of acceptable debate and delineating that which is off-limits -- that is, which is perceived as detrimental to the ends or the society that secures the ends. it is, perhaps, only too ironic to consider the proposition of cultural anthropologist rene girard that sport itself is the cultural codification of The Scapegoat in athletic theater.

however, while this basic social function -- even in the service of creating mass delusions without basis in an empirical reality -- can be tremendously beneficial and even necessary in the service of good and moral ends, it can be equally destructive and terrifying in the service of amoral ends. and if this page knows anything at all about the cubs under the ownership of the tribune, it knows that the ends are utterly without morality.

this is an organization of man which has perverted sport -- that which could affirm within our society the virtues of cooperation, self-sacrifice and dedication to a greater good in the pursuit of the betterment of the whole -- into a mean and ruddy engine of profit, existing for no other purpose than to make money for a few while debasing the faith of those many who naively and in confusion believe themselves in eternal compact with the team rather than the virtues it once was meant to demonstrate and no longer does.

the clarity of criticism as a driving force for reform is badly needed in such a situation if anything about this dynamic is to change for the better. cub nation needs now, more than ever before, a clear-eyed and sharp-edged analysis to strip away the lies and mythologies in the service of this dessicated, perverted institution and expose the rottenness that resides at its core to the light of those ancient virtues which have been expelled from it. if the cubs are ever again to be something worth caring about, things must change. sullivan's mythological article is merely an example demonstrating why.

UPDATE: mlbtraderumors has composed a timeline of events thusfar in the prior-shoulder fiasco.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Throwin' the towel

Mark Prior threw his towel again Saturday in Mesa. After that, the Cubs told everyone that Prior is fine and the problem was an illness that hospitalized him back around Christmas. I say this to the Chicago National League Ballclub: "I don't believe a word of what you are telling me about Mark Prior."

In 2004 the Cubs said Prior had an achilles problem, last spring he had a heel issue followed by inflammation in his right elbow. Both times the Cubs told us during spring that everything would be okay. What happened? In 2004 Prior did not pitch until June, in 2005 Prior did not pitch until April 13th.

Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus reported in his "Under the Knife" column that Prior is again having troubles with his right shoulder. Here's what Carroll wrote:
You can't have spring training anymore without pitcher problems or at least rumors of said problems. Those usually start with the Cubs, and this year is no different. Reliable sources--the same ones that tipped us early to Mark Prior's Achilles problem--now tell us that Prior is having shoulder problems. The Cubs deny this and point to Prior's work on the mound. Prior was doing towel drills on Saturday, but this is the same type of work he was doing last year when there was a problem. According to our best sources in Mesa, Prior looks "weak and sick." Until he throws, we just won't know, though I'd like to believe Larry Rothschild.

Carroll's report corroborates a rumor reported by 1060west's Thunderclap Newman on January 22, 2006. Newman told us that a reliable source told him:
Mark Prior's right shoulder is bothering him.

Newman's report on this site led to a firestorm from Cub fans who live in a world of denial. Well now we have Prior again throwing towels and being put on a different schedule than all of Cubs healthy pitchers. Looking at the history of Mark Prior and the history of what the Cubs brass tells us about him, it's pretty easy to figure that once again he is injured.

It really is funny how a ballclub that is owned by a media communications company is unable to communicate through the media. The lies that have poured out of the Cubs training room just in regards to Prior are numerous. There is no reason to think that this is any different.

Opening Day Boxscore

In 1971, the Cubs and Cardinals opened the season with a game at Wrigley Field. Over 39,000 fans packed Wrigley Field to see Bob Gibson vs. Feguson Jenkins. The two future Hall of Famers would have many duels in their careers. The bullpens would take this Opening Day off. This ballgame would be decided in the tenth inning by another future Hall of Famer. Sweet Swinging Billy Williams homerun sent the Wrigley Field crowd home happy on that April afternoon:

Chicago Cubs 2, St. Louis Cardinals 1
Played on Tuesday, April 6, 1971 (D)
at Wrigley Field

STL N 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 - 1 3 0
CHI N 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 2 7 0

St. Louis Cardinals AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Alou cf 4 0 0 0 0 1 5 0
Sizemore ss 4 0 1 0 0 2 1 2
Brock lf 4 0 0 0 0 1 3 0
Torre 3b 4 1 1 1 0 2 1 2
Cardenal rf 4 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
Hague 1b 3 0 0 0 0 0 6 0
Simmons c 3 0 1 0 0 0 6 0
Javier 2b 3 0 0 0 0 1 3 2
Gibson p 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
Totals 32 1 3 1 0 7 28 9

HR: Torre (1,7th inning off Jenkins 0 on, 2 out).
Team LOB: 1.
CS: Sizemore (1,2nd base by Jenkins/Rudolph).

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Kessinger ss 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Beckert 2b 5 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Williams lf 4 1 2 1 1 0 4 0
Santo 3b 4 1 1 0 0 1 2 4
Pepitone 1b 4 0 2 0 0 0 10 1
Callison rf 3 0 1 1 1 0 1 0
Ortiz cf 4 0 1 0 0 0 2 0
Rudolph c 2 0 0 0 1 1 8 1
Jenkins p 3 0 0 0 0 3 1 3
Totals 33 2 7 2 4 5 30 12

DP: 1.
2B: Callison (1,off Gibson); Pepitone (1,off Gibson).
HR: Williams (1,10th inning off Gibson 0 on, 1 out).
SH: Jenkins (1,off Gibson); Rudolph (1,off Gibson).
IBB: Kessinger (1,by Gibson); Callison (1,by Gibson).
Team LOB: 9.

St. Louis Cardinals IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gibson L(0-1) 9.1 7 2 2 4 5 1

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Jenkins W(1-0) 10 3 1 1 0 7 1

WP: Gibson (1).
IBB: Gibson 2 (2,Kessinger,Callison).
Umpires: Ken Burkhart, Ed Sudol, Lee Weyer, Nick Colosi
Time of Game: 1:58 Attendance: 39,079

Thanks, as always, to retrosheet.org for this Opening Day Boxscore.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

pitchers and catchers report -- sort of

spring training has often been cause to wax poetic in the baseball world (though never more hilariously than derek smart at cub town did this year). even this page, which so often endeavors to live the life analytic, is moved by the spirit of the season by muses vernal and literary. it is perhaps merely to be accepted that our muse would be of an ironic caste, however, whereupon her singing of even the very phrase "pitchers and catchers report" takes on a darker, worrisome harmonic.

when jason simontacchi was offered a spot as a non-roster invitee back in early february, it made barely a ripple in cubdom. the former cardinal had never been an imposing pitcher, and was notable in his affiliation with the cubs primarily for being yet another of the cubs' burgeoning labrum legion.

but with his departure from camp to visit the dreaded dr. james andrews under a cloud of discomfort in that repaired shoulder, the spectre of the seriousness of labral procedures has returned -- and with it, one hopes, an extra dose of sensibility in the heads of jim hendry, dusty baker and larry rothschild.

let it be a warning to the cubs regarding kerry wood and wade miller. labrum surgery is a very big deal. letting these guys run where they wish to -- or, worse, pushing one of them to perform in order to, say, avoid difficult questions and the inevitable farce of competing non-answers from hendry, rothschild and dusty about why he was throwing out of the bullpen for a sunken ship in august instead of on an operating table -- is an extremely dangerous game and one that shouldn't be played.

given the cubs past honesty issues regarding mark prior, it's also hard not to take this development with a twinge of nervousness. the cubs are disseminating a story through their propaganda outlets about recent "mysterious" illness -- but not throwing off the mound, even if due to other reasons, is easily seen as a simple hedge against the recurrence of the same undiagnosed elbow pain that has kept prior off the mound in mesa in the last two seasons.

just as worryingly, bruce miles has been told it's not just the elbow the cubs are eyeballing this spring.

The Cubs are keeping an eye on Prior’s elbow and his shoulder but say both are fine.

that seems very much like a tacit confirmation that there are in fact worries within the organization about prior's shoulder. in any case, what can be said is that prior has been kid-gloved yet again for health reasons of some kind or another.

UPDATE: bruce miles over at the daily herald is reporting that prior's slow start is what this writer here articulated:

The Cubs insist there is nothing wrong with Prior’s elbow or shoulder. They say they’re easing him into spring training this year so they can prevent the elbow problems that limited him to just one Cactus League game over the past two springs.

whether or not it is just that or more, of course, will remain in the realm of speculation for some time. simply because prior has started to throw from a mound hardly gives him a clean bill of health. the answer to the question will remain some months in the making. (end UPDATE)

so much for the pitching side -- sleep easy there, right? as to the catching side... well, at this point, there really isn't a catching side with michael barrett, henry blanco and geovany soto all playing in the wbc until their teams (united states, venezuela and puerto rico, respectively) are eliminated -- which could be a couple weeks or the bulk of the spring. what that does for or to them this writer cannot say. it could be that they get in all the work they need while representing their nations. but, all else being even, one somehow wishes they were going to be in mesa -- though one might wonder that, with so few pitchers pitching, they may well not be needed.

Friday, February 17, 2006

the prospect of labor pains

the eminent arizona phil over at cub reporter presents an interesting perspective on one of the legacies of the last round of labor negotiations -- the deferred right of ownership to unilaterally contract two franchises following the 2006 season, with a window of decision ending on july 1, 2006, whereupon ownership must notify the union.

as has been noted here before, the collective bargaining agreement expires following this season, about which this writer said:

only once in the history of baseball since unionization has that deadline gone without a work stoppage -- next year is likely to be a shortened season. more importantly, the terms that follow the conclusion of negotiation are likely to be yet less favorable to tribco and other large owners -- more revenue sharing is certainly on the table in an effort to improve competitive balance.

another measure of improved competitive balance often cited by owners in the past has been the contraction of teams in uncompetitive markets. as phil notes, this has come largely to mean teams which have not been able to negotiate for publicly-funded stadium construction which are also unwilling to foot the bill themselves. new stadiums have become an all-but-necessary implement of competitive baseball, largely because of the immense rents received from luxury boxes. local operating revenue has become a growth area in sport since the 1990s, and the advantages offered to a team like the san francisco giants, seattle mariners or houston astros with a new box-stacked park over teams like the florida marlins (who don't control the luxury box revenue in the stadium they rent) or the kansas city royals or minnesota twins (who play in stadiums designed before the luxury box revolution) are considerable, magnifying any disadvantage in mere market size and wealth. one need look only as far as the retasking of what was once a restaurant in the wrigley field batter's eye to understand how badly rentable suites are wanted.

it's important to note that what we're discussing is a previously-negotiated right that can be exercized by ownership unilaterally. anyone who can remember the last bout of labor negotiation in baseball in 2002 -- which ended, unusually enough, without a work stoppage thanks to the deference of the players -- knows that contraction was one of ownerships' biggest issues and nearly became the sticking point over which another stoppage would have emerged. the vast majority of ownership, having already collected and disseminated the fees of 1990s expansion, look now to the possibility of dividing the $416mm annual pie of national television broadcast rights (not to mention emerging media rights, such as satellite and internet) into fewer slices -- and, with the sale of the now-washington expos/nationals garnering a likely windfall to ownership of some $200mm+ and defraying the buyout costs of contraction, remaining teams could end up in a net profit position rather quickly, within just a few years.

so there is a clear motivtion -- ideological and financial -- to ownership exercizing that right to contraction. what remains to be seen is how the players would react to it.

it's true, of course, that the players signed on to the collective bargaining agreement which included the negotiation of this ownership option -- but that doesn't at all mean that the players union has to react positively to its actual exercize. contraction was the source of a great deal of acrimony in 2001 and 2002. donald fehr went so far as to dispute the entire logic of small-market limitations:

There is this notion out there that you have markets that can't generate revenue, and you have markets that can, as if those were always the same ones. The problem is that it is not true. Until Jacobs Field, the Indians were considered to be the worst of all possible circumstances, hopeless. They made the movie "Major League" about the Indians because it was sort of a joke. Seattle was thought to be the same way. The success of a franchise does not necessarily remain static over time. It depends on what happens and it depends on how well it is run. And what we do know is that at times in the past, there has been very significant attendance in Minneapolis.

of course, the problems in cleveland and seattle were largely resolved by shining new temples to the sport, whose new revenue streams propelled those teams into consistent competition, in the indians' case, for the first time in decades. if it's understood that what challenges the challenged markets of baseball is often less the city they're located in than the stadium they play in, the logical foundation for the players to resist contraction on the grounds that stadium financing is the solution to the problem -- and not job cuts -- is set, along with the stage for yet another labor confrontation in baseball.

if ownership contracts, say, the twins and the marlins -- the two teams whose problems in stadium financing have been most persistent and seem irremediable -- i would expect an unholy roar to emit from the players union and bad blood to begin circulating at a time when negotiating teams will (hopefully) be meeting to hammer out a new basic agreement. there is a lot that will be on the table -- including another run at increased revenue sharing, anathema to the players, in the interests of competitive balance. in a sport that has had eight work stoppages in nine labor negotiations since 1972 -- the one exception being the forced amicus that emerged from the memories of the savage 1994-5 strike and the frightening 2001 terrorist crisis -- this is a recipe for strife.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

2006 cubs: payroll and expectation

this page has previously analyzed the cubs spending habits for both quantity and quality and found them distinctly wanting. of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results -- merely an indicator -- but it remains to look closely at what the cubs payroll situation in 2006 is shaping up to be with a view toward forecasting a reasonable expectation of on-field performance.

team payroll calculation detail

the previous study carried out by this page used primarily data from the comprehensive lahman database, which contains player salary data going back to 1985. one of the flaws of this use of the database, as was noted in the study, is the systemic underreporting of total team salary by the amount of players who did not contribute to the team's on-field performance. in 2005 for the cubs, this excluded notably one sammy sosa, some $12mm of whose contract was paid by the chicago cubs as a condition of his trade to baltimore. it also excluded, as it does with every team, every member of the 40-man roster and the disabled lists -- all of whom count against the luxury cap -- who did not play in 2005.

however, this understates the inaccuracy of the lahman database's computation, as players who were members of another team (as of opening day) also have their records excluded from an empirical query of cub players for that year -- that is, for example, aramis ramirez and kenny lofton, who were acquired in mid-2003, have records in the database affiliating them only with the pittsburgh pirates in that year and so don't compile into the total payroll outlay for the cubs in that year.

in 2005, the sole example this on the major league level was matt lawton -- but, on the minor league level, excluded also all callups, mid-season signees and moves off the 60-day disabled list. in total, these players were (alphabetically) cedeno, fontenot, greenberg (hope that bump on the noggin has cleared up), grieve, hill, koronka, mcclain, mitre, murton, novoa, ohman, soto, theriot, van buren, williamson and the great enrique wilson.

further, just as these later additions are not counted toward payroll, players who are divested in the course of the year -- for the 2005 cubs, this includes latroy hawkins, todd hollandsworth and joe borowski -- have their entire 2005 salary attributed to the cub payroll.

now, clearly, very few of these players make truly significant amounts of money -- and, because the nature of the error is systemic, not overwheming in comparison to overall team salary and spread across all teams evenly, the error is relatively safe to ignore within the confines of a framework of estimations in comparative studies between teams such as this page engaged in last week and that of dan agonistes. but -- to be clear -- the lahman database compilations that these studies are based upon are really including players that were part of the club as of opening day, and as such are relevant less to the final payroll expenditures of teams looking backward from the end of the year than to the expected payroll expenditures of teams going into the year looking forward. in order to compare apples to apples, it's important to note that these studies are most valid as a basis of comparison at the very beginning of the year. as it happens, this is exactly that time.

2006 cubs normalized payroll

therefore, this page now intends to examine where the cubs of mid-february 2006 fall into the dataset of recent years with respect to payroll. first, let us cite the previous data:

year - payroll - normal - win% - eff
1998 - $50.8mm - 1.193 - .552 - .463
1999 - $62.3mm - 1.252 - .414 - .330
2000 - $60.5mm - 1.090 - .401 - .368
2001 - $64.7mm - 0.990 - .543 - .549
2002 - $64.7mm - 1.122 - .414 - .369
2003 - $79.8mm - 1.126 - .543 - .482
2004 - $90.5mm - 1.312 - .549 - .419
2005 - $87.0mm - 1.193 - .487 - .409

... noting that the 2005 figure does not include the $12mm allocated to the sosa trade. it's arguable, of course, whether or not sosa's allocation should be included in these figures -- the inclusion would raise 2005 payroll outlay to $99.0mm, normalized at 1.35 -- but, as the purpose of this study is to evaluate the team to be put on the field on april 3, the best basis for comparison remains without.

this writer participated recently in a thread of commentary at bcb the result of which was to approximate the current cub payroll outlay at some $93.2mm. this result was computed using the data at the top of the page, which this writer considers to be materially correct estimates. this would represent a 7.1% increase in the on-field payroll of the club as opposed to last season (while also being a 5.8% cut when considering the sosa allocation).

but how does this normalize to the field -- that is, what percentage of the average major league team's opening day payroll in 2006 will this represent? this question can only be answered in estimation, of course, as this page hasn't access to the expected payroll allocations of all thirty teams. however, we can view the growth rate of average major league team payrolls over the last several seasons to get an estimate on expected growth.

year - mean pay - % yoy
2005 - 72957113 - 5.7%
2004 - 69022198 - (2.7%)
2003 - 70942070 - 5.1%
2002 - 67469250 - 3.2%
2001 - 65355443 - 17.7%
2000 - 55537836 - 11.5%
1999 - 49807625 - 16.9%
1998 - 42609429

over the entire seven year sample period, the average payroll growth rate has been almost exactly 8%. however, with the onset of national economic recession in 2001, payroll allocation growth clearly also slowed, posting an average annualized growth rate of 2.8% over the last four years. 2005 was a year of reasonable economic growth, but in the interests of making a conservative estimate, this page is content to split the different and call for an estimated average payroll growth rate of 5.5%. applied to last year's average opening day payroll figure, this results in an expected 2006 average opening day payroll of $76.97mm.

it is then straightforward to deduce the normalized expected payroll of the 2006 cubs as currently constituted as 1.21 -- that is, 21% greater than the average major league payroll.

as previous studies have indicated, this fits into a chart of average normalized payrolls for levels of achievement thus:

average normalized payroll of 14 wildcard teams ------- 1.17
2006 cubs (estimated) --------------------------------- 1.21
average normalized payroll of 43 division winners ----- 1.29
average normalized payroll of 12 pennant winners ------ 1.42
average normalized payroll of 6 world series winners -- 1.31

this is clearly shy of the kind of spending that one would expect of a team constructed to win its division, league or indeed the world series.

efficiency and winning percentage

this study has not yet made any note of the cubs longstanding trend under the guidance of team president andy macfail to be a relatively inefficient spender of that payroll which they do allocate -- this page would, for example, cite the ridiculous signing of jacque jones for three years and $16mm as an example of such inefficiency in practice. over the last three seasons, the cubs have ranked among all major league teams 17th, 23rd and 24th in payroll efficiency (that is, winning percentage divided by normalized payroll), declining in each successive year of general manager jim hendry's tenure.

should the cubs this year manage to rise to their average payroll efficiency of the last three seasons (.437) with the normalized payroll we have calculated, one should expect the 2006 cubs to post a winning percentage of .528 -- that is, an 85-77 record. however, should they manage the average efficiency of the last eight years (.423), the expectation drops to 83 wins. and if they merely replicate the efficiency of last season (.409), the expectation should be of a record of 80-82 (.495 winning percentage). never mind any falloff -- though such an event is quite plausible, it is also too frustrating to contemplate.

it is generally true (with exceptions) that the most efficient users of payroll tend to be the smallest spenders -- and this makes some sense, operating under the principle that a team is going to win something like a third of its games regardless of how little payroll it allocates, presenting an asymptotic minimum to winning percentage. so it is rational, then, to look at how teams of a normalized payroll of approximately 1.21 have fared in terms of efficiency in recent years, in order to provide a guide as to how efficiency generally fares around this level of normalized payroll. the best examples are, of course, those of the cubs themselves:

year - payroll - normal - win% - eff
1998 - $50.8mm - 1.193 - .552 - .463
1999 - $62.3mm - 1.252 - .414 - .330
2005 - $87.0mm - 1.193 - .487 - .409

... to which we can add the less relevant (because of managerial and other situational differences) but perhaps still useful examples of other squads in the last eight seasons:

year - team - normal - win% - eff
2005 - sfo - 1.236 - .463 - .374
2005 - sea - 1.203 - .426 - .354
2005 - atl - 1.185 - .556 - .469
2004 - stl - 1.206 - .648 - .538
2004 - sfo - 1.188 - .561 - .472
2004 - sea - 1.181 - .389 - .329
2003 - sea - 1.226 - .574 - .468
2003 - stl - 1.181 - .524 - .444
2002 - sea - 1.190 - .574 - .482
2001 - stl - 1.202 - .574 - .478
2001 - tor - 1.177 - .493 - .420
1998 - nym - 1.222 - .543 - .444
1998 - tor - 1.206 - .540 - .448

... to say that, while the average cubs squad of the last eight years with a similar normalized payroll to that which this page would expect for 2006 has posted an efficiency of .401 -- translating into an expected 79-83 -- the average efficiency to be expected over all sixteen samples here under consideration is a somewhat better .432 -- again, 85-77. notably, of these sixteen records, only four (those in boldface) entered their league playoffs at any level, with just one advancing beyond the first round.


what, then, can we say about the 2006 payroll of the chicago cubs at the outset of the year -- and what inferences can we make from it in forecasting a reasonable expectation of outcome?

it seems to this page that the payroll outlay, being approximately $93.2mm at the beginning of this season, is an indicator of an approximate expected win total somewhere between 79 and 85 -- with perhaps a one-in-four (25%) chance of making the national league playoffs in some respect and a one-in-sixteen (6%) chance of winning the pennant -- offset by a three-in-sixteen (19%) probability of a 90-loss season.

one might note that a one-in-four chance at the playoffs and a one-in-sixteen probability of the pennant are exactly what one would expect if, in a communistic thought experiment, all sixteen teams of the national league were given exactly the same payroll allowance to expend at the beginning of the year. this is to say that, despite possessing considerable economic advantages over virtually every other ballclub in the league, these have been turned to no advantage in on-field expectation whatsoever. this is further confirmed by noting that, in any given year, somewhere between three and five of the 16 national league ballclubs will accrue 90 losses -- comparing very similarly with the 2006 cubs expected probability of descending to that same plateau of futility.

this can only be construed, in the eyes of this writer, as a failure of ownership and management to address on-field success as a meaningful goal. the 2006 cubs look to be, on the basis of this analysis, a quintessentially average ballclub. given the economic advantages of the team, that painful mediocrity can be read in no other way than as an indictment of jim hendry, andy macfail and the tribune company.

part 1: payroll and expectation
part 2: the outfield
part 3: relief pitching
part 4: the infield
part 5: starting pitching

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Spring Training Questions

With pitchers and catchers reporting this week, I sat down and thought about what I am looking for during the 2006 Cactus League...

  1. Health of starting pitchers? A cause for great anxiety in Cubdom since spring 2004 has been the health of the arms, particularly Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. How will these two do this spring? Will Prior make his starts and be on the Opening Day roster? Will Wood pitch at all in anything greater than a simulated game. And Big Z (see next)
  2. What impact will the WBC have on the Cubs? Lee, Ramirez, Barrett, Zambrano, & Blanco are set to represent their countries in this inaugural event. I don't have much concern about the position players, I do wonder about Zambrano. Carlos is so competitive. Will he push himself to hard pitching for Venezuela?
  3. Who's on second? Who will Dusty Baker pencil in as he starting secondbaseman on Opening Day? Todd Walker, Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston, or a player that's not on the roster. With the way things stand today, it is hard for me to imagine it being anybody but Todd Walker.
  4. When will Dusty say something stupid? Every spring, it seems to be something with this guy. What will it be this year and how much of a feeding frenzy will it cause for the beat writers--after they have all written their obligatory feel good Spring Training stories.
  5. Will Baker really give Murton and Cedeno starting jobs? With Marquis Grissom and Neifi Perez waiting in the wings, will the Cub manager be willing to play to youngsters come the regular season if they have good springs? Dusty's track record tells me that he will look for any reason to get "his veterans" playing time.
  6. The Pierre factor? Since, he came to Chicago prior to 2003 Dusty has only had a professional leadoff hitter for the half season Kenny Lofton was on the roster in 2003. It is no coincidence that it was during that time the Cubs played their best ball under Baker. People familiar with Pierre from his Marlins' days rave about his work ethic and how he rubs off on his teammates. Will Pierre have the impact that Hendry and Baker expect? Who is Dusty gonna hit second behind JP?
  7. What's the talent like Down on the Farm? I really enjoy going to the early spring training games because I like to see the Cubs minor league talent play on the same field as big leaguers. If you are planning on spending anytime in Mesa this spring take a ride down to Fitch Park in the morning and watch some of the Cubs of the future play.
  8. Will there be Old Style at HoHoKam? There usually is! This is my list and I'll be looking for it come March 2nd.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Opening Day Boxscore

In 1960 the Cubs opened the season in Los Angeles facing the World Champion Dodgers. The Dodgers were just starting their third season in LA so they were still playing at the LA Coliseum. The game below would go 11 innings and Don Drysdale would pitch all 11 for LA. In the third inning a former Dodger and future Cub manager would provide some offense for the Cubs, Don Zimmer would take Drysdale deep.

Los Angeles Dodgers 3, Chicago Cubs 2
Played on Tuesday, April 12, 1960
at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
CHI N 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 2 7 0
LA N 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 3 7 2

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Ashburn cf 5 0 3 0 0 0 2 0
T. Taylor 2b 5 0 1 1 0 0 2 4
Will rf 5 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Banks ss 3 0 0 0 2 1 2 4
Thomas lf 5 0 0 0 0 4 1 0
Altman 1b 4 0 0 0 1 1 11 1
Zimmer 3b 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 3
Neeman c 3 0 0 0 0 3 9 1
S. Taylor ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rice c 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 0
Anderson p 3 1 2 0 0 1 0 1
Noren ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Elston p 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Totals 41 2 7 2 4 14 32 15

DP: 1.
2B: T. Taylor (1,off Drysdale).
HR: Zimmer (1,3rd inning off Drysdale 0 on, 0 out).
IBB: Banks 2 (2,by Drysdale 2).
Team LOB: 10.

Los Angeles Dodgers AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Gilliam 3b,2b 3 1 0 0 2 0 2 0
Neal 2b 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Lillis pr,3b 1 1 0 0 0 0 4 0
Larker ph,1b 0 0 0 0 2 0 3 1
Moon lf 5 0 2 2 0 0 1 0
Snider rf 4 0 0 0 1 2 1 0
Hodges 1b,3b 5 0 0 0 0 3 3 1
Roseboro c 5 0 2 0 0 1 14 0
Demeter cf 5 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Wills ss 4 0 1 0 1 0 2 2
Drysdale p 4 0 1 0 0 3 1 4
Essegian ph 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 0
Totals 38 3 7 3 6 12 33 8

DP: 1.
E: Hodges (1), Wills (1).
2B: Roseboro (1,off Anderson); Moon (1,off Anderson); Wills (1,off Elston).
3B: Drysdale (1,off Anderson).
HR: Essegian (1,11th inning off Elston 0 on, 2 out).
HBP: Neal (1,by Anderson).
Team LOB: 10.
SB: Wills (1,2nd base off Anderson/Neeman).

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Anderson 8 5 2 2 5 9 0
Elston L(0-1) 2.2 2 1 1 1 3 1
Totals 10.2 7 3 3 6 12 1

Los Angeles Dodgers IP H R ER BB SO HR
Drysdale W(1-0) 11 7 2 2 4 14 1

WP: Drysdale (1).
HBP: Anderson (1,Neal).
IBB: Drysdale 2 (2,Banks 2).
Umpires: Al Barlick, Bill Jackowski, Stan Landes, Chris Pelekoudas
Time of Game: 3:17 Attendance: 67,550

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cubs ink Zambrano -- 1 year $6.5 million

You have to hand it to Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry. Once again the Cubs have made it through the offseason without allowing any of their players to go through the ugly salary arbitration process. Today the Cubs signed their final arbitration eligible figure, this was a big one folks. Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs agreed to a one year $6.5 million deal.

$6.5 million ain't a bad raise for Z, he made $3.76 million in 2005. The arbitration numbers that were exchanged were $7.2 million by Zambrano and $6 million offered by the Cubs.

Zambrano goes into 2006 as the anchor of the Cubs pitching staff. Many envision that Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano will be the pitching foundation that championship clubs are built around in the years to come. I hope they are. I'm glad to see the Cubs get these deals done without allowing the ill feelings that can come from an arbitration case taking place. Kudos to Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail.

Friday, February 10, 2006

From the Mailbag: If the Cubs were in the Premiership

E-mailer Brian noticed the Chelsea FC link on the right hand column of this site and observed that a few of us are English Football fans. Guilty as charged. During the winter a few of us on this page look across the pond and follow English Football. For some unknown reason several years back I adopted Chelsea. Now thanks to a Mad Russian Millionaire they are one of the elite teams in Europe! So when I got this e-mail yesterday I decided to post it. The comparisons between the two clubs are good. The article at the bottom a good read as well.

Here's the e-mail from Brian:


I noticed that there is a CFC link on the page and thought you might enjoy reading an article I came across. Premiership football (and Chelsea in particular) is what gets me through the long cold Chicago winters while I await the beginnings of baseball season. It seems easy to draw the analogy between Man Utd and the Yankees (and they have a marketing partnership to boot), but I wondered which club would be most like the Cubs. Based on the long suffering nature of the fans Newcastle United seemed a fair choice. Then I did a little research and it got almost scary:


FA Cups

In reading the article below, the analogy seemed to be even more fitting especially in light of arguments that have been made by gaius marius on your page and on BCB as well.CLICK HERE for article


MEDIA CREATURE: Cubs choose Foote Cone & Belding to be there advertising agency

John McDonough has made a change. According to AdWeek the Cubs are about to team up with FCB. According to the article the Cubs spend $1 million annually on advertising. McDonough is upbeat about the move.

"FCB will be a great addition to our roster," said John F. McDonough, senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting for the Cubs, in a statement. "They are a very prestigious agency with a worldwide reputation for effective advertising."

McDonough and the Cubs make the move to FCB from independent Chicago Creative Partnerships. According to AdWeek, the campaign is expected to start before the 2006 season.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

spending what it takes to win

this writer has heard any number of rationalizing arguments in this appalling offseason of repeated failures as to why or how the cubs' front office really are spending enough to win -- but, for some justification or another, are not winning. the justification varies, but the gnawing bit is the primary assumption: the cubs spend enough to win -- is that really so? rarely does the argument include a conception of what that level of fiscal outlays would be, in terms of dollars, instead relying on something of a statement of faith in the cubs as a metaphysical entity to "do what's right".

i hope you'll pardon me, dear reader, but after 24 years of futility and a fortune directed to tribune shareholders, such charity of faith in the virtuous intentions of management is difficult for me to muster.

as always, this page would endeavor instead to examine the empirical reality for signs of the truth as we may come to know it. fortunately, some work in this direction has already been done by others. take a scroll down dan agonistes' page and you'll find an analysis of both what it takes to make the playoffs and what the cubs have been up to. it turns out that 2004 is the only year in recent seasons that the cubs spent enough to actually have some reasonable expectation of removing an undersized payroll as an impediment to being a world-series-caliber team.

the detail of agonsites' study was to utilize the lahman database to calculate the payroll of every club in the majors in any given year. a normalized payroll was calculated for each team by simply by dividing total payroll by the major league average. lahman systemically underreports total payroll outlays by ignoring players who do not contribute statistically in that year; this is a relatively minor flaw, however, being distributed among all teams fairly and will be safely ignored in this analysis. agonistes further calculates an efficiency quotient, dividing winning percentage by normalized payroll.

updated for 2005, the cubs past payroll outlays over the last several years look something like this:

year - payroll - normal - eff
1998 - $50.8mm - 1.193 - .463
1999 - $62.3mm - 1.252 - .330
2000 - $60.5mm - 1.090 - .368
2001 - $64.7mm - 0.990 - .549
2002 - $64.7mm - 1.122 - .369
2003 - $79.8mm - 1.126 - .482
2004 - $90.5mm - 1.312 - .419
2005 - $87.0mm - 1.193 - .409

agonistes also studied all the teams that had made the playoffs from 1998-2004 and calculated the average normalized payroll at each level of the playoffs ultimately attained.

  • average normalized payroll of 62 postseason teams -- 1.26

  • average normalized payroll of 14 wildcard teams -- 1.17

  • average normalized payroll of 43 division winners -- 1.29

  • average normalized payroll of 12 pennant winners -- 1.42

  • average normalized payroll of 6 world series winners -- 1.31

  • this is to say that the cubs have only once in the last seven seasons allocated payroll of a sufficient magnitude to reasonably eliminate payroll as an impediment to winning the world series. never have they spent enough on player payroll to meet that of the average league winner in that span.

    moreover, studies are demonstrating something beyond the correlation between winning and payroll -- concurring with agonistes, this sabr report concluded that the correlation is growing stronger with the passage of time, being now noticably stronger in recent years than in previous periods.

    to be sure, there is no doubt that one can find individual examples of cash-strapped teams winning big. but there is little enough reason to care because they amount to rare exceptions proving the rule -- the force of numbers is that which outlines probability distributions, upon which rational people can base rational expectations instead of good-luck wishes, and these analyses at least begin to do that.

    having disposed of the basic claim, we would turn to the justifications -- the most common of which is summed by "its not how much you spend, its how you spend it". this is an argument for not absolute results but for efficiency. someone who evinces this argument isn't talking about improving by every avenue; they are arguing to improve only by utilizing existing resources more efficiently.

    i submit to you, dear reader, that this page is not so choosy -- we just want to win. and if they cubs are the least efficient winner of the world series ever, spending more per win than anyone else ever has, we would be happy with that.

    but it does bear noting that the efficiency quotient calculated above -- where .500 would indicate an average return in wins for payroll expended -- the cubs have been consistently deficient, being frequently among the least efficient spenders in baseball. this is a problem with management. it is management that is responsible for evaluating individual ability, allocating funds to procure sufficient reserves of it and constructing teams to capitalize upon it. the cubs, at least since 1998 -- long before the advent of jim hendry, but certainly also after his arrival in mid-2002 -- have been singularly and systemically dismal in attempting to do so.

    whatever the reason for this underwhelming management -- and this page has an opinion as to where responsibility lies -- what can be deduced is that the cubs, without some fundamental management change, actually should expect to have to spend above the normalized payroll target of their desired level of playoff performance in order to compensate for an efficiency in utilizing payroll that is 15% less effective than the average over the last eight seasons.

    that is to say that the cubs should expect, under current management, in order to remove payroll as an impediment in the pursuit of a national league pennant, to have to spend some 63% over the average major league payroll outlay.

    what does that mean in the context of 2006? if the average team payroll in this coming year as measured in the lahman database lands in the area of $75mm (as seems very likely), the cubs would become truly competitive in the area of $120mm -- which implies an actual payroll outlay approaching $130mm.

    clearly, this club, tinkering with cheap broken arms, is nowhere close to that with little prospect of getting any closer at this very late stage. this analysis serves only, it would seem, to reinforce the gloom that casts its dreary pall over cubdom as a critical offseason crystallizes into a catagorical disappointment.

    Corporate Doublespeak

    One of the things that I really liked about the bleacher expansion at Wrigley Field was the idea of the knothole. I don't know why, but I really found this to be a great idea. I have been to the ballpark in San Fran and enjoyed watching an inning from their knothole.

    Looks like 1060west's ole friend Mark McGuire and the Cubs have backed off of a promise to give something back to the neighborhood. The "knothole" that is being put in during the bleacher expansion will not be open to the public as planned. This from Today's Trib:

    Knothole view: The new section in the right-field wall replaced a solid metal gate and originally was supposed to offer fans outside the park a free ground-level view from behind a chain-link fence on Sheffield. Local restoration
    architect John Vinci, a consultant on the project, said in December the idea was to "give something back to the people." But McGuire said Wednesday "the person
    on the sidewalk who hasn't bought a ticket isn't entitled"
    to a free look at the game.

    "The feature is really intended to be a plus for a commuter as he or she walks from their homes to the L," McGuire said. "They will be able to walk by any time, any day, and look into the ballpark."

    Except when a game is being played.

    McGuire said the team is considering installing a wind screen over the knothole fence on game days. Fans inside the bleachers, walking through the area on their way to concessions, will be able to view the action through a chain-link fence, much like the Bullpen Sports Bar at U.S. Cellular Field.

    Wrigleyexpansion.com does a great job of documenting the artciles that have ran on this project. Take a look at this Paul Sullivan article from December 12, 2005. Here's part of what Mr. Sullivan wrote in December:

    Not only are the Cubs trying to accommodate their neighbors, they have removed a metal gate from the wall and are leaving an open space in the right-field corner that offers passersby on Sheffield Avenue a free, ground-level view of the action.

    The Cubs are calling it a "knothole," conjuring up a Rockwellian image of an old wooden outfield fence where youngsters peered through a hole in the wall.

    Actually, it's a rectangular space about 20 feet long where a couple of dozen people can gather to watch the game behind a wire-mesh fence. The San Francisco Giants offer a similar view of games at SBC Park from a vantage point behind the
    right-field grandstand.

    The idea of watching the Cubs for free, even if limited to a partial view of the field, is likely to appeal to a large number of fans.

    I think boys and girls you see the Tribune and their corporate culture in full light here. Promise the fans and the neighborhood one thing and do another. The knothole was simply a gesture to neighbors and fans outside the park who can't get a ticket. As I mentioned earlier I have watched an inning from the knothole out in San Francisco. It's a poor view, but a nice gesture to fans outside the park. They have an usher who keeps watch of the line and they limit the amount of time you can spend there. Somehow the system works.

    Nice gesture, what the hell was I thinking.

    BTW: Interestingley enough if you go to Alderman Tunney's site to see the plans here's what you get. Typical.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Maddux ain't about to walk away

    Barry Rozner's column in the Daily Herald today gives Cub fans hope and a little fear. Rozner caught up with his old friend Greg Maddux via the telephone in Las Vegas. Contrary to what the Cubs field manager said last season the soon to be 40 year old Maddux is nowhere near hanging it up. He wasn't going to do so after the 2005 season, won't after the 2006, and will probably keep playing as long as somebody "gives him a shirt". Here's what Maddux said to Rozner about the retirement talk:

    “They can assume anything they want. I’m not,’’ Maddux said with a hearty laugh as he left a Las Vegas golf course and headed for his kids’ school Tuesday afternoon. “I just told my wife (Kathy) yesterday that I need to have a good year so someone will give me a job and I can play again next year.

    “That’s my thinking. If I do well enough, maybe I get to play again. I love it. It’s fun. I’m not ready to give it up.’’

    So it looks to me like Maddux is primed to have a good season, so he can find a place to play next season(2007). My stance on this remains the same. As long as Greg Maddux wants to pitch there should be a spot for him on this ballclub. I know Maddux is not the pitcher he was in the mid-90's, still I will take him as a number 5 starter any day of the week. The problem in Maddux's latest stint with the club is that he has been forced to be more than a number 4 or 5. Here's more from the Rozner piece:

    Overall, Maddux has at least done something no other Cubs starter has done, and that’s take the ball every time it was offered. In the last two years, Maddux is 29-26 with a team-leading 68 starts and 437 innings.

    Only Carlos Zambrano, 16 years younger than Maddux, has as many wins (30-14), but he has fewer starts (64) and innings pitched (433).

    As for Mark Prior, the 25-year-old is 17-11 in 48 starts and 285 innings, while the 28-year-old Kerry Wood is 11-13 in 32 starts and 206 innings.

    It comes as no surprise that he's outpitched the injury riddled starters Prior and Wood. The fact that at 38 & 39 year old Greg Maddux has made more starts and pitched more innings than Zambrano, a pitcher considered to be a "horse" speaks volumes. Jim Hendry's inability to add starting pitching to this club has increased Maddux's value to this club for this year and 2007. Maddux is the only pitcher on this staff that you can count on to take the ball every fifth day. I look at the rotation as it stands today and I ask whether or not the Cubs can afford to let Maddux walk after the season.

    The pitcher that some in Atlanta used to call the professor has a goal for 2006:

    “I’d like to throw about 230 innings this year,’’ Maddux said. “I’d like to maybe be a little healthier this year than last year and if I can it’ll show up in innings."

    Maddux has not done that since the 2001 season with the Braves. Still last year Maddux ate up innings for the Cubs, throwing 225 at 39 years of age. The competitive fire still burns in #31.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Opening Day Boxscore

    1969 was going to be THE year. (Even though the results were not what was expected, many still consider 1969 to be THE year.) Cub players and fans went into the year knowing that it was going to be THE year they took their play to the next level. For 5 months they did.

    But this post ain't about a collapse. This is about the thrill and excitement that Opening Day 1969 provided. It was an early arriving crowd that day. Fans lined up early in the morning for tickets(remember the day of game ticket?). A jam packed Wrigley Field (over 40,000 fans) saw the Cubs take on the Phillies on April 8, 1969. They even got to experience free baseball--11 innings worth. Willie Smith and Mr. Banks made sure the faithful went home happy that April afternoon!

    Thanks to retrosheet.org, here is the boxscore from what many fans feel was the most exciting Opening Day in Cub history:

    Chicago Cubs 7, Philadelphia Phillies 6
    Played on Tuesday, April 8, 1969 (D)
    at Wrigley Field

    PHI N 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 0 1 - 6 11 2
    CHI N 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 - 7 11 2

    Philadelphia Phillies AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Hisle cf 5 1 1 0 0 3 2 1
    R. Stone lf 4 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
    Allen 1b 5 0 0 0 0 1 12 0
    D. Johnson 3b 2 0 1 1 0 1 2 2
    Taylor 3b 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
    Callison rf 5 2 3 0 0 0 3 0
    Rojas 2b 4 1 2 0 0 0 5 2
    Money ss 5 2 3 5 0 0 1 5
    Ryan c 5 0 0 0 0 2 4 4
    Short p 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
    Harmon ph 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
    Wilson p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Briggs ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Lersch p 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 2
    Totals 43 6 11 6 0 11 31 18

    DP: 1.
    E: D. Johnson (1), Money (1).
    2B: Money (1,off Regan).
    HR: Money 2 (2,7th inning off Jenkins 0 on, 0 out,9th inning off Jenkins 2
    on, 0 out).
    SH: R. Stone (1,off Jenkins); Rojas (1,off Regan).
    Team LOB: 6.

    Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
    Kessinger ss 4 0 1 0 0 0 1 5
    Beckert 2b 5 1 2 0 0 0 1 2
    Williams lf 4 1 1 0 1 2 3 0
    Santo 3b 5 1 1 0 0 0 1 1
    Banks 1b 5 2 3 5 0 0 12 1
    Hundley c 4 1 1 0 0 0 10 1
    Hickman rf 4 0 0 0 0 1 2 0
    W. Smith ph 1 1 1 2 0 0 0 0
    Young cf 3 0 0 0 1 0 3 0
    Jenkins p 2 0 1 0 1 1 0 1
    Regan p 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
    Totals 38 7 11 7 3 4 33 12

    E: Banks (1), Jenkins (1).
    HR: Banks 2 (2,1st inning off Short 2 on, 2 out,3rd inning off Short 1 on,
    1 out); W. Smith (1,11th inning off Lersch 1 on, 1 out).
    SH: Kessinger (1,off Short).
    HBP: Hundley (1,by Short).
    Team LOB: 5.
    CS: Young (1,2nd base by Wilson/Ryan).

    Philadelphia Phillies IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Short 4 6 5 5 2 0 2
    Wilson 2 1 0 0 1 3 0
    Lersch L(0-1) 4.1 4 2 2 0 1 1
    Totals 10.1 11 7 7 3 4 3

    Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
    Jenkins 8 9 5 5 0 9 2
    Regan W(1-0) 3 2 1 1 0 2 0
    Totals 11 11 6 6 0 11 2

    HBP: Short (1,Hundley).

    Umpires: Tony Venzon, Frank Secory, Paul Pryor, Satch Davidson

    Time of Game: 2:41 Attendance: 40,796

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    why selling the cubs makes sense for tribco

    there has been a lot of speculation around the cubosphere about the fate of tribune company ownership since crain's first speculated on a divestment of non-core assets. chuck over at ivychat has doen a fine job watching the travails of tribco as it struggles to meet profit targets and its stock scrapes multi-year lows. but what may have escaped the grasp of many is how exactly a sale of the cubs would benefit tribco. after all, aren't the cubs a cash cow?

    despite the uninformed sarcasm of some, this page thinks that crain's is spot on in assessing the possibility of a sale of the cubs as higher now than it has been in some time -- and the reason why is a matter of economics and profitability for the tribune company.

    the reason they might sell is that tribco's return on investment with respect to the cubs is not very good -- the team is a poor use of tribco capital.

    that sounds an outrageous thing to say, from the layman's perspective -- after all, didn't they buy the team in 1981 for just $20mm? aren't they talking about selling it for some $400mm or more?

    yes -- and, believe it or not, that isn't what corporate american media expects of their capital investments. if they sold the team for $400mm today, that would be added to some $400mm or so in profits that the team has garnered over the last 24 years to gross tribco a return on investment of some $800mm -- which works out to a pretax roi of 17% per annum. after taxes, this figure could be considerably less -- possibly in the low teens.

    regardless of what one might think about the sums involved, that is not a good investment for the tribune. typical capital ventures that find funding have annualized roi that promise at least twice what the tribune has seen as the result of buying the cubs. this fact makes the cubs in fact one of tribco's least attractive assets. for comparison, one of the tribune's better investments of recent years involved aol, in which it invested in 1991 -- turning $5mm into over $1bn in less than a decade, which became the basis of subsequent corporate bond offerings.

    the cash flow involved doesn't hurt the company, certainly, but would tribco miss it? they could easily make up their $60mm a year simply by employing the capital garnered from the sale in more productive ventures with higher roi. better yet, such investment gains are non-taxable until realized, unlike operating profits, and so will compound at a greater rate over time.

    much is made about the "synergistic" effect of a media company owning the source of its own programming, but this really isn't a reason to hold onto the cubs. tribco would almost surely secure a long-term, below-market deal for such broadcast rights as a condition of sale -- effectively retaining what "synergy" may exist.

    the point of this analysis is that, unless tribco has reason to believe that the rate of return will increase, selling the cubs now and reinvesting the proceeds elsewhere makes sense. so can we see a reason why the rate would increase?

    in all likelihood, the opposite is more probable. major league baseball's collective bargaining agreement lapses at the end of this season. only once in the history of baseball since unionization has that deadline gone without a work stoppage -- next year is likely to be a shortened season. more importantly, the terms that follow the conclusion of negotiation are likely to be yet less favorable to tribco and other large owners -- more revenue sharing is certainly on the table in an effort to improve competitive balance.

    these facts are just as apparent to other corporate media owners as they are to this page, and they have been the motivation of a number of divestments in the last few years -- such as disney's selling of the angels in 2003 and the nhl's mighty ducks in february 2005; news corp's sale of the dodgers in 2004; and time warner, which sold the nhl thrashers and nba hawks in late 2003 and is now exploring a sale of the atlanta braves, which are in a virtually identical position vis-a-vis wtbs and turner south as the cubs are with wgn and comcast.

    given their positioning relative to in-house programming, it's perhaps no surprise that the superstation teams -- the braves and the cubs -- are the last to the chopping block. but the underlying reasons that motivated these past sales apply just as forcefully to both these clubs. this page would be underwhelmed at the sight of a sale of either or both in the next year.

    one can only hope that the next management is better than the last two. the cubs have gone 1886-2032 (.481) in 24 years of tribune ownership; in the 24 years prior to that, under the watch of p.k. wrigley, the cubs were 1852-2141 (.463). in the last 24 years, there have been 7 90-loss seasons -- one every three years or so. in the previous 24, there were nine. in the last 24 years, there have been 3 90-win seasons -- one every eight. in the previous 24, there was only one (1969, of course). if this seems to favor tribune ownership over p.k.'s, one might note that the economics of baseball have also shifted in the last quarter-decade to increasingly favor large-market clubs like the cubs -- meaning that their recent futility is all the more aggravated and despicable.

    it's hard to imagine one of the sport's top revenue-generators bound in such futility for such a span except as the result of profit-driven corporate management. the cubs would be likely, if recent sales are any indication, to be sold to an individual or partnership -- as in real estate magnate frank mccourt's purchase of the dodgers, or philanthropist henry samueli's acquisition of the thrashers. corporate ownership appears to be a fading trend, and that can only help this team.