Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Wood have been(and Wood be)?

Today's Bright One featured an interesting article written by Toni Ginnetti on Kerry Wood. Kerry Wood spoke lastnight on the pregame show on WGN. Kerry Wood has always sparked contradicting emotions throughout Cubdom. This article will only ignite the same old emotions (mainly hope and fear).

Wood speaks of an "obligation" to the fans and the Cubs:

"I know I haven't given this organization or the fans or this team what they paid for two, three years ago,'' Wood said in an interview with WGN-AM (720). ''As a player, you feel -- you don't want to say 'guilty' -- but you [don't] feel like you've done your job and earned your money and gone out and done what you're supposed to do. There's an obligation there, absolutely.

''This organization has given me everything I've got and gave me a chance to play baseball, and they drafted me. There's definitely loyalty here. I love Chicago, I love the fans, I love the stadium, I love Wrigley Field. I love everything about the situation I'm in, but I understand the reality of the game. Hopefully, it'll be only one conversation [with general manager Jim Hendry]. We'll talk and decide what's best for the organization and best for me, and hopefully that's staying here.''

You have to hand it to Kerry he says all of the right things. Could you imagine a certain football player or another oft-injured RHP talking about loyalty and earning their paycheck? Here boys and girls is the difference between Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. With all of Kerry's faults, there still is that part of him that I really like. His personality and bluntness is something we rarely see in today's athlete's. Remember when Wood gave us this after Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS:

"You guys have to understand -- about 30 minutes ago, I choked," Wood said. "That's the bottom line, I choked. That's about all I've got right now."

He says all of the right things. All the frustration that we feel as fans he feels and expresses it as a player. To say the least, it's refreshing.

So in a perfect world, Wood will go to the bullpen on an incentive deal. He'll earn the closers role and replace the Cubs joker of a closer from this season. Yeah that would be just great. Unfortunately the Cubs and the perfect world only collide once a century.

This is where my emotion of fear comes in. Yeah, I don't mind if the Cubs wanna sign Wood to an incentive deal and throw him in the bullpen. I have no doubt that Wood could probably do a decent job coming out of the bullpen. The fear that I have is that our Cruller eating friend will once again go into a season expecting an injury plagued pitcher to be a major contributor. (Fool me four times, shame on 40,000 ass clowns.)

If Cruller Jim approaches next season with Kerry Wood in the bullpen do you think he will approach the season planning that Wood will not be healthy? Every thing the Cubs will ever get out of Wood should not be expected. It's a bonus. History tells me that ain't the way Jim Hendry operates.

So even though he's saying all of the right things, and personally I enjoy watching Kerry Wood pitch--when healthy, I think it's in the best interest of this club to pay Kerry his $3 million buyout and let him find a spot in another teams pen.

revenge of the predictions roundtable: part one

back at the end of march, this page marshalled its meager metaphysical resources to produce something called the predictions roundtable. such crystal-ball-seeing as inevitably is a part of such prognostications is always a wonderful source of surefire humility for all involved within six months -- and often within six weeks -- except on that rare occasion when one of the participants breaks the rules of entry by actually being something of a seer. this page of course does everything in its power to prevent anyone with actual foresight from being involved, but this year it almost looks like in one instance perhaps it tried and failed.

QUESTION: How many games will the Cubs win this year?

  • Newman - 77
  • John Dooley - 67
  • Mikey P - 78
  • Marino - 84
  • MCav - 79
  • Vehere - 77
  • CCD - 80
  • gaius marius - 78

ANSWER: 65 with three to play

dooley's pessimism outstripped all others', and because these are the chicago cubs the result was the greatest accuracy -- indeed, accuracy of a remarkable degree.

QUESTION: Will they make the playoffs?

  • Newman - NO
  • John Dooley - See Above
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino Hell - No
  • MCav - Absolutely Not
  • Vehere - No, I just don't see it
  • CCD - Nope
  • gaius marius - no

ANSWER: muffled laughter

this was the no-brainer of no-brainers around these parts -- no points for a correct answer here.

QUESTION: Will any Cub player or management member win an end of season award? If so, who and what?

  • Newman - no
  • John Dooley- No. (I have Wade Miller as a longshot for Comeback Player of the Year, no joking.)
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino - Yes, Lee and Maddux NL Gold Gloves (did the rest of us forget these awards?)
  • MCav - No
  • Vehere - No, Only Award - Tribune Co. Baseball Exec of the Year - 3rd Generation Baseball Czar
  • CCD - Nope
  • gaius marius - no

ANSWER: tbd, but no

announcement dates for awards like the silver slugger and gold glove will come at the end of october, and the cubs could reasonably hope for aramis ramirez to win the silver at third, but the chances are much better that miguel cabrera or garrett atkins will take home that hardware. michael barrett will lose his defense to brian mccann, and derrek lee of course was unable to stage a defense at all. no other cub is in any danger of any minor award -- though ex-cub greg maddux is likely to beat out bronson arroyo for the nl gold glove for pitchers, both being errorless despite ranking in the top five in chances.

as to the major awards, some think zambrano in line for a chance at the cy young -- and he will get votes, as he remains tied for the nl lead in wins with 16 and rankng fifth in qualified era at 3.43 and fourth in strikeouts with 201. but against that, zambrano also leads the league in walks by a huge margin, hasn't thrown a single complete game all year, and his competition -- chris carpenter, derek lowe, roy oswalt, brandon webb and the ageless john smoltz -- are considerably better in many peripherals.

the hard truth is that this was zambrano's least effective year in the last four -- the problem of walks has gotten out of control, pushing his era to the highest of any of his four complete years in the majors. this isn't the year for zambrano's first cy young, though this page continues to hope that he can defy the odds that are defined by his usage pattern over the last three seasons to find that award soon. he has been one of the game's great pitchers since 2003.

QUESTION: What are you watching for in 2006?

  • Newman - Matt Murton proving he can consistently hit Major League pitching.
  • John Dooley -THREE THINGS I WILL BE WATCHING IN 2006: 1) Dusty's use of veterans and how that will inhibit the younger players 2) Jacque Jones. Can he return to form? 3) Will Derek Lee and Ryan Dempster match last years' outputs? I think no. But, we'll see.
    THREE THINGS I HAVE FAITH IN, IN 2006 (added) 1) Matt Murton 2) Juan Pierre 3) Jerry Hairston (don't know why, I just have this weird feeling)
  • Mikey P - The day Baker gets fired!
  • Marino - Will Pierre kickstart the offense?
  • MCav - Shit can Baker
  • Vehere - D. Lee, A Ram, and Murton
  • CCD - Several things:I think Matty Murton will have a solid season. Ronny Cedeno will struggle. How long will Dusty tolerate Cedeno. Can Lee perform at or close to the level he did in 2005? Can Ramirez stay healthy? Who are going to be the 3-4-5 guys in the rotation? Can Ryan Dempster continue to close games on his high wire act. I expect Juan Pierre to lift the offense and create some excitement on the bases.
  • gaius marius - murton to hit, zambrano to experience significant arm probems

ANSWER: complex

some anticipated events in the list of concerns clearly never came to pass in 2006 -- zambrano, for example, never broke down, and jerry hairston never did a thing. and of course the question of lee's ability to follow up on 2005 was deferred for a year by rafael furcal. but two points of opinion were settled.

  • several of the panelists expressed optimism about matt murton, and murton did indeed hold down the left field job for most of the year, taking 72% of the at-bats there. despite struggling at times, murton is now second on the club with a .300 batting average and .366 on-base percentage, outpaced only by barrett's .307 and .368 among players with more than 200 ab. indeed, in the second half murton has starred along with aramis ramirez in driving the cub offense. this is more than anyone could have rightfully expected from murton -- whatever questions remain (and there are some) his performance has been one of the few bright spots on this dismal club.

  • several also expressed enthusiasm about juan pierre, but this seems in the end to have been misguided. the offense was a complete disaster for the first half of the year and will finish 15th in runs scored despite a second-half resurgence. some of that can be traced to pierre, who joined others in completely vanishing before july. now, slumps happen even to good players and there's little to be done about that -- but pierre, despite improving in the second half, really hasn't been a force for the club in that timeframe either. his .340 obp after the break is simply insufficent for a player that has no power to speak of at all; he's stolen bases at a merely sufficient 75% success rate, wiping himself out too often to really justify the advantages of the extra bases; and his 42 runs scored in 71 games is simply not that good for the leadoff hitter in what has been the fourth-best offense in the nl in that time. it seems here that pierre has been a clear disappointment.

QUESTION: Will Dusty Baker survive the season as Cub manager?

  • Newman - Yes
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino - Yes
  • MCav - See Above (NO)
  • Vehere - Not a chance. Bring on Crazy Lou Pinella
  • CCD - He will survive the season. But he will not come back for 2007.
  • gaius marius - maybe the year but not the offseason


to the amazement of many, baker survived one of the worst halves of baseball in the history of the franchise in this year before the midsummer break. it wouldn't have seemed possible, except that jim hendry and andy macfail are running this franchise -- he surely would've been canned by almost any other team in the sport for the manifold failures of a $95mm ballclub. but all the panelists knew this was the chicago cubs when the predictions were made, after all, and a certain slowness to acknowledge accountability for failure is part and parcel to a team that hasn't won the pennant since 1945.

speculative opinion is all but certain that baker won't be back in 2007 -- to which this page can only say good riddance -- but stranger things have happened.

QUESTION: Will Jim Hendry survive as GM?

  • Newman - yes
  • Mikey P - yes
  • Marino - yes, till just after the season
  • MCav - No
  • Vehere - He shouldn't survive to Opening Day, but he will
  • CCD - He will survive. He will find himself on a short leash after Dusty's departure following the season.
  • gaius marius - shamefully, yes


of course, hendry is probably the prime mover behind the extent of this year's debacle -- macfail and tribco may be responsible for the broader failure of competitiveness in the last decade, and baker has his share of losses to be hung with, but the general dearth of talent on this club despite a $95mm payroll is at least mostly his albatross to carry alone. the contracts of ryan dempster and jacque jones are ghastly things to behold; rumor is that a similar disaster lies in wait with pierre; and his previous dealings with aramis ramirez appear ever more likely to blow up in his face this offseason. a more responsible club would not abide another year of his management -- but then, a more responsible club would never have signed him to an extension through 2008 coming off a dismal 2005 in the first place, and so he has stayed.

there's quite a lot more to cover from the roundtable, which will take subsequent installments, but -- as far as the first and most important question goes -- the clear winner in the panel is john dooley, who perceived the depth of the disaster much earlier than the rest of us. kudos, jd -- your pessimism has been sadly rewarded.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last Night Game of the Season Game Report

Newman was kind enough to invite me to the game with one of his extra seats for tonight's last night game of the year.

The Cubs won 3-2 on Hank White's walk off single in the bottom of the 9th.

Just a couple observations from the game:

On Clark there's a huge local cell telephone manufacturer's add with Dusty featured. How long will that last after he's fired?

The neighborhood was dead today and pre-game, it looked like a typical non-baseball fall weekend evening. Same as its been for the past 11 out of 12 years here.

I really enjoy sitting in the grand stand seats. Everyone has their preference, but I think I can have a more meaningful baseball related conversation there than with some drunk 20-something frat boy in the bleachers. Some people like the bleachers, I just grew up and decided that my preference is the grand stand seats.

Note to the person that books the "talent" for the 7th inning stretch. If the best you can do for the last night game is the head of the Chicago Public Schools, maybe you want to rethink the "tradition". I've tired of it as I'm sure have many Cub fans. I don't want nostalgia, I want winning baseball.

At the stretch we decided to head out and check out some of the local color of the neighborhood. Barcelona on Clark (3474 N. Clark) was featuring $2 bottled beers which they have been doing all season (one of the few bars that hold their specials regardless of whether the Cubs are in town or not). Congrats to them to have a little class amongst some of the bottom line money grubbing bars that charge upwards of $4 for a can of beer. I'll take a cold bottle served by a friendly bartender any day.

Loved the "Hendry Sucks" sign that was showing during the 9th inning. Yes, you couldn't see it from the grandstand, but you'd need binoculars to see it from the bleachers. Seeing that on television with the other 7 fans that watched the game tonight must have been priceless.

Overall, a good evening and a fun time at the ballpark. The team won, which I guess is good if you want to gloss over the fact that they are 17 games out of first and haven't been watchable since May. But for a AAAA team, it sure was fun without having to go to Iowa.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The 1060west LVP - Let the voting begin

Alright, no need to comment on the events of the day. Here's the listing that I gleaned from the original LVP thread.

In order of most nominations (note that these are the top mentions):

Ronny "E-6" Cedeno

Mark "The Towel Boy" Prior

Glendon "G-Unit" Rusch

(Dusty, Wood and the Cubs front office all got about 2 nominations each).

You've got the option of writing in of course. Vote early and often. I'll close the voting Sunday, October 1st at noon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Meaningless Monday: an Open Thread

Here goes Kiddies! To commemorate the last week of the Sir Toothpick McDoubleswitch Era on the Northside, 1060west will have an open thread on this mornings meaningless game in Cincy at 11:35 ct. This will be Hard Bakes last road game as Cub skipper.

Media Info:
Radio - WGN Radio 720, XM-186

Here are the lineups:

J. Pierre cf (.290)
R. Theriot 2b (.336)
A. Ramirez 3b (.290)
M. Murton lf (.294)
A. Pagan rf (.256)
J. Mabry 1b (.211)
H. Blanco c (.260)
R. Cedeno ss (.245)
W. Miller p

C. Denorfia cf (.256)
S. Hatteberg 1b (.288)
R. Aurilia ss (.296)
A. Dunn lf (.239)
E. Encarnacion 3b (.287)
B. Phillips 2b (.281)
T. Hollandsworth rf (.283)
D. Ross c (.258)
B. Arroyo p

Bring back the College of Coaches

Come this Sunday or next Monday, Jim Hendry will make the fate of Dusty Baker official (let's face it we all know what is coming). After firing the man who was supposed to be the savior back in 2002, now the Cubs will go into their normal search for the next savior. We all know the names, they've been out there for weeks: Joe Girardi, Fredi Gonzalez, Manny Acta, Bob Brenly, Lou Piniella, one writer even suggested Smokey Jim Fregosi might be on Cruller Jim's radar. Eventually, we all know that this "savior" will have the same fate as all of the others.

For sometime now, I have told whoever would listen that I want to see the Cubs get Joe Girardi. Last year when the Marlins interviewed Joe I wrote this:

While the Cubs have organizational meetings this week. The Florida Marlins are about to talk to the managerial candidate that many of us think would be perfect for the Cubs. Joe Girardi has been granted permission to speak with the Marlins about the vacancy left from Jack McKeon's retirement.

and I added:

I have always felt that Girardi's familiarity with the Cubs organization and his time spent with the Yankees would make him the perfect candidate to manage the Cubs. It looks like we are stuck with Dusty.

The more I think about the Cubs job, I wonder. When you consider the fact that the Cubs have an inept GM in place for 2 more years and a Mother company that is falling apart, why would anyone want this job. Why would a young up and coming manager like Girardi or Gonzalez take this job? Why would World Series winning managers Brenly or Piniella want this job? To put it kindly the Cubs managerial job is career suicide for these guys.

I don't wanna see Girardi or any of these guys commit career suicide.

To protect these guys from getting involved, I have a solution. The next few years for the Cubs are bound to be bad. The Cubs can reach into their glorious history to find one of the most failed experiments, this side of Ted Turner managing the Atlanta Braves, P.K. Wrigley's College of Coaches. For you youngsters reading at home, has the details of the College:

In 1961 and 1962, the Chicago Cubs employed a rotating system of managing called the College of Coaches. The college was the brainchild of owner Philip K. Wrigley. They used the regular coaching staff with a head coach that was designated for a few weeks at a time. The plan failed as the Cubs went 64-90 then 59-103 in 1962. The Cubs even finished behind the expansion Colt .45's.

The members of the college in 1961 were Vedie Himsl, Harry Craft, El Tappe and Lou Klein. In 1962, they used Tappe, Klein, and Charlie Metro. The College was replaced by Bob Kennedy.

Of course this is the new millenium and these are not P.K. Wrigley's Chicago Cubs. Think marketing, think seventh inning stretch guest conductor! John McDonough can make this thing a smash promotion! He can bring in "Celebrity Coaches" to run the Cubs for a series or homestand. Just think, you could be at a Cubs game with Bill Murray, Billy Corgan, 1060west friend Jeff Garlin or John Cusack making out the lineup card. Brenly could call most of the games with Len and still come down from the booth to manage for a few weeks. Former players like Sandberg and Williams could have their shot running the team. In the end none of them would be held responsible, because nobody was the manager.

Somebody send Cruller Jim a link to this idea!

Friday, September 22, 2006

to the chopping block

tribune company chief executive dennis fitzsimons has been under pressure for some time to do something about the disaster that has overtaken his company under his watch. obstinate to a fault, however, fitzsimons resisted sensible courses of action in an effort to retain as much personal power as possible, instead plunging tribco into an ill-fated debt nightmare.

now it appears that pressure has finally come to a head and cracked his reign as chief executive. tribune has formed a special board committee to make plans to break up tribco and sell off the parts. structural changes in the chandler trusts -- one of tribco's largest shareholders -- will allow the trusts to avoid an onerous tax burden that had limited movement previously.

The short timeframe suggests the company, whose revenue continues to drop amid newspaper circulation declines, will move quickly beyond the plan it outlined in May calling for a combination of select asset sales, a $2 billion stock buyback and further cost cuts.

The Chandler partnerships had been widely expected to be dissolved following negotiations between the company and the Chandler Trusts.

Instead, the Chandlers will retain 95 percent interest in the partnerships and will increase their holdings of Tribune common stock to approximately 48.7 million shares from approximately 36.9 million, Tribune said in an evening statement.

The partnerships contain some $3.5 billion in assets and have hampered Tribune's ability to make transactions because of major tax consequences.

"The restructuring of these partnerships frees the company to move quickly to pursue strategic alternatives to further enhance shareholder value," said FitzSimons.

Under the terms of the restructuring, Tribune will receive distributions of all of its preferred stock -- which currently is owned by the partnerships -- and approximately 39.5 million shares of the 51.3 million Tribune common stock held by the partnerships.

Tribune also will receive the right to acquire the real estate owned by the partnerships in January 2008 for $175 million. The partnerships currently own real estate used by the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant newspapers, and various other investments.

They enabled the Chandlers to diversify their Times Mirror holdings through a tax-free swap of family stock for company assets, but only preserved the tax benefits if they stayed intact for seven years -- a period that expired this month.

says the wall street journal:

The move effectively puts Tribune in play, and will likely prompt private-equity firms and other potential buyers to signal their interest in bidding for part or all of Tribune.

... (F)ormation of the committee is a significant reversal from Tribune's stance earlier in the summer, when the company rebuffed calls from the Chandlers to consider action such as splitting off the TV stations in favor of doing a $2 billion stock buyback and undertaking $500 million in asset sales. But since the buyback was completed, Tribune's stock has weakened.

Despite the decision to consider alternatives, Mr. FitzSimons said sale of the Los Angeles Times, one of Tribune's biggest properties, was unlikely. "The LA Times is part of Tribune and not for sale."

How much control Mr. FitzSimons will have over the process isn't clear, however. The independent committee is in charge of the process -- charged with "overseeing management's exploration of alternatives," the statement said. The committee will include the board's seven independent directors, excluding the Chandler family's three representatives and Mr. FitzSimons.

note particularly how these moves are an about-face from may, when fitzsimons -- then still managing the course of events -- attempted to catagorically deny that the cubs could be auctioned. the tribune itself is reporting that a spinoff of the local television stations is the likely outline of a first step -- and if that happens, as noted by chuck over at ivy chat, "the rationale for owning the Cubs dissolves."

there is also the possibility of taking the company private by having it assume a huge tranche of debt to buy its shareholders out and then pay down that debt by selling assets. again, chuck does the work of examining the leveraged buyout strategy -- and such a course likely results in the auction of the cubs.

this is a huge boardroom victory for the chandler family, whose plans these are and who have been pushing for exactly this course of action for months as fitzsimons instead forced through the huge leveraged stock buyback that destroyed tribco's credit rating in a fit of desperate executive narcissism. as we noted then:

in adopting the debt, this page is of the considered opinion that tribco, holder of a declining core business and woefully managed at that, would as likely as not succumb to the pressures of increased debt servicing costs and be forced to liquidate ever more assets over time -- including perhaps the cubs -- simply as a purgative to its ill-advised debt feast. as noted in the (wall street) journal, tribco has had static revenues for five years and is hardly likely to explode forward in that department; a growing cost of debt service in a higher interest rate environment isn't something tribco can likely grow out of.

and further:

how the cubs fall out of this scenario, as this page has said, is not clear -- but note particularly the line of criticism (coming from the chandlers) regarding "management's failure to maximize profits of TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise." the team is clearly on the radar here, but as a disappointing asset -- this should be news to those many who think of the cubs as one of tribco's most invaluable properties, one which the company would never divest itself of.

it is always difficult to forecast future events, but it is the considered opinion of this page that the chandlers are now taking the lead if not essentially running the show from the boardroom; that they view both the cubs and the television stations as undesirable properties, and see debt reduction as a priority; and that therefore the team will probably either be spun off with the television unit or auctioned separately on the open market -- and probably plans will likely be announced before the year is out.

the ramifications of such a move for the team would be wide-ranging, affecting everything from its ability to tender offers in the free agent market to the continued tenure of andy macfail and jim hendry. this page will of course eagerly await the next development, as events should now move quite quickly.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the darkest days of cubdom

last year about this time, this page offered a celebration of the macfail era as the cubs ran through the gutter of the 2005 season and proved that this page had been too optimistic about their quality that year. we further hoped where we should have known better.

of such a magnitude is this collapse -- on a team with, mind you, a $104 million outlay in player payroll, it has few precedents in the free agency era of baseball -- that heads must roll, even in the uniquely unresponsive world of dollar-obsessed corporate management. such a total failure is so embarrassing that it must seek accountability, as it threatens the very apathy and nostalgia upon which profitability depends.

as you can clearly see, dear reader, this is not so. the cubs last night lost their ninetieth game, bringing home the fifth season of 90 losses or more in the twelve years of andy macfail's tenure with the cubs. that is no mistake, unfortunately -- in nearly half the years of macfail's run in chicago, his clubs have lost 90 or more games, despite being one of the wealthiest clubs in all of baseball. the team's overall record under macfail has now run to 912-1005 -- a .476 winning percentage that is not only a significant decrease from the previous twelve years (925-963 from 1983-1994, a percentage of .490) but puts the cubs in the bottom third of the national league by record since 1995.

teamwinslossespercentageplayoffsrevenues ($mm)

consider this table for a moment, especially minding where the cubs fell with respect to 2005 national league revenues at second only to the mets -- a number that surely expanded this year with a record number of tickets sold. consider that they have been outplayed by expansion franchises florida and arizona, and have only barely stayed ahead of colorado. consider the sheer incompetence that macfail must certainly represent to make this so. consider how malefactory tribune company ownership must be to make this so.

and so again we celebrate -- with the cubs again the worst team in the national league, a place they seek and defend as though it were birthright, with blithering idiocy reigning in the front office and the dugout alike, with the very executive managment of the entire corporate leviathan assiduously destroying their brands across the spectrum of their businesses.

these are the darkest days of cubdom, dear reader -- you are living them. let no elder cub fan lecture you about the 1950s, for they were as a matter of fact no worse than this -- in the 35 desperate seasons bounded by 1946 and 1980, the club played under this year's .407 winning percentage just seven times. andy macfail has led this team into a black cesspit of confusion, lies, stupidity, ill will -- and, more than all else, losing.

let us hope against hope that someone in ownership recognizes true and real putrescence when they see it -- and knows that the gangrene can only be reversed by amputation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the aramis show

this page hasn't hidden its opinion that the single largest decision looming over the cubs imminent offseason is that regarding the fate of aramis ramirez. just a few days ago, we noted that the plan going forward largely revolves around whether he stays or goes. and a month ago, it was here said that his second-half flowering made the chances of him going all the more likely.

ramirez has done absolutely nothing since to increase the chances of his return to chicago in 2007. he has been singularly noncommittal in his comments, and singularly titanic standing in the batters box -- indeed, if not for ryan howard, the story of the second half in the national league would probably be aramis ramirez, as he out-pujolses pujols and turns the cubs offense into a one-man wrecking crew. the numbers: 239 at-bats, 81 hits, 16 doubles, 19 homers, 58 rbi, 158 total bases just 27 strikeouts in posting a .339 batting average, .399 on-base percentage and .661 slugging percentage. ramirez at 28 is closing in on career highs in homers, rbi, total bases and possibly doubles and hits as well. his gaudy display last night -- two home runs, seven rbi, ten total bases -- only serves to underscore one of the best imaginable halves for a player holding an option to void his contract.

the tribune company is already greasing the skids for ramirez.

Aramis Ramirez is so hot, he may hear the sounds of cash registers ringing in his sleep.

After a dreadful April and May, Ramirez is enjoying a finishing kick that may lead to a significant raise, either from the Cubs or elsewhere. He has $22 million guaranteed on the remainder of his contract, which includes an opt-out clause after this season that allows him to renegotiate or become a free agent.

Ramirez insisted his future is in his agent's hands.

"I just go out there and play the game," he said. "I'm not that smart to be thinking about playing the game and my contract at the same time. I've been pretty consistent the last few years. Whatever happens, happens."

The Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, Philadelphia and Detroit are expected to take a run at Ramirez if he goes on the market. With an $11 million salary, Ramirez currently is baseball's fifth-highest paid third baseman, behind Alex Rodriguez ($21.7 million), Adrian Beltre ($12.9 million), Scott Rolen ($12.5 million) and Chipper Jones ($12.3 million).

this context offered by tribco is sadly something of an (predictable) understatement of ramirez's likely market value. when a player like rafael furcal can land a $13mm a year deal; when roy oswalt is redefining what it means to be a highly-paid pitcher; when both rolen and jones are set to draw $14mm for 2007 -- when these things are indicative of the state of the market, dear reader, a 29-year-old third baseman at the peak of his powers in a thin free agent year is a mortal lock to draw five years at $15mm per annum, and quite possibly more in money and/or years. (and 'predictable', because such conditioning of expectations will later be used, in all probability, to make ramirez's demands seem outrageous and out of line when in fact they are exactly what the market would bear.)

and ramirez is certainly that. he is nothing less than the premier slugging third baseman in baseball from 2003 to 2006, taking his tie with alex rodriguez coming out of 2005 and launching himself ahead with this stellar half which has redefined his year from what looked to be disappointing in may to career-making in september. he leads all major league third basemen in 2006 in total bases (tied with miguel cabrera at 312) and home runs (tied with troy glaus at 35), ranking third in slugging behind only cabrera and chipper jones.

friends, this page once thought that ramirez could possibly come back to the cubs, that jim hendry could open negotiations with his agent even before the end of the season to work out an extension -- and indeed such recourse was advocated if he was not to be dealt at the non-waiver trade deadline. when the deadline came and went and ramirez was still a cub, this writer quietly crossed his fingers and hoped for a sullen and slumping half from ramirez that he might not take his option and live to fight another few years under his current contract.

instead, however, ramirez has silenced all critics by devastating the national league -- and all but guaranteeing that no extension will be countenanced and quite possibly ensuring that hendry will look forever as great a fraud and a fool as he truly is as a general manager for not moving him for valuable prospects when he had the chance. ramirez is now dealing from a position of inestimable strength, and would be in the estimation of this page somewhat daft not to explore what an avaricious market might lay at his feet to play a children's game.

it is the considered opinion here that ramirez will in every likelihood not be a chicago cub in 2007 -- and that makes getting scott moore all the at-bats the team can down the stretch the highest priority, as he will more likely than not be the cubs starting third baseman next april.

none of this is to say ramirez cannot come back, that hendry cannot sign him to a monster extension, that moore must be at third six months from now. but it is to say that these possibilities are not nearly as probable as their opposites -- and that the cubs had best prepare themselves for the eventuality as best they can.

Monday, September 18, 2006

young pitching progress report

a season is truly lost when minutiae like not being skunked in the complete game department becomes an event of some kind -- especially when it gets offset by reaching a new low in games shut out in the same weekend. but such is the dearth of positive news in this year that rich hill's spectacular two-hitter was given this added significance.

fulfilling and exceeding every long-held expectation of this page has become hill's business as he marches toward establishing himself not just as a candidate for the 2007 rotation but as the hoped-for payoff of the process that this page has been advocating since june 1. with a second-half line that ranks with those of the best rookie pitchers in baseball, the cubs have answered at least one question for next year: rich hill will be a quality starting pitcher for this club.

one wishes the news were so encouraging on other fronts. as hill has sparkled, so have others among the five primary prospects seeing work shown that they have much left to prove. most discouraging has been the performance of angel guzman to this point. at 0-6 in ten starts, guzman has allowed 61 hits and 29 walks in just 42.2 innings as a starter -- a whip of 2.11 and .451 obpa which makes his 9.28 era seem reasonable by comparison. guzman, despite his devastating injury history, has long been considered the cubs' most talented prospect. and it isn't hard to see why, as he has delivered 46 strikeouts in those innings and 58 in 53 innings overall. as was the case with hill, patience is here still a virtue -- these are, after all, his first handful of big league appearances and very little about his likely level can be discerned from them. guzman has pitched virtually his entire career to this point with far better control that he has demonstrated in 2006. but it is unnerving, to say the least, to see guzman hand in the worst performance of any of the five primary cub pitching prospects to see work in 2006.

sean marshall, having broken with the club out of camp, was automatically presumed to be the best cub pitching prospect by a great many fans for that reason. but the truth of the matter seems to be somewhat different, as marshall has been shown in 22 starts to have some material weaknesses. though a groundball pitcher featuring a presentable curve to compliment a mediocre fastball, marshall seems to lack the dominant pitch and/or general quality of pitches to get better major league hitters to miss when they know what's coming. and that is a problem for marshall because he has so often worked behind in the count -- his 54 walks in 116.1 innings is a rate almost as great as that of major-league walks leader carlos zambrano. marshall's most promising work in the minors in terms of hits/9 and k/9 was always accompanied by a walk rate of less than 3 bb/9 -- it is as important for him to get ahead as it is for any pitcher on the team. and, as with guzman, working ahead is a capacity that he has demonstrated before. but only he can go out and actually do it on a major league mound. until he does, also as with guzman, this page would expect him to be little more than a marginal pitcher in the majors.

a young pitcher who has not generally demonstrated good control at any point in his career is carlos marmol -- and his major league debut has been no different, as he has walks an ungodly 59 in 77 innings. marmol's recent move to the bullpen is seen here to be a good one. while marmol is hard to hit, there is simply little way for a pitcher with so little control to work deeply into games and therefore hold down a starting spot -- indeed, such has been the extent of the problem that marmol will have to show far better ability to avoid walks just to remain in the majors in any capacity.

finally there is juan mateo, whose first 39 innings have also been hazardous. mateo has here been called among the most promising of all cub pitching prospects, and this page still believes that to be so -- indeed, his performance this season in the majors has been every bit the equal or better of marshall's (though in fewer innings). he too is a natural groundball pitcher who, it is here believed, needs simply to trust his stuff and throw strikes as he has in the past in the minors to experience a modicum of major league success.

the consistency of the problem facing these young men -- namely, throwing strikes -- leads one to question the coaching they are receiving at the major league level, particularly in light of their past propensity to get the ball over. this page has undertaken no quantitative study of pitching coach larry rothschild as of yet, but there have been a number of anecdotal instances which seem to affirm rothschild's favoring the "low-and-outside" philosophy most famously espoused by leo mazzone. it would seem here that that philosophy works better with tom glavine than it does with most, but that point is perhaps debatable.

what is not is that throwing strikes and pitching ahead in the count dramatically increases a pitcher's effectiveness and efficiency -- lessons both on brilliant display in hill's saturday masterpiece. one hopes that the lessons were not lost on these young pitchers who are trying to follow in hill's footsteps and become cornerstones of an invigoration of this moribund franchise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

the impact of management

dusty baker has been a painful thorn in the side of this page and cub fans generally since 2003. several contributors to this page at that time watched with trepidation as baker's questionable double-switching, queer lineups and relentless assault on the arms of kerry wood and mark prior produced five months of mediocrity and one shockingly spectacular september. his infamous intellectual collapse in game six of the national league championship series sealed the deal for many here -- if the cubs were going to win, it would probably have to be in spite of dusty.

of course, things have since changed -- winning often doesn't seem a possibility regardless of conditions anymore.

it has been theorized that the impact of poor management on a team is, in the tactical sense, minimal -- counterproductive lineup construction counts for something on the order of one or two forfeited wins a year. the best examples of such studies include the markov process model (which assumes, among other things, that game events are conditionally independent -- that is, that streaks are spurious artefacts of random functions), a sort of monte carlo generator in which large numbers of identical trials are totaled under a set of conditions to estimate the probable outcome distribution of complex and/or random systems. the famous first example in western history is the estimator of pi devised by the comte de buffon, but a generator more familiar to baseball fans is stratomatic baseball.

this page would argue, however, that this is an woefully incomplete assessment of the impact of a manager. disregarding the idea of "clubhouse chemistry" -- considered here to be of some probable impact on actual individual and team performances but often an unpredictable function of several volatile personalities and generally well beyond the complete control of any one of them -- a manager's decisions go far beyond lineup construction. influence may run from player personnel -- who gets signed and cut, a responsibility shared with the general manager -- to strategic aspects with ramifications that are in scope both tactical -- eg, the decision to stick with ryan dempster as closer come hell or high water -- and strategic -- eg, the baseball wreckage that has been wood and prior since 2003.

indeed, if considered in this light, the decisions made by dusty in 2003 may remain the single greatest determining factor in the outcome not only of the 2006 season but of 2004, 2005 and quite probably 2007, 2008 and beyond -- if one accepts that a healthy wood and prior, having a combined warp3 of 18.2 in that fateful year, may have been worth some ten wins beyond their replacements if what became of them could have been avoided.

because of the complex nature of the game, it is impossible to quantify the damage that poor management may do to a team's chances or that good management may do to improve them against an expected value. but this page would not hesitate to say that the net effect is greater than is sometimes supposed, even if it is neither universally measurable nor universally predictable.

the cubs won last night, but this was again a case of spiting the best efforts of dusty baker to sabotage the team. a starting lineup that featured baker favorite and null value freddie bynum over ryan theriot and a 6-8 of scott moore, henry blanco and ronny cedeno did its worst -- bynum's three errors at second base helped put the cubs into a 7-0 hole after three, through the bottom of the order defied meager expectaction to go 3-for-11 with one run scored. the cubs rode matt murton, derrek lee and a key pinch hit by aramis ramirez to get to the ninth with one of the most laughably improbable leads of the season -- only to have baker dutifully trot dempster out for yet another blown save on the wings of errors from lee and cesar izturis and further a botched double play, sending the game into extra innings.

wins and losses mean nothing anymore in this lost year, and izturis found redemption in an eleventh-inning walkoff rbi single to render all this grief for naught from that perspective. but it is worth pointing out again here that baker has managed to find bynum, cedeno, angel pagan, henry blanco, john mabry and the dearly departed neifi perez -- several offensive and/or defensive black holes, none of them callups or prospects -- a total of 557 at-bats in the second half to date, some 28% of the team total of 1,981, while theriot, moore and geovany soto have difficulty getting plate appearances. on the pitching side, dempster leads the team in second half relief innings with 29 and wade miller is inexplicably getting starts. and is it too much to say that baker's incredible abuse of zambrano this season is responsible for aggravating his chronic back problems -- an injury which baker and the cubs appear foolishly willing to allow zambrano to pitch through for no good reason whatsoever, inviting the kind of mechanically-induced cascading injury that could truly damage him?

indeed, regardless of whether one considers the impact of management to be great or small, it does inarguably have an impact. can anyone say that impact is positive -- regardless of context -- where the cubs are concerned?

Monday, September 11, 2006

scott moore and the plan for reconstruction

before the all star break, this page took a look at the forward prospects at third base for the cubs. at that time, aramis was suffering through a first half that saw him go 259/320/481 despite 16 home runs and 52 rbi in 85 games.

ramirez's defense and proneness to mild injuries have been occasion for some grousing on the north side, as has his recent inability to fill the hole left in the cub lineup left by the injury of derrek lee. though his free-swinging style certainly aggravated the problem, this page finds it hard to fault ramirez for being pitched around mercilessly this season as the only material threat for the cubs at the plate. and a cursory glace at ramirez's production from the hot corner in the context of all major league third basemen from 2003-5 reveals how good he has been -- fourth in total bases, fourth in home runs and sixth in extra-base hits despite being 11th in games played, yielding third in ops and second in slugging behind only the yankees' alex rodriguez.

ramirez's 2007 and 2008 with the cubs would be worth $22.5mm with a mutual option in 2009 -- but the chances of him matching or exceeding 3-years/$34mm in free agency seems quite good in a world in which scott rolen is slated for $14.5mm in 2007, rafael furcal is being paid $13mm a year and carlos lee is looking for $15mm. there is simply no other third baseman in his class available in free agency prior to 2008-9, and that should ensure a potentially hefty payday for a player who has slugged .540 in a cub uniform if he exercizes the option.

aramis ramirez has since then gone on to post one of the best second halves in all of baseball, going 316/379/632 and clouting a home run every 13 at-bats, driving -- along with improved and/or unusual productivity from juan pierre, matt murton, ryan theriot and the dearly departed phil nevin -- the otherwise dismal cubs offense forward to eighth in the nl since the intermission in spite of deadweight like ronny cedeno, jacque jones, angel pagan and john mabry (all four stunningly in the top eight in at-bats for the cubs since the break, thanks to the ongoing sabotage being perpetrated by vengeful lame duck dusty baker).

the failure of the cubs in the second half -- having gone 22-33, second-worst in the league ahead (and only just) of the freefalling brewers -- has instead been the story of pitching, which has been worsted only by the washington nationals in this timeframe, actually somewhat underperforming the horrid first half.

all this amounts to what has long been known to the sensible -- aramis ramirez will almost certainly exercize his out clause and seek free agency following this season. a quick glance at 2006-7 free agents at third base shows him to be easily the class of the field, and what remains of his original deal -- three years at some $34mm -- is at least $3mm a year under consensus estimates of market value. the economics have been confirmed by ramirez himself, who has told friends that he intends to go to market.

now, it must be said that this in no way means ramirez cannot come back next season -- indeed, jim hendry still has every opportunity to extend ramirez before november's filing date. but the promotion of scott moore is an interesting countermeasure to ramirez's situation. moore thursday played first base, going 2 for 3 with a homer in his first major league start. one suspects this will put his name on many lips today and for the rest of september -- indeed, so provoking this post -- as though he were some form of insurance against ramirez's departure.

but that would be something of a gross exaggeration of moore's likely potential. this page has said previously:

the lefthanded-batting moore is 22 and a former 8th-overall pick of the tigers, and is the leading prospect at third in the cub organization -- but he strikes out every third at-bat in double-a with a 4-to-1 k:bb ratio, and has posted a .338 obp in his minor league career besides being a significantly substandard defender. these characteristics are what allowed detroit to move him to the cubs in good conscience. while there is always some remote chance of metamorphosis with a young player, moore seems highly unlikely be anything like ramirez's caliber as a player despite his draft pedigree.

moore has done little to dissuade this page from that opinion this season, his first at double-a west tenn, where the 22-year-old went 276/360/479 in 463 ab, hitting an impressive 22 homers in the pitcher-friendly southern league but striking out 126 times -- once every 3.6 at-bats -- while committing a team-high 19 errors. these numbers closely match his 2005 output in high-a daytona -- this is no fluke performance for the former first-rounder. he can be likely expected to hit in the 250-265 range with an 760-820 ops in the majors, but with prolonged slumps, a godawful number of strikeouts and poor performance in the field. this predicted output corresponds to a third-tier major league third baseman. moore will be cheap but probably isn't offensively any better than a brandon inge -- and notably carries an inferior glove.

the question facing the cubs, of course, is whether or not the $15mm per annum over four or five years that ramirez is likely to command helps them enough to justify retaining him -- and this is spite of the probable fact that the 28-year-old aramis would be 32 or 33 at the end of that term and in the stages of the normal decline that most players experience following their physical peak from 27 to 29 years of age.

the answer to that question, it seems here, is bound up deeply with the young pitching that the cubs are now bringing to the majors in the form of rich hill, sean marshall, juan mateo, jae-kuk ryu, angel guzman and carlos marmol. beyond them, there is the prospect of sean gallagher, randy wells, donald veal and relievers tim layden, carmen pignatiello, clay rapada, andy shipman and adalberto mendez. and -- beyond them -- more distant but promising prospects named mitch atkins, mark pawelek, mark holliman, jose ceda, jeff samardzija and billy muldowney will soon be vying of attention. a lot of incompetence can be laid at the door of andy macfail and jim hendry, but they have been committed to bringing an almost-unheard-of depth of pitching into the cub organization -- of the 32 draft picks in the first five rounds since 2001, 19 (59%) have been expended in pitching; of the 19 picks in the first 100 players taken, 12 (63%) were used to obtain pitchers.

many of these pitchers will turn out to be nothing of much importance at the major league level -- player development is defined by attrition, after all. but the cubs stand today as one of the deepest organizations in pitching prospects in baseball, and that matters. as 2005 fell by the wayside, this page forwarded a plan for reconstruction limited to free agent movement with an eye toward a winning 2006. hendry did indeed follow something much like this plan -- but failed miserably in execution, signing too few relievers and too little bench, missing on rafael furcal and not even bidding at brian giles.

this year it has become apparent that the problems run yet deeper at the major league level, where kerry wood and mark prior have again failed to make a durable mark and the team is blighted by belligerent multiyear commitments to jacque jones, ryan dempster and perhaps soon juan pierre. if ramirez is retained for $15mm per annum and pierre resigned at around $6-7mm, with expected arbitration raises for carlos zambrano and prior, the cubs would already be committed to some $85mm in 2007 payroll and that figure likely again in 2008 -- just to keep this club intact, this same club that threatens to lose 100 games.

the prospect of 90+ loss seasons for the next two years just to perpetuate a sense of stability cannot be an acceptable path. that this franchise is in need of radical overhaul is even admitted (and ridiculed) in the pages of the tribune itself. so what to do?

with apologies to paul sullivan, stabbing at lightning in a bottle by attempting to land gary sheffield, kerry wood, ray durham, mike mussina and others is a pipe dream. with the tribune in trouble and issuing profit warnings, the club payroll is not expanding dramatically -- indeed, it may contract, no matter how obscene the profits of the team itself. the chances of this organization making the high offer on even one of those players is remote at best.

these next few years -- beginning from a point so low, constrained by both the financial condition of the ownership and the idiocy of jim hendry in regards to players like jacque and dempster -- are best thought of as one of quiet rebuilding with youthful pitching. the accidental youth movement of this season should be allowed to flower in full, uninhibited by free agent acquisitions (that the tribune is ill-positioned to allow in any case) taking playing time away from youthful longer-term assets.

this page has made little secret of its contempt for the position players in the cubs farm. as promising the returns of draft picks expended on pitching are, so dismal are the prospects for any position player. moore has already been discussed here, and the cream of crop -- felix pie -- seems less and less an outstanding talent so much as a reasonable major league centerfielder with every passing season. but it also seems here that no good case can be made for acquiring today such free agents as the cubs would likely afford in an attempt to win in 2007 or 2008 which will almost surely be entirely futile. juan pierre and aramis ramirez are free agents.

the only plausible case, it here seems, for landing any expensive talent in the near term entails the ability of that player to still be massively productive in 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- when pitchers like hill, gallagher, veal and others will be reaching for their peak potential -- and for them to be a truly rare commodity.

pierre, at 30 next season already on the probable downswing, surely can fulfill neither qualification. his salary is much larger than his usefulness to the cubs, and he should not be retained in spite of the price hendry paid for him.

ramirez, sparkling offensive talent that he is, is but a year younger than pierre and has for compatriots at third base an unusual wealth of talented players -- indeed, third base has become one of the most deeply populated positions on the diamond in major league talent.

indeed, it seems here that one of two paths can be taken by the cubs -- one of which involves ramirez, and another of which does not.

if ramirez is retained, macfail and hendry must make hay out of this wealth of pitching prospects now. rather than wait for them to develop, targets exist in the trade market -- dontrelle willis and miguel cabrera in florida, jason bay in pittsburgh, dan haren in oakland, carl crawford in tampa bay, jake peavy in san diego, david dejesus in kansas city, chris capuano in milwaukee, vernon wells in toronto, joe nathan in minnesota -- who are impact players right now for teams of limited means who are still controlled contracts by virtue of not yet having reached the six years of service time necessary to acquire free agent status. perhaps not all of these players and others like them are realizable gets, nor would the cubs be able to get a large number of them -- but if the cubs commit to ramirez now, they must attack these targets willing to make deals like the one they made for juan pierre in an effort to win well before before 2010.

if, however, ramirez is not retained, the cubs should be willing to install moore at third, ryan theriot at second, felix pie in center and matt murton in left -- and allow the pitching that is bubbling up through the farm to develop for a few years while drafting position players in high rounds in the hopes of filling out as much of the 2010 roster as possible with talented youth. as albatross contracts like those of jacque and dempster expire or are moved out, cash can be freed to fill the spots that have no in-house solution with free agents and probably some of the kind of trades discussed in the previous paragraph. this sort of "riding the wave" of talent development is the sort of tactic seen more often from quadruple-a franchises like kansas city or florida, but the cubs are so close to such teams in overall talent and so hamstrung by the stupid personnel decisions made by macfail and hendry over the last couple of years that it has become a legitimate -- even perhaps the safest and best -- path to redemption.

if this page had to guess at the future, it would suppose that neither path is likely. indeed, jim hendry is a general manager loathe to part with prospects in trade -- making the former avenue unlikely -- and yet desperate to make some approach to winning now because of the terms of his contract, which expires following 2007 -- making the latter unlikely.

instead, this page would predict a third, middle path -- relying on inexperienced pitching and prayers for mark prior while signing insufficient free agents in an attempt to patch only some of the holes in the hull of this derelict. and something less than mediocrity will be the likely result, as this team truly does need a radical overhaul to have any aspirations to success.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The 1060west LVP

I really don't put a post up terribly often since there really hasn't been too much about this ballclub to get excited about.

However, an idea just struck me as funny and I'd like to see how this goes over. When the season ends we can go over and over who the MVP for the 2006 Cubs was which I honestly can't think of too many that would be deserving. I'm sure one of us will get to that once this season finally ends.

Anyway, here's the idea. Who would you vote for the LVP, the Least Valuable Player for the Cubs 2006 season?

Lets get the nominations down and name the inagural 1060west LVP in the first week of October. Put your nominations down and we'll weed them out by voting or possibly using whoever gets 75% of the vote.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


it has been some three weeks since this page posted a bit called 'rich hill in context', which made a point of trying to highlight just how special the four-season minor league career of hill had been -- particularly since 2005 -- as a vehicle by which to lobby you, dear reader, for forbearance as hill found his way early in his major league career. of course, that bit had been preceded by earlier ones -- here and here and here and even going back to 2005 here and here -- pointing up just how much more this page considered hill to be worthy of the extended opportunity to prove his mettle than many of his peers in the cub farm system.

the cubs and their fans have been equally guilty in the past of passing summary judgment (both for and against) on either far too little or deeply misconstrued data, knowledge and understanding. such irrational judgment was approaching hill from many influential but unknowledgable and immoderate quarters even before a sensible handful of major league innings had been pitched (indeed, as soon as the aftermath of his first appearance on a major league field). and it, at least in the view of this page, thankfully did not carry the day.

but what this page attempted to express in words was always going to be much better expressed if it could be by rich hill himself in innings pitched at the major league level -- and he has thankfully seized the opportunity (thusfar) to do exactly that.

including and since his start of august 1, hill has posted in eight appearances (seven of which were starts) 50 innings of 2.70 era baseball, allowing just 36 hits and 14 walks for a 1.00 whip, .193 baa and .253 obpa, along with 45 strikeouts. he's arguably been the cubs best starter since the all star break, bettering zambrano in era, obpa and opsa. and of the 35 rookie pitchers in baseball since the break who have made more than five starts, hill ranks 9th in era (3.21) in a list that constitutes a who's-who of blue-chip pitching prospects.

the latest installment, coming last night, may prove to be the highwatermark for some time to come. hill moved through the impatient pittsburgh side, fanning 11 over 7.1 innings and 111 pitches, while allowing just seven baserunners, one of which was the result of a dropped third strike. this page noted again the ability of hill to respond to trouble, always a sign of a good pitcher. this time, in the first when leadoff hitter chris duffy walked on four pitches to open the game, hill reacted by striking out the side, including jason bay and national league batting leader freddy sanchez. but it wasn't again until the eighth that hill found trouble again, when, following a juan castillo single to open the frame, the cubs infield were unable to field pinch-hitter jack wilson's well-executed but expected bunt, leaving hill to field the ball late and make an errant throw, tying the game 1-1.

yet another ronny cedeno error -- who now, at .951, has the worst fielding percentage of anyone in baseball with more than 350 chances -- put hill in a position to take the loss in spite of it. but he was rescued from that fate by derrek lee's eighth-inning grand slam (oh, how we've missed you, sir) that put the game in the cubs' hands and elevated them -- at least temporarily -- over the pirates in the central.

to be sure, hill is not perfect -- his delivery to the plate is slow and he is particularly susceptible to the stolen base for a lefthander, and he is a flyball pitcher who lives and dies upstairs with a rising fastball. that kind of pitcher will always surrender a higher amount of runs than one might like, because runners will run into scoring position more often than normally and hitters will hit mistakes into the stands with alarming frequency. pairing him with a strong-armed catcher may be of great interest.

and this page, for one, doesn't think hill is going to mount a sub-3 earned run average for whole seasons -- what he has done lately has been brilliant, but there will be bad days too.

however, it is here hoped that the minimum of what can now be said is that hill has proved his promise and deserves -- in his own best interests, but more importantly the cubs' -- to be in the starting rotation in 2007. moreso than sean marshall, moreso than angel guzman, moreso than mark prior (upon whom nothing can be relied for next season), and moreso than juan mateo (another cubs pitcher that this page regards and has regarded highly), rich hill should be taking the mound in regular turns next season in order to capitalize upon and flesh out the development we all have seen from him this year. and it is up to jim hendry to make sure it happens.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In a nutshell

As the 2006 season moves toward completion it's looking more and more like the Chicago Cubs will do what this writer predicted and few believed, reach the 100 loss plateau. The question becomes how does an organization with all the advantages of the top teams in baseball become the worst team in the National League?

Well, all you need to know about the Cubs organization you can learn from reading a round table discussionthat occurred this winter. Representing the Cubs, and by extention the baseball philosophical dinosaur-side of the discussion was Jim Hendry's right-hand man, Gary Hughes.

I encourage you to read the discussion it is VERY eye-opening.

The basic premise of the discussion was how the various teams value certain types of talent, and by extention certain types of players. The article discusses the "Moneyball" concept choosing college pitchers over high school pitchers if the ability-levels are anywhere near equitible, because college pitchers have skill-sets (and bodies) that are much easier to predict a success-level as a professional.

The discussion covers various other topics, but the real reason I bring it up is just to highlight the dichotomy in baseball general management that still exists and is the main reason why the Cubs find themselves in last place in the worst division in baseball.

The player who represents all that is wrong with MacPhail/Hendry player valuation is centerfielder Juan Pierre. Many in the Cub Blogosphere have been calling for Juan Pierre to be given a long-term free agent contract following the season for such reasons as; "How long did it take us to find a lead off hitter?" or "Felix Pie is just the next Corey Patterson", or "Since the All-Star break his average has been great" or my personal favorite, "He's got 49 stolen bases do you know how valuable that is?"

Well let me tell you how valuable that is.

As of September 06, Juan Pierre has 127 singles, 30 doubles, 12 triples, 2 homeruns, 49 stolen bases, 19 caught stealing, 1 sacrifice fly, 32 bases on balls, 8 hit-by-pitch, and 589 At-Bats - this gives him a nominal OBP of .3349 ([H+BB+HBP]/[AB+SF+BB+HBP]) and a nominal SLG of .3922 (TB/AB), giving Pierre a nominal OPS of .727 (ugh)

But wait folks that's not all.

Because Pierre is such an inefficient stealer of bases, his value is decreased even further. A caught stealing is in effect a reduction of a "success" at the plate, therefore the adjusted OBP formula becomes ([H+BB+HBP-CS]/[AB+SF+BB+HBP]). Juan Pierre's adjusted OBP is .3063.

To be completely fair, Juan Pierre's stolen base successes DO increase his nominal SLG. The adjusted SLG formula is ([TB+SB]/AB), giving Pierre an adjusted SLG% of .4754.

A "quick and dirty" formula to measure offensive value is "Runs Created" which is nothing more than OBP*TB, however if the two "adjusted" metrics are substituted for the nominal metrics (OBP and SLG) the statistic becomes more valuable (more statistically significant to run creation).

That being said, Juan Pierre currently has an adjusted Runs Created of 85.777 (.3063*280). To put that in context with the rest of the league's centerfielders I compared Pierre's performance with the league's 50 outfielders who qualify for the batting title (3.1 ABs/G). Below is the result of the analysis, however keep in mind Runs Created is a counting statistic and Juan Pierre leads MLB in ABs so his opportunities to create runs are higher in proportion to his ABs.

Juan Pierre is an AVERAGE offensive outfielder, when you consider his 2.21 RF (slightly better than average) and AWFUL throwing arm his defense can only be judged as average/below average.

All in all, Juan Pierre COULD be a useful player for a team like the Red Sox/Yankees/Mets that could bat him 7 or 8 in the lineup, however to a team like the Chicago Cubs, Juan Pierre's skillset/price tag make absolutely NO SENSE for the current state of the team. Even moreso when you consider, the organization has a player in AAA in Felix Pie that will produce at a Pierre-like VORP, given the opportunity, in 2007 for $330,000.

If you are one this unfortunate souls who still retain your season tickets to this sad-sack franchise, Juan Pierre will provide you with a leading indicator to whether or not the Organization has learned from its mistakes.

It's as simple as this, if Juan Pierre is signed to anything more than a 1-year contract for $4-5 million for '07 you can safely "lose" your renewal forms. That'll tell you right there, this team STILL DOESN'T GET IT.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

the abandonment

one of the more vivid memories of this cub fan is, strangely enough, april 1997.

the cubs had been tepid at best for years at that point, with the last whiff of competitiveness some eight seasons distant. zimmer and dallas green had long since been canned, lefebvre came and went, the well-intentioned tom trebelhorn laughed out of town, and the beat of mediocrity kept pounding out under the strangely effeminate "tough guy" manager, jim riggleman. the cubs had resolved the bullpen-by-bad-committee of 1996 by obtaining montreal closer mel rojas, looked forward to another great year from developing 26-year-old steve trachsel to back horse jaime navarro, had young superprospect kevin orie coming in to take third and one-time superprospect shawon dunston coming back to man short. that passed for promise around here in 1997.

so it was perhaps not a surprise to everyone when the cubs started losing out of the gate -- but being swept on the road and outscored 36-16 in both of the first two series was a bit of a shock, even if those two teams were among the class of the national league. the cubs limped home 0-6 for the opener in chicago -- only to face the marlins and braves again -- and shiny new closer rojas had already coughed up four runs in two appearances. their response to this adversity was to score eight runs in the next four, running their record to 0-10 with colorado coming into town for two before they were to head to new york.

by this time, harry caray's downtown was serving taps of budweiser for 45 cents or something -- in honor of the last pennant year, if beclouded memory serves -- and this writer and his good friends ccd and vehere were partaking with gusto. it wasn't even tax day yet, and the season was already over. isn't that reason enough to drink? it seemed so then, anyway.

we had gone to the home opener, as was then our tradition, only to see the marlins score two in the seventh and another in the ninth (which none of us remeber, to be sure) to ice it. it's always hard to get a read on cubdom at the opener -- even then, scads of people showed up just to get hammered. and we went to some more april games after that, including the 12th straight loss, when real rational hope for a win rested on someone named roger bailey, the rockies unspectacular starter. but the rational does not account for the humour of the gods, and bailey ended up tossing a complete-game five-hitter without a strikeout.

but the game -- the one that stuck in this writer's head -- was april 24. the cubs had run it out to 0-14 before netting two wins in new york to salvage a road split and ending the cheap beer, then traveled to montreal for the honor of losing two more. at 2-16, the cubs came home to try to stem the bleeding in a six-game homestand, starting with pittsburgh and francisco cordova.

scenes from that frigid night, for whatever reason, have stuck in this writer's head as though captured in photographs. trachsel pitched brilliantly for one of the last times that year, and the cubs touched up the pirate bullpen for a couple to take a 3-2 lead into the ninth. rojas had come on to end the eighth, and re-emerged from the dugout to seal the win.

except that he didn't, of course -- taking instead another large step in the direction of new york, to whom he would be traded in disgrace later that season. a leadoff single and passed ball put a man in scoring position, which didn't seem so bad when rojas got two outs. but jason kendall then doubled to tie the game and the inexorable weight of losing that always presses down on a bad team, ready to lever any momentary weakness to crush hope instantaneously, found a trigger in a jose guillen single.

but what is remembered best is the frighteningly sparse crowd. it was a cold april night, and the cubs were godawful losers -- and, it must be remembered, this was 1997. this was before the sammy steroid show, before the kerry wood 20-strikeout game, before the mark prior hype machine, before 1998, before 2003. the cubs were still ryne sandberg's team in 1997, despite his declining skills, trapped in a sport recovering from a devastating strike in 1994. the marketing engine that soon turned wrigley into chicago's win-or-lose beer garden of choice was still in first gear. the announced crowd was about twenty thousand -- but if there were a quarter of that number in the park, this writer would be surprised. you could've sat anywhere in the park and had the section virtually to yourself, it seemed. such were the wages of constant and painful futility.

fast forward to tonight, a clear and pleasant september evening of the tuesday following labor day, and again old wrigley reminds this writer of that distant april -- pittsburgh in the field against them as they battle the relentless negative momentum that is part and parcel to being a bona fide loser in front of such a scarcity of people that it seems no one is in the stands at all. huge expanses of empty seats stretch out behind the plate and even in the bleachers, which probably haven't been so uncrowded for any game since 1997. who knows what the announced attendance will be, but if there are much more than ten thousand people at wrigley tonight this writer would be surprised.

it's the tuesday after labor day, the kids are back in school, the pirates are horrid -- a number of mitigating excuses can be found. but this writer for one thinks that the tribune company should take a closer look at what the golden goose could look like if allowed to be strangled by andy macfail and jim hendry for much longer. the cubs aren't likely going to be any good at all in 2007 either, and just across town a younger and impressionable generation is learning to love winning baseball.

consider it a warning, tribco. for the long-term good of the franchise, something needs to be done.