Friday, August 31, 2007

Almost Live: Friday Afternoon OPEN THREAD

Well, here we go the last businessman's special at the Friendly Confines before Labor Day. The Cubs coming off that dramatic series win over the Brewers, take on the Astros. Wrigley Field is starting to get "that feel" as we move closer to September. But it's one game at a time right? So here is what we have today:

Houston at Cubs (1:20)
Rodriguez (7-12, 4.67) vs. Marshall(7-6, 4.04)
Television: WGN
Radio: WGN, XM-184

Here are your lineups:

H. Pence cf .323
C. Biggio 2b .254
L. Berkman 1b .278
C. Lee lf .304
M. Loretta ss .279
T. Wigginton 3b .268
C. Burke rf .227
B. Ausmus c .232
W. Rodriguez p .128

R. Theriot ss .282
M. DeRosa 2b .291
D. Lee 1b .309
A. Ramirez 3b .312
C. Monroe rf .250
M. Murton lf .267
H. Blanco c .205
J. Jones cf .276
S. Marshall p .074

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Coats to Cincy, Rapada to Detroit

The Cubs completed a couple of minor trades today, sending 25 year- old AAA outfielder Buck Coats to the Reds, and 26 year-old AAA LHP reliever Clay Rapada to the Tigers.

Coats was drafted in the 18th round of the 2000 first-year player draft by the Cubs, and was hitting .303 with 11 homers at Iowa. Coats profiles as no more than a 4th/5th outfielder in the majors. The Cubs will recieve a PTBNL in the deal.

The Tigers' acquisition of Rapada completes the Craig Monroe deal. He was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 17 saves at AAA, while holding lefties to a .158 average. Rapada figures to make it in the show strictly as a LOOGY-- possibly even in Detroit for the stretch run. It had been speculated here that Will Ohman might have been the lefty sent to the Motor City. Now it looks like he'll be one of the half-dozen or so that get called up in September when the rosters are expanded.

Credit to Maddog over at ACB for pointing this out-- Following these deals, the Cubs' 40-man roster currently sits at 39, which probably means there is some kind of trade in the works. Lou had mentioned a while back that he wanted another reliever. Not reallly sure who he or Hendry may have had in mind.

Obviously neither of these trades means a lot to the big picture. There are a lot more important things to be concerned with in Cubdom-- like tonight's rubber match with the Brew Crew. Ted Lilly will go for his 14th victory against Milwaukee's promising young southpaw Manny Parra. St. Louis lost 2-1 earlier today in Houston, so the Cubs will have a chance to pick up ground on both the Cardinals and Brewers.

This is the last time the Cubs and Brewers will tangle this year, leaving the upcoming stretch of 4 games against St. Louis as the key series of the season. With that said, is there any question that tonight's game is the biggest one of the year so far?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

fading brewers, rising cardinals

in the comments to my last missive, astute commenter uncle dave read the situation to get at the heart of the matter.

a 1.5 game lead is a bigger hammer than anything that the other teams in the race can boast

i respectfully disagreed at 1.5 games -- especially when the brewers had three to play against the cubs.

but, on the heels of a real bad day for deadline acquisition scott linebrink, at 2.5 and two to play milwaukee is seeing its chance slip away. to be sure, luck will still play the dominant role over the final 30 or so games in this race. these teams' fortunes now can easily turn on a fluke ten-game run of babip luck or an unexpected and unlikely power surge or bullpen meltdown. but now milwaukee is faced with splitting the final two against the cubs and being 2.5 down with less than 30 to play and no head-to-head avenue to come back on. that's a very difficult comeback to expect, even if it can happen by vicissitude alone.

if the brewers don't take these next two at wrigley, in my opinion it probably becomes a two-team race between the cubs and cardinals. local shaman and water-diviner (at a very reasonable rate, email the page for availability) ccd had this to say:

The Cardinals have won this division so many times. They are the defending world series champs. They still have the best player this side of A-Rod in Albie. So despite the fact that I have declared them DEAD numerous times this season, I am now scared to death of that team.

and i have to agree, particularly if milwaukee can't take the next two. the cardinals are riding momentum and unreasonable pitching performances from some really average-to-poor starters (including another last night). it's as tenuous a run as you're likely to see, built on babip and very little else. but it's happening, and the cubs themselves are evidence that babip weirdness can persist longer than a rational observer can maintain credibility.

saint louis is two back, but has two major avenues to redemption. first, their remaining schedule -- six vs houston, seven vs pittsburgh, six vs cincy is plenty weak but essentially no different from the northsiders. the salient point is that they have five remaining against the cubs, and these games are now taking on the character of the season climax for both clubs. four of those games are in saint louis.

second, the cards have played just 128 games -- meaning they have two in hand compared to the cubs and three compared to milwaukee. the idea is to win as more games than the next guy, and the cards -- with three fewer wins today -- are going to get two extra cracks at boosting their total. and, if their momentum holds out, they may get those turns at the most opportune time: when they're hot. as we've showed here, winning begets winning.

it's not all positive for the cardinals. they don't have a single off day for the remainder of the year -- their bullpen mainstays are going to be completely frazzled before this is over, and the genius is going to have to utilize september callups to take every possible mop-up inning to keep guys like russ springer, troy percival and ryan franklin fresh. maybe that means a critical loss or two. this is an uphill fight for them, and the odds are decent -- against every earlier expectation -- that the cubs come out of this thing on top.

this much for sure, though -- it's good to have to care about baseball in september. in fact, the only thing better is having to care about it in october.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Almost Live: Cubs/Brewers Game 1 OPEN THREAD


Just in time for a big series with the Milwaukee Brewers. Tonight begins one of the biggest series to date in the Cubs pursuit of the 2007 NL Central Crown.

Suppan (8-11, 4.85) vs. Hill(7-7, 3.67)
Television: CSN Chicago
Radio: WGN 720-AM, XM-184

To clear the spot for Soriano, LHP Carmen Pignatiello has been sent to Iowa. Also Koyie Hill has cleared waivers and has been sent to Iowa.

Monday, August 27, 2007


one of the more laughable confluences of events i can remember has somehow turned what looked on june 22 to be a runaway laugher in the national league central into a three-team barnburner, with the 66-63 chicago cubs (!) leading 65-65 milwaukee by 1.5 and 63-64 saint louis by 2 heading into the final month. the divisional quality has fulfilled many a prognostication by being as tepid and mediocre as seems possible -- but mediocrity has fostered a strange sort of race as milwaukee has tried gallantly and unremittingly to hand the division to the cubs, who for their part are trying their level best to refuse it and pass it on to the cardinals.

it pays to ask: what in the hell is happening here? a few things, mostly unrelated but coinciding.

first, milwaukee has suffered an utterly spectacular collapse. the club was a steamroller through the end of june, with a 46-32 record and the second-best run differential in the league (at +42). they had won five consecutive series headed into wrigley for a three-game set we called critical. the cubs subsequently took two of three, and the brewers have since been the worst club in the nl, going 19-33. causation? of course not. but exactly what has happened?

in short, the near-total collapse of their pitching staff. milwaukee's offense cooled from a torrid june, but has still put across about 4.45 per contest. runs allowed per game, however, has rocketed up to well over 6.5 per contest in the trailing month, and the effect has been predictably devastating. chris capuano, yovani gallardo, dave bush and claudio vargas have all been destroyed, and so august saw the brewers cough up a 312/375/521 line to the opposition -- that's an .896 ops. and the primary difference between august and months previous? strikeouts and walks have remained constant, but a .356 babip allowed has combined with a fluke jump in home runs allowed to crush the club.

i asked you all to pray for disaster up i-94, and it looks like it worked.

the cubs, meanwhile, capitalized on milwaukee's time of weakness by going on the hottest extended streak of the decade in june and july to get back in it, the core effort in reversing 10 games against the erstwhile leader in a sport where five games is really quite hard to make up. their 35-18 run from june 2 to august 1 was truly one for the ages and left yours truly agape. as was noted then, though, the foundations were tenuous:

but the simple truth of what has happened to the cubs is that it could not have happened without very liberal and rare doses of good luck. not only have the cubs outperformed their pythagorean expectation since june 2 (at 256 scored and 199 allowed, they should have won 32 of 53 but have actually won 35) -- they have further managed to hit with a babip of .318 and allow just .274, meaning that their runs scored and allowed have been again heavily distorted by good fortune on balls in play, much as they were in april. this is to be compared to the milwaukee brewers, who have over the same span gone 27-25 while scoring 267 on a normal .298 babip but allowing 240 on a disadvantaged .306 babip.

how long can this last? in fact it may already by over -- the cubs have, after all, gone 4-3 in their last seven, scoring 32 and allowing 28. longer term, there's no intrinsic reason to think it should continue -- as noted previously, babip extremes show no permanence from half to half, and as much is very probably true from month to month. good examples are provided this year from the new york mets, whose extraordinary early season pitching babip has reverted to league mean and upward in subsequent months, and the florida marlins, who experienced the same phenomena to a lesser degree on the batting side. this is the normal course, and should serve as stark relief to drive home just how fortunate these cubs have been.

true to form, the cubs since the advent of august has returned to their previous struggles. the loss of alfonso soriano debilitated the already-weak offense, which has scored 4.42 a game (compared to a season-long 4.62). but the real story lay once again in the pitching, the absurd luck of which has been the focus here all season from very early on to just recently. i've waited for the other shoe to drop since april, and now in august it finally has -- a team babip allowed of .294, a very average and anticipatable figure, has left the cub staff exposed as the very mediocre group they were thought to be at the outset of the year, allowing 4.92 runs per contest and letting the club down to a 10-14 august record. jason marquis, ted lilly, sean marshall and (most particularly and surprisingly) carlos zambrano have all contributed to the falloff. as a result, as the graph attests, the cubs' trailing month run differential has sunk again near to the lows that provoked lou piniella's pathetic june tirade. since august 1 they've been the third-worst club in the nl, leading only florida and (fortunately) milwaukee.

and who has taken advantage?

the moribund cardinals exploded to life in august, finally bringing a tinderbox pitching staff under control for a few weeks to go 17-12 since july 26, second-best only to arizona. early struggles led some to write off the prolific cardinal offense, but it returned to respectability beginning in june and has in fact averaged 5.0 runs/game since may 30, putting it on par with milwaukee's scoring unit.

the trouble in missouri has been pitching, pitching, pitching -- early season disappointments from anthony reyes, adam wainwright and... well, if you can call kip wells' normal pitching a disappointment, count that too. but wainwright's babip-plagued start turned around, and he's been excellent since june. reyes' was a huge first-half washout with an 0-10 record and 6.40 era at the break with stints in the minors excluded -- but his ship has righted and then some since his july 28 recall. the typical walt jocketty magic has showed up in the person of joel piniero, who has somehow limited the damage quite nicely in his five starts. even wells has been good since returning from bullpen banishment to the rotation. it's all added up to a team era of 3.78 in august, which is finally a number the offense can overcome to win.

cardinal pitching is riding a .280 babip against in august, and the offense has strung together two consecutive surplus babip months as well -- so this club is every bit as capable of collapse as previously highflying may brewers or june/july cubs. but -- as with the cubs previously -- it really doesn't matter how they lucked their way into the race now that they're here.

for all the weirdness of the path they took to get here, these three clubs are perhaps as evenly matched going forward as most of us thought they would be in march. from a 130-game dead heat to thirty-odd games to decide it all, it's really down to who gets luckiest. the discrepencies we see in year-to-date run differential are affected heavily by differences in luck to date. cub pitching and, to a lesser extent, hitting has been quite fortunate on balls in play. brewer pitching and, again to a lesser extent, hitting has been almost equally unfortunate. the cardinal offense and defense have been luck-neutral in aggregate, but certainly carry the capricious advantage of momentum at this point.

given the analysis which i've been faithful to all year, in spite of their collapse to this point i would still have to handicap the milwaukee brewers still a slight favorite in spite of their small deficit to the cubs. but luck will surely be the determinant now between these three, and i've absolutely no window on dame fortune. i'm as optimistic about the near term as i've been at any point since the seventh inning of game six of the 2003 national league championship series -- and i'm looking forward to watching now as fate takes a hand and selects a winner to play in october.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cub Power outage

In Chicago, the summer of 2007 is gonna be remembered for Thusday's storms that ravaged both the city and suburbs causing widespread flooding, power outages and unthinkable damage to many homes and neighborhoods throughout the area.

The power outages throughout Chicagoland this week have been mimicked all season long at Clark and Addison. The Cubs offense has been not lived up to this winters offensive expectations all season. We have waited and waited for the power to be restored at Wrigley Field. Unlike the outages that hit our neighborhoods this past week, a ComEd crew ain't gonna be able to fix what ails the boys in blue.

If I had told you back in March that on August 26th Derrek Lee would have 14 homeruns, Aramis Ramirez 18, and Alfonso Soriano 18 and the Chicago Cubs would be in first place, you would have called me crazy. Hell, I might have checked myself into the asylum. But that is exactly where the Cubs powerful threesome stands with August dwindling. Even more surprising is beyond those three the Cubs don't have another hitter on the team with double digit homeruns.

It's great to see the Cubs scoring runs by putting together hits that create run scoring rallies. Through the years we have watched many bad Cubs teams hit tons of homeruns, and finish last. So I am not complaining that this team is winning without the long ball. It's just the occassional three run homer is a pretty nice weapon to win a baseball game every now and again.

The Cubs currently have 102 homeruns. Opponents have hit 136 against the Cubs. Even the famous Wrigley Field winds haven't helped the Cubs this summer. In a season that has saw the wind blow in 32 times at Wrigley Field, compared to 14 games blowing out (18 with a crosswind) opponents have hit 69 homers at the friendly confines compared to the Cubs who have hit just 57 at home. So much for home cooking.

As a team, their 102 homeruns rank 14th in the NL, they are 25th in MLB. Despite all of this the team has somehow found a way to play though the power outage. Much of the credit goes to the pitching. Still the hitters have done some damage too. The Cubs rank 7th in the NL in batting average, they rank 8th in runs scored, and they are 9th in OPS. Just think where one of these guys (Lee, Ramirez or Soriano) having an average year would put the team in the runs scored and OPS categories.

Through the first 128 games the Cubs are on pace to hit just 129 homeruns for the season. To put that into proper perspective, the last time a Cub team hit so few homeruns was the awful 1997 season. Remember how bad that club was? There was Mel Rojas, the 0-14 start, and 45 cent beers at Harry Caray's until they won a ballgame (remember those nights gm & v?). 1997 was so bad that at one point I bought three bleacher tickets from scalper for $5 total. I'm no mathemetician but that's $1.67 a ducat! LMAO. That's how bad that Cub team was. That my friends was one forgettable Cubs team and season.

With the return of Alfonso Soiano expected to come this week, possibly as early as Tuesday night, I continue to hope for an increase in the clubs power numbers. If somehow, magically, the power were restored at Wrigley Field it might be the final piece to the puzzle that will make us remember 2007 for more than just an unnamed storm that devastated Chicago on a Thursday afternoon in August.

Update: The playing suface at the Confines
It looks like regardless of what happens with the change in ownership that the club will proceed with having Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard install a much needed new playing surface at Wrigley Field, which will include a modern pumping system. Dave van Dyck with this in the Tribune:

Sadly, it's not the same at Wrigley, but that could change as soon as this winter. Plans to have Bossard replace the field at baseball's second-oldest park are just waiting for the OK to start in late October, or whenever the Cubs' season is finished. They could proceed even without approval of new ownership.

First the Z contract gets done and now the new field. Wow, looks like the spending freeze is on hold at Clark and Addison. I think Chuck is onto something with the Zell deal being dead.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Craig Monroe joins the mix

For the most part the young Cub players that Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry have called upon all year have produced. Still, when you head down the stretch run in the midst of a close division race it is nice to have veteran players who have won elsewhere. Back in 2003, Jim Hendry made a move after the July 31st deadline that brought first baseman Randall Simon to the Cubs. In August 1998 the Cubs picked up Gary Gaetti after he had been released by the Cardinals. During August 1989 Cub General Manager Jim Frey added third baseman Luis Salazar to the Cubs playoff run. Each of these deals at the time didn't seem like much. Each one of these players contributed to the Cubs making the postseason.

Today Jim Hendry made a move that he hopes will do the same as the moves listed above. Hendry added veteran outfielder Craig Monroe, who was DFA'd earlier this week by the Detroit Tigers. The 30 year old Monroe is an outfielder who is not even one year removed from a season that saw him hit 28 homeruns with 92 RBi for the AL Pennant winning Tigers. This year the slumping Monroe lost his starting leftfield spot to Marcus Thames:

The 30-year-old Monroe, who had lost his starting job in left field to Marcus Thames, was hitting only .222 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in 99 games.

Like several teammates, Monroe had recently been sidelined because of the flu. The Tigers have 10 days to trade, release or send him outright to the minors.

"He had a lot of big moments for us," Dombrowski said. "Craig has scuffled a little bit over the last couple of months. I think probably for him a change of scenery will be beneficial at this time. That's why it's with mixed emotions, because we like Craig and what he did for us."

Monroe batted .255 with 28 homers and 92 RBIs last year, then tied a franchise record by hitting five home runs in the postseason. He also tied for second among AL outfielders with 12 assists.

Monroe signed a one-year contract for $4,775,000 in the offseason, getting a raise from $2.8 million.

So Monroe comes to the Cubs and the expectations for him are pretty mild. He's gonna be asked to hit lefthanded pitching. Here's what Hendry and Piniella have to say:

"I think it gives us a good balance,'' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "It was just one of those situations where you couldn't pass up a guy who has already been there and helped lead a club to the postseason. We've had our ups and downs against lefties. It gives Lou some options here that we didn't have before by just adding one good batter against left-handed pitching.''

Monroe is hitting. 302 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 102 at-bats against lefties. The NL Central-leading Cubs are just 12-19 against lefties and are batting 20 points lower as a team than against right-handers.

Monroe is versatile, too, having played all three outfield positions.

"The teams that we're playing here all have left-handed starters in their rotation,'' Piniella said. "He's a valuable addition. He gives us more experience. This guy has been in postseason, hit five home runs last year in the postseason, played in the World Series. It's a good move by Jim to get us that bat.''

Housekeeping note: The comments are ALIVE again.

I'd like to apologie to all of you for the action that I took earlier in the week. The reasons speak for themselves. Hindsight is 20/20, I know I overreacted when I started moderating all of the comments. I apologie to those of you who come here to comment regularly. I also apologie to you who just stop by to read the comments. I am trying to correct the problems we had and make this a better place to comment. Due to what has happened, occassionally there will be comments deleted. No rules or any of that stuff, but as gm suggested earlier this week the crappy/unpopular blog will not be a 'champion of free speech' nor will it be a church.

On behalf of the crappy/unpopular, I'd like to thank any and all who stop by. Good comments sections make tiny blogs like this go. So thank you to all of you who take the time to comment. Sorry for the inconvenience from earlier this week. Now back to the irregular unscheduled blog...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Answer to the mystery

Update 11:06 AM 8/23
This place is basically dead to me and the reason is right here in this comment thread. Not Anonymous/TechnoHawk just had to bring up the Koyie Hill thing for, what must be, the 15,000 time. Jesus damn dancing Christ, how many times can one guy say the same thing?

We get it Techno, you think Koyie Hill is a big reason for the Cubs winning ways for a couple months. Can you now leave it alone? You've made your point and everyone understands your point. It just that most of us here don't agree with it to the degree you do and that isn't going to change no matter how many damn times you say it. Can you understand that? Repetition is getting you no where on this issue. So please, for the love of all that's decent, stop fucking repeating it ad nauseum.

And yes, we're still going to mock it if we feel like doing so. Learn to live with it.

Thunderclap Newman

We all know what killed, right? Sure we do. It's not due to "one mindless but determined assclown who can't quit masturbating over koyie hill" or any of the reasons put forth here.

It's dead due to our collective fear of TechnoHawk's vast baseball knowledge and Lord Kurt's promise of physical violence against those of us who don't allow him a pulpit to preach from.

End of Story.

Go Cubs. Go Man City. Go Bears. And yes JD, GO HAWKS!

on death and dying

while i think it might be premature to call it dead, this blog is certainly really ill. when it's gotten to the point where ccd and i are on the blower laughing about how we need to find different blogs to comment on because ours sucks, you know the well has been poisoned.

i once told al yellon that blogs work only by consensus, and that once the consensus is gone the place is dying. later that day he blocked my ip. i'm sure he thought at that time that he was proving me wrong -- but when cubbiejulie told him to fly a kite and took most of the interesting commenters with her, the truth of the principle was more effectively demonstrated. bcb has been a shell of itself since, even more quality deficient than it was previously.

and it's certainly proved true here too. turns out that one mindless but determined assclown who can't quit masturbating over koyie hill is all it takes to put what had previously steadily climbed in popularity to become the seventh-most-influential cub blog effectively out of commission -- for a while, if not forever.

the place might come back. if it does, i doubt it'll be as a champion of free speech, the limitations and drawbacks of which are now pretty clear. for my part, this isn't a church -- i favor loose rules, but there's no high principle to uphold here. if deleting comments and commenters with sharp and capricious prejudice suits pragmatism and convenience, so much the better. i really couldn't give a fuck about how the deleted feel, or if they feel at all.

but if it doesn't, i have a hard time believing the loss will be felt anywhere by anyone. a lot of interesting stuff about the cubs has been said here, some of it stuff that no one else says. what is that really worth?

anyway, i'm sure all this belongs in a comment and if there were any that's where it would be. if/when there is such a thing again, i'll move it there. until then, keep praying to the mother goddess babip and make sure your rally cap is handy.

Death of 1060 West

Good move, CCD. It was a few days overdue in my opinion.

Moment of silence for

Thank you!

Update: Speculation from elsewhere in blogland...

SS — August 21, 2007 @ 10:33 am

Man, I didn’t realize it had gotten that way. I haven’t been over there in a year. I would imagine a lot of the downfall on that site can be directly tied to the increase in popularity of this one.

Maddog — August 21, 2007 @ 10:39 am

I think they always had periodic issues with Kurt, but since TheHawk began posting over there, it’s become as chaotic as it was when he was here. He can ruin a thread all by himself. I think 1060 has gotten busier as well, SS. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet that it has. I think the sites that have not gotten busier are probably BCB, The Cub Reporter and NSBS.

I say, you decide for yourself.

Is Santos Sorrow correct? Did the popularity of ACB kill 1060 or is Maddog right in claiming that TechnoHawk and Lord Kurt chased people away.

Stay tuned for more on this murder mystery.

Update 1:07PM CDT - TechnoHawkMike believes that 1060 had a fork stuck in it by Maddog's return to commenting at the crappy/unpopular.

The twists and turns of this mystery are just amazing. AMAZING, I say! I bet you're all on the edge of your seat.

To Be Continued.....

Update 3:31 CDT - Gaius Marius speculates that we don't even have a dead body! The suspense continues to build.

Update - Commenter URK wonders if he can resuscitate the patient by lurking???

Sunday, August 19, 2007

And I wonder, still I wonder who'll stop the rain.

9:44 UPDATE: The game has been called. Makeup date TBA.

Today is still a good day Cub fans. The Cubs pickup a half game thanks to the Red Legs.

Mother nature is trying to win this one. She's pitching a shutout right now.

Chicago Weather Forecast and Conditions Illinois

If Mother Nature wins this one, the forecast for Monday doesn't look too inviting for a double dip.

What's up...all you fuckin' hammerheads?

Well I have finally completed a month long journey of moving my family from one state to the next. To all of you that have had to move because of work and uproot your family, you know what a nightmare it is.

Now that I'm settled in, I've finally had some time to see what's been going on here at 1060. A few observations...

It seems most of us have missed the boat on how resilient our boys in blue have been, even if we've occasionally had to throw shit at the TV on several occasions.

We all also misjudged the Trib. inking their 1st round pick and Big Z.

Milwaukee has been exposed with it seems even more warts than the Cubs.

St. Louis has been given a golden opportunity to be a player in the final months.

And finally, if die-hards fans can give Super Jock some love, surely gm and technostats can come to a peaceful resolution, right? If not, the only mature alternative would be for both combatants to lace up the hammerhead gear and go at it until someone cries Uncle.

All in all, it's sure nice for our favorite baseball team to be playing meaningful games this late in the season. Wish I could be back in Sweet Home Chicago for some of the absolute craziness that is going to take place if the Cubs make the post-season.

Much love from Vegas and Go Cubs Go, you fuckin' hammerheads!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The toast of wrigleyville

Has there been a more villified player in Cubdom than Jacque Jones the last two seasons? His poor start last season was not forgotten despite the fact that he actually finished with a good season. During the offseason he was rumored to have asked to be traded. That was followed by a horrendous first half that found Jones on the end of Lou Piniella's bench. Next he was nearly traded to the Marlins for nothing. That deal was nixed by someone (Selig, Zell, Hendry or McDonough). Slowly Piniella has gotten Jones back into the lineup. Jones has responded with improved play. And today...

Today the guy who was public enemy #1 the past season and a half in Cubdom became the hero. In the midst of the Cubs push for the NL Central, JJ single handedly beat (alright Rich Hill deserves a little love too) the hard charging, arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals. First in the fifth it was Jones with the leather:

Then in the sixth it was his bat:
Pictures above from the Chicago Tribune
The boos have turned into standing ovations. Baseball is sure a fickle and funny game. Way to go JJ!

Z signs a record multi-year deal

The deal that I thought would never get done. Is completed and was announced just a few minutes ago by Fox Baseball guru Ken Rosenthal:

The deal finally is done.

Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano has agreed to a five-year, $91.5 million contact extension, has learned.

The deal, which includes a $19.25 million player option for a sixth year, is the highest ever awarded to a pitcher on a multi-year contract.

The deal ends up costing the Cubs a little more than it would have back in April, when due to the sale of the team they pulled the deal off the table. On the other hand the deal cost them less both in dollars and (probably more importantly) years than it would have had he hit the free agent market this winter. So now with the future of TribCo and the ballclub up in the air, I guess they figured they'd better ink their franchise pitcher and arguably most popular player:

The original deal between Zambrano and the Cubs was worth slightly more than $80 million. But the sale of the team delayed the completion of an agreement, and since then Zambrano's price has emerged as a Cy Young contender, raising his price.

So now Big Z has been given the big contract that will allow him to grow fat and happy as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Funny that earlier in the week Piniella and Rothschild pleaded ignorance when questioned about Zambano's health. So I guess if the Cubs had concerns those were put to rest. I know that makes me feel better (GULP).

According to Paul Sullivan the press conference is scheduled for this morning. Hopefully with the contract behind him Z can go out and pitch the way he did in June and July. His next start will be Sunday night on the four-letters national coverage versus the rival Redbirds. We'll all see how he handles his emotions.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cubs and Reds Live 8/16/2007

Time for a new post. I seldom ever do, but what the hell.

Game time 1:20 PM; 720AM and WGN Channel 9

The Grand Marquis 9-7 4.18 ERA


Livingston Seagull 3-2 4.24 ERA

Any thoughts to getting Jose Offerman, he's been swinging the bat pretty well...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

a failure of fortune

the cubs have endured the loss of alfonso soriano pretty poorly on the whole, it would seem. he last played in game 110, and in the eight games since the team has gone 2-6.

how could one man be so important? if the cubs hadn't fielded soriano this year, would they really have played .250 ball from the get-go?

of course not. soriano is a big loss, and perhaps constituted some of the marginal run production i talked about when he was hurt. but what has happened to the cubs goes much further than his absence.

the club has scored just 3.88 runs per game in the eight tilts soriano has missed, but less appreciated is the fact that the team losing skid began before he left -- going back to game 107, the cubs are 3-9. the team offense in that span has scored a puny 4.00 runs per game. the culprit? not babip -- the club continued to tag a remarkable .308 average on balls in play -- but walks and power. with just 2.9 bb/g (down from a season average of 3.1, down 6%) and just 0.67 hr/g along with a .384 slugging output (down from 0.80 and .407, respectively, down 5%), run production has fallen 13% off the season-long pace. soriano's power is missed, perhaps, but the lineup should take more walks and run a higher obp without him in it.

but that's not even half of what has transpired. the pitching in this run has allowed 6.00 runs per game -- a figure no offense would win in spite of. and the reason? babip -- the cubs staff has been lit into for a .340 babip, which has ended up fuelling a 297/382/476 opposition batting line.

i wrote in the aftermath of soriano's injury:

poor slugging figures to be a more probable feature without soriano, and with that a heightened sensitivity to variations in babip. if the cubs, for whatever reason, don't receive in his absence the benefits that babip has granted them most of the year to date -- in the first 45 games and then most particularly in july -- august could be a very disappointing month for a cubdom that expects first place.

and here we are, unfortunately, seeing that babip-related disaster unfold. as you can see form the shaded regions of the 12-day babip differential graph, whenever this team has experienced anything like even a balanced babip -- luck-neutral, as it were -- is has generally played .500 or worse. we're seeing that again now.

the best examination yet into the role of defense in the nature of babip allowed was recently offered here by commenter goldwater. what i proposed qualitatively he has quantitatively confirmed -- the notion that sustainable cub defensive quality is the basis of its pitching babip outperformance doesn't hold water. this babip allowed is a characteristic much remarked on here as the foundation of the cubs success. now that we're seeing an episode of bad pitching luck and team babip neutrality, i at least hope it offers observational support for the concept we've discussed here so often -- even if i truly rue the runs allowed and the losses.

if this continues to be the case -- and indications are that something like babip neutrality is essentially what we should expect, in spite of what we've generally seen this season so far -- the cubs are going to have to count on yet worse disasters befalling milwaukee. so far, in fact they have. the brewers are 4-8 in august in large part because they are suffering under a 96-point babip deficit -- .272 for the offense and 4.42 rs/g, a shocking .368 for the pitching and 8.00 ra/g. (even if you remove the 17-run outlier of august 8, the brewer staff has still allowed 7.18 runs per game in the other 11!)

milwaukee is, put simply, a better ballclub than the cubs are under similar babip conditions (and have tolerated not babip parity but a significant deficit with a slightly better record) because they hit for vastly more power than do the cubs while fielding what would be, at babip parity, an equivalent or slightly superior quality of pitching. one has to pray that either disastrous luck continues to strike at milwaukee, the gods return the cubs to favor or both in the remaining six weeks if the cubs are going to cover their 1.5 game deficit.

Zoned In

Last week there was a rather lengthy discussion about defense and defensive stats here on the crappy/unpopular. As a followup to that, 1060west commenter Goldwater was kind enough to put together the following post and spreadsheet concerning zone rating and how it applies to the 2007 Cubs. Below is what Goldwater found:

Gaius Marius has gone to great lengths arguing here that the Cubs have been very lucky with regard to the outcome of balls in play. I took issue with that notion, as it seemed perfectly obvious to me that the Cubs defense was simply doing a better job than most at converting batted balls into outs. While I maintain that stance, as GM has pointed out, luck and good defense are virtually indistinguishable, speaking statistically.

I thus set out to see whether we can find evidence of luck in defensive metrics. Defensive statistics have been much maligned, and rightfully so, but I think that we can glean some useful information from them, so, let’s inject some numbers into the debate.

I took a look at the zone ratings over at The Hardball Times . Essentially, these ratings

  1. assign zones of the field to each defender
  2. record the number of balls hit into those zones (BIZ) and plays made on those balls for each defender
  3. Record the number of plays made by each defender outside of his zone.

The difficulty in interpreting these ratings is that each position seems to cover its own zone at vastly different rates. In attempts to circumvent this, Justin Inaz has developed a formula for deriving the number of plays each position player makes relative to the average defender, a “+/-.“ Essentially, available data (2004-2007) is used to calculate an average rating for each position. Based on the number of balls hit to your favorite defender, we can see how many he converted to outs relative to the average at his position. The interesting part is that a “+/-“ can be calculated for each player based both within his assigned zone (IZ), and outside of that zone (OOZ). For example, if a player is +20 IZ, it indicates that based on the number of balls hit to his zone, he has made 20 more plays than the average defender at that position.

If the Cubs have simply been very fortunate defensively, we might expect to players very high IZ +/- (due to balls being hit right at people, or softly, candy hops, etc...), while subsequently seeing poor OOZ +/- (due to poor range, Ramirez’s lackadaisical attitude, etc…).

I have calculated this +/- data for the Cubs this year. All values are relative to the average position player between the 2004-2007 with a couple of changes:

  1. I used outfielder data only for 2006-2007, as the 2004-2005 numbers are skewed relative to these. I’m almost certain that changes to the OF zone rating system were instituted after 2005, but I will look into this further.
  2. I used only 2007 data for first baseman, as there seems to be a disconnect here also. Using the 2004-2007 data, all 1B in 2007 are significantly (> 10 plays OOZ) below average.

A couple of results are evident from the data:

  1. There does appear to be a significant distinction between the way the Cubs have handled their own zones vs. the areas just outside those zones. I conclude from this that the Cubs have indeed been lucky with regard to the outcome of balls in play. While the IZ, OOZ discrepancy may not be an ironclad indicator of BABIP luck, the key is that we see significant deviations from the average defense in both directions (+53.2, -38.6).
  2. The Mets are a useful comparison here in that, like the Cubs, they have a low BABIP. Unlike the Cubs, however, they have a number of players known for outstanding defense. The Mets are +71.8 IZ, +16.7 OOZ; they have played significantly better than average both in and out of their zones.
  3. If we simply combine the total “+/-“ for plays in and out of the Cubs’ zones, we find that the Cubs have made ~15 plays that the average team would not have. This amounts to about five points of BABIP, so obviously the translation is far from seamless, though I think useful nonetheless.

Lets hope the Cubs can leg out this pennant race, but lets just say I’m not as optimistic as when I began to look at the data.


Below is the data that Goldwater used:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

credit shocks rocking tribco's boat

please pardon my paucity of posting (absurd alliteration, anyone?) in the last week or two but the office is making unreasonable (read: normal) demands. and i can even find a cubs angle for it:

One estimate is that at least half of the risky subprime deals have yet to surface, indicating much more bad news is on the way. But the second issue is of perhaps even greater concern: What are the long-term problems that could be created by the unwinding of a "massive pipeline" of existing leveraged buyout and other restructuring deals written in the last few months and predicated on pricing assumptions that no longer hold true? Many of these corporate deals were "priced aggressively or with risky structures, and it is impossible to get these deals done now. There is no acceptance for that type of risk," Gordon said.

"The markets have shut down" as investors wait for risk to be repriced,” he said, noting that the overhang is "billions of dollars in bridge loans" that have not yet been funded. The result? "We have seen this drag down markets that are fundamentally very sound, especially commercial real estate and the financial sector."

one of those lbo deals which was "priced aggressively or with risky structures" is none other than the tribune's sale to sam zell. i've not heard a word about it specifically -- but with credit conditions seeming to worsen daily in spite of central bank repos on the order of the gross national product of argentina, the completion of the deal is more questionable now than three weeks ago.

UPDATE: actually, now i have heard a word about it, however ill-founded but well-reasoned.

Shares in The Tribune Company (TRB) are off almost 4% today to $24.57. The price promised for an LBO lead by Sam Zell is $34.

The deal is now likely to die, in which case the public shareholders can hang onto the company, probably with the stock falling further.

Or, Zell can renegotiate in much the same way the the buyers of Home Depot (HD) Supply have. The debt needs to deal of this kind has simply gotten too expensive.

Zell's best bet may be to walk. Dow Jones (DJ) announced yesterday that ad lineage at The Wall Street Journal fell almost 21%.

And, Zell can read the papers.

Roster tinkering continues: Fox, Pignatiello up

The shuttle between Des Moines and Chicago continues. Trib beat reporter Paul Sullivan over at the Chicago Tribunes baseball blog--HardBall is reporting the latest roster moves by Jim Hendry and the Cubs:

The tinkering continues Tuesday at Wrigley Field when the Cubs call up left-hander Carmen Pignatiello and outfielder Jake Fox from Triple-A Iowa in time for tonight's game against Cincinnati.

Pignatiello, from Providence High in New Lenox, is 1-0 with a 2.72 earned-run average, with 41 strikeouts and 13 walks in 46 1/3 innings.

Fox, who is making his second stint with the Cubs, hit three home runs in a game last week. He's hitting .328 at Iowa with five homers and 13 RBIs and has 23 homers overall with Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

AZ Phil over at The Cub Reporter speculates that the move that will be made with Pignatiello coming up is right hander Sean Gallagher will make his way back to Iowa. That makes sense to me. Although, that move would once again leave lou Piniella without a long man. Hopefully the Cubs can make it another few weeks to September 1 without a long man then they can expand their rosters. The corresponding move with Jake Fox is a little less clear. Sullivan speculates that Eric Patterson who has seen little time since his callup last week will be sent down.

Thus begins a very important week and stretch for the Cubs. This week the Cubs will welcome division rivals Cincinnati and St. Louis to the Friendly Confines. The Cubs are also beginning a period where they will play 17 of their next 21 ballgames at Wrigley Field, 13 of those 17 home games are against NL Central foes. With only a month and a half to go every game is now imprortant for this club. Here ae the current divisional and wildcard standings:

Central W L PCT GB
Milwaukee 62 56 .525 -
Chicago 60 57 .513 1.5
St. Louis 55 60 .478 5.5
Houston 53 65 .449 9.0
Cincinnati 50 67 .427
Pittsburgh 49 67 .422

The Cubs elimination number in the division is 44.

San Diego 63 54 .538 -
Philadelphia 62 55 .530 1.0
Atlanta 62 56 .525 1.5
Colorado 61 56 .521 2.0
Chicago 60 57 .513 3.0
Los Angeles 60 58 .508 3.5
St. Louis 55 60 .478 7.0

The Cubs elimination number in the Wildcard is 43.

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to see the Cubs easiest route to October baseball is going to be catching Milwaukee and taking the NL Central. Yeah the Cubs are only 3.0 out in the wildcard but they have to pass 4 teams to get to the top of those standings. Take care of the Brewers and hold off the Cardinals and the Cubs should find there way to the tournament.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Closer by Committee?

This from the Trib:

DENVER -- When Lou Piniella got Ryan Dempster to warm up in the seventh inning of Friday night's game at Coors Field, Bob Howry was scratching his head.

"In all honesty, I thought maybe he forgot what inning it was," Howry said with a laugh.

Dempster wound up pitching the ninth, but Piniella said Saturday that he'll use both Howry and Carlos Marmol as the Cubs' closer at times, sharing the role with Dempster.

Piniella said Dempster isn't throwing as well as he did before a trip to the disabled list. "And how do you get it back? By getting work. And sitting in the closer's role, how many times can you work? So I talked to him, and he's very agreeable to it. He's a good team guy.

"So you can see him in the seventh, you can see him in the eighth, you can see him in the ninth. He needs more work, and in the closer's role, you don't always get it. We'll use him in the late-inning mix with the other two. Sometimes he'll close. Sometimes we'll get him in there sooner."

Piniella refused to call it a closer-by-committee.

"Look, you can call it anything you want," he said. "But the fact is we can close with any of those three pitchers, and probably with Howry over Marmol because of the experience, and he's throwing the ball exceedingly well."

Lou can call it whatever he wants, but if this is the plan, then it is by all means a closer-by-committee. Not that anyone should be surprised he refuses to call it that. The closer-by-committee is an idea that hasn’t been received very well in the baseball community. In theory, it’s a strategy that should work quite well-- playing percentages and matchups rather than being handcuffed to a designated ninth inning man. Unfortunately, in the rare instances it’s been utilized in recent years, it has yielded middling results at best.

However, I think Lou is on the money with this call.

Ryan Dempster has his merits as a pitcher. For one, he’s been extremely effective against right-handed batters throughout his career-- since 2005 they’ve hit a meager .218/.296/.290 against him. And a relief pitcher who strikes out better than 8 batters per nine innings certainly has his uses. However, his work against lefthanders (.286/.394/.401 since ’05), and shaky command (4.56 BB/9 since ’05) make him a poor candidate to close games. The Cub blogosphere has been aware of this for quite some time now. In fact, it was just a couple months ago I advocated taking advantage of market misconceptions by dealing an overrated Dempster. At the time I realized it was highly unlikely that the Cubs would make such a deal. But my biggest point was that Dempster simply was not a good fit as a closer. In light of his recent struggles (8IP, 13H, 8BB, 5.63 ERA since activation from the DL) the Cubs finally decided to make a change.

For my money, Bob Howry is the Cubs’ best ninth-inning option. As a closer, pitching with a small margin of error is part of the job description. As a result, the most important traits of a closer are a strong strikeout rate, walk rate, and HR rate. The only Cubs reliever who possesses all three of these traits is Howry. Over the course of the past ten years, Howry has accumulated a 7.73 K/9, 3.00 BB/9 (2.17 BB/9 ’04-’06), and a 0.97 HR/9. Howry’s K rate might be a tick lower than you’d like in a closer, but his walk and HR rates are nothing short of elite. Since seeing his BABIP normalize in a big way, Howry has been extremely effective.

The X-factor in the discussion is Carlos Marmol. Since he burst onto the scene earlier this year, many Cub fans have been wondering if Marmol could be the answer at closer. With a staggering 12.38 K/9, and 1.83 ERA, you could hardly blame anyone for at least suggesting he could do it. Unfortunately, after walking only 16 batters in his first 32 2/3 IP, Marmol’s walk rate has predictably regressed much closer to his minor league walk rate of 3.9 BB/9. At 4.47 BB/9, his control is hardly better than Dempster’s, if at all.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how Lou plays this one out. I know I’ll be paying close attention to who exactly these guys get matched up against. But of course, this will all be one big moot point if the Cubs keep playing the way they have lately.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Waiver rules Q & A

Since the loss of Alfonso Soriano to injury on Sunday night, there has been a lot of talk this week about Jim Hendry claiming players on waivers and working on a waiver trade or two. A few days ago we heard that Hendry had claimed Shannon Stewart from the Oakland A's, next it was reported he claimed Peter Pan himself Scott Podsednik from the Sox, and finally ESPN-1000's Bruce Levine reported Hendry made a claim on Casey Blake from the Tribe. What does all of this mean exactly? And how do waivers work? Let's take a look:

Q: What is 'waivers'?
A: Rob Neyer over on the 4-letter explains it pretty well:
Waivers just might be the most complicated single aspect of the rules. In the rule book, a waiver is defined as "... a permission granted for certain assignments of player contracts or for the unconditional release of a Major League player ..."

If a player placed on Major League waivers is not claimed by another team during the three business days after waivers have been requested, then the players is said to have "cleared waivers," and the team has secured waivers for the remainder of the waiver period.

And what does that mean? Essentially, the team can do with the player's contract as it pleases. This generally means one of three things:

(1) They can send him to the minors (subject to his consent, if he's a "Veteran Player," more on that below).

(2) They can release him, which makes the player a free agent and thus available to sign with any team.

(3) They can trade him to another team, even if the so-called "trading deadline" has passed. Any trades made after July 31 may only involve players who have cleared waivers.

If a player doesn't clear waivers -- in other words, if he's claimed by another team or teams -- the club requesting waivers may withdraw the waiver request.

If the club doesn't withdraw the waiver request, the player's contract is assigned in the following manner:

(A) If only one claim is entered, the player's contract is assigned to that claiming club.

(B) If more than one club in the same league makes claims, the club currently lower in the standings gets the player.

(C) If clubs in both leagues claim the player, preference shall always go to the club in the same league as the club requesting waivers.

There are other, more esoteric rules involved here. For example, during the first 30 days of the season, the previous season's final standings are used to determine claim order, rather than the current standings.

Q: So how do Waiver Trades happen?
A: The guys over at gave a pretty good synopsis of this last year:
Any player can be put on waivers by his team, and the player does not need to be informed.

Other teams have the chance to make a claim on the player during a 47 hour window.

If the player is claimed, the team that placed him on waivers has the option of pulling him back. If the team pulls him back they can't trade him for 30 days.

If his team decides not to pull him back:

Option 1: His team can work out a trade with the team that claimed him. Any player involved in the trade who is on a 40 man roster must go through waivers first.

Option 2: His team can just dump him and his salary on the team that claimed him, getting no player in return.

Option 3: No one claims him, and his team is free to trade him to any team.

If more than one team places a claim on a player, the winning claim is awarded based on worst record or the league the claiming team is in.

Q: Clear as mud, hah?
A: Glad I could help.

That's More Like It

Last night the Cubs won their first game since Alfonso Soriano was placed on the disabled list, snapping a four game losing streak at the hands of the Rockies. It was a laugher in Colorado, and boy did this team need it in the worst way. The Cubs jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the top half of the second and never looked back. When the fat lady finished her song, the Cubs had scored 10 runs to Colorado’s 2, on the strength of 16 hits. Every starting position player in the lineup collected at least one base hit, with the exception of the slumping Derrek Lee, who is now just 2 for his last 22 at the plate.

D- Lee aside, there are a lot of positives to take out of last night’s game. With Milwaukee idle, the Cubs moved to within a half game of first place. More importantly, they looked good doing it.

The riot went 2 for 4 from the dish, and is now 8 for 18 since taking over the top spot in the lineup. Needless to say, Alfonso Soriano will be missed dearly for the rest of this month, but for the time being I won’t mind seeing Theriot hit leadoff. With his patient, contact oriented approach, he really does fit the leadoff mold to a tee. I have heard from a lot of different people all year that Theriot should’ve been hitting first from Day 1. While I have never been a huge fan of Soriano leading off, I can’t honestly say I was one of those people. In fact, I think now would be a pretty good time to cop to the fact that I’ve never been a big Theriot fan. As a matter of fact, I could probably be quoted as saying that he would be a bench player at best. Obviously there is a lot of baseball yet to be played, but at this point it would appear as though I have been proven wrong in a big way. Hopefully he can keep this up and continue to be the Cubs’ version of David Eckstein. While it’s unlikely that upon Soriano’s return Theriot will continue to hit leadoff, that isn’t necessarily because it’s the right thing to do.

In his first start since returning to the big club, Felix Pie doubled twice, hopefully buying a little bit longer of a leash with Sweet Lou (one of those doubles was a near HR to the deepest part of cavernous Coors Field). With Felix taking over CF, Jacque Jones found himself back in RF where he is probably more comfortable. Maybe that had something to do with him going 4 for 5 with 4 ribbies.

Rounding out the outfield, Matt Murton homered for his second time since being recalled from Iowa. I know most readers here aren’t big Murton fans, but it’s worth mentioning that along with the 2 homers, he’s hit .320 since his promotion. I’ve been saying since Opening Day that Murton belongs in our starting lineup. Obviously things haven’t gone well for him this year, but I really think that has more to do with his sporadic playing time than anything else. At the very least, Murton can, in my humble opinion, out hit Cliff Floyd—or Shannon Stewart for that matter—right now. That’s if he sees consistent ABs. And given how badly we’ll need offense in the absence of Alfonso Soriano (and Aramis Ramirez?) that’s more important than anything else—even if it means putting up with his defense (which, as long as he’s in LF, isn’t that bad in my opinion).

Back to last night, Jason Kendall also got in on the action in a big way, going 3 for 5, including an RBI triple. Don’t look now, but since coming to Chicago, Kendall has hit .304, and has been his usual self drawing plenty of walks, while catching a solid game. While the writers at this page weren’t exactly thrilled with the acquisition of our declining catcher, GM made a money call on Kendall bouncing back. This from the comments thread following the Kendall trade:

Why do I sense a GM babip examination of Kendall's offensive year thus far?

GM: only because you asked (insert name of 1060 frequenter we have all come to know and love).

kendall is ytd .243 babip on 18.7% linedrives -- he really should improve. note too that his ld% is a few percent low for him.

this is a guy who is still capable of hitting 270/330/320 the rest of the way -- no power, but he catches without being a total liability with the stick. you just can't say that about bowen, hill or soto at this point, regardless of what you believe may be true in time.

Depending on your point of view, GM’s statement may have actually been more of stating the obvious. But of course, there are still plenty of readers here who still don’t buy the idea that BABIP tells you anything. That last bit is dedicated to those people.

Once again, back to the game. Not only was the offense in high gear last night, but the pitching was good too. Ted Lilly battled through some early control issues, (I thought Ed Montague’s strike zone was inconsistent) but finished with a strong 6 innings of work en route to his 13th victory of the season. After Lilly, Kerry Wood (3 scoreless appearances since coming off the DL. Keep your fingers crossed.), Carlos Marmol, and Bob Howry combined for 3 hitless/scoreless innings of relief.

All things considered, I think it’s fair to say that last night’s victory possibly got the proverbial monkey off the Cubs’ backs. With the past few days going about as bad as they possibly could have, I’m obviously trying to point out positives. But with that said, one win does not fix everything. Yes, the Cubs picked up a half game on Milwaukee. And yes, it’s possible that last night will serve as the catalyst to a new winning streak. Hopefully that will be the case. But it‘s questionable as to whether or not the Cubs will continue to score runs like they did last night. You have to take into account that last night’s starter wasn’t exactly Jake Peavy. Also, the two errors Colorado’s normally sure handed defense made certainly had a hand in last night’s blowout. If the run scoring struggles resurface tomorrow, we’ll all just have to hope Milwaukee continues to play as poorly as they have of late. And pray long and hard that Aramis Ramirez does not need to go on the DL.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Thread

Thought one might be needed.

Shannon Stewart - guh, what for?

The mighty Daryle Ward will be back soon to save us and the Cubs will again have a 8-sided platoon in RF.

Carry on...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the role of defense in babip

it was pointed out in the comments to my last thread that i've done very little to address explicitly the potential role of good defense in suppressing the babip allowed for the 2007 club. of course i've been broadcasting about this anomalous babip since the first month of the season, and warning about how the club might perform if its good fortune in this respect runs out. what if, it was proffered, the anomaly isn't luck at all -- but instead the effect of great defense converting balls in play into outs at accelerated rates?

this is an effect i examined and dismissed very early on, but have made little noise about. so i'll collect my comments from that thread here a a means of explaining my conclusion.

are the cubs a good defensive team?

it has been pointed out that, by several statistical measures, the cubs look to be an excelent defensive ballclub in 2007. but the difficulty with using current statistics to measure this is that virtually all defensive statistics are deeply interrelated in with babip -- luck and good defense are virtually indistinguishable, speaking statistically. zone ratings, for example -- the fate of the balls in any zone is a product of both luck and skill. which is it this season? i don't think there's any metrical way (that i've seen) to tell.

to my way of thinking, the only reliable way to discern excellent defensive players is through long sample size. the poor zone rating of derrek lee at first in 2007 is a spot of evidence demonstrating the vicissitude of defensive metrics over shorter spans, precisely because luck trumps skill.

so when we look at the cubs' defensive lineups, how many longtime and/or expected standout defensive players do we see?

michael barrett caught half the games for this club, and koyie hill many of the rest. of course, catchers have precious little to do with balls in play, so we can ignore them for now.

mark derosa, mike fontenot and ryan theriot have manned second -- none of them are defensive standouts. examine these players' davenport translations and pecota cards. derosa has managed just 4 fielding runs above average in 170 career games at second base. fontenot was a substandard second baseman throughout the last few years in the minors. theriot was a deficient shortstop and at best an average second baseman.

aramis ramirez has played three-quarters of the reps at third. is he defensively good? he never has been. is he suddenly now? it makes me laugh a bit that the same communities that have decried aramis' obvious defensive shortcomings for years has suddenly been converted into believing that he's really good. he plays third because he can do so plausibly if tenuously while he hits, and if he looks competent in the field over any span it is very likely the product of chance.

theriot and cesar izturis have split short. that's very probably a sub-par defensive platoon. izturis won a gold glove once, but following on leg injury problems that began while playing for the los angeles dodgers was at best an average shortstop and probably not even that good. from 2004 to his trade to pittsburgh, izturis generated (-5) fraa in 248 games.

alfonso soriano in left is a strange figure. are people convinced that he is a good outfielder? i think a case can be made for and against -- lots of assists, in part because teams consistently challenge his arm, but many errors for a left fielder. (in fact, soriano has as many errors as adam dunn in left since the beginning of 2006. consider that for a moment.) the balance to me seems to favor adequacy, not excellence.

jacque jones, felix pie and angel pagan have split center three ways. one can make a case for solidity here but hardly excellence. jones has been long considered a slightly-better-than-average outfielder in spite of his errant arm. pie will hopefully become an even better centerfielder than he is today, as he currently is left to run through many of his mistakes. but he was excellent in limited playing time. pagan has been merely average in center.

cliff floyd, jones and matt murton have split right three ways. all three are problematic. floyd can't run, jones can't throw and murton can't do either.

this, on balance, is a club with fielding flaws but one which certainly could be worse. derrek lee is unquestionably a very good first baseman, and makes his questionable infield somewhat better by saving their errant throws. the decency in center mitigates some of the flaws in the corners. the assessment of the club as fairly average overall comports well with the fact that it places 7th in old-fashioned team fielding percentage. further shooting a hole in the notion that the cubs are a really good defensive club is the fact that they are 16th of 16 in assists. the cubs are a low-chances team by virtue of its pitching leading the nl in strikeouts, but the club obtains assists at a league-low rate of 25.4% of chances.

could even a very good defensive club suppress babip significantly?

it should be noted that this is a point quite aside from the argument over whether or not the cubs are any good in the field, which is certainly arguable in its own right. can we find clear examples of really good defensive clubs? and what are their babip allowed trends?

this season's clear defensive standout team is the colorado rockies. they are the nl-low in errors (46) in spite of being 3rd in chances. the also lead the nl in assist-to-chances ratio at 29.5%. they're starting yorvit torreabla, todd helton, kaz matsui, willy taveras and brad hawpe -- all with multiseason histories of being superlative defenders.

their babip against is .298. factoring out coors field by taking only the away split, it's .291.

next best is probably san diego. third-least errors (62) on the most chances, second-highest assist-to-chances ratio (28.3%). the club stars adrian gonzalez, marcus giles, mike cameron and minor league defensive standout kevin kouzmanoff.

team babip allowed: .287. however, they play in petco park, which is as much a babip aid as coors is a babip hindrance. their away split: .297.

this can go on and on. i've looked at several further examples from past seasons -- 2006 houston, 2006 colorado, 2006 san diego, 2005 atlanta, 2005 houston, 2005 saint louis, 2004 dodgers, the 2004 and 2003 phillies, 2003 saint louis -- and can see no measurable ability of obviously good defensive clubs to seriously mitigate babip.

could the effect exist in theory? yes, certainly. does it exist in reality? probably. is it significant enough to be measurable? no -- and certainly isn't significant enough to explain what has happened to the 2007 cubs.

indeed, in this broader analysis, it becomes clearer that in fact the defensive metrics that are commonly used to claim the cubs are a good defensive team -- all of which are closely tied to the fate of balls in play -- are in fact as heavily distorted by a year of very good fortune as pitching runs allowed has been. they are not evidence of defensive quality; they are merely another symptom of the good luck the 2007 cubs have experienced.

some have even deigned to use defensive efficiency -- which is merely one less team pitching babip allowed -- to claim that the cubs are defensively solid. this is a deeply confused assessment of team defense which presumes that babip is predominantly a measure of the efficiency of a team's skill in converting balls in play into outs.

babip is in fact merely a measure of the fate of balls in play. to what extent does that fate have to do with defense? and to what extent do the varying qualities of team defenses explain variations in that fate? those are the more salient points, and the presumed answer (that good defense is very significant on both counts) is almost surely wrong. as we have seen, even very good defenses do very little to significantly suppress babip in contrast to poor ones.

in summary, i hope this better explains this important ancillary point regarding the 2007 cubs' team babip distortion, which has been by far the most notable, radical and important deviation from expected performance in this season. it is perhaps unfortunate that it coincides with the cubs' luck in this regard finally starting to show cracks. in the 21 games going back to july 17, the cub staff has allowed a league-normal .295 babip -- but in that time allowed just 86 runs (4.10 ra/g). the club is 10-11 in that stretch.

but that also includes the more recent sample of the last 13 games -- .326 babip against, .277 batting average allowed, 61 runs allowed (4.69 ra/g) and a 5-8 record. with soriano out for what now appears to be 4-6 weeks, the club is perhaps least able to withstand a bout of genuinely bad luck on balls in play. let's hope it doesn't come.

Monday, August 06, 2007

surviving soriano

the cubs lost to tom glavine's mets on sunday night to yield glavine's 300th career win and fall to 8-8 in their last 16 games. but perhaps the more important loss was of alfonso soriano.

Soriano underwent an MRI on Sunday night.

"He's not going to be out there any time soon," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It's probably going to be a minimum of two weeks and probably as long as a month."

a month is more than half the remaining season, which is of course a serious problem for a team struggling to catch its division leader. the cubs have not been a great offensive club -- standing 8th in the nl in runs scored per game at 4.65 -- and particularly lacking in power, slugging just .410 as a team. soriano is the club's home run leader with 18 though he is also third in slugging at .511, behind aramis ramirez (.548) and derrek lee (.516), and is clearly the key cog he was intended to be when he was signed.

there seems little question that the loss of soriano damages an already problematic offense. to what effect is the question, and that remains to be seen. the club had plated just 4.25 runs per outing in the last 16 with a .308 babip and .378 slugging, backing off the torrid pace of the previous 23 during which they scored 5.39 a game on the solitary pillar of an unsustainable .332 babip aside a .408 slugging number. that spate of luck gone and further minus its leader in runs scored (74), the cub offense could be seriously impaired for the next few weeks without some good fortune. what little power it has is highly concentrated in a few players; the loss of any one of them could make a major impact.

something that's underrepresented in these discussions is the marginal difference that really separates winners from losers in baseball. adding up expected vorp or winshares of a team is one way to take the measure of a club, and it's clearly not without its virtues. but winning and losing is done at the margins -- that is, runs scored are most valuable to a club when they're the runs that put them over their runs allowed. that's a blindingly self-evident statement, perhaps -- that the tenth run of a 10-1 win doesn't mean as much as the fourth run of a 4-3 win -- but its ramifications are not always well represented in analyzing ballclubs.

soriano will be replaced in the lineup by some combination of matt murton and eric patterson, and that will represent some falloff in expected vorp. but the loss may be felt much more acutely for the cubs than it would be for a club that was either so good as to not miss those runs or so bad as to not benefit much from them. does soriano represent something like these marginal runs? maybe we're about to find out.

what it all means for the playoff hunt, however, will depend on the pitching as well as the offense. the cubs have benefitted all season from one of the best performing starting staffs in baseball. i've argued contentiously that much of that outperformance has been a fluke -- the product of unusually good luck on balls in play. indeed, i don't think the team has experienced the bad luck on balls in play which afflicts most teams at some point in a typical year over any significant stretch yet.

over the last 16, however, the cubs pitching staff has allowed a .313 babip against. it's translated into just 4.13 runs allowed per contest, but that may not hold -- and it may not be enough if the offense is both hampered by soriano's loss and not especially lucky.

we're left to guess somewhat as to what this club would really perform like with normal pitching luck on balls in play. i've looked at the 12-game babips in an effort to isolate the fleeting occurrences that we've seen this year so far.

when the pitching hasn't been lucky, the club generally hasn't played its best baseball, including just recently. neither is there perfect correlation, of course, between periods of bad luck and poor performance -- results in baseball depend on a lot more than pitching babip, after all, or even overall team babip differential (that is, offensive less defensive babip). the period of poor performance in games 69-80, for example, clearly had nothing to do with babip, wich was actually quite beneficial. (nor with slugging, as the club hit for more power than normal in that same run.) this is not an all-comprehensive model of the baseball universe.

but it should not be ignored that the club's low point this year came in the only period this season during which the club experienced a negative impact from babip, offensive and defensive, while also slugging quite poorly.

projecting recent past into distant futurepoor slugging figures to be a more probable feature without soriano, and with that a heightened sensitivity to variations in babip. if the cubs, for whatever reason, don't receive in his absence the benefits that babip has granted them most of the year to date -- in the first 45 games and then most particularly in july -- august could be a very disappointing month for a cubdom that expects first place.