Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Cubs-Shields Rumors are Now Real

On Tuesday, I suggested that James Shields and the Chicago Cubs could make a good fit -- especially given that Shields's price has reportedly goen down. Well now we can spice those hypotheticals up with some real ol' fashioned rumors. David Kaplan of CSN Chicago (hat tip to MLB Trade Rumors) is saying the Cubs are doing some tire kicking with Shields.

What does this mean?

I think we can now ink Shields into the No. 2 spot in the rotation. Also, let's print up the Chicago Cubs 2015 World Champs tee shirts now. I mean, after all, it is 2015...

We can always dream, can't we?

IT'S HAPPENING!!!1!!111!!!11!1!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What About Signing James Shields and Then Just Never Giving Up a Run Ever Again?

On MLB Trade Rumors, Jeff Todd had a great article about how James Shields has basically out-waited his market. And while the Cubs have an excellent pitching staff right now, I cannot think of many good reasons for Chicago to not dig a little deeper and snare one of the best right-handers in the game.

So, here's the rotation at present:

SP Jon Lester
SP Jake Arrieta
SP Jason Hammel
SP Kyle Hendricks

And one of:

SP Tsuyoshi Wada
SP Travis Wood
SP Felix Doubront
SP Jacob Turner

This is the first time in a long time the Cubs had five legitimate competitors for the 5th rotation spot. Personally, I think Tsuyoshi Wada has a good chance to go Hisashi Iwakuma on us, so I'm pulling for him and Jacob Turner this Spring Training. But what if both Wada and Turner went to the bullpen? I think they'd both make killer relievers -- until need pressed them back into the rotation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ernie Banks, the Cubs Greatest Hitters, and Javier Baez

Here's Ernie at the tender age of 24. (source)
It's not just that Ernie Banks was a great baseball player or that he was a long-time member of the Cubs; it's that he was both. That's why he mattered so much.

And he brought a measure of joy to a business that can still feel like a game sometimes. That's the kind of player that makes watching baseball fun and working in baseball easy. All this leaves a bigger empty space without him.

By my count, only four people are still alive on that list of all-time great Cubs hitters. I think that's both a testament to the age of the franchise, and the paucity of great players recently. As comparison, the Red Sox have 7 of their top 11 hitters still alive and kicking.

In other news: Joe Maddon's advice to Javier Baez is both (1) typical of Joe Maddon and (b) just amazing:
"He's trying way too hard," Maddon said. "I want him to back off. The last thing I want him to do is try to impress me tonight. ... I said, 'Hit a couple singles and, above all, I want to see you smile.'"
I wrote about Baez for the 2015 Hardball Times Annual, and basically I said: Holy crap, this kid is off to a very scary start. He was striking out like a tee-ball kid in bad need of sports glasses.

I think/hope Maddon is the right guy to get Baez on track, and fast.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Jimmy Clausen is Better Than Jimmy Clausen

The Chicago Bears have decided to bench Jay Cutler heading into this Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. Former second-round draft pick Jimmy Clausen will be getting his first start since 2010. And this kind of typifies the response from the media and fans:

Welp, he's worse than Blake Bortles; let's shut it down; all hope is lost.

But seriously: Let's be smart about this. Jay Cutler is not terrible -- at least statistically. He's around a 55 QBR, which is just a tick above average. Of course, scouting sources like Pro Football Focus (PFF) have rated him among the worst QBs this season -- maybe in part due to fumblitis, but it's hard to say.

Either way, the offense has been terrible, hasn't broken into 30-point territory, and now Jimmy is starting. What can we expect?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GRAPHIC: Jay Cutler's Rapidly Deteriorating Season

Click to Embiggen.
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

- T.S. Eliot, suspected Bears fan

At a time like this, it is easy to lose one's faith. At least one's faith in Jay Cutler.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bears Defensive Stats Update

Last week I laid out a simple paradigm for estimating the quality of an NFL defense. I said I was predicting the Bears defense, but really the formula is regression based and therefore backwards looking (like SIERA, for the baseball-inclined) rather than forward looking or predictive (like ZiPS or Oliver, which are actual prediction models).

Anyway, this last Sunday, the Bears defense looked intermittently strong and floppy, but all told, the Bears won despite only moderate help from the offense. So how did the defense do?

Team Y/P Start Point*
Chicago Bears 5.9 34.2 34±7

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Predicting the Bears Defense

Last Sunday's loss to the Bills stung. More than anything, I was bummed to see so little of Jared Allen, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman -- the veterans who I expected would at least perform up to recent standards. (Of course, of those three, Tillman not having any big plays could very well be just him having a solid game and pushing plays towards the other DBs.)

As a whole, though, I am worried like most Bears fans that the defense is poised once again to lead the league yards allowed per play and likewise finish as or near the bottom in points allowed per game. In 2013, only the Vikings were worse than the Bears in preventing scores, and they were worse by only 2 points. Ouch.

But here's a fun fact: Almost all of point scoring can be captured by two basic defensive stats.
  1. Y/P: Yards per play, or the total yards allowed by the defense divided by the number of defensive plays.
  2. Start: The average starting position for the defense -- i.e. where the defense takes over after the most recent Jay Cutler interception.
Given 2013's numbers, these three statistics explain almost all of the variations in points allowed per game (82% or 0.82 R-squared). And if we run a linear regression on these items, we get a formula like this:

Points/Game = (6.72 * Y/P) + (1.12 * Start) - 44.2
Using this really basic formula, we can make primitive predictions about the Bears defense (Note: There is no shortage of complex and more reliable predictions on Advanced Football Analytics and Football Outsiders; go there for those aims).

So far in 2014, the Bears have allowed 6.4 yards per play and have had to start on the 32.9 yard line. What's fun about these stats is that they represent components controlled by the defense (Y/P) and the offense and special teams (Start).

Given they continue their previous performance, the Bears defense will allow something between 30 and 42 points per game in a typical Sunday. That's not good.

But let's say the offense is what we thought it is, and the average starting position moves to a league average 28-yard line. The defense then improves to a 25 to 35 range -- much better, especially if the offense is scoring more than 20 points. Looking at it from the other direction: What if the field position issue doesn't resolve, but the defense manages to reduces the yard-per-play issue? With a league average 5.4 Y/P, the Bears would give up somewhere between 24 and 34 points per game -- almost the same impact as a league average starting position.

This leads me to suspect this is not just a defense problem. The Bears offense must sustain drives and give the Bears defense a better chance. Both sides (and special teams too) appear to blame so far.

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