Monday, September 27, 2010

Traditions Stupider than Losing 101 Straight Years

It recently came to my attention that Wrigley Field had a successful demonstration of “The Wave.” I, of course, did not see this live because I am poor and do not have cable and Tom Ricketts reduced the Cubs WGN broadcast schedule. This reduces me to assuming the posture of the predictable sabermetrician: I must watch games via live Pitch F/X data or Win Probability Charts. Nerdy.

Anyway, news of the Wave intrigued me. Growing up in Florida and becoming a fan of the Cubs via WGN and my Indiana heritage, I really did not know of Wrigley’s unified hatred of the Wave. Upon discovering it later in life, I tried to unearth its causes. To my chagrin, very few people truly understand its source.

Many wrongly say: “We must not Wave lest we miss the action of our Glorious Sport!” If these people really cared about the baseball, I think they would rather do the Wave than witness the Cubs’ tragic play. More importantly, baseball is a slow and boring game. It is much like golf, but with momentum and more things to hit. Baseball has many slow points punctuated with several fast, exciting points.

The core of the matter: I hate when people advocate a policy they do not understand.

From my research, I have ascertained that disdain for the Wave began in the 1984 playoff series against the San Diego Padres. In that series, many superstitious Cubs fans blamed the Padres fans’ use of the wave for defeating the Cubs.

Yes. Cubs fans actually believed the Padres fans beat their team. And they believed this, effectively banning the Wave for nearly 15 years. That’s as dumb as, oh, running into a brick wall covered in ivy (yet another dumb tradition).

Who resists the Wave now? Uninformed fans or old and crotchety fans. People cut from the same fabric as those who threw beers at Steve Bartman for being human – people drunk on their own mightiness and delusional enough to believe baseball in Wrigley is a sacred rite and not a business opportunity.

I like the Wave. It’s great for pitching changes and commercial breaks and for lying to yourself that you might influence the game. It also provides a handy means for keeping kids from being tired or generally annoying. More kids means more attendance. More attendance means more payrolls, which means better chances of winning.

Moreover, the Wave feels somewhat magical and exciting. Its very premise – several thousand strangers acting in spontaneous cooperation – inspires. Simply put: the Wave is fun and baseball is fun. The two belong together.

So I say: Wave, Cubs fans. Wave.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Geovany Soto Is the Greatest

Today I stumbled upon Jack Moore's recent Fangraphs article about Geovany Soto. I cannot add any more to what he already said. Moore hits the nail in the face and whispers, "Go to sleep in your coffin of wood."

His closing remarks well identify the great injustice that Lou Piniella committed on Soto and Cubs fans this year:
Even when Soto is in the lineup, he doesn’t get his full dosage of plate appearances. Soto has seen the cleanup slot twice, the fifth slot eight times, and the sixth slot twice. The other 78 times that Soto has started the game have seen him in the seventh or eighth slots. Soto’s profile suggests that he should be hitting 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. Given that each slot sees about .11 more PAs per game than the one below it, Soto has missed out on anywhere between 30 and 50 plate appearances thanks to this relegation to the bottom of the lineup. With similar performance to his season to date in those PAs, that could be another half-win added to Soto’s line.

Geovany Soto has been incredibly productive for the Chicago Cubs this season, and if it weren’t for a number of factors keeping him out of the lineup, he could be having an MVP quality season. It’s hard to blame his injuries on Cubs management, but there is no excuse for Soto remaining in the 7th or 8th slot in the batting order or seeing Koyie Hill constantly spot starting.
Read that article and know our suffering.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Cubs Next Manager

Given the sudden retirement of Lou Piniella, the discussion of the Cubs managerial situation has intensified. Many Chicagoans are calling for the pursuit of current New York Yankees manager and former Cubs catcher, Joe Girardi. Others -- including many sportswriters -- have formed a Ryne Sandberg campaign. I, on the other hand, am rooting for dark horse candidate Dave Martinez. Let's explore this issue:

Joe Girardi
I am not a fan of Girardi. I'm told that the media has hailed Girardi as a statistically-minded and numbers-friendly manager, but I have seen little evidence of it. Last year, the venerable Dave Cameron twice derided Girardi for managerial decisions that bordered malpractice. In a piece entitled, "ALCS Coverage: Girardi Is Nuts," Cameron even went so far as to say:
Someone stop Joe Girardi before he manages the best team in baseball right out of the playoffs.
In a follow-up piece entitled, "WS Coverage: Girardi Screws Up The Line-Up," Cameron continued to vent his frustrations:
Someone warn PETA – a dead horse is about to get kicked again. That horse, of course, is Joe Girardi and his never ending ability to put a less than ideal Yankee team on the field in critical situations.
Those who do not frequently read the work of Cameron may wrongly think him to be a quick-tempered, fast-reacting blogger, but he -- in fact -- is not. His typically mild temperament makes the present accusations all the more damning.

That being said, the Yankees are a pretty savvy organization -- certainly not as efficient or crafty as the Red Sox or Rays, but prudent (and fortuitously wealthy) nonetheless. I'm inclined to think they would hire some one who's at least acquainted with some basic advanced statistics (basic advanced?).

So maybe he's not that bad of a choice, and maybe he's using numbers that are so advanced and brilliant that his actions look crazy or stupid. Either way, it may not matter. As mb21 of Another Cubs Blog notes, there are some logistical obstacles to overcome before the Cubs even entertain the thought of nabbing Girardi. I expect it won't happen, and I really hope it doesn't.

Ryne Sandberg
Sportswriters have suggested it, fans have called for it, and even Andre Dawson approved it. It seems any and everyone wearing blue and red want former Cub Ryne Sandberg to take the job. At this point, it seems pretty likely -- he interviewed in 2006 for the job, but ended up getting hired in the minors instead. It appears that this was all part of a grooming program to ensure his head was dripping with useless, old-baseball knowledge before he had his chance to watch the Cubs lose in person.

Honestly, I'm okay with the Ryne Sandberg possibility. In general, managers don't make a huge impact on their team's performance -- almost no impact compared to that of the GM. Consider how the Yankees still won the World Series in 2009 despite the mind-bottling handiwork of Girardi. So hiring Sandberg would be fun, you know, because he's like a former Cub and stuff.

Dave Martinez
Martinez is the current bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and has not even been suggested as a candidate for the managerial position. Why do I want him? Well, like I noted above, the manager really has marginal impact on the team's performance, so even if he was the greatest or worst manager in history, his impact will be minimal. I want Dave Martinez because he is a symbol of change. Martinez has spent the last few years as bench coach for the most progressive and statistics-immersed team in baseball. From the front office to the dugout, the Rays know how to properly analysis their talent and apply the wisdom of sabermetrics to everything they do. I want Dave Martinez because he makes a symbolic gesture of goodwill, a veritable sign of commitment to Tom Ricketts' promise of making the Cubs into the Red Sox. But the Chicago Cubs have made me a connoisseur of disappointment, so I am carefully tempering these hopes.

In the long run, the manager's position does not matter. What matters is the coming direction and drive of the front office. If Ricketts is content with Hendry, then Hendry must improve -- he must augment his scouting expertise with greater statistical awareness. If Ricketts is ready for someone else, he must execute that process with the wisdom he no doubt gained from his years in business and not allow the archaic and handcuffing baseball culture dictate his decisions. He must take charge and use his very hands to make this team what he wants it to be.