Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Matt Garza? Nah. How about Jeff Francis?

Reports continue to swirl about the Cubs pursuit of starting pitcher Matt Garza. Garza, who has been an above average for the Rays over the last three seasons, appears to be available, considering the Rays already have six quality starters and cannot well afford Matt Garza after his upcoming arbitration.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have at least seven starters already: Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Casey Coleman, and Andrew Cashner. The last two are less proven: Casey Coleman will likely be a below average starter (possibly for the length of his career, unless he goes to St. Louis and learns a sinking two-seamer), but Andrew Cashner has the makings of a future All-Star.

Some in the blogging community have speculated the Cubs and Jim Hendry are merely attempting to acquire a monopoly on starting pitchers. One can only guess how much it will cost to land in Wrigley once he puts a hotel there.

Well, there also exists the possibility of trading away Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Zambrano -- though Carlos seems unlikely to wave his no-trade clause and Tom is a pretty quality pitcher, cost-controlled, and fairly young (29 next season).

Even if we do trade those two pitchers, that leaves us with five pitchers -- one of which is below-average-to-average (Casey Coleman). So, if the Cubs really do feel keen to acquire an extra pitcher, let's not pursue Matt Garza. Here's why:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jay Cutler: He Is Who We Thought He Was

Jay Cutler, the kinder, more diabetic version of Brett Farve.

When the Bears traded for young quarterback Jay Cutler, the hope -- if not expectation -- was that Cutler would bring his high level of play to Chicago, giving the Bears their best quarterback since Sid Luckman. Well, just as quickly and suddenly as the Bears acquired Cutler, the enthusiasm about him turned to frustration.

In 2009, he led the NFL in interceptions, and so-called Bears fans and so-called football pundits began pronouncing the acquisition a failure. In truth, though, Cutler has been who we thought he'd be: A pretty good quarterback very much in the mold of Brett Farve (amazing accuracy and strength, good scrambling abilities, and plenty of turnovers).

If we consider 2009 a transition year, then we realize his passer rating (and his likely Approximate Value) reflect that very hiccup. By 2010, he has not only an improve offensive scheme (under Mike Martz), but also a significantly improved rapport with the receivers.

Year Age Tm Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/G Rate Sk Sk% AV
2006 23 DEN 81 137 59.1 1001 9 5 200.2 88.5 13 8.7 3
2007 24 DEN 297 467 63.6 3497 20 14 218.6 88.1 27 5.5 12
2008* 25 DEN 384 616 62.3 4526 25 18 282.9 86.0 11 1.8 15
2009 26 CHI 336 555 60.5 3666 27 26 229.1 76.8 35 5.9 10
2010 27 CHI 227 368 61.7 2891 20 13 222.4 89.6 44 10.7
Career 1325 2143 61.8 15581 101 76 236.1 84.8 130 5.7 40
3 yrs DEN 762 1220 62.5 9024 54 37 243.9 87.1 51 4.0 30
2 yrs CHI 563 923 61.0 6557 47 39 226.1 81.9 79 7.9 10
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/26/2010.

Jay Cutler's pattern of ~88.0 passer ratings indeed pauses only in 2009. Though the Bears lead the league in surrendering sacks this year, we can -- nay must -- take heart in Cutler's career best passer rating despite it.

At the same time, a near 90.0 passer rating and a ~12 AV makes Cutler pretty close to the Second Coming of Brett Farve. It's not Peyton Manning (Career ~95.0 rating, ~17 AV per year), but with a good-to-great defense, it's more than enough and precisely what the Chicago Bears need..

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spelling O-Line "LOL"

One of the attributes of our recent success has been improved offensive line play. Lester over at the Windy City Gridiron took an in depth look at the line recently, going so far as to grade each lineman, each play. Overall, the results were positive:
On a lot of the no gains or negative plays the Vikings made, it was more due to a good defensive call as opposed to poor line play. The Bears line played much better than I thought. Also on some plays where one player graded out poor, there was a trickle [down] effect that caused problems among the group.
To start the year, and even as recently as three weeks ago (4 sacks against Detroit), the offensive line has not been terribly impressive.

How big of a difference could an improved line make? A big difference.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bears have the 2nd worst run-blocking o-line and the absolute worst pass protection through Week 15. Their adjusted sack rate has the o-line surrendering a sack 10% of the time. League average is ~6%.

If Cutler averages about 30 passing attempts per game, a 10% rate means at least 3 sacks per game. If they clamber down to just league average, that drops to 1.8 sacks (which is closer to how they performed these last two weeks). The difference between 1.8 and 3 sacks can be enormous -- it can change the result of an offense drive and the mindset of quarterback. Consider these two scenarios:

Sack Scenario
2nd and 8 -- Cutler sacked for -5 yards. Therefore...
3rd and 13 -- An obvious and difficult passing situation.

No-Sack Scenario
2nd and 8 -- Cutler checks down to Forte for a 3 yard gain...
3rd and 5 -- Creating a flexible situation in which Mike Martz can realistically call a power, a draw, a pass play, or a screen.

Even if Cutler is only able to hit the check-down route or scramble for a few yards, the difference in the resulting situation is huge. It can easily be the difference between a punting and a point-making drive. One sack can easily change the outcome of a one-score game.

Let's hope this line finds their groove because I'm tired of spelling the Bears O-Line "LOL."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where is Jim Hendry and What Have You Done With Him?

When Jim Hendry signed Carlos Pena a little while ago, I was nervous. Pena for $10M was good, too good. In fact, when I read it, my mind, warped from painful repetitions of mistakes, initially saw, "Pena for $100M," and thought, Oh well, here we go again.

But, no. Pena for $10M, for 1 year, is absolutely correct. It's amazing, in fact, given how the saturated market for first basemen seems ignorant of its own girth. Hendry kept his cool and signed a rational contract in an irrational environment, and it shocked me.

So, when I heard heard about the Wood signing, I figured it out. As McGinnis puts it:
Kerry Wood for $1.5 million is a friggin' steal.
An above average (~4.00 FIP) reliever for $1.5M? It hit me like a sack of ivy-covered bricks: Someone has kidnapped Jim Hendry.

Immediately, I began trying to remember where we saw him last. The answer was all too easy.

December 2, 2010. Koyie Hill gets tendered a contract.

It has to be the last thing Hendry did before the kidnapping. But who would take him? What would they do with him?

And why December 2nd? What's so significant about December 2nd? I was looking at the Jim Hendry Inspirational Poster on my wall, reading again his famous catchphrase: "We need another starter and make him a likable pitcher!"

And there it was! The answer had been staring me in the face all along!

Jim Hendry wants six quality starting pitchers. Most teams have four quality starter and just use a replacement-level pitcher for the fifth slot. Hendry wants probably six, while the rest of the league -- and even us here at Cubs Stats -- would be happy with four. Hendry probably six, us four. Hendry probably six, us four. Probly six, us four. Probly six, us four.

I began laughing to myself. My assistant, Sophie Nouveau, gave me a look, both suspicious and full of sexual tension, "You figured it out, didn't you?"

"Pope Sixtus IV!" I said, laughing. "It was so easy!"

"Of course!" she said, her face lighting up. "Pope Sixtus the fourth! Probly six, us four! But why?"

"I thought you were the history expert, Ms. Nouveau," I said wryly, peeking over the rim of my glasses. "Pope Sixtus the IV was born in--"

"1414 a.d.," she said, becoming impatient. "Everyone knows that."

"One-four-one-four," I said, wiping the board clean with the sleeve of my tweed jacket and grabbing another piece of chalk. "That's the secret. One-four-one-four, 1414."

On the board, I wrote:
(we)

need
another
starter
and

(make)

him
a
likable
pitcher
"We NASA make halp?" Nouveau asked skeptically. "In what language does that make sense?"

"Latin," I said, erasing the words we and make. Rewriting the anagram, I stood back and stared at the result with a self-satisfied nod.

"Nos NASA fac halp?" Nouveau read the board. "Of course! No facts, NASA. Help!"

"Precisely," I said, cracking a smile.

"But how is NASA related to all of this?"

"That's the easy part," I said, turning around to dig through the old newspapers lying about my impressive, bohemian loft/laboratory. Pulling out a copy of the December 2, 2010, newspaper, I raised the front page and tapped the lead article.

"'NASA to announce the discovery of alien life,'" Nouveau read aloud. She squinted, thinking for just a moment. "But that was untrue. A few weeks later everyone began looking into it. All they really discovered was a certain bacteria, if exposed to the right chemical environment, can look like its DNA is made of arsenic."

"That's right, NASA's budget is presently under review in Congress," I said. "So they sensationalized a story about a poorly executed 'discovery' to try to renew interest in space programs."

"And Hendry found out!" she said, gasping.

"That's right," I again nodded and then looked out the window at the cobblestone streets below. "Hendry has been experimenting with toxicity levels and DNA manipulation ever since Sammy Sosa. He knew there was no chance NASA's discovery was legitimate."

I could see Nouveau was already planning a rescue in her mind.

"Hendry's connections with NASA probably told him about the discovery. He was just waiting for the announcement before he discredited NASA. If he acted sooner, they could destroy the research and call him crazy."

"They must've been chasing him for months, looking for a chance to... to replace him." Nouveau's voice shook with anger. "That explains the cloning facility we saw back in Peoria! We've got to stop them!"

"Do we?" I asked, turning to face her again. "They've clearly replaced Hendry with a clone whose DNA was stolen from Andrew Friedman. Why get rid of the greatest active general manager of the sport, Friedman, for an okay manager, like Hendry? Who benefits from that?"

"What does it matter?" Nouveau yelled, tears streaming down her face. "We have to save him!"

"This is why I told you not to come with me back in Paris," I said, walking to my desk. "I told you from the get-go, I'm a Cubs fan."

I pulled the pistol from desk. "I told you," I said, raising the gun, "I'm a Cubs fan, and I'm desperate."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Happened to The Chicago Bears Last Sunday?

Well, my answer, in short, is bad luck and bad match-ups. The long version looks like this, Lester's near-perfect write-up over at Windy City Gridiron:
In all seriousness, the Patriots just matched up really well against the Bears. As sure as I was in the Bears beating the Eagles two weeks ago, and as sure as I was in the Bears having to really work to get out of Detroit with a win, I was sure the Bears would lose to N.E. However, I think the Bears match up really well with the last 3 opponents on the schedule. Minnesota will fight for their new coach, but the fast track will favor the Bears. The Jets don't have a consistent enough offense to bother the Bears, and the Packers have their own offensive woes.

The Bears are still in the drivers seat in the NFC North, one game ahead of the Pack. The Pats will knock off Green Bay next week on Sunday Night, then they get the Giants week 16 at Lambeau. The week 17 game very well could feature the Bears resting their starters, unless a playoff home field advantage scenario is in play. Go Bears... and have I told you the Bears are F'N Awesome!!!!
Bear down, Bears fan, and quit being such whiners (*looks at Will slyly*).

:)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where is Marty Turco?


Marty Turco was pulled 0:48 into the 2nd period last night against the Colorado Avalanche. By that time, there was 4 goals scored against the Blackhawks. Coach Q put in Corey Crawford, and it looked good (for awhile at least) until the defense left him out to dry and scored three goals in the final two minutes (ok, one was an empty netter).

Before I crunch some numbers, let me preface by saying that these Blackhawks are NOT the defending Stanley Cup Champions. I do not know of any organization that can turn over 30% of its workforce and still maintain a high-level of productivity. So lets stop calling them the defending champs and start calling them for exactly what they are – a talented team that is missing the depth to contend for the Stanley Cup.

For the statistical analysis of Marty Turco, I will use GGVT (which stands for Goaltender’s Goals Versus Threshold). Think of VORP in baseball but this is applied to hockey. You can read more about GVT, the Blackhawks (or any team for that matter) by picking up the Hockey Prospectus. It’s amazing.

Like VORP, GVT compares ‘Player X’ v. a replacement (or average player). To do this we need a couple sets of data: saves, shots faced, save percentage.

We start with Turco’s saves and divide it by the shots faced (500/558) this gives us the save percentage (89.61). This is lower than the league average (91.22) and it only tells us part of the story. If I’m Coach Q, I want to know how many goals Turco is allowing versus his competitor (Crawford) and the league average (replacement player).

To do this, we multiply Turco’s shots faced (558) by the league save percentage (91.22%). This leaves us with 509 (this number represents the number of saves an average goalie would have made facing that same number of shots). We then subtract Turco’s saves by this number (500 – 509) which gives us -9. According to the Hockey Prospectus, a goalie is only responsible for 75% of the shots he faces (I won’t argue with their logic, so I’ll go with it) so we will need to multiply -9 by .75 which equals -6.75.

Don’t let the negative number fool you. This means that Turco is allowing more goals than the average player - almost 7 goals in total!!!

But what about the replacement player?!?! A replacement goalie has a GVT of zero (0). Why? Because if you multiply the shots faced of the league by the league save percentage then subtract the saves, this would equal zero.

(League shots faced * League save percentage) – league saves


We have someone else to compare against Turco: Corey Crawford. What we have seen from Crawford is average goaltending. He has hovered around the league average (0) throughout the season. Considering the circumstances, this isn't a bad thing.

I don't know why Turco is struggling. Maybe it's a conglomerate of defensive miscues, puck possession, injuries, and/or preparation. All we can do is look at the data and interpret what it says; Turco has had a precipitous decline in his production. So much so that he has surpassed (and in this instance 'surpassed' is a bad thing) the guy he was suppose to replace (Antti Neimi).


Whether Turco's declining productivity turns out to be a liability to the team is up to Coach Q to decide. All I know is that we are 30+ games into the season and the Blackhawks have two goalies; one is playing average and the other is struggling...

...eventually Marty Turco will have to show up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 2011 Cubs Roster: An Early Look

Ol' Berselius took a look at the potential 2011, 25-man roster today at The Sabertoothed Andteater. Here's his estimate of the starters:
RF Kosuke Fukudome, LHB
SS Starlin Castro, RHB
1b Carlos Pena, LHB
3b Aramis Ramirez, RHB
CF Marlon Byrd, RHB
LF Alfonso Soriano, RHB
C Geovany Soto, RHB
2b Blake DeWitt, LHB
...And the pitchers:
SP Carlos Zambrano, RHP
SP Ryan Dempster, RHP
SP Randy Wells, RHP
SP Carlos Silva, RHP
SP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP

CL Carlos Marmol, RHP
SU Sean Marshall, LHP
P John Grabow, LHP
P Jeff Samardzija, RHP
P Thomas Diamond, RHP
P ?
P ?
If Koyie Hill makes this roster, I will flip a turd on my fancy, steal wok.

Also, all signs point towards Kosuke Fukudome wearing different laundry come summer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Carlos Pena Brings His :)% to Chicago

Over the next year, we're going to hear a lot of noise about Carlos Pena's statistics. Ready yourself for the inane ramblings of Bob Brenly as he time and again says something to the effect of: "The Cubs brought in Pena to hit home runs. He doesn't have a good batting average, but he hits dingers and takes walks."

He will be correct in saying that alone. When Mr. Brenly begins pontificating about how the game has changed and how Pena compares to some guy he used to manage, feel free to ignore him because at that point he will likely be making stuff up.

A variety of great sites have broken down the statistics for us already, and here's how it looks:

Another Cubs Blog
Pena should hit somewhere from .350 to .360 weighted on-base percentage (wOBA). The wOBA statistic is much more effective than batting average (BA) or on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in evaluating Pena, because his strengths -- walking and homers -- get underplayed by both BA and OPS.

Ol' reliable mb21 at ACB took a look at Carlos Pena's projections and then dug even deeper:
If we adjust that number for Wrigley Field (ignoring league quality), that would be roughly a .374 wOBA. Once we factor in the lesser league he'll be playing in, we get a projected wOBA of about .382, which will easily make him the best hitter on the team.
He continued to examine Pena's defense. As a Rays fan myself, I would (having watched Pena for ~700 games over the last 4 seasons) grade Pena as just above average defensively (not gold glove, but whatever). Mb's research agrees:
Defensive Runs Saved has him as basically an average defender over his career. Total Zone has him worth -22 runs over his career and UZR is pretty similar to TZ. He's likely a below average fielder, but given the unreliability of the numbers and the variance in year to year fielding, I'm not bothering with it.

Fangraphs
Joe Pawlikowski over at Fangraphs looked into Pena, seeing much of what mb21 saw. His forecast looks much more exciting:
If Pena does recover [his former stats], the Cubs could be just a few breaks away from contention in 2011. A healthy, powerful Pena, along with a recovered Ramirez, could help fuel the team’s offense. The pitching staff could also see some improvements in 2011. Each of the team’s five presumptive starters — Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, and Ryan Dempster, had a FIP under 4.00 in 2010. These combined could lead the Cubs back into the picture for a relatively weak NL Central.
Wouldn't that be great?

DRaysBay
Full disclosure: I also write for DRaysBay, so I'm perhaps a bit biased in believing what its past editor-in-chief says.

The venerable R.J. Anderson commented in a DRaysBay thread that the Pena signing was actually a decent get:
If wins are worth $5m, then they're paying for 2. That's not too bad considering they can afford to overpay.
As far as we can tell, wins are still worth $5M and Pena should be worth ~2.7 in 2011.

The Process Report
On the more narration-like side of things, R.J. also reposted the 2010 DRB Annual's article on Carlos Pena. Read it, and understand why I love Pena and why I'm glad to be rooting for him yet one more year.

Conclusion
I like Pena. Over at DRaysBay, we've joked for several years now that Carlos leads the team in :)% -- partly because he's a constant optimist and a funny guy, and partly because he gave us many reasons to smile.

At the same time, though, he's approaching the finish of his career and he's extra weak against lefties. The dramatic infield shift the teams in the AL East used helped crush Pena's batting average and reduce his on-base abilities.

If teams don't do shift on him, if the NL Central ends up having a weak crop of left-handed pitchers in 2011 (which they do right now), if wind in Wrigley smiles on Pena's towering fly balls, and if last year was more happenstance and less omen, then Carlos Pena at $10M is a great signing.

In the big picture, I'm just really glad to see the Cubs acquire someone who doesn't fit the typical mold -- the typical mold usually including a high batting average. Also, I'm glad it's just a one year contract. Thus far, we've seen monster long contracts and huge paydays, which is typical of the early off-season, but the Cubs have paid about market average. I hope this is a sign of good things to come, perhaps a byproduct of bringing sabermetrician Ari Kaplan into the front office.

But, as with all things, only time will tell.

Update: The Cubs have a couple of rumors now swirling about possibly acquiring pitcher Matt Garza from the Rays. I like Matt, I think he's a little overrated, but still a quality pitcher. He's about to get expensive, so the Rays are looking to trade him, thus opening a starting spot for young Jeremy Hellickson.

The Cubs, however, already have 5 decent-to-good starters. Why add Garza now? I don't know. But hello Garza almost certainly means goodbye Tom Gorzellany. Jack has a pretty good analysis of the trade possibilities and how Kosuke Fukudome fits the equation over at Rooftop View:
Tough to say who the best fit would be, but perhaps the Rays, like the Rangers, are interested in one of the Cubs’ catching prospects; Robinson Chirinos would have to be just one of a few prospects headed Tampa’s way for a deal to be reached, but it could be a good place to start. And with Carl Crawford on his way out of town, maybe the Rays are interested in finding another left-handed hitting outfielder, in which case Kosuke Fukudome could be a match.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ron Santo, 1940-2010

Today is the darkest day in Cubs history. Ron Santo, the heart and soul of Cubs fans, has passed away.

I feel it would be a great tribute to Ron by expressing his importance to us.

Will: Although I never watched you in your hay day, I admire your fight against diabetes, your charity work and your relentless passion for the Cubs. Next season won't feel the same without you, Ron; I'll turn on WGN and wait to hear you when the Cubs do something great and when they do something not so great. Your outbursts of joy and anguish was what I expressed during Cubs games. This allowed me to not feel like I was going crazy, rather, I was assured that at least one other person in the room was feeling the same emotions. Now you're in the booth with Harry, enjoying old stories and watching the Cubs, while sitting in the best seat in the house.

Brad: Ron's not here today. That hurts. It hurts a lot.

Living away from family, it always felt like I could turn on the radio and share the pain of another Cubs season with my third-base-playing grandfather. I would joke to my wife about his groans and sighs, but in truth he helped my deal with the anguish of this team and oftentimes made our little studio apartment feel a little less lonely.

On the field, Santo was amazing. The only people who didn't realize that seem to be those still under the yolk of archaic statistics and anecdotal analyses. I'm genuinely pissed Ron never got to see his bust in the Hall of Fame. Despite his practically un-treated diabetes, Santo built a career comparable or superior to any other third basemen in the Hall.

Like the commenter DB said at Tim's great Cubby-Blue site:
...I don't even know if I'd want the damn HOF to vote Ron in now. It seems like it would be cheapened. They SHOULD HAVE voted him in years ago while he was here to enjoy it. It's inexcuseable! Bunch of stuck up prigs. I just want to flip them all off for doing that to Ron and never letting him enjoy such a well-deserved accolade while alive.
In my opinion: Until Santo is in the Hall, there is no Hall of Fame. And when he does get in, I still cannot forgive the current voters. It's entirely inexcusable.