Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicago Cubs 25 Man Roster: Catcher Grades

Soto's had a rough start with his bat, but things should turn around.
Let's continue our examination of the Cubs roster, examining ye odle backstops today:

C Geovany Soto: .227/.318/.320 (.293 wOBA)

Soto has not played with any of the magnificence we should expect from him. He has an unlikely 1 home run. This mean Koyie Hill, as of yesterday, has caught up with the good sir from San Juan in the Homer Department. Ouch. In truth, Soto's BABIP is low, so as long as Quade doesn't go crazy and start Hill in Soto's rightful place, everything should even out here.

On the defensive side, Soto has been pretty impressive, catching 11 of 33 attempted thieves while posting a strong 1.0 early season Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Soto's good, and if his defense improves, then he's extra great.

C Koyie Hill: .167/.333/.417 (.338 wOBA)

Ol' Hill gets a bad rap around these -- and almost all other -- parts. He's got a terrible history of hitting (.256 wOBA over 700+ PAs) and has never made UZR swoon (a mere 2.0 runs saved for his career). Still, the Cubs seemed awed by the catcher and have awarded him roster spots and contract extension.

To be fair: Catcher's do not get a full and fair treatment from UZR. They do far too many things -- namely, calling games -- to ever got proper credit. So, if we assume the Cubs' scouts are smart (and in general, they are very smart) then we can assume Hill is in fact a great defender.

Moreover, we cannot say his career line fully indicates his hitting ability. He's been a part-time catcher his entire MLB life, and part-time plate appearances typically mean sub-par hitting (regardless of the hitter). The last time he did get full time plate appearance, 2008 in AAA, he hit 17 homers in under 400 PAs (good for .362 wOBA -- well above average for a catcher).

The only problem with Hill: He's largely replaceable. In Max Ramirez, the Cubs have a near-identical, yet 26-year-old, replacement for Hill. Ramirez can't hit very well, but since he'd be the backup catcher, that wouldn't matter a whole lot.

Overall, the Cubs have an actually great catcher group at the MLB level -- assuming Soto gets the absolute most possible plate appearances. Hill is not as terrible as we may emotionally feel he is, but he's not anything worth starting two games in a row -- or paying $1M for. Still, this group is solid and should only improve as Soto's luck returns to normal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cubs Links: Starlin Castro, Matt Garza, and Kosuke Fukudome

Starlin's been hot. Let's hope he maintains it.
Boy! Who knew Tuesdays were so good? We've got a slew of good pieces to read for those Cubs fans inclined to ignoring the fact that James Russell is starting today.

First of all — and this one is actually a few days old, but worth revisiting — my colleague and friend, Steve Slowinski, did what I could not: He gave an unbiased look at the young Starlin Castro.

I've long worried Castro's minor league success has been a product of a high BABIP (i.e. good luck), not necessarily skill. Steve does a great job of cooling that fear:
Castro currently has a 24% line drive rate and a 53% ground ball rate. That’s a relatively high line drive rate, which goes to show how much solid contact Castro is making right now. I wouldn’t expect him to continue to post a .392 BABIP, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he ends the season with a BABIP in the .350 range.
Read the whole thing — it's quality stuff.

Also, Bill Petti looked at Matt Garza's odd season so far. He uses some beautiful and interactive charts to discuss Garza's peculiarities:
After all this I can't say I know what's causing Garza to appear so inconsistent. He's clearly getting guys to miss, but he's also allowing better contact in zones where he should be more dominant. Maybe this is just a function of the small sample (he's only thrown about 155 pitches so far this year and it's clear his BABIP will natural regress), but it's still pretty weird.
Lastly, Tim McGinnis of the ever-brilliant Obstructed View Blog presented Kosuke Fukudome his new calendar. Yesterday, Kosuke went 5-for-5, in turn cementing himself in the April Hall of Fame.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chicago Cubs 25 Man Roster: Infield Grades

The Chicago Cubs 2011 season is well underway now, so why not take a gander down the roster and see how er'body is performing?

1B Carlos Pena: .188/.322/.208 (.261 wOBA)

Not a pretty start to Pena's season. I spake before about Pena, excited to see how his power could play in Wrigley Field and in the weaker NL Central, but this is not really what I had in mind. He has no home runs this season, and his on-base percentage (OBP) is .322 despite rather solid luck from his batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Pena is striking out like crazy — which is not a good sign, given that it seems to be a growing trend for him — but I still feel like his power could be waiting in the wings and he could still hit close to 30 home runs this year. Defensively, he has been good, making all the routine plays and scooping like scoops.

2B Darwin Barney: .309/.350/.400 (.323 wOBA)

Barney has a strong batting average and a good OBP, but his power leaves a lot to be desired. As such, his weighted on base average (wOBA) which puts all these things together, reports to us: Below league average hitter. Also, his relatively high BABIP (.333) may settle a little lower, meaning he could possibly be even worse than he is now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Optimism Goggles: The Chicago Cubs 25 Man Roster In 2012

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors explored the Chicago Cubs 2012 financial obligations for the upcoming season. Frankly, it's almost exciting -- exciting in the way that post-apocalyptic stories are exciting. It's a fresh start! It's a chance to build a new team, almost.

It looks like, if Tom Ricketts presses the gas pedal to the floor, the Cubs could have anywhere from $50-70 million dollars to throw at free agents. Those who follow me may well know my utter distaste for paying the free agent market premiums. I much prefer talent acquisition through the draft and (more importantly) through trade.

That being said, the Cubs are in a big market and could possibly have a near-Yankees payroll if they ever get their own television network (like the Yankees YES network). As such, I have to accept the Cubs are typically in a position to go after free agents. And with possibly $50M sitting around, what else you gonna do?

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 NBA Playoffs: Bulls Vs. Pacers (Game 1 Recap)

How does a Pacers team, who was winning for the entire game, let one slip away in the final minutes?

Derrick Rose.

Although he had an awful night from beyond the arc (0-9), his true shooting percentage climbed five points to 60%. It was hard work; he had to drive to the lane and draw fouls (luckily he shot 90% from the line, 19-21). Derrick's offensive rating was an amazing 141, and his productivity accounted for 40% of the Bulls win.

Luol Deng -- The silent assassin's true shooting percentage of 61% was higher than his season total (55%). He had an ORating of 131 and a DRating of 117. Meh. His productivity accounted for 10% of the Bulls win. I said before the playoffs that as Luol Deng (and the Bench Mob) goes, as go the Bulls. I do not think I'm off base.

Who needs to get better?

Friday, April 15, 2011

And The MVP Goes To...

Last month I wrote a post about the Ascension of Derrick Rose. I make my case for Derrick Rose to be MVP based on improvement (mostly in win shares from the 2009-10 season to the 2010-11 season). An ascension like his hasn't been seen since the days of Jordan. But now that the season is over, who is the MVP?

The media has anointed Derrick Rose the MVP of the NBA.

Let's take a closer look at Win Shares to see if the media is right...

I love me some DRose just as much as the next Bulls fan but this doesn't look good for Chicago's basketball prodigy. Some of you basketball statisticians/followers might say "Why don't we use PER (player efficiency rating)". Ok, let's use PER...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's GOTTA Be The Shoes! (version 2.0)

You remember those old(er) Air Jordan commercials, right? Spike Lee as Mars Blackman talking about his main man, Michael Jordan. Nike was selling an idea - you can jump higher, shoot better with a pair of Air Jordans on your feet (*ahem* even if you're listed at 5'8"). These marketing campaigns were pure genius. Even though I only owned one pair of Air Jordans, I must admit, I was caught up in the hype - when wearing them, I did feel like I was Mike. They didn't help my vertical, nor improve my jump-shot and they most certainly did not help me grow but I did feel like Mike because I was wearing his shoes.

If you've been watching the Bulls lately, Derrick Rose has been wearing these sweet gray and red kicks.

Enter the "Fast don't lie" campaign by Adidas. Their idea is that you can cut better and run faster like Derrick Rose (or at the very least, have caviar pools and lady pyramids). Pure genius. But, at 33 years old, my admiration is different; I know that these shoes won't help my vertical and if I were to "cut" like DRose, I'd tear my ACL in seven places. I feel myself becoming more of a collector of Derrick Rose gear (rookie cards, shoes, jerseys, etc) rather than trying to emulate him.

I reached out to Jeremy Kreiger -- he won the Nike LunarGlide+ 2 Design Contest and he represented the U.S. in a global competition. I had several questions about shoes and shoe collecting. He told me there’s two types of shoe collectors: the "Sneakerheads" and the casual collector.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thomas Diamond: Whither Art Thou?

With the most unpleasant injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the Cubs have decided to call Casey Coleman and James Russell into starting roles. This surprises me -- I would like to see a little Thomas Diamond, if anyone.

Casey Coleman is a right-handed pitcher who has been a starter for the last two years in the minors, spending 2009 in Double-A and 2010 in Triple-A. He's not even yet 24 years old, and so he's been pitching in leagues older and more seasoned than him -- an impressive feat, no doubt.

Still, his track record of success leaves something to be desired:

       FIP  xFIP
2009: 4.04, -.-- (AA)
2010: 4.25, -.-- (AAA)
2010: 4.27, 4.97 (MLB)

He never really dominated AAA, which is kind of what you would like to see out of your MLB starters. His time in the majors does not appear so bad, but his good fortunes with home runs (a mere 4.5% HR/FB) spells bad tidings ahead.

For Casey Coleman -- him being such a young starter -- I think he's better suited to staying in AAA, keeping his contract status favorable for 2013 or 2014, when he can come up be Randy Wells 2.0.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How To Read Pitch F/X Data

NOTE: This is not intended to be an authoritative manual on Pitch F/X data or data manipulation. I'm unqualified to execute such instruction. Instead, this article aims to make Pitch F/X final products (charts and plots and such) accessible and digestible to average fans.

What is Pitch F/X?
The history of Pitch F/X -- sometimes called Pitchf/x or Pitch f/x -- is actually quite interesting, a history involving glowing hockey pucks and yellow first-down lines. I'm not sure where one could find the best-written history on the matter, but I this Bloomberg article has a dandy cliff-notes version.

Pitch F/X is basically three dimensional data acquired from special cameras set up in each major league stadium (and the minor league/spring training stadium in Surprise, Arizona). The cameras are able to capture (1) the exact locations where a ball crosses the plate, (2) the movement or spin of the pitch, (2) the velocity of the pitch, and (3) the pitcher's release point (the exact angle wherein they let go of the ball).

In other words, Pitch F/X data is a nearly all-in-one scouting report for pitchers, as well as a highly valuable tool for how pitchers are attacking certain hitters. It was originally created (I believe) to help evaluate umpires, and then quickly found use in television broadcasts (where it is now widely used).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Sabermetrics (Again)

Ol' Ricey Cube of World Series Dreaming just announced his copy of The Book arrived. This naturally led to a discussion of sabermetrics and what-not.

My addition to the thread proved quite treatise-ic, so I wanted to repost it here. It symbolizes a lot of the frustrations I've had with recent renaissance of anti-sabermetrics:
How exciting! The Book is a classic and still VERY current. Few books illuminate the game like that one.

Also, concerning the grit, hustle, and what-not: It's straight crazy (if not entirely uninformed) to think sabermetric teams value unquantifiable elements less than teams of the past. There have been PLENTY of highly successful teams stocked to the brim with @$$holes and countless heartwarming teams that played like turds.

Take me, for example: Through high-school and college I was a 2-5 sport athlete, a likable fellow, a team leader, and the smartest, hardest worker in the city and state. Unfortunately, I had (and still have) the natural athletic talents of a sweet potato and played the part of spirited leader for a number of talentless, winless teams.

I also participated in highly successful teams where hatred for your fellow man and coach reigned supreme, but talent and fortune outweighed these negatives.

THAT BEING SAID: Who wants to deliberately hire a jerk? Not many people. And I think that's partly why Bonds got blackballed: The one team that could tolerate him didn't want him; the rest of the league couldn't stand him.

Also, a greater understanding of statistics and sabermetrics does a lot to tell us how numbers lie. Half our time is spent discussing how an ERA, fielding percentage, or batting average FAILS to represent something. We have alternatives, but there are still so many gray areas and places we can improve.

Sabermetrics is about the pursuit of baseball knowledge, not the evangelism of FIP, wOBA, or win expectancy charts.
In conclusion, follow World Series Dreaming on Facebook if you don't already. He's always got some good discussions going.

Happy Cubs Day! Wells, Cashner To DL

Well, it was just a matter of time until we had our first Cubs Day -- a day in which everything detonates all at once. Today the Cubs are reporting Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells will be going to the disabled list (DL) with throwing-arm-related strains.

Now, it's just the 15-day DL, so our hope is they will rejoin the 25-man roster post-haste. But, let's be honest, they have strains to the single most important part of their baseball bodies, and THIS IS THE F***ING CUBS WE'RE TALKING ABOUT!

I've made no secret of my affections both for Cashner and for Wells, so this spate of injuries comes as a significant blow to my happiness.

On the bright side, at least we cut a possibly league average pitcher in Carlos Silva. HAHAHAHAHA!!! HAPPY CUBS DAY!!!! (But seriously: $#!@!)

I'm not sure just yet what the immediate replacement plan is, but -- if I had my druthers -- I'd immediately stretch out Sean Marshall and summon Thomas Diamond (whom is, I fear, replacement level at best -- i.e. worse than league average).

In reality, I expect James Russel and Casey Coleman will be blundered into the starting rotation, and the Cubs will begin their pursuit of the number 1 overall draft pick. HAPPY CUBS DAY!!!

Cubs pitchers Wells, Cashner going on disabled list | News

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Empty Wrigley Field; Chicago Cubs Pay Piper

Today, Julie discussed what I was observing yesterday: An empty Wrigley Field. I was watching the game online and made a comment on Twitter comparing Tropicana Field to Wrigley, and it looks like my pessimism was not far off:
...The official attendance report was 26,292, making yesterday’s crowd the smallest to see a game at Wrigley since 2002. But even that figure elicited snorts of amusement from those at the game. Witnesses put the crowd somewhere around 10,000 fans at the high end.

If you’ve witnessed the breakneck speed at which Wrigley games have sold out since 2003, yesterday’s attendance is a staggering surprise, but perhaps one that we should have seen coming. The 2011 Cubs Convention failed to sell out, while in the past tickets have been snapped up in less than 15 minutes. Then rumor had it that only six, SIX, Cubs games sold out this year (Opening Day, three Yankees Games, one White Sox Game , and one Cardinals game). Yesterday, ChicagoNow pointed out that tickets to dozens of Cubs games were available online for less than $1.00
That's a bleak outlook for Cubs ownership. They've kept a smile going since Spring Training, insisting attendance would not be down, but there were seriously fewer people there at the game yesterday than the game I attended at the end of 2009 against these same Diamondbacks -- and that game was after the Cubs were out of contention, a bunch of minor leaguers were playing, and it was cold and unpleasant.

That's saying something.

This is the inevitable byproduct of the Cubs failing to create a quality team. The chief determinate for attendance has always been winning percentage, and no dilapidated, trough-urinal stadium can change that.

A League of Her Own » Despite Win, Cubs Fans Feeling Empty

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Beauty Of Short Hops Taken To Task

A glove slap to Tom Tango for pointing out this really solid interview with Alan Hirsch, author of the new book The Beauty of Short Hops: How Chance and Circumstance Confound the Moneyball Approach to Baseball.

Shaun Payne -- whom I've not heard of before -- does a straight excellent job of taking Hirsch to task on his book, while apparently not offending the guy. No small feet.

The final "question" -- which actually does not feature any question marks -- is a treatise unto itself. I will reproduce the most of it here:
I see no reason why in-depth statistical analysis and sabermetrics would squeeze the life out of the game unless one is reaching for something that will squeeze the life out of the game.

I'm not a sabermetrician, but I'm very sympathetic to sabermetrics and try my best to learn and understand as many sabermetric concepts as possible. Perhaps it's because I'm not really a sabermetrican that I don't understand the joylessness of those sad sabermetricians who are merely watching the game of zombie or robot baseball.

The predictable and the statistical have taught me a great deal about the game and give me more appreciation of its majesty and mystery, not less.

I appreciate the unpredictable as much now as I ever have, largely because I have a better understanding, through statistics and sabermetrics, of what the numbers say is supposed to yet doesn't happen. The fact that the meaningful numbers usually get things right makes the unexpected events in baseball seem even more miraculous.

I would argue that sabermetrics in a certain sense is an anti-statistical movement in that it opens the door to the organic parts of the game. Sabermetrics make baseball statistics into a language and not just cold and limited symbols on the backs of baseball cards.
For those who don't know, Short Hops is largely about how sabermetrics is flawed and increasingly useless.

I'm no fan of groupthink, so I generally like a touch of dissension in the crowd. Still, as Tango points out, the book appears to be criticizing a 2-D cutout of sabermetrics, attacking a "monolithic view of sabermetrics" that few in the field really possess.

Also, he appears to make the absurd claim that sabermetrics ruins the majesty of the game, when in fact nothing has enhanced it more for me.

Baseball and the Value of Sabermetrics: An Author's Perspective | Bleacher Report

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chicago Cubs Get Their First Win

The Cubs and their Scary Manager pulled out a win today.
Hey, who doesn't like to win?

Well, in general, Cubs fans seem pretty ambivalent towards winning games, but I sure like to win games. And whaddayouknow? -- the Cubs actually won today!

Carlos Zambrano went 6 good innings, striking out 4 and walking 3. He also allowed 6 hits, but only 2 (a double and a homer) were extra base hits. He also had 5 groundouts to 3 flyouts, which is a positive sign. Zambrano is usually at his best when he's serving tasty grounders to the Cubs infield.

In a delightful show of it-does-not-matter-a-whole-lot-ness, the Cubs bullpen performed at peak levels today. The combination of Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, and Carlos Marmol put together a scoreless final 3 frames, allowing only a combined 1 walked while striking out 6.

Meanwhile, the Cubs collectively banged four doubles, coming off the unlikely bats of Carlos Zambrano, Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker, and Starlin Castro. Actually, Baker and Castro hitting doubles makes sense. Not so much with the rest of the group.

Nonetheless, somehow the Cubs sloshed together 5 runs, but even in victory I feel disappointed. I blame...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Day At Wrigley Field

Here's today's Opening Day starters per's game notes:
P: Ryan Dempster
C: Geovany Soto
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Darwin Barney
3B: Aramis Ramirez
SS: Starlin Castro
LF: Alfonso Soriano
RF: Kosuke Fukudome
CF: Marlon Byrd
I imagine I should not be surprised to see Darwin Barney starting at second base today. He had a great spring, and since that sample size was exceedingly small and thoroughly out of context (he hit well against pitchers trying new pitches and minor leaguers trying to prove they belong in AAA, all the while in wind-tossed Spring Training mini-fields).

In all honesty, though, Barney's supposed to be an elite defender. And since Baker swings like a girl (or me) against right-handed pitchers, it's not a bad idea to see what we've got here in AAA Barney.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are sending out Kevin Correia against us today. Correia has spent the 8 years pitching unspectacularly for West Coast teams -- 6 years with the San Francisco Giants, 2 years with the San Diego Padres. It sure was nice of the Pittsburgh Pirates to send him to the mound for Opening Day at Wrigley.

Of course, now that I've said that, we can now expect Correia to throw 8 shut out innings.