Thursday, June 30, 2011

Farewell To Bobby Scales

News broke the other day that infielder Bobby Scales is leaving to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Many Cubs fans will remember Scales as the infielder who made his major league debut with the Cubs at age 31. It was a feel-good story, and one of the only happy things in the 2009 season.

In memory of that nice little story, I thought I'd give ol' Scales a nice send off, but unfortunately, a quick gander at his statistics have, once again, made me infuriated with the Chicago Cubs organization.

As it turns out, unbeknownst to me, Bobby Scales has been murdering Triple-A pitching for a good 5 years. His one "down" year in that stretch was above average by most standards (ironically, he had a high batting average that year, quite possibly leading to his call up during a down year; go figure).

It's frustrating all around. Consider this:

AAA    PA   wRC+
2006  417   127
2007  499   134
2008  458   135
2009  356   105
2010  462   122
2011  283   134

So, in other words, he was around 20 to 30 percent above average, and sported about a .400 OBP. Wow, Cubs. Wow. Here is this defensively strong, ultra-patient hitter playing a premium position — nay! several premium positions — and you let him fester in AAA.

Please, Japan, take him. America does not deserve him anymore.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Newsflash! The Cubs Are Bad At Everything!

The Cubs are not good defensively. They are not good on the base paths. They do not pitch well. And they are average offensively. These constitute the four elements of baseball.

We get excited when we see Darwin Barney defending, Starlin Castro running the bases, Matt Garza pitching, or Carlos Pena stroking a fly to the bleacher; but these are just small elements of a synergistic effort. Good teams have more than just a few exciting players and plays, they have whole team efforts that excel in at least 3 of the 4 elements of baseball.

Note how the Cubs rank near the bottom on these four elements:

Yeah, Barney is good defensively, and Kosuke Fukudome seems capable, but the team as a whole fails defensively.

The Cubs pave the way for bad base running. If Castro or Fukudome spend some time on the DL, expect the Cubs to push for new records in bad running.

Our pitching, once average, has slouched into terribleness. I have before mentioned how teams in contention need more than 5 starters; they need upwards of 7 capable starters (meaning 2 to 3 above average or excellent pitchers, 3 to 4 barely above average pitchers, and 2 to 4 average-to-replacement-level pitchers).

Which is funny, because at one time this off season, the Cubs had 4 good starting pitchers (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Randy Wells), 3 above average pitchers (Andrew Cashner, Carlos Silva, and Tom Gorzelanny), and a slew (5+ at least) of replacement level (or worse) pitchers (Doug Davis, Thomas Diamond, Casey Coleman, Jeff Samardzija, and so on).

The Cubs then proceeded to shed their not-good pitchers, slimming it down to the mere five they intended to trot out every day and pitch 200 innings each. Bullpens hardly matter when the starters are getting blown up.

The Cubs have been average hitters since forever. This year is not much more of an exception. The Cubs stats are just below average offensively, but with Marlon Byrd returning and Aramis Ramirez heating up, we'll be average again in no time!

Monday, June 27, 2011

GROTA: The Cubs Will Compete In 2012

Or so says my buddy A.J. Walsh over on Goat Riders of the Apocalypse. In response to my "give up, we will suck for at least three years" proposal, A.J. has spent some time looking at contracts and contemplating careers. He came away feeling, shall we say?, more optimistic than me:
Do D.J. LeMahieu and Blake DeWitt suck? Possibly. But they also might be good. LeMahieu isn't ready to hit major league pitching today, but he also hasn't been completely overwhelmed, managing a .273 average in his short stint with the club. He also had a .492 slugging in AA before his call-up, along with a .358 average. He's also just 22 years old, so there's definitely room for him to grow, which he will do later this season once he's sent back down to Iowa. DeWitt is not Aramis Ramirez, but he's also just 25, and it looks like he'll have a chance to prove himself down the stretch. Slot those guys in for 2B and 3B for now.
You can read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NBA Draft: Bulls Draft Butler, Marquette Alumni (In Chicago) Salivate

The Bulls needed a shooting guard; one to take the pressure off Derrick Rose. But unfortunately, even if the Bulls had a lottery pick, that type of immediate impact wasn't in this year's draft. The Bulls selected Nikola Mirotic (I never heard of him either) and Jimmy Butler.

I don't understand the Mirotic pick. The 20 year old, 6'10" small forward from Serbia signed an extension with Real Madrid in late April that keeps him under contract until the 2015-16 season. Why draft him? I'm not even sure they can use this selection as an asset in a later deal (trade) for a two-guard. Justin Albers has a theory:
The Bulls likely made the trade because they didn’t want two more guaranteed contracts on their books heading into labor uncertainty. Because they weren’t able to add a shooting guard through the draft, the extra roster spot and money should allow them to sign one in free agency.
The Bulls selected Jimmy Butler at 30. As a Marquette Alum, I heart me some Jimmy Butler. His story is similar to Michael Oher's (from The Blind Side). Sure, I could jump into the stats and quantify his transition to the NBA, but that would be a disservice to him. Sometimes, you have to leave the stats alone and let a man's journey speak for itself. That's where the real talent is.

I heart me some Jimmy Butler.

The more you hear and see from him, I think you will too.

Ring out ahoya, Jimmy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The 2011 Cubs Season Is Bust, So Send Starlin Castro Down

That's the essence of my guest article on Goat Riders of the Apocalypse. The Cubs have a beyond-uphill battle to be competitive this year, or in 2012, so they are better off saving some value on Castro:
And, by 2013 — when the club has a legitimate chance at being competitive again — Castro's already out of his league minimum years. And then, by age 27 — at the peak of his talent — Castro will be earning upwards of $25M (possibly a quarter of the Cubs payroll).
Read the full analysis here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Carlos Pena Or Blake Dewitt?

Lately the Cubs have been batting Blake DeWitt 3rd, pushing Carlos Pena to the 5th slot. This drives me unnecessarily crazy. Consider the following data, which shows the 2011 running averages of these two hitters:

The statistics are pretty clear. Carlos Pena is finally heating up for the Cubs, but Blake Dewitt is looking as lost as ever — and that's not even mentioning his fielding in left.

Basically what we see in that chart is a power slugger finally returning to form, towering over a near-failed project. Then why oh why is Pena getting shuffled into the 5th spot of the lineup so frequently? Behold, the Cubs most frequent lineups:

Courtesy of Baseball Reference.

In half of those lineups, Pena is batting 5th while an inferior hitter bats 3rd or 2nd. Altogether, Pena has 56 PAs in the 4th spot and 137 PAs in the 5th. Move those inferior hitters lower, and then slide Pena to number 4 or 3. Please stop the madness!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Moneyball: The Movie, The Trailer

I am a big fan of the book Moneyball and fully anticipate to hate the upcoming movie. Reasons? Glad you asked: (1) Hollywood loves to ruin books like rats love to dash across alleyways; (2) the book itself presented an incomplete picture of sabermetrics, so I fear the film will only worsen the bad rap we get; and (3) the sabermetric community has had a long-running meme of fake reports from the Moneyball%#151reports of an added love interest and dramatic alterations to history—making me very, very concerned.

I must admit, though, this present Moneyball trailer does not scare me as much as I anticipated:

Note: Billy Beane is the best-looking GM out there, and Brad Pitt looks strikingly similar in several of the scenes.

Side Note: Can we have Billy Beane in the post-Jim Hendry era?

Hat tip: Tom Tango

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2011 NBA Finals: Winning Changes Everything

“I don’t want him on my team, I don’t like his character.” – Anonymous friend talking about [a fictitious trade for] Lebron James

The comparisons of Lebron James to Michael Jordan have been overblown, overused, and overrated. Fact of the matter is, MJ won and Lebron (to date) has not. But as much as we salivate over MJ's highlights and accomplishments, these comparisons are starting to get old. And if we are to make comparisons (of one man's character to another), then we need to look at MJ as a whole. I think we have forgotten who Michael Jordan was. Yes, he was a stone cold killer on the court. But off the court, he wasn’t the clean image we see in the Hanes commercials.

MJ manipulated the media as well as the NBA. After Magic and Bird left, the NBA needed him more then he needed the NBA. It wasn't Shawn Kemp's league (how many kids does this man have?), Patrick Ewing's league, or Charles Barkley's league (that's turrble). It was Mike's. He stood alone. He sold tickets, jerseys, newspapers, and the like. The NBA, the Chicago Bulls, and the media protected Jordan from his indiscretions: the gambling, the punching of teammates, and the perusing of women.

Let’s not be na├»ve. We give MJ a hall pass because he got us 6 banners. Let us continue to pretend like these things didn’t happen. He didn’t cheat on his wife, he didn’t punch his teammates, he didn’t gamble (even during the playoffs), he didn’t make bad movies, and he doesn't have an AWFUL moustache (c'mon, Mike). Nope. Never happened.

We look the other way for Mike because...he won. There's the double standard.

Honestly, is he any different than Brett Favre, Plaxico Burress, Ray Lewis, or Tiger Woods. All of these athletes have committed heinous indiscretions, yet we, the fans, look the other way.

Don't get this twisted. I’m not “Anti-Mike”. I still think he’s the greatest player... ever.

But I understand what winning does. It changes things. It changes everything, even the truth. Winning can turn enemies into friends (or frenemies), goats into heroes, and harsh critics into raving supporters — and winning can make indiscretions fade away like a 20-foot jumper.

It's just too bad Lebron hasn't learned how to hit this jump shot yet.

(Image courtesy of: Steve Lipofsky)

Friday, June 10, 2011

FanGraphs: Interview With Darwin Barney

David Laurila, FanGraphs writer and my colleague, has the privilege of interviewing a great number of baseball players. I asked him how he does this, and he merely threw a smoke bomb at his feet and disappeared. I'm still not sure what it meant.

Anyway, he recently interviewed the Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. It is a great interview, with some especially good nuggets. For instance, Barney addresses head on the difference between he and Derek Jeter — and why fielding percentage is deeply flawed:
...I’m going to try to back up on [a tough play] and make it look as easy as possible. When it comes to being flashy — and there are a lot of descriptions of flashy — my job is to get outs. However I can accomplish that, that’s what I’m going to do.

You can take a line drive up the middle and flag at it, and make a great play, or you can miss it and not get an error. Conversely, if you get there and kind of just drop down to try to make the play, a lot of times you’re given an error because you didn’t make it look flashy. But the object is to get the job done and you’re going to make errors in this game...
In other words, guys who make it look tough (Derek Jeter) get fewer errors. Rangey guys who make it look easy (Darwin Barney, Alexei Ramirez) get more errors.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Anatomy Of The Cubs Losing Streak

Image courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Woof. You know it is a bad season when do not even notice a losing streak. Yeah, that's right. Until yesterday, I just thought the Cubs were doing business as usual. It was not until our Twitter friends started mentioning the 8-game losing streak that I began to realize what was happening.

In the grand scheme of things, though, losing streaks do not matter all that much. Losing 8 of the last 10 games really stinks, whether or not there's an 8 game losing streak pressed in there somewhere.

Over the last ten games, the Chicago Cubs have had some shiners and stinkers:
  • Carlos Pena has posted a decent .206/.333/.471 slash, knocking in 3 homers to boot. He has all but erased the last vestiges of his monstrous early-season slump.
  • Since May 29th, Starlin Castro has culled together a most unimpressive .184/.175/.263 slash. His .206 BABIP assures us he will regress finely, though, but little cold streaks like this are what compose slumps. Also, Castro leads the lead in errors right now, but is also second in putouts. Kind of mixed bag there.
  • In that same stretch, Darwin Barney has hit .286/.302/.357 — which is perfectly acceptable for a strong defensive shortstop. It is not, however, acceptable for a number two hitter (hint hint, Mike Quade).
  • Doug Davis has started twice over the last 10 games, going a combined 10.2 innings with a 5.91 ERA. Boy am I glad we were able to trade Tom Gorzelanny and cut Carlos Silva!
  • Meanwhile, Carlos Zambrano has also started twice, going a combined 15 innings with a dandy 1.20 ERA. At least the Cubs have somebody to trade.
  • Our recently-extended closer Carlos Marmol, on the other hand, has pitched 6 innings saved 2 games, blown 2 others, and altogether produced an atrocious 10.50 ERA. Does that mean extending Marmol was a bad idea? Eh, not really. He's much better than he has played these last ten games, but he is also a reliever, and therefore highly volatile.
Hey Cubs, how about a winning streak to put us — oh, I dunno — 2 games ahead of the last place Houston Astros?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Case You Missed It, Zambrano's "Rant"

Seriously? I can hardly believe this interview is what created the cavalcade of insanity afterwards. In fact, the cavalcade of beforehand insanity is what created this interview — so it aught to even out! I have oft defended Carlos Zambrano, and I see no reason to change that now.

(Hat tip to Outside the Boxscore.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Carlos Zambrano: Team Leader

Today Julie Dicaro delivered a Henry the Fifth-type awesome speech at A League of Her Own:
Cubs fans want a leader on this team? You jut saw one. Zambrano is more of a leader than anyone else in this organization, and that included the entire front office. And he’s sure as hell been more of a leader than Kerry Wood with his platitudes or Ryan Dempster with his “hey, I’m the funny guy!” schtick. A leader says what needs to be said, even if it’s unpopular. A leader forced people to deal with the hard truths they don’t want to look at. A leader does the right thing even thought it may have less-than-ideal consequences.
Yeah, I'm totally with Julie on this one.

The Cubs Are Terrible

Ho-lee kao! I know things are really bad when I get a voicemail from Will, full of both sighing and shouting, denouncing the Cubs and cursing their curse. What makes it even worse — and it's not the annual Carlos Zambrano blow up — is the epically bad pace the Cubs have set for themselves.

I did not realize how truly terrible this 2011 Cubs season has been until mb21 of the Obstructed View Blog brought this dandy to my attention:
The Cubs winning percentage is .411. The only Cubs teams since 1981 who have been worse through 56 games were the teams in 1981 (.286), 1982 (.375), 2002 (.393), 2000 (.393) and 1994 (.393). The last thre were just one win worse than the Cubs. It gets worse if we look at the expected record based on runs scored and allowed.

The Cubs Pythagorean win percentage is .403. Only the teams in 1981 (.332), 2006 (.399) and 2002 (.400) have been worse. Even the terrible Cubs teams of 1982 and 2000 were better. There's an even better win expectation percentage called PythagenPat. Rather than consider all run environments the same as Pythagorean does, it's based on the run score environment of each individual team.

The Cubs current PythagenPat is .408. Only the teams in 1981 (.344), 2006 (.405) and 2002 (.407) have been worse. The 2000 team is interesting because only one team in this span scored more runs (2008). However, no team came even close to allowing the number of runs they did. A lot of runs were being scored in baseball at that time, but in other years close to 2000, we don't see such extremes for any Cubs team.
Now you have done it, Cubs. You have made one of your most loyal fans — the great, white Will Smith — depressed. And he hasn't even seen these numbers yet!

No offense to Hendry, who brought several magical seasons to this franchise, but we need a new GM, a new and consistent approach, and maybe just a sliver hope.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Welcome Back Carlos Pena!

During the month of April, Carlos Pena was lost. We can only assume he had been kidnapped and replaced with some devious lookalike, whilst the real Pena slowly bummed his way back to Chicago from some mysterious and vast desert.

Since the calender turned to May and the real Pena made his dramatic re-entrance, the Cubs first baseman has slugged a dandy .255/.408/.500 slash line (as of yesterday) to go with 8 homers (as of today's game) and slick/above-average defense.

Here's why it is especially good: The Cubs cannot really use Carlos Pena. At $10 million, Pena is not really overpaid or anything, but his one year contract and likely Type-A free agent status means he could be a dandy acquisition for, y'know, a team in contention.

So, either way, the Cubs can hang onto to Pena, pretend this year still has a chance, and then get a compensation pick next year when Pena signs elsewhere — or the Cubs could trade Pena to someone looking for a power bat and grab a few prospects or two.

And, in the meantime, we get to watch one of the MLB's highest quality gentlemen slug dingers!

On Small Ball

Recently on the World Series Dreaming Facebook page, the topic turned to small ball. I really do not like small ball. I do not like selling outs for the hope of more runs — it reminds me of buying snake oil and mystery remedies.

Anyway, here's my full comment on the thread:
I got to the party late, but still want to hurl my two pennies at the wrastling masses:

The concept of "small ball" came from the early 1900s, during the Deadball Era, when all-white teams played in ginormous stadiums, without lights, and with a single ball (which by games' end was tattered and dirtied, making it even harder to see in the fading light). Spit balls and scuff balls were also legal, doubling the difficulty of a batter's job.

THAT was the proper run environment for small ball. Now, power is cheap, stadiums are small, and avoiding outs is king. The refinement of the sport has also been coupled with improvements in defense, making bunts a riskier proposition than they were in the 1920s.

In short: The Cubs are unsurprisingly still employing the same management methods of Cap Anson and Frank Chance if they are pursuing about small ball. Also, Bob Brenly: He dumb.
To clarify: Bob Brenly forgets more about baseball while brushing his teeth than I will know in a lifetime. His in-game baseball knowledge appears unrivaled. However: He's got the Old School Knowledge caked on the walls of his brain, meaning we disagree on about 70% of everything.

In other words: He's not dumb. Not really. Just wrong.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is It Okay To Question Mike Quade Yet?

Last year, Cubs fans began meandering out of the woodworks bearing signs and slogans in support of manager Mike Quade. When Quade took the reigns after Lou Piniella's sudden retirement, the team was 51-74. The team then went 24-13 under Quade's leadership. But even during the hiring process, I and several others balked at the notion of Quade making a such a huge impact.

Well, now that the Quade honeymoon seems effectively over, I think it is time to start seriously questioning his process. Of note: Darwin Barney batting second. Look, I love Barney and hope he has a long and fruitful career. But, I think his defense is overrated (people who do not watch teams like the Rays play have no idea what legit defense looks like) and his hitting is atrocious.

For the season, Barney has defensively cost the team 1 run (per Ultimate Zone Rating) and 2 runs with his bat (and is 12% below average offensively, per weighted runs created). This is not the profile of a number two hitter; it is the stat line of a utility player or a bench-rider — or at best a filler who should bat 8th or 9th until some stud prospect takes his place (not to imply there is one; Marquez Smith maybe?). Look, Darwin's young and may come into his own eventually, but right now he's not at all spectacular, and is simply another black eye for this organization.

Somehow, UZR has Barney ranked worse defensively than Starlin Castro. Granted, the season's early and a lot can change. UZR requires three seasons of data before it shows a player's true talent level, so at this point it is merely a narrative of the season thus far. And frankly, the narrative matches what I've seen: Average range, acceptable-to-poor ball handling skills, and altogether nothing special. I'm hoping I'm wrong and that Barney has some awesome range yet-shown, but with each passing day, it seems less likely.

Anyway, the straight truth is this: Barney (12% below league average) should not be batting second or lead off, and Castro (8% above league average) should probably be batting lead off in his stead.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

FanGraphs: wOBA by the Slot

My latest FanGraphs piece looks at batting order production throughout the league. Of note to Cubs fans is the crazy good production we've had out of the top slot:
We also can see how Kosuke Fukudome and Starlin Castro have combined the league’s best leadoff slot, but a large portion of that success is due to Fukudome’s hot, high-BABIP start.
In general, our lineup does not impress. Five and 6 are hitting way better than 2, 3, and 4, despite their lower importance. This really comes down to a deeper problem — one I had sensed in the off-season — that Mike Quade is in fact an average, if not dangerously below-average, manager.

2011 Cubs Season Timelines

Behold, Cubs fans, this is your 2011 season!

There's lots of red. Big reds, too. That means the Cubs have lost, and lost big.

Perhaps this is a better, more accurate timeline:

At this point, I just want the pain to end.