Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wow, Yankees. Wow.


I'm working on another piece for ESPN right now, but came across this dandy slew of statistics. Basically the New York Yankees have totally eschewed fielding — nay, deliberately collected bad fielders — in the ongoing pursuit of hitting a billion home runs in one season.

Their fielding over the last decade has been almost three times worse than the next worst team.

Wow.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Updated: Cubs Trade Kosukue Fukudome For Carlton Smith, Abner Abreu

Does the Fukudome trade open a
final chance for Tyler Colvin?
Well, the inevitable became history today. The Cubs have traded right fielder Kosuke Fukudome for minor leaguers Abner Abreu (High-A outfielder) and Carlton Smith (AAA reliever). Both players do not overwhelm — or, heck, impress or leave a lot of hope — but considering the Cubs only traded two months of Kosuke Fukudome, plus a chunk of change to cover about 15% 85% (what?!) of his remaining contract, the deal is not really all that bad.

One kind of wishes we maybe traded Kosukue in the off-season and thereby secured a heftier return, but the difference may have been minimal as Kosuke's career has been one pretty consistently lower-than-expected plateau.

As for the prospects, Abner Abreu is a 21-year-old in High-A who has somehow less plate discipline than the present 25-man roster. Still, he hits for good power and steals a good number of bases. Maybe in four years he'll make a nice pinch hitter or fourth outfielder? Maybe?

Carlton Smith is a 25-year-old AAA reliever who's not overly impressive. He's been striking out a lot more batters this year (9 per nine innings), but he's also walking a good deal too (3.9+ per nine). If he can lower the walk rate or reduce his home runs, then he could very well make a serviceable middle reliever in 2012 — not that the Cubs need it.

In a corresponding move, the Cubs have called up Tyler Colvin who was struggling in AAA (.275 OBP, .483 SLG). This may be Colvin's last shot to be an everyday player with Cubs, but they may choose just to give Reed Johnson the greater heft of the playing time moving forward — unless they can find a trade partner for him too.

UPDATE: Apparently I got the original number wrong. The Cubs are sending close to $4M along with Kosuke. This means the Cubs are basically paying Ghost Kosuke for the remainder of the season, but getting Colvin or Tony Campana production — all for the hope that they might possibly hopefully get a middle reliever and a fourth outfielder in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

This trade is a pretty big bummer.

On Twitter, I got into a discussion with several high quality Cubs fans, and they mostly felt Colvin deserved Kosuke's playing time, whereas I'm partial to Tony Campana. Campana has a strong, though lucky, hitting history in the minors, and appears every bit a great fielder and base runner.

Either way though, both options are not super great.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chicago Fire: Castrol Index, A "Feel Good", And A "Thank You"

As Brad and I prepped for the Chicago Fire v Manchester United match, we were dilligently trying to find a website that stored advanced statistics for soccer — basically its Fangraphs equivalent (though we would have settled for "SoccerReference.com" or something along those lines).

Advanced Stats (in Soccer)
Locating advanced soccer stats is harder than I thought (I'm still looking) but I did find something called the Castrol Index. Although it sounds like something for your automobile, this index is to evaluate soccer talent:



The higher the Castrol Index, the better the player. Sure, there is some subjectivity regarding point allocation but I think it does a decent job of measuring output. The Castrol Index combines offense and defense, it reminds me a lot of Win Shares (in basketball) or WAR (in baseball). You can watch more of the Castrol Index with Cristiano Ronaldo (that's for you, ladies) here.

According to the Castrol Index, out of the 412 MLS players, the Chicago Fire have one (1) player [Marco Pappa 8.71] in the top 5%. The Fire also have two players in the top 10% [Cory Gibbs 8.6, Yamith Cuesta 8.54].

(Side note: We are exploring embedding the Castrol Index widget.)

Dreams Do Come True
There was a feel good story during the Fire v. Man U match:
[Pari Pantazopolous] the Chicagoland product won the Fire’s open tryout this winter and then, improbably, won a roster spot during the preseason. He took another step on his unlikely journey Saturday afternoon, coming on in the final minutes of the Fire’s 3-1 loss to Premier League champions Manchester United in front of a sellout crowd in a Herbalife World Football Challenge match at Soldier Field.
The Chicago Fire Product
It takes a little over an hour from downtown to Toyota Park (Orange Line to Midway->Shuttle Bus->TP) so plan accordingly. Overall, the Fire have a good product and we at Cubs Stats have never had a bad time attending a Fire game (regardless of the outcome). The Section 8 fans are wonderful and they show their passion for the Fire throughout the game.

We at Cubs Stats would like to thank the Chicago Fire for providing us with some 90 minutes of great soccer and for being gracious hosts.

Soccer Quote of Interest: "In soccer, space is king."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chicago Fire v. Manchester United

The Chicago Fire (2-6-12) will face Manchester United today at Soldier Field. This match is part of the World Football Challenge and although we don't cover soccer football much, we at CubsStats love the Fire and we fully expect a hard fought match regardless of Man U's hot start:
Man U already has posted two dominant wins during its U.S. tour, most recently crushing MLS side Seattle Sounders FC, 7-0, on Wednesday.
Things have been tough for the Fire this season. It seems management is taking this organization in a different direction. If the Fire were competitive year-after-year, the Chicago market would embrace them more -- there have been some lean years since their last MLS Cup championship (1998) -- and I can't think of a better way to start than earning a victory over Man U.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

FanGraphs: Jim Hendry Replacement Time

I penned and article today for FanGraphs about present Cubs GM Jim Hendry. It's worth noting: Hendry seems like a classy guy and I really wish him no ill will. The problem is he's just a member of the old guard at this point, and the regime needs change:
If Hendry is allowed to finish the season — as many suspect will happen — he may well put the team in a furthered position of disadvantage by not taking advantage of players such as [Darwin] Barney and [Jeff] Baker at the height of their perceived value. The 2012 Cubs have very little chance at being competitive, but the 2011 Cubs could push them further along with a much overdue fire sale and subsequent rebuild, a la the 2005 Tampay Bay Rays.
You can read the rest at FanGraphs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Carlos Pena: Best Jim Hendry Signing Ever?

Not to imply the Cubs had a chance this year, but if we look at the Carlos Pena signing in a vacuum, does it appear the best signing in the Jim Hendry era?

Pena is now at 20 homers and has a rapidly improving .225/.337/.457 slash. Weighted on base average (wOBA) is a stat that puts all those numbers into one, and according to wOBA, Pena has fully recovered from that early season swoon:

Source: FanGraphs

Hendry's signing of Marlon Byrd proved rather prescient — especially considering that season's center field darling free agent was Mike Cameron — who got released by the Red Sox earlier this year. Hendry signed Byrd to a three-year contract ($3M/$5.5M/$6.5M), which — by being just above average — Byrd has easily exceeded.

Meanwhile, Pena came to the Cubs on a one-year, $10M contract. The beauty of the signing was two-fold: At just one year, it gave the Cubs flexibility to go in a different direction next year when Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols hit the market; but it also helps saturate that same market, assuming Pena has a good year (which he is having).

This means that if Pena does indeed have a good year and show he's beating the aging bug, then the Cubs could lock him in for a few more years at an even greater discount.

Of course, both the Byrd and Pena signings were merely icing on a poptart; neither provide the sufficient boost to make the Cubs an excellent team, but taken by themselves both are pretty incredible acquisitions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Michael Jordan: How Many MVP's He Should Have Won

In April I did a post about Derrick Rose and how, according to Win Shares, he wasn't the MVP of the league.

I took a closer look at Michael Jordan's stats:
  • He led the league in win shares 9 times (this ties Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most eva!)

  • He led the league in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) 7 times (this happened consecutively from '86-'92)

  • He led the league in points per game 10 times, consecutively from '86-'92, and from '95-'97
Considering those three important measures of statistical performance, he only won the MVP 5 times. Boo.

Win shares isn't perfect. But for measuring "most valuable" I can't think of a better measurement than how many wins one's productivity contributes to one's team. Another reason I like win shares (or WAR in baseball) is that it separates the narrative, perception, and reality (stats).

According to win shares, Jordan shouldn't have won just 5 MVP's -- but 9 instead.

(Photo courtesy of: Steve Lipofsky)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Chicago Cubs Franchise Is Not Doomed


Let's be honest: Will's recent article was straight-depressing. And who can blame him? The state of Chicago Cubs affairs is in great disarray.

When Tom Ricketts came to the Cubs, I was among the excited and optimistic. Yeah, I am not a beer-drinking bleacher bum and do not identify with the "college fan" types, but when the new owner is mentioning Bill James and hiring stats guys, I became more than willing to forgive him any number of past transgressions.

Anyway, this year has been rough. And we're on a down-slope, that much is certain.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chicago Cubs: A Lesson In Bad Business


Baseball. It is foreign to me this year. I almost feel widowed to it. I have studied the precipitous decline of the Chicago Cubs for three seasons now. In fact, I do not recognize this ball club anymore. Not because of the new faces (rookies) but because of the lack of competitiveness at every level of the organization.

The Cubs do not have a sustainable competitive advantage. In fact, I am not aware of a competitive strategy. I believe the Cubs have a lack of leadership. Ricketts's direction of the team seems unclear. He comes off very amorphous; he talks, but he doesn't really tell us anything. For the betterment of the organization, Ricketts needs to be less a fan and more of a businessman with a clear direction. Most importantly, he needs to inform the fanbase on where he wants to take this team. I think we would all be more confident of the direction of this organization if Ricketts said "We have to be competitive again... And this is how we are going to do it." I wouldn't even care if he had charts and graphs (like Ross Perot). Just. Have. A. Plan.

We've had our opportunities to challenge management, most notably in the last Cubs Convention when fans got to directly question them, but the wound of Ron Santo's passing was still fresh and there were egg shells on the floor. People were aware of this fictional boundary — not to ruffle feathers. I think the most intriguing question was why the Cubs do not use more advanced statistical analysis. My opinion of Ricketts's answer was that he only has a few analysts on staff (if that) — and who knows what type analysis they use. Regardless, the synergy between analyst and manager should be smooth. The owner, Ricketts, should leverage the knowledge of the analysts to make their (on the field) product more competitive, then transfer this knowledge to the manager. Quade, if he was a good manager/leader, should have the analysts in his back pocket, picking their brains on lineups, pitching, defense, and speed.

Have the Cubs ruined baseball? Not for everyone. But for those of us that follow this team and have sucked up the losing ways for so long, it definitely seems that way. The saddest thing about this is that the Ricketts don't have an answer and we are afraid that the answer will be "business as usual" (overpaying veterans and ignoring how to create a winning organization through defense, speed, farm system, drafting, etc). And that's what has ruined my baseball experience.

The product has changed. It's not the same anymore. Not only do the Cubs compete for my time (going to a game vs. watching it at home) but also on price. There's a difference between price and value:
"Price is what you pay, value is what you get." — Warren Buffett
I haven't bought a Cubs ticket in about two years. The Cubs haven't ruined just baseball for me, but business as well.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Illusion Of Darwin Barney

"Barney, he's great." — Anonymous Coworker

I like Barney. Sure, he plays hard (but then again, most guys in the majors play hard) and he has the right attitude. But that doesn’t mean he’s a great player. The word utility comes to mind when I think of Barney.

Barney was named Rookie of the Month in April and maybe there’s one more month in him, but face facts, Cubs fans: Barney is average and he won’t be the NL Rookie of the Year. This is a two-horse race between Danny Espinosa and Freddie Freeman. Barney really is in the middle of the pack in the advanced stat categories. His only saving grace is his higher BABIP (.342).

I know, he’s only played half a season in "The Show" therefore it’s a small sample size. You’re correct. So we need to compare him to rookies in both leagues. Unfortunately for Barney, he only leads NL rookies (in his position) in one category — BABIP. There are only three NL rookies in 2B this year (Espinosa, Barney, Turner).

Let me put this in perspective for you — I think Barney is the Cubs version of (waaait fooor iiit) Gordon Beckham... And that's not a compliment.

Stats and MLB Rankings

Cubs Release The Best Poet Going For Them, Fernando Perez

Yesterday, the Cubs released outfielder Fernando Perez. I have been a long and unabashed fan of Perez -- even since his days with the Rays. Perez is a writer and poet and frequent blogger, whose tumblr blog is both interesting and complex.

Fernando has had two straight rough seasons. His rough 2010 precipitated his part in the Matt Garza trade, where he played the role of the down prospect with a chance of resurgence. Out of spring training, Reed Johnson won the Cubs 4th outfielder role -- a move I criticized at the time, but about which I was probably wrong considering recent revelations.

It might be worth mentioning something to the note of the Cubs failing miserably on the Matt Garza trade, but that is both an exaggeration and an ill-timed observation.

I really do hope the outfield rambler finds a new home (maybe with the Rays?). He had been improving through the recent months, even hitting homer earlier in July, so hopefully there's a team out their willing to give him another shot.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Teams WANT John Grabow?!

Bruce Levine brings this dandy to our attention:
It appears the Yankees may have some interest in Cubs left-handed reliever John Grabow...
What?! John Grabow?! THE John Grabow? In his time with the Cubs, he has put up ERAs of 3.24 (2009, half season), 7.36 (2010), and 5.11 (2011).

I have long maintained that John Grabow would make a decent LOOGY (a lefties-only one out guy), but have watched in frustration as Mike Quade has marched him out to face what seemed like increasingly large numbers of righties.

Well, in that regard, I was wrong:
Apparently, coinciding with his asplosion in a Cubs uni, he started facing fewer and fewer righties. Granted a typical LOOGY faces only 40% righties (and sports a high 2.00 FIP).

Still, Grabow has always performed better against lefties (3.47 FIP) than righties (4.85 FIP). I imagine if the Yankees (who are a smart, progressive organization) acquired the Grabow, they would use him in 50% LOOGY role (as in: facing only half righties).

Moreover, this year he sports an ultra-high BABIP and super small LOB%, so he's been unlucky. Still, of all the Cubs pitchers to be interested in: John Grabow?!

OTHER NEWS:

Friend of the site Manu Mishra had an excellent piece on Steve Rosenbloom and his hack job on Carlos Zambrano. Head to the Obstructed View Blog and read it. Immediately.

A Long Time

I have to remind myself that it's going to be a long time until the Cubs win a World Series.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cubs Fans Need To Stop Drinking The Castro-Barney Kool-Aid

Much has been made about the double-play tandem of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. It seems like these two have drawn comparisons to Tinker-Evers-Chance (sans Chance). This is preposterous — NONE of us was alive when they played. Jerry Crasnik wrote:
Short-term setbacks notwithstanding, the long-term view up the middle remains promising for the Cubs. Castro and Barney don't hit for power and they need to increase their walk totals and reduce the rookie mistakes, but they're establishing themselves as contact hitters with range, energy and a drive to improve.

And that hybrid nickname -- "Starwin Barstro" -- makes you think there's some harmonic convergence at play here.
Nay. The Cubs middle infield is serviceable on a good day. Starlin could possibly be a liability at shortstop and Barney is slightly above average at 2B. Steve Stone thinks Castro may be better at 3B than as a middle infielder:
"Eventually, he will grow into a third baseman," Steve Stone said on the Mully and Hanley Show. "He’s not a third baseman now…he’s doing a great job at shortstop, you leave him there."
With Castro's -5.4 UZR and Barney's weak hitting, the Cubs may be better off by having these two swap positions. At present, their defense does not even make the top NL Central tandem:


So if you're going to drink the kool-aid, Cubs fans, at least make it hot.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

OVBlog: The Injury Bug Hath Struck

Aisle 424 went through the Cubs roster on the Obstructed View Blog today, recapping the injury train that has been the 2011 Chicago Cubs season. In all honesty, I'm surprised how many guys haven't been injured this year!

But in truth, even our 4th OFer has spent time on the DL:

Reed Johnson - He hurt his back, went on the DL and then got hit in the face with a pitch during his rehab stint. Seriously. If that doesn't pretty much sum up the Cubs season in a nutshell, I don't know what does.

Depth, depth, depth. Any successful season is marked by either (1) great injury fortunes or — more typically — (2) great organizational depth.

Read the whole article here: D'oh! Cubs, D'oh! | The OV Blog

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

White Sox: Chasing The Dragon Of Adam Dunn

I haven't checked my fantasy team in weeks. Not because I'm out of contention (it's too early to say that) but because I am afraid to see Adam Dunn.

Sitting there.
Alone.
Cold.
On the bench.

It's a sight I didn't expect to see. On draft day I believe I paid $18 for Dunn. I was hoping that Dunn (and Prince Fielder) would power my team through the season. Owners would offer me trades filled with a mixture of average speed, hitting and pitching. I would scoff at their offers with a response of "I didn't build this organization by making bad deals and I sure as hell ain't gonna start now". I was cocky overconfident with optimism. I even claimed Dunn would have 30 home runs -- at home.

Then, something happened. Well, technically speaking, nothing happened.

Dunn had his usual slow start, had an appendectomy and still has yet to adjust to new pitching and his role as a DH in the American League (Brad was right, moving an everyday player to the AL as a DH does in fact, reduce their productivity).

Some might say I am stuck with Adam Dunn. But he is the drug that tugs on my rationality. His past productivity combined with the ease of hitting a home run at U.S. Cellular begs me to put him in the lineup. My mind races:

"Maybe this week, at this game, he'll break out of it."
"Maybe I should put him in the lineup for only 4 days and see how he does."
"No no no, only home games. Yeah that's it. I'll only play him at home."

I try to make sense of the madness. Dunn's size, his power, things that were once valuable tools to his career, now seem to be an illusion.

I have resisted chasing the dragon of Adam Dunn for so long. The temptation of inserting him in my lineup for home games is high and the White Sox started a 7-game homestand yesterday (Dunn went 2-4 with a home run). It seems temptation will get the best of me -- at least this week.