Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Matt Garza: Chicago Cubs Ace

This, right here:
In the case of Matt Garza, [xFIP] tells us something far more encouraging, with a better team around him, he could be an ace. I don't mean just the ace of the Cubs, he's already that. I'm talking about ace in the truest sense of the word -- a guy who can go out every 5th day, put his team on his back, and dominate the opposition...

If the Cubs had a better team we could have been talking about Garza as one of the top pitchers in baseball, perhaps even a Cy Young candidate.
Since coming to the Chicago Cubs, Matt Garza has moved in the best of all directions: He has increased his strikeouts, reduced his walks, and wrangled his home runs under control (all with respect to his career rates).

I have often and loudly protested the Matt Garza trade, buy never because I thought Matt Garza was below average — no, no — only because his timeline did not fit with the Cubs timeline (he's peaking, they're rebuilding).

That said, pitchers age differently than hitters and, if he can continue at this level, he could play a key role in helping the Cubs bounce back in a year or two. Read the Cubs Den article above by John Arguello if you doubt Matt Garza's filthiness.

He really has been marvelous this season, and it would be awesome if the Cubs can put a quality team around him sometime soon.

Greg Maddux, Beast Man

Remember this guy?

Honestly, I wager he could still pitch today. Yeah, he'd be a fifth starter somewhere, but Greg Maddux at age 45 could easily outdo Jamie Moyer at age 48 (who, by the way, is still working towards playing next year, at age 49).

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Cubs Make NotGraphs!

In a season full of hilarious woe, one might imagine the Cubs would land on NotGraphs more often. Well, such is not the case. This may be the first time the Cubs have made it onto NotGraphs (the funny version of Fangraphs) all season — maybe the second or third time at best.

Which is a sad contrast to, say, the Tampa Bay Rays, whose broadcasts are so consistently funny, they've earned their own series on the matter.

Well anyway, the recent Quade ejection earned an homage to "Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions."

Keep it cool, Quade. Keep it cool.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Narrative Ninja: Darwin Barney, Brent Lillibridge

I don't understand all the love Darwin Barney and Brent Lillibridge are receiving right now.

I wrote about Darwin Barney last month and compared him to another "feh" second baseman in Chicago. As Brad and I discussed, Barney gets positive praise because of his scrappy play and his ability to hit for average. He essentially is Ryan Theriot 2.0. The Cubs have a gap (defensively) at shortstop, as that doesn't seem to be the best position for Starlin Castro (-7 UZR, gah!). In the short-term, Barney may add value to that position with his defense but in the long-term, the Cubs may be better suited finding a legitimate shortstop to become World Series contenders. David Schoenfield wrote in his article "The guide to fixing the Chicago Cubs":
Yes, Darwin Barney is scrappy and “Kunane” is one of his two middle names. But don’t love him too much.

Cubs fans like Barney, but he’s the kind of disposable middle infielder that second-division clubs give starting jobs to, not championship teams. Even if he hits .296 again -- and that is unlikely -- Barney has no power and doesn’t draw enough walks for a guy with no power. He’s OK as a stopgap, but it’s a big mistake if he’s still the starting second baseman in three years.

I know people will tell me Brent Lillibridge "has more HR's than Adam Dunn" (12), "better WAR than Dunn" (1.1...which is still below average), all of which are true. But Lillibridge's improved performance over Dunn is more of a reflection of Dunn's lack of productivity than Lillibridge being a good player. Lillibridge is a utility player for a reason: he's not spectacularly good at any one thing but rather "feh" at a couple of things.

So there you have it, my two cents regarding Barney and Lillibridge. Let's move past the Narrative Ninja with these two guys; why we celebrate mediocrity in Chicago is beyond me.

Jonah Keri On The Cubs

I'm not sure how I missed this article, but about a week ago, Jonah Keri — author of The Extra 2% (good book, read it) and (full disclosure) an online acquaintance of mine — used his Grantland spot for not-evil:
The Cubs have exactly one young star in [Starlin] Castro, a decent farm system that's been whittled down, a front office that will need an influx of new talent beyond the GM chair, a possible managerial change, and some big contracts to cycle through. Build the foundation for the next winning Cubs team, then hit the open market in 2013, 2014, or whenever the time's right to find the next Pujols. When that time comes the ivy will still be green, the bleachers will still be full, and the drought will still be there, waiting to finally be broken.
He makes several right-on observations in this article. Allow me to enumerate them for you:

(1) The Jim Hendry Era, though frustratingly average, was not as terrible as can be (See: Royals, Kansas City),

(2) the 2012 Chicago Cubs will probably not be division winners,

(3) the farm system got stripped this year, and

(4) that means no Albert Pujols and no Prince Fielder — which is fine, the team can find sluggers in 2013 or '14 if necessary.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vote For Cubs Stats!

Will and I have been promoting this CBS Most Valuable Blogger contest hardcore for over a week now. So, first of all, thanks, everyone, for voting and tolerating our shameless self-promotion!

The contest is open to everyone — Chicago residents or nay — and voters can vote everyday, which is cool for small blogs such as ours!

Cubs Stats is a small time operation with big aspirations. We are pitted against some great blogs — and blogs we like and read, no less — but we're easily a huge underdog in this competition.

So please! Take some time today (and why not tomorrow too?) to vote for Cubs Stats! We sure do appreciate the support.

Hugs and kittens,

Brad and the Cubs Stats staff

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Narrative Ninja: An Introduction

We at Cubs Stats try to use our creativity in new and exciting ways. We've implemented "Optimism Goggles" and "Pessimissm Cat". Now we move onto our newest creation: Narrative Ninja.

A Narrative Ninja comes to you in the middle of the night (hideyokids, hideyowife) and hits you with lightning speed of more narrative opinions than advanced analytics. A Narrative Ninja has zero (0) rationality and has limited knowledge of advanced statistics. They speak in tongues; "Why you gotta look at the stats?" they ask.

Narrative Ninja can hit the casual fan with karate-chop action — leaving them bruised and uneducated. To disprove the Narrative Ninja, one must use advanced statistics, whit, charm, and, above all else, nunchakus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bears Win 4-0 Over New York Giants

Many fans of the Chicago Bears may have groaned and moaned through Monday night's 41-13 loss to the New York Giants, but many fans of the Chicago Bears probably do not understand preseason football.

The truth is, the Bears won 4-0. Proof:
In less than 24 hours, the New York Giants lost their most productive cornerback and leading tackler, an emerging backup cornerback and a promising second-round pick.

Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Brian Witherspoon both suffered season-ending torn ACL injuries and coach Tom Coughlin revealed that defensive tackle Marvin Austin will need season-ending surgery to repair his left pectoral muscle, which was injured during the Giants' 41-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Bears suffered no major injuries — and quite possibly none at all (I didn't hear of any, at least).

That's one of the better objectives a fan can hope for from a preseason game.

The other good objectives for the Bears this preseason: (1) protect the quarterback, (2) open running lanes, and (3) protect the quarterback more.

The Bears offensive line had a quality test in the New York Giants front four. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck helped create the league's 3rd best defense and 3rd best pass defense in 2010, according to Football Outsiders.

Despite their ever-ferocious pass rush, the Giants reached Jay Cutler only once on the evening — and even then, Cutler had more than enough time to scramble out of the pocket and throw it away (instead he tucked the ball, tried to turn the corner, and took the sack).

That's... That's pretty good!

Meanwhile, the running game featured some not-bad-but-not-great blocking as the o-line starters for the Bears stayed in through parts of the third quarter.

Frankly, the Bears lost on the scoreboard, but they won in reality. They avoided injuries and they showed strong gains in a pivotal area. I'm feeling good about the coming year. Anyone else?

Image source.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Garza Touts Friedman, Cubs Fans Salivate

Immediately following the termination of Jim Hendry, Tom Ricketts had a press conference and discussed what he would like to see in his next GM:
  • commitment on player development
  • experience with advanced analytics
  • winning track record
Personally, I'm partial to the likes of Andrew Friedman and Brian Cashman.

Here's what Matt Garza had to say about the Rays GM in Chris Silva's article:
"He flipped the Tampa team around in two-plus years," Garza said. "Yeah, we went on a great run in 2008 but it's not like it was a one-year wonder. The following season we still had a winning record and last season we won the division once again and this year, you know, I don't know how he does it. But year in and year out he can put together a bullpen and put together the pieces he needs with the type of market he has. I think he'd be great here but like I said that's just a biased opinion. I know there's plenty of great GMs out there who would give for this gig. ... I think it's going to be a fun couple months."

The 2011 Bears Have Cause For Optimism

The Chicago Bears finished the previous NFL season just a game — nay, a drive — short of the Superbowl. Despite that, they only scored 48 points more than they allowed. The Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers scored 148 more than they allowed.

So, yeah, the NFC probably had a its best team represented in the Superbowl, but will the 2011 Chicago Bears really be a game above mediocre? Over the weekend, Will Smith suggested the Bears will go 9-7 in the coming season.

Well, I'm here to disagree. I think a 12+ wins season is possible — maybe with some help from the Packers offensive line, maybe not easily, and maybe not probably; but possible nonetheless.

Here's where it starts and ends with the 2011 Bears: The offensive line. Will outlined how massively terrible they were last year — and he's right. In fact, he almost undersells their terribleness.

They were bad. I mean bad:
The Bears have had a top 10 defense every year under Lovie Smith except 2009 (when Brian Urlacher was injured and Hunter Hillenmeyer had fill in for a titan-among-men). Defense will probably not be a problem.

The skill players are sufficient to good to Matt Forte and the special teams are other-worldly, so the offensive line is the only element — and the chief element — that could be the Bears' Achilles' Heel. (NOTE: I played o-line for 11 years, so I may be a bit biased in forecasting the importance of linemen.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chicago Bears: Offensive Analysis

A buddy of mine and I entered into a Gentleman's Wager (Gibson's is on the line), he predicts the Chicago Bears will go 13-3 this season. Although Jay Cutler thinks the defense was “a Super Bowl Defense” last year, for a team to go 13-3, the offense needs to match or exceed the output of the defense.

Now, past performance is NOT an indicator of future success (that’s your free financial advice), but rear-view window analysis is the best we have. And here’s what we had (offensively) last year...

Offensive Line and Jay Cutler
We’re all aware of the failed pass protection last season (56 sacks, 10.4% adjusted sack rate) but the Bears were not that strong running the ball – scary for a team that is based on pounding the football. Their power rank was dead last in the league (32). Their power success (% of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown) was 44%, the league average was 62% — d’oh! The Bears were also stuffed (% of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage) 25% of the time, the league average was 19%. Their stuffed rank was 30/32. Dissa not good.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jim Hendry Fired, Kenny Williams On The Hot Seat?

With the unfortunate galvanizing news of Jim Hendry losing his job, there remains one more GM on the hot seat in Chicago.

Kenny Williams went "All-in" during the off-season. He landed behemoth Adam Dunn to add power and walks to the lineup. Unfortunately, Dunn hasn't worked out as well as everyone had hoped. I predicted 50 HR's from Dunn in US Cellular Field alone -- the best park to hit a home run in the entire majors. But Dunn has struggled all season long (statistical outlier?). He has cost the Sox 13 runs this season as well as a -2.2 WAR (average player at the MLB level has a WAR of 2).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bam! Just Like That, Tom Ricketts Made Me Excited About The Chicago Cubs Again!

These guys are excited! Aren't you?!
Today, Tom Ricketts and Ricketts family announced the firing of Cubs GM Jim Hendry. They had decided on the separation in late July, but somehow managed to keep the decision the franchise's best kept secret until today, when it was announced in a press conference. (This reminds me a lot of the Rays ultra-tight-lipped mode of operation; which is a good, good thing.)

I listened to almost the entire press conference and felt like I was not hearing Tom Ricketts, but some other owner, in charge and professional. The truth is, Ricketts was apparently doing what I had hoped he was doing all along:
I think Ricketts may well be a far better owner than we can tell. Yeah, I may not agree with the whole "let's paint over the dilapidated gravestone that is Wrigley Field" policy, but a new owner cannot come in, remove Wrigley, and expect anything but a drunken riot.

And, rather than clean house in an industry he has no experience in, perhaps Tom has decided to slow play it, learn the ropes, give the present regime a chance to repeat their past success, and then execute a new strategy.

Of course, if the Ricketts do not significantly restructure after (or during) this present season, then I think the problem may be deeper, but I'm willing to wear the goggles until then.
It turns out the fanboy owner was indeed the poker player all along. In today's press conference, he really exuded a sense of in-chargieness. Yeah, exuding a sense of something and being something are two very different things. But, altogether, with the momentous announcement and the good vibe I got from Ricketts, all I needed was some choice words to make me thoroughly excited. Well:
Our focus will be on what we focused on the last couple years here, and that’s player development. We believe very strongly that the way to build consistent success in an organization is through identifying talented players, bringing them into the system and developing them into productive players at the major league level. … [The next GM will] have to share a commitment to player development. … We’ll look for guys that maybe have a stronger analytical background than we have here. … But I think we all have to keep that in perspective. The sabermetric stuff is important, but it’s just a piece. We’re not running the baseball organization by a computer model.
I'm a sabermetrician — and a proud one at that. But even I am not interested in running a team by a computer model. What I am interested in is a team that blends advanced analytic tools with excellent scouting and the necessary people-skills to deal effectively with other GMs, entice free agents into the locker room, and build an all-around successful organization.

That is the direction I feel like the Cubs are moving towards, and that is why Ricketts has instantly made me excited about the Cubs again.

Jim Hendry Fired; New Era Initiated?

Holy cow!

David Kaplan broke the news today! Jim Hendry is gone! Fired! Unemployed! (Welcome to the club, says one out of every ten Americans.)

This is the day we feared would not happen, the day we hoped would begin a new era, the day that may bring progressive analysis to the office full-time.

Today the Cubs fired Jim Hendry, and hired Tom Ricketts.

No, not actually. Randy Bush, the Assistant General Manager, is the interim GM, but the interim will last only the next few months. Tom Ricketts is in charge now; he's at the wheel; the organization's future is in his grasp.

The personnel Ricketts brings will decide how the next decade goes. We wish him the best of luck in his search. And at the same time, we wish Jim Hendry only the best. He, by all appearances, was a good man, but a mediocre GM. I have faith he will find work again soon in someone else's scouting department.

Get ready Cubs fans. The ride is about to begin.

Hat tip to the great World Series Dreaming on the video.

Phil Humber Thanks God, Can Thank No One Else

Philip Humber — the White Sox pitcher who may well be a shoe-in for the Comeback Player of the Year award — took a nasty line drive off the face yesterday. Our dear friend (and apparent assassin) Kosuke Fukudome hit a powerful comebacker to Humber.

After the game, Humber seemed not like you'd expect a man in his condition to seem. He was talking to the media; he appeared of sound mind; and he was extra grateful:
“That’s a God thing," he said. "There’s a hand of protection around me. And I’m definitely thankful it wasn’t a lot worse and that I’m OK.”
He was apparently willing to keep pitching, but the trainers — doing their job — demanded he leave.

Watching the video again, you can see how Humber seemed fine right afterwards. Most guys stay on the ground. For a long time.

Watching it in slow motion, you can see how he was just simply physically unable to move his glove up quickly enough to deflect or catch the 150-mph liner.

To call Humber "lucky" is to call the sun "large" or call the Yankees "not poor." He thanked God after the ordeal, and appropriately so because no other entity or person or power could have allowed that scenario to play out the way it did.

Broken bats get a lot of credit for being the most dangerous element of baseball, but line drives at pitchers still have far more death-notches on their belt.

Good luck in the recovery Humber; we hope to see you on the mound again soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Obstacle Course That Is, White Sox Baseball

Every team has ups and downs, bumps and bruises, and random setbacks throughout the season. This year, the White Sox seem to be having them all back-to-back.

The White Sox are known as one of the healthiest teams in baseball. Aside from starting pitchers who are brought in while recovering, the Sox have a great track record for avoiding injuries and a knack for quickly recouping whenever they arise. Herm Schneider takes award-winning care of his players, however this year, even Hermie can’t save them.

The team has been struggling to get up and running since the beginning of the season. Aside from the bullpen, and then offense falling apart when the other is seemingly having a good run, they’ve faced Dunn’s sudden hospitalization, Peavy’s slow, stuttered return from surgery, Castro’s broken hand, Pena’s leaving the bullpen, Konerko’s knee, Beckham’s eye, Danks taking a hit to the head and then the strained oblique, and Teahen’s strained oblique back in May before being traded, just to name a few. Even fan favorite, Dayan Viciedo, was lost briefly to a bruised thumb in the minors, and Ozzie Guillen joined the fun, getting a shiner from a foul ball.

Peavy is now almost back to looking like the pitcher we’d hoped for when the trade was made, and Danks seems to be doing just fine. Even Ozzie and Dayan are back to being impossible to understand and scoring runs, respectively. The rest are obstacles the team will have to adjust to and overcome if they plan to win the division, with even Paul Konerko’s knee being something that may plague him into the off-season.

While these problems are unfortunate, there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel. For others, the light is faint, if there at all, and for one, his initiation to the DL after an almost 14 yr career, may be what pushes the team over the edge and keeps them from the playoffs.

mb21 On Carlos Marmol

The thoughts concerning the Cubs somewhat-beleaguered closer continue to come in. Late yesterday, the great mb21 offered his thoughts on the matter:
Prior to the Cubs signing Carlos Marmol to a 3-year extension this past offseason, there was a lot of talk about how Marmol was one of those guys who could have a very low [batting average on balls in play]. His BABIP as a reliever since 2007 had been .241, which is well below the average and even below the average for an extreme fly ball pitcher. It's well over .300 this season and since the beginning of 2010 his BABIP is .312. That's higher than we'd expect even for an average pitcher, but quite a bit higher for someone like Marmol.
I think if combine mb21's thoughts with Harry Pavlidis's, we start to see the full picture:

Marmol had a low BABIP. His pitches started losing their edge. His BABIP went up.

That's a story we could probably tell about many relievers — and that's precisely why giving relievers long-term contracts can be so dicey. Granted, Marmol's extension was not the worst in the world, but it still serves as a warning: Relievers are volatile.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Harry Pavlidis On Carlos Marmol

The finest Pitch F/x man to bleed cubbie blue, Harry Pavlidis, took a look today at Carlos Marmol's fastball and slider. The news was not good:
While his fastball velocity has dropped, his slider has picked up speed and is back to as-fast-as-ever. One key for Marmol is having separation between his two pitches. Speed is just one aspect, movement is another.

PITCHf/x gives us both vertical spin deflection (or movement, when gravity is added back in as shown below) and lateral spin deflection (or movement). Guess what? Convergence.
As the chart (above) shows, the speed difference and the movement difference have both narrowed since 2007. The results have been declining statistics.

Sure, this could be a blip on the radar of Marmol's career, but the tough thing is, with relievers, we have no idea what will happen next.

Put it all together and you end up with a pitcher with a quality whiff rate (.31) which may not be as amazing as 2010 but still very good. Even his ground ball rate ends up being a wash, but there are has been a doubling in home runs per FB+LD and a halving of pop-ups per ball in play.

Take away those automatic outs in the infield, combined with a return from otherworldly whiff rates, and Marmol has fallen off the elite closer stack. Regain the separation, stop getting squared-up? I hope we get to find out sooner than later.

Jeff Samardizja: Real Deal? Probably Not.

A little while ago at Cubby-Blue, Tim began sifting through some Jeff Samardizja stats, pondering: "Could Jeff "Spellcheck" Samardzija be not terrible?"

Well, considerable both the cash poured into and the time spent cultivating the yet-not-overwhelmingly-successful career of Jeff Samardzija, I certainly should hope he can find a means to become a successful pitcher — and preferably a successful starter.

For his career, F7 has a 4.82 ERA and a 4.70 FIP (fielding independent pitching) — both are not impressive. His problem has long been walks. He has a career walk rate of 5.48 BB/9 (walks per nine innings). League average is close to 3.10. That's about two and a half extra walks per complete game.

On top of that, his strikeout rate had been pedestrian up until the 2011 season. In 2009 and 2010, he was striking out 4 to 5 batters per nine, but now he's pushed his stats up to an impressive 9.18 K/9 (league average is around 7.00).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Loving Dennis Rodman For All The Right Reasons

We at Cubs Stats love some Dennis Rodman. Personally, I love him not only because of his work ethic (and stats) but also because he wasn't afraid to be himself. And yet during his Hall of Fame speech, the pinnacle of an athlete's career, Dennis opens up and talks about his faults.

Rodman: 1, Dry eyes: 0

Tim Baffoe takes this further and asks "Do We Love The Worm For All The Right Reasons?"

I think after watching his HOF speech, and realizing that Dennis said the things we wish we could say to our mentors, spouse, mother, or kids, we will.

Image courtesy of Steve Lipofsky,

Cubs Get Javier Baez, Rays Get Everyone Else

Yesterday was the deadline for signing picks from the amateur draft. The Cubs, teetering on the deadline, were able to sign their top overall pick, Javier Baez, for $2.625 million.

Normally you wouldn't carry out a number to the third decimal place, but when you consider the last two numbers represent $25,000, it starts to become more clear (a) why such a thing might be necessary and (b) that I am in the wrong profession. Surely I could've made a slice of that change — my own little decimal — as the young man's agent!

Anyway, beside Duval-native Javier Baez, the Cubs also signed a slew of others (and not just last night), including my favorite, Daniel Vogelbach — the slugging lefty from the second round who'll make a great DH for the Cubs some other team someday.

Oh yeah, and the Rays signed all ten of their first round picks. Usually, when a team does better than the Cubs during the season, the Cubs have a better draft than them. Well, that's not the case for the Extra 2% organization.

Go here and just marvel at the Rays picks. Marveling is all we can do.

For draft-related discussion, head to the OV Blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Remember Sam Fuld?

Well, he hit a walk-off triple (scoring on a throwing error) this last week for the Rays.

In the off-season, the Chicago Cubs traded Sam Fuld, Robinson Chirinos, Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee, and Chris Archer to the Tampa Bay Rays for Matt Garza, Fernando Perez (since released), and Zach Rosscup.

The Cubs wanted Garza because they were obviously just one pitcher short of a World Series run, while the Rays no longer needed Garza (or his ballooning contract) because they had prospect Jeremy Hellickson ready to take his place.

Typically it takes a few years for a trade of this nature to show the true value returned, bit in this case, I think we can easily ascertain this much: It was a bad move for the Cubs.

Yeah, the Cubs got a high quality starter in Matt Garza — and he's young and under team control — but the Cubs are certainly in no position to compete this year and have little chance of competing next year (not to mention they now need to replace Carlos Zambrano too, so they've basically gained no ground in the starters position).

For reference, 2.0 wins is an average MLB starter, assuming he gets 2 WAR over about 600 PAs. A player worth 3.0 to 5.0 are above average and possibly All-Stars. Guys worth 6.0 or more are All-Stars for sure, and possibly Hall of Fame material if they keep it up for a number of season.

Sam Fuld, in just over 300 plate appearances with the Rays this year, has put up 1.6 wins above replacement (WAR). For comparison's sake, Marlon Byrd with 330+ PAs has 1.9 wins, Alfonso Soriano with 370+ has 0.8 wins, and Kosuke Fukudome in 340+ PAs with Cubs had 0.2 wins.

The only bright outfield spots have been Reed Johnson (180+ PAs and 1.3 WAR), who is playing way over his head, and Tony Campana (110 PAs and 0.9 WAR), who is a young version of Sam Fuld — but both have been relegated to part-time duty.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here: The Cubs traded Sam Fuld, who was good enough to be a starter in Chicago, and a half-dozen high-tier prospects for a pitcher who does not really fit the Cubs timeline (peaking while the Cubs crater, and then declining when the Cubs have a chance).

What a bummer.

Dennis Rodman: Hall Of Famer

We have discussed Dennis Rodman in the form of a post and a podcast regarding his advanced stats, retiring his jersey (still waiting, Bulls), and his HOF probability.

No matter where the discussion leads about "specialists", one thing is certain: Dennis Rodman is a Hall of Famer.

Moist. Eyes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

WHAT?!: Cubs To Retain GM Jim Hendry

The word from MLB Trade Rumors is that Cubs GM Jim Hendry is not going anywhere:
The Cubs will hold onto general manager Jim Hendry, barring a change of thinking among the team's owners, the Ricketts family, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter).

There has been plenty of speculation over the course of this season, another disappointing one for the North Siders, that this could be Hendry's last year at the helm, although it has been reported previously on several occasions that the Ricketts and Hendry have a strong relationship. Tom Ricketts, chairman and one of the owners of the Cubs, gave Hendry a vote of confidence last season.
Loyal readers will recall my recent dance with the Optimism Goggles in which I suggested the Cubs franchise may not be hopelessly hopeless if Ricketts overhauls everything this offseason:
I think Ricketts may well be a far better owner than we can tell. Yeah, I may not agree with the whole "let's paint over the dilapidated gravestone that is Wrigley Field" policy, but a new owner cannot come in, remove Wrigley, and expect anything but a drunken riot.

And, rather than clean house in an industry he has no experience in, perhaps Tom has decided to slow play it, learn the ropes, give the present regime a chance to repeat their past success, and then execute a new strategy.

Of course, if the Ricketts do not significantly restructure after (or during) this present season, then I think the problem may be deeper, but I'm willing to wear the goggles until then.
Well call me Pessimism Cat, 'cause I'm done.

Carlos Zambrano: Overrated Stats, Overrated Crazy

Well, it appears Carlos Zambrano is about to retire. Or maybe he's already retired? Who knows? Not Mike Quade, that's for sure.

After Thursday's game, in which Zambrano gave up 5 dingers to Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves, Big Z got ejected, left the dugout, proceeded to his locker, packed his things, and then departed into the long, painfully twisting thorn-vine called Cubs History.

On his way out, he apparently muttered something to the effect of, "See you cats later; I'm going back to Latin America with my millions to be with my adopted children" — ironically, something I've always wanted to say, but never had the occasion.

Anyway, word has reached the media, some way or another, that Zambrano mentioned he would retire as he exited the locker room. If this indeed happens, it will be yet another sour ending in a Cubs history full of them.

Through most his career, Zambrano was widely considered the Cubs ace. He indeed had some high quality seasons at a young age — as a 22-year-old member of the 2003 Cubs, Zambrano hurled 214 innings of 3.11 ERA, 3.47 FIP baseball. That's pretty good.

However, Zambrano's reputation overshot his talent level, and a lucky 2004 (featuring his only sub-3.00 ERA) helped propel him into a possibly undeserved "ace" status. In reality, Zambrano has been a workhorse, an above average pitcher, a reliable starter, but never an ace.

For instance, Carlos Zambrano has never accumilated more then 5 WAR (wins above replacement). His best season was 2003, where he had 4.9 wins. Consider C.C. Sabathia, who is a legitimate ace. He has pitched 6 straight seasons of 5+ WAR ball, the high point being his epic 7.6 WAR 2008 season.

Then there's Cliff Lee, who has really only been an ace for a few years now. He turned it on late in his career, but 4 straight seasons of 5+ WAR.

But, because of the backwardness of the Chicago fan base and the media and the ownership, we thought Zambrano was an ace on the merit of accruing 15+ meaningless old-school wins. The result was a huge extension he could never live up to (even when he did earn it) and a fan base and media and ownership ever-disappointed in him.

It would make me go crazy too.

Good luck Zambrano, wherever your next stage of life takes you — whether it's some resort along a shimmering Venezuela coast or a slot in the Red Sox starting rotation, I hope the time treats you better than we did.

Image source.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Buying Scalped Tickets: Timing The Market

Harvard's podcast (HBR Ideacast) recently had an episode regarding the pricing secrets of scalpers. This podcast asks the $65,000 question: How do we get the best deal on the tickets we want?

Scalping is, essentially, dynamic pricing. This means prices fluctuate on how demand is going. And scalpers aren't the only ones that use dynamic pricing. Nay. Our beloved frustrating Chicago Cubs were in fact the first MLB team to implement dynamic pricing for rivalry/marquee games (i.e. Cardinals, White Sox, Brewers) and for lower-demand games during the week or, say, against the Pirates. J.C. Bradbury wrote about dynamic pricing:
This may involve charging a higher price for rivalry games, weekend games, or the latest fad charging more for game-day purchases. All of these adjustments are designed to generate more revenue for clubs by varying the price of the ticket according to changes in fans’ willingness to pay for games.
He also mentions certain economic phrases like price discrimination, consumer surplus — econ talk is sexy — please do checkout that article.

I experienced dynamic pricing in trying to attend the final Cubs v. White Sox game at Wrigley Field. The Sox had already won the BP Oil Spill Cup; I figured since both teams were playing badly (or in the Sox case, below expectation), I figured the demand wouldn't be as high. I completely anticipated an over-supply and/or a lack of demand for tickets.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chicago Cubs: Base Running And Fielding Anti-Wizards

My recent piece for ESPN concerned the dismal state of the Chicago Cubs base running and fielding. Along with the article, I sent them something like six graphs. Naturally, the article had only enough space for two. So I figured I'd share the rest here. Please do note that these stats are a week or so old by now.

This first one illustrates the overall lack of speed on the team:

The Cubs have not really been caught all that much — or, rather, their success rate is about league average — but they rarely, if ever, test the catchers. And this is probably best given the team is just kind of slow in general (except for Tony Campana and Darwin Barney and a dash of Starlin Castro).

Despite their being not terribly inefficient with stealing bases, the Cubs roundly suck at everything else running-wise:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hopelessly Devoted, But To What?

Even though the White Sox have done everything possible this season to show us that they suck, we wait patiently everyday for the next game to start. Off days are like torture, but is it because we’re still hopeful that our team has a chance? More likely, it’s that they’re delaying the inevitable, and in our subconscious we just want the season to be over so that they can start fresh next year. What is it about us, or our teams, that keep us so hopelessly, (and helplessly,) devoted to them?

Summer nights aren’t complete without a chance to watch our favorite teams aim for the fences and us to beg for those mouthwatering matchups ending in 4+ hour all nighters in which only one or two were able to cross home plate. It’s what makes the hot, sticky nights bearable and kills us with anticipation throughout each sun (or lately, rain) drenched day.

During the game, you wish it were an off day, but when the rare off days come around, it seems like there are WAY too many of them. (I’m beginning to know how Cubs’ fans feel.) Not knowing whether you’re coming or going; to boo or to cheer; to be supportive and go to games, only to be kicked in the gut in person; to possibly see both Dunn and Rios make highlight reel plays. Do you boycott the stadium so you can cry and scream in the privacy of your own home, yet have Twitter, Facebook, and all other social media close at hand to share in the moments with friends both real and cyber-linked?