September 23, 2021

UNWATCHABLE

 The summer of 2021 was the season of the unwatchable Cubs.

A bad team made of mostly old, journeyman AAA players. There has been no indication that will change in the off-season. David Ross, when asked about his 2022 starting rotation, could only say Hendricks and Mills.

Another indictment of the Cubs farm system for not developing one solid starter during the Theo era. But the problem is that Hendricks has been pitching like a #3 and Mills a #5 starter. An ace #1 starter is a pitcher who can give you a complete game. A #2 pitcher gets you into the 8th on a regular basis. A #3 starter gets you 7 innings; #4 6 innings and #5 through five. But Cub starters are barely reaching five innings pitched on a consistent basis. The young arms of Alzolay, Thompson and Steele seem like middle relievers at best (as Steve Stone said "all relievers are failed starters.")

The 2021 Cubs tried to sell nostalgia to the fans with the return of Arrieta but that was a bust from the get-go. The "lovable losers" train no longer runs after the Cubs won the championship. Fans expected more from their team for the prices they are currently paying. 

Are the Cubs going to spend big money for two free agent starters when they let Darvish go for next to nothing?

A closer by committee does solidify a modern pitching staff. Except for Heuer in the Sox trade, the rest of the arms are pretty much replacement level. The bullpen will be blown up again to be filled with new journeymen arms.

2022 is the last year of Ross' contract. I wonder if he will extend himself to shepherd a low budget rebuild. Or will he chance it that Theo will take a job with the imploding Mets franchise? 

You can tell how screwed up the franchise is when you cannot even tell who are the daily TV and radio broadcasters. The revolving door of people in the booth is symbolic of the turn style of marginal talent on the field.

July 9, 2021

BACK UP THE MOVING VAN

 The Cubs 11 game losing streak has changed the team's view of the playoffs and off-season programs.

The remaining core and recent additions are pending free agents: Bryant, Baez, Rizzo, Pedersen. Kimbrel and Contreras have one more year of potential control. 

With the CBA expiring at the end of the season, there is great uncertainty on what will happen to the free agent market and whether the FA compensation rules will change. Currenty, only those who turn down the one-year qualifying offer from their clubs will have compensation attached to them. Those offers must be made by the club within the first five full days after the World Series ends, and players then have 10 days to accept or decline the offer, during which time they can negotiate with other teams

Under the current rules, if the team that loses the free agent is a revenue-sharing recipient, based on its revenues and market size, then the selection -- if and only if the lost player signs for at least $50 million -- will be awarded a pick between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A of the 2019 MLB Draft. If the player signs for less than $50 million, the compensation pick for those teams would come after Competitive Balance Round B, which follows the second round.

The following 16 teams currently qualify for these picks: A's, Braves, Brewers, D-backs, Indians, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Tigers and Twins.

If the team that loses the player does not receive revenue sharing and did not exceed the luxury-tax salary threshold the previous season, its compensatory pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B. The value of the player's contract doesn't matter in this case. The 12 clubs that fall into this category are the Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox and Yankees.

The Cubs have several options with their pending free agents:

1. Keep them through the season. Let the core group have a final swan song together. Then let me go on their merry way.

2. Keep them through the season. Then offer them a qualifying offer (last year was $17.6 million) or even arbitration. If the player rejects the QO, then potential draft compensation may attach. If rejects arbitration, then no draft comp.

3. Try to negotiate an extension with the players. We have only heard crickets this season on any extension talk. With Ricketts claiming poverty and Hoyer trading his best starter in a clear salary dump, ownership has not signaled any willingness to commit large dollars to their old players.

4. Think about trades. If you think your scouting department can pick gems in compensatory rounds (picks from 48 to 100), then waiting to draft someone could be more valuable than trading a rental player for a low minor league prospect. Trading partners this year are highly unlikely to part with any of their Top 15-20 prospects for a two month rental player. Only if two or more teams fight over player will the value rise. 

5. Have a fire sale. Try to squeeze as much value as you can from your current roster. Everybody has a chance to get on the moving van. Trade deadline contenders usually want closers, starters and specialty hitters/defenders to fill in bench role. Kimbrel probably has the most trade value because he has had a solid year. Contreras is probably the second most valuable trade chip. He has one more year of control and is a top NL catcher. A team like the White Sox could use him now. Hendricks has already signed a team friendly extension so I doubt he will be moved but he has as much value as Contreras. Bryant is purely a rental who will hit the FA market. His up and down little injuries year does not help. Unless a contender loses a middle of the line up bat, market interest may be thin for KB. Baez has less market value than Bryant. He is too inconsistent at the plate and lately in the field (14 errors). He has the personality and PR appeal that could help some clubs sell tickets but not at a great trade cost. Pedersen fits into the Schwarber mode (DH more than OF) which limits thinking to AL teams. 

6. Let them test the free agent market, then negotiate a new deal in the wild. It is possible to try to reel back in one of your players. The Cubs did it with pitcher Hamel. But it is rare. And the Cubs would have to dramatically change its small market mind set. Also, free agents want a chance to win now and it is clear the Cubs do not have the organizational depth to field a championship caliber contender in the next few years.

If the Cubs stumble into the All Star break, the fire sale is the most likely option. But look at the Darvish trade as the bitter cough medicine fans will have to swallow. The Cubs received nothing of value in return and only one marginal major leaguer (Davies). At the trade deadline, I would expect only Class A ball players in return for any one except maybe Kimbrel or Contreras. But even then, most teams would rather see how the new CBA financial terms will be set before parting with any of their controllable (i.e. cheap) minor league players. Teams have learned their is more value in developing and promoting their draft choices to keep them for 7 years than trading away good prospects for an illusory chance at the pennant or World Series.

If I were to guess on who will be traded I think Kimbrel, Baez and Bryant are the candidates. I think the team will keep Rizzo to the end of the year because he is still the face of their franchise and the Cub house leader. I think the strong push to eliminate the 2016 team is apparent as the championship has been an actual anchor drag on the team as the players generally did not improve and scouting and operations departments failed to draft and develop their replacements.

July 1, 2021

JUNE SWOON

 In about a week, the Cubs went from first to 6 GB the Brewers.

It came after a historic combined no-hitter in LA.

It ended with a near historic blowing a 7 run first inning lead to get beaten 15-7 by the Brewers.

The excuses come easy to the optimists: the Cubs have had a rash of injuries (so have other clubs); the West Coast road trip took them out of their game (teams travel all the time); the pitchers are just coming back to their mean.

But angry fans on the sports radio shows complain that a series of unheard of minor league journeymen (below replacement player talent) shows that ownership is tanking the season. Tanking, so Jed Hoyer can sell off all the pending free agents to start a complete tear-down rebuild.

It is not surprising that the Cubs have fallen into a cesspool of mistrust.  The Yu Darvish trade for basically nothing was clearly a salary dump. The irony is that the Cubs desperately needed a quality starter to be competitive in the winnable NL Central. Any hope of acquiring one at the trade deadline is zero.

It is also not surprising considering the Cubs failed to sign any player extensions in the off-season. Kyle Schwarber was let go (to go on to have a career year with the Nationals). Bryant, Baez and Rizzo have all sat on the contract sidelines, with Rizzo being insulted by the Cubs last offer.

It is not surprising considering Tom Ricketts complained loudly about the 2020 "biblical losses" sustained by the team (but most believe the red-ink blood bath was the real estate development losses).

The team has not developed a quality starter under the Epstein-Hoyer regime. Only one home grown prospect, Alzolay, has made more than one start - - - and is clearly a 5th starter at best. The pitching staff has been a patch work of other team cast offs or free agents, for good or ill. It is clear Jake Arrieta's tank is pretty empty.

The June Swoon gives management the argument that the season is lost . . . so a fire sale is in the best interests of the club. If the team does not trade its pending free agents, the current CBA allows for a Round 1A compensation pick. But no one knows what the new CBA will look like (which will freeze the free agent market this off-season).

May 19, 2021

LOSING THE CLUBHOUSE

Tony LaRussa is a fossilized dinosaur. His ideas about baseball are out of touch. His managing skills have been questioned all season. Some observers think his strategies and decisions have cost the White Sox at least three games this season. There were early rumors that many players in the clubhouse did not support LaRussa as their manager. Some think the players are winning in spite of LaRussa.
Things are coming to an ugly crossroads within the White Sox clubhouse.


The White Sox were routing the Twins, the preseason favorite to win the AL Central. The White Sox had built up a huge lead that in the late innings the Twins used an infielder as a relief pitcher.
On Monday night, Rookie Yermin Mercedes  drove a 3-0 pitch from infielder William Astudillo  deep to center in the ninth for a home run.  White Sox manager La Russa said Mercedes made a mistake, and the Hall of Fame skipper apologized to the Twins. LaRussa publicly stated that Mercedes was "clueless" about the unwritten rule(s) of baseball and that he would be punished for violating that unwritten rule.


However, prior to the Mercedes home run, the Twins bench was laughing at the White Sox who Astudillo got two outs against. Starter Lance Lynn defended Mercedes after the game. He called the Twins "crybabies" in their reaction to Mercedes hitting a HR in the 9th. "There are no rules when you put a position player out to pitch," he said. "If (the Twins) had a problem with it, then put in a (real) pitcher."


In the next game, Mercedes was the center of attention once again Twins reliever Tyler Duffey was ejected for throwing behind Mercedes in the seventh. Duffey threw the first pitch of the at-bat behind the slugger's legs. Duffey and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli then were ejected by plate umpire Jim Reynolds.


"It wasn't obvious to me," La Russa said. "The guy threw a sinker. It didn't look good. So, I wasn't that suspicious. I'm suspicious if somebody throws at somebody's head. Then I'm suspicious. I don't have a problem with how the Twins handled that."


Of course, no one believes LaRussa. It was an intentional "show up" pitch by the Twins. The pitcher was throwing at Mercedes. But LaRussa refused to publicly defend his player.


Nothing can lose a clubhouse faster than a manager not defending or having the backs of his players. Clearly, LaRussa "clueless" about what is happening on the field. By not sticking up for his player TWICE in consecutive days for doing NOTHING wrong, LaRussa has shown that he is not capable of leading the team to the playoffs.


But LaRussa is going to stay. He was an owner hire not GM Rick Hahn's choice. Jerry Reinsdorf has for decades regretted terminating LaRussa as White Sox manager. So he brought him back when Hahn had constructed a very good, play-off caliber team. 


When a team is fighting against significant injuries (the team has lost its entire starting outfield), a manager is supposed to support and rally the remaining players to battle. Instead, LaRussa was apologetic and weak. There were some commentators who thought before these incidents that LaRussa could be fired after the season. A few thought there was a remote chance he could be terminated during the season. But since the White Sox are still in first place (10.5 games ahead of the Twins), LaRussa's job is secure because he is Jerry's guy. And in the end Jerry calls the shots on the managerial position, even if it is detrimental to the team.


April 17, 2021

STOP THE NONSENSE

 MLB is trying to right the sinking ship of offense by experimenting with more rule changes.  We know Big Data is causing hitters to become free swingers and not contact hitters. But constant rule changes to try to increase scoring is bad for baseball.

Major League Baseball announced that it will experiment with a pair of new rules during the 2021 Atlantic League season: a “double-hook” implementation of the designated hitter and moving the pitching rubber back one foot. MLB and the Atlantic League began a partnership back in 2019 wherein the latter would serve as a testing ground for rule changes and pace-of-play alterations.

The “double-hook” designated hitter rule will be in place for the entirety of the 2021 Atlantic League season. Under the new rule, a team will lose its designated hitter once the starting pitcher is pulled from the game. From that point forth, the team will need to either deploy a pinch-hitter or allow a relief pitcher to bat in what was the designated hitter’s place.

The goal of the rule, per the league, is to “incentivize teams to leave their starting pitchers in longer, increase the value of starters who can work deeper into games and increase the strategic element in the late innings of a game.”

Turning to the pitching rubber experiment, that change will only be implemented in the second half of the Atlantic League season. (The first-half data will then be compared to second-half data as a direct point of comparison.) MLB’s release notes that the average fastball velocity has risen from 91.6 mph in 2010 to 93.3 mph in 2021. The league posits that a hitter’s reaction time on a 93.3 mph pitch thrown from 61 feet, six inches is approximately the same as the reaction time on a 91.6 mph pitch thrown from 60 feet, six inches.

Trying to use statistics to prove your case will not work here. These rule changes will only HURT pitchers. Pitchers moving back a foot will throw off all the mechanics and location control they have learned their entire careers. Moving back the rubber will mean some pitchers will throw harder in order to keep their velocity level at the plate. That will lead to more arm and shoulder injuries. 

The double-hook DH rule is worse than the regular DH rule. You penalize the team for taking out a starting pitcher, but you are really penalizing a pitcher by keeping him on the mound longer than he can physically go. Again, if a pitcher is struggling and needs to be pulled but you lose a valuable bat in the process, what is a manager to do? Keep a pitcher out their to hurt themselves mentally or physically? Besides, the whole DH rule was to stop pitchers getting hurt at the plate (HBP) or running the bases. Now, you want to have those issues thrown at relief pitchers? And where is a manager to get all those pinch hitters when rosters are so tight?

And these rule changes do nothing to improve the game. Like the runner on second in extra innings, it is more a distraction than valid solution. If you want offense, team should look at the Dodgers who are tearing up the league. If you want offense, teach your hitters how to hit instead of swinging at the fences in a "home run or bust" mentality. Tell your players that a strike out is a bad thing that can get you benched instead of being "just another out." 

 

April 10, 2021

THE REASONS

 It finally hit me. The reasons why the game of baseball is in decline.

Teams have special coaches, labs, and stat sheets on each player. Baseball has attempted to squeeze the game into a series of numbers.

Teams can use methods to strengthen a pitcher's arm, to increase the velocity of pitches and to increase the amount of spin on the ball. But they do not teach how to pitch at the pro level.

Teams can measure bat speed, exit velocity and launch angles for hitters. But they do not teach how to make contact, how to hit in situations or how to advance runners. 

Teams have done little to increase techniques in fielding. Teams have given up on teaching base running skills. Those are lost skill sets.

Baseball is a rare sport where the defense starts the action of each play. One would think it would be an advantage to improve your defense in order to win more games. 

The analytical side of baseball is driving the sport towards extinction. Players get paid because of their stats. Teams allegedly win because they use stats, the probabilities, on each play. Teams use the shift because of the stats of a hitter's spray chart. And batters keep grounding into the shift because they refuse to hit to the opposite field because their stats say power is in the pull field.

Early this season, the Cubs bemoaned the fact that a team of good hitters could not string two hits in a row. The experts and talking heads were at a loss on why. The reason is simple: the Cubs lack any .300 hitters. Contact hitters who can get on base. To put pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense. The Cubs have had no .300 hitter in the regular line up for years. It is a glaring hole in the line up but in the analytical world, batting average is a relic from the past. Strike outs are not cursed anymore because home runs are viewed as the most efficient scoring device. So the Cubs have a philosophy of home run swing or bust. And bust it is most of the time. 

Baseball is an ebb of flow of action and pauses. The pauses give fans an opportunity to digest the situation, the strategy and react. The drama, the contact of the bat to the ball, happens in a blink of an eye, as players scatter around the field in a century old ballet of roles. But the tenor of the sport now mirrors a video game, a series of computer coded numbers and very few different outcomes.

Baseball has always been about numbers. Sacred numbers. But numbers are leading it to its downfall.



March 19, 2021

THE URGENCY OF HURLING

 New team President Jed Hoyer spoke to NBC Chicago Sports. 

“When you talk about urgency of this team, and it’s been stated,” team president Hoyer said, referencing a roster full of players on the one-year contracts. “We need to play well out of the gate. That doesn’t mean we have to play well the first two weeks. But when you think about the first half of the season, we need to put ourselves in position to be a buyer, to be a team that’s competing. 

"That’s probably a slightly different feeling than you might have had two or three years ago when all these guys are [are much further from free agency],” said Hoyer, who’s optimistic he’ll have a lot of payroll flexibility in July, depending on attendance allowances as COVID-19 restrictions presumably are lifted gradually into the summer. 

There is no way around the Truth: this is the last season for "The Core," the foundation players who won the championship. It really is the last gasp for the Cubs to try to win another championship before sinking in the total rebuild muck.

But this talk makes some fans hurl. The Yu Darvish trade was an early White Flag deal in which the Cubs could never recover. Marquee not showing live Cub spring training games is a cheap farce in a year public relations is needed to bring back fans to baseball.

The urgency to sign pitchers like Shelby Miller and Jake Arrieta past their primes is an indication of the one-and-done front office mentality. The starting rotation is a mess. The bullpen is also a mess. The farm system is a disaster. 

The only bright side is that most of the NL Central had their own talent fire sales due to financial pressures from 2020. Only the Cardinals made a splash to become the front runner in a weak division. The Cubs 2021 plan is hoping other teams stumble and their old veterans somehow find some magic to outperform expectations. Expectations that are very low.

With as many as 18 players on the Cubs’ projected 26-man Opening Day roster are players expected to be in walk years (either free agents at the end of the year or facing club-option decisions for 2022), the do-or-die mentality seems to be not there. There is such little local media coverage one wonders if the pandemic has sapped all interest in the team.

One can see now why Theo Epstein bailed on his last contract year to not oversee this pending dumpster fire. With ownership claiming biblical losses (of their own bad business practices), the Cubs are no longer the lovable losers but a failed dynasty. The team lacks an identity. It also lacks talent. It woefully lacks depth. 2021 is shaping up as a season to forget before it starts.