March 31, 2014


The Chicago Cubs broke camp with another journeyman heavy roster for the 2014 season.

Starting pitchers
Jeff Samardzija, Edwin  Jackson, Jason  Hammel, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva.
Relief pitchers
Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, James Russell, Wesley Wright, Hector Rondon, Brian Schlitter.
Welington Castillo, John Baker
Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Mike Olt, Emilio Bonifacio, Luis Valbuena
Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Kalish

Two points of note: off-season acquisition George Kottaras was cut, so minor league veteran John Baker is the new back-up catcher. Kottaras was touted as a defensive play caller who had the experience to help the young pitching staff. Somewhere along the line, the scouting report and reality conflicted and he was cut.

The bullpen is different than what most people thought.   Rondon and  Schlitter took the two final pen spots. Schlitter has had minor league closer experience, so this may be a hedge against a very inconsistent Veras spring. However, Schlitter has had several seasons of arm major injuries. He last pitched in the majors in 2010. Rondon and Schlitter took the places of Blake Parker and Alberto Cabrera, who is out of options. Cabrera was doing well until his last outing blow-up. With Villanueva in the rotation, Grimm becomes the long reliever/spot starter role.


Mike Olt may become a good major league player. Or he may be another positional holder until another hot prospect makes the roster.

Olt hit .273 this spring with 5 HR and 12 RBI. But he also struck out 28.3 percent of the time. His has been bothered by a new shoulder issue that kept him at DH for the majority of camp. When he got to play third, he butchered two routine plays. The Cubs claim he is a plus defender, but his short time with the Rangers states the opposite.

Olt may be a prototypical corner basher: all hit, little field. He may be a Mark Reynolds type of player, who will homers but have a low BA.

The strike out ratio is a concern. The ghost of Brett Jackson, who had better minor league and spring stats the year he got called for his big league debut, still sticks in many fans' craws. Jackson was a total disappointment; it looked like he was overwhelmed with his opportunity - - - and the strike outs could not be corrected. The one time 5 tool prospect has been tumbling down the minor league ladder.

Olt was headed down the same path. A freak eye injury caused him to miss his chance to make the Rangers. Just three years ago, he was a prospect that Texas would not trade. Then, after the setback, Olt became part of the four player package to land Matt Garza as a rental pitcher. (Ranger GM Daniels recently stated that he may regret the trade as giving up too much for too little in return as Garza did not perform well.)

But in some ways, Olt making the team is a tangible notice to the fans from the front office that "hey, we can get good players in trades."  Trust us. The toxic taint of Ian Stewart still sneaks up and burns us. Epstein and Hoyer want fans to like them and understand their moves. By making Olt the proforma starting third baseman, the front office is self-validating their work. Public review is next.

March 30, 2014

GOOD . . . BUT THAT GOOD? reports on the details on Miguel Cabrera's record setting contract extension with the Tigers:

Being spurned by reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer hasn’t reined in the Tigers’ desire to spend big. On Thursday, they reached an agreement with two-time AL MVP winner Miguel Cabrera on an eight-year extension running through 2023, worth roughly $248 million.  While there’s little doubt that the 30-year-old slugger (31 on April 18) is the best hitter in baseball right now, this record-setting contract locks in what’s likely to be his decline phase at a fairly steep price.

Scherzer turned down a Tiger offer of a reported $144 million. Apparently, that budget line will pay for about half of Cabrera's new deal. Cabrera was owed $44 million remaining on his current deal (eight years, $152.3 million), so he is now guaranteed a total of $292 million over the next 10 years, surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal.

The $31 million average annual value over the new portion of the deal eclipses the $30.7 million of pitching ace Clayton Kershaw's own contract extension. Cabrera has a pair of vested optionsvalued at $30 million apiece tacked onto the end of the deal.

During his Tigers tenure, Cabrera has won three straight batting titles, led the league in OBP three times and in slugging percentage twice, all while helping the Tigers to three straight AL Central flags. He won the Triple Crown in 2012, the first player to do so since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

In his tenure with Detroit, he has led the league in hitting; his .327 batting average, .588 slugging percentage, 163 OPS+, 229 doubles, 227 homers and 737 RBI are all MLB highs, with the on-base percentages of Joey Votto (.421) and Joe Mauer (.411) the only ones surpassing his .407. He hasn’t led the league in Wins Above Replacement at any time since the trade thanks to below-average defense, but his 36.4 WAR across that span is second only to Albert Pujols’ 38.3.

But giving a 30 year old player nearly $300 million for the back end of his career in the new non-PED era really a good idea?

One can say that owners never learn their lessons about spending like drunken sailors. Very recent examples in the Angels roster, Pujols and Hamilton, have started to seriously break down after signing large megadeals. A-Rod was the poster boy for not signing expensive long term deals, that even the rolling in money Yankees could not get rid of him. 

It helps that the Tigers are owned by an old pizza billionaire who wants to win at any cost a championship.

It guarantees Cabrera will be a Tiger for life. It guarantees Cabrera and his family will have generational wealth. In the short term, it may keep the Tigers on track to win another AL Central crown. But long term, the massive amount of salary invested in one player will come back to hurt the team. Even the Cubs new front office felt the yoke of the Soriano contract for many years, including this year's final dead money payment. The Cubs have used the past payroll errors to justify a total rebuild of the team with young, contract friendly players.

March 29, 2014


The email blasts have been coming from the Cubs. Opening Day tickets still available.

From what we gather, there are a lot available.

The green sections show where tickets are available. Some have calculated based upon the Cubs and other ticket sites that there is approximately 12,000 unsold seats for Opening Day.

That would make the projected opening day attendance at around 29,600 based on current capacity of 41,600.

Past Cub openers:

2013 40,083
2012 41,176
2011 41,358
2009 40,077
2008 41,089
2007 41,388
2006 40,869
2005 39,892
2004 40,483
2003 29,138
2002 41,555
2001 38,466

This projects to the worst opening day crowd in a decade.

March 27, 2014


White Sox manager Robin Ventura explained that he wanted to break up his lefty starters in the 2014 rotation. There are a few reasons for this move.

Typically, teams order their rotation from their best pitcher ("the staff ace") down in quality to the fifth starter position.

Since the leagues are primarily right handed dominate in pitching and hitting, the left handed starter is an unusual occurrence during a series. But the White Sox are primarily a left handed starting rotation against primarily right handed teams.

Managers believe that you want to keep your opponent off balance during a game or series. That is why pitching coaches like the idea of staggering types of pitchers throughout the rotation so another team does not get comfortable against, say fastball pitcher, fastball pitcher, fastball pitcher.

The same is true on the offensive side. Managers do not want pitchers to face a primarily one sided line up because the pitcher and umpire can get into a strike zone groove against one type of batter. By changing from a righty hitter to a lefty hitter makes the pitcher and catcher throw to a different strike zone, which in theory, evens out the pitching and hitting strategies.

So the White Sox rotation will be LHP Sale, RHP Paulino, LHP Quintana, RHP E. Johnson and LHP Danks.  If you order the strength of the starters, it would run: #1, #4, #2, #5 and #3.

In high school chess tournaments, teams are supposed to rank their players by their chess ratings so equal level players would face off with each other. However, there were times when freshman or new team players would not have a high rating but would be above their level of competition. A captain could take advantage of that difference and keep stronger under the radar players at the low end of the tournament bracket, making sure for some easy wins. The same could be said for the White Sox rotation.

Danks may be the strongest #5 starter in the American League. Quintana is clearly the second best starter on the staff, but he will be throwing mostly against other teams' #3 starters. By moving Paulino to the #2 overslot, it puts higher quality pitchers at the back of the rotation which could equate to a pitching advantage.

March 26, 2014


The Donnie Murphy era is over. The Cubs waived/traded/sent Murphy to the Rangers. Murphy will now replace injured Ranger SS Profar. Maybe the front office felt bad about Texas GM Daniel's regretful lament on how he got snookered for four good prospects in the Matt Garza deal.

One would have thought Darwin Barney would have been the best infield trade chip on the current roster. The Tigers had interest but instead traded with Baltimore for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

But even more bizarre is the news that the Cubs have requested release waivers on catcher George Kottaras. He had been acquired for cash from the Royals earlier in the offseason, and would have been owed $1.075MM for the coming season.

The 30-year-old backstop had a .180/.349/.370 line in 126 plate appearances last year. He has a lifetime mark of .214/.324/.406. He was acquired to replace Dioner Navarro as Wellington Castillo's back up.

That means minor leaguers John Baker or Eli Whiteside have to the new back-up catcher.

Now, I saw Kottaras drop a routine foul pop this week. Whether that was the straw that broke the front office's bad talent back is unknown. The move will save the team approximately $500,000 in salary.


The Dodgers have ended the Yankees 15 year run as the team with the highest payroll.

The Associated Press obtained information from management and player sources and include salaries and pro-rated shares of signing bonuses for players on the 25-man active roster, disabled lists and restricted list as March 25, plus players teams have committed to putting on their rosters. In some cases, parts of salaries deferred without interest are discounted to reflect present-day values. Adjustments have been made for cash transactions in trades, signing bonuses that are responsibility of club that agreed to contract, option buyouts and termination pay for released players.

1. LA Dodgers $235,295,219
2. N.Y. Yankees $203,812,506
3. Philadelphia $180,052,723
4. Boston $162,817,411
5. Detroit $162,228,527
6. LA Angels $155,692,000
7. San Francisco $154,185,878
8. Texas $136,036,172
9. Washington $134,704,437
10. Toronto $132,628,700
11. Arizona $112,688,666
12. Cincinnati $112,390,772
13. St. Louis $111,020,360
14. Atlanta $110,897,341
15. Baltimore $107,406,623
16. Milwaukee $103,844,806
17. Colorado $95,832,071
18. Seattle $92,081,943
19. Royals $92,034,345
20. Chicago White Sox $91,159,254
21. San Diego $90,094,196
22. N.Y. Mets $89,051,758
23. Chicago Cubs $89,007,857
24. Minnesota $85,776,500
25. Oakland $83,401,400
26. Cleveland $82,534,800
27. Pittsburgh $78,111,667
28. Tampa Bay $77,062,891
29. Miami $47,565,400
30. Houston $44,544,174

Houston has actually added $20 million to its payroll from last season. The Astros were criticized for taking league "competitive balance" money and not spending it fully on players. New ownership had griped about the true finances of the club, including a weak cable network deal, as part of not spending money on players. 

You can see the division of team power. The Top 10 spenders are usually considered "big market clubs" in large metropolitan areas with a large fan base and large local broadcast contracts. The traditional big city teams were New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Small market teams were the expansion types in small cities such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Minnesota and Cleveland where smart scouting and player development were more important than signing expensive free agents. The rest of the teams spending between 10 and 20th place were considered "mid market" teams.

The Cubs were considered a big market team while the White Sox were considered a mid-market team based upon attendance and wealth of ownership groups. The White Sox were more conservative in their payroll approach than the Cubs (especially under Tribune ownership). But how have times changed.

The White Sox have added several free agents and new players this off season. Its payroll is 20th in the majors. The New York Mets, whose ownership was dangling in a financial mess due to the Madoff scandal, had to pare back expenses to land at Number 22 on the list. Then, for most observers, the Cubs at Number 23 is surprising to find the team in the small market faction of major league baseball.

We have previously discussed the reasons for the Cubs penny pinching. Management decided to implode the team, tank for several years in order to get high draft choices and rebuild the farm system with young prospects. As a result, the major league team is awful. And why spend money on good players when the team will not win a divisional race for years to come. Hence, the annual yard sale of veteran players at the trade deadline.

The Cubs under Ricketts have a small market mindset: the team must be self-sufficient. It will not get additional capital to spend from family members or investors. As attendance drops, income drops then expenses must drop - - - and payroll is the biggest chunk. It is also important to note that the payroll "savings" projected over the Ricketts first five years of ownership will be between $158 to $200 million, which is the way the family plans to finance their huge Wrigleyville real estate developments. While other small market teams wrangled local governments to pay for sweetheart new stadiums, the Cubs failed to get any public funding.

Cub fans may be annoyed to see the lowly Royals four slots ahead of the Cubs in spending, or a mixed-up franchise like the Orioles eight spaces ahead, spending 20 percent more than the Cubs.

March 25, 2014


For all the talk that the Dodgers are the new model franchise (huge cable deal, own network, billions to spend, pleasant weather, etc.),  manager Don Mattingly told the press he would make out his lineup card early, and he has done so.

1. Yasiel Puig RF
2.  Justin Turner2B
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez1B
5. Scott Van Slyke LF
6.  Juan Uribe 3B
7.  Andre Ethier CF
8.  AJ Ellis C
9.  Clayton Kershaw P

For all the money spend, at first glance this lineup does not appear "dominating." Mattingly said he made the lineup out because the team would be facing a left handed starter.

Turner, a non-roster invitee, starts at second base because he is a right-handed hitter, indicating that Mattingly will go with a platoon there, as Dee Gordon figures to start against right-handed pitching. Gordon surprised his manager by beating out new Cuban signing Alex Guerrero in the battle of converted shortstops.

Van Slyke gets the nod in left field, which ordinarily would be patrolled by Carl Crawford. Crawford, who has battled various injuries in the past will remain in Arizona on paternity leave awaiting the birth of his child. When Crawford returns, he is expected to bat second behind Puig, with Gordon dropping to eighth. Van Slyke played in 53 games last year for the Dodgers, compiling 7 HR, 19 RBI and .240 BA.

Ethier is expected to remain in center field Matt Kemp returns from ankle and shoulder operations. 

Uribe is a dinosaur starting at third. Uribe, 34, played 132 games for the Dodgers last year, batting .278 with 12 HRs.

Mattingly said he expects Gonzalez to start even though the first baseman left Thursday night's exhibition game with lower back tightness.

March 24, 2014


No bird soars too high, if he soars on his own wings. ” - - - William Blake

One can't argue that the best player in Cubs spring training camp was Javier Baez.
The second best player was Anthony Rizzo. Then a mix of other rookies like Kris Bryant
and Albert Almora.

What is obvious is that the Cubs front office, like most teams, hide their best prospects in the minors to forestall the service time which allows talented players to reach arbitration (and large salary increases).  

This is a small market move to conserve money and payroll. More and more, the Cubs act like a small market team in a large major league market.

But besides the cost savings aspect of stashing players in the minors to ripen later in the season(s), this policy goes against one of the tenets of the American enterprise system: true competition.

If spring training is to get the best players on the field, then Baez and perhaps Bryant would make the Cubs opening day roster this year and not in 2014 or 2015. Baez leads the Cactus League with 5 monster home runs. Scouts say that his bat is major league ready. He is at the same point as Castro when Castro was called up. So why the hesitation?

 If the Cubs PR department has the business plan of parading out a new young rookie star each year like a runway model at a posh NYC fashion show, then the Cubs are doomed for long term failure. The whole business of running or owning a baseball team is to win games. And to win games, you need to play YOUR BEST PLAYERS. 

And that is going to be the frustration as the Cubs lose again this season.

March 23, 2014


Beyond the prospects lists, Chicago baseball teams are counting on a "core" of young players.

The Cubs have touted several of them.

Starlin Castro has been a past All-Star.
Anthony Rizzo is supposed to anchor first base for a decade.
Travis Wood looks like a quality lefty starter.
Wellington Castillo could become a fixture behind the plate.
Junior Lake may have a break out second season.

Those are the foundational youngsters currently on the Cubs roster.

The White Sox also have a young core.

Chris Sale is an ace starting pitcher.
Carlos Quintana is a solid Number 2 starter.
John Danks is still under 30 and could be the comeback pitcher of the year.
Daniel Webb may replace Addison Reed as the future closer.
Jose Abreu is a power hitting first baseman that should be the middle of the order bat.
Avisail Garcia is a power hitting outfielder who was acquired last season.
Adam Eaton is the new defensive centerfielder and lead off hitter the team desperately wanted to find.
Matt Davidson is the third baseman for the future.
Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia are slick fielding middle infielders.

For all the headline moves the Cubs have made the last three years, one could argue the White Sox have made more process in rebuilding/re-tooling their team with young talent than the Cubs. The White Sox have a 10 player core group as compared to the Cubs current 5 ready to contribute at the major league level

March 22, 2014


Much has been said about the Cubs prospects. However, if one looks at the top ten prospects for both the Cubs and White Sox, some could argue that the White Sox are not that bad.

The Cubs own top ten list is familiar:

1. Javier Baez ss
2. Kris Bryant 3b
3. Albert Almora of
4. CJ Edwards, rhp
5. Jorge Soler, of
6. Arismendy Alcantara ss/2b
7. Pierce Johnson, rhp
8. Ardoys Vizcaino rhp
9. Jeimer Candelario, 3b
10. Dan Vogelbach, 1b

The White Sox list is:

1. Matt Davidson, 3b
2. Courtney Hawkins, of
3. Erik Johnson, rhp
4. T. Anderson, ss
5. Trayce Thompson, of
6. Chris Beck, rhp
7.Tyler Danish, rhp
8. Marcus Semien, ss
9. Carlos Sanchez ss/2b
10. Jared Mitchell, of

Positional comparison:

SS (1): Baez vs. Anderson. Baez is in AAA with power; Anderson is in A ball with speed and defensive skills like a traditional shortstop

SS (2): Alcantara vs. Semien. Alcantara is moving up the ladder but is viewed as a utility guy; Semien will make the Sox roster and push for a starting middle infield position.

3B: Bryant vs. Davidson. Bryant is a power hitting third baseman who may be shifted to the outfield. Davidson was the player the Sox got as a comparable long term solution at third.

OF(1): Almora vs. Hawkins. Almora has had injury setback and is in the low minors, but Hawkins like the other Sox OF prospects have been very disappointing in their development.

SP(1): Edwards vs. Johnson. Edwards is the talk of the low minors, but Johnson is now major league ready with upside ceiling.

OF(2): Soler vs. Thompson. Soler had a set back year in the low minors and his stock is starting to wane. Thompson, like Hawkins, has not developed any consistency.

SP (2): Johnson vs. Beck. Johnson has been slow to progress through the system, while Beck seems to have excelled in AA last year.

SP(3): Vizcaino vs. Danish. Vizcaino is now two plus years removed from TJ surgery, and he is just getting back into game shape. He is now targeted for a bullpen role. Danish also throws from the pen and he had an excellent Class A season. He appears to have more upside.

INF: Candelario vs. Sanchez. Candelario plays third in Class A with some power from the left side. Santana projects as a solid defender who may make the White Sox roster as utility infielder this season.

1B/OF: Vogelbach vs. Mitchell. Vogelbach appears to be blocked by Rizzo at first, so at some point the power hitter will need to shift to LF. Mitchell was once the highly touted prospect in the Sox system, but swing flaws have doomed his development.

At this point who is a better prospect is different than who may become a better major league player. However, the question is presented who is the better "prospect" on the top ten lists, I would break it down as:

Cubs (4): Baez, Bryant,  Almora, Vogelbach
White Sox (5): Semien, E. Johnson, Beck, Danish, Santana.

I am not sold on Soler or Thompson so that is a wash.

The Cubs prospects present more power, but the White Sox prospects present more pitching and defensive skills. But for all the talk that the White Sox prospects are far behind the Cubs has to be taken with a grain of salt.

March 21, 2014

THE 25

As spring training winds down, and certain players continue to have nagging injuries and questions, the Cubs would seem to know who will make the major league roster.

This team is going to be another utility fielder platoon machine.

Emilio Bonifacio has the opportunity to play full time by playing part time at second, third and outfield. As the only real double digit base stealer on the roster, he seems to fit the lead off role better than Castro.

Ryan Roberts is also getting some attention for infield play, as a possible displacement for Donnie Murphy at third in a platoon with Valbuena. He can also play LF and second.

Mike Olt has a nagging shoulder injury which puts his career in Brett Jackson set-back mode. His "shoulder fatigue" issues has not allowed him to play third base. He can't win the third base job if he can't field the position. I suspect he will start on the DL and extended spring training rehab.

In the pitching world, Jake Arrieta has been shelved and John McDonald just got pulled after throwing two pitches. More shoulder fatigue or soreness issues. That leaves Chris Rusin as the #5 starter by default.

The starting rotation was partially announced already. Samardzija, Wood, E. Jackson, then Hammel and Rusin.

The bullpen is fairly well set. Veras is the closer, with Strop as set up man. Two lefties, Russell and Wright, will make the squad. That leaves three open slots between Parker, Cabrera, Villaneuva, Vizcaino and Rosscup. Villanueva is going to be a spot starter. Vizcaino is still nursing back from TJ surgery so AAA may be his ticket. Cabrera is out of options.

Wellington Castillo and George Kottaras are the catchers.

Outfield is thin with Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholt. The front office likes ex-Red Sox prospect Ryan Kalish, but he is another lefty bat. Bonifacio, a switch hitter, could get more playing time than we expect in left if Lake starts off slowly. Brett Jackson is still barely hanging on to a 40 man roster spot, but it is doubtful he makes the club.

Besides Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the infield could be shaken up but will not be . . . Valbuena and probably Bonifacio will platoon at third and Barney and Bonifacio will platoon at second. Murphy probably gets the last bench spot due to his power potential.

So the latest projection for opening day is this:

SP: Samardzjia, Wood, E. Jackson, Hammel, Rusin
BP: Veras, Strop, Wright, Russell, Villaneuva, Parker, Cabrera
OF: Lake, Ruggiano, Sweeney, Schierholtz
IN: Valbuena, Castro, Barney, Bonifacio, Rizzo, Roberts, Murphy
C: Castillo, Kottaras

March 20, 2014


The Angels have traded 1B Matthew Scioscia  (Mike's son) to the Cubs for OF Trevor Gretzky  (Wayne's son), Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Scioscia, 25, hit .194/.248/.224 in three minor-league levels last year. The 21-year-old Gretzky, a seventh-round pick in 2011, hit .274/.300/.333 in the low minors in 2013.

The Cubs give up a prospect four years younger than a failed prospect who hit .194 with no power to play first base?


There has been a rash of Tommy John injuries to starting pitchers. The Braves have two of their starters go down with season ending injuries. Tigers SS Jose Ingelias fractured bones in both his legs (which seems unbelievable), so he is out for the entire season as well.

Those bad breaks are opportunities for other players and other teams.

The Braves had to pop for free agent Ervin Santana because the team believes it can still win the NL East.  The Tigers losing their starting shortstop is a major set back for the defending AL Central champions.

You don't have to wait to the July deadline to trade players.

The Cubs could sell "high" right now to teams that are reeling from injuries.

Even though their starting pitchers have been poor in the spring, the Cubs have several trade candidates: Samardzija, Hammel, E. Jackson, and even major league ready guys like Rusin, Grimm or Hendricks.

If the Tigers need a shortstop, Barney could be a caretaker. That would open up second for Bonifacio, the club's true lead off hitter until Baez is ready to be promoted next season. Or, in even a bolder move, Castro could be shopped for pitching prospects, clearing a path for Baez at his natural position.

This trade window will close sooner than you think. General managers are honing their rosters right now, seeing if they have minor league assets that can tide them over until the other teams make their final cuts.

March 19, 2014


MLBTR reports that Tigers executive Scott Reid is scouting Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz and infielder Darwin Barney. Bruce Levine reports that the Cubs would be looking for pitching in return. The Tigers have lost outfielder Andy Dirks and shortstop Jose Igleias for the year due to serious injuries.

Barney has played shortstop, and he recently said he would be comfortable to return to that position. He played one game at short when Castro was hurt this spring. He currently is the second shortstop on the team's depth chart.

In return, the Cubs would be looking for at least one major league ready player, like LHP Ian Krol and pitching prospects. 

Tigers Top Ten prospects include Jonathan Crawford (#5), Jake Thompson (#4) and Robbie Ray (#2) but it is doubtful the Tigers front office will part with any of them for a short term fix in the outfield and shortstop.


The Cubs front office is continuing saying it is all about the "process" of rebuilding the team.

Fans are now worried about the "progression" and not the process itself.

The process was simple: divert resources on draft choices and international signings of young (unproven) talent to stockpile a hoard of prospects to defeat the odds of success at the major league level (only 6% of all prospects make it the majors).

The process meant that the major league team was not the focus. For the past three years, the team has not been competitive by choice. Worse record, better draft position. Better draft position, more money to spend under the CBA.

Fans are well aware of all the bubbling press releases about the new "core" that is working their way through the minors. But there is no official time table for success.

And that is the major problem with the plan: there is no guarantee of success.

But the timing is starting to come into focus.

Javey Baez, the blistering power hitting infielder, will start at AAA Iowa. He may get a late 2014 call-up if Starlin Castro gets hurt; but otherwise he will spend the year in Iowa learning a new position (probably 2B or OF).  Baez will be with the club in 2015.

Kris Bryant, the power hitting collegian, will start the season in AA Tennessee. As the best third base prospect on the team (leapfrogging over Christian Villaneuva and Mike Olt, both acquired in trades from Texas), Bryant will probably play in Iowa for the entire 2015 season. That means he will be with the club in 2016.

Albert Almora, the mature young outfielder, will start the season in High A Daytona. There are hints of injury concerns so the team will not push him along. Under the standard one year per class, this means that Almora tracks to be with the Cubs in 2017.

Jorge Soler, an immature outfielder, will also start the season in High A. His stock has been faded by temperament and injury last season. If he follows the standard career path, he will be with the Cubs in 2017.

Of all of the prospects, none can be called a finished product. Baez is the closest, based on his hitting. His fielding is a concern, and a shift of position may complicate matters. Just as Brett Jackson was heralded as a "can't miss" prospect by tearing up the PCL prior to his original call-up, players with potential can flop. Badly.

This means that the Cubs will not get serious in the free agent market to fill "needs" or holes in their roster until 2018. But realistically, it will not be until 2020 when the current cable contract expires. The Cubs hope for a Dodger-like deal in 2020 for their own billion dollar network (which also is not a guarantee given the rapid changes in the television industry.)

March 18, 2014


Theo Epstein states that the Cubs morale is "fantastic."

Moraleis defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time: example, their morale was high.

The word's origin is 18th Century French from "moral,"  respelled to preserve the final stress in pronunciation.

The real final stress of spring training and the Cubs is the fact that good morale does not equal a good, winning baseball team.

What we know is that exiled Brett Jackson is second on the spring team in RBIs with 7.

The Cubs have gone 9-10 in Cactus league play through Sunday; with 80 runs scored against 103 runs allowed (second worst in the league).

The starters have all had horrible springs: ERAs: Rusin 5.40, C. Villaneuva 5.87, T. Wood 5.90. Samardzija 6.39 and E. Jackson 7.20.

And the only truth be told this spring so far is that Mike Olt would make a fine DH. Except the Cubs play in a league without the designated hitter.

March 17, 2014


Matt Eddy of Baseball America has a great article on the specialized situation of left handed relievers dominating against left handed batters.

The reason more teams have left handed specialists in their bullpens (those players whose job is to get out one or two left handed batters in key situations) is that statistically this match up works.

The basic stats:

Platoon Split, 2011-13
Major League Average
Batter Advantage

Platoon Split, 2011-13
Major League Average
Batter Advantage

Platoon Split, 2011-13
Major League Average
Batter Advantage

The open question is why are so many lefty pitcher more dominate against lefty hitters than their righty on righty counterparts?

First, there are more right handed pitchers in baseball. Nine out of ten people are right handed.

Second, as such, right handed hitters are more plentiful than left handed hitters.

Third, right handed hitters get more practice hitting against right handed pitchers so their ability to get contact is improved (thus a higher batting average).

With a batter advantage (a right handed hitter against a left handed pitcher) is a matter of sight lines; the ball is being thrown from an area across the plate toward the strike zone. This open view of the pitch allows for quicker adjustment by a batter than a pitch coming toward him directly (inside).

Every team bullpen now has at least one lefty specialist.

March 16, 2014


Edwin Jackson was perplexed by the attention. So I am.

Jackson went into his last outing with a game plan: only throw fastballs. And that is what he did for his 5 innings of work. He threw 74 pitches over five innings against Cubs’ minor leaguers on  last Wednesday morning.

“I got tired being asked about it,” Jackson said Wednesday afternoon according to ESPN.  “[Eric] Gagne would go through a whole spring training throwing change-ups. He would throw like two fastballs.”

Jackson says he told  pitching coach Chris Bosio about his plan to work on his fastball.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria said “He threw three [different] pitches today,” Renteria said. “He was doing what he wanted to do: work on his fastball command. He had a purpose and reason for doing what he was doing.”

Jackson confirmed he threw a four seam, two seam, cutters and off-speed pitches in his start against Cubs minor leaguers on Wednesday. With an off day on Thursday, the Cubs wanted Jackson to stay on schedule.

“It was just for one game,” Jackson said of his fastball-filled outing.

Spring training is meant to experiment and re-train players, whether pitchers or catchers, to prepare for the regular season. Jackson wanting to work on command and control of his fastball, his primary pitch, makes perfect sense in spring training.

Since there is such little news from Cubs camp, the media took issue with a pitcher trying to work on his game, abet in an unusual fashion.

It is actually quite important for a pitcher to be able to throw multiple pitches with command from the same mechanics and arm slot. There is a good deal of difference in movement between a four seam and two seam fastball. A pitcher who is comfortable throwing either pitch can develop an advantage over a hitter. In addition, if one pitch is not working well in a game, the pitcher can try another type of fastball to regain his control.

Jackson should not be criticized for his work routine.

March 15, 2014


Mike Olt was once the most prized prospect in the Rangers organization.

But after an odd eye injury in winter ball, his stock faded dramatically. He was traded to the Cubs, and he had a miserable year in the minors. For three different teams, he hit only .201, with 15 HRs and 45 RBIs. His field percentage at third base was a lowly .919.

At age 25, he is no longer a young prospect. He has spent most of spring training at DH due to a new "shoulder" injury/issue. He has hit .333 with 3 HRs and 6 RBI in spring training, but those numbers as fans are well aware, can be deceiving because it is spring training and not actual major league games.

In 16 games with 40 plate appearances in 2012, Olt hit only .152 with 0 HR and 5 RBI for the Rangers.

People want to believe that Olt is a better solution to the Cubs third base woes than another season of Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy.  Olt does have home run potential, but injuries and fielding issues are real concerns. The front office really wants Olt to win the third base job, because it would validate one of their recent trades.

But no matter what happens, Olt is probably still only a caretaker at third until Kris Bryant is ready.

March 14, 2014


The White Sox rebuild has been to acquire young major league ready players and supplement with veteran talent.

No more apparent is this philosophy was the team trading its young closer, Addison Reed, to the Diamondbacks for young CF Adam Eaton.  This did cause a hole in the bullpen, but the Sox quickly filled it with various new arms.

Michael, Boggs, Scott Downs, Ronald Belisaro have joined holdovers Nate Jones, Daniel Webb and Matt Lindstrom as the core of the 2014 bullpen.

But there is plenty of rusty arms which causes some concern amongst Sox fans. Belisario and Lindstrom have not pitched in game situations. Jones and Webb have not thrown a lot. Downs does not look sharp. And  Boggs has a 14.73 ERA over his first four outings.

Jones has only pitched in two games since missing much of the early going with a gluteus muscle strain, but he was solid in a perfect inning Monday. It would be a surprise if he wasn’t the closer on Opening Day.

Lindstrom is throwing on the side again, but an oblique injury is always tricky. Oblique muscles are never quite healed even when discomfort subsides, which makes them easy to aggravate. He’s had one setback already on his road to recovery.

ESPN calls The White Sox’s bullpen "unique" since it is essentially a gathering of setup men, and since most of them have experience, getting ready for the season wouldn’t seem to be an issue. This may be one of those situations where there will be a closer by committee as was the case when the White Sox won their last World Series championship.

March 13, 2014


The Rule 5 draft is one of baseball's quirky rules. A team can select an unprotected player from another club at the winter meetings for $50,000, place him on the 40 man roster but will have to keep him for the entire season at the major league level. The Cubs got one young player, Lenny Castillo, through a weak season so he remains Cub property.

It is reported that the Diamondbacks will return Rule 5 choice Marcus Mateo to the Cubs.

 Mateo, who had some major league experience,  missed all of 2012 and threw at Triple-A last year. In 31 innings, he posted a sparkling 1.74 ERA, with 8.7 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9. Across his previous 44 2/3 MLB innings, Mateo notche only a 5.04 ERA but for every nine innings did manage to strike out 10.3 while surrendering only 3.8 free passes.

As with most Rule 5 choices, Mateo would have struggled to stick on Arizona's roster for the year. That was especially so given the number of additions and commitments the team made to the pen.  As MLBTR noted, Mateo is out of options, which means a team could not hold onto him in the minors without passing him through waivers.

So this problem comes back to the Cubs. The Cubs current bullpen candidates have had a less than stellar spring training. This spring, Mateo, 29, threw 4 IP in 4 games for a 2.25 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. He would be a long shot to make the Cubs opening day roster, but the team might as well hold on to him to the end of camp, then send him to clear waivers, hoping every other team is set with their bullpens.


NBC Sports is doing their preseason assessments of the major league teams. The Cubs post was brutal. (My comments on NBC's statements in italics)

The Big Question: Is the wait almost over? (No.)

It has been 105 long years since the north side of Chicago last celebrated a World Series title and in seven months that number will be pushed to 106.

Let’s get it out of the way: this 2014 edition of the Cubs is hopeless. (This is the first national publication I recall using this term before game one of a new season.) There’s not enough firepower in the lineup, not enough shutdown stuff on the pitching staff, and they’ll play in a five-team division that features four much better squads. Bovada pegs the Cubs' over-under win total for the 2014 season at 69.5 — same as the Marlins and well below the Brewers (79.5), Pirates (83.5), Reds (84.5), and Cardinals (90.5).

And it doesn’t take a casino odds-maker to figure out what’s wrong with the Northsiders’ roster.
The four-year, $52 million commitment made last winter to right-handed starter Edwin Jackson  already looks like a bust. (Jackson's signing was a knee-jerk front office decision after losing out on Sanchez to the Tigers; the Cubs overpaid for a .500 pitcher at best) Travis Wood  is very good but far from a typical ace (that is a premature statement), and Jeff Samardzija  took a step back in 2013 after flashing front-line numbers in 2012 (this also is debatable since many believe Samardzija's IP numbers are improving despite no offensive support). Some combination of Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin and James McDonald will fill out the final two spots of a thoroughly-unintimidating starting rotation. (This year's starting rotation will be considered a downgrade from last year's opening day roster).

The lineup isn’t any more formidable.Anthony Rizzo has promising upside at first base, but his park-adjusted batting numbers were nearly league-average for that premium offensive position during the 2013 season. (Rizzo had a disappointing season and he needs to adjust to the league this year since the front office has bet the ranch that he will be a cornerstone for the future).  Fifth-year shortstop Starlin Castro was a complete disaster last summer, hitting .245/.284/.347 for an OPS+ of just 72. (Castro and Sveum apparently did not get along; the team keeps asking too much from Castro. Moving him around the line up and adjusting his swing did him no good.) Luis Valbuena (3B), Nate Schierholtz  (RF), Junior Lake  (LF), Ryan Sweeney (CF),Wellington Castillo (C), and Darwin Barney  (2B) make up the rest of the Cubs’ starting position player group. (Barney may lose his spot to Bonifacio, who is the only legitimate lead-off hitter on the squad. Lake, Sweeney and Schierholtz are probably not starters on 85% of the other teams.Valbuena is another light hitting utility guy forced to start on a glorified AAA team.)

So, is the wait almost over? It depends on whether you have a gracious definition of “almost.”

What else is going on?
  • A total of seven Cubs prospects appeared in last month’s Baseball America Top 100, tied for the second-most of any organization. Javier Baez looks like a star in the making and will likely work his way into the major league infield mix by the end of this summer. He batted .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 130 games last year between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, could also become a starter — at third base — by the end of 2014. He tallied nine homers and 32 RBI in just 36 minor league games last season. Right-handed starter C.J. Edwards and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler were among the other Cubs prospects named to Baseball America‘s list. Team president Theo Epstein is building a legitimate nucleus. (As I have cautioned for years, the grand hype of prospects usually leads to bitter disappointment. The Cubs have a history of "can't miss" prospects who somehow fail to reach their potential. Even now, Soler was the #1 prospect, but his stock has faded in the Top 10 lists)
  • Something to keep an eye on with this rising class of elite-level prospects: Javier Baez was drafted as a shortstop in 2011 (ninth overall) and has played nothing but shortstop in the Cubs’ minor league system. Starlin Castro signed a seven-year, $60 million contract extension with the Cubs in August 2012, but he might not finish out that deal in Chicago. (This is what I speculated would happen; Castro would be moved - - - possibly to the Yankees to replace Jeter  - - - to open SS position for Baez) Castro is young enough and has enough raw talent that he will presumably attract interest from other clubs even if he doesn’t bounce back right away in 2014.
  • Darwin Barney won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defensive play at second base in 2012 and probably should have won it again in 2013, but he owns a hideous .246/.293/.336 career slash line in 1,799 plate appearances at the major league level and the situation only worsened last season. Emilio Bonifacio can probably steal that starting second base job away from Barney by early-to-mid summer. (As I said above, Barney may revert to utility infielder role while Bonifacio plays 2B, 3B and OF)
  • The Cubs fired Dale Sveum last September after just two years in the managerial post and officially selected Rick Renteria in early November to be his replacement. Renteria was the Padres’ bench coach when current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer worked in the San Diego front office and is well-respected around the baseball world. Renteria is the 53rd manager in Cubs franchise history. (This is another rookie manager hire which does not bode well for the long term health of the franchise. Renteria may be a nice guy, but nice guys tend to finish last. The Cubs continue to miss on their target solutions, whether in FAs or managerial choices (Girardi). As a rookie manager, Renteria will be easy for the front office to control, and when the time comes, discard.)
Prediction: A rough start but slightly-brighter finish yields 72 wins. Last place, NL Central

(How can a team with a worse roster IMPROVE by six games?! No, this team appears to be headed for only 62 wins since the July trade deadline will be very active for the Cubs, with players like Hammel, Veras, Samardzija, Schierholtz and possibly Barney on the block.)

March 12, 2014


Teams are half way through spring training. General managers have a pretty good grasp on what players will break camp with the major league squad.  This time is used to stretch out starters, get bullpen arms into a routine, and hitters working on their timing.  Teams usually only have one or two open spots to fill during the final 10 days of camp, usually referred to the 25th man (bench player) and a final pitcher for the bullpen.

It is rare for trades to happen late in spring training. Teams have concentrated so much on their own organization and talent to focus in on potential trade partners. Teams do scout other organizations, but mainly to get updated books on other team prospects.

However, if a preseason contender is beset with early injuries, like the Tigers with OF Dirks or the Braves who lost two starting pitchers, a last minute trade is a possibility.

If the Tigers want to replace their outfielder with a proven veteran, Nate Schierholtz's name has come up in recent reports. Apparently the Tigers inquired at last year's trade deadline. Since Schierholtz is in the final year of his Cub contract, it would make sense if he has any trade value to move him. The Tigers are still in "win now" mode and may give up some pitching prospects.

Likewise, the Braves are also in "win now" mode after re-signing many of their young players to extensions this off season. Number one starter, Kris Medlen,  left his start with a forearm strain. With Medlen--who already has one Tommy John surgery on the punch card--and the Braves awaiting results from an MRI, Brandon Beachy left his spring start a mere 24 hours after Medlen. Also a Tommy John recoverer, he left with tightness in his throwing elbow. In the span of a day, the Braves went from a young, deep rotation to one on the verge of falling apart before they break from Spring Training. Two bad MRIs, and the Braves would suddenly, breathtakingly be stripped of their status as favorites for the NL East crown. As insurance, the Braves traded for journeyman starter/reliever Zach Stewart from the White Sox system. But clearly, Stewart would not be a long term solution.

UPDATE: The Braves have signed free agent Ervin Santana in a one year deal for $14.1 million (the same money as the qualified offer he rejected from his previous club). 

The weak point is lack of depth of major league starters, so Jeff Samardzija's name will come up as a possible solution. There is no question that the Shark is frustrated with the Cubs. He wants to play for a winning club. The Cubs and his representatives are at an impasse on a contract extension. At age 29, Samardzija's championship window is starting to close.

The Cubs are gearing up for another 100 loss season, so losing Samardzija or Schierholtz is not going to make a great deal of difference. There are plenty of journeymen outfielders in camp to platoon in RF. Chris Rusin, Carlos Villanueva or Justin Grimm could take Shark's rotation spot.

The plan is that Jorge Soler would take the long term RF spot, but Soler is slated to start this year at Class A again. That projects to not being major league ready until 2017. The Cubs really do not have a sure fire "ace" in the minor league system who would replace Samardzija as an opening day starter/innings eater. Even if the Cubs take the best college pitcher available in this year's draft, he will not be ready for at least two years. In essence, the Cubs "rebuild" plan is only halfway to completion.

March 11, 2014


There is a correlation between hits and runs scored; the more, the better.

In 2013, the Cubs had 1307 hits and scored 602 runs.  In essence, it took the Cubs 2.17 hits to score a run.

In contrast, the champion Red Sox had 1566 hits and scored 853 runs. Boston took 1.84 hits to score a run, at least an 18 percent improvement than the Cubs.

Taking the AL DH out of the discussion, the Cardinals had 1494 hits to score783 runs. St. Louis took 1.91 hits to score a run, at least 14 percent better than the Cubs.

Another way of looking at it is that the Cubs needed another .30 hit to score a run versus a quality competitor like the Red Sox or Cardinals.

Dividing hits by wins, the Red Sox has 16.15 hits/win. The Cardinals 15.40 hits/win. The Cubs had 19.80 hits/win. The range of hits/win is 5.40 to 3.75.

A basic element of the game, such as getting a base hit, in all of the sabermetrics, is still a simple key statistic to show run efficiency and correlation to victories.

March 9, 2014


The Cubs are in the midst of a bad spring camp. Winning is not important, but losing game after game is a grind.

But most stories from camp focus in on the reaction of scouts, players and fans on the Cubs prospect core of Almora, Bryant, Baez, Johnson, Hendricks and Soler. A consensus is that, but for Soler, all these young guys, especially Almora, are more mature than their age or experience.

It seems like the notion that the Cubs front office has cloned the perfect GQ major league player has taken hold in the media. The secondary social skills and media savvy only adds to the expectation level for these players as they move through the system.

The Cubs have added to the hype by bunching these prospects together in spring training games; a prelude to big league action in 2018.

But such stories need to be tempered by reality. Just 1 1/2 years ago, Soler was the number one topic of hope in Cubs circles. He was the top prospect in the Cub system. He was going to be Sosa-like. But today, his stock is beginning to fade. He is no longer the Cubs #1 prospect; some lists have him as low as 7th.

Times change; competition gets tougher. The pressure to advance gets greater. There are more injuries. Players for the first time in their careers need to learn to adapt to injuries, slumps, family issues, failures and expectations.  That is why so few highly touted prospects actually become impact major league players. In all the media attention to these prospects, fans need to see these players through more a mature lens.

March 8, 2014


The Cubs 40 man roster has numerous players who are out of options, according to MLBTR.

Players on a  40-man roster players  who have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options must clear waivers before being sent to the minors. In theory,  a team risks losing a player if he cannot make the 25 man roster.  

The Cubs have 11 players who are out of options.

George Kottaras, Wesley Wright, Justin Ruggiano, James McDonald, Pedro Strop, Wellington Castillo, Jeff Samardzija, Luis Valbuena, Travis Wood, Donnie Murphy and Alberto Cabrera.

There are a few who are guaranteed 25 man roster spots: Samardzija, Wood, Valbuena, Castillo, with newcomers Kottaras, Wright, Ruggiano.

Strop would appear to win the set-up bullpen role, and Cabrera could be battling for the final bullpen spot with McDonald if Arrieta is the 5th starter as camp breaks.

It puts Murphy in the weakest spot. Even though he showed some power in his short tenure with the Cubs, he has never found consistency in the majors. Emilio Bonifacio, who signed a minor league deal, is more likely to make the 25 man roster because of his position versatility and ability to lead off.

It is not to say that the Cubs should be not looking at the waiver wire to upgrade any of their positions.

March 7, 2014


The Miami Marlins had their panties all in a bunch because the Red Sox failed to field a respectable team for an exhibition game.  The Marlins, who only had 62 wins last season, were upset that the Red Sox line up had no players with any major league experience. No one on the 25 man roster. A "B" squad. A AAA/AA team of journeymen looking to try to land a job.

It is ironic that the Marlins fielded such a team last year - - - during the real season.

Why the outrage?

Because the Marlins were charging "premium" ticket prices for their fans to see the champions.

And the Marlins cited alleged rules that each team must have four major league players play during spring training games.

Which is odd, considering the Cubs fielded a split squad game recently that featured all their touted prospects (and no one complained).

Who ever heard of charging premium prices for exhibition games?
Who cares what players play during a spring training contest which does not count for anything?

Miami is a franchise in disarray. The team took the city for a ride in funding a new stadium. The team traded away all its high priced talent. The team is very bad as a result. And the real outrage is the team trying to squeeze more money from its fan base during spring training.


CSNChicago reported on a recent Theo Epstein interview:

Theo Epstein must have been watching too much of the Food Network lately.
On Tuesday, the Cubs president was on 670 The Score talking about the pressure surrounding the organization to bring up their top prospects immediately to Wrigley Field. Chef Epstein had some special thoughts about how to serve the fans' appetite in 2014:

"I was shaking my head at the notion that we should make baseball decisions based on giving our fans cookies. We're cooking the whole meal. We want to give them an annual feast. The only way to make fans happy is to give them pennant races and October baseball if you can pull it off on an annual basis. Nothing is going to get in the way of that."

However, nutrition studies have shown that if a person, especially children, eat something sweet prior to a meal (like a cookie), they actually eat less food during the meal. Some scientists believe that the sweetness may signal to the body that the meal is actually ending, thereby reducing the hunger stimulus of the body.

Moreover, the real question is whether Theo can actually cook.

March 6, 2014


Another way to look at lineup construction is WAR (wins above replacement). The 2013 Cubs were a AAA team by the fact the top offensive WAR players were:

1. Castillo, c 4.4
2. Rizzo, 1b 2.6
3. Navarro, c 2.0
4. Valbuena 3b, 1.6
5. DeJesus, cf 1.6
6. Schierholtz, rf, 1.4
7. Murphy, 3b, 1.0
8. Ransom, lf, 0.9

It shows what a mess the Cubs were last year when the third best player is a back up catcher, and a late season off the scrap heap journeyman infielder is your 7th best player.

If one believes WAR path to line up construction, last year's line up would have been:

1. Castillo, c 4.4
2. Rizzo, 1b 2.6
3. Valbuena, 3b 1.6
4. DeJesus, cf 1.6
5. Schierholtz, rf, 1.4
6. Soriano, lf, 0.8
7. Barney, 2b  negative 0.5
8. Castro, ss negative 0.6.

March 5, 2014


ActaSports Stat of the Week recently published a study on pitcher control. When scouts talk about a pitcher's command of his pitches, they usually mean the ability to use them to throw strikes.

The report found that there is a direct correlation between a pitcher throwing strikes and ERA.

2013 ERA Qualifiers Grouped by Control
Control Strike Zone % ERA
Grade A 47.6% 3.27
Grade B 44.8% 3.52
Grade C 43.4% 3.70
Grade D 40.8% 3.91

It seems like basic common sense that has been lost in batter hitting squares and defense shift charts plotted by statistical data. If pitchers throw more strikes, they allow fewer runs. The report stated that the  21 starters who threw the most pitches in the strike zone (Grade A Control Pitchers) allowed more than half a run less per nine innings than the 20 starters who threw the fewest pitches in the zone (Grade D). The best pitchers in the game throw the most strikes.

Throwing more strikes also means that a pitcher is more efficient. Pitching coaches will preach that it is important to get ahead of the count early in an at-bat. A batter that is down in the count is more defensive at the plate. Pitchers tend to forget that the best hitters in the game only get a hit 30 percent of the time. Pitchers who tend to nibble on the corners throw more pitchers (which leads to higher pitch counts and less innings pitched). All teams have gone mental on pitch counts in order to protect pitchers from injury. A batter that is ahead in the count is better able to judge where the next pitch is coming in the zone - - - as to increase the chances for contact.

Throwing strikes does not mean grooving batting practice pitches down the heart of the plate. Major league pitching is still an art form. A pitcher with a 100 mph fastball can throw the pitch by the hitter. A pitcher with an 88 mph fastball can get the pitch past the hitter if it has movement through spin.

It is easier for a pitcher to set up a hitter if he can hit his catcher's spots consistently. The strike zone has shrunk to belt to knees, but that should not stop a pitcher from throwing a letter high pitch in order to set up a slider later in the count.

There are three ways for a pitch to be called a strike. The batter must swing and miss; hit a foul ball; or not swing at a pitch in the strike zone. For the set up pitch, the pitcher must "freeze" the hitter who is guessing what type of pitch is coming next. Good hitters always say that they always prepare that the next pitch will be a fastball, so they can adjust if it off-speed (since it is extremely difficult to do the opposite). Hitting is series of split second decisions of eye to hand coordination. A pitcher who can mask the type of pitch longer (by hiding the ball or by pitching motion) can have an advantage.

Good quality pitchers really have no fear of throwing strikes. Basic math is on their side. Sabermetric managers want hitters to be more selective, take pitches and work a count to improve OBP via walks. But a pitcher with command knows that a hitter will swing probably only half the time. And if he gets a hit only 30 percent of his swings, then there really is only a 16.5 percent effective contact rate at play.

A pitcher who does not have command has efficiency issues. It takes 4 balls for a batter to get a walk versus 3 strikes to get a batter out. The rules provide a pitcher with a 25 percent advantage at the start of an at-bat. 

In a 2008 post at Baseball ThinkTank, the idea of pitcher efficiency was further researched to conclude that the real purpose of a pitcher is to get outs (not necessarily strike outs) in the most efficient manner. It is called Pitching Toward Outs.

There is a stereotype given to strikeout pitchers that says they use more pitches (which they do) and somehow aren’t as efficient as pitchers who pitch to contact. But, have you ever wondered which pitchers achieve their positive outcome (an out in play or a strikeout) in the most efficient manner? Example: A pitcher who struck out every batter he faced on three pitches and induced outs in play on the first pitch would be considered extremely efficient.
The formula was devised to measure pitcher towards outs efficiency:

PTO% = (SO*3)+SH+SF+(AB-SO-H)/Total Pitches

The formula takes the number of pitches that go directly into getting strikeouts (three strikes) and inducing outs in play (one pitch each) and divides that by the total number of pitches. The end result is the percentage of pitches used directly towards outs. The three strikes needed to get a strikeout are figured in, which allows strikeout pitchers to get a fair shake in this test of efficiency. The remaining pitches not used towards out are “wasted pitches” or negative outcomes (walks or hits). Therefore, a pitcher who goes to a 3-2 count on every batter before getting an outcome would not be looked at as being very efficient under this line of thinking.

A quality pitcher should not have the mindset of "wasting" pitches especially when pitch counts are the new norm. A quality pitcher is one who throws 75 percent of his first pitches for strikes. With an 0-2 count, a pitcher can use a "trick" pitch to get a batter out because the batter is trying to protect the zone from a called strike three. The most effective pitch in that sequence would be the off-speed change which looks at release as a fastball which disrupts a batters eye to hand coordination and swing speed. A three-pitch at bat is much more efficient than a 7 pitch full count for a pitcher.

If a pitcher "saves" just one pitch per out batter per inning for five innings to qualify for a win,  that would yield 15 extra pitches against the pitch count, which at the major league level is another full inning of work. A starter who can pitch 6 full innings is more valuable than one who can only manage a pitch count through 5. The latter would add an additional 33 innings to the team's bullpen staff.

And the key to a successful pitcher is the ability to throw strikes early and often.


With Starlin Castro sidelined for 10 days with a tweaked hamstring, all eyes went to Javier Baez to play a lot of first team shortstop this spring.  With good reason: he is the most exciting player in camp.

But the Cubs brain trust have different thoughts. Starting second baseman Darwin Barney will make several starts at short while Castro recovers . . . which should be taken as a sign that Barney is going to be shifted to a utility role.

Barney had played some shortstop in college. He has been the depth chart second shortstop on the roster ever since Castro assumed the position. However, most scouts don't think Barney has the range or arm to be a regular, full time shortstop.

Baez has grown up playing shortstop. If the Cubs plan is to keep Castro, Baez would have to shift to another position in a year. He said his preference would be second base. Barney then would be out of a job, unless he can prove he is a better middle infielder bench player than a Valbuena, Murphy or Watkins.

Baez and Castro are similar players. They both play a street shortstop - - - flashy but sloppy, and tend to make a lot of errors (physical and mental). But they have range and arm strength to make the hard plays, too. It is said that it is harder for a shortstop to adapt to play second because of the pivot skills to turn a double play. You really don't want to mess with the best hitter (Baez)  in the system by making him learn a new position in spring training.

Since the 2014 season will be another lost one, there is no reason to rush Baez into playing second base at all. It is more a comeback litmus test for Castro to retain his position at shortstop than Baez proving he can't play in the majors in 2015. And you don't want to move Castro to third base now, because the front office has log jammed several prospects (Olt, Villaneuva and Bryant) at that position.

Professional players are creatures of habit. Starters like to settle into one position. Players like to know where they will be placed in the line up card. It is that consistent repetition that makes a player go instinctive in the field or at the plate. It is one less mental aspect of the game.

But moving around players on the field and up and down the line up card breeds uncertainty. You don't want players to question why he was dropped from second in the order to eighth for no apparent reason.

But front office personnel and coaches now view players more like interchangeable chess pieces than specialized workmen on an assembly line. We will know very soon whether new manager Rick Renteria will fall into this moving trap.

March 4, 2014


There are various theories on how a manager should construct his line up card.

A group of statisticians and sabermetric guys have proposed that the numbers show that:

A. Lefty/right platoon situations do work. Right handed hitters hit lefty pitchers better; and vice versa.

B. High on-base percentage players are more valuable than free swingers (i.e. hitters who cannot get on base by walk or hit-by-pitch).

C. Team speed at critical positions is important to avoid double plays (which destroys run production opportunities).

The two critical stats in their minds are

OBP = (hits + walks+ hit by pitches)/plate appearances
OPS = OBP + (total bases/at bats)

There is a theory that this is the format for a good National League line up:

1. Lead off hitter should be the highest OBP hitter on the team.
2. Second hitter should be the second highest OBP hitter, preferable with speed to avoid double plays.
3. The third hitter should be the highest OPS hitter on the team.
4. The clean up hitter should be the second highest OPS hitter on the team. The #3 and #4 hitters are the main gears in driving in runs.
5. The fifth hitter should be the third highest OBP hitter or third highest OPS hitter if statistically close.
6. The sixth hitter should be the third or fourth highest OPS hitter on the team.
7. The seventh batter should be the best OPS starter left.
8. The eighth hitter should be the best OBP starter left, so that the pitcher in the #9 slot can sacrifice him into scoring position to have the best hitters on the team come up at the top of the order.

On the other hand, shouldn't the best line up card have the best hitters at the top of the order?

If the key stat is OPS (which incorporates OBP into the formula),
the true meaning of OPS can be condensed as follows:


A random player is chosen to discuss: Starlin Castro.

In 2013, he played in 161 games. He had a .245 BA, .284 OBP and .631 OPS. He hit 10 HR, 44 RBI and 9 SB with a negative 0.6 WAR.

Castro's 2013 condensed OPS = 163 H/1SF + 231 TB/666AB

Castro's condensed OPS = 163 77/222.

What jumps out is that this result nearly matches Castro's HIT total.

In 2013, Anthony Rizzo played in 160 games. By comparison, he hit .233 BA, .323 OBP, .724 OPS with 23 HR, 80 RBI, 6 SB and 2.6 WAR. By all measures, Rizzo had a better season than Castro.

Rizzo's 2013 condensed OPS = 141 H/2SF + 254 TB/606AB

Rizzo's condensed OPS = 70 557/606

What jumps out is that this number is nearly one-half of Rizzo's hit total (which is skewered by the fact he had one more sacrifice fly than Castro did).

If you believe that a sacrifice is a "productive out," then it should not have so much negative drag in judging a player's offensive production.

Statistics can be manipulated to achieve certain results. Baseball is another example of trying to glean a bigger pitcher from smaller quantitative analysis of putting game action into numbers.

But one cannot lose simple common sense. In order to have the best line up, the key statistic for all hitters is HITS. The team's best hitters should be at the top of the order.

Based on last year's stats, the 2013 Cubs order should have been:

1. Castro, ss 163
2. Rizzo, 1b, 141
3. Schierholtz, rf, 116
4. Castillo, c, 104
5. Barney, 2b, 104
6. Soriano, lf, 92
7. Valbuena 3b 72
8. DeJesus, cf, 71

March 2, 2014


Fangraphs takes a stab at guessing which team will be the most improved in 2014. It also rates the teams likely to fall the most. It is based upon estimated WAR, and last season success/failure weighs heavily into the rankings.

The ten most-improved teams:
  • Astros, +18 WAR
  • Phillies, +12
  • Mariners, +11
  • Marlins, +8
  • Yankees, +8
  • Blue Jays, +8
  • Padres, +8
  • White Sox, +6
  • Twins, +5
  • Brewers, +4
The ten lease-improved teams:

  • Red Sox, -16 WAR
  • Tigers, -14
  • Rays, -8
  • Braves, -8
  • Athletics, -8
  • Reds, -7
  • Rangers, -7
  • Royals, -6
  • Orioles, -6
  • Pirates, -5
 The Astros are not going to win their division. What may happen is that the Red Sox come back down to Earth and struggle for a wild card spot in the AL East. The Tigers could be caught in the AL Central. The AL West will be interesting with the Mariners off season and the projected fade of the A's.

It also speculates that teams not mentioned will remain basically the same, like the Cardinals (division winners) and the Cubs (division bottom feeder).

March 1, 2014


If one looks how the Cubs 40 man roster was constructed, some would be surprised by the result. In the Epstein era, the emphasis has been on homegrown talent.

As it currently stands, the Cubs roster contains 15 homegrown players (Castillo, Cabrera, Samardzija, Parker, Castro, Lake, Vitters, Barney, Russell, Watkins, Alacantara, B. Jackson, Rusin, Szczur and Beeler).  All those players were acquired prior to 2011.  That is 37.5 percent of the Cubs current roster.

There are no homegrown talent drafted by Esptein currently on the 40 man roster.

The Cubs roster contains 12 players acquired by trade, all during the Esptein era (Rosscup, T. Wood, Rizzo, Vizcaino, C. Villaneuva, Arrieta, Strop, Grimm, Olt, Ramirez, Kottaras, and Ruggiano). That is 30 percent of the Cubs current roster.

There are no players acquired by trade on the roster prior to the Epstein era.

The Cubs roster contains 11 players acquired through free agency, all during the Epstein era (Soler, Fujikawa, Schierholtz, Villanueva, E. Jackson, Sweeney, Murphy, Veras, Wright, Hammel and McDonald). That is 27.5 percent of the Cubs current roster.

There are no Hendry FA acquisitions currently on the Cubs roster.

There is one Rule 5 player on the Cubs roster (Rondon), acquired during the Epstein era. He represents 2.5 percent of the Cubs current roster.

There is one player picked off waivers on the Cubs roster (Valbuena), acquired during the Epstein era. He represents 2.5 percent of the Cubs current roster.

So during the Epstein era, he has zero homegrown talent on his 40 man roster.  He has acquired 62.5 percent of the current roster during his tenure.

Epstein's roster building so far has been:

48 percent via trades
44 percent via free agency
4 percent via Rule 5 draft
4 percent via waiver claims.