March 31, 2015


The Tribune believes the Cubs have settled their bullpen issues.

With the promotion of lefty Phil Coke, his $2.25 million contract was added to the 40-man roster was a foregone conclusion, especially have he had not allowed a run in 9 IP.  Coke, 32, will be the only lefty reliever in the pen. That will lessen some of the options for manager Joe Maddon.

The 2015 bullpen is pretty much the same as last seasons, except with the addition of veterans Coke and former Cardinal Jason Motte. Motte has had a weak spring, so the Cubs are still looking at him as potential "closer insurance."

Closer: Hector Rondon
Set Up: Pedro Strop
8th Inning: Jason Motte, Neil Ramirez
Long relievers: Justin Grimm, Edwin Jackson
Lefty: Phil Coke

It appears the Cubs will be stuck with Jackson in some role. He did have his best spring outing, a one hit game against the scrub Royals. It was reported that Ricketts had authorized Theo Epstein to get rid of Jackson in trade and eating half the $26 million left on the contract. But there is little to no interest with Jackson for $6.5 million for a marginal fifth starter/long reliever.

Jackson has never been a troublemaker in the clubhouse, but he has never recently been demoted to the pen. He wants to be a starter. He believes he is a starter. Whether he accepts the role is an important aspect of Maddon keeping his first Cub clubhouse in proper balance. We know that during the course of the season pitchers will be get hurt, and the team will need three, four or five additional starters.

A few speculate that Maddon, always looking to find clever tweaks in the game like batting the pitcher in the 8th spot of the lineup, could have a 5.5 man rotation where Travis Wood and Jackson would alternate starts or possibly do "split games" like in minor league squads were two starters pitch half of a game. In theory, a "split game" should give the bullpen a full day's rest every week.

March 30, 2015


The Cubs made its big spring roster moves. Kris Bryant and Addison Russell were reassigned to Iowa (because they are not yet on the 40 man roster) and Javy Baez was optioned to AAA (each player has three options years).

The reasons are clear but not without some controversy.

Bryant, who leads the majors with nine spring training home runs and battied .425 (17-for-40) with 15 RBIs in 14 games, was sent to the minors to start the season so that the Cubs will gain an extra year until he is eligible for free agency. Bryant's agent and many fans railed at the fact that the Cubs would put "a business decision" ahead of having the best 25 players on the field for opening day. And considering the Cubs ownership and management have told fans that the team is going to compete for the NL Central title and playoffs this year, not having probably your best hitter in the minors seems two-faced.

Further, the business decision is all based on the assumption that Bryant will still be productive SIX years from now. If you are in "win now" mode, you play your best players because your team may only have a small, one year window of opportunity (see, 2005 White Sox).

The Cubs claim that it was for developmental reasons. When Theo Epstein came to Chicago, he did have this arbitrary philosophy that minor league players need 500 AAA at-bats before being promoted to the major leagues. Bryant has had 297 ABs in AAA so far. That would mean Bryant is going to be in Iowa for more than the estimated two weeks since 200 ABs equates to another 35-40 games played for him to reach the 500 threshold. The Cubs will not admit this, but keeping Bryant down longer this season will help stop him from reaching Super Two status (the top 22 percent of rookie players in the game get a chance at early arbitration year).

It may take 30 games to train Bryant in left field duties. That is supposedly the plan if Mike Olt can be a passable third baseman. But based on Olt's Cub performance to date, Bryant is just as good fielder and a significantly better hitter than Olt. The Cubs have no other seasoned third baseman on the roster.

This could mean shortstop Russell, currently blocked by Starlin Castro, may also have to learn a new position in Iowa: third base. Russell looks like he has the body type that will fill out over time. He does have the arm strength to play the position.  It was no surprise that despite batted .324 with a homer and six RBIs this spring, Russell was being sent to Iowa.

The Baez demotion took some people by surprise, maybe including manager Joe Maddon who has campaigned for days in keeping Baez on the roster for his fine defense and base running skills. But Baez struggled mightily this spring, batting just .173 with one homer, one RBI and 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats. The slugging infielder had a whopping 95 strikeouts in 213 at-bats with the Cubs last season.

Baez has also not taken well to coaching in regard to his swing mechanics. The Cubs staff has tried to get Baez to shorten up his loopy power swing to cut down on the holes in the zone. The Cubs staff has also tried to get Baez to shorten his leg kick swing trigger. Apparently he tries the new mechanics in the batting cage, but not in game situations. Some felt that keeping Baez on the major league roster, he could get batting advice from the major league hitting coach and Maddon.

The fall out for these three roster moves is apparent:

Olt wins the starting third base position by default.

Arismendy Alcantara and Tommy LaStella will probably platoon at second base. Alcantara played CF for the Cubs last season, but is a natural second baseman who has some power. As camp began, LaStella was perceived as a utility-bench player.

The noise about trading Castro will die off with the move of Russell. But if Russell is not going to switch to third (or second if Alcantara returns to supersub role and Baez fails to cut down on strikeouts), then the pressure will be on management to move either Castro or Russell for a bigger piece of the championship puzzle (for example, a deal for major league ace starter like Cole Hamels).


Ricketts and the Cubs are counting on a huge network-cable channel bonanza in 2020.

However, the landscape of television and consumer entertainment options is changing fast.

If the Cubs were counting on a Dodger-TW megadeal, think again.

Time Warner Cable is expected to lose $1 billion in its deadl involving the Dodgers television rights, according to the New York Post. 

The company acquired the right to air Dodgers' games on SportsNet LA in 2013. The reported contract was worth $8.35 billion over 25 years. Time Warner Cable believed providers such as DirecTV or Dish Network would pay to carry the channel, but that hasn't been the case thus far. 
Time Warner Cable hasn't lowered its demands, which means roughly 70 percent of Southern California households will be unable to watch games for the second year of the deal. The company is reported asking for about $5 per subscriber in order for providers to carry the channel.
That would make SportNet LA the third most-expensive sports channel in the United States, according to a survey conducted by SNL Kagan, a consulting firm. And, according to the Post at least, Time Warner would rather take a $1 billion hit than bring down its price:
Sources told The Post that the market rate for the channel is more likely $3 per subscriber per month, meaning the charge will be almost $1 billion when adjusted over the life of the contract or in the region of $700 million in present-day terms.
“Comcast will be made whole,” said the source, suggesting this mess had to be cleaned up as a condition of Comcast’s proposed deal to acquire Time Warner Cable.
“Unless the deal closes, there will not be another [Dodgers] season shown outside of Time Warner Cable. I don’t believe they’ll get carriage,” a source told The Post.
Time Warner Cable has reportedly attempted to rectify the situation in recent weeks, but there has been no progress, according to the Los Angeles Times. The company has also denied that it is facing such a massive loss. 
"Time Warner Cable has no plans to take a write-down in connection with its Dodgers contract," the company said late Tuesday in a statement.  "In fact, TWC does not carry an asset on its balance sheet related to the Dodgers and, therefore, there is no asset for it to write down now or in the future."
If Time Warner Cable were to "take a write-down" that would mean the company would have to admit that the rights to air Dodgers games is a declining asset. This would have a huge impact on their financial situation if the reported figures are true.

Another point to be made is that the Dodgers cable deal has caused the values of all baseball franchises to skyrocket. So much so that the Cubs have sold minority interests in the holding company - - - which is selling slices at peak prices (and before this latest news). One could argue that all baseball franchises are now substantially overvalued as no cable operator-TV partner in the future is going to make a similar Dodger-TW mistake.

March 28, 2015


Theo Epstein was in the broadcast booth with color analyst and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. In their discussion, Schilling badgered Epstein about the Kris Bryant situation. Schilling said there was no doubt that Bryant was one of the best 25 players in the Cubs organization, so he should be on the opening day roster. Clearly, this is the player-agent position in this service time debate.

Epstein responded that when he was in Boston, he had many "top 25 player" prospects but he never added them to the opening day roster. It was his view it was better to call them up during the season rather than the pressure of opening day.

Give Schilling credit for not accepting that explanation. He continued to press Epstein on why the Cubs are not giving Bryant an opening day start. "Is is all about business?" Schilling asked.  Epstein tried to deflect that statement by saying Bryant needed more minor league time for "his development."  Schilling was not buying that line either. As we have discussed, the Cubs by keeping Bryant down in the minors to below 172 days of service time can add a year of control on his contract rights. Therefore, based on the objective evidence, Bryant's assignment to Iowa at the end of camp is purely a business move on the part of the Cubs.

Because if Bryant is called up in two weeks, how much more "development" did he get in Iowa?

And this is contrary to Joe Maddon's position on Javy Baez. Baez has had a terrible spring at the plate. His long swing opens him up to missing balls outside the zone, and hampers his ability to adjust to pitch speeds. Maddon and the new batting coach have been trying to work with Baez about shortening his set up and swing to make more consistent contact. So far, those instructions have not yielded any change.

Under normal circumstances, Baez would have been a candidate to start the season in the minors to work on developing his new swing. But Maddon likes Baez's defense so much, he wants to keep him on the roster and allow his major league coaching staff continue to work with Baez on his hitting.

So if Bryant is mashing it, and can play LF without mucking it up too badly, there is no logical reason for Bryant to be sent to Iowa and Baez to stay with the big club.

March 27, 2015


The fallout from not getting Anibal Sanchez continues to haunt the Cubs since the front office knee jerked a long term free agent deal with Edwin Jackson.  Jackson has been a major disappointment, and the butt of fan remarks, most recently in his ability to find the Cubs old spring training facility on the day he was supposed to start against the A's.

The rotation appears to be set. Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, T. Woods and Hendricks. Jackson is clearly the odd starter out. Whether he will take the old Carlos Villaneuva role of being a long reliever-spot starter is unclear since he has said in the past that he is only a starting pitcher.

The Cubs still owe Jackson $26 million for the next two years. That is a huge dead money contract if the team cuts him. The Cubs cannot mysteriously DL him since he a veteran and the union does not teams messing with veterans under contract. The pressure is on the Cubs to keep him on the 25 man roster. The problem is that the bullpen is already filled with better arms.  Justin Grimm is out of options so he has to stay in middle relief. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Jason Motte are the back end of the pen, along with Neil Ramirez and probably lefties Phil Coke and Felix Doubront, who is also out of options.

With the Cubs apparently keeping Welington Castillo, who is also out of options, as the third catcher, there is no space to keep Jackson on the 25 man roster.  Even in an era of more pitchers having arm issues, there has been no buzz lately in the trade rumor department on Jackson.

The Cubs have claimed the Kris Bryant situation is not about the money, but in reality it is. Adding one year of control means one year more without having to pay a large free agency deal at Bryant's peak earning years. However, if Bryant is a superstar player, play him now and pay him in due course since baseball history is littered with teams missing the playoffs by a single game.

If it is about "not" eating the money, Jackson will be shoehorned on the roster at the expense of another pitcher. That will not sit well with Cub fans.

March 26, 2015


Manager Joe Maddon did not like what he initially saw with this new club. He saw poor fundamentals.

Now, as spring training is ending, he is looking beyond the home run swings and hype of prospects.

Defense and baserunning are the two parts of the game that Maddon keeps stressing, but don’t show up much in a spring box score. If other things are equal, or the Cubs believe they might have enough power at the plate, these are the areas that can win or lose jobs.

Junior Lake and Matt  Szczur, in particular, have shown better defensive skills than Ryan Sweeney, which bumps him from 5th outfielder consideration.

Welington Castillo has thrown out 50% of the runners trying to steal on him. He also has a .375 batting average. The Cubs may be forced to keep three catchers considering Castillo is the best insurance they have if Montero or Ross come down to injury.

“I’m seeing some things differently,” Maddon reiterated mysteriously. “I like defense, man. I like [the] ball being caught. There’s no unilateral decisions being made here.”

Whether Maddon's preaching about defense and base running sticks with the Cubs is going to be a key to early team success.  It is a new spin on how the Cubs are going to play in 2015.

March 25, 2015


There continues to be a debate on how to handle professional pitchers.

Pitch counts have been instituted throughout a player's career - - - from youth baseball, college, the minors and even the pro level.

The theory is that a pitcher's arm is like a machine. It only has a certain amount of wear and tear before it physically wears out and tears (and goes for Tommy John, shoulder or other surgeries.)

This theory presupposes that each individual has a limited amount of "capital" i.e. innings that his body can tolerate. 

The other more old school theory is that modern pitchers are too muscle bound by weights and constricted by pitch counts to allow the elasticity of their bodies to reach its full potential and lessen the risk of injury.

Count Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander in the latter camp.  In an interview with ESPN, Verlander was critical of how teams "coddle" their young pitchers.

Verlander is looking to make  at least 30 starts for the 10th straight season and nine straight with no less than 201 innings pitched. Verlander has been quite durable for a power pitcher. 

Verlander believes that teams are spending too much time coddling pitchers before they reach the big leagues. In doing so, Verlander adds, teams are only managing to delay the inevitable breakdown until they start counting on those arms as major league contributors, which ends up costing them even more.
“I think baseball coddles guys so much now that you delay the inevitable. I think the reason you see so many big leaguers blowing out at a young age is because they would have done it before. But now teams limit pitch counts so much, even at the major league level, that now a guy in his second or third year will pop, when it would have happened in the minors.
“Before,” he continued, “when there wasn’t such an emphasis on pitch counts, I think you kind of weeded that out. Then guys would have surgery [in the minor leagues]. Then they’d come back. And then they’d get to the big leagues.”
Verlander is suggesting that teams that view pitchers as limited resources which will blow up their arms at some point in their career should blow up in the minors first, have surgery, then be ready for a major league career. 

 Science says there is more variables in the breakdown of each individual pitcher. In a Yahoo Sports article, research director at Dr. James Andrews’ American Sports Medicine Institute, Dr. Glenn Fleisig,  has studied countless numbers of elbow injuries. He's looked at when they occurred, how a pitcher felt leading up to the injury and the extent of the damage. His findings suggest that poor mechanics and pitching while fatigued are often the biggest factors, which supports the theory for coddling.
“I have tremendous respect for Justin Verlander. You and I are not Justin Verlander. We’ve never thrown 200 innings in the major leagues, or even one inning. So he has a different perspective than we have. But I also have a different perspective. I have science.”
"With biomechanics, we can now identify who has poor mechanics, and there are a lot of progressive organizations that are now modifying kids' mechanics in the minor leagues after they're drafted and as they develop."
Pitchers in the 1950s through 1970s often referenced the fact that the most critical aspect of their training was running as their legs were the key to pitching mechanics. The power was generated by one's legs and the arm was merely the catapult motion of the ball. As in a catapult, the arm has to be a flexible rope to transfer the mechanical energy of the lower body to the ball at release. A pitcher like Rick Reuschel used to push off the rubber and effortlessly release the ball semi-side arm toward the plate. Reuschel was not what today's fitness gurus would call a great athletic body, but he was "country strong" meaning that he toned his body parts to fit his pitching mechanics. Ferguson Jenkins was also another proponent of being lanky and flexible. He also believed that pitchers needed to pitch more in order to have their bodies adjust and get past the normal body fatigue and pain. Jenkins was from the era when a starter got the ball in the first inning, he was supposed to finish the game. As a result, pitchers were no longer "throwers" but artists trying to get outs in the most efficient manner.

Pitchers come up from youth baseball, college and the minors holding on to two stats: velocity and strike outs. In Jenkins world, strike outs are not important in the majors - - - it is getting batters to make outs. A two pitch ground out is better than a six pitch strike out. Greg Maddux made a career not on a blazing fastball, but change in velocity and spin of pitchers to elicit ground balls.  Knuckleballers like Tim Wakefield and Wilbur Wood could grind out more innings than a normal pitcher while having the least velocity on their pitches.

Then you have the perfect prospect pitcher like Mark Prior. In college, scouts raved that he had the "perfect" mechanics and smooth delivery. But once Prior got to the majors, an emphasis on strike outs made him begin to throw across his chest at release (like power pitcher Kerry Wood). As a result, Prior's career got boggled down with injuries. 

A pitcher may have the perfect body type to be a major league starter or reliever. It is the science of finding out how your body performs under the stress of the throwing of a baseball. But careers are still made by understanding "the art" of pitching at the major league level. 

March 24, 2015


MLB announced that the last games of the season will all start at the same time.

Looking to add even more excitement to the race for the postseason, Major League Baseball has announced a scheduling change they hope will do just that.

Every game on the regular season's final day will start at the same time. The 2015 season ends Sunday, Oct. 4, and first pitch is set for 3 p.m. ET in all 15 games across MLB.

Here's what the league's COO, Tony Pettiti told the LA Times about the decision:

"If a game impacts another game, they're all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result. If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day. We're hopeful that the races will come down to the last day of the season. We want to make sure we celebrate the end of the season properly."

The reason is that if one team knows the outcome of an earlier contest, it could affect the playoffs (such as resting players or a starting pitcher for the play-in wild card game).

On the positive side, uniformity at the end of season evens the playing field in regard to making teams play the game like a playoff contest. However, if it is a meaningless contest between also-rans the start time of the contest really does not matter. In fact, an early start could hurt the home team's attendance (which could be lagging if they are not in the playoff picture).

It used to be the domain of the home club to schedule the times of their home games. The league creates the schedules, and the teams put in the times, with the exception of getaway days where an afternoon game is held (but not always, as I recall the White Sox having to play a night game on the West Coast then come home to play a day game, which I think was a holiday to get the family crowd) The Sox were upset with their opponent about how they had to play, then fly home for an early game but there was no recourse.

Now, the only other national game changer is the networks who have the right to flex or change telecast times to meet their schedules. They often only give the teams a week's notice or less if there is change. I recall a network moving up a Cub game time by an hour, so the game started with a nearly empty Wrigley until the third inning when fans started to show up at the printed start time on their tickets.

Perhaps the league is slowly trying to micromanage everything. It has its own on-line streaming and network to push content to subscribers.

March 23, 2015


MLBTR reports on the Cubs players in camp who are out of options.

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I’ve included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR’s sources. 

The Cubs who are out of options are P Drake Britton, C Welington Castillo, P Felix Doubront, P Neil Ramirez, P Hector Rondon, P Pedro Strop, P Jacob Turner and P Travis Wood.

Wood, Turner, and Tsuyoshi Wada  were expected to battle for the Cubs’ fifth starter job this spring.  Turner has been shut down due to a flexor strain and bone bruise on his elbow, and Wada has had hamstring issues. Both could wind up on disabled list or on an injury report which could allow them to clear waivers.

Wood's solid spring makes him the favorite to become the fifth starter.  That would force Edwin Jackson and his $22 million contract as the bullpen's long, mop up reliever, unless the Cubs can trade him (which is doubtful).

Rondon, Strop, Ramirez, newly acquired Jason Motte, Justin Grimm all appear to have roster spots.
Lefty Phil Coke is expected to break camp as the team’s primary southpaw reliever.

That leaves one potential spot for Jackson, out of options lefties Britton and Doubront, and a host of other candidates including Wada if his groin injury proves minor.  Doubront has been hit hard in his two spring outings, while Britton began his spring with five scoreless innings.

The Cubs have been hinting that they may carry three catchers on the roster. It would make sense if 39 year old David Ross cannot make the grade as Jon Lester's personal catcher. The versatility of Arismendy Alcantara and Tommy LaStella allows the super utility players to add another pitcher in the pen or handle the luxury of a third catcher.

It would seem that the Cubs liked Doubront as a potential starter. The core of last year's bullpen was solid. Coke and Britton would probably be the lefties of choice of Maddon if the season started tomorrow, with Jackson not being on the roster.

March 22, 2015


Every spring, sports agent Scott Boras gets on his soap box to yell at owners about holding back his talent from accumulating service time toward free agency.  Boras wants his clients in the majors as fast as possible because that speeds up the clock on signing big money deals.

The CBA has many holding patterns clubs can use to stop the clock.

Boras is railing against the Cubs early announced plan to shelve his client, Kris Bryant, in Iowa at the beginning of this season from anywhere from three weeks to three months.  If Bryant accumulates 172 service days in his first call up, then he can be a free agent one year earlier. If he does not, the Cubs effectively control his contract for an additional season (which projects to be near his peak production).

In addition, if when a stud young player hits his season season, he could earn an "early year" if he qualifies as a Super 2, in the top 22 percent of players between years 2 and 3 of club control.

An early arbitration hearing gives the player a salary boost, then raises the salary flow for future arbitrations or contract extensions.

Boras claims that the Cubs owe it to their fans to put the best team on the field from Day One. That best team would include Bryant. He is right in that assertion.

The Cubs counter by saying this is a business. Bryant is still just a prospect. He needs time to develop, even though he has crushed every level of minor league play. Bryant needs to work on better defense at third, or switch to learning LF which is best done in the minors. The Cubs have some valid development points they can make to hold back Bryant.

But sitting Bryant in the minors, based on ZiPS projections of a full season, could cost the Cubs at least 2 games. If the Cubs truly believe they can contend or win the NL Central, 2 games could be the difference between a championship and disappointment. But that is the risk that the Cubs are willing to take in order to hold onto Bryant for an extra year.

March 21, 2015


An unreported story in regard to the New Wrigley Field is the affect the new signage and scoreboards will have on the wind patterns during games.

Prior to construction, it was clear that when the wind was blowing in (northerly), balls hit into the outfield were held up, pushed back and down. When the wind was blowing out to center (south-southwesterly), balls would carry especially in the power alley of LF.

I have not seen any published study about the effects of the new scoreboards will have at Wrigley. It is an important factor in considering on this team is being constructed (with young power hitters).

I am not an aerodynamic engineer, and I realize the the dimensions, angles, and variables in wind speeds can led to differential results, but using general urban wind patterns on structures, I postulated the following diagram:

One would think that if the wind was blowing into Wrigley, the large new scoreboards would "block" the prevailing wind and make it easier to hit homers in the power alleys. Except, the opposite is apparently true as the winds climb up the back of the structure then dive over the top to create a drag or low pressure area (like a air foil). Therefore, there may be actually more down force coming off the scoreboards than in a regular breeze.

Then, one would think that if the wind was blowing out of Wrigley, the large new scoreboards would have no effect on home runs. In the past, the center field scoreboard had little difference in air patterns blowing out since it is set back away from the 410 mark of the outfield wall. But from the air flow charts, air hitting a solid object will drop towards the ground. Since the new scoreboards are so close to the outfield walls, they could take the winds blowing out downward near the outfield wall (in effect increasing the distance for a home run to travel to clear the wall).

Now some may say that the space between the signs and scoreboards could create a canyon effect when the winds are blowing out of Wrigley (at some point increasing the air flow to the path of least resistance.) Whether that is true will have to been observed this year. Hitters could have to then thread a needle to find the super power alleys.

Besides affecting hitters, the down draft zones could cause problems with outfielders trying to judge hard hit fly balls. Even before the renovations, many players have publicly said that Wrigley Field outfield is a challenge to play due to the wind patterns and lack of safe foul territory. Adding another element of new wind circulation and down draft patterns could complicate defenses.

After writing this post, the Chicago Tribune posted a new graphic to help fans understand how "big" is the new jumbotron.

As I have said before, fans are going to be shocked at the size of the new scoreboards and the change in character of Wrigley Field.

March 19, 2015


The curious part of Joe Maddon's spring training routine has been his batting orders. They are all over the place. But one oddity keeps cropping up: batting Anthony Rizzo in the #2 spot.

Traditionally, No. 2 hitters have great bat control, patience to coax a walk and can bunt, move runners over and get on base with their speed. 

However, Sabermetric diehards favor putting the best batters in that position because  No. 2 hitters typically get 18 more at-bats per season than the player batting third.

The purpose of constructing a batting order to put players in the best position to create run scoring opportunities. One puts good hitting, on base hitters ahead of power hitters. It adds to the chance of scoring multiple runs with one swing of the bat.  “The whole point is to feed the guys that drive in points,” Maddon said. “That’s what the whole thing is — who feeds that, and who’s the guy that, if you have a productive bottom part of the batting order, who takes advantage of that?”

So far, Maddon has placed Rizzo, believed to be the best consistent hitter in the regular line up, five times in the second slot. Reserve outfielder Chris Denorfia has batted second four times and utilityman Arismendy Alcantara twice. Last season, Alcantara batted second 14 times while playing CF, a position he lost to current leadoff man Dexter Fowler.

Javy Baez led the Cubs last season with 52 starts there, but his high strike out profile forces Maddon to put him down the lineup.

By putting Rizzo in the second slot, Maddon has been penciling in Starlin Castro in the third spot. Castro does not do very well batting third. Some say that Castro's best spot is leadoff, like his mentor Alfonso Soriano, because he would see more fast balls. Castro has spent most of his career batting second, so why fix something that is not broken?

 The one thing that needs to happen soon (with less than three weeks to Opening Night) is for Maddon to settle on a set line up card. Players prefer to have a set order so they can prepare their roles in advance of game day. A player is a creature of habit.

It would seem the final lineup card could look like this:

1. Fowler cf
2. Castro ss
3. Rizzo 1b
4. Soler rf
5. Montero c
6. Coghlan lf
7. Olt 3b
8. LaStella/Alcantara 2b
9. Pitcher

This line up presupposes that Baez goes down to Iowa to work on his strike out issues. If not, he flips the order with Coghlan at #6.  When Bryant is called up, he goes to clean up and the rest of the order moves down a slot.

March 17, 2015


The Cubs collective had a strikeout problem. Hitters were taking an unbelievable amount of Ks. In 2014, the Cubs struck out 1,477 times (26.8 percent of at-bats).

New manager Joe Maddon has been aghast at the lack of team fundamentals. Patience and situational hitting at the plate is just as important as free swinging for home runs.

This spring, a review of the stats finds that Cub hitters are still free swinging, including a few non-home run types.

In 502 spring at-bats, the Cubs have struck out 117 times. That is a strike out percent of 23.26.

The club leaders in spring Ks currently (and individual strike out %)

Olt 8 (38.1)
Bryant 7 (30.4)
Baez 6 (26.0)
Castro 5 (25.0)
Montero 5 (27.8)
Ross 5 (38.5)
Soler 5 (23.8)
Szczur 5 (21.7)
Valaika 5 (22.7)

Szczur has a surprising 3 spring homers, so he must think that the only way to make the club is to be a power hitter.  There is a natural competitive fever of a home run derby in Cub camp because the home run is the sports center highlight each night.

A 25 percent strike out ratio means a team is giving up 6.75 outs/game. That means not putting a ball into play (for a base hit, error, or advancing a runner). It is like NOT batting for 2 1/3 innings in a 9 inning contest. That sort of handicap gives an opponent a huge advantage, no matter how good is your pitching staff.

March 15, 2015


The Cubs have talked themselves into another problem.

First, it was owner Tom Ricketts who cheerleaded his thoughts to proclaim at the Cub convention that the 2015 squad was going to win the NL Central.  Second, new Theo Epstein and his management crew seconded that sentiment, which put fans into an over-optimistic fever. Third, Joe Maddon came out of the box saying the same thing: the Cubs will win the division. Fourth, many players started repeating this hype.

All is well and good if there was a chance in hell for such instant success. But there are more believers than realists.

But since the team talked itself into promising a divisional championship, and a play off birth this year, Ricketts and management need to do whatever it takes to make that happen. They have obligated themselves to do whatever is reasonable and necessary to compete and win every contest this season as the Cardinals and Pirates will field strong teams.

So when #1 prospect comes to spring training, the media is told Kris Bryant will not make it to the opening day roster, even though the team traded away the caretaker 3B Luis Valbuena in the off-season. No, Bryant will have to stay in Iowa for business reasons, so to withhold the path to early free agency five years down the road. The fans don't want "business" reasons to interfere with "winning the division" assurances. Ricketts is a millionaire, the team is worth more than a billion dollars, pay Bryant when the time comes but play him now. There is no reason to candy coat a winning culture with a cheapskate excuse.

To complicate things is that Bryant is putting shock and awe in the stands. So far, Bryant's production has been Ruthian: 20 AB, 9, H, .450 BA, 6 HR, 9 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K, .522 OBP, 1.400 SLG and 1.922 OPS. Yes, spring training stats can be misleading but Bryant is so far ahead of any other Cub that it is more than noticeable. He is now in the direct comparison with Mike Trout rookie season.

So if the Cubs stick to their plan to stash Bryant in Iowa for no reason except to save money down the road, and the Cubs miss the playoffs by one, two, five, ten or X games because Bryant was not on the roster at the beginning, there could be a peasant revolt at Clark and Addison.

Because, fans know that if Bryant struggles on the opening day roster, the Cubs could send him back to Iowa to regain his form. The probability is that Bryant will not struggle when he hits the majors which means the Cubs management is in a bind. If they are lying about winning this season (in order to sell tickets and merchandise to pay for all the real estate projects) with the real projection championship run in two, three or four years from now, then holding back Bryant makes some sense (but not a lot). If management truly believes that this is the year for winning the NL Central, then it should field the best team possible - - - which includes starting Bryant at third base on Opening Night.

The Cubs painted themselves in a corner. They hyped the team and young prospects as champions, but are trying to hold back potentially their best player from the team.

UPDATE: Bryant was not in Sunday's line up due to minor "shoulder soreness."  The team says he will be okay.  But this is one of the reasons to keep Bryant off the opening day roster, a minor injury. The second is to keep him down to work on his fielding fundamentals.

The weekend radio sports talk shows were fairly livid about the prospect of Bryant not making the major league team from Day One. A few suggested the Cubs could get an extra year by sitting him down for the equivalent of 9 games instead of the projected 30+. If management has its way, then the team may lose 2 games with Bryant not on the roster. And if the team is supposed to "contend" for the division crown, two games is a lot.

March 14, 2015


This is a very curious development in Forbes magazine.

Forbes reports that there is a potential deal in which a South Korean sovereign fund would invest in the Los Angeles Dodgers. The twenty percent investment values the Dodger assets at $3 billion  according to two sources with knowledge of the negotiation said Forbes.

Three years ago Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the Dodgers from the divorcing McCourts. That deal placed a value of $2 billion on the team and Dodger Stadium, and a value of $2.3 billion including 260 acres of surrounding real estate. The current negotiations with the South Korean investors is for about 20% of the team and stadium but does not include the nearby real estate or the regional sports channel created by by the Dodgers and Time Warner.  The deal the Dodgers have with the Dodger network pays the team a total of $8.35 billion over 25 years with the money guaranteed by Time Warner Cable.

The Cubs have also sold a minority stake in the holding company for the Cubs assets, including Wrigley Field and real estate developments.  It was reported the Cubs needed to raise $350 million to complete the real estate projects, including the rehab of Wrigley Field.

But this does show a weakness in the baseball business model. A successful, large positive cash flow business that baseball is touted as does not suddenly have two of its big market teams selling off large chunks of ownership (abet minority stakes) if everything is going great.  There would be no need to find investors.

But in the Dodgers case, their network roll out was a disaster. TW tried to extract too high carriage fees with other California cable and sat-tv systems so 75 percent of the Dodger viewers were without broadcasts last season. Suddenly, the new network cash cow looks like a diseased beast of burden.

Other teams, like the Angels, have huge dead money contracts on their books which have choked this off season's roster rebuilding.  The Mets are still on financial thin ice after the Madoff scandal. Mets owners have tried to sell a minority stake for several years but don't want to give up control.

Former commissioner Bud Selig used to crow about how great and profitable baseball was under his tenure. But that tide may be turning faster than we think.

March 12, 2015


Comedian Wil Ferrell is going to fly around spring training camps in an attempt to play all 9 positions in actual games. MLB has partnered with Ferrell for one of his comedy specials, under the guise of raising awareness for a charity.

This is a horrible idea that even Bill Veeck would have condemned.

Veeck always said you never tarnish the game itself. That is why he never
altered ticket prices to the game, but added value in the stands with giveaways,
promotions, the CF barber chairs - - -  nothing that affected the game on the field.

The one exception was the disaster of Disco Demolition Night, which he regretted
for the rest of his life.

Putting a comedian on the field even in exhibition games is stupid and wrong.

First, he is taking the spot of someone TRYING TO EARN A JOB, a living, a
roster spot!  

Second, he is not an athlete and putting some one incompetent on the field
raises the risk of injury to others. He may try to hog the limelight as entertainers
do and run into a player causing an injury.

Third, it degrades professional baseball. Period. It puts an inferior product on the field.
And it disses Campy's "real" accomplishment in the history of the game.

Fourth, if MLB wanted to make this awareness, it could have "staged" a 3 inning game with
retired players with Ferrell between games of spring training double header. Hell,
MTV's Rock N Jock games were quite entertaining.

MLB is losing grasp that baseball is a sport, because it is now being packaged, marketed and sold
as live entertainment shows.

Spring training is about players gaining their skill sets for the season. It is not about distractions and comedians messing up their routines.  The fans pay their money to see their team and their prospects, not some middle aged B-list celebrity yawk it up for an inning.

But some would say "it is just an exhibition game. No harm. No foul."  Tell that to a AAA prospect who will miss a few at-bats, even one which could lead a scout to write down their name on his watch list or a manager take notice for a potential call-up during the season. If you are fighting for a roster spot, every chance and every at-bat is critical.

It is a bad idea that MLB marketing department thought would be a popular tie-in. Baseball does not need more "tie-ins," just better baseball games.

March 10, 2015


The Phillies are a team that was once built for a major championship run. High payroll. Star veterans.

But in life, nothing is certain.

We knew the Phils would collapse at some point. That point is now.

Ryne Sandberg got the managerial job on the basis he would be good with young players (based on his minor league record). He inherited an aging ball club, with stubborn veterans on the career slide. A total house cleaning is in order.

But the Phils will be hamstruck by two large dead money deals. Ryan Howard and elbow tender Cliff Lee each make $25 million. Fifty million dollars of the payroll is gone to waste.

The Phils have tried to trade Cole Hamels, but the asking price has been outrageously high. The Phils need to trade whatever assets they have in order to get younger, quicker.  But the rest of the league does not play ball that way.

Teams tend to keep their top prospects for control and payroll savings purposes. As the top stars continue to elicit hundred million dollar deals, owners need to balance that risk with a deep minor league system.

But you can't always get a winner on draft choice flyers, like the Phils did with Hamels.

The Phils are getting crushed by top prospects flaming out early.

The local media reports that after three minor league seasons, the team's  2011 first-round draft pick will not report to spring training. Larry Greene Jr., 22, the No. 39 overall pick and the selection the Phillies received as compensation for losing Jayson Werth via free agency, has not reported to minor league camp in Clearwater, Fla. and reportedly has retired.

Greene gave up a full-ride to play linebacker for Alabama in order to join the Phillies’ minor league system for a $1 million signing bonus. Out of Nashville, Ga., Greene impressed the Phillies with his raw power and football players’ physique. He hit .562 with 19 homers as a senior at Berrien County High School in Georgia.

He was rated the best power hitter in the Phillies’ system after the 2011 season by Baseball America, but Greene’s hitting fizzled after he left high school. In 70 games for low-A Williamsport in 2012, Greene hit two homers and batted .272 with 78 strikeouts. Those numbers dipped in 2013, when he hit .213 with four homers and 163 strikeouts in 111 games.

Last season Greene slumped even further, batting just .183 with two homers and 60 strikeouts in 60 games for low-A Lakewood.

Meanwhile, Greene isn’t the Phillies only first-round flameout over the last year. Anthony Hewitt, the team’s first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in 2008, was released after playing just 34 games for Double-A Reading last summer.

The No. 27 overall pick, Jesse Biddle, came to camp this season looking to bounce back after a rough second season at Double-A Reading during which he suffered a concussion and went 3-10 with a 5.05 ERA.

The Phillies have a lot of work to do to avoid a 100-loss season in 2015. Adding cast-off veterans like Jordan Danks and Jerome Williams to oft injured veterans like Grady Sizemore or Chase Utley casts a long shadow for this season.

March 9, 2015


The Cubs have not won a spring contest.

The Joe Maddon era would seem to sputter out of the gate; but in reality, spring training games are meaningless exhibitions where players are trying to sharpen skill sets prior to the real season. Maddon's laid back attitude seems to fall into this philosophy.

However, there have been a few managers in the past who wanted their spring squads to play hard and win. They believed that demanding wins in spring games set the clubhouse tone for an entire season. Winning is expected no matter even if the line up card was filled with replacement level players.

There is something to take away from the hard line approach to setting a winning culture.

The Cubs have had a problem maintaining a winning attitude. In New York, any new Yankee is told from day one that they are expected to win. Period.  The Cubs have been so bad for so long, with little accountability, that a culture of losing (the status quo) can set in. In fact, some writers remarked just a few years ago that the Cubs tanking to rebuild could have negative consequences on young players like Castro and Rizzo.

Players are human beings. Human beings, when given even choices, will usually take the easier path. In a clubhouse, when a team expects to lose, players set about in their mind, routine and training that any extra effort is not going to change things. So long as they know they will get their major league paycheck no matter what, players will coast as much as possible.

It is open competition and drive that helps bring a team up to a championship level. If you know that there is someone who can take your job (at any moment), a player has the incentive to do better.

The Cubs still lack the depth to create such position competitions. So the regular starters are not going to be pushed hard until the minor league system starts producing a steady stream of quality talent.

March 7, 2015


ESPN Chicago report from the first spring game of the Cubs had this weird item:

The Weird: A’s pitcher Pat Venditte had (Cubs Dexter) Fowler confused for a moment. Venditte is an ambidextrous hurler who warmed up mostly from the right side to begin the third inning, so the switch-hitting Fowler took his warm-up swings lefty.

“I was swinging left-handed because he was throwing right-handed,” Fowler explained. “Then he gets up there and switches, so I asked the umpire. My whole thing was I should be able to take some practice swings instead of just walking up there and having to hit.”

According to Fowler, the pitcher has to declare which side he’ll throw from for the at-bat before the hitter gets in the batter’s box -- but that’s too late for him.

“I wish he would have done it earlier,” Fowler said. “That’s what should happen.”

Fowler took notice that after throwing lefty to him and then Rizzo, Venditte threw a couple of times to his second baseman as a right-hander because righty Starlin Castro was entering the batter’s box. In other words, Venditte got in a couple of warm-up throws before facing Castro. Fowler didn’t think that was fair.

“It was kind of weird,” he said.

The current rules for switch hitters should and does apply to "switch" pitchers.

A batter may surely switch sides during an at-bat; he may do so as long as the pitcher is not in the "ready position" (see Rule 6.06) and he shall be called out if the batter attempts to switch sides during the pitcher's windup.  There is no rule in the MLB rule book that states how many times a batter can switch sides during an at bat. However, once the pitcher steps on the rubber, whatever side the batter is on is the side he must bat from for that pitch.  Per above, there is no rule in the rulebook that states that he cannot change from one batter's box to the other in the middle of an at-bat. The only rule about switching boxes is 6.06b which says that he cannot switch boxes if the pitcher is in the ready position. Otherwise, no problem.
yeah they can i have done it before

In regard to Venditte, the current rule states a pitcher must indicate which arm he will use to throw the next pitch and then the batter must take either box. This means the pitcher and batter could actually waltz their way through an at-bat.

In all the traditions of baseball, it is refreshing to find that the game itself can add oddities and new twists like switch pitchers, and the strategy of using them against an opponent.

March 6, 2015


A few of us are actually dreading Opening Night at Wrigley Field.

We know why ESPN decided to have it as the first national marquee game: a) the rivalry; and b) the promise of the debut of the New Wrigley Field. A + B = Ratings.

But we will be shown a construction site instead.

And as I have predicted, a pretty wicked backlash from out-of-town traditionalists who may not have realized that "landmark restoration" means "compete overhaul" in the Ricketts playbook. There will be hues and cries about the destruction of the cathedral of baseball with its huge electronic scoreboards, signage and pure commercialism.

The bleachers won't be done.
The new bathrooms won't be done.
The triangle improvements won't be done.

The Cubs brashly thought the city would exempt them from construction hours because of the delays.
A property so important as Wrigley should get allowed 24/7 construction noise, pollution, debris and traffic.  The mayor and building department told the Cubs bluntly, twice, no!

Then Crane Kenney had the bruised ego to sigh that "they'd have to live with the decision." There was no decision! The law is the law. If the Cubs did not know the law, or think they are above the law, then management is delusional. And to think that a winter construction plan would go smoothly in Chicago is also delusional.

Instead of ESPN giving the nation a public relations golden tour of a new Wrigley Field experience, the pregame will be filled with incomplete structures, piles of work debris, and comments from angry neighbors. We still do not know how the 2,000 bleacher season ticket holders will like their exile from their seats (probably to the upper deck if they want to see the games in person).

The tenure from Clark and Addison has been one of raised nose arrogance; that management is "smarter than the rest of us." This same management team has put the Cubs in the playoffs with greater than normal expectations, even though the actual baseball club is not significantly different than last year's team. If Baez can't stop striking out, who takes his place? Journeyman LaStella? If the Cubs want to keep Bryant for an extra contract year of control, that means bust Olt mans third base for a third of a season? And what if Soler gets hurt? The outfield depth is worse than soggy corn flakes.

This spring is not going to be the showcase that anyone could have imagined last September.

March 5, 2015


Depending on what era in history, a general has to count on one element of his army in order to achieve victory.

In baseball, that is the starting rotation. So much emphasis and money is put into five arms.

The Cubs are probably going to war with these five starters: Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, Hendricks and T. Wood.

The Cubs rotation, if they match last year's production, would generate 14 WAR.

Lester: 3.6
Arrieta: 5.3
Hammel: 3.1
Hendricks: 2.9
T. Wood: -0.9
Total: 14.0 WAR

In contrast, the champion Giants starting rotation accumulated 8.1 WAR.

Bumgarten: 4.0
Hudson: 1.5
Vogelsong: 1.2
Peavy: 2.1
Cain: -0.7
Total: 8.1 WAR

The Giants had several starters with injuries so it cobbled together a 6th, 7th and 8th starter. But it was the timely offense that made up the slack in SF's championship run, with a 22.3 oWAR to a pitching staff total 15.2 WAR. The Giants win percentage above average was .505.

It is debatable what is replacement value for a starting pitcher (a .500 record? or more tied to run production .300?) as a factor of team wins. A GM would like a replacement pitcher to win at least half their starts; but realistically a third is probably a better gauge (since the burden falls more to the bullpen).

Each team has 162 games to start. Each rotation pitcher probably, on average, will take the mound around 31 times. So a set rotation covers about 155 games. A replacement team would average around 65 wins. The Giants patched together an 88 win season, meaning the offense carried at least 15 games above pitcher replacement (almost double value than the starters).

The Cubs won 73 games with batting WAR of 7.7 and pitching WAR of 15.7, almost a mirror image of the Giants. The Cubs primary starting five had a collective 7.2 WAR. Again, if one thinks that the 2015 rotation will be much better (by 7 games), this gets the Cubs projected to an 80 win season if the offense remains the same (which may be the case with the young players and league adjustments).

So the Cubs will really have to rely on their starters to carry the team.

March 4, 2015


MLBTR has a fantastic chart on this off-season free agent spending, by team. It gives baseball fans a harsh perspective on their sport.

Total free agent spending to date is a whopping $1.769 billion on 96 players.  The average free agent got a deal of $18.43 million, with average annual salary of $9.78 million.

The other surprise in the team rankings was that the Cubs and White Sox each signed 6 free agents, for a total of $191 million and $134 million. That puts the Cubs #3 and White Sox #4 on the list of big spenders.

It is also interesting to note that former "big spenders" like the Angels (last place with only one free agent for $500k which is major league minimum salary), Phillies (spending only $7 million on 3 players) and the Dodgers  (spending $61 million on 4 players) have cooled off dramatically from prior years. The Angels have been choking on several dead money deals, the Phillies are imploding by old veteran contracts and the Dodgers still can't digest their past deals. So past spending is not a clear path to future results.

March 3, 2015


The local Chicago baseball beat writers really like Joe Maddon. He is a colorful guy. Down to earth. Has some good quotes. Makes their jobs easier. A few are starting to put him on a pedestal of the greatest Chicago sports coaches.

But he hasn't won a Cub game yet.

As posted earlier, Maddon was a sudden "find" in the off-season, just as valuable as a free agent pitcher. Maddon left Tampa Bay in such a quick fashion, the MLB is still investigating a tampering charge filed by the Rays.

Maddon has had great success with the small market Rays, who had to continually field teams with low payrolls and few stars.

Now Maddon leaps the ladder to a big market, big spending, historic franchise.

He was brought on board to teach young players how to be professionals, how to maintain a good clubhouse, and to win games.

How Maddon performs will be the final win loss record of the Cubs.

There are a few concerns. Maddon has said that his new players have immediately earned "his trust," and that players will have to learn to trust him. That seems to be a backwards approach. One earns trust through action. You can't trust a player to put down a suicide squeeze if you have never seen the player play.

Maddon also states he has a hands-off approach with his players. He believes that it is up to each player to be ready game in and game out. They are professionals, they should know what to do to personally prepare. This is a classic "players' manager" code. However, with a young team without strong leaders (Starlin Castro has publicly admitted he wants no part in any leadership role), a manager needs to be more involved in teaching the proper routines and habits to his club.

Without seeing and managing any of his squad, Maddon leads the Cubs championship expectation parade. A cooler head would have walked back the divisional title talk. A cheerleader is one thing; a pro manager needs objective assessments in order to adapt to game and series situations.

Fans hope that Maddon is the real deal.  We have seen established managers like Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker fail with the Cubs. Maddon has yet to realize that managing the Cubs is such a different animal than he could ever imagine. The honeymoon period may be a short one if the Cubs have their traditional slow start.

March 2, 2015


The Miami Marlins intend to protect their lone superstar with a custom helmet. Since Giancarlo Stanton got hit in the face, and subsequently signed a $100 million plus deal with the Fish, the team needs to protect its investment.

The helmet looks like a hybrid batting and football face guard helmet. It will be interesting to see if Stanton has any vision issues with the metal guard in picking up launch points of various pitchers.

With the league trying to mandate that pitchers were protective skull caps (to lessen the impact of hot shots up the middle), the evolution of baseball protective gear has been slow. But with so much money invested long term in player contracts, teams now have the incentive to protect their circus animals to avoid dead money issues.