July 31, 2015


The Toronto Blue Jays went all in for David Price, trading three left handed prospects for the rental pitcher.

The marquee piece coming in return is top Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris and two other lefties, Jairo Labourt, and Matt Boyd.

Price has pitched to a 2.53 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 146 innings on the year. That puts him on pace for a 200+ inning campaign with excellent results, Since his first full season in the big leagues, in 2010, Price has rated hird in the majors among all starters in terms of fWAR, fourth in innings (1,224), and tenth in ERA (3.01)  among qualifying starters. He has struck out 8.6 and walked 2.2 batters per nine innings in that span.

The Blue Jays are taking the remaining $7 million salary and lose the chance for a draft pick because they can't give a qualifying offer to Price as he hits the free agent market. Price will be the prize in this season's free agent derby.

Toronto's prospects are good.  Norris was 18th best prospect on Baseball America’s mid-season round-up. He’s a 22-year-old with loud stuff but sometimes-shaky control, as evidenced by his seventeen walks in thirty big league innings. But he’s got plenty of upside, obviously, particularly if he can harness his offerings. Over 90 2/3 frames at Triple-A this year, Norris owns a 4.27 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. But he was much better last year, putting up double-digit K/9 numbers and allowing only 3.1 walks per nine en route to a 2.53 earned run mark in 124 1/3 minor league innings.

Labourt, 21, is working at the High-A level and ranks 19th on MLB.com’s prospect list of his now-former club’s prospects. The large-bodied sinkerballer could become a “future workhorse,” says MLB.com, though he’s scuffled somewhat this year. Over 80 1/3 innings, Labourt owns a 4.59 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9.

The 24-year-old Boyd has spent most of the year in the high minors after a brief (and rough) two-start stint in the majors. He earned the 11th spot on MLB.com’s Toronto board. He doesn’t have a huge arm, but excels with feel, command, and deception.

On a value basis, is Price worth 3.0 WAR to the Jays for the remainder of the season? That would assume the three prospect pitchers combined would give the Jays replacement value this season. Norris has only a 0.2 WAR in limited work. Price, in 21 Tiger starts, is 9-4, 2.53 ERA, 1.110 WHIP and 3.5 WAR. He has a career 26.7 WAR which averages out to about 4.0 WAR per season. Last year he was 4.6 WAR, then prior two years 2.8 and 4.6.  If we average the last three years, his average WAR is 4.77. 4.77 minus 3.5 (current) equals a projected balance of 2015 WAR of 1.27.

If one values a player based upon $/WAR(2014 off season median was $6 million/win), then the Jays should expect $7.62 million worth of production from Price for the rest of the season (bonus with post season play). So from Toronto's perspective, Price is reasonably valued for the projected performance for the rest of this season.

It means that the Blue Jays gave up three pitchers controllable for the next five years for one very good starter's next 10 starts.

July 28, 2015


Baseball umpires have gotten worse, right?

So they should be replaced, right?

Well, science steps up to the plate next week:

The independent San Rafael Pacifics will use a computerized video system to call balls and strikes tonight  and Wednesday in their games at Albert Park in San Rafael.

They’re billed as the first professional games in which a human won’t call balls and strikes. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt has expressed his desire for an automated strike zone.

Calls will be made by the Pitch F/X system with three cameras forming a triangular effect that judges a pitch’s trajectory and speed as it crosses the plate. Pitch F/X is used on TV broadcasts to determine a pitch’s location and also for umpires to judge their work.

Eric Byrnes, a former A’s outfielder and proponent of an automated strike zone, will serve as the “strike zone umpire” and oversee the Pitch F/X system, a product of Fremont-based Sportvision Inc.

This should be an interesting live experiment of pitch zone technology. Since baseball viewers are used to Pitch Track on their television screens during games, most fans will accept the concept of a computer strike zone. Whether science makes a 3D box work is another question. And how will it slow down the game?

Tennis has had censors for serves for a long time. Initially, players and fans objected to the technology believing the human eye is faster and more accurate than a machine.

July 27, 2015


(R + RBI - HR) is known as "runs produced" and has been around for years. Bill James is generally credited with inventing this stat back in the late 1970s, an early foray into his statistical work. IBut he abandoned it long ago because many better methods and algorithms came along which we call sabermetrics. 

Runs produced is a statistic that describe a hitter's overall effectiveness by measuring his ability to produce runs for team either by scoring them himself or driving them in at the plate. I think it still have value in player analysis because the basic object of baseball is to score runs.

Historically, the all time leaders in runs produced are:

Ty Cobb 4,066
Hank Aaron 3,716
Babe Ruth 3,673
Cap Anson 3,501
Barry Bonds 3,461
Stan Musial 3,425
Honus Wagner, 3,367

It does help show players who get on base, get in scoring position, and get across the plate by all means (hits, walks, stolen bases and home runs). It is a good measure of hitter's  productivity.

For example, if one is asked who is the most productive hitter in the Cubs line up, most people would probably say Anthony Rizzo.

But in the R+RBI-HR = RP for starting position players (as of 7/23/15):

Bryant 92
Rizzo 86
Fowler 75
Castro 65
Russell 46
Coghlan 46
Soler 46
Montero 41

Two surprising things about Cubs current RP:

1.  Fowler is the third most productive starter in the line up.
2. Russell, Coghlan and Soler (and Montero) give you the same production even though public perception is that Coghlan is having a career type season while Russell is struggling at the plate. 

By comparison, with only 13 games player, Schwarber's RP is 18.  That is less than one third the games played for the ranked players above.  The average Cub starter has played 83 games.  If you multiply that factor to Schwarber's RP he would project to 115. Clearly, Schwarber is the most productive Cub player since his call up.

July 24, 2015


There are times when general managers hold on to their players too long. Trying to trade or sell an asset is best at its peak value. For Starlin Castro and Javy Baez, it was last winter.  Castro has been slumping badly this year, and his fielding is just as suspect. Baez got hurt but prior to that he was demoted to AAA.

ESPN's Jayson Stark reported that the Cubs have offered Castro and Baez to the Phillies for pitcher Cole Hamels, who has three years and a lot of money owed on his deal.

Stark added, however, that the Phillies are not enthralled with either player. But the Cubs remain determined in their efforts to trade for Hamels.

"I don't think they'll be in the rental market," the executive who has spoken to the Cubs told Stark. "So the value to them, with Hamels, is the three years [left on his contract]. This isn't just about selling out to go for the wild card. It's about getting ahead of [the free-agent ace market] this winter."

The Phillies are a difficult front office to deal with in trades. They ask for too much. But the problem with Hamels is his contract. Very few teams want to eat $68 million plus a potential $24 million vesting option in 2019. As a result, a team wanting Hamels is not going to offer the "best" prospects in order to absorb Hamels' money. But the Phils think Hamels is an elite player so they are entitled to many elite players and prospects in return. 

We know the Cubs front office is enamored by Hamels. Last season when the Phils put him on trade waivers, the Cubs made a claim, meaning Chicago was willing to eat the full contract. But the Phils pulled Hamels back off waivers, and no deal was made between the clubs.

As I said a long time ago, when Derek Jeter was retiring, the Yankees were the best trade partner for Castro. But there was never a hint or rumor that the Cubs-Yankees talked trade.

Baez is like Castro in that he is a free swinging shortstop. Baez has better defensive skills, but overall he has been lost in his own professional wilderness. A family tragedy, and an injury have set back his development into the whisper of his career trending toward very good AAA replacement level player at the MLB level. That label will not get an starting pitcher in the trade market.

There is too much tape on both Castro and Baez to be cornerstone pieces in a trade. They may be throw-in players, but other clubs are rudely asking for Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks or Anthony Rizzo for their best players. The Cubs are going to hold on to their "core" players since that is the whole purpose of their slash and burn rebuild plan.

There is also another problem. The Cubs reportedly only have $5 million left in their baseball budget for payroll additions. Hamels would break the budget. Considering the Cubs are eating $16 million for Edwin Jackson's release, the only type of starter one can get would be a $4 to $5 million 4th starter.
The type of player the Cubs could afford would be Cub killer Mike Leake of the Reds. Leake is 8-5, 3.78 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, owed about $5 million left on last year of his contract. He is a free agent at the end of the season. He is a rental player for this year's wild card run. The problem with the Reds is that they don't need middle infield help so Castro or Baez are not trade pieces in a potential Leake deal. And the Cubs do not have any real good minor league starting pitching prospects to dangle for a veteran arm.

So the Cubs are stuck with weak trade chips in a Seller's market.

July 23, 2015


The list of potential starting pitchers on the open market before the trade deadline:

1. David Price. The Tigers must believe they cannot extend Price who is free agent after this season. He is clearly the most valuable rental arm this year.

2. Johnny Cueto. The Reds pitcher has been good this season, with a 2.79 ERA in 18 starts. He is also a free agent at the end of the season. But there are some rumors that Cueto may have some health issues which may scare off some teams.

3. Yovani Gallardo. The Rangers are willing to listen for offers on Gallardo, who in 20 starts this season has a stellar 2.91 ERA.

4. Jeff Samardzija. The White Sox are trying to re-sign the Shark, but he really wants to hit free agency this off season. However, it is a risk for Samardzija because he has only shown flashes of brilliance this year.

5. Andrew Cashner. The Padres disappointing season means change in the wind. Cashner, 28, has had injury issues throughout his career, but has dominating stuff when healthy. In 18 starts, he has a 4.10 ERA.

6. Tyson Ross. The other Padres pitcher who is on the market. Ross, also 28, appears more durable than Cashner. In 20 starts he has a 3.38 ERA but leads the league in walks allowed.

7. C.J. Wilson. The Angels are on a roll right now, surging to first place in the AL West. But the new front office is likely to move salary (Wilson is owed $20 million in 2016) to get a position player.

8. Cole Hamels. Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, but his $68 million contract (with a potential $24 million vesting option in 2019) obligations make it difficult for most teams to absorb. In addition, the Phillies current front office is a difficult trade partner, seeking the moon for Hamels.

July 22, 2015


After losing 3 of four to the Royals, the White Sox was 13 games behind dead last in the AL central. Some one will have to pull the life support cord on this season. Whether GM Rick Hahn has the authority to do so is another question.

In all likelihood, Jeff Samardzija will be moved. The best-case scenario for the White Sox is that clubs who are looking for starting pitching, primarily in the National League where Samardzija has been a good fit, start upping the ante by bidding against each other.

But Samardzija doesn’t figure to be the only regular the White Sox can use to make deals. Jose Quintana, Alexei Ramirez, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and Adam Eaton all figure to find themselves mentioned in rumors over the next 12 days.

The Cardinals lost their first baseman. It has a talented farm system, so a team like that would be a fit for LaRoche.

Any team looking at Cole Hamels and his $84 million contract burden would see more value in Quintana to shore up their rotation.

Teams looking for a lead off hitter could see Eaton as an upgrade or defensive bench player for the long September grind.

Teams are constantly trying to upgrade worn down bullpens, so Duke could have an easy landing spot elsewhere.

Pundits claim it will be a Seller's market (more teams looking to buy parts than sell assets). If the White Sox want to move players, it is better to do it sooner than later.

July 21, 2015


The Cubs still state that the team is a year or two ahead of schedule. That could mean that the team has promoted prospects quicker than expected, or, that the prospects major league performance has exceeded expectations.

In any event, the Cubs are dangling around the second wild card. That means playoffs. That means fan excitement (even though Cubs attendance has not been sell outs since the bleachers were completed; there has been a consistent 4-5k missing gate).

One of Joe Maddon's pet projects was to bat Addison Russell 9th. Maddon said it was done to protect Russell from batting 8th ahead of the pitcher. In theory, Russell will get better pitches to hit batting 9th with the lead off hitter (Fowler) behind him.

But the theory is not panning out. In his first 250 ABs, Russell is hitting only .228, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .296 OBP and 1.2 WAR (of which 1.1 WAR is for defense).

This becomes a problem if the Cubs really want to compete this year. Russell has not adapted well to major league pitching. One can debate whether sending him down to AAA will help his swing, mechanics or confidence. There is no one pushing him out of the lineup since both Tommy LaStella and Javy Baez have been hurt. The Cubs are stuck with Russell at second with no better offensive player on the horizon.

This does become a domino problem. Fowler leads the league in called third strike outs. The team is trending negative with more strikeouts (middle of the order guys, Soler, Bryant and Castro). The only batter that gives a hitter order protection is Rizzo, who has been flipping with Bryant between second and third in the lineup.

As most people focus on adding pitching for a playoff run, the Cubs probably should look at second base for the second half of this year. This is not to say Russell will pan out and have a good career. It may be that Russell's development (and struggles) take precedent over the Cubs getting into this year's playoffs (something fans don't want to hear).

July 20, 2015


The Cubs designated for assignment pitcher Edwin Jackson. The Cubs have 10 days to trade him, or he can accept a AAA assignment, or become a free agent pitcher.

The move is to promote reliever Rafael Soriano.

Jackson has had the ire of the fans since he signed his $52 million free agent contract.

During his Cub tenure, Jackson had a spotty record:

2013: 8-18, 4.98 ERA, 1.460 WHIP, -1.3 WAR
2014: 6-15, 6.33 ERA, 1.642 WHIP, -2.3 WAR
2015: 2-1, 3.19 ERA, 1355 WHIP, 0.1 WAR

In 2014, Soriano went 4-1, 32 saves, 1.129 WHIP and 0.8 WAR for the Nationals. 

Soriano was signed as a free agent on June 12 for a pro-rated $4.1MM with $4MM in incentives. He’ll serve to further bolster a deep Cubs bullpen. Jason Motte has filled in as the team’s closer in recent weeks, but it stands to reason that Soriano could factor into the late innings too. Soriano, 35, did not allow an earned run in seven minor league appearances. In 630 career innings, he has 207 saves, a 2.85 ERA, 9.09 K/9, and 2.80 BB/9. He spent most of the 2014 season as the Nationals closer before giving way to Drew Storen late in the season. He has 27 or more saves in five of the last six seasons.

The question is why did the Nationals release Soriano? After the 2014 All Star break,  Soriano tallied a 6.98 ERA, before being removed from the closer role on September 9. At age 35, all other teams passed on Soriano, thinking that he had nothing left in the tank.

Just as the Cubs are biting the bullet and paying $11 million for Edwin Jackson in 2016, the Cubs are also taking a flyer on Soriano to end the closer by committee situation.  

July 18, 2015


As the hype of the trade season starts, here is a list from NBC Sports of the top arms available this season:

LHP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Cole Hamels is not a typical trade deadline target in that he’s still just 31 years old and under contract through 2019 at what is basically the going rate for a top-of-the-rotation starter, but the Phillies are so bad that rumors have swirled around him for a long time now.

Hamels’ win-loss records have suffered from terrible lineup and bullpen support, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s anything but a No. 1 starter. He has a 3.29 career ERA–including a 2.88 ERA since the beginning of last season–and he’s basically never been hurt while averaging 32 starts and 212 innings per season since 2008. He finished the first half with an awful start versus the Giants, but Hamels had a 3.02 ERA before that outing and is striking out a career-high 9.5 batters per nine innings this year.

The question with Hamels is how much value he has beyond the 3.5 years and $80 million remaining on his contract. As a free agent he’d get more than that on the open market, so what are teams willing to trade for the right to acquire Hamels at market-value annual salaries for a shorter commitment than they’d have to make via free agency? He’s not just a second-half pickup. Hamels would anchor a rotation for three-and-a-half seasons and that’s nearly impossible to acquire via free agency without making a $100 million-plus commitment.

The Phils front office is in transition as the old regime continues to ask for the Moon for Hamels. It is doubtful that the Phils can actually make a trade until the off-season. 

RHP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Johnny Cueto is an even better No. 1 starter than Hamels–posting a sub-3.00 ERA in five straight seasons and finishing runner-up in last year’s Cy Young voting–but he’s also a more typical trade deadline target in that he’s an impending free agent. If a team acquires Hamels they’re getting him for 100 or more starts from now until 2018 or 2019, but the Reds are basically just shopping Cueto’s next 15 starts. That has big value, of course, especially to a team with clear playoff aspirations that can get more starts out of him in October.

Cincinnati has the option of simply letting Cueto make those 15 starts for them and then walk as a free agent, at which point they’d receive a first-round draft pick as compensation. No one seems to think that scenario is likely, but it does mean any trade offer for Cueto must be superior to a first-round pick. And a team that trades for him would not be eligible for the same compensation. Cueto is better than Hamels, but is 15 starts of Cueto for $5 million more valuable than 100-plus starts of Hamels for $80 million? 

The Reds started their fire sale last season, so why not finish by trading the rest of the rotation? Cueto may be the "value" arm on the market on a price/performance basis.

RHP James Shields, San Diego Padres
Here’s a clear case of buyer’s remorse. San Diego had huge plans for a headline-grabbing offseason and on-the-fly rebuild, with signing James Shields to a four-year, $75 million deal playing a major part in that. But now the Padres are 41-49 and Shields has a 4.01 ERA that’s his worst since 2010 despite calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home.

There are some potential red flags within Shields’ performance at age 33. His velocity is down a bit, his walk rate is way up, he’s served up 19 homers in 19 starts, and his numbers away from Petco Park are ugly. On the other hand he’s also striking out a career-high 10.1 per nine innings. Shields is under contract for $21 million in each of the next three seasons, which is nearly the same as Hamels’ contract and that tells you why the Padres may have trouble moving him for any real value.

San Diego had, on paper, an excellent off-season but like the White Sox, the plan has blown up like a defective 4th of July firework. The question is whether the Pads will hold to their plan and keep their acquisitions for a run next year, or back up the truck to "re-tool" the roster?

LHP David Price, Detroit Tigers

David Price is a potential trade deadline wild card. Detroit is 41-41 and won’t have Miguel Cabrera is the lineup for a while. Price is an impending free agent likely in line for a $150 million-plus deal on the open market. It would be a similar situation to Cueto in Cincinnati, except the Tigers seemingly have no plans for a rebuild and at the very least still have a reasonable shot to make the playoffs. Price is an elite starter and may even rank higher than Cueto to a lot of teams, but the Tigers value his remaining 15 starts much higher than the Reds value Cueto’s and may even have some hope of keeping him around beyond this season.

Price is going to get a huge pay day. The question is as a rental player, he won't get much in return. If a club can negotiate an extension prior to a trade, then the Tigers can get great value in a deal. Like the next arm, it seems Price wants to reach the open market to find his true worth.

RHP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox
Jeff Samardzija is an impending free agent and the White Sox’s on-the-fly rebuild hasn’t gone much better than the Padres’ overhaul. Samardzija isn’t on the same level as Hamels, Cueto, or Price, but it wouldn’t be surprising if plenty of teams prefer him to Shields (and Shields’ remaining contract). After a poor start Samardzija headed into the All-Star break with a 2.40 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio in his last 45 innings and he’s gone at least seven innings in 11 of 13 starts since May 1.

The Shark has been telling the world for years he wants to test the free agent market. He turned down $105 million to stay with the Cubs. Whether he is worth a $100 million plus deal after the past two seasons is an open question. He goes into the half season rental trade pile.

LHP Scott Kazmir, Oakland A’s
Another impending free agent, Scott Kazmir has a 3.18 ERA in 49 starts for the A’s since signing a two-year, $22 million deal last offseason. Leaving his final start of the first half with triceps soreness is a worry, but Kazmir is expected to be fine and with the A’s at 41-50 the 31-year-old left-hander figures to be available.

Contenders don't trade for another team's trash.

RHP Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati’s other free agent-to-be starter, Mike Leake lacks the upside of Cueto and the other names on this list. However, he’s also younger than everyone else at 27 and has a 3.94 ERA in 1,006 career innings with similar numbers this season. Leake isn’t someone contending teams would want to headline their playoff rotation, but he’s a solid, innings-eating mid-rotation option.

Leake is someone who could sign a short two year extension at market value, then get a bigger deal before the age of 30. It depends on where he wants to play if he goes straight to free agency. 

July 17, 2015


Winning nine of the last 12 games would make most teams content. But the White Sox have dug themselves a big hole to try to find whether they belong in any playoff discussion.

The pitching has carried the team. The off-season additions have muddled expectations.

The 2015 season finds itself in the cross hairs of this weekend's 2005 championship reunion celebrations. Will the old team inspire this current club? One could hope.

If the White Sox are going to move out of the cellar and be relevant, the team needs to play well against Kansas City, who start the second half of the season with a four game home set at the Cell. The White Sox need to win at least 3 of 4. It would be best to sweep the day/night doubleheader today.  Jeff Samardzija pitches the opener, and Jon Danks is scheduled to pitch the night cap.

The Danks decision to start the night cap is puzzling. It has been reported that the Sox will call up fireballer Frankie Montas, who  is 2-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 15 starts this season at Double-A Birmingham. Montas earned a spot on the Southern League All-Star team last month and also was awarded a spot in the Futures Game for a second straight year, though he was unable to play in 2014 because of an injury. Most thought he would be called up as the 26th man under the doubleheader rules.

Today, rumors are spreading that All-Star Chris Sale may be hurt. Why else would not Sale pitch in the Royals series? Carlos Quintana and TBD are listed in the papers as the next pitchers in the series. Considering the White Sox and Robin Ventura lobbied All-Star manager Ed Yost NOT to use Sale in the All-Star game, was there an unreported issue with Sale after his last start? Sale was pretty dominate in the Cubs series last Saturday, so basically he would have had a full week of rest and still be able to pitch the critical KC series.

The White Sox could be overly cautious with Sale since he is one of the best pitchers in the game. But at the same time, this Kansas City series is make or break time. If the White Sox split or lose the series to the Royals, then the "for sale" sign will be out next week.

Sale has tried to take this team on his back and lead them to being a good team. The early season bad defense and lack of offense doomed the team. Perhaps management is trying to send a message to the rest of the team that they have to learn to win without Sale as a stopper. The only other explanation is that the White Sox are in trade talks involving Sale and want to hold him out of action to avoid an injury or nix a deal. But trading an ace like Sale with a team friendly contract would be worse than the White Flag trade.

July 16, 2015


The most underrated baseball player will be hitting the trade market.

Ben Zobrist, 34, is in his 10th major league season. His career numbers are good, but is versatility is outstanding.

His career numbers are .264 BA, 119 HR, 543 RBI, 103 SB. In 8 fielding positions, he has a collective .983 fielding percentage. In the modern era of carrying extra bullpen pitchers, Zobrist is a manager's secret weapon.

Oakland is in a good Seller's position this year. Zobrist will command a lot of attention as a key upgrade to any contender's bench.

July 15, 2015


Hawk Harrelson made an observation during the Crosstown.
He said that every team in MLB will win 60 games and lost 60 games.  He said the difference between clubs is what they do in the remaining 42 contests.

There is nothing more deflating that poor defense. If a team plays poor defense (can't catch or throw the ball), you are giving your opponent more outs in stead of the normal 27. Nothing demoralizes a pitcher more than bad defense behind him. Jon Lester got a little testy after his last start, but would not name names, saying everyone on the team shares blame (but then admitted that he "only" threw three bad pitches that game.)

A team beats itself (and cuts deeply into those 42 key games) by bad defense. The White Sox played most of the first half in zombie motion. But lately, the defense has picked up, especially turning double plays against the Cubs which equated to winning the series. But Harrelson thought that even with the Sox defense improvement, the team may have burned through too many of their 42 swing games as losses.

In the past few weeks, pitching has been dominating both Cubs and White Sox contests. This puts more premium on defense, which the Cubs did not have at critical times. Now, some may bring out excuses that the young players, including Castro, have played a long first half and may be tired from the daily grind. But this is professional baseball, every player taking the field should be ready to perform. The other excuse on the Cubs side of town is that this team is "over achieving" or a "year ahead of schedule."  That may be true from an internal planning stand point, but on the field seven games above .500 and in the second wild card means that the team is in a position to win, if fundamentals hold up in the tough second half.

The White Sox play a large chunk of their second half schedule against the AL Central. If the team has any change to make a wild card run, the Sox will have to beat up on their Central rivals. The Tigers are down with injuries, the Indians do not have the depth, but the Royals play the best defense in the league. There is an unlikely chance that the Sox could have a hot streak since it has four quality starting pitchers who can keep games close.

The Cubs sit in third behind the two best teams in the NL, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The Pirates end the first half on a roll, cutting deep into the Cardinals Central lead. It is unlikely that the Cubs have the depth, especially on the bench, to make a charge past the Pirates. The Cubs won't be able to make much headway against the Cardinals since the teams don't play until September.

It is still possible that both Chicago teams may end the season right around .500.

July 14, 2015


Tom Verducci recently explained that there is a rush of young talent in baseball. This year's All Star Game (as meaningless as the exhibition contest has become) now boasts 18 players under the age of 25. Eighteen players in their age-25 season or younger have been named to the All-Star Game, including five voted as starters by the fans—Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and Angels outfielder Mike Trout—and the two most exciting rookies in the National League, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, added as reserves.

So he comprised his list of Under 25 All-Stars:

Position National League American League
Catcher J.T. Realmuto, Marlins Salvador Perez, Royals
First base Anthony Rizzo, Cubs Eric Hosmer, Royals
Second base Joe Panik, Giants Jose Altuve, Astros
Third Base Nolan Arenado, Rockies Manny Machado, Orioles
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Braves Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
Leftfield Bryce Harper, Nationals Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Centerfield Joc Pederson, Dodgers Mike Trout, Angels
Rightfield Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins George Springer, Astros
Righthanded Pitcher Gerrit Cole, Pirates Sonny Gray, A's
Lefthanded Pitcher Madison Bumgarner, Giants Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
Relief Pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays

July 13, 2015


This year will be a Seller's market. With so much divisional parity, no club except a few, will think they cannot get into the wild card race if the team goes on a 10 game winning streak.

So most pundits believe that there will be very few Sellers this year. Which means Sellers will control the market, and ask for more in return than normal.  Beyond the question on how desperate teams will be to improve before the deadline, which Seller could surprise.

The Tigers. The preseason AL Central champ may be the best Seller of the year. If management decides to pull the plug on their pending free agents. But even then, rentals don't get big prospect returns as teams have begun hoarding their prospects and cheap, controllable assets.

At the All-Star break, the Tigers are currently sitting nine games out of first place. The pesky Royals continue to win. Rumors in Detroit indicate the Tigers  may sell at the trade deadline despite general manager Dave Dombrowski's comments to the contrary. 

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo believes a trade involving pending free agency ace lefty David Price is not out of the question if the Tigers do decide to start rebuilding for the future. Price would be the best pitcher available, with Jeff Samardzija second. 

The Tigers have left big money pitchers go in the recent past. There is no indication that ownership is going to commit $200 million to Price. So the question is, do the Tigers win it this year with Price? The current odds seem to say no. Hence, the trade speculation.

Every team in contention is looking to upgrade their pitching staffs. Price would be an immediate upgrade to any rotation. One would expect the Tigers to ask for at least three prime prospects for Price, including a major league ready starting pitcher. Any team trading for Price may think about asking for an extension as part of the deal, which puts big market teams like Yankees, Dodgers, Blue Jays at the table.

The price may be less for Samardzija, who has repeatedly stated he wants to get to free agency to test his market value. The White Sox are less interested in acquiring a replacement starting pitcher for the Shark so there may be more flexibility in dealing with the White Sox.
The Tigers also have three other pending free agents that could be highly prized in this trade market: Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria and Rajai Davis.  

If Rick Hahn raises the white flag, he could get rid of equally valuable chips in Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and one of his lefty relievers, Zach Duke or Dan Jennings.

July 8, 2015


The trend is pitching. Pitching defeats hitting. So we are told this season.

As of Tuesday, runs scored has a wide berth among MLB teams.

Blue Jays are first in runs with 462 in 85 GP (5.44/Runs per game). The Astros are second with 388 runs scored.

At the bottom the White Sox at 275 runs in 80 GP (3.44 R/GP). The Mariners are at No. 29 with 283 runs. The White Sox are a full 2 runs behind the Blue Jays in run production.

The mean team, No. 15, is the Brewers at 339 runs.

The high flying, best record Cardinals are 22nd with 326 runs. The Cubs are 24th with 314 runs.

The differential between No. 1 and No. 30 is 368.5 runs scored.  Only seven teams surpass that differential: Blue Jays, Astros, Yankees (379), D'backs (374), Orioles (327), A's (372) and Tigers (371).

There is some correlation between runs scored and position in standings is not clear.

Blue Jays (4th in AL East)
Astros (1st AL West)
Yankees (1st AL East)
D'backs (3rd NL West)
Orioles (2nd AL East)
A's  (5th AL West)
Tigers (3rd AL Central)

Only one National League team is in top run scorers, which means that the DH does have some impact on AL scoring.  But only 2 of the 7 teams (28.5%) are in first place in their division.

Does team ERA leaders shed any light on the runs scored to standings?

The Cardinals led the majors in team ERA at 2.56.  The Rockies are in last with 4.88 ERA.

How the run leaders stack up in team ERA:

Blue Jays (23rd)
Astros (10th)
Yankees (20th)
D'backs (26th)
Orioles (12th)
A's  (7th)
Tigers (25th)

Four of the seven run leaders (57.1%) are below the 15th club in team ERA. However, the two first place clubs are on either side of the 15th club (10th and 20th) while the best team ERA of top run scorers, the A's, are 7th in team ERA. One would expect the A's to be a lot better than last place in the AL West.

In this analysis, it seems that pitching does seem to tip the balance in favor of clubs who do not score as much as the average team as the No. 1 pitching club, the Cardinals, rank 22nd in run production.

July 7, 2015


The expectations were high for the 2015 White Sox, ten years removed from a World Series title. GM Rick Hahn plugged all the holes in the 2014 roster. The team won the off-season.

But the regular season has been an irregular disaster.

The White Sox could dismantle the team by the trade deadline, but Sr. VP Kenny Williams has been telling the media that is not an option. The team is on a three year window and plan, which to some seems contradictory. Williams told the USA Today:

It’s important that we not lose sight of what our organization goal was, and that was to give us the best three-year window. And we’re not going to abandon that completely with only three months to play,” Williams said.  “I think [Rick Hahn’s] done one hell of a job. Everyone wants to put the blame on [manager] Robin [Ventura], too, but all he can do is put the players in position to succeed. They’re the ones who have to look in the mirror and execute. If we do anything, it will be consistent with trying to maximize this three-year plan or window that we set out originally.”

We’ve always had that mind-set that we will listen to anyone who wants to make an offer for our players,” Williams said in response to a question about Chris Sale.  “How else do you know what the value is? Something may bowl you over. But we can’t envision anything happening along those lines.”

While Sale is locked up on a team-friendly deal that could run through the 2019 season, Jeff Samardzija is a different story, as he’s set to hit free agency this winter.  Bob Nightengale mentions that “every club with an urgent pitching need” has expressed an interest in Samardzija, and that the Blue Jays in particular have “strongly pursued” the righty.

If Samardzija signed an extension to remain on the south side, that would obviously change things. But Samardzija has said in the past he has wanted to hit the free agent market to prove his worth to all bidders. This is probably his one big pay day and he knows it. And the White Sox do too.

 “We just have to get some sort of indication it’s possible or not to sign him. We have to also see if it’s realistic given our resources and the other obligations we have,” Williams said.

It is hard to say what has gone wrong for the White Sox since just about everything has been inconsistent to bad (fielding, base running, hitting, crucial pitching, scoring, managerial moves, etc.) It would be easy to trade away the new pieces, but then the White Sox would be back to a total rebuild when the franchise likes merely to "re-tool" the roster since that is what the fan base wants, a competitive team. 

It is not that the White Sox have to add anything to the current roster. It just needs to have the current players actually perform as expected. But since the Sox are double digits behind the Royals, it is doubtful that a major second half improvement is going to change the Sox fortunes.

July 6, 2015


Have you noticed the dominance of low scoring games and shut-outs?

Pitching has suddenly raised itself as the dominant factor in major league baseball.

When pitchers like Chris Sale tie a major league mark for consecutive games with 10 or more strikeouts, and commentators are starting to go back to mid-1960s records for pitching accomplishments, we are on the dawn of a new era of pitching dominance.

A factor in this could be that many teams have been promoting younger players faster. There have never been so many 21, and 22 year olds in the majors. The Cubs roster is filled with under 25 starters. The trend is clearly to go young before they grow old in the minors.

As younger hitters come to the majors, it is more likely that they will have a tougher transition to major league pitching since pitchers are better at location, ball movement and strategy. And there is a higher learning curve for most batters than pitchers.

One expects a dominate and quick pitching contest at the Cell today when Mark Buerhle faces Sale. Both pitchers work fast. Both pitchers do not go deep into counts since they are putting the ball into the strike zone more often than not. They get ahead in the count then put away hitters.

Currently, baseball has 23 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.00. Led by Zack Greinke at 1.48 ERA, this shows a real dominance by pitchers this year.

July 4, 2015


There is a growing trend of teams picking players in the draft in higher rounds to under slot their bonuses to save cash to sign bigger value prospects that fall a round or two. A player who falls from the first round loses some leverage. It depends whether a high schooler has no desire to go to college or one who decides college will only increase his status in the next draft. Every draft choice has a number in mind to give up school to turn pro. The idea of finding the right prospects in the top ten rounds who are willing to get their number but at a higher draft order (thus saving the bonus pool and gaining leverage for later round picks) is the new strategy.

Saving money by drafting players you know who will sign for less (because you will pay them more than their projected draft value) is a tool to stock pile several players for the cost of a high first round pick. The more quality prospects you can sign the more chance of success.

The Cubs have agreed to a $1.3MM bonus with fourth-round selection D.J. Wilson, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports on Twitter. That’s well above the $503,100 slot value that came with the 113th overall pick.

Wilson is a high school center fielder who had been committed to Vanderbilt. What he lacks in stature (Wilson is just 5’8) he makes up for with plus speed. MLB.com rated him the 129th-best prospect available, comparing his overall offensive package to that of Ben Revere: solid hitting ability, excellent speed, little power Baseball America which ranked Wilson 178th, likened him to Adam Eaton, a serviceable lead off hitter.

On the defensive side of things, Wilson is said to possess quite a nice overall package of skills. He not only moves well, but is said to have good instincts in center in addition to a strong and accurate arm.

MLBTR noted that when the Cubs’ signed second-round pick Donnie Dewees,  the club had socked away a notable pile of cash in many of its early signings. This agreement will absorb a big piece of that availability, and the club could need the rest to lock up third-rounder Bryan Hudson, a projectable lefty who has committed to the University of Missouri.

July 3, 2015


With runners on second and third, the Mets tried a suicide squeeze against the Cubs.

The batter missed the pitch, and the Cubs caught the runner from third in a run down. The Cubs catcher ran the third base runner back to the bag, but the runner from second was already there. The catcher tagged out the runner from second (who was occupying the bag) then the runner from third second (as he was off the base behind his teammate).

Initially, the umpire called both base runners out. But after a long umpire huddle, the call was reversed and the runner from second was allowed to stay at third. No double play.

But in the confusion, was this the right call?

The official baseball rules:

7.00—The Runner.
A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out.
He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or
forced to vacate it for another runner legally
entitled to that base.
Rule 7.01 Comment: If a runner legally acquires title to a base, and the pitcher assumes his
pitching position, the runner may not return to a previously occupied base. 
In advancing, a runner shall touch first,
second, third and home base in order. If
forced to return, he shall retouch all bases in reverse order, unless the ball is dead under any
provision of Rule 5.09. In such cases, the runner may go directly to his original base. 
(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are
touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding
runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies. 
(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and
two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the
following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out
when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which
such preceding runner is forced.

The applied rules:

1. A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. The Mets runner from second ran to the unoccupied third base (since that runner vacated it toward home) so under this provision he acquired title to it unless he "is forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base."

2. Two runners may not occupy the same base when the ball is alive (as was the case in the run down play). If two runners are touching the base (which did not happen in the Mets situation) the runner from second base would be called out as the runner from third base reclaimed the base when he did not advance to home on the squeeze play.

3.  Rule 7.03 involves situation where the "batter" becomes a runner and forces a previous runner to  advance a base but it is occupied by a previous base runner, there is a force play out.  This was not the situation in the Mets-Cubs game.

So how can the Mets second base runner be safe at third when the runner on third retreated to third base?

It would seem Rule 7.03 (b) would control the situation, with the runner from second being called out and the runner from third entitled to his base back. But in the actual sequence of events, the runner from second stayed on the bag and was called out, and the runner from third was not on the bag when he was tagged out when the play was still live. Under the rule, if both runners were on the bag at the same time, the runner from second would be out. However, the umpires must have thought that since the runner from third was tagged "out" while off the base, then both runners were not occupying the "same" base so the runner from second was entitled to third base.

However, the umpire crew chief explained that once the runner on third went past the bag, he "abandoned it" to the runner from second who was standing on it. As a result, the runner from second was entitled to the base and the runner who had been third was tagged out. It is interesting to note that the base running rules do not state a runner can "abandon" a base to another runner.

Joe Maddon did not strongly argue the final umpire decision. And the Cubs got out of the inning without the Mets scoring a run.

July 2, 2015


Baseball has become a station to station game.

It is rare to find an aggressive team using speed as a weapon.

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is single-handedly bringing back one of the most exciting feats in Major League Baseball, the stolen base. 

On Monday night, Hamilton stole four bases against the Minnesota Twins giving him 40 for the season. The second-year outfielder is now on pace to steal 86 bases, which would make him the first player to steal at least 80 bases in a single season since Rickey Henderson (93) and Vince Coleman (81) both did it in 1988.

But what is really amazing is that 86 stolen bases may actually be a low bar for Hamilton. He has stolen more than 100 in the minor leagues. He's getting better at stealing bases as the season goes on, and he is still not very good at the most important aspect of base thievery: getting on base.

 On base percentage (OBP) is one of those sabermetrics that new wave GMs like on their roster. But without a corresponding recognition for the stolen base to move runners into scoring position, it still takes a walk or base hit to move them around the base paths. And considering the average team hits .250 or so, that is only a one in four chance to advance a runner from first to second.

Scouts will tell you the one thing teams cannot teach players is speed. You either have it or you do not. Speed on the base paths makes the opposing pitcher think about runners. Any distraction to a pitcher's concentration is a plus for the batting team. Small advantages can create big innings.

So why has the stolen base been downplayed by teams? Teams are looking for more rounded players. Normally a speed merchant is usually a good field, no hit narrow skill set player. Teams are looking for five tool players who can hit for average, power and drive in runs. In some ways, the Earl Weaver three run HR strategy is still in vogue, even when hitters are getting dominated by pitchers this year.

Manufacturing runs through steals, hit and run plays, taking an extra base on an outfield hit are all fading from the team's fundamental playbooks. Teams don't teach base running fundamentals. Look at how many stupid running plays you see in an average game. Players should never run themselves into an easy tag out. But it happens all the time. And players have no idea how to slide into a base, or to avoid a tag.

A base stealer is a valuable commodity. But no one seems to really care to exploit one of the game's rules, except Hamilton and the Reds.

July 1, 2015


When Theo Epstein was hired to be the Cub baseball operations guru, he said he had a plan to make the Cubs a consistent contender. Part of that plan was to blow up the organization by rebuilding the farm system so every season new talent could be promoted to the Cubs roster.

As part of the plan, the Cubs tanked for three seasons in a row. The teams were dreadful and unbearable to watch. But the pain of losing seasons allowed the Cubs to draft higher to collect a couple potentially great hitters. The Cubs stayed away from the big deal free agent market until this year when Jon Lester was signed for $155 million.

The Cubs front office has spoken about having a "core" group of players who will be together for a long time. However, after the St. Louis series, ESPN's Buster Olney thinks he found a flaw in the Cubs rebuilding plans.

After being swept over the weekend by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs had lost five in a row while starting pitchers gave up 17 runs in 23.1 innings during that stretch. And when one looks at the farm system for help, there is nothing to be found.

Olney believes the Cubs don't have enough starting pitching, and finding some will be tough to do in the trade market.

Olney notes that there may not be many starting pitchers available and those who may end up on the market come with red flags for the Cubs, whether it is a divisional rival (e.g. the Reds) or a player who has spurned the Cubs before (e.g. Jeff Samardzija).

The bigger problem for the Cubs is that they can't turn to their minor league system for help, and that lack of depth in starting pitching was by design as the Cubs focused in on hitters while other teams balanced with top pitchers and position players. Of the Cubs' top eight prospects, only one is a pitcher.

Olney believes most MLB teams have subscribed to the theory that pitching wins championships and there are two ways to acquire pitching talent. Teams can either overspend on aging arms and hope they can stay healthy and effective, or teams can hoard a ton of young pitching prospects and hope a few of them pan out and become talented big leaguers who don't take up a lot of payroll space. The New York Mets are a prime example of developing four or five really good young starters that are controllable assets for the next five years. The Cubs have yet to draft and develop a quality starting pitcher.  And that is the flaw in the rebuilding plan.