August 31, 2015

NO HITTER

The national ESPN broadcast was very good last night. It was different with Jessica Mendoza as an analyst, but she was informative and fun with John Kruk. It was conversational throughout the night.

What was interesting about the broadcast was the back ground information on Jake Arrieta, now 17-6, 2.11 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Arrieta told the Cubs after the trade that he wanted to get back to throwing the way he did as a kid. It was a motion that the Orioles wanted to eliminate because it was a cross the chest delivery which many believe tends to create arm injuries in power pitchers. But the Cubs let Arrieta go back to what makes him comfortable. It has paid off, big time.

Also from last night's game was a primer on how to be a really effective pitcher. Arrieta's pitches all start in the middle of the strike zone, then dip and dive left and right. A batter sees his release point and immediately thinks strike, but as he begins to swing, his bat tells him it is not. But at that moment, it is too late. The prime example of this was Arrieta striking out the Dodgers in the 9th to complete his no hitter.

I also agree that Starlin Castro made an error. The sharply hit ball to him hit him then bounced away. I am a proponent of the rule that if the ball hits a fielder, he should be able to make a play. And if the home field scorer saw it as an error, it confirms my thesis.

In my lifetime, the Cubs have had 7 no hitters. I have seen on television  5 of the 7 no hitters. This is probably unique because WGN-TV carried all the Cubs games and baseball was a fixture of my viewing habits. Today, a nationally televised no hitter is a rarity.

This also cements the fact that Arrieta, with his consistent control and command (this was his 14th straight quality start, tying a club record by Greg Maddux), is clearly the ace of the staff.

August 28, 2015

THE PLAYOFFS

There have been more rumblings on the way baseball is organized
defeats the whole purpose of a long season.

the Cubs have the 4th best record in baseball, but are in third place
in their division. If the playoffs start today, Pittsburgh with the third best
record would play the Cubs while teams with lesser victory totals
get a bye.

I got it when the leagues expanded and broke into four divisions.
It was done for scheduling and to maintain rivalries.

When it last expanded and shuffled into three divisions, there
needed to have a wild card to balance out of the playoffs.
A divisional bridesmaid got an invitation to the party. OK.
It was still based on number of season victories, making the
162 game schedule meaningful.

I still don't really like the interleague play. It does not help the
scheduling of divisional games. It just tries to add new revenue
to home teams with different clubs fans don't see often.

The idea of eliminating the divisions and having one league standings
is a good one. In essence, that is what the "wild card" standings are now.
Get rid of interleague play and make each league team play each other
more to see who is the best AL and NL squad. The teams with the best
records get home field advantage throughout the playoffs (as the prize
for being the best).

The one true criticism of the wild card game is that is contrary to
how the regular season is structured: by series. A playoff should also
follow the format of a series contest, like best of 3 games.

Then if baseball wants to get greedy with its TV partners, expand the
playoffs to six teams.

The top 2 teams have a bye, and the next four teams play a one game
play-in. Winners play the top two teams in a seeded series, best of 5 or 7.


This helps distinguish the  leagues which still have their own schedules and rules 
(like the AL with DH). It would also return to having a pure "league" champion
that fans of other teams in the league could support in a playoff run.

August 26, 2015

PLAYOFF BASEBALL

When the Giants were recently at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon managed the Cubs like it was a play-off series. When was the last time a Cub manager used his roster like it was a must-win game seven in a series? It worked. The atmosphere and the Cubs sweeping the Giants propelled the Cubs into the "very good team" category.

The team has exceeded most people's expectations.

It has been a rolling momentum. In the early part of the season, Anthony Rizzo was the powerful glue in the lineup. He led by example, hitting homers but also buying into the Maddon philosophy that "you get two strikes then earn first base with a walk or hit." 

But the team did not have to put everything on Rizzo's shoulders. Kris Bryant was injected into the lineup which gave it another powerful, poised hitter. The Cubs continued to roll.

And when the dog days of summer came around, the team was infused with more talent. Kyle Schwarber gives the lineup another professional hitter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Schwarber became the first Cubs player within the modern era (since 1900) to hit 12 home runs within his first 42 career games.

By September, the Cubs will have another injection of talent, especially to upgrade second base over Chris Coghlan and Starlin Castro platoon, with Javy Baez. Down the stretch, defense matters and Baez is a better fielder than either Coghlan or Castro.

Throughout the season, the most consistent player has been Jake Arrieta. He has become the quiet ace of the staff. He looks mad when he goes to the mound. His control has been excellent. He has pitched 13 straight quality starts. The debate is over: he will be the wild card game starter.

There are still some glaring weaknesses on the team. The fourth and fifth starter roles have been a sore point. The overworked bullpen is beginning to show the strain of the long season. 

The West Coast road trip has traditionally been a Cub killer. But with an opening swing victory over the Giants, sending San Francisco 7.5 GB the Cubs in the wild card race, the Cubs could bury the Giants with a series sweep. The Cubs have won six in a row. They no longer think about just "winning" series but sweeping series. 

To add to the joy of this summer, this team is very likable. They are young, energetic, polite, and professional - - -  which is a testament to how Maddon has forged a special bond with his players.

The Cubs control their own destiny this season. That itself is a scary but unexpected result.

August 25, 2015

SAFETY

There have been an epidemic of serious fan injuries this season at baseball parks.

Sunday's Cubs game was halted due to a fan injury.


The game was briefly delayed in the first inning after Kyle Schwarber's foul liner struck a female fan sitting just past the camera well on the first base side.

The woman was carried off on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. The Cubs said she was conscious, but had no further details on her condition.

''Oh my God, awful,'' Joe Maddon said.

Several fans around the majors have been hit this season by fouls and flying bats, and Major League Baseball has said it is studying the issue of crowd safety.

Maddon issued his own warning.

''Pay attention. I hate to say, but those are wonderful seats. Probably pay a lot of money for them, you're digging the fact that you're right there. I watch and and I see people turning their back to the field when action is going. You just can't do it, you can't do it,'' he said.

''But what I'm saying is, when you're at the ballpark and you're in those particular locations, watch what is going on. Don't turn your head away from the action. Every time a ball is pitched you look, you look and see, then you can go and talk. That's probably the best answer, to just pay attention.''

The problem with Maddon's advice is that it was fine twenty years ago but not today.


Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander went to social media to push for changes after a woman was hit by a foul ball in the eighth inning of a recent Tigers' home game against the Texas Rangers.

"More protective measures need to be put in place in all ball parks! Players are sick of seeing injuries that could easily be avoided!" Verlander said on the social media site after seeing medical personnel take the woman away in a neck brace, adding that Major League Baseball should make changes "before it's too late."

The Tigers said after the game that the woman, who was sitting behind the home team dugout, was hospitalized for tests but was alert and conscious.

Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos said there was "no way" the fan could have reacted in time to avoid being hit by the ball of Anthony Goes’s bat.

He's in favor of increased security netting between the field and fans.

In July a class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco seeking to have Major League Baseball install such protective netting down the baselines. Currently such netting is typically used only directly behind home plate.

In the past, the license printed on the back of your ticket insulated owners from liability. The legal concept is assumption of risk. It presumes to have certain knowledge about the likelihood that objects can fly off the field into the stands, so the law imposes a duty on fans to take reasonable precautions for their own safety. The legal effect is if a fan  is even 1% at fault for their own injuries, they are not entitled to any legal recovery whatsoever as a matter of law.

But there have been a few court cases that have versed this old doctrine and imposed some liability on teams. Truth be told, owners do not want to aggrieve high paying season-ticket holders who like the unobstructed view from their close seats near the field in foul territory, and they believe these premium fans do not want something as foreign as safety netting getting in the way. But baseball owners are adding the danger of fan injury caused by the wave of new ballpark improvements.

Technology has become today's addictive distraction. People bend over their cell phones like nuns in a church pew. The world around them is lost; these people don't pay attention to where they are going (running into people on sidewalk, stepping out into traffic; texting while driving). 

And baseball owners, in order to attract younger fans, push team apps, stats, fantasy sports to patron's smart phones. They want fans to tweet and retweet during the game. They are fans to have "an interactive experience." 

The addition of large electronic scoreboards showing replays and information further distract fans attention from the actual game on the field. 

Twenty years ago people came to baseball games to watch a contest but also to have a social experience with family and friends. Sitting a park, with the ebb and flow of down time between pitches, allowed fans to actually talk to each other during a game. Perhaps, with the advances in communications technology, the average person is less engaged on one-on-one personal conversations than in the past. And that is the point that baseball does not fully comprehend.

A split second reaction time looking at a foul ball racing toward your head can be the difference between life and death. (The last baseball fan fatality by a baseball in the stands was in 1970 at Dodger Stadium). The human brain is hard wired to make instant reactions to protect itself from harm. Reaction times have been decreased for fans in the stands as in the case of Wrigley Field, the foul territory from the field to the seats has dramatically contracted over the years. Closer seats without protective netting equals fan injury. A distracted fan by his own phone or the video boards is a sitting duck in the stands.

But owners will say that tradition and the fan experience outweighs the rare fan injury. In the NHL, a young woman was killed by a stray puck which lead to the league putting in protective netting around the entire rink. It is possible to put a clear, transparent netting around the box seats to catch screaming liners or helicoptering baseball bats. But in the cost-benefit analysis, teams won't do it. 

Economic models show that the value of a human life is $3.5 million. Is it worth that much money to install safety netting in each park to avoid serious to fatal fan injury? Or do baseball men think the money is better spent on a veteran utility infielder as the 25th man on their roster?

August 24, 2015

UNCHARTERED TERRITORY

NEW YORK (AP) — Chase Utley's acquisition put the Los Angeles Dodgers close to becoming the first baseball team with a $300 million luxury-tax payroll.

The trade Wednesday that sent the six-time All-Star second baseman from Philadelphia to the NL West leaders raised the Dodgers' projected payroll for tax purposes to about $298.5 million, according to calculations by Major League Baseball. Performance bonuses for other players and end-of-season award bonuses could make the Dodgers the first team to reach the $300 million mark.

"That's fine. They haven't won the championship," Baltimore All-Star outfielder Adam Jones said. "You still have to play between the lines — same thing with the Yankees in the '90s and 2000s. It's baseball, man. Our union is tough enough to fight for our rights and we don't have a salary cap. Los Angeles is the second-biggest city in the United States. They can support it. I don't have to pay it!"

Luxury tax payrolls are based average annual values of contracts for the 40-man roster and include about $13 million per team in benefits, such as the health and pension plan, and payroll, unemployment and Social Security taxes paid by clubs.

Los Angeles is well above the $189 million tax threshold and will pay at a 40 percent rate for exceeding the mark for the third straight year. Its projected tax bill is about $44 million, which would top the record $34 million paid by the New York Yankees after the 2005 season.

The Dodgers' luxury tax payroll includes about $40 million for players no longer with the organization.

Los Angeles paid $11.4 million in tax in 2013 and $26.6 million last year, when its tax payroll was $277.7 million.

The Dodgers' regular payroll — salaries plus prorated shares of signing bonuses and earned bonuses — is at about $285 million, up from a record $257 million last year.

>>>> ANALYSIS:

The takeaway from the Dodgers ownership change and massive multi-billion dollar Dodger channel cable deal (which has been a disaster for TW, the cable partner) is that owners will spend just about anything in order to win. The Tigers were the same way for the past three seasons; overpaying for star players in order to win. But rarely does one "buy" a championship.

It also has a domino effect on clubs that cannot afford free-wheeling spending. The Kershaw $210 million deal is now the gold standard for ace pitchers. More than half of the clubs now cannot even bid on a Kershaw type starter. As the top tier players get more of budget payrolls, teams will have to axe the middle tier players (who earn on average $5 million/season) to go with more unproven prospects (at the major league minimum $550k). The Cubs are banking on that protocol: pay big money for arms, grow farm bats who don't take up much payroll.

But the bubble on cable TV deals is about to burst. Other teams think they will get Dodger money will soon find out that cable operators have hit the ceiling on what subscribers will pay for channel packages. And most subscribers don't want to pay $1.00 to $5.00 a month for a baseball only channel. In fact, more and more cable subscribers are "cutting the cord" to stream live events through the internet. 

When the big money well dries up, there will be a player backlash for several years. Many rookie deals are looking forward to the big payday that may not come. And generationally, if the big paydays are numbered, less youth will go into the sport as children. Instead, they will concentrate on other more potentially profitable athletic pursuits like basketball, football, or European soccer.

August 20, 2015

A QUICK CHANGE

Finding a new job in baseball is usually hard. Unless, you have a proven track record of success.


The Red Sox’ stunning announcement that Dave Dombrowski was hired as new President of baseball operations  is still sinking in for many, but further changes figure to be on the way in Boston, MLBTR summarizes.

Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Press spoke to Dombrowski and tweets that the new Boston president believes he will hire a GM to work underneath him. Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports that former Braves GM Frank Wren, who worked with Dombrowski in the Marlins and Expos front offices in the 1980s and 1990s, is a leading candidate for the position.

Wren’s more traditional background of scouting would seemingly align well with Dombrowski’s strengths, as opposed to a more analytical GM like Ben Cherington, who passed on the opportunity to remain on board as the Red Sox’ GM following the addition of Dombrowski. There’s been speculation about Jerry Dipoto, who is working with the Sox on a temporary basis at the moment, but he, too, has a more analytical slant and wasn’t hired by Dombrowski.

When the Braves hired John Hart  as president of baseball operations, he fired Wren.  Currently,  the Braves have elected to deploy a president but no GM, as they currently do not have one in place.

The 57-year-old Wren’s front office experience dates back to the mid-1980s, and he’s worked with the Orioles in addition to the previously mentioned Expos, Marlins and Braves.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports  that he finds it difficult to imagine any team owned by John Henry would completely abandon analytics, noting that there will have to be a balance in place. One can imagine that even in the event of a more traditional hire in the GM department, Dombrowski may bring in some new analysts or, at the very least, make an effort to retain some of Cherington’s more analytically inclined lieutenants. Of course, many that previously worked underneath Cherington may elect to seek employment elsewhere as well.

The whole concept of a president of baseball operations is new. Many teams have started to divide functions: club business is separated from daily baseball activities. This sets up the possibility of two distinct feudal power bases. The president of baseball operations sits on a committee with the president of business operations and the owner to discuss general policies and goals. 

This does add layers of bureaucracy and executives. The "business" of baseball is running a team and winning (i.e. having good fan attendance). The general manager used to control all aspects of the club: from ticket sales, advertising, sponsorships, to hiring staff, reviewing scouting reports, drafting and trading for players. Now, in the age of analytics and specialization, the GM's duties have been pared back. 

In some situations, the president of baseball operations is a figure head title to move an ineffective GM upstairs to allow a better manager run a team. It is a way to keep a knowledgeable asset from taking his consultancy skills and team knowledge to other clubs. But in Dombrowski's case, the Red Sox are hiring a fully knowledgeable general manager with a great track record.

Some people were surprised that the Tigers let Dombrowski go, but his contract was not going to be renewed by ownership. The Tigers spent like a big market team in order to get its elderly owner a World Series title. But despite the spending and talent, the Tigers have never reached that goal. And that one goal fell squarely on Dombrowski's head. 

The Red Sox have had a tailspinning bad season. Dombrowski has experience in tearing down and rebuilding franchises, which is something the Red Sox need to do in order to get competitive in the strong AL East. Boston's quick hire of Dombrowski makes great sense.

August 19, 2015

DON'T CHASE CHASE

Local sports polls show between 74 to 90 percent of the fans are against the Cubs trading for veteran second baseman Chase Utley.

Utley has had a series of injuries that have limited the former All-Star to replacement value level, at best.

Could the Cubs upgrade the Coghlan-Castro platoon at second base? Sure. Is Utley the answer? No.

A couple of points to make against Utley.

He was part of the veteran player core in Philadelphia who did not respect or play well for Ryne Sandberg. It was one of the reasons he resigned his managerial position. So the evidence shows Utley is not going to bring quality leadership to the Cubs.  In fact the Cubs don't need a leadership boost; the young club has responded to both Maddon, and players like Ross, Rizzo Arrieta and Lester (by example).

Second, Utley is now a terrible player. He is only hitting .213. In 72 games, he has 5 HRs and 30 RBI and a negative 0.3 WAR.

Third, he has a no trade clause. He is demanding that any team that acquires him will start him. It is that type of selfish demand that immediately turns me off to a player. When teammate Jonathan Paplebon demanded the closer's role in a trade to the Nationals, the Nats complied and the team accelerated its tail spin out of the playoff race. It was a horrible disruption to the Nationals clubhouse and bullpen.

Utley is demanding full time playing status because he needs the at-bats to vest a $15 million option for 2016. Yes, it is a greedy proposition to put your bad playing time over that of a team on the verge of winning a rare playoff berth. But with the Phils, a bad team, that type of demand is moot. But with the Cubs, it could be a deadly anchor dragging the line up down.

Fourth, at 36 years old, Utley has no future with the Cubs. He does not fit any long term need. Besides the Cubs have other options in AAA (Alcantara and Baez) to play second.

There is no rational basis for the Cubs to consider adding Utley to the roster.

UPDATE: Utley and cash traded to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers.

August 18, 2015

STOPPERS

Joe Maddon has come around to a bullpen philosophy I have had for decades.

Growing up, starting pitchers were expected to pitch a complete game. Win or lose. Even in blow outs. Then, in the drag of hot summer days, a team may carry one, two or three "relief" pitchers to mop up games, come in for injury or spot start.

But bullpen evolution with the game has added, in the case of the Cubs, 8 relief pitchers on a 25 man roster. Because of pitch counts and salaries invested in starters, managers are mow trained to set up their pitching staffs in such a way to baby a starter through 5 or 6 innings, then have three relievers finish the game. The "closer" is the best relief pitcher on the staff - - -  the one to get the last three outs. 

But in reality, the "last" three outs count as much as the first three outs, or the middle of the 5th three outs.

Why the game has evolved to add pressure on the pitcher in the 9th inning is hard to qualify. The game now has "specialists" in all facets of the game. The lefty who gets out left handed hitters. The sinker baller who can induce a rally killing double play. The long reliever with the rubber arm who can eat up innings in a game. The "set up" guy to keep the game under control for the closer's 9th. It really seems silly to have a pitching staff blueprint of a "7th inning guy," an "8th inning set up man, and "a closer."

Games may not be won or lost in the 9th inning. In fact, the most damage usually occurs earlier in the game. Games can get out of control with your starting pitcher not having his best stuff. And that is where most games get lost.

So Maddon realizes that it is more important to stop the opponent from having a big early inning than coming from behind to win in the 9th inning.

Justin Grimm has had exactly half of his appearances this season -- 21 --  with men on-base.. More times than not Grimm has shut the door. Grimm, who turned 27 on Sunday, has become Maddon's most trusted middle reliever -- or the "middle innings closer" as Maddon put it -- not that he hasn't thrown late in games as well. It wasn't long ago he earned a win against the Giants after entering the game in the fifth inning, and then got a save against them a couple days later.

I have always called the role Grimm has for the Cubs as being a "stopper."  Not a closer, but a pitcher - - - the old adage, a fireman - - - called upon to put out a fire (potential big inning). A stopper may be more valuable than a closer who usually comes into a game at the beginning of the 9th inning with no one on base. A stopper is a pitcher who comes into a tight jam and tries to stop the team's bleeding away a game.

A stopper could come in a game in any inning, at any time. It is that true versatility in the modern bullpen that most teams do not cultivate in their staffs. Maddon has found Grimm to be the pitcher he has trust and confidence to stop an opponent from burying his team early in games.
 

August 17, 2015

A MISNOMER

The Cubs are 67-49.

Most people say that the Cubs are 18 games over .500.

That's great.

But I believe it is inaccurate.

The Cubs have played 116 games.
If the Cubs played .500 ball, they would have a record of 58-58.

58 wins is the .500 mark at this point in the season.

The Cubs are better, at 67 wins.

67 wins - 58 wins = 9 games above the .500 mark.


UPDATE 9/2/15

A Cardinal fan gloats that his team is now "40 games over .500."  Radio, television and print media are proclaiming the accomplishment.

By Cardinal's "math,"  the team has 86 wins this season.


They claim that if the team is at 46-46, they are at .500. 

46+40=86, so everyone  on radio and TV the past 24 hours says the team is 40 games over .500.
They will also tell you that the Cubs are 19 over .500.

"It’s not that difficult to understand; it’s common baseball language and math!"



Again, the statement is inaccurate mathematically wrong because it does not take in account total games played in the equation.

They are only looking at total wins not total games played which is the problem.

The Cardinals are only .500 team if record is 46-46 (after playing 92 games).

After 132 games, if the team is at .500 that means their record is 66-66 not 46-46.


86 wins - 66 wins (for a .500 club) = 20 games over .500.



SPENDING MONEY TO MAKE MONEY

SB Nation (via another publication) calculates that the Blue Jays trading deadline moves not only helped the club vault into first place but also helped the bottom line.


When the Blue Jays traded Jose Reyes and prospects for Troy Tulowitzki, no money exchanged hands. Tulowitzki was owed $94 million after this season and Reyes was owed $48 million. That means the Blue Jays assumed an extra an extra $46 million. It was a risk. Except, the Blue Jays have already made that money back.  From Financial Post:

Overall, (Team Marketing) estimates that group of four would pay $270.43 for the whole trip to the ball game, just a few dollars over the MLB average.
That works out to $67.61 per person. Multiply that by 465,000 more bums in seats and you’ve got a whopping $31.4 million — more than triple the extra spending on salaries.
I recall when Harry Carey commanded the Wrigley Field press box. A Tribune executive secretly whispered that Carey was the most underpaid person in the organization. Why? Because he brought in fans to the ball park. But beyond mere attendance, he brought in beer drinking fans (the most profitable segment of concession sales.)

For example, another 10,000 in ticket sales per game by fans drinking $7 worth of beer for a home season calculates to $5.67 million. Plus Carey was a great ambassador for the beer company, who would spend millions more on ball park advertising.

August 15, 2015

CUBBERNAUT!

What do you call a Cubs juggernaut?

CUBBERNAUT!!!

I coined this word a couple of weeks ago and it is starting to catch on in my circle of friends.


August 14, 2015

THE DINOSAUR CALLED A WALK

People don't come to the ball park and pay $100/ticket to watch superstars walk.

"Chicks did the long ball."

Remember?

Well CNBC noticed that walks are way down while strikeouts are way up.


The article states that through August, Major League Baseball saw an average of 2.8 walks per game. If the season were to end there, that would be the lowest level since the 1920s. Similarly, a lot of the stats show that pitching is dominating over hitting.  Strikeouts are up, batting average is down, among other key statistics.

"It's like capitalism," said Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. "You have a void that needs to be filled, and a whole generation of kids that see it. You've got talent in the pitching department now that is so far above what it was in the past." -
"Back in the 1990s, there was a panic in the industry about lack of pitching," Beane told CNBC. "Now you have a big wave of pitching that is physically so much different." 

Beane noted the increase in physical domination of today's pitcher. "When I was playing, you might have a few guys that threw over 90 miles per hour, but now you have entire staffs where average velocity on fastballs is 2-3 mph faster than a few years ago." 

The average fastball in the first half of 2015 left the pitcher's hand at 91.7 mph, according to Major League 

Baseball's pitch(f)x database. That's more than a full mph faster than the 2008 average of 90.6.

All-Star hitters agree. "The pitchers these days throw harder and can throw their off-speed pitches for strikes," Mark Teixeira told CNBC. "They're just better." 

The New York Yankees first baseman agreed with Beane that this year in particular has been different. "It is definitely getting hard to walk in the big leagues. I feel the trend started a few years ago and is getting more pronounced this season."

During the steroid era, hitters were much more aggressive at the plate because the key stats to earn large contracts were home runs and RBIs. The big hitters got the big money. It did not matter that they swung and missed at a ton of pitches. It really did not matter that their batting average was below .270. To them, an out was an out - - - it did not matter whether it was a strikeout or a long fly ball to the CF on the warning track.

One of the keys to the Cubs current success has been "draft bats, buy pitching."  The young Cub hitters can hit for power, but have been drilled to "accept" a walk to keep an inning alive. That is team play in an generation that is mostly focused on "I."

The Blue Jays recent surge has been triggered by adding more bats to an already potent line up.

On the other hand, the Mets have done the opposite. "Draft pitching, acquire bats."  The Mets have the finest young rotation in the majors. It has been dominate all year. The old school saying is "good pitching will always defeat good hitting" is the motto for a Mets playoff run.

Why there are less walks and more strikeouts is because there is no stigma attached to striking out. You don't feel bad or get razzed when you sulk back to the dugout after a K. Likewise, no one rewards a player for getting a walk. It does not add points to a batting average. It is like a kindergarten star on a hand-traced turkey because even teams that stress OBP don't hold their players to it.

August 13, 2015

HOW STRANGE

Did you realize that this morning the defending World Series champions, the Giants, are the same amount of games out of the Wild Card than the lowly White Sox?

Both teams are 4.5 GB in the last wild card spot.

But you could never imagine anyone thinking the Giants and White Sox' shot at the playoffs were equal. The Giants are a good, competitive club even though they were swept by the Cubs. The White Sox have been an underwhelming, underachieving team all season.

The AL playoff race has tightened up. The White Sox still have to climb over many teams to reach the playoffs while the Giants only need the Pirates or Cubs to fall.

But anything is possible.

Take the Blue Jays unbelievable run.

Last night twelve of the first 16 Blue Jays batters reached base as Toronto scored three runs in the first and seven in the second to trounce Oakland  for the Jays' 10th consecutive victory. A victory with the Yankees loss to Cleveland, moved the Blue Jays into first place in the AL East. 

Two weeks ago, the Blue Jays were in 4th place and 8 games out of first place. Then they made a flurry of deals including acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.  Since then, the Blue Jays have gone 13-1  while the Yankees have gone 4-9. 

Realistically, there is 7 weeks left in the season. Any team more than 7 games behind a playoff slot is probably out of the race, since making up 1 game a 1 week is the most reasonable prediction any GM can make at this time in the season.

August 12, 2015

HISTORIC ROOKIE CLASS

Jeff Passon at Yahoo Sports writes:

Never before has baseball seen a group of rookies like the Class of 2015, one so rich in position players that with two months left in the season it’s on the verge of being more productive than every previous class in history. The Year of the Rookie is a real thing, though perhaps its designation is missing a word, because it’s really more the Year of the Hitting Rookie.

Sometime this week, everyday rookies are going to surpass every class from the last 100 years in Wins Above Replacement. Even if it is a flawed metric, this year’s group of rookies reigning supreme with a third of the season remaining speaks to just how much talent suffuses it – and how teams are relying on rookie position players more than anytime since World War II.

This season, rookie position players have accumulated 48.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs.  Every hitter in baseball has a combined WAR of 386.8, meaning 12.61 percent of all offensive and defensive wins have come from rookies. Only war beget a greater percentage of WAR going to rookie hitters, as baseball struggled to fill its depleted rosters in 1943 and saw rookies account for 13.97 percent of offensive WAR.

A look at the three Cubs rookies in this class:

Bryant 3.0 WAR
Russell 1.5 WAR
Schwarber 1.4 WAR

The three Cubs rookies have a combined 5.9 WAR, which is 12.1 percent of the rookie class WAR. Most believe that the three Cubs will get better as the season progresses.


August 10, 2015

BOMB THREAT

The Cubs bandwagon will get bigger after the sweep of the World Series champs, Giants. It was the first time in 100 years that the Cubs swept a four game series against the defending champions.  The Cubs lead the Giants by 3.5 games in the last wild card spot. The Giants play their next 22 games against opponents with winning records.  It is possible that the Cubs could create a substantial lead in the wild card race.

The odds are now at a 78% probability that the Cubs will make the playoffs.

Just as the fans celebrated the final weekend series victory, there was an unfounded bomb threat called into Wrigley Field. It was evacuated without incident.

The Cubs are riding high with a young team. Management is now playing this season as a championship one. Joe Maddon has benched starter and former All Star shortstop Starlin Castro in favor of Addison Russell. However, the move from Russell at second leaves an inexperienced and terrible defender in Chris Coghlan manning that position. In Sunday's game, Coghlan in back to back innings had miscues at second: first, the inability to make a good turn on a double play and second, not covering the bag on a steal attempt.

With the Cubs pitching still suspect, a stellar defense is an important component to winning. Maddon has realized this by taking out Jorge Soler in the late innings with a defensive replacement.

The Cubs continue to run with a short bench by carrying 13 pitchers on the roster. This cuts down on the manager's in-game flexibility. But the bullpen is still a major issue and the more arms the better. When your closer loads the bases with no outs, then has to pitch his way out of the jam with nearly 40 throws, you need more than one closer on the roster.

There are still major flaws in this team. There is always the lingering notion that sometime soon there will be a "Cubby occurrence" that will derail the season. Dan Haren is not the solution for the 5th starter role. The young hitters (Russell, Bryant, Soler) still have trouble adjusting to pitchers and the strike zone.

But at least this year, games in August and September will matter.

August 7, 2015

PLAYING STUPID IS WRONG

The Cubs like the idea of "playing stupid."

What a negative connotation. The translation of playing stupid is lacking intelligence or common sense.


Jon Lester’s “Play Stupid” campaign made sense to Joe Maddon.

“I kind of like he said that we played stupid, because I think that’s actually complimentary,” Maddon said. “But it really comes down to a na├»vete. You’re just out there like full throttle. You’re not overanalyzing anything. You’re just in the moment. You’re playing hard and you believe you can do it.”

 “There’s the point where you really like to have a lot of experience to rely upon in those difficult moment," Maddon said about his time with the young Rays teams. "And there are other times – you can think about your own life experience – where you didn’t know well enough to just walk into a difficult moment and just nail it because you didn’t overthink it.” 

It is better to play "smart."

Like taking the right angles to chase down balls hit into the outfield gaps.
Like hitting the cut-off man on throws to the infield.
Like not running into easy outs on the base paths when a ball put in play in the infield.
Like not taking the extra base because you had a bad jump or bad read of the play in front of you.
Like not adjusting during a game to the umpire's strike zone.
Like not getting yourself in the proper position to field ground balls.
Like not stabilizing your body to make routine throws across the diamond.
Like knowing the game situation with runners in scoring position to increase the chances to score a run.
Like not swinging for the fences with an 0-2 count.
Like not sliding head first into second base.

Baseball IQ means that a player has a natural sense of the flow of the game so as to have the ability to react to any situation without thinking about it. You are part of the game. Playing stupid is where your mind is wandering and not concentrating (or more importantly anticipating) the next pitch or play. As such you have to think first then react to a ball sharply hit at you - - - causing a disruption in the natural flow of the game inside the player's head. 

A player can have great natural talent but without baseball intelligence he can be just a replacement player at best.



August 5, 2015

SALE AFTER STORE CLOSED

Chris Sale gave up another seven earned runs in back to back starts.

The White Sox have slipped back to the first two months of the season. Having one's ace with a 7.61 ERA since the break is not good. And after the horrible pitching by the Red Sox, the Sox hitters have cooled like a mini-Ice Age.

For all practical purposes, the White Sox are not going to catch the newly retooled Blue Jays in the wild card standings. In fact, the Jays may have their sights now on winning the East.

The big win streak before the All-Star break was a mirage. The good play by everyone on the roster was an illusion that kept the Sox team together. Players don't like to be in trade rumors. They don't want to uproot and move their families mid-season. They are creatures of habit so they want to stay with their current teams. Pessimists may say that the players played well before the trade deadline so as to convince the front office that it really was an underachieving squad who had turned around the season.

But the evidence is contrary. The White Sox continue to be a frustrating morass to their fans. When the Yankees came to town, they were pistol whipped by a better team. In a battle of aces, former Cub Chris Archer dominated Sale's teammates.

The White Sox are currently 50-55, 5 games under .500. They are 4.5 games behind the second wild card slot, but find themselves behind Detroit, Texas, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore. It is improbable that the Sox can leap frog five teams to make the playoffs.  This season is basically over except for the formalities of playing the remainder of the schedule.

As such, this may be the most disappointing Sox season in recent memory. The off-season moves should have produced a better club. But this goes to show that team projections on paper do not necessarily equate to actual records on the field.

August 3, 2015

MADDONING GAME

It was one of those unnerving games.

The whole purpose of video replay was to avoid arguments between managers and umpires.
On a stretch play at first base, the runner was called safe because Anthony Rizzo did not keep his
foot on the base. Fair enough, but Joe Maddon challenged the play. It was upheld. Maddon went out to argue, and immediately got tossed by the umpire. Maddon had the right to challenge the play, but he was very dumb in arguing after the replay when the call was upheld.

The next dumb play occurred on the base paths. The Cubs, like most major league teams, have troubles running the bases. It is incredible that teams don't teach base running fundamentals anymore. Or that players don't care how to run to and slide into each base.

Kris Bryant hit a single to center which was going to score a runner at home. The throw was cut off as Bryant was trying to stretch his single to second on the throw. The cut-off throw to second was close but Bryant slide in head-first into second to beat the tag. In the process Bryant's body slide into the second baseman who applied a hard tag to his head and neck.

As a result, Bryant complained that he was "woozy" to the point of being taken out of the game.

Sports teams are well aware of concussions. There are new treatment protocols to protect athletes from brain injuries.

There was no reason for Bryant to slide head first into second base. Studies have shown that a head first slide into the bag is slower than a regular slide. Also, it is more dangerous to slide head first into the play.

The Cubs still won the game without Maddon on the bench or Bryant playing the rest of the game. But neither of those events should have happened in the game.

Also as a footnote, people were puzzled when James Russell batted in the pitcher's spot late in Sunday's game. Well, it is because the Cubs are carrying no bench players. With Bryant taken out for injury, only Ross and Denorfia were left on the bench. The Cubs are carrying 14 pitchers at the moment, which means only three position reserves. That is also maddening.

August 1, 2015

LESTER'S STRIKE OUTS

When Jon Lester struck out 14 hitters in his last start, he became only the 23rd left handed pitcher in baseball history to accomplish that feat.

This chart was tweeted after Lester's game. 

The most amazing thing about this chart is that Randy Johnson had an incredible 47 games with 14 plus strikeouts. Spending most of his career in the Western time zone hurt Johnson from being a super cult hero since most of the nation never saw him pitch. But he was dominate in his era. Consider what the last generation called their "greatest lefty pitcher,"  Sandy Koufax, only had 13 14 plus strikeout games.

This chart does give some evidence to scouts and general managers who still believe that strike out pitchers make the best starters. The most strikeout pitchers are power arms with high heat fastballs. The stats of these top 22 lefties appears to bear out that proposition. Pitchers who can strike out a lot of batters per game can have great success. It is logical because a strike out does not put any pressure on one's defense (errors, mental mistakes, failing to turn a double play, mispositioned in the field, etc.)