March 30, 2016


CSNChicago has posted the Cubs Opening Day roster.

Miguel Montero
David Ross
Kyle Schwarber
Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Ben Zobrist
Tommy La Stella
Jason Heyward
Dexter Fowler
Jorge Soler
Matt Szczur
Starting pitchers
Jake Arrieta
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Jason Hammel
Kyle Hendricks
Relief pitchers
Hector Rondon
Pedro Strop
Justin Grimm
Travis Wood
Trevor Cahill
Adam Warren
Clayton Richard
Neil Ramirez

Javy Baez will start the season on the DL (thumb) and will probably be assigned to extended spring training.

The one surprise is Szczur making the squad as the 4th OF.

March 29, 2016


It is becoming apparent that pitching efficiency is being driven by The Shift, the data driven positioning of the infielders to overplay one side of the field over the other. The Shift comes from the sabermetric analysis of batter tendencies against right and left handed pitchers, individual pitchers and game situations.

It is becoming so common that a third baseman is playing behind second base that announcers have stopped pointing out the alignment in the play-by-play.

What is head scratching is that hitters are aware of the shifts against them but they don't do anything to counter it. They continue to hack away and sharply ground the ball directly into the mitts of the shift.

Very rarely does a batter lay down a bunt to the vacated third base line. As we have discussed before, bunting is not in favor anymore with managers or players. It has become taboo or archaic.  But it is the only way to keep the defense honest and at home in their positions.

Just as I would bunt every time Jon Lester was on the mound until he could prove to me that he can throw to a base, I would instruct my hitters to bunt away from the extreme shifts. It is a single whether you bounce one off the right field wall or dribble one down the third base line. The purpose of batting is to put pressure on your opponent's defense. Hitting the ball directly at the fielders is making defensive play easy.

I'd like to a see a manager try to buck this trend. Reward players for bunting or slapping the ball to the vacant field.

March 25, 2016


The Sun-Times believes the 2016 Cubs roster is already set in stone:

Starting pitchers: RHP Jake Arrieta, LHP Jon Lester, RHP John Lackey, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Kyle Hendricks.

Bullpen: RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Justin Grimm, RHP Adam Warren, RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Travis Wood, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Neil Ramirez.

Catchers: Miguel Montero, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber (also LF).

Infielders: 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Kris Bryant, SS Addison Russell, 2B/3B Tommy La Stella, IF/OF Javy Baez.

Outfielders: RF Jason Heyward, CF Dexter Fowler, LF/RF Jorge Soler.

The Cubs carrying 13 pitchers seems to be the plan, but half of the bullpen will be stretched out/spot starters with SP#6 being Warren, followed by Cahill, Richard and Wood. It really puts more pressure on Grimm and Ramirez to man the 6th and 7th innings.

Joe Maddon likes La Stella, really mostly for his PH abilities, but I have not been impressed by him. On a short bench, La Stella does not have the end game power or the most versatility in an emergency. 

Arismendy Alcantara hit 10 HRs in 70 games in 2014 as the Cubs utility infielder/outfielder. He has a bettering fielding percentage at third (almost 100 points better) than La Stella. Alcantara has played CF so he could be the natural back up to Fowler. 

It really depends on how much Baez will play as the super sub. The first weeks of the season should be hard to get regular starts for Baez because Maddon will not want to rest Bryant or Russell. It has been several seasons since Zobrist has played a full time position, so that is where Baez has the best chance of playing on a regular basis. In close games, it will be a judgment call to see if Baez would be a defensive replacement for either Zobrist or Bryant.

What is interesting about this roster is that the Cubs front office was active in the off-season. They were not complacent with their 97 victories in 2015. That is usually how teams regress quickly: sitting back on their heels thinking the past will repeat itself.

But looking at the final roster, there are2 new pitchers and 3 new fielders or a 20% roster turnover. It is only a 15% roster turnover on the pitching side of the equation. Whether that is enough new blood to keep moving forward should be seen early on in the season. 

Maddon preaches about line up "protection."  By batting Heyward in the comfortable #2 hole (and keeping him in his natural spot RF), he protects Fowler as well as helps set the table for Bryant and Rizzo down the line.  On paper, the Cubs have a solid one through five, top-of-the-order. 

March 17, 2016


This has to be the strangest reason for a retirement in baseball history.

White Sox DH Adam LaRoche unexpectedly retired from baseball earlier this week, citing a "personal" family matter. No reporters knew what had happened to cause the retirement. They heard that players, including Todd Frazier, spoke to LaRoche for about an hour trying to convince him to change his mind.

No one passed judgment on LaRoche's decision. Most assumed there was a family matter that needed his attention; putting family first.

More details have started to come forward.

MLB Trade Rumors reported that some of the impetus behind LaRoche's decision to retire appears to be the White Sox’ request that he bring his son into the clubhouse less frequently, Dejan Kovacevic of reported.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted that LaRoche retired because his son wouldn’t be allowed in the clubhouse at all, but club president Kenny Williams  clarified to Rosenthal that he only requested LaRoche reduce the frequency of the practice.

Meanwhile, Williams also spoke to’s Scott Merkin, leaving Merkin with the impression that LaRoche has signed his retirement papers but that they’ve yet to be filed with the league. MLBTR previously reported that the veteran first baseman/DH was going to wait at least a few days before formalizing the decision.

In his comments to Merkin, Williams made clear that the request was “not even close to being personal,” noting that he respects LaRoche as a man and as a father. The executive also emphasized in his statement to Rosenthal that his request was not due to any direct concerns about LaRoche’s son. He explained that “there has been no policy change with regards to allowance of kids in the clubhouse, on the field, the back fields during spring training.”

Instead, per Williams, he told LaRoche: “Listen, our focus, our interest, our desire this year is to make sure we give ourselves every opportunity to focus on a daily basis on getting better. All I’m asking you to do with regard to bringing your kid to the ballpark is dial it back.” Williams went on to tell Rosenthal: “We all think his kid is a great young man. I just felt it should not be every day, that’s all. You tell me, where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?”

LaRoche is walking away from $13 million contract. That seems to be a high cost for an alleged disagreement over team clubhouse rules involving children. Every employer has a right to maintain reasonable rules and procedures in the work place. A baseball team is in the business of playing baseball. Part of the preparation of playing professional ball is training. Spring training is a necessary step to get players back into playing shape, mentally and physically, and to determine who will be on the major league roster. 

So long as the White Sox evenly enforce their clubhouse rules, LaRoche does not have a grievance. Having non-baseball personnel, including children, sponsors, broadcasters or team executives and owners milling about the clubhouse, can be a real distraction. 

The only open question is why LaRoche felt that he wanted to have his child at the ball park every day during spring training.

Some may speculate that LaRoche, who has had nagging injuries including back spasms, may have used this issue as a reason to retire instead of trying to struggle through another poor season at DH, a position he does not like to play. 

UPDATE: It appears LaRoche has his teenage son around him almost 100 percent of the time in at least the past three full seasons. LaRoche said in a Washington Post interview in 2011 that he likes to have his son and "best friend" around him all the time. LaRoche's son was always around the Nationals locker room and traveled on the road. When LaRoche came to the White Sox in 2015, this arrangement continued on, even though it was not specified in his player contract. His agent says that there was a "verbal" agreement with Ventura or GM Rich Hahn but that has not been confirmed by the team. But Drake LaRoche was around the White Sox all of last season.

Williams, as President, is not part of the day to day operations of the team. He rarely travels with the team. He is not in the locker room every day. He said he was not aware of the situation. He had a "passionate" meeting with players this week who used a tirade of f-bombs directed toward Williams and management for LaRoche's retirement. Chris Sale was vocal about having the kid around. He told Williams to get out of the locker and don't come back.

Now, players often police their own locker room and player conduct. But there are limits. Managers are supposed to set policies and arbitrate disputes in order to have professional and focused environment. 

Several White Sox players threatened to boycott an exhibition game (with paid fans in the stands). They relented after Ventura asked them to do it for him. But this begs a bigger issue: does Ventura have any real control over his team? He may be a player's manager, but there has to be some form of discipline and responsibility on the players.

If the White Sox players did boycott a game in protest, in a normal work place they would have been terminated from their jobs. But professional sports is different. Management could have been well within in its rights to say to players who refused to play "OK, we are trading you to the hell hole that is the Marlins organization." 

The one thing that the players gloss over in this situation is the fact that LaRoche "quit" the team and his teammates over a non-baseball issue. If LaRouche thinks spending time with his son is more important than a $13 million contract or a championship season playing ball, then that is his personal decision. But the White Sox have a right to make reasonable work place rules and not having your teenager in the clubhouse 100 percent of the time seems reasonable. 

Beat reporters have commented that professional sport locker rooms are no place for teenagers. There is a lot of stuff that goes on that is not "family friendly."  

A few people have asked the question why was not LaRoche's son in school? LaRoche has said that he is "not big on education."  He has an "arrangement" with his rural Kansas school district to allow his son to be with him during spring training and the season. He does homework "when they have time." He goes to a private tutor in the off-season. He takes standardized tests. But many have said that is a highly unusual set up because child performers are required by law to have several hours of classroom time on the set each day.  Also, what is the point? If the child wants to be a professional ball player, he should be in school playing on an actual youth team than hanging around with major leaguers.   

This story seems to have fractured the players from management. Whether that makes the team play better as a united front is problematic.  

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has attempted to end the controversy by concluding his "investigation," tellign the world it was only a miscommunication, that he backs his management team, but tells his employees (which would apparently include the players) to speak no more about it.

Reinsdorf's statement:

“I have taken the past few days to personally meet with everyone involved, including Adam LaRoche, members of our front office, uniformed staff and some of our active players. I continue to have nothing but the greatest regard for Adam — in fact, my respect for him has grown during this process — and I applaud his desire to spend more time with his family.

I continue to have complete faith in the skills and abilities of the leadership group of our baseball operations department in Ken Williams, Rick Hahn and Robin Ventura. I also appreciate the passion and commitment to one another shown by our players, Robin, our coaching staff and our front office. As with many things in life, much of this was a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than this being a case of anyone not telling the truth.  I do not believe there is anyone to directly blame in this situation. While there is no doubt this might have been handled differently, the fact remains that this is an internal matter that we have discussed and now resolved.

Per my request, White Sox employees will no longer discuss this matter publicly. I felt it was appropriate to release this statement to close the issue for everyone in the organization — from the front office to the players in the clubhouse — so we can focus on Opening Day and winning baseball games for our fans. I am fully confident this matter will soon be behind us and that we will grow even stronger and more united as a team and as an organization.”

 Here is the problem with Reinsdorf's investigation and statement: it gives no facts to settle the controversy. What were the alleged "miscommunications?" And why does he side with management (other than being the general partner for ownership)? Was there any "agreement" with LaRoche to have his son with the team on a full time basis? If there was, why was it not honored? Was there a change in circumstances? 

All this leaves is an impression that the White Sox management was "more" right than LaRoche having been "wronged." It does not settle the bitter feelings among certain Sox players, including Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. 

The only thing that can sweep this story under the rug is LaRoche's replacement this season batting more than .207 and hitting more than 12 HRs.

March 15, 2016


There is a sense of baseball reaching a new golden age with the rise of many exciting new players and teams like the Cubs with championship expectations.

But this new age may have a real problem. The golden goose may get strangled in the players union and owners contract negotiations.

The MLB players union is going to take a hard line tact in the new CBA negotiations.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires 12-1-2016.

The players and agents are ticked off by the current CBA "service time" requirements
for free agency. The Cubs sat Bryant in the minors for 12 days which gave them an
extra year of control. The union wants to drastically change those rules, retroactively.

This CBA is going to get hot under the collar because the owners are starting to realize
that the Dodger billion dollar cable deals are not going to happen in the future.
The owners will press for economic concessions from the players to off-set cable TV
viewer and contract declines.

This could get drawn out and nasty.

The owners have established a series of spending caps for June draft and international signings. This was done to level the playing field for small market teams. The idea that a competitive balance through restricted spending will create a better baseball product throughout the league.

Draftees still get their million dollar bonus money for being first round selections, and teams have found ways to pay second and third rounders more money than slot values. So this part of the agreement may not get tweaked at all. It is the control aspect of the player development years that is at issue. A team can control a high schooler for 6 years and college players for 5 years. If they get to the major league roster, their base salary is $507,000. Not bad for a 20-something young man, but since many of them start their careers with break out seasons, their agents believe that teams are getting bargain basement value from non-arbitration eligible players.

More teams are filling roster spots with young, controllable players because they are cost effective with more upside than veteran free agents. And fans like to gravitate toward home grown rookie talent.

The union could demand that service time concept be eliminated all together. Teams would have a set amount of years to develop and promote a player to the major league roster or the player automatically becomes a free agent. Since most teams have a minor league system of a) rookie ball, b) low Class A, c) high Class A, d) Class AA, and Class AAA, the union could say that 5 years is the maximum amount of control time for any player. Ownership could counter saying that the 5 years would not give the team any return on development investment in a player even if they are promoted each step every year. A team would like 5 years of major league control of a player. But the union would not agree to 10 years of team exclusivity. 

Opt-outs are becoming popular with player and player agents. Perhaps the minor league player could "opt-out" of team control if he is not being promoted or developed by a team, or he is blocked at the major league service after a certain amount of years. The union wants to get its members to the majors as fast as possible in order to earn major league pay (and pay dues). Owners and general managers do not want to "rush" players to the majors. And some veterans may not like the idea of forced promotion of minor league talent because that could affect their standing on a roster or in the free agent market.

The new CBA will be a show down between two factions at the economic cross road of the game.

March 11, 2016


Jon Lester's spring debut was a disaster. He got roughed up on the mound, and could not field his position better than a tee-ball kid.

In speaking to friends, if I was Lester's opponent, I would constantly bunt on him until he could prove that he can throw the ball to an infield base. A bunt and throwing error equals a double. Two doubles equal a run.

But current baseball batters abhor bunting. They are driven by individual stats that lead to objective evidence for contract negotiations. Winding up on second because of a Lester miscue error does not add points to the batting average even though it helps your team's scoring chances.

So Lester's fielding is in mid-season form which means it is really bad. On one off day, he should be sent to a vacant field and made to make hundred throws to each base. Fielding drills until he gets so tired of it he stops thinking about errant throws.

The other bad news from yesterday's game was that Kyle Schwarber left the game with a knee tweak. He says it is minor and he will play in a couple of days. He hurt himself in LF while trying to make a throw.

This is the problem with playing someone out of position. Schwarber is a stocky guy, a "catcher's body," who is trying to play a mobile left field. His body is not used to the twists and turns of playing this new position. Schwarber's mindset is that he will try harder than his skill set to make plays. And that will lead to blunders and potential injuries.

Schwarber has not given up on his goal to be a catcher. Spring training should focus more on his catching skill improvement than trying to play LF. He is more valuable as a catcher than a LF.

March 7, 2016


The White Sox signed Austin Jackson to a one year, $5 million contract. GM Rich Hahn stated that Jackson will be the new Sox starting center fielder.

Jackson, 29, has not been a full time starter in several seasons. Last year he hit .267, 9 HR, 48 RBI with a 1.6 WAR. His defensive WAR was 0.1. His R/fielding was +1, slightly above average.

Adam Eaton, 27, hit .87, 14 HR, 56 RBI with a 3.9 WAR. But his defensive WAR was negative 1.1. His R/fielding was a dreadful -14. Stats guys continually say that Eaton was the worst defensively center fielder in the majors. Part of the problem is Eaton's lack of arm strength, range and bad instincts in getting jumps on balls. Some speculate that Eaton will move to a corner OF spot, but those positions need a better arm. At best, he may platoon with Avi Garcia in RF if Garcia cannot turn around his offense.

For the White Sox, it was a cheap acquisition to shore up a defensive liability. It gives manager Robin Ventura more flexibility in creating lefty-righty line up cards.

March 4, 2016


Championship caliber teams pitch well and play above average to great defense. Most pitchers will tell you a solid defense behind them clips off a half a run off their ERA.

The modern game has de-emphasized defense because it is hard to statistically quantify defense metrics. Instead, the trend is to mirror the video game world of big bats and big power pitchers. And playing players in multiple positions so a manager has line-up flexibility (and a shorter bench since the bullpens have been growing in number and prominence.)

Javy Baez made his spring debut in center field. It was an odd choice considering the Cubs just signed Dexter Fowler to be the regular CF with Justin Heyward as the back-up from his RF position.

ESPNChicago noted Baez's CF debut was less than stellar:

Baez was tested immediately in center field where he's trying to learn a new position. The first three Milwaukee hitters hit the ball to him starting with Jonathan Villar's triple off the wall. Baez got turned around several times and should have played it off the wall to keep Villar to a double. Then he threw offline on a sacrifice fly before taking a bad route on the next fly ball which popped in and out of his glove.

"I haven't missed one ball all spring training," Baez said afterwards. "Good thing it happens now and not later."

Baez statement is true in one extent: it is better to get the butterflies and fielding issues worked on during spring training. But putting even an athletic player into CF cold is very difficult. Jimmy Piersall said that playing CF is the hardest outfield position because you cannot see the angle of the ball immediately off the bat. In the corner outfields, you can quickly gauge the depth and angle of the hit ball. But in center, your perception is straight on. That is why good fielder will know what the pitcher is going to throw and shade himself toward the potential contact field. In addition to tracking the balls, a center fielder has to cover more ground. Speed and arm accuracy are critical tools for a center fielder who needs to anticipate the hitter and runners and where to hit the cut-off man.

Baez has no game experience playing CF. It will be a baptism by trial and error. But it may be a case of diminishing returns. He is slated to be the super-sub infielder for Joe Maddon since he can already play SS, 2B and 3B. But since the Cubs are probably only going to carry 4 outfielders and have a short bench, Maddon would like Baez to be that 5th OF.

If Maddon rests his infielders on a weekly basis, Baez could play 3 times a week or approximately 72 games this season. He would probably get around 300 ABs as an infield starter. He could be a defensive replacement or double switch candidate off the bench. He could also be a pinch hitter. So he will probably get at least 400 AB during the season as a utility player without having to play the outfield.

It comes down to this: Matt Szczur is out of options. He can play plus defense in the outfield. He is a better OF defender than Baez. But with four "starters" already penciled in the outfield, Szczur won't play very much. And Baez can be the right handed pinch hitter off the bench. So defense will be sacrificed if Baez takes Szczur's 5th outfielder spot on the depth chart.

March 2, 2016


There is little tea leaves to read with Joe Maddon's spring training opening day lineup:

1. Kyle Schwarber - LF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Jorge Soler - RF
5. Miguel Montero - C
6. Javy Baez - CF
7. Tommy La Stella - 2B
8. Dan Vogelbach - DH
9. Munenori Kawasaki - SS
Travis Wood - P

This will not be the regular opening day batting order. Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo and Soler at the top is only a means of getting them extra "live" at-bats.

Travis Wood as starting pitcher is little more than long relief stint this early in the camp schedule. He will not throw more than 2 IP (depending on pitch count). Maddon had already disclosed that his three main starters, Arrieta, Lester and Lackey, would skip the first week of games to conserve their arms for the regular season. Some old school pitching coaches would say "you should not train to avoid an injury. You should train harder to avoid injuries."

Arrieta is a work-out machine so his preparation is not to be disputed. However, he threw a large increase in innings pitched last season (and struggled at the end) so for those who believe there is a finite number of throws in a human arm would like what Maddon is doing with his starters.

Maddon should not be set with either Hammel or Hendrick as the 4th and 5th starter. Wood is getting a look to be the 5th starter. Warren will also get a long look, even though the front office really likes how the Yankees used him both as an effective starter and reliever last season. Cahill and Richard will also be probably stretched out for a shot at a starting role.

Spring training is a show case for players. First, for their existing team to make the opening day roster. Second, for other clubs who may scout them and look for a trade. It would seem that LaStella and Vogelbach are going to get big show cases early in camp.

March 1, 2016


Major League Baseball has announced a new rule to clean up the "take out" slide at second base.

Under new Rule 6.01(j), which has been added to the existing Rule 6.01 on "Interference, Obstruction, and Catcher Collisions," slides on potential double plays will require runners to make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base. Runners may still initiate contact with the fielder as a consequence of an otherwise permissible slide. A runner will be specifically prohibited from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a "roll block" for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder. Potential violations of Rule 6.01(j) will be reviewable using instant replay. Also reviewable will be "neighborhood play" calls, which previously were exempted from replay review. Rule 6.01(j) reads as follows:

Rule 6.01(j) - Sliding To Bases On Double Play Attempts

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A "bona fide slide" for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:
  1. begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
  2. is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
  3. is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
  4. slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
A runner who engages in a "bona fide slide" shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner's contact with the fielder was caused by the fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner's legal pathway to the base.

Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a "bona fide slide" if a runner engages in a "roll block," or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder's knee or throwing his arm or his upper body.

If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.