May 31, 2016


But for the grace of the baseball gods, go thee Cub fans when one looks at the White Sox tailspin.

The jump the season moment was probably when manager Robin Ventura had his best consistent hitter, Melky Cabrera, bunt with two runners on in a scoreless game. Moving the runners up one base for Todd Frazier would be fine but Frazier, like the rest of the Sox, have been struggling at the plate. In the post game, Frazier took the bullet saying it was up to him to drive in the runners.

It is Ventura that continues to have a large target on his back.  He got a great vote of confidence from his players after the Adam LaRouche nonsense. But the team has underperformed badly in the last two seasons.

The White Sox got off to a great start with excellent starting pitching. But in the span of a week, the White Sox went from first in the AL Central to third. Jose Quintana pitched extremely well but the Mets sent the White Sox to their seventh straight loss with a 1-0 defeat.  Quintana lost for the fifth time in 10 decisions despite limiting New York to a run and six hits in seven innings. Quintana has a 2.13 ERA but is a .500 pitcher. Previously, the White Sox season was crushed when the Royals came back from a 7-1 deficit in the 9th inning humble the South Siders. The White Sox have lost 15 of 19 and are now only sit two games above .500.And the "bad" losses continue to pile up.

The offense has been the key to the slide. It has been feast or famine at the plate. The Sox seem to only look for the long ball to score runs. They don't seem to have the plate discipline to take walks or drive the ball to the opposite field to sustain long innings. In 52 games, the Sox have scored 4 runs/game and pitching has given up 3.69 runs/game. The best batting average is .284 by Adam Eaton.

As some commentators mentioned, the team needs a "spark" to stop this losing streak. But this is a veteran ball club that should be able to make their own sparks. Management continues to be in "win now" mode (with rumors that the team is interested in trading for Padres expensive starter James Shields) but does the roster really have the talent to win now? Or are the Sox "wasting" the prime years of Chris Sale?

The Sox really don't need pitching help. It needs one or two bats in the middle of line up. Tim Anderson, the #1 prospect, has not lit up AAA this year. He is the shortstop of the future. But the window of winning is now. The team could use a left handed power hitter to play a corner outfield spot. But most teams are not thinking trade at the end of May.

Some preseason writers think this is the true Sox team: a .500 scuffling club. But the rare quick start had raised expectations for Sox fans. The next two weeks will be critical for the Sox long term success.

May 27, 2016


The Cubs made a minor league roster move which put its 40 man roster at 37.

Normally, a team keeps 40 men on their protected roster during a season. It is from the 40 man pool that a 25 man major league roster (26 on double header days).

Granted, the Cubs have players on the 60 day DL (Schwarber, Nathan) who do not count against the 40 man, but they should not be in the plans for 2016 anyway.

There are several reasons why a team would pare back their 40 man roster during the season.

1. They need to make space for promotion of prospects to the major league team. You have to be on the 40 man roster in order to be called up to the major league team. The most ready AAA players appear to be catcher Contreras and outfielder Almora, but the front office has told reporters that the team plays to keep them down on the farm for the entire AAA season.

2. They need to make space in order to slot in players from other organizations, such as waiver selections or via trades. It is still very early to make a major league level trade, but the waiver wire is active throughout the season. The Cubs have had a remarkable starting rotation, but no depth in starters in the minors. They may be looking out for a waiver arm.

3. The team wants to save some money. Every player on the 40 man roster is entitled to a major league contract and a minimum salary.

Here is a good breakdown of minor league pay from the Sports Law Blog:
  • Until a minor league player is placed on a 40-man roster, monthly salaries are $1150 for the short season teams, $1300 for low A and $1500 for high A. For players repeating a year at the same level, the salary goes up $50 each year. For AA, the monthly salary is $1700 and it goes up $100 per month for subsequent years. For AAA, the monthly salary is $2150 per month and it goes up to $2400 the second year and $2700 the third year.
  • If a player becomes a minor league free agent, higher salaries can be negotiated.
  • A player must be placed on the team’s 40-man roster or be subject to the Rule 5 Draft at the end of his fourth season (if signed at age 19 or higher) or fifth season (if signed at age 18 or lower).
  • Salary for first year on 40-man roster:
    2013: $39,900
    2014: $40,750
    2015: $41,400
  • Salary for second year on 40-man roster or if one or more days of Major League service time:
    2013: $79,900
    2014: $81,750
    2015: $82,700
  • Meal money is $25 per road day.
  • Minor league salary must be at least 60% of the player’s combined minor league and Major League salary in the preceding season.
 Having three open 40 man spots could, in theory, save a club around $90,000 for the remainder of the season.

It is most likely that the Cubs are moving pieces around looking for an opportunity to sign veteran players to supplement the team in case of injury.

May 23, 2016


The Cubs offense has become dormant.

I could not watch yesterday's Rizzo's at-bats. He was swinging at pitches while on his knees.
His form is his rookie season Padre bad. He needs to take a day off to clear his head, but the Cubs roster does not have a real back up plan (Baez is not the answer).

When Szczur came off the DL (and Heyward did not go on the DL), the Cubs made the move of designating for assignment relief pitcher Ramirez. This move kept three catchers on the roster. That signals that Montero is not fully healthy (since Ross caught two games in a row). Keeping a marginal emergency third catcher with no offense/OBP is not helping scoring runs.

The call-up needed is Iowa 1B Dan Vogelbach.

He has hit some monster home runs in his sixth minor league season. In 39 games, he has hit .319, 7 HR and 31 RBI. He only has played first base which limits what he can go on the major league roster.

But Kyle Schwarber's surprise promotion did spark the 2015 Cubs. The current Cubs need some sort of instant offense capability since the line up is currently in a collective funk.

The only other option would be catcher Wilson Contreras, but the front office is adamant about not starting service time on him. Contreras, 24, is in his 8th minor league season. He is currently hitting .328, 3 HR, 20 RBI in 37 games. He has played catcher, first base, third base and left field. He would fit the Maddon versatility mold.

Theo Epstein predicted last week the Cubs were going to have a slow, sluggish period. Well, the Cubs are in that rut. The Cubs need to find some offense quickly of the hot start and comfortable lead in the NL Central can evaporate.

May 21, 2016


The talk shows are buzzing about this season's the golden age of golden arms. No one can decide who is the "best" pitcher in baseball.

The nominees each have put up some long term staggering numbers.

Chris Sale, 27,  has been perfect this season. He is 9-0, 1.58 ERA, 3 complete games, 0.717 WHIP and 3.1 WAR. Being "9-0 in Nine Starts/ERA Under 2.00 Club"puts him ahead of Pedro Martinez in 1997 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, when they went 8-0 in their first eight starts. Sale's start win total is the best in franchise history since 1919.

Clayton Kershaw, 28, is currently 6-1, 1.67 ERA, 2 shout outs, 0.700 WHIP and 2.8 WAR.  Kershaw has faced 253 hitters this year -- and walked four of them. That is an unheard-of 88-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Kershaw has six straight double-figure strikeout games that have included a TOTAL of two walks. The man who bears the weight of his franchise every time he goes out there, averages more outs per start (23) than any pitcher in the sport and owns the late innings like no other starter alive. He has now faced 54 hitters from the seventh inning on. Seven have somehow reached base. Not a one has scored.

Jake Arrieta, 30, is 7-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.839 WHIP and 2.4 WAR. His team has won his last 21 regular game starts, the most in the history of baseball. He has pitched two no hitters in less than a year. In between no hitters, Arrieta was 15-0 with a 0.65 ERA. If you look back 24 starts, his record gets better at  20-1. 0.86 ERA with 91 hits allowed over 178 innings, 173 strikeouts, 33 walks and 0.697 WHIP.

There is one thing in common with all three of these outstanding pitchers. Each has a funky delivery. Sale buggy whips his entire lean frame into every pitch. Kershaw has a jerky arm motion. Arrieta teeters then throws across his body. And the unorthodox deliveries may be the key to their collective success.

Hitters need to locate each pitch as quick as possible. Fractions of seconds count when a baseball is spinning 90 mph at you. Hitters need to find a pitcher's release point, then the rotation on the seems to instantaneously determine if it is a fastball, or a curve. Any delay in recognition means the pitcher has a greater advantage over the hitter.

Another factor is that these pitchers have learned not be "throwers" trying to blow away hitters for strike outs. They are "pitchers" who have mastered their craft to conserve energy, locate pitches, pitch to contact and find hitter weaknesses.

We are less than a third through the 2016 season and the press is in awe with the quality of starting pitching with more stories about the Cy Young races.

May 19, 2016


The Cubs played a five hour nail biter in Milwaukee last night/this morning. The Cubs won, 2-1, in 13 innings in a game where Maddon used everyone except the four remaining starting pitchers.

Travis Wood pitched himself out of a bases loaded, no out jam during which Joe Maddon played musical chairs with his position players. Kris Bryant played LF, 3B, 1B and LF all in one half inning. Maddon played five infielders at one time. And the scary thought of Javy Baez playing first base was bad enough until he crossed back behind the mound to exchange gloves with Bryant like it was a summer sandlot pick-up game.

Wood became the eventual hero at the bat when he coaxed a bases loaded walk in the 13th. CSNChicago reported that when Wood inheriting two runners in the 12th inning, Maddon told Wood  "Understand one thing: If you get out of this, you get an at-bat. That kind of jacked him up a bit. That’s just how he operates, man.” To escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam.  Maddon went with a five-infielder alignment as Wood induced a shallow fly ball to center fielder Dexter Fowler and a pop-up to shortstop Addison Russell. After retiring Hernan Perez and Aaron Hill, Wood earned his at-bat by forcing another pop-out, this time from pinch-hitter Martin Maldonado. Wood then bailed out the offense again by drawing a five-pitch walk against Carlos Torres – Milwaukee’s sixth pitcher – with two outs and the bases loaded in the 13th inning.

The game was saved earlier by excellent defense by catcher David Ross. Ross threw out four runners on the base paths. Two came via attempted steals of second base, and two were actually picked off second. Ross ran from behind the plate all the way out to the baseline between second and third on one of the pick-off plays.

Maddon pulled Anthony Rizzo for a pinch runner (Baez) late in the game when the Cubs were down a run. It was a curious move because in a tight game with the prospect of extra innings, Rizzo is the type of walk-off hitter you want in those situations. Since the Cubs won, and Baez scoring the tying run, made Maddon's move acceptable.

A concern was raised prior to the game that the Cubs seem to be lulled into losses by playing down to the level of their competition. Most of the Cubs losses have come from sub .500 teams. The Brewers are not a very good team. Last night they played without their best hitter, Ryan Braun. Still, the Cubs were baffled again by another young starting pitcher.

The victory did stop the club's second two-game losing streak of the year. But this was another nail-biting, long game where all hands were on deck. The Cubs need a long outing today from Jason Hammel and better offense down the line up.

May 14, 2016


Dan Plesac called Chris Sale the "most improved pitcher" in 2016.

Plesac, a lefty pitcher with 18 years of major league experience, was on point as he watched Sale mow down the Yankees Friday night in a 7-1 White Sox victory.

"He is on cruise control," Plesac said several times during the broadcast with Hawk Harrelson. "He is no longer a thrower, but a pitcher," Plesac said.

Plesac is one of the best analysts in the game. His opinion was correct as Sale cruised through a 99 pitch complete game against the Yankees.

He gave up a second inning home run, then got the next 15 batters out in the row.

Sale became just the third pitcher in modern history to win his first eight (8) decisions in a season.

In his 6 hit complete game, Sale threw 71 of 99 pitches for strikes. He continued to move pitches to both sides of the plate, taking velocity off his fast ball, then using a "slurve," a pitch that both drops down and side to side, to get batters out. He used a half dozen 96-97 mph fastballs as "out" pitches against batters who had seen balls from 88 to 93 all night long.

Sale was a power pitcher. He tried to strike everyone out. But this season, he has learned to pitch to contact, conserve energy, and got the distance in complete game efficiency.

It helps that the White Sox revamped its defense into a quality unit with the additions of Todd Frazier at third, Jimmy Rollins at short, Brett Lawrie at second, Austin Jackson in center and moving Adam Eaton to right. Sale admits that the pressure is off him with the defense behind him and the fact that the current line up can produce crooked numbers.

During the broadcast, as the announcers marveled at Sale's command, Harrelson made an interesting point: he said the worst draft selection a team can make in the first round is a high school pitcher. They throw year round, Hawk said.  They throw 150 pitches a game at times. "That is too much," he said, "they are throwing more innings than major league pitchers." That is a true statement. Also, Hawk said the worst thing ever to happen in the game was the advent of the radar gun. It puts undue pressure on young arms to hit high 90s on the gun instead of learning how to pitch, conserve energy and win baseball games.

Plesac said that Carlos Rodon of the White Sox was drafted out of high school. He had the big arm with the radar numbers. But instead of signing with a major league team, Rodon went to college. By going to college and getting more instruction, it made Rodon a better pitcher and helped him get to the majors quicker than signing out of high school.

High school and college players often get trapped in statistics such as number of strike outs or power of their pitches. They get to the mound thinking they have to strike out everyone they face. The great pitchers like Fergie Jenkins said when he got to the majors he learned quickly he had to "pitch to contact" otherwise he would have a short and meaningless pro career. You get the same result if you have a three pitch ground out vs. a six pitch strike out - - - the batter is out. But if you can "save" 2 or 3 pitches a batter, that is 60 less pitches per game which means you can pitch longer in games with less damage to your arm.

Plesac hopes that Rodon and the other young Sox pitchers will learn from Sale's development this year and learn to pitch rather than throw.

May 12, 2016


When Stephen Strasburg did the unusual by agreeing to a long term extension with the Nationals instead of taking a chance in free agency, attention turned to Scott Boras' other client, the currently unworldly Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta was blunt to the Chicago media.

"Aces get seven years," Arrieta said of recent big name pitchers who signed mega deals. "I'll let you judge that. Just look at the numbers. You want to be paid in respect to how your peers are paid. I don't think that changes with any guy you ask. It happens around baseball every year."

The Strasburg decision seems to be "client" driven, meaning that the baseball agent was giving marching orders to get a deal done and not the agent driving the player's future.

Arrieta's words appear to be more "agent" driven - - - that Arrieta looks forward to get paid like his peers - - - in free agency.

And here is Arrieta's argument for looking for a major pay day:

He is in his 6th pro season. He is 30 years old. He has massed a career 17.2 WAR (with the Cubs 5.3, 8.7 and 2.1 in 2014, 2015, 2016). He has only been paid $15.5 million. Under WAR contract valuation, Arrieta's performance value was $86 million. In other words, he has outperformed his contract by five and one half times.

In contrast, Strasburg is also in his 6th season. Strasburg is only 27 years old. He has a career WAR of 8.8. He had been paid $25 million prior to the extension. His past WAR contract valuation was $44 million, so he was also underpaid by that standard. But Strasburg has leveraged his 59-37, 3.07 ERA career numbers into $175 million, almost four times the valuation metric.

Arrieta will be looking in 2017 for $30 million per season (6.0 WAR valuation) or more for seven years or $210 million. That would bring the back end of his contract into dead money years of his late 30s. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan has written extensively about the sudden production fall-off of pitchers in the 30s. That is why long term pitching contracts are not favored by the owners. The Cubs probably will do more than a 4 year deal with Arrieta.

But Arrieta is looking for his one great last contract without a hometown discount.

But a better comparison is David Price. Price, 30 years old, is in his 8th major league season. He signed a 7 year, $217 million contract this off-season. He is at the magic $30 million plus per season contract status.  Price career numbers are good: 108-57, 3.19 ERA and 28.5 WAR. His past performance value was $146 million. With the new Boston deal, Price is struggling at 4-1, 6.75 ERA and negative 0.7 WAR.

So what is Arrieta worth?

Whatever a team is willing to pay. Arrieta's recent history would put him more in the Price category, but injury history and Arrieta's recent two grinding starts make some think more Strasburg.  The difference between those two contracts is $42 million.

Current Cubs management has painted itself in a corner. It hit a home run with the Scott Feldman trade for Arrieta and Pedro Strop. However, the draft strategy of taking the best bats has given the team a "core" of young players who will need to be paid during any megadeal of Arrieta (plus Lester's deal). I don't see the Cubs willing to set aside $330 million for two pitchers from 2017 on when you have to think expensive extensions for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But the price of quality starting pitching continues to go up. The only way to counter that is to develop a young, solid core of pitchers from your own system. This is the Achilles heel for the Cubs: they have not developed a young arm under Theo-Jed. They have trapped themselves in finding a rotation through free agency.

The Cubs have one more full season of Arrieta control. If the Cubs cannot work out an extension with Arrieta this off-season, the Cubs have two options: keep him for his walk year or trade him at the Winter meetings for young, controllable, major league ready pitching. Some of these decisions will be determined by the new CBA (whether draft picks will still be at risk for qualifying offers).

It may depend on whether the Cubs win a championship in 2016. If that is the case, there is less pressure on ownership or management to keep Arrieta for 2017. If the Cubs fall short, then the pressure to win the championship in 2017 is expanded ten fold. Arrieta would have to be kept on board to anchor the pitching staff.

Without a doubt, in any situation, Arrieta is in the cat bird's seat.

May 11, 2016


He will still be the 6th highest paid pitcher in MLB history. But why did Washington's ace pitcher accept a long term extension early in his free agent walk year?

It was a baffling move from all sides. The  Nationals have agreed to a seven-year, $175 million extension with RHP Stephen Strasburg.  Strasburg is a Scott Boras client. Boras has the reputation of getting his clients to free agency where he can leverage the biggest deals (by getting teams to bid against each other). With an extension, Boras loses leverage to make a long term deal.

For Washington, it is a seven year risk based on Strasburg's injury history. The ace pitcher has underperformed throughout his career. He will soon be on the 7th anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. The Nats had said in the past that their major concern with any pitcher post-TJ is in year 7: they don't think the repaired ligament will hold after seven full MLB seasons. There is proof of this by the rash of pitchers having second TJ surgeries. So the Nationals are going against their own medical philosophy to make this extension.

In order to make a deal, both sides must receive something they value. For Strasburg, it is guaranteed money and an opt-out. For the team, it is deferring most of the guaranteed money.

According to the Washington Post, Strasburg will take home a team friendly  $15 million annually  from 2017 through 2023, excluding bonuses which could reach $7 million.  The remaining $70 million will be deferred without interest and paid out in $10 million installments from 2024 through 2030. The team is spinning this extension at a "present value" of only $162 million.

Strasburg can opt out after its third and fourth seasons. If he can stay healthy, he can be a premier free agent in 2019 at age 30. But the real value to Strasburg, given his history, is this deal acts like an insurance policy against another major injury. If his arm gets hit by a bus tomorrow, he will get paid a lot of money through 2030.

In additional minor give and takes, Strasburg won’t receive no-trade protection but the team got no provisions relating to arm health to discount any future payouts.

The question remains why would Strasburg forego free agency? One would believe that he would have asked for a $200 million type David Price deal. Some could say that Strasburg did not want to "bet" on himself going into this off-season. Which is odd concerning in his first seven starts, he is 5-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.041 WHIP. But his body or his mind must have told him to cut a long term deal now when things are going well to take off any future financial pressures on his family.

The Nationals must believe that they got a star player at a market discount. But other teams see the revenue horizon being darker than today. Cable television model, which fueled the mega-local broadcast rights deals in the past few years, is going by the wayside. Younger fans consume their entertainment on demand and not by sitting to watch a designated game at a designated time on a designated channel. The big money spenders like ESPN have started to purge high priced talent and reign in expenses since their carriage charges are being balked at by the cable and satellite operators. In seven years, the MLB broadcast revenue could be cut in half which would make even Strasburg long term deal seem very expensive.

May 9, 2016


Never in the history of baseball has one town dominated the game.

The Cubs and White Sox have the best records in their leagues.

The Cubs have a 7 game win streak, beating top clubs in the Pirates and Nationals. The White Sox have a 6 game winning streak.

The Cubs are 24-6, an .800 winning percentage. They are on pace to win a record 130 games.

The White Sox are 22-10, a .688 winning percentage. They are on pace to win 111 games.

Combined, Chicago baseball is at a .741 winning percentage, or an average pace to win 120 games.

Even if the clubs come back down to Earth, and win only half of their remaining games, the Cubs would win 90 and the White Sox 87.

But as the rosters are constructed, the teams are expected to do much better than .500 down the stretch. The White Sox have a very good starting four rotation. The Cubs have a solid hitting core with an unbelievable run differential of +102 in only 30 games.

And the White Sox have $13 million in payroll to spend after Adam LaRoche left the club. The White Sox could spend that money on an outfielder (Jay Bruce) or a pitcher (Tim Lincecum who threw a show case event last week; he hit 88-92 on fastballs and showed some promise on 3 breaking pitches but he is not major league ready).

The only time the Cubs and White Sox met in a World Series was 1906, which marked the dawn of the modern baseball era. In that year, the Cubs had a record number of wins. The White Sox were the hitless wonders who won the pennant, and then on outstanding pitching, upset the Cubs for the championship.

There is an old principle that history repeats itself. We may be witnessing it.

SI reports the Cubs, at 24–6, equaled their 1907 squad’s record for their best 30-game start since the beginning of the 20th century; that team, led by the famed double play combination of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, won 107 games and the franchise’s first World Series; the Cubs won again the next year and haven’t won since. The franchise’s only better starts date  deep into the 19th century: In 1876, the inaugural year of the National League, they were known as the Chicago White Stockings and jumped out to a 25–5 record en route to the NL pennant, while in 1880, they went 27–3 (with a tie) en route to another pennant.

May 7, 2016


After the opening victory over the Nationals, the Cubs were  21-6. A 77.8 win percentage leads the majors. On pace for a record 126 wins. Even if the team goes .500 for the rest of the season, the Cubs will finish with 96 wins.

All is well on the North Side.

The stat of the night was the fact that the Cubs have won 33 of Kyle Hendricks' 50 games as a starter. That is a 66.0 winning percentage. That is incredibly good for a fifth starter. In his 50 Cub starts, Hendricks' record is 17-11, 3.45 ERA, 1.123 WHIP and 5.1 WAR. One would be hard pressed to find a better fifth starter.

But a certain segment of the fan base and media are pessimists. They worry about the Cubs pitching as compared to the young arms of the Mets. They may be uncomfortable with the soft stuff of Hendricks, but so long as he has confidence in his pitches, he can paint the corners with his two-seamer. They worry about John Lackey's age and rough couple of games for the Cubs. Lackey brings to the mound a mean streak of a junkyard dog. This compliments John Lester's apparent inner anger every time he pitches. This is in a stark contrast to Jake Arrieta's zen like machine performances.

So far the Cubs starting rotation has been solid.

But there is a probability that one or more of the starters will get hurt or go through a mid season slump (most nominate Hammel). The one major complaint against the front office is that Theo-Jed have not drafted and developed a starting pitcher (Hendrick is a carryover from the prior regime.) Even though the Cubs have used 47 percent of their draft choices on pitchers, it is the quality young hitters that have been the beacons to success.

There was a rebuild theory that you drafted the best bats early (since they are easier to project at the major league level) over pitching (because of potential arm issues) then buy starters in the open market when you are ready to compete. You get your fielders under cheap control while you pay a premium for known, quality starting pitching.

But everyone is looking for pitching since it can stop quality hitting. There is a shortage of quality guys. That is why the Mets home grown armada of starters is the envy of the league.

So far, the Cubs have weathered injuries to their platoon left fielder, starting catcher, and 5th outfielder. The pitching staff has not been stressed to date because the Cubs offense continues to set a ridiculous pace of a plus 96 run differential.

But the problem in last post-season was that the Cubs only had two trusted starters, Arrieta and Lester. Lackey was brought in to be that post season #3, but his age and a long day game summer season could put him into the bad Hammel camp. No one knows if Hendricks can handle the pressure of being a #3 post season pitcher (which could lead to being a game 7 starter). There is no one in Iowa (AAA) ready, willing or able to be a #3 starter in the majors. No one wants to the Cubs to part with their young stud talent (Baez, Almora, McKinney, Contreras) for starting pitching, but you never can tell when a championship window opens and closes. Ask the Nationals about that.

May 4, 2016


In the past Chicago teams were too loyal to their veterans past their prime.
With John Danks release, it shows that the mission is simple: win every game.

And the White Sox and Cubs have been doing it like Industrial Revolution Machines.

The pitching staffs have not allowed losing streaks:

Arrieta: 6-0, 0.84 ERA, 0.744 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
Lester: 2-1, 1.83 ERA, 0.932 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
Hammel:4-0, 1.24 ERA, 1.069 WHIP, 1.2 WAR

Sale: 6-0, 1.66 ERA, 0.808 WHIP, 1.7 WAR
Quintana: 4-1, 1.40 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
Latos: 4-0, 1.84 ERA, 1.091 WHIP, 1.1 WAR

That is incredible starting pitching. Sale and Quintana are the best 1-2 combo in major league baseball.

But that is not all. Two under the radar changes have improved the clubs defense.

The White Sox signed Austin Jackson to play CF because Adam Eaton was a horrible fielder. But by  Eaton to RF, it has improved the White Sox defense dramatically. Eaton was a negative CF but now he has a plus 75 defense runs saved/year ratio. His dWAR has gone from -1.1 in 2015 to 1.4 WAR in 2016.

The Cubs made a small adjustment on positioning their center fielder. By moving Dexer Fowler deeper in the outfield, it has made a clear improvement in his defense, too. He now has a 0.2 dWAR compared to a negative 1.0 WAR from 2015. He has gone from a -10 to a +12 in defense runs saved/year.

The little adjustments are paying huge dividends.

The White Sox are 19-8, 4 games ahead of the Tigers.
The Cubs are 19-6, 5 games ahead of the Pirates and 7 games ahead of the Cardinals.

The Cubs also have a crazy run differential of +89, more than double the next highest team.

Baseball is going to be fun this summer in Chicago.

May 3, 2016


Major League Baseball has a real problem on its hands.

Eight players have been suspended so far this year for failing PED drug tests.
That is a remarkable number of players being suspended when MLB thought it had contained the problem with more testing and longer suspensions.

Reports indicate that Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Josh Ravin was suspended 80 games on Monday for using a banned substance. Yahoo Sports said this is the sixth major leaguer to face discipline for performance-enhancing drugs this season.

Ravin, who is on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster but has spent the year on the disabled list after breaking his non-throwing left arm in a car accident during spring training, tested positive for a banned peptide, according to sources.

His suspension comes on the heels of 80-game bans for Marlins' Dee Gordon, Blue Jays' Chris Colabello Indians' center fielder Abraham Almonte and Philadelphia reliever Daniel Stumpf were hit with 80-game suspensions. Famously,  New York Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia received a lifetime ban in February for a third positive test.

Mejia claimed it was an MLB conspiracy against him. Many of the others did not know how a banned substance got into their body. But it comes down to the possibility that the players were taking "supplements" as part of their routine.

Supplements are often not regulated by the FDA. Supplements may contain substances that are not in the label, or disguised by long, rambling chemical names. The punishment for using banned substances is strict liability: the players are charged with knowing what goes into their bodies.

But players are not thinking clearly. Incident after incident shows that ingesting supplements can lead to failed drug tests. But players continue to take supplements because they need an edge, physically or mentally, to compete for a major league roster position. 

In Gordon's case, the risk reward was apparently worth it. He signed a $50 million extension. His drug suspension will cost him about $1.6 million. When there is so much guaranteed money at stake, players will risk getting caught if they can get a huge payday.

That is why some major league players want their union to agree to stronger punishments for offenders, from year long suspensions to permanent bans. The owners are mulling a provision to void a long term contract for any suspended player, but the players union and agents will fight that proposal.

But with a compelling season of excellent baseball stories in April, the league does not need a repeat of the daily stories and whispers during the Steroid Era. Cheating continues to be a real problem for major league baseball.