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PIT/PA Watch

May 15: 3.55
Season: 3.61
NL Average: 3.73
Cubs' NL Rank: 15th

Cubs Season Record 22-15 (--)

This Series
May 14-May 16

Cubs Sweep 3-0

Final Score: 6-1

Final Score: 7-5

Final Score: 4-2

Next Series
May 18-May 20


May 18: Clement (5-2, 2.78) vs
Schmidt (3-2, 3.79)

May 19: Zambrano (4-1, 1.82) vs
Rueter (1-4, 5.52)

May 20: Maddux (3-3, 4.44) vs
Hermanson (1-2, 4.67)

Last Series
May 11-May 13

Dodgers Win 2-1

Final Score: 7-3

Final Score: 4-0

Final Score: 7-3

Know Your Enemy - The Series
Part 1 - The Reds
Part 2 - The Pirates
Part 3 - The Brewers
Part 4A - The Cardinals - Position Players
Part 4B - The Cardinals - Pitching and Bench
Part 5A - The Astros - Position Players
Part 5B - The Astros - Pitching and Bench

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08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
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10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
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05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Assuming the Position - Round 1 - First Base

Well, the season is over and it's not even November yet, but there's no rule that says I can't fire up the Hot Stove now, so I'm gonna, dammit! I'll spend the next few weeks taking a position by position look at the 2003 Cubs with an eye for what should stay and what should go in order to build on this past year's success. It only seems natural to begin with the only position on the field called First.

The Cubs received approximately two-thirds of their plate appearances at first base from the combination of Eric Karros and Randal Simon, who in those 475 PA's combined for a .285/.331/.456 line. Pretty nice numbers for a good defensive shortstop, but not what you want to see from one of your corner positions. On the surface, Hee Seop Choi doesn't look much better, with a .218/.350/.421 line over 245 PA's. However, it's important to note that Choi suffered one of the scariest injuries I've ever seen on June 7 against the Yankees, and before his subsequent trip to the DL, he had hit .244/.389/.496 in 168 PA's. Pretty solid numbers, particularly for a 24 year old.

I think it's reasonable to postulate that Choi could have continued his established level of production had the injury not intervened. Assuming that, I believe the usage pattern that Baker had established would have continued, with Choi in the lineup against most right handers, and Karros getting the lefties and any righties he had significant previous success against (yes, they do exist). Dusty seemed fairly comfortable with what Choi was doing judging from the fact that he received nearly two-thirds of the plate appearances up to that point, and his usage pattern seemed consistent until the collision with Kerry Wood. It was that collision, and the stint on the DL that followed, that set the stage for what happened with Cubs first basemen over the rest of the season.

While it's somewhat misleading to say that Choi's absence was the cause of the unfortunate mishandling of him that happened once he returned, it is appropriate to say that it opened the door to the silliness that followed. Perhaps the most significant factor is Dusty Baker's penchant for the "hot hand," and wouldn't you know it, the moment Choi goes down, Eric Karros catches fire. In June, Karros hit .318/.376/.494, making him nearly as valuable as Choi was over the previous two months, and then followed it up with a .362/.400/.536 line in July. There are plenty of managers who are susceptible to forming preferences or dislikes based on small sample sizes, but Dusty may well be the king of them all. So when Choi came back, his playing time was spotty at best.

During the month of July, Choi started two games in a row only once, and saw that happen on only two more occasions during the rest of the year, both of them in August. There were only three times in July when Choi had two games in a row where he even got to the plate. I'd like to insert a caveat here. Initially on his return, Dusty was using Choi in a very similar pattern to the one he used before the injury. Some of the lack of playing time can be attributed to the Cubs facing a plethora of left handed starters, as well as time off for the All Star Break. However, it was during this period that Baker obviously soured on Choi, and it's Choi's poor play during this period that seemed to cause it.

In the last three games not started by lefties before the ASB, Baker started Choi and he went hitless in nine at bats, lowering his average from .253 to .239, the first time since May 1 that he'd been under .240. He then went 2 for 13 in his first four starts after the ASB, and it looks like that's when Baker had had enough. Choi didn't even see defensive duty for a week, and while he got a few starts in the first half of August after it became apparent that Karros had fallen off the cliff (his August line was an abysmal .182/.237/.255), he didn't perform well after the extended layoff, going 4 for 25 and striking out 11 times. In the middle of August, the Cubs acquired Randal Simon, and Choi was sent down to Iowa.

It had been apparent for a while that Choi had been uncomfortable at the plate, but he was given no opportunity to iron it out. I'm not advocating starting him on a Major League team in the middle of a pennant race to get his stroke back, but I do believe that since Karros was playing well during Choi's time on the DL that it would have been a fine opportunity to give Choi 50-75 PA's in Iowa to make sure he'd shaken the rust off. He's a young player with a lot of potential, but with relatively little experience at the Major League level. To assume that he can be out for a significant period of time due to injury and then come back to the lineup after a short rehab stint and produce at the level he'd established before his absence is just plain silly. Instead, he could have been sent down to Iowa with the understanding that he was there to hit and get healthy so he could come back and contribute to the big club. Once it became clear that he was back to his old self, he could have been brought back up and inserted into his rightful spot in the lineup. Unfortunately, he was put in situations at the Major League level which were not ideal for his success. In need of playing time to reacquaint himself with a league he had little experience in, he was played sparingly and nonconsecutively, giving him little chance to reacclimate and approach his previous level of play. Eventually, he was sent to Iowa to figure things out, which he did, but too late to insinuate himself into the lineup of a team with a shot at the postseason and a serious case of risk aversion because of it.

My point (which you have waited so patiently for), is that I believe all the rending of hair and gnashing of teeth regarding Choi's future with the Cubs that I've heard and read from members of the sabremetric community (among whom I hope to one day be worthy of counting myself), may be a tad premature. Up until the time of his injury, Choi had been receiving regular playing time in situations which arguably gave both him and his team the greatest chance for success. For the game in which his injury was sustained, he was in the starting lineup against Roger Clemens, a future Hall of Famer who was trying to get his 300th win on that day. While this proves nothing, I have a hard time believing that Choi would be in the lineup against such a pitcher with that much on the line if Baker didn't have confidence in him (in contrast, Mark Bellhorn, who is brought up as an example by many who see sinister forces at work in Baker's treatment of Choi, didn't even sniff the lineup that day). I agree that when Choi came back, he was mishandled and put in situations that almost inevitably led to his demotion, but I firmly believe that all it will take for Choi to get back into a regular role, and Baker's good graces, is for him to perform as he is capable. I am not of the opinion that Baker has a general problem with young players, I think he, like many Major League managers, gives them a shorter leash than veterans (perhaps too short). That, and his old school fascination with batting average, seem to be the root of his discontent with Choi, post-concussion. I sincerely believe that if Choi can hit in the .260's with good power (and I see no reason why he shouldn't), he will be given plenty of playing time and will be a big contributor for the 2004 Chicago Cubs.

So, what to do about the other members of the 2003 Chicago Cubs First Basemen's Society and Gentlemen's Club? Randal Simon is an enthusiastic ballplayer who is left handed, makes a lot of contact, and is surprisingly fun to watch. He also never walks, doesn't hit for much power, and plays only one defensive position. Poorly. If there were room on a Major League roster for an all-around-fun-time-guy who could occasionally come in to pinch hit in situations where some sort of contact is needed (a great example being his pinch hitting stints in this year's Division Series), I'd say keep him around. But there isn't room on a 25 man roster for such a limited skill set. Much as I like him, I think he has to go.

There's a part of me, however, that would like to see Karros return. As I stated earlier, I think that Choi will perform at a level that will be convincing enough for Dusty to leave him in for 400-500 at bats, and I guess I just don't see a reason to spit on a guy who hit lefties at a .366/.441/.545 clip last year (besides, for those of you who subscribe to the Sunday Chicago Tribune, I have a real soft spot for guys who will take out a full page ad in the Sunday sports section to thank the fans of his team. Total class.). I say keep him.

So, that's it for the first sackers. Choi should start most games, with Karros spotting him against tougher lefties and occasionally pinch hitting in critical situations with a southpaw on the mound.

Next up: Second Base.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:26 PM


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Closing Time

Well, that does it for this season, and a fine one it was. Granted, it was disappointing at the end, but there's only one team out of thirty that doesn't go home with a heavy heart each year, and I'll take "almost" over "never had a shot" any time.

As for me, I'm going to take a break for a couple of weeks. Catch up on some sleep, let the tightness slowly work itself out of my chest, maybe start going to the gym so I have better energy if next season goes well too. I'll likely start posting again in the beginning of November, both about the Cubs, and baseball in general. I've got some things rolling around in my head about how the team can be better next year, but I want a little perspective before I start. I think any analysis of the situation would be tainted with unreasonable emotions right now, and I'm not interested putting those sorts of rants up here.

I'll be back soon, and so will the Cubs.

CTC offers Cubbies tickets
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and tickets to live concerts in Chicago.

Posted by Derek @ 10:55 AM


Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Home Sweet Home

Alright, I've really got to get into a rhythm on this writing thing. Frankly, I've been wound so tight the last couple of weeks, it's a wonder I can even breathe. There have been a couple of times recently when I was pretty sure I was in immanent danger of pulmonary collapse. If I were to write what I've been feeling lately, it would look as if I had scrawled a physical representation of a single sound comprised of the whimperings of a lonely puppy, Whitman's "Barbaric Yawp," and the noise a Jackboot makes when it ploughs into your gut.

I'm glad to have the boys back in Wrigley. I'm nervous as hell, because I'd hate to come this close to heaven only to be told by St. Peter that he's really sorry to have gotten my hopes up, but that there was a case of mistaken identity, and while he hates to disappoint the 10 million people standing in the lobby of the Pearly Gates Hotel and Casino, their sea of blue hats stretching out before him like an ocean of pent up, unused, baseball joy populated by little red c's, but the folks who belong here are really a couple of guys named Mort and Jerry who've lived in Miami Beach for the 15 years they've been retired, and have adopted the Marlins as their team in a last gasp of defiance against the Dodger organization for moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

Anyway, my only worry at this point is will the Cubs score enough runs. I don't think we can count on getting another one run game out of The Franchise, that's just too much to hope for. So the Cubs chances, to my way of thinking, rest on whether or not they can get at Carl Pavano for three or four runs. If they can score, particularly score early as they've done throughout the playoffs, there's a decent chance we could all be dancing at the end of the night.

CTC offers Cubbies tickets
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Bears tickets
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Posted by Derek @ 1:01 PM


Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Remember the Goal

I've been trying to think of something to add to the discussion about this series, but there are so many good previews out there (check out the linked sites on the left to see just some of what's floating around), that all I can say is I'm happy the Cubs are in the NLCS, but I won't be happy until someone wearing Cub blue is hoisting a super ugly flag bedecked trophy above their heads.

It was lovely to see the Cubs win a postseason series, and it's always good to beat the Braves, but the Cubs have eight more games to win before they've done something that will matter in the long run. Sure, when you have such a long history of futility, winning anything is exciting, but winning the Division Series is merely winning the chance to play again. There's no flag, there's no trophy. It's a step in a process. There are two steps left, and we start on the next one tonight. Here's hoping Big Z makes his mark on the Fightin' Fish and moves us one win closer to the goal.

CTC offers Cubbies tickets
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Posted by Derek @ 3:20 PM


Friday, October 03, 2003

Down Time

Alright, so I've been slacking off a bit of late. With some crazy things happening at work, combined with getting ready to open the show I'm in, I've had very little time to devote to the blog. Anyway, enough of excuses. I hope to be more on top of things for the rest of the post season. Let's look at things as they were, are and shall be in this series.

During both games played so far, I've found myself thinking about how extra base hits just aren't happening in this series. And it turns out I was right. Both teams have combined for 4 multi-base hits in the first two games, 2 doubles for the Cubs, a double and a home run for the Braves. In both games, the team with the last extra base hit won (not that I find this predictive, just interesting). Was this unusual compared to what was happening in the other series? Well, as of last night, all of the series had played two games, so I took a peek at those for comparison.

Yankees/Twins - 7 XBH, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR
Marlins/Giants - 6 XBH, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR
A's/Red Sox - 9 XBH, 6 2B, 3 HR

I would feel no shock if after four games, every other series had at least twice as many XBH as Cubs/Braves. And I'm willing to say that every last bit of the blame for that rests on the shoulders of the Cubs. The positive part, of course, is that the Cubs' staff is holding down a very powerful Braves ballclub. The Braves paced the National League during the regular season with a .475 team slugging average, out pounding the second place Cardinals by 21 percentage points. Meanwhile, the Cubs' pitching staff was second in the NL in slugging allowed at .372, supplanted only by the Dodgers' ridiculous, and park aided, .354 figure. On the other side of the ledger, the Cubs offense is anemic looking with their .416 slugging average, balanced by the Braves' solid .401 allowed. All of this looks to me like a series-long ticket to singles-town, and the need for sustained rallies in order to do any significant run scoring. Which, looking at the Cubs' solid pitching and "offense," I find unlikely. I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of the games in the series, much like the first two, hinge on a single, well timed double.

CTC offers Cubbies tickets
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and tickets to live concerts in Chicago.

Posted by Derek @ 3:24 PM