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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

AT

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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 Archives
08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004
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03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003

ugh

Well, at least I didn’t call this thing “Waiting for Hee Seop.”

I would have posted something sooner, but I was trying to get a little perspective and look at this deal rationally.

That's not happening.

Fact is, I’ve been watching Choi’s career for several years now, and I’ve grown rather attached. I was really looking forward to seeing him grow and develop into very valuable player, maybe even a great player. This is something we, as Cub fans, have had little opportunity to see from position players for a long time. The last position player I can think of who was drafted by the Cubs and even became sort of interesting with the team was Shawon Dunston. Other players, who actually became good, came up through other team’s systems (Sandberg, Sosa, etc.).

There’s something to be said for following a kid’s career from the minors on up to your team and then to stardom. There’s a feeling of ownership involved, of extra investment. It’s as if they’re a part of your family, and you feel special for having “known them when.” It’s the sort of feeling that many fans, myself included, have about Kerry Wood. It’s the feeling I was starting to have about Hee Seop Choi.

The good news is, the Cubs didn’t trade Choi for a box of balls and a suitcase of Old Style. They got a real, live, All-Star quality first baseman who is likely to help them win for the next 3-5 years, if they can get him signed to an extension. That’s a big “if,” but I’m going to give it a pass for now. Derrick Lee can hit for average, he draws walks, hits for power, has surprising speed, and a Gold Glove™ at first. The only thing not to like about Lee is his age relative to Choi (his “baseball age” for next season is 28, vs. Choi’s 25), and his right-handedness, and I wouldn’t have a problem with the latter if the rest of the lineup weren’t extremely right-handed as well.

As it stands, this is a good short-term deal for both teams. The Cubs get a first baseman who is excellent right now, and the Marlins get a younger first baseman who will be productive now, and excellent into the future. In the long term, I’m afraid this deal could swing in the Marlin’s favor, and very heavily so, depending on who the player to be named winds up being. I doubt you’ll see one of the Cub’s “name” prospects, as Hendry seems very protective of the young pitchers he feels will make significant noise (Sisco, Guzman, even Cruz), but the Cubs have enough live arms that the Marlins could easily wind up with one of those guys, like Dontrelle Willis, who end up surprising you.

We’ll have to wait to see what the full impact of this trade is down the line. I’m disappointed because I would have loved to see Choi’s growth process, and I think he’ll be a hugely valuable player. However, despite my disappointment and trepidation, I do take comfort in one thing, and the rest of you should as well. In making this deal, whether you agree with the reasoning or not, for the first time that I can remember, the Cubs are trying to win right now. David Geiser wrote over at The Cub Reporter about Building an Ass-kicking Cubs team, and while this may not be what he or I had in mind, the sentiment sure feels right.

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Posted by Derek @ 8:12 AM

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Houston, you have a problem

Cub fans everywhere, rejoice! The Astros have decided to engage in a little subtraction by addition (or, more appropriately, retention) by signing Veteran Pitcher Handler Extraordinaire, Brad Ausmus, to a two year contract. How bad could this be for the Astros? Let’s have some fun with seasonal trends in park adjusted OPS+.

200120022003
Player A919678
Player B696869
Player C587554

Which of these players would you rather have catching for your team? Well, none of them really, but that’s not the point. Damien Miller (Player A) and Paul Bako (Player B) both stunk the joint up whenever they went to bat for the Cubs last year, but they were still a great improvement over the truly putrid season had by Brad Ausmus (otherwise known as, Player C). In fact, Miller had his worst season since his rookie year in 1997 when he only had 66 AB’s, and was still better than anything Ausmus has done in the last three years!

My point is, that while I may have some serious issues with a few of the rumors coming out of Wrigleyville, at least the Cubs organization appears interested in the possibility of upgrading at catcher. They were rumored to be looking into A.J. Pierzynski before the Giants made a deal, and there’s at least a modicum of thought about pursuing Ivan Rodriguez. While nothing may come to pass on this front, at least it looks as if an attempt is being made.

The Astros had a chance to make an easy upgrade at a problem position. I have a hard time believing that, even with their professed financial constraints, they couldn’t sign someone who could be a marked improvement. Instead, they punted. And they shanked it, at that.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:31 PM

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Saturday, November 15, 2003

It Begins

"Cubs GM Jim Hendry is looking for a first baseman (preferably left-handed, maybe J.T. Snow)" - Peter Gammons, Nov. 15, ESPN.com

You know, just kill me. Really. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It’s one thing to be talking about trading for a veteran, yet relatively young first baseman with good power and plate discipline who could contribute positive numbers for several years to come (Derrick Lee, Richie Sexson), but signing J.T. Snow?!? Look, I know he’s left handed, but he’s J.T. FREAKIN’ SNOW!!!!!

Alright, I understand, the insertion of Snow’s name in that parenthetical is likely Gammons’ doing, since there really isn’t anything else available worth getting in a port-sided first baseman. But seeing as there is such a dearth of worthwhile lefties to man the cooler corner, and Snow’s a FOD (Friend Of Dusty), it could happen, and that would be a crying shame. There’s already a very good young first sacker who is a part of the Cubs organization, hits left-handed, and is currently smoking the ball in Venezuela (.320/.417/.620 in 14 games). Maybe I have a slavish devotion to Hee Seop Choi, but I can’t help but feel a little sick whenever I see the organization sending signals that it doesn’t understand this kid’s potential. I thought they got it. Now I think I was wrong.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:10 PM

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Assuming the Position - Round 2 - Second Base

In 2003, Mark Grudzielanek was an asset to the Chicago Cubs.

Gugh! Now I feel all dirty.

It's true, though. Much as I didn't think it was possible at the beginning of the season, Grudz actually helped the Cubs win games. His .314/.366/.416 line won’t make anyone forget Ryne Sandberg, but I’ll take a .366 OBP from my second baseman anytime. The question that must be asked, of course, has to do with repeatability, and that’s where the Cubs should be concerned about good ‘ol Grudz.

Let’s suppose the Cubs were to re-sign Grudzielanek. What sort of production could they reasonably expect?

I have to admit, I’m starting this by making the assumption that 2003 was an outlier season for Grudz, and in looking at his career line through last season of .285/.329/.387, I don’t think I’m dancing with a fat man on the end of a twig. For my money, the best place to start looking is at the three years before he came to the Friendly Confines.

The 2000-2002 seasons (ages 30-32, by the way) saw Grudzielanek post a combined .274/.319/.382 stat line. Yeech! Among second basemen with at least 1,000 PA’s during the same period, his OBP ranks third worst (if you bump the PA requirement to 1,200 he becomes the worst), his slugging ranks seventh worst (third worst with 1,200 PA’s) and his OPS ranks sixth worst (second worst with 1,200 PA’s). Also, his Runs Created Above Average is tied for tenth worst, and his Runs Created per game is sixth worst (third worst with 1,200 PA’s). (By the way, none of these super cool rankings get done without Lee Sinin’s always helpful Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)

Craptacular, huh? However, this doesn’t tell us as much as we might think. After all, he did play half of his games in Dodger Stadium during this period. Chavez Ravine is such an extreme pitcher’s park, it might be instructive to look at his road stats instead.

.279/.330/.388

Look familiar? Eerily like his career line, isn’t it. But if you think that’s weird, try messing with last year’s numbers for a bit. Here they are again.

.314/.366/.416

And their component parts.

G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SH SF HBP
121 481 151 38 1 3 30 7 2 11

First, we have to start by looking at what makes up Senior Grudz’ numbers. What I see is a player who had a solid OBP made up almost entirely of his very good batting average. I think it’s safe to say from his career line that he’s always been a player with a BA dependent OBP. So, since almost all of his 2003 offensive value was wrapped up in his OBP, and therefore his BA, is there a good chance he keeps this up in the future? I say no, and here’s why.

.279/.334/.380

That is what his 2003 line looks like when you remove 17 singles from it. Again, looking very familiar. For the curious among you, that’s one squibber, high chopper, or seeing eye grounder every 7.1 games. Of course, I don’t know for sure that all those extra singles were of the lucky bounce variety, but based on what he had accomplished in his career up until his age 33 season, last year certainly fits the profile of the luck-aided production increase. If the Cubs re-sign Mark Grudzielanek, you can pretty much bet on getting what you see above for 500+ at bats, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s not good enough. So, what’s the alternative?

FREE AGENTS

Here’s a partial list of the free agents currently available at second base.

Todd Walker
Luis Castillo
Fernando Vina
Roberto Alomar
Pokey Reese
Eric Young

Inspiring, eh? Let’s work from the bottom up. It’ll be faster.

Eric Young – During his first eight full seasons, Young was actually a fairly serviceable leadoff man, posting an OBP of at least .355 for every year of the period. Problem is, the last year of that run was in 2000 when he was 33. In the following three seasons he put up OBP’s of .333, .338, and .336, all while his other tangible asset, his ability to steal bases, has fallen into decline as well. Simply put, Young will be 37 next year, and he’s not a good bet to be a starter on anybody’s team. Certainly not the Cubs.

Pokey Reese – I know this has been said a million times, but it’s hard to overstate just how lucky the Reds got with Pokey’s contract. Cincinatti offered him $21M for four years at the end of the 2001 season, and Reese thought he could score a better deal. Instead, he landed with the Pirates, where he was paid just under $4M for 2002 and 2003. And that was still too much. Now, after not playing since May 13 due to a thumb injury and subsequent surgery, and not having played well since the 13th of Never due to his near spectacular inability to hit a baseball, Pokey is looking for a job. He’ll probably get an NRI somewhere, but again, not with the Cubs.

Roberto Alomar – For a long time, when thinking about the best second basemen in the game, one of the first names, if not the only name to spring to mind, was Roberto Alomar. Winning ten out of eleven Gold Gloves from 1991-2001, and during that same period having five top ten finishes in OBP, BA, and MVP voting, at the end of what may have been his best season in 2001, Alomar looked like at least a decent signing for the New York Mets. However, even factoring in his age (34 for the 2002 season) and adjusting to a new league, no one could have foreseen Alomar’s play careening off the cliff like it did.

2001 .336/.415/.541
2002 .266/.331/.376

Wow. And it didn’t get any better in 2003, even after being dealt back to the American League and to the comforting embrace of his brother, Sandy, with the White Sox. It’s hard to believe that such a once great player is done, but with two consecutive years of this level of performance, and with his age 36 season looming, I think it’s time to put the fork in Robbie. The White Sox will likely sign him, but even if they didn’t, the Cubs wouldn’t, and shouldn’t be interested.

Fernando Vina – The things that recommend Vina are supposedly his speed, his defense, and his left-handedness. Well, not even I will contend that last one, so let’s take a look at the other two.

Vina is definitely fast, but the question on this point is how does that speed translate into some sort of benefit, and can we expect the speed to continue to be a factor into the future? Well, stolen bases are the most tangible result of good speed, and his rate of success at swiping bags for his career is only 63.3%. Over the last four seasons it’s been 61.5%. The last two it’s been 58.3%. Add in the hamstring injury that kept him out of action for three months last year, and I think assuming his speed will be there as his career continues is foolish. Vina will also be 35 next year, and it’s legitimate to be concerned that the hamstring could become a chronic problem.

His defense has been excellent in the past. Thanks to baseball-reference.com, we can look at Vina’s Range Factor over the last few seasons. From 1996-1999, Range Factor shows Vina to be an elite defender, and he still looks very good in 2000. However, after that he loses something, and looks to be right around average through last season. Perhaps the pitching staffs changed enough to influence those numbers, but his consistent excellence followed by his consistent average-ness indicates that while the exactness of the numbers might be called into question, the picture they draw of an aging player slowly losing his effectiveness as a defender appears to be accurate. This isn’t something I’d normally be concerned about, after all the Cubs have an extreme strikeout pitching staff and are therefore much less likely to be hurt by sub-par defense, but defense is one of Vina’s selling points, and it just isn’t there anymore. With his declining speed and defense, and his continually declining OBP (.357, .333, .309 over the last three seasons), when Fernando Vina has a good day, he’s a left-handed Mark Grudzielanek. I’m not sure how many good days he has left.

Luis Castillo – I’d be happy to see Castillo in a Cubs uniform. He’s a switch hitter with good speed, he puts up solid OBP’s that could be the answer to the Cubs’ leadoff issues, and while his defense is a bit below average, as I’ve discussed before, that’s not an issue for this team. What is an issue is the fact that every other team in need of a second baseman (and there’s a smokin’ load of ‘em) is going to be after Castillo this offseason. He made $4,850,000 last year. If the Cubs can sign him to a deal that is in that general vicinity per year, and is no longer than three years, then I’d call it positive. Anything beyond that, and I don’t think you get enough return on your investment. My point? I think somebody’s gonna get screwed, here, and I just hope it’s not the Cubs.

Todd Walker – I hear a lot about what a great hitter Walker is, but I just don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s bad, just not the threat that I’ve heard folks make him out to be. His career line is .290/.346/.434, and just glancing at what he does year after year, it seems reasonable to expect something in that range. If nothing else, Walker is very consistent. This could be a great positive if the Cubs were to sign him to a one or two year deal. You know you’re getting mediocre defense at second, but in a package that hits lefty with relatively few strikeouts and a decent amount of pop. He’ll be 31 next season, so while you can’t expect any improvement, he’s not likely to fall off a cliff either, especially with his clockwork performances of late. For no more than a couple million a year, Walker could be a good fit until Brendan Harris is ready to take over.

TRADES

With all the players out there looking for jobs, I think a trade would have to involve a pretty special player. There are only two who I think would actually be available for trade and fit the bill.

Alfonso Soriano – He’s not my favorite player, and for a team like the Cubs that already has a lineup full of guys more than willing to swing at crap, he’s not really even a good fit. However, he’s fast, he’s powerful, and … and … well, he’s fast and powerful. Actually, that’s not fair. Last season, in 7 fewer PA’s, he walked 13 more times and struck out 27 fewer times than he did in the previous season. Granted, when your previous season consisted of 23 walks and 157 strikeouts, you’d better improve, but the fact that he did get better is worth noting. The weird thing, though, is that he lost some power along the way. Patience is supposed to lead to more power, but he hit 15 fewer doubles (while also dropping a homer, and adding three triples) in spite of it. I’m going to guess that it’s a blip, but who knows. No one else has figured this guy out, and I don’t think I’ll be the first. Anyway, add in his notably shaky defense and the fact that the Yankees will want at least one superstar caliber major league player in return, and I think you’re looking at the unlikeliest of deals. Soriano has tremendous upside, but tremendous risks as well, and at the price The Boss will ask, I think it’s too much.

Jose Vidro – Now, this could happen. Of course, it could happen for a lot of other clubs, too, but the Cubs may be in a good position to deal with the Expos. A lot depends on the Expos’ need to cut salary, and since the degree if not the fact is still up in the air, there’s still much speculation involved. For me to think this is workable, the Expos would have to be willing to part with Vidro for good young pitching, something the Cubs still have in relative abundance. As long as The Big Three or Angel Guzman aren’t involved in the discussion, the Cubs should be willing to listen. In fact, they should make the call. What they would get in return would be a switch hitting second baseman who consistently hits over .300, continues to see his walk rate go up and his K rate go down, while showing more power than you’re used to seeing out of the middle infield. The negatives would be his lack of speed, occasionally questionable defense, and what seems to be a penchant for nagging injuries. To me, the pros far outweigh the cons. Actually (and this is the purest speculation), in looking at Vidro’s Range Factor from year to year, his defense looks solid to good in years when he’s able to stay healthy, and mediocre in years when he gets hurt, so it’s reasonable to me to see a correlation between the two things. Keep Vidro healthy (which may be harder than it sounds), and the issue with defense goes away, too. Plus, Vidro will only be 29 this season. Barring continuing wear and tear a la Moises Alou, Vidro should be an excellent player for years to come. If the Cubs can grab him and lock him up for a while, it could be a real difference maker.

My conclusion? The ideal is Vidro. He’s flat out the best second baseman the Cubs could reasonably hope to acquire. Dusty probably wouldn’t bat him leadoff because he’s slow, but he’d be wicked in the two spot. The second tier option is a tie for me. It all comes down to price. If Castillo can be had without breaking the bank or committing to him forever, I like it. If not, Todd Walker could be a good, cheap, short term solution. If none of these things can happen, as unfortunate as it may be, I think the Cubs should and will sign Grudzielanek.

So, that was exhaustive, and exhausting (probably even more for you than for me). It took me too long to get this up here, but there was more ground to cover on this position than anywhere else, so I wanted to make sure I got as much out there as I could. In any case, I’ll be getting better about posting in between these segments from here on out. I don’t think it’s really a blog if I only put something up every two weeks.

More to come soon on other subjects, but the next position to be assumed will be Shortstop.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:39 AM

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