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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
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11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
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04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Saturday, February 28, 2004

Done Deal II

It appears the Cubs have signed Derrek Lee to a three year deal. More to come when specifics are available, but with the way things have been going of late, I'll be shocked if I don't like this deal. Jim Hendry is having one of, if not the best offseason ever for a Cubs GM.

UPDATE: Here's the scoop.

Lee's contract will pay him $22.5 million over three years. He'll receive $5.5 million this year, $7 million in 2005, $8 million in 2006 plus a $2 million signing bonus.

I could cry, this is so good. It's the perfect length, and the money is fair for everyone. Again, the Cubs gain some flexibility up front by tearing up the $6.9M deal that was the placeholder for this year. You know what else I like about this?

I don't mean to keep picking on the Astros, but...

AVG OBP SLG VORP AGE 2004 Salary 2005 Salary 2006 Salary
Jeff Bagwell .273 .376 .504 29.1 36 $12M $13M $16M
Derrek Lee .275 .371 .512 35.1 28 $5.5M $7M $8M

Those are the PECOTA projections for both players next season. The difference between the first four columns is small, but those last four are what should keep Astros fans up at night. Bagwell has been a fine player, but the Earth keeps revolving around that pesky Sun, and as he keeps getting older, his contract grows along with his age. Houston will be paying twice as much money for a player who is likely to produce at a lesser rate for all three years.

I'll delve deeper in a few weeks when I look at the Astros for the Know Your Enemy series, but this year looks more and more like a last gasp before the weight of deferred money crushes the franchise. The Astros have $32.2M committed for next season, which buys them the services of exactly three players - Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, and Andy Pettite - as well as $42.5M for 2006, which nets them the same, minus the catcher. The rest of the cash is deferred money, and while some clubs can absorb that kind of hit, the Astros payroll isn't likely to get over $70M in 2004, and next year, Roy Oswalt will be eligible for arbitration again, while Lance Berkman, Octavio Dotel, and Wade Miller can file as free agents (if someone has information to the contrary on these supposed free agents, let me know, as I'm just extrapolating based on service time). It's conceivable that all seven players listed above could make salaries that approach the 2004 payroll next year, and for an organization that has already traded players due to financial constraints, that has to be worrisome.

The Cubs have an advantage in cash that won't go away, but in the past the Astros have overcome it by being that much smarter. It appears more and more that the acuity gap is closing, and if Houston loses that edge, they may be in for some long seasons.

Many thanks to the extremely useful Dugout Dollars site, where all the salary information was gleaned.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:30 PM

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Friday, February 27, 2004

Done Deal

To the shock of only the most hardened pessimists, the Cubs got a multi-year deal done with Kerry Wood today. I can see why it took some time to do, because it reads like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Book. In the interest of our collective sanity, here's the relevant passages from the AP story:

His new agreement calls for a $3 million signing bonus, payable at $1 million annually over three years, and salaries of $7 million this season, $8.5 million in 2005 and $11 million in 2006.

The Cubs have a $13.5 million option for 2007 with a $3 million buyout, and the 2007 salary would become guaranteed if Wood pitches 400 or more innings in 2005 and 2006 combined. But Wood also can reject the option, making himself eligible for free agency after the 2006 season.

So, the one-year deal from earlier is gone, and in it's place is the contract above. The Cubs get some payroll flexibility for the next two years, as well as some catastrophic injury insurance in the option year, while Wood gets some security for now and flexibility for later, should the market turn around.

Perhaps my favorite part of this deal is that it's only $1M more over three years than the deal Andy Pettite got. Rather than a case of Wood being underpaid, it underscores how hard the Astros got screwed. Pettite is a fine pitcher, but I don't think he'll be a good comp for Wood over the next few years. Factor in the extreme backloading on Pettite's deal (in 2006, while Wood is making $12M in salary and signing bonus at age 29, Pettite will make $17.5M at age 34!), and I like the Cubs' methods much better.

Wait, I take that back. The comparison to Pettite is not my favorite part of the deal. Locking up the player I most admire for three years, that's what I like best.

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Posted by Derek @ 2:55 PM

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Know Your Enemy - Part I - The Reds

Welcome to the Know Your Enemy series. Over the next five Fridays, I will present a preview of each of the Cubs' NL Central opponents. By the time I'm through, we should all have a better idea of what we're up against in 2004.

Optimism ruled the day in Cincinnati on the eve of the 2003 season. Two young guns and a favorite son sparked speculation of an All-League outfield. The infield featured three former All-Stars and a prospect with a name to make at the hot corner. The starting pitching was weak, but the bullpen was strong and the offense promised to be one of the better units in the division. Plus, there was a new ballpark to celebrate, and the increased cash flow would help the team be competitive now, and for years to come.

Ah, April! What a tease! By year's end, the All-League outfield was immobilized in the trainer's room, the bullpen was traded en masse along with the son of the newly fired manager, and the ballpark was devoid of people and the promised revenue streams. The 2003 Reds season was to disaster as Marylin Monroe was to sex appeal. But does 2004 bode more of the same?

Starting Lineup

No one symbolizes this team's recent struggles like Local-Boy-Made-Not-So-Good, Ken Griffey, Jr. The last two years have seen him play only 123 games, and having paid approximately $21M for his services over that period, Junior's status has shifted from hometown coup to hometown boo. Still, when healthy, Griffey rakes. His bat remains an object of fear, and it's a good thing, too, because it's on his now fragile shoulder[s], and those of his outfield mates, that the fate of the Reds' offense rests.

The Kid, with his increasingly inappropriate nickname, was not the only denizen of the outfield orchard to neglect the apple harvest. Doctors wouldn't stay away from Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns, and for the Reds to be successful, both must be healthy and productive.

Kearns is still on the mend from shoulder surgery, but once fully healthy, he should have no problems. He's already a lifetime .292/.388/.480 hitter, and will be only 24 this year. He's young, he's strong, and when injury free has few discernable weaknesses.

On the other corner, Dunn is quickly becoming a parody of his own skill set. The hulking left fielder has displayed tremendous patience and power in his young career, walking once every 4.8 at bats, and whomping 48% of his hits for extra bases. Yet, his career average sits at .241, and with strikeouts in one of every 3.1 at bats, the Reds are getting nervous, despite the inherent value in his patience and power package.

Some believe that Dunn is patient to the point of passivity at the plate, frequently getting himself down in the count because a pitch wasn't exactly to specs (what Cub fans refer to as "Bellhornism"). Whether that's an accurate assessment or not, Ken Phelps only dreamed of being this much like himself, and unless Dunn starts to make better contact, the Reds may be inclined to trade his power bat for a power arm.

The infield is a different matter. Let's look at last year's hitting lines for this year's projected starters:

Name Position Games Hitting Line
Sean Casey 1B 147 .291/.350/.408
D'Angelo Jimenez 2B 146; CHA(73), CIN(73) .273/.349/.415
Jason LaRue C 118 .230/.321/.422
Barry Larkin SS 70 .282/.345/.382
Brandon Larson 3B 32 .101/.212/.146

Either the Commissioner's Office has consented to the onfield use of wheelchairs, or 2004 will be another short season for Barry Larkin. It's a shame because Larkin is a deserving Hall of Fame candidate, but his insistence on continuing to play, despite his body's lack of cooperation, could cause less discerning voters to forget his thirteen consecutive years of well above average hitting and fielding at the game's most demanding position. Hopefully, the damage isn't enough to keep him from his well-earned plaque.

Whatever Larkin's HOF status may be, the relevant question is who will replace him once he takes his rightful spot on the DL. Ray Olmedo and Filipe Lopez look to be the choices at the moment. Both are young, which is good, and both have been unable to produce in the Majors, which is bad. Lopez still has some prospect fairy dust on him, so if they really want to build for the future, they'll set him loose and booted grounders be damned.

Speaking of prospects who have lost their shine, Brandon Larson returns in 2004 to take another crack at the everyday third base job. This looks to be Larson's last shot, and if you thought the 18 games it took the Reds to give up on him last year was a short leash, the only thing keeping it from being shorter is the lack of a viable alternative. Not that it should be that way, he's shown obvious talent in his time in the minors, and with the team going nowhere they can afford to let him learn. But the Reds have already shown an impatience that belies their rebuilding status when it comes to Larson, and there's no reason to believe that's changed. Hopefully, if the Reds give up on him this year, a more enlightened organization will give him a shot.

On the opposite corner, Sean Casey peaked when he was 24, and over the last four seasons has become a hitter of moderate patience and mediocre power, who makes lots of contact and hits for a good average. Nice for a middle infielder, not so nice for your starting first baseman. Some graphic illustration:

Sean Casey = D'Angelo Jimenez

That's a bit glib, but if you recast your gaze on last season's hitting lines, you'll notice they produced very similar numbers. The difference is that Jimenez' production is valuable at his position, where Casey's is well below average at his. Assuming that Jimenez can remain on the team all year (and judging from history, that's no mean feat for D'Angelo), he will be the most productive hitter in the Reds infield.

Finally, Jason LaRue doesn't burn it up, but he hits at a slightly below average pace, and for a catcher, that's not half bad. His defense has fallen off of late, due in large part to a marked decrease in his ability to throw out baserunners. Here are the percentages for the last three years:

Year CS%
2001 60.9%
2002 45.2%
2003 26.6%

I'm willing to write off 2001 as a freak of nature year, but according to the Cincinnatti Team Health Report by Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, LaRue suffered from back spasms last year, and that serves to explain some of the dropoff from 2002 to 2003. He was still valuable last season, and I think he's unlikely to become a millstone, but a return to form would be a welcome plus.

Starting Pitchers

Jimmy Haynes is guaranteed a spot in the rotation.

I suppose more is unnecessary, but in the interest of completeness, here is a list of likely and possible members of the Reds starting staff.

Guaranteed
Paul Wilson
Cory Lidle
Jimmy Haynes (!)

Fighting For It
Jose Acevedo
Brandon Claussen
Aaron Harang
David Mattox (Rule 5 from the Mets)

The most frightening thing I see at first glance is that this rotation should be significantly better than last year's. That's much like saying one prefers Nancy Sinatra to Frank Jr., but improvement will be accepted in all its myriad forms.

In 2003, the Reds had four of the twenty worst pitchers in the Majors, according to BP's VORP measurements. Of course, one of them is back, and he's sporting an exclamation mark, but on the positive side, simply moving Danny Graves back to the bullpen and letting Ryan Dempster rehab in Chicago are steps in the right direction, and the addition of Cory Lidle should pay some dividends as well.

If there was any justice, Acevedo and Claussen would be in the Guaranteed column, with Harang and Mattox being joined by Haynes, but Jimmy H. is making too much money ($2.5M) for the Reds to condemn him to the waiver wire, so youth and upside must suffer. Acevedo did well in his initial trial with the Reds, and would have gotten more work if not for a freak ankle injury suffered on the dugout steps, so he looks like an early favorite for one of the spots, while Harang might get the other gig just because of perceived veteran-ness.

Bullpen

Chris Reitsma might be the only survivor from last year's opening day pen, but he won't be the only familiar face. Graves will be back in the closer's role after a year of starting, the results of which mirrored other failed experiments like the Cubs' College of Coaches, the White Sox' short-pants uniforms, and New Coke.

Young phenom Ryan Wagner will also return after last year's mid-season debut, hoping to mimic the career path of his like-named counterpart in Philadelphia. He's already being billed as the Reds' closer of the future, and if he picks up where he left off in 2003, he'll fulfill those expectations quickly. That is, if his super-duper violent mechanics don't land him in Dr. James Andrews' office.

The rest of the bullpen is just a bunch of guys. The primary lefty is likely to be Phil Norton, and while he's not quite young, he's not quite old either, and he did well when called up at the end of 2003. He doesn't strike anybody out, though, so we may have seen the best 18 innings he had.

The only lefty outside of Claussen and Norton on the 40 man roster is Phil Dumatrait, and he's a starter who hasn't seen AA yet. Cross him off the "possible" list. Likely, one of the lefty NRI's, Rigo Beltran, Mike Matthews, Mark Watson, or Jesus Sanchez, will be portsider number two, with the favorite being Matthews.

The Bench

The best hitter off the Reds bench is already out for the year. John Vander Wal was supposed to be outfield insurance for the Reds, but he blew out his knee shoveling snow, and now he's done. That leaves the outfield backup duties to the talented, but still very young, Wily Mo Pena, and the versatile Ryan Freel.

We've already spoken of Olmedo and Lopez as likely infield backups, and you can add Juan Castro to that mix as well. That's not very pretty, but the good news is that Freel can play a little second and third as well, so Castro shouldn't see a lot of action. Corky Miller acts as the backup backstop with solid defense and a wee bit 'o pop.

The Bench isn't good, but at least it's young. There is some talent in Lopez and Pena, and if the latter can start to figure out Major League pitching, the Reds have a legitimate power source on their hands, as well as a way to get Sean Casey out of the lineup. Not that they would, he's an "organization man" who costs too much, but it's nice to know the option exists.

The Gist

The Cincinnati Reds won't get far this year. There are too many breakable parts, and Don Gullet can only do so much. That's the bad news. The good news is that last year should be the organization's nadir. The young nucleus of a good team is forming, and while it will take some savvy drafts and smart allocation of the Reds' limited resources to make the transformation complete, the opportunity is there if they know how to take it.

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Posted by Derek @ 6:57 AM

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That Didn't Take Long

Looks like Dusty's already hung a nickname on Derrek Lee. What does everyone think?

Rodan, huh? I don't know if I get it, but I think I like it.

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Posted by Derek @ 6:56 AM

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Wearing Thin

No, this is not a State Of The Hairline Address (and for your information, I remain fully folicled). Rather, it's a status report on my patience. Anyone reading this on purpose is likely experiencing similar feelings, and anyone who has read my recent posts can surely see the strain. I'm cranky, snarky, and full of malarkey, and while I've yet to present a public danger, for the love of all kittens, note the word "yet."

I don't want to say that February is an evil month, after all, there's Valentine's Day and that's.....

Okay, so February is an evil month, made more acute to the baseball fan by the Tickle N' Tease Fest that is the opening of Spring Training: "Ahhhh, look at them stretch!" "Ooooh, he's leaning on a bat!" "Wow, they're all running backwards!"

It goes on like this for two weeks or more, and as reward for chasing this carrot, come March we get....a second carrot! Exhibition games begin, and as far as salves for shaved nerves go, this is like replacing the promise of Christmas presents with actual presents under the tree. In November.

For a couple of months there's been a tightness in my chest. Some would say a doctor should be called, but I know that's unnecessary. I can make it better. I've felt it release. Every time I flip by ESPN Classic and see an old World Series game, or a famous no-hitter, my body breathes again. It's like a big sigh after a hard day, like seeing an old friend long removed, like falling asleep in a loved-one's arms.

It's not enough, though. I need more, and more is on the way. Spring is here and April is near. Saddle up, boys, it's ridin' time.

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Posted by Derek @ 11:57 AM

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

But We Knew That Already

Turk Wendell's not very bright. Colorado, Wendell's current team, will play the San Francisco Giants nineteen times this season. Ten of those contests will be at Coors Field. Why, then, would he make a statement like this in print:

"If my personal trainer, me, Turk Wendell, got indicted for that, there's no one in the world who wouldn't think that I wasn't taking steroids," the veteran Rockies reliever said. "I mean, what, because he's Barry Bonds, no one's going to say that? I mean, obviously he did it. (His trainer) admitted to giving steroids to baseball players. He just doesn't want to say his name. You don't have to. It's clear just seeing his body."

If I were a pitcher playing nineteen games against the Best Hitter In Baseball, with ten of them at the Best Hitter's Park In This Or Any Other Dimension, I might think twice before calling him out on anything, let alone the Official Barry Bonds Sore Subject for 2004.

No, Turk's not very bright. But I'll be looking for those games, just to see how much candlepower he's got once Barry lights him up.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:30 PM

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Apparently, I'm Cranky

I've noticed I'm a bit touchy today, so why not take it out on some (not so) innocent baseball scribes?

Nitpicking - Do Your Job Edition

Do they have editors at the Sun-Times? Or even dictionaries? (I'd ask for writers, but I'm trying to remain realistic) Here's this beaut from Mike Kiley in the requisite piece about Sammy Sosa dealing with media questions on the "steroid" controversy. I've included the entire paragraph for context, and the article can be found here:

As gracefully as Arthur Ashe guarding the baseline, Sosa arrived in camp and returned all the media serves -- some smashes, some lobs -- with unerring accuracy. He deflected parries that were aimed at eliciting a "Perry Mason'' type of confession. But Sosa isn't easily broken down.

First, I've never seen a "lob" serve. I used to watch a lot of tennis when I was young (my Mom's fault), and even when everyone was using wooden racquets, I never saw a lob to start a point. Sure, a second serve might have less juice and more spin, but it was hardly a lob.

Second, I'm not a fencing expert, but I'm fairly sure that deflecting a parry is, by definition, unnecessary. Perhaps if Mr. Bean had a fencing match with himself one would see a flurry of defensive moves without offensive stimuli, but I don't think that's the image aimed at. It's bad enough form to change sports metaphors in mid-paragraph, but if you must, at least be accurate.

Third, I also watched a lot of Perry Mason when I was a kid, and I swear he never threatened a witness with an épée. Even in California, lawyers eliciting confessions with weaponry are frowned upon, and often given a finger-wagging talking to. I'm positive Mr. Mason, fictional though he may be, was no exception.

Nitpicking - Taken Out of Context Edition

Read this opening paragraph by Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and note what comes to mind:

In baseball, if not in literary circles, you can go home again ... as long as you bring a good needle.

The needle referred to is the teasing type, and the article is about former Cardinals trying to win jobs in St. Louis this year, however, with all the attention focused on performance enhancers, establishing context before using a needle reference would be advisable.

Nitpicking - Unforgivable Pun Edition

The headline from an article about new Milwaukee catchers, Chad Moeller and Gary Bennett, in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Brewers revising menu behind plate

Save us all.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:07 PM

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Monday, February 23, 2004

Ten Fingers in Search of a Topic

I'm working on a series of longer pieces that I intend to post on consecutive days, and since my goal is to not have the massive gulfs between related posts that was the plague of the Assuming the Position series, I'm trying to complete most of the work before I start serving them up for general consumption.

As a result, I am bereft of baseball material, and the lack of news beyond what suspected slight is separating some surplus shortstops in Tampa (oh, for the adoration of alliteration, how I wish the Yankees sojourned in Sarasota!) leaves me with meager inspiration. I have no choice but to turn to the abstract and ask myself, if he were alive and blogging in my stead, what would Luigi Pirandello do?

Ten Fingers in Search of a Topic
Translated from the original Italian

Daytime. A desk and computer.

BLOGGER: It is Monday. The weekend is over, and it is time for me to post. But there is nothing to write about! Spring Training has begun and all the news is about "chemistry" and "new attitudes" and "fresh starts." I suppose I will have to find some strange and hilarious news items on Yahoo to wittily comment on.

WIFE: Sweetie?! There's a baseball player here to see you.

BLOGGER: A player? Here?!? But that's impossible! I am an informed outsider, I don't talk to players! Besides, I'm writing. You know perfectly well no one's allowed to come in while I'm writing.

WIFE: Don't be rude! He's standing right behind you.

A-ROD: Hello. I'm Alex Rodriguez, shortst...uh...third baseman for the New York Yankees.

Applause

A-ROD: I'm terribly sorry to bother you, sir, but I was looking for a new post on your blog.

BLOGGER: There is nothing to write about. There is no new post.

A-ROD: So much the better! I can be your new post!

BLOGGER: You?! But everyone's read all they can stand about you.

A-ROD: Yet, my story hasn't been fully told. All anyone talks about is how much I get paid, how I've ruined baseball, and how much Derek Jeter hates me. No one has written of my pain.

BLOGGER: And that is why you have come to me? To write of your pain?

A-ROD: Yes! It will be an exclusive. You can tell the whole world how I truly feel!

BLOGGER: But nobody cares. Look, I feel bad that no one in the media is willing to look past the money and praise your extraordinary talent, but my writing about your "true feelings" is going to read like a PR statement. Besides, I found this great story about exploding beer bottles in China. I know funny, and that's funny.

A-ROD: Is that what you want your blog to be? Mere mindless diversions for the e-masses? I'm offering you the opportunity of a lifetime! You can be the only one to unlock the depths of this superstar's soul.

BLOGGER: Sorry, I can't help you. There's an article about a coffee shop in Maine that's been licenced to use topless waitresses, and it says they decided to disrobe their servers because of "stiff competition." No way I can let that slide.

A-ROD: That's disgusting! Have you no shame?!

WIFE: No. No, he doesn't.

BLOGGER: Really, I don't.

A-ROD: Enough! If you would rather write of spontaneously detonating beverages and gratuitous breast exposure, then I'll have to find someone else to tell my story. Do you have Phil Rogers' number?

BLOGGER reaches for his Rolodex as the lights slowly fade and the

CURTAIN FALLS

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Posted by Derek @ 1:53 PM

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Friday, February 20, 2004

Spent

My mind is still floating seven inches northeast of my body, and as a result, my thoughts can best be described as stumpy and sporadic. I hope to be capable of extended episodes of lucidity after the weekend, but until then, you're stuck with my scattershot nuggets of nonsense. Prodigality will do that to you.

Cashing In

The Cards pulled the trigger on the big money deal they knew they had to make to keep Albert Pujols in red underwear. The wackiest part of the pact is what amounts to a ten-year pension for Pujols from 2020-2029. It's $3M deferred without interest on each of the last four years of the contract, so it takes some of the immediate financial pressure off the club from 2007-2010. But paying someone $1.2M a year for retiring and drinking mojitos seems a little odd.

The other strange feature is the $16M club option in 2011. Pujols will be 31 (barring discovery of contrary personal papers), and while it's reasonable to assume that he'll be worth the cash, he might not be, and in that event, the Cardinals can exercise a buyout for $5M. "Buyout" hardly seems an apt description, more like an extortive guarantee that the option will be exercised.

I know $5M will likely seem a less onerous figure in seven years, but most clubs won't release a lousy player who makes half that, so what happens if Pujols is pretty good, but no longer what they hoped for?

Overall, it's a good deal, and the Cardinals had to make it, but St. Louis may have one nasty decision to make in 2011, and you can bet I won't be crying for them.

More Darts From the Sightless

Last Friday, I commented on the randomness of the arbitration process and how smart teams do their best to steer clear of it. Well, sometimes, when Mr. Eastwood asks you if you feel lucky, you throw judgment to the wind and say "Hell, yes, Clint! Fire away!"

The Dodgers did just that yesterday, and were pleased to find the chamber empty, as they won their case against Eric Gagne. Despite second and first place finishes in saves the last two years, ridiculous strikeout rates, subterranean ERA's, and a glorious Cy Young award, the arbitration panel thought Gagne's $8M request too high, and ruled for the Dodger's $5M figure.

It's not that I look at Gagne and say, "That's how I want to spend $8M." I don't. But the Goggled One sported everything an arbitrator usually likes to see; high result numbers (wins, saves), low ERA's, and a shiny, shiny trophy. Usually, those factors equal a pot of gold for the player, but not this time around.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the way Closers are viewed in these cases? We'll need more decisions to be sure, but I think it's just another blindly hurled dart hitting some poor slob in the ass.

Blood in the Water

And lastly, because it's fun:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a ferocious, carnivorous South American piranha has been fished out of London's River Thames, environmental officials said Thursday.

So, finally, an answer to the ancient question of where the British Press comes from.

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Posted by Derek @ 2:36 PM

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The End Is Here

The original headline was "My Hall of Famer Makes More Than Your Hall of Famer!" but that was concocted in the heady days of mid-January when the Cubs' original offer to Greg Maddux appeared to be a response to Houston's signing of Roger Clemens. Now, while the Clemens deal feels as relevant as the Dean campaign, the Cubs' move still throws a gauntlet in the face of the Astros and hollers, "You wanna play? Let's play!"

I'm terribly emotional about this, and frankly, I'm embarrassed. I used the word "catharsis" in my post last night, and it's still the most apt description. I have no stories of crying into a pillow, or cursing the Tribune when Maddux left, but something happened. Something far more subtle, even insidious. I lost hope.

I also developed an enhanced dislike of the Braves, yet when Atlanta finally won a World Series in 1995, I had a smile for Mad Dog. Buried under the feelings of betrayal was my soft spot for the little guy with glasses who could paint a corner like Michelangelo could paint a ceiling. Now he's back, and it's as if years of scar tissue, more than a decade of "what ifs?" have evaporated. He's our guy again. I've found my hope, and I'm loving it.

But enough with the soft stuff, the drying of joyful tears, the mending of broken hearts! What will Greg Maddux mean to the Cubs on the field?

Team Impact

Greg Maddux will replace Shawn Estes in the rotation. One more time for those who just fainted: Greg Maddux will replace Shawn Estes in the rotation.

Let's take a look at a couple of numbers from Baseball Prospectus to give us a feel for what the impact might be. The numbers I'm using are VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), and a more complete definition can be found here. Estes' figure reflects his 2003 performance, and Maddux's reflects PECOTA's (the projection system used at Baseball Prospectus, further defined here) baseline prediction for 2004.

VORP
Estes -19.8
Maddux 33.8
Difference 53.6

Forget about Maddux being a "Hall of Fame Caliber" pitcher. Those days are long behind him. However, he's still better than most, and the difference between him and Estes (who, according to VORP, was the single worst pitcher in the Majors) is about 5 wins (one win is roughly equivalent to 10 runs of VORP). What's not to like there?

My one worry is length of contract. The Cubs are overpaying a bit with $8M per season, but that's excusable given the club's resources and the history between player and team. There's a third year that I didn't expect, though, and while it doesn't vest until certain performance goals are met, I can't believe that anything short of a catastrophic injury would make them unattainable.

We will have Maddux until his career is over, and while there's romance in that, it's reasonable to worry about his performance level when he hits forty. That, and the impact it will have on the futures of younger Cubs.

Player Impact

The acquisition of Maddux doesn't occur in a vacuum, and more than one player will be affected.

First up is poor Juan Cruz. I really feel for him. He's done everything the organization has asked. He's started, he's come out of the bullpen, he's shown he can perform at AAA, and he just got done annihilating hitters in the winter leagues. If he hadn't broken his non-pitching hand in a moment of anger, proving that he only understood half of John Tudor's lesson, he might have completed his stint with the sort of emphatic performance shown by fellow Cub, Francis Beltran.

As it stands, Cruz is the favorite for the open swingman job in the bullpen. Having him in that spot will be a luxury, and may be a necessity, depending on the recuperative abilities of Prior, Wood and Zambrano. However, the moment Jim Hendry feels the questions about Angel Guzman's health have been answered, Cruz becomes expendable, and I would fully expect him to be used to cure whatever ails the club around the trading deadline.

While he won't be traded, a similar fate awaits Matt Clement at year's end. Barring multiple, horrific injuries to the younger, better pitchers in the Cubs' system, Clement will be washed away in the flood of talent like a wooden bridge in a tsunami. It was lovely to look at, and it worked well enough, but some forces can't be resisted. In this case, it's not so much the wall of water as the force of strong, young, cheap arms. Clement will have a job next year, just not at Sheffield and Addison.

The Immeasurable

It would be foolish to say this deal isn't about winning. Of course it is, but that just scratches the surface. There's a sense, at least for me, of redemption. Other than one fluke year, the '90's were a wasteland of incompetence and organizational malaise for the Cubs. I'm not sure that differentiates it from any other period in the team's history, but the loss of Maddux to the Braves was symbolic of the decade.

Last year, the Cubs dug the grave for the Lovable Losers. Today, with the acquisition of Maddux, they've laid another ghost to rest. If this keeps up, we'll be dancing on the bones of our disappointments in October.

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Posted by Derek @ 11:22 AM

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The End is Near

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution is reporting tonight that Greg Maddux will return to Chicago. According to the article, an official announcement has yet to be made, but is expected sometime tomorrow. No other details are available, and I haven't seen it on the wire services, but since the AJC is a disinterested party, I'm inclined to buy the story.

If this turns out to be true it will be, if not a great day for the Chicago Cubs, certainly a cathartic one for their fans. More on this when it's official. Until then, keep your fingers crossed, not because we need him, but because it'll be fun to have him.

UPDATE: ESPN has picked the story up, adding a little more credibility. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:47 PM

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Bored Now

According to a single report coming out of a New York television station, the Yankees have made an offer to Greg Maddux and will soon be fitting him for pinstripes.

*yawn*

Let's talk about this rationally for a moment. Maddux has repeatedly stated his desire to remain in the National League, so much so that he rebuffed overtures of affection from the suddenly free-spending Orioles.

Think his hunger to play for a winner motivated that decision? The Red Sox called too, - the nearly AL Champion Red Sox - and all they got was a shrug and a wave. I'll admit, the Yankees are a different beast, but wouldn't you think if they sparked Mad Dog's interest he would have signed with them when he had the chance in 1993?

I don't have any special knowledge of this situation, but my BS (Boras, Scott) radar is going off like a metal detector in a Hip Hop dentist's office. Is there a more classic ploy in the BS lexicon than leaking supposed Yankee interest near negotiation's end?

Assuming this is a bargaining tactic, it won't be effective. What's the downside for the Cubs? If Hendry doesn't sign Maddux because the Evil Empire is willing to throw gold doubloons at the object of its lust, who can blame him? Even the Tribune Monolith looks sympathetic when compared to George and his minions, and when you add BS to the mix, the stink would be on the Yanks. There's no motivation for the Cubs to cave when the masses' fists would be shaking eastward.

I don't doubt the Yankees have interest in Maddux, and they may have tendered an offer, but I won't believe the interest is mutual until The Professor dons the stripes.

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Posted by Derek @ 1:13 PM

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Monday, February 16, 2004

la, la, la, la, I CAN'T HEAR YOU, la, la, la, la, la, la ,la

So......................................

How was your weekend?..................

Anything going on?...........................................

I hear the Lakers won the All-Star game..........................

Okay, Fine. FINE! I'll comment on this weekend's "shortstop situation." I don't want to. After all, enough has been said already. However, I'm learning there's a certain duty in writing about baseball, and this weekend it calls to all of us. I'll answer it by quoting the LA Times coverage of February 15.

Not long after Gene Autry founded the Angels and invited his show business friends to come watch his team play, pitcher Bo Belinsky happily dated a parade of starlets. Four decades later, with a tip of the cap to the late "Singing Cowboy," shortstop David Eckstein is dating an actress.

She's Ashley Drane, who appears as Muffy in the Disney Channel show "She's So Raven"

Stories just don't get bigger than this.

I mean, have you seen Eckstein?

It's as if Howdy Doody finally got his wish to be a real little boy.

Then there's Ms. Drane in what, I swear, is the most mature looking picture I could find.

She's attractive in a "do your parents know where you are" sort of way, which makes them a perfect match. I've never seen a ballplayer who looked more like he belonged in the Little League World Series than Eckstein, so there's poetic justice in his relationship with an actress who recently played Jan Brady.

All kidding aside, I'm sure they're a lovely couple, and I wish them all the best, even if I think it's ridiculous that a major metropolitan newspaper would lead their local team's coverage with something that belongs on E!. I mean, come on, wasn't there some sort of trade to react to?

Which brings me to it. Yes, I'm fully aware of this weekend's big news, but beyond the grand scheme of my baseball obsession, I don't worry a lick about doings in the American League. Not until the Cubs have to face their designated representative in a best of seven series to decide the champion of the world. And when that happens, bring on A-Rod. I'd love to see the Cubs make him cry.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:16 PM

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Friday, February 13, 2004

A Little of This, A Little of That

Some little amusements to get me through a slow Friday.

A Blind Man and a Dart Board

Want to know why the Cubs keep avoiding arbitration? Look no further than here and here.

Any process that will give Jack Wilson $1.85M, but won't give Nick Johnson $1.65M, involves a degree of randomness that smart clubs should find unacceptable. This is not an indictment of the arbitration system. To further mangle the oft brutalized words of Winston Churchill (just try to find two matching versions of this, I dare you. Then try to knock this battery off my shoulder.): Arbitration is the worst form of conflict resolution, except for all the others.

Sleep Tight...

Anyone else creeped out by this? Here's a snippet for those who disdain the clickthrough.

Bedbugs have bitten in 35 states, including Iowa, and continue to spread across the country, pest control experts say.

Bedbugs are tiny bloodsucking insects that smell like soda pop syrup and are shaped like apple seeds. They live in bedding or furniture, or hide behind baseboards and wallpaper.

They don't carry diseases, but they bite while you sleep, turning brownish-red after feeding on your blood.

Bedbugs smell like soda pop and look like apple seeds? Gaaaa! They're like the Jelly Bellys of the insect world ("Bedbugs! The favorite confectionary invertebrate of former President Reagan!").

Speaking of Scary

Who knew this was necessary?

Faced with growing demand for exorcisms, Catholic Church leaders in the Italian city of Genoa have created a taskforce of doctors and priests to determine when the devil is at work and when psychiatric help is needed.

The team of three priests, one psychiatrist, one psychologist and one neurologist -- dubbed the "anti-Satan pool" by Italian media -- will work on a case-by-case basis, a local church official said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"They'll meet on a regular basis to determine when there has been a case of demonic possession and call for an exorcist, or problems better cared for by a psychologist," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Don't know about you, but I don't need a team of "experts" to tell me that the guy sitting next to me on the train, muttering to himself about how the bedbugs are seeking arbitration with Ronald Reagan concerning the equitable distribution of Jelly Bellys, bears a closer resemblance to an Almond Joy bar than Marlena Brady.

When the church official explaining the commission's purpose asks not to be named, I see a red flag.

Pitchers and catchers on Wednesday. Chin up, folks. The wait's almost over.

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Posted by Derek @ 1:08 PM

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Can I Get Frequent Flier Miles With That?

Alright, I know this isn't about the Cubs, and it's not even about baseball, but I couldn't resist this news item about this website. If politics make you queasy, just scan beyond the tags.

[POLITICS]

The new weapon in the fight against terror, the burning searchlight in the quest for WMD, is a secure online form and fabulous prizes.

The CIA recently created an area on their website for submitting information about imminent attacks and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Finally, the good people of Modesto have a way to get their valuable intelligence into CIA hands.

It's a silly idea, and they've completed the job by dubbing it the Iraqi Rewards Program. Is there a point system? Can I get a monthly statement of my Iraqi Reward Earnings? How many pieces of intel do I submit to get the Joe Camel® Satin Jacket?

It's PR, ladies and gents, plain and simple. No acts of terror will be stopped. No WMD will be found. Only pimpled pubescents with mischievous minds will use this information outlet, and won't they be surprised when the Black Suits drop by at 2am to check out that tip about the destructive weapons "in my butt."

There's no help to be had here, and anyone thinking otherwise needs to look at Iraqi infrastructure and tell me how a country that's struggling to get a toilet to flush is going to start using PowerBooks and Bluetooth to cure what ails them.

[/POLITICS]

We now return you to your regularly scheduled baseball-related program activities.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:03 AM

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Greetings and Salutations!

L'Armée De Blog D'Petits Ours continues to bring new recruits to the cause. Please extend a hearty hello to Rooftop Report, and welcome him to our family!

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Posted by Derek @ 8:46 AM

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Dutch Boy Signs

Once again, the Cubs manage to avoid arbitration (is any other team even close to being this allergic to arb hearings?), and settle on a one-year, $1.4M deal with Kyle Farnsworth. That splits the submitted figures right down the middle, which is what always seems to happen when the parties settle just before their hearing date. So, why not just meet in the middle two months ago?

Anyway, it's fair for both sides, so everyone should be happy. I was getting a little scared that the club would actually have to rip Farnsworth to his face, but we've thankfully avoided that psycho-calamity. Now, let's load up the dog-sled, and mush on to Mesa!

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Posted by Derek @ 6:16 PM

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It's Official

If any of you think the Maddux/Cubs saga hasn't gone on too long, I saw the clinching argument that it has last night.

ATA, the airline to fly when you're done caring, stepped into the fray with a television ad. I missed the first bit as I flipped by, but coming back I saw a shot of an ATA jet's nose, with the text of an open letter to The Professor typing itself onto the screen. It listed reasons why Maddux should play in Chicago intead of Los Angeles, then mentioned that he could hop one of their "convenient flights" to the Land of LA if he wanted to visit during an off day.

I appreciate the Cub fans at ATA getting this done. Really, it's very sweet. However, it's disturbing that a large company can decide to put an ad like this together, and have confidence that it will still be relevant by airtime.

So, that's it. I'm going to fly ATA somewhere, because I'm done caring.

Sign somewhere, Greg. Get off my radar, and get in a uniform or just get.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:58 AM

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Funny Papers

I love comedy. Especially when it's unintentional. Take this example from the February 7th Cincinnati Post:

You can say their prospects for the coming season are bleak. You can say their payroll is too low, their owner is too cheap and their pitching is too soft. You can say they have about as much chance of reaching this year's World Series as Janet Jackson has of reaching next year's Super Bowl.

But please, don't even suggest that the Reds are facing a rebuilding year.

"That would not be an apt description," general manager Dan O'Brien said. "We have a hope and an expectation of trying to contend this year. But we also understand that a lot of that is going to revolve around how our starting pitching comes together."

Behold, the "Janet Jackson Memorial Metaphor Of The Week!" which in all its passé hilarity, pales beside the contention that the Reds are contenders. Dan O'Brien may be more delusional than that guy on Michigan Avenue in Chicago wearing the hand-sharpied sandwich boards declaring his latest discovery of communist conspiracy (my favorite: the one where Al Gore was kidnapped by the Viet Cong in the '70's and replaced with a communist double. "You can tell by the contrasting pictures! It's just not him anymore!").

But if you think that's good, lay your eyes on this genius:

The Reds were a solid 30-21 in one-run games, but you have to wonder how much better that record might have been -- not to mention their overall mark of 69-93 -- had they gotten the bunts down more often.

Bunts were why the Reds stank?!? Bunts!?! I'm not going to talk about the role luck plays in one-run games, others have covered it better than I could, but how could the author say they needed to improve in those situations when their record in one-run games was among the best in the Major Leagues? Only four teams (Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees) had a better record in that situation, so maybe the real problem is that the Reds were 39-72 when the margin of victory was greater than one. Bunts don't help when the opposition scores like Gene Simmons at a nympho convention.

Finally we have this....this....aw, geez, just read it.

"I would not want to identify a particular win total as a specific target goal," O'Brien said. "I just think there are a number of areas on the ballclub where we want to see tangible progress. First is starting pitching, and in particular our younger starting pitching. Second is that we want to improve our overall lineup, our offensive efficiency and our run production. Third is our overall defense, both on the infield and in the outfield. And fourth is our overall team execution."

Three things: pitching, hitting and defense. They're the root of the game. But, apparently, it's not enough for the Reds to be lousy at those, so they added a fourth thing to stink at.

Why talk about specific problems you hope to address during the season when you can't think of anything that's not a problem? It would be easier to say, "We feel like we need to improve in all aspects of the game, and we intend to make progress in every possible way." Easier, and far less depressing to your fan base than a laundry list of inadequacy.

Cincinnati has a "hope and an expectation of trying to contend this year?" Now that's comedy.

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Posted by Derek @ 3:22 PM

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Monday, February 09, 2004

A Trip to the Woodshed

Like castrating a eunuch, laying a hammer to the work of Phil Rogers is absurd and unnecessary. His indolence requires no comment. His failures jump from the page like crack-fueled frogs. However, there are occasions when the regular diet of sloth gets overcooked and becomes a crock of....well....you know.

No matter how hard guys like Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee and Edgar Renteria try to downplay their desire to seek greener pastures, their pending free agency will be a spring issue if they aren't signed soon.

This statement comes at the tail end of an article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune, which can be found in its entirety here. Rogers asserts the lack of a long term contract for any of these players could cause distractions during the spring, a reasonable statement on its own. The media would stimulate any lack of focus, but the engine of diversion doesn't care why it's driving to distraction, it just takes off in the direction it's pointed.

Contract status may steal attention from the job at hand, but implying these players have an active interest in leaving their current teams reeks of intentional trouble-making. The quote's beginning ("No matter how hard [they] try to downplay their desire to seek greener pastures,") tells me they want to leave, that they desire "greener pastures," but are giving disingenuous indications to the contrary, keeping loyal fans in the dark about their nefarious plans to skulk away in the night like a ballclub slinking to Milwaukee.

While I'm uninformed about Renteria's situation, there has been nothing to indicate problems in the Cubs' negotiations with Wood or Lee. Both players were able to reach amicable one-year settlements that kept them out of arbitration, and every indication has been that all parties are working toward long-term deals. News about the negotiations has been scarce, but private bargaining should be a source of comfort. Disaster is imminent when information leaks spring before talks conclude. Why, then, does Rogers insist the players are anxious to test the market?

One possibility is Rogers' need to create work in the barren baseball winter. He sews a story-seed in the minds of his audience, one about their favorite player wanting to leave, spitting on all their love and devotion. He nurtures it with rumor and innuendo, the food and water of any yellow journalism, and watches it grow from half a sentence, to a paragraph, to an article, to a series of articles. He has a bounty of material to last through opening day, and consequence free, for after all, he is only reporting the news.

But maybe that's too harsh. Maybe his intentions are pure. Perhaps Rogers' is simply incompetent. Perhaps he meant to say:

No matter how hard guys like Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee and Edgar Renteria try to downplay their possible departure to greener pastures, their pending free agency will be a spring issue if they aren't signed soon.

It still attempts to lay groundwork for future stories, but without pretending to know the hearts and minds of the players involved. The tactic remains foul, but the version above casts no aspersions. Rogers may not have understood that his original sentence implied a plot on the players' part. That his poor word selection made his subjects cunning, conniving, cutthroats, anxious to betray their baseball brethren for an extra buck. He may be that inept.

But in the end, the question of Rogers motivation is mere noise. Whether poorly executed or maliciously designed, the passage leads readers to conclusions about the players' plans that are not supported by fact. Yellow journalism and incompetence both give rise to poor writing, and if Rogers is guilty of anything, it's writing badly. All that's left is the question of intent, but when the product is so poor, the question becomes moot.

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Posted by Derek @ 1:09 PM

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Dusty and the 'Pen

For the second off-season in a row, the Cubs have spent a hefty portion of their energy and money on improvements to the bullpen. Last year’s efforts raised the relief corps from the very worst in the majors, to a passable group worthy of the term mediocre. This year, additions (LaTroy Hawkins, Kent Mercker), and addition by subtraction (Antonio Alfonseca) have combined to create a bullpen that should be in the upper third in the league, and has a chance to be even better.

There are obvious positives, here. Improving your bullpen makes you better at preventing runs, and any time you get better at preventing runs, you improve your team’s chances of winning.

Readers: Thanks, Derek, wasn’t aware of that.
Derek: No problem, I’m here to help.

There’s something else, though. Another reason to upgrade the bullpen, and it’s a particularly important one for a team like the Cubs.

There is a school of thought that says if one portion of your team’s pitching staff is significantly weaker than the other, that the manager will rely on the stronger part like a one-legged man on his cane. This looked to be the case with the usage pattern exhibited by manager Dusty Baker, the starting staff being so much stronger than the bullpen that they were used (or overused) in a way that caused many people, myself included, to fear for the short and long term health of the team’s core of young starters.

Implicit in this theory is the idea that, not only will a manager be more likely to use the stronger part of his staff for longer periods as the gulf between them widens, but that an increased balance of quality between the two will result in an increased balance in the distribution of the usage pattern. Given the significant strain endured by most of the Cub’s young staff last year, and the improvement in the relief corps this off-season, Cub fans hope this is the case. After all, we’d like to see Wood, Prior and Zambrano’s arms remain attached to their bodies, even if some of them don’t seem to care. But does this theory bode well for the future health of the Cub’s starting staff?

There’s no better place to look for an answer than the career of the man making the in-game decisions, Dusty Baker. To do this, I got some numbers from the always useful, if well hidden, statistics page at the Baseball Prospectus site. I wanted to see if the relative quality of the two groups of pitchers affected the percentage of innings each unit threw over the course of a season. Needing two run prevention rate stats that compared well with each other, I chose to use Adjusted Runs Average (AdjRA) for the starters (similar to ERA, except that it also uses unearned runs and adjusts for park effects), and Runs Responsible Average (RRA) for the relievers (the full definition is linked here, but I’m using it because it’s a good comp for AdjRA in the relief world). If the theory holds, we should see the use of the bullpen increase when they are as good or better than the starters, and decrease as they get worse. Here’s what happened on Dusty’s teams from 1998-2003, the years these stats are available on BP.

YearBullpen IP %RRA/AdjRA
199834.7%22.1%
199933.4%12.5%
200029.8%5.8%
200132.5%-5.7%
200230.1%20.1%
200329.3%-10.5%

Some quick explanation. The Bullpen IP % is the percentage of team innings thrown in relief, and the RRA/AdjRA is the percent difference between the run prevention of the relievers and starters, with a positive number indicating the rate at which the bullpen was superior, and a negative number indicating the rate at which the starters were superior. According to our theory, a higher positive RRA/AdjRA should indicate a higher Bullpen IP %, and vice versa.

Except, it kinda doesn’t. There seems to be a trend from 1998-2000. As the bullpen gets worse relative to the starting staff, their usage decreases. But, then, the trend reverses itself over the next two years. The bullpen gets significantly worse relative to the starters in 2001, but they get considerably more innings, and then when they get better in 2002, their workload decreases again. I don’t think this dog hunts, but there might be another way of approaching the problem.

YearBullpen IP %RRA/MLB AdjRA
199834.7%17.2%
199933.4%2.9%
200029.8%8.3%
200132.5%-7.4%
200230.1%23.6%
200329.3%1.4%

That didn’t help. This time we’re looking at the bullpen’s performance (RRA) relative to the league’s AdjRA. If the quality of the bullpen in general made a difference in how often Dusty used them, we should have seen something indicative of that in the comparison above, but this is all over the map, with no real observable trend.

So, Dusty doesn’t use his bullpen based on how they compare to his starters, and he doesn’t use them based on how they compare to the league. Is there anything that governs his usage patterns?

YearBullpen IP %AdjRA/MLB AdjRA
199834.7%-6.3%
199933.4%-11.0%
200029.8%2.7%
200132.5%-1.6%
200230.1%4.4%
200329.3%10.8%

Looks like. Now instead of looking at the quality of the bullpen, we’re looking at the quality of the starters relative to the league (negative percentages are the rate at which the starters were worse than the league, positive percentages the rate at which they were better). I’m no mathematician, so you won’t be seeing any regression analysis on this, but I can spot a nominal trend, and I think we have one here. If one ignores 1998, an increase in the efficacy of Dusty Baker’s starters was the trigger for less mound time for the bullpen, and the reverse was true as well.

This is not what I wanted to see, but I can’t change what the numbers imply. It appears that the more Dusty has confidence in his starters, they more they remain his first option, quality alternatives be damned. The Cubs are left in a position where their blessings double as curses. A fantastic core of young starters is the team’s strength, but they are so good that the very real possibility exists that their manager may, to paraphrase a favorite children’s book, eat them up he loves them so.

Keep your fingers crossed, Cub fans. We’re not out of the woods yet.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:25 PM

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Bits N’ Pieces

There’s nothing going on that I feel like giving exclusive treatment to, so here’s a couple observations on another fine day for the democratic process. If you’re in a state with a primary today, stop reading this and go vote! I’ll be here when you get back. If you’ve voted already, thanks for playing. Now, on with the show.

Amazin’! - Good for Eric Karros. He signed on with the A’s yesterday for a little over $1M, and as much as I might have wished to see him spending more time with a camera in his hand than a bat, I found his enthusiasm refreshing, and my good impression was only reinforced by the full-page ad he took out in the Chicago Tribune at season’s end (if anyone has a link to this, let me know and I’ll put it up thanks to Doug for the link!). I have never met him and don’t pretend to know him, but what I saw last season made me want to root for him, so kudos to Mr. Karros for signing with a contender.

And kudos to the A’s, as well. Assuming he gets used as a right-handed caddy for Scott Hatteberg and/or Erubiel Durazo, Karros can be a valuable commodity. Both Hatteberg and Durazo have very real platoon splits, and having someone like Karros around who can spell those guys against lefties and thrive while doing it will serve the A’s in good stead. Now if only Eric Chavez could hit the southpaws…

Everybody’s Doing It - First the Cubs, and now the Marlins. Seems like everyone who gets a hold of Hee Seop Choi feels the need to get him a platoon partner. Florida signed Wil Cordero yesterday to a one-year deal, both as insurance for Choi and to provide “veteran leadership” off the bench. There’s no doubt that Cordero can hit lefties (.295/.383/.467 over the last three years), and he’s doing it on the cheap (only $600K), so in those respects he’s a good pickup. I just hope that he doesn’t take valuable development time from Choi, and that his “veteran leadership” doesn’t include classes in phone etiquette.

There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here… - There’s an article in today’s Chicago Tribune that has Scott Boras openly pitching Greg Maddux’s skill as a teacher of hurlers. It’s difficult to tell from the article where this came from, a source in the organization, or Boras himself, and while he is quoted in the article making pithy statements about Maddux’s professorial prowess, it’s unclear whether the statements were specific to today’s piece, or recycled from earlier interviews. In any case, it smells like a plant. There don’t seem to be any other suitors out there for the future Hall of Famer’s services, and without the leverage of other offers to get prices rising, Boras’ only alternative would be to make his case to the city at large. Hendry and Boras will be talking today or tomorrow, and the timing of this article makes me think some movement is in the offing. Ideally, the movement will include Maddux up to Chicago, and Scott Boras down a peg.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - I swear, this is the last thing I’ll write about Ivan Rodriguez for the foreseeable future. I just had to give voice to my glee. In yet another fine example of why you should be careful what you wish for, Pudge wished for $10M a year, and he got it. Pudge wished for a four-year contract, and he got that too. But just like the Genie who takes your wish to be loved by everyone and grants it by turning you into an Oscar Meyer Weiner, Scott Boras gave I-Rod exactly what he asked for but threw in a delicious twist. Now, sentenced to the baseball equivalent of four years in Siberia in a gold-brick house, Pudge will have the time to contemplate the value of victory, and hope that his one ring keeps him warm at night.

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Posted by Derek @ 11:05 AM

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Monday, February 02, 2004

Clearing the Air

Although no one has called me on it yet, I realized that I may have given a false impression with some of what I wrote in my last post. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and having reread it this morning, believe it needs a little clarification. I was writing about abandoning an attempt to do a breakdown of a Phil Rogers column. Here’s a quote for context:

So, you won’t see that post anytime soon. Not only was it no fun to write, but after I had completed about 70% of the thing, I realized it wouldn’t be any fun to read, either. It’s truly a masturbatory exercise, and it reeks of an ill-advised attempt to prove oneself as the Smart Kid. Obviously, there’s a level of narcissism involved in any sort of similar endeavor, the assumption being that I have something to say and a way of saying it that others will find worthy of their time. However, laying a mean-spirited smack-down on someone else’s work, no matter how deserving of opprobrium, is inviting the same demon to visit me one day, and I don’t like his looks or his smell.

There is an implication in that snippet that I don’t believe writers should hold other writers accountable for their lousy work, and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I firmly believe that there’s a duty of sorts to point out when others are spreading bad information or reaching conclusions based on twisted or even non-existent facts. This is something that Phil Rogers does on a regular basis, although I would argue that it’s due more to laziness and incompetence than to malice.

My problem, which I expressed in too general terms above, was with my personal ability to present the issues with the column in question in a manner that went beyond simple cruelty and into the arena of well-reasoned critique and entertainment. Ridicule for it’s own sake isn’t pretty, and if that’s the route you choose to go, don’t be surprised if it comes back at you bigger and uglier than before.

I fully expect to feel compelled to take someone to the woodshed at a future date, but my desire is that I do so in a way that adds up to something beyond malicious attack. If I can construct a reasoned argument, and have some fun along the way, even if that fun is at the offender’s expense, then it’s worth doing. Otherwise, it’s just hurtful bluster, and I hope that’s never my style.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:37 AM

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