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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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Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Friday, April 30, 2004

Rusch-ing To Deal

Yesterday, the Cubs made a trade with the Detroit Tigers, sending 22 year-old fireballing lefty, Felix Sanchez, to the Puddy Tats in exchange for 20 year-old lefty control artist, Jon Connolly and a player to be named.

The exchange of players itself might not be terribly significant. Sanchez has a great arm, but as was pointed out in Bryan Stroh’s report on the Cubs’ Top 30 Prospects at the Cub Reporter (Bryan ranks him at #17), while his fastball is a legitimate Major League pitch, he doesn't have much else going for him, including a useful secondary pitch. He had a nice year at West Tenn last season, but in his return this year he's gotten cuffed around a bit, giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 6.1 innings while sporting a 7.11 ERA.

Connolly, on the other hand, is your prototypical crafty lefty. In his Baseball Prospect Book 2004, John Sickels notes that his "best fastball is 86 MPH, and his curveball is rated as 'not great.' He does have a very good changeup, and obviously his command and control are top-notch." He's been getting his first taste of High-A ball this year, and the results are somewhat mixed. His 3.68 ERA is solid enough, as are his mere 5 walks given up in 22 innings, but he's also given up 28 hits and only struck out 8 in those outings.

So, at first blush, a reasonable conclusion is that the Cubs grew tired of Sanchez' unfulfilled potential and distinct lack of polish, and decided to use his live arm to acquire someone who, while equipped with a lower ceiling, was still young and looked to be more of a finished product. But there's more to it than that.

As is pointed out in this morning's Chicago Tribune, the deal opens a spot on the 40-man roster which is almost certain to be filled by Glendon Rusch. Who goes where and does what is still an open question, but it appears very likely that Michael Wuertz will be sent down to Iowa. After that, it's a matter of deciding who goes in the rotation, Rusch or Mitre, with the one who's left going to the pen.

In the interest of full disclosure, Rusch has had a nice run in Iowa, going 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings of work. He's only walked one man in that span, while giving up 18 hits - none of which were homers - and striking out 16. Those numbers, the fact that he's left-handed, and his super-neato-veteran-sheen make it seem near certain the he'll be getting the ball on Monday against the Cardinals.

I'm willing to concede that there are worse ideas in the world. Rusch had a pretty nice run at the end of last season, and has shown better control in his time on the farm. Mitre has had a couple nice starts, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the thought of him facing the likes of Edmonds, Pujols, Renteria and Rolen makes me break out in a bout of the Olde Tyme Estesian Pox.

So, kids, besides the obvious exchange of players, this deal leaves us with the distinct possibility that Glendon Rusch could take the ball for six or more starts over the next month-plus. I can't really say that's a good thing, but it's not so bad either.

UPDATE: The Sun-Times has a slightly different take in their article, stating that Rusch will be in the bullpen to start with, and won't be in the rotation unless future struggles from Mitre warrant it. This makes a little more sense, especially since Rusch had some pretty nice success out of Milwaukee's pen last year, and the Cubs could use another lefty to compliment Mercker until Mike Remlinger is ready to return. Debate on whether Remlinger should be used like other lefties will be saved for another time.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:15 AM


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Game Notes 21: Tooth Skinning 101

The Cubs narrowly avoided being swept in a three game series for the first time since September 24-26, 2002 - a series in which they scored two runs against the Cincinnati Reds. Victory was theirs despite blowing a 3-1 lead, giving up three home runs to Steve Finley, and generally looking confused and out of sorts against Casey Deagle.

I'm just thankful that the club squeaked by with a win, and that the Brewers staged a miraculous comeback to boost the Cubs to sole possession of first place. Below: the tidbit feast.

  • It was good to see Greg Maddux not be "Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux," but still get the job done. Of course, any lineup that features Donnie Sadler in the two spot is going to make the work at hand less arduous, and it was with great relief that I saw Sadler sidle up to the dish with the bases loaded in the second inning.

    True to his nature, he swung at ball four and saved the Professor's proverbial bacon, all the while looking disgusted at himself for his transgression; an expression that bore the odd implication that he could have expected a different outcome. You'd think that career .206/.267/.290 hitters would stop being surprised at such things.

  • Thankfully, it looks like Richie Sexson only strained his shoulder last night, despite it looking a whole lot worse. In today's UTK, Will Carroll mentions that the bicep tears suffered by Frank Thomas and Dean Palmer flashed through his head when he saw Sexson crumple to the ground after his aborted swing. Me? I saw Dave Dravecky.

  • I'm no sayer of sooth, but after Derrek Lee looked lost as a drugged kitten in a box full of packing peanuts against Matt Mantei, I literally said to myself, "Gonzo gets a fastball up in the zone and yanks it." I should have crinkled my nose or folded my arms and done the blink-nod, then I could lay claim to some fantastic ability to alter time and space.

    But, no, I've chosen the way of the crazy old woman who brings her own tent to the carnival, telling sad sacks galore of their impending true love and boundless riches, all the while giving the Carnie Master a 75% cut of my take so he won't run me off the grounds with a sawed-off shotgun and a pack of starving dogs. Don't be like me, kids. Talk to your career counselor!

  • Does anyone else just not like watching games being played at the BOB? I don't know what it is, but there's this weird gloomy feeling about the place. I think it's the domification factor, as I get some of that from Miller Park as well (and let's not even talk about "Le Stade").

    That's not the whole story, though. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I'm still thinking to myself that Diamondbacks aren't a real team. The Florida clubs engender that same feeling. Unconsciously, I seem to be projecting my belief that Major Leaguers shouldn't play ball in Arizona or Florida beyond the month of March unless they're on a rehab assignment.

    I know I should learn to move beyond this prejudice and accept the facts, but I'm curmudgeonly for my age. Besides, I just can't respect a team that purposefully employs purple as one of their colors. Gack!

Having successfully escaped from the desert, the Cubs hop right into the belly of the beast and a four game series in St. Louis. Since the 2000 season, the Cubs are 5-25 at Busch Stadium, and if this team wants to prove it's truly ready for the big time, they need to reverse this trend. Now.

It's Cubs vs. Cardinals, folks. If you're not salivating at the prospect of this series, you're just not alive.

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Posted by Derek @ 3:43 PM


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Game Notes 20: D-Backs 10, Cubs 1 - Analysis and Insight


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Posted by Derek @ 6:57 AM


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Game Notes 19: That Taste...It's So Familiar...(GASP!)...It's My Own Medicine!

I have a confession to make. I stopped watching the game after five and a half innings. This was due to a combination of factors:

1) The seven runs the Cubs had given up to that point
2) The complete, undeniable dominance of Randy Johnson
3) My daughter's unexpected presentation of a window of opportunity for sleep

None of these factors on their own is usually enough to put me off a ballgame, but put all of them together, and you best believe I'll abandon our boys and hop on the next train to dreamland.

For what it's worth, the '27 Yankees would have looked like blind T-Ballers in straightjackets against the Unit last night, so in my mind, there's no shame in the Cubs' performance at the dish. Sometimes a pitcher comes out and owns you from the first pitch, and on those days, you tip your hat, say "thank you very much," and move on.

I do have to comment, though, on the Jose Macias at bat from the third inning. It was unique to me in that it was 10 pitches long, including 7 consecutive foul balls, yet there was no doubt at any point during the confrontation who would win. There wasn't a single pitch where Macias didn't look completely overmatched, and yet if he was a better hitter, he might have been able to coax a walk. Multiple pitches that Macias gamely fouled off would have been balls had he let them pass.

He didn't, though, and it was obvious he wouldn't. He was too scared to let one go, so he kept closing his eyes and flinging his bat out there, praying to the baseball gods that he might dump the ball in play where there were no defenders. However, it wasn't to be, and as soon as Johnson got annoyed enough to throw Macias something that wasn't a fastball, the confrontation was over with a weak swing and a mope to the pine.

Then there was the play by Chad Tracy in the top of the sixth, and if you haven't seen it yet, just watch your favorite highlight show, or wait until the year end nominations for individual defensive plays come out on I guarantee you, anytime a guy nearly takes a header on the concrete in the stands after flipping 180 degrees thanks to a fence in the gut, yet hangs onto the ball that got him in the predicament in the first place, recognition flows to such feats like Duff to the mouth of Barney Gumble. You will see it again. And again. And again.

That's where my observations stop, and what more was there to see, anyway (other than an apparently mammoth shot off the bat of Richie Sexson, which I will certainly catch on a reply somewhere)? I only have one other thing to point out, and it's a quote from Bob Brenly, manager of the Diamondbacks, regarding his removal of Randy Johnson after seven innings and 98 pitches.

I'm sure he could have finished that game very easily, but we saved him a few innings there and hopefully we can tack those on in September.

I would never in a million years wish for Bob Brenly as a manager, but I would be forever grateful if Dusty understood the simple concept outlined above. - *sigh* - A guy can dream, can't he?

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Posted by Derek @ 11:09 AM


Sunday, April 25, 2004

Game Notes 18: How Sweep It Is

Other than Kerry Wood, there is no Cub pitcher I enjoy watching when they've got their "A" game going more than Matt Clement. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing Prior dominate while seeming to expend the level of effort I put into brushing my teeth with a Sonicare, and it's great fun to witness Big Z howling at the heavens while doing untold damage to the real estate market for infield-dwelling moles. Still, if he's on, give me Matty C.

It's that slider. I'm a sucker for it. If the Marquis de Sade was a moundsman, it would have been his signature pitch; cruel and obscene with a propensity for biting. Imagine it now: the Marquis all fopped out, whipping hitters with this ball he's named "the scourge," giggling gleefully as his helpless victims flail away at a pitch so nasty that it nips ankles on the way down. Now imagine Matt Clement in a Louis XIV wig and lacey, ruffled collar. Now go take a shower. Rinse. Repeat.

Clement doesn't have that stuff every time out, but he had it today and that little French derelict would have been proud, as Matt took a no-no to the seventh, finally losing it and the shutout on a home run by Karim Garcia. Matt was the master, and the Mets his willing slaves, striking out 13 times while only reaching base on 4 occasions, twice by hit and twice by walk.

If anyone still has anxiety about Clement due to his slow spring start, take your meds and relax. Sure, he's going to have rough outings from time to time, and he'll likely exhibit at least some of the maddening inconsistency that has dogged him throughout his career, but he's no longer a source of concern, and ought to be a source of pride. I'm not going to start advocating re-signing him at year's end - not with Angel Guzman waiting in the wings - but if none of the Cubs' young farmhands is ready to go in 2005, you have to give it some thought. He's earned at least that much.

The Cubs have matched their longest win streak from last year, and as an extra weird bonus, have also matched their 2003 record after eighteen games. One of the odd issues with last year's club was their inability to put together prolonged strings of success. There was plenty of blame to go around for that flaw, but most could be attributed to the continuing presence of Shawn Estes in the rotation, and the team's season long issues with scoring runs.

Offensively, the club looks to be significantly better, and Estes has been banished to the pitching wasteland of Colorado, where he has assumed the identity of Bizarro Shawn, going 3-1 with a 3.70 ERA, made up almost entirely of one bad start at Busch Stadium (he has given up only 3 runs in his other 20 innings pitched). It would be sweet as your best girl's kisses to extend this streak at the expense of the Big Unit tomorrow night. And you know what? I'm just dumb enough to think they can.

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Posted by Derek @ 5:18 PM


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Game Notes 17: Ownership Has Its Privliges

During six starts against New York from 2001-2003, Kerry Wood has posted a 3-1 record, with 24 hits, 3 home runs, 19 walks, 42 strikeouts and a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings. Today, his domination continued with a stellar seven inning shutout performance, allowing only 4 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 9 helpless Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins finished the job, and the Cubs got a 3-0 victory, extending their win streak to five.

I don't know if the extra days off helped Kerry get over the workload from his previous outing, and right now I don't care. While my point from the other day still holds, and is more about understanding the possible risks involved with particular usage patterns than predicting an outcome, I'm not so pig-headed as to root for a bad outing from Wood just to feel like I called it. He was awesome. I'm happy. That's all.

Okay, that's not really all. Here are a few bits and pieces I'm tacking on with the obligatory bullet points.

  • The Cubs have outscored their opponents 35-4 on this trail of triumph leading from game 13 to 17, and it's all eerily familiar. In 2003, the Cubs won five consecutive games - numbers 14 to 18 - and beat their foes by a combined score of 50-11. Coincidence? Sure. Meaningless? You bet. Fun? Absolutely.

  • In the top of the fifth, we got to see one of those little things that make watching this game so fun. Vance Wilson hit a high chopper to the left side, and it was clear from the moment the ball first leapt from the dirt that, despite his catcher's speed, any play at first would be mighty close.

    The defensive protagonist in this bit of fun was the shortstop for the day, Ramon Martinez, and he handled himself brilliantly, moving under the ball and preparing all the way to barehand and throw. He got his feet set up, moved into position to grab the ball with his arm already cocked, snatched it out of the air and fired toward first with grace and assurance, as if he had been expecting it since yesterday.

    The play itself was of little consequence. It saved a baserunner, and perhaps a few extra pitches on Kerry Wood's arm, but it was unlikely to change the game's outcome. Yet, it was one of those little moments of poetry that make so many of us pay attention as closely as we do. I know I spew a lot of numbers here, but they are simply a means to an end, a way to further explain what I see on the field. They are not what make me love this game. It's barehanded throws to first executed in a single motion after catching a ball in midair, and a thousand other things like it that spur my passion, and that's the way it should be.

  • I'll be curious to read the fishwrap rabble's take on LaTroy Hawkins finishing the game, especially since all three major papers did a piece on Joe Borowski's struggles thus far and how yesterday's 1-2-3 outing should help him because the problem's all in his head.

    Dusty's postgame pronouncement was that he was doing it because of the matchups, with the ESPN wrapup implying that the last three hitters' AL origins - Hawkins league until this year - were a factor as well. However, if one of the components in the decision was the hitters' previous league, wouldn't it make more sense to send out a pitcher those guys hadn't seen before? Dusty said not to read anything into it, and that Borowski's his closer, but if I'm jumping on this, what do you think the Chicago press will do?

There's a chance for a sweep tomorrow, but we have to get past Al Leiter to do it, and it's also an opportunity to match last season's longest winning streak. I can't think of a better way to enter a new week and a matchup with Randy Johnson than to beat another tough left-hander to extend the Major's longest current victory string. Let's see some brooms, fellas, it's time to clean house!

UPDATE: I had apparently double posted this, and had gotten one comment on each. I've republished the post and consolidated the comments verbatim, and in the order they were posted, although the post times are different from the original. - The Management

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Posted by Derek @ 10:14 PM


Reader Questions

I think it's pretty cool that this site has reached the point where I get asked my opinion about certain things from time to time. That anyone trusts my judgement and insight at all is flattering, but I need to do a better job of recognizing when someone has basically handed me a suject for a post. Such is the case with a question I received in the comments from reader PD the other day. While I answered it in that space, it was pointed out to me that all might be best served by posting it out here. This was PD's query:

From May 25 to July 1 the Cubs play what might be, aside from September, the stretch of games that defines their season. The set includes 12 against the 'Stros, 7 against the deadbirds, 6 split between Anaheim and Oakland, 3 against the other team in Chicago, and 7 against Pittsburgh. Given the double-header against Pittsburgh on May 28 and the fact that we'll be playing tough competition, it will be crucial to have Prior back to full form sometime between June and July. Hypothetically, and in your opinion, if we don't get him back at all can the staff stand up through a Dusty June and have enough left in the tank for August and September, or will we be looking for Hendry's Ryan Dempster or Angel Guzman?

First, I might extend that stretch of games all the way to the All-Star Break. The last series with the White Sox follows that Houston series, then after a set with the Brewers, three more games with the Cards. That's 42 games in 45 days against the toughest competition they will face in a concentrated period all year. You're right, it will define the season, and if the club is within shouting distance of the division when they hold the "exhibition that matters" in Houston, consider it mission accomplished.

However, I don't think Prior being around or not is a factor in how well rested the staff will be at the end of the season. I'm starting to think that Dusty is going to ride Wood and Zambrano hard all the time, simply because he sees them as aces in the making, and he wants to teach them how to get it done. It's a foolish idea, but one he seems very attached to. I'm thinking of doing a piece on this concept when my life is a bit more settled, but suffice to say, I don't think Dusty's usage patterns are terribly flexible, and Prior being around during those big games won't change it.

That was the end of my response at the time, but let me clarify a little. A while back, I looked at Dusty's usage patterns and concluded from the data I had that he was always going to favor good starters over a good bullpen. One would think that the two would play off each other, that it would be a symbiotic relationship, but in Dusty's case it seems to all be a function of the quality of his starters.

My opinion on this is also influenced by this telling Dusty Baker quotation:

Woody's approaching the threshold of the great pitchers who don't really need a closer in the ninth. … That's a situation where you're trying to have Woody get to another point in his career where he can close his own games. He was still throwing 97, 98 miles an hour. ... I'm trying to get Woody to the point of greatness where he can close his own game out.

Based on the way he uses them, I think you can replace "Woody" with "Prior," or "Zambrano," and still have an accurate statement of Baker's philosophy. I find it particularly interesting that Dusty sees himself as a steward of these pitcher's careers, that he is responsible for helping them to reach their full potential. While I and other observers are trumpeting a call to arms over what we see as the abusive nature of his usage patterns, he believes that he is doing these men a service by training them for their eventual "ace" status.

In my mind, the danger to these young arms has just grown exponentially. Yes, Dusty is stubborn, and there's very little that anyone can do to alter the way he thinks, but it was possible to hold out some hope for change when it seemed that he was simply trying to win the game in front of him without regard to the future. It would be conceivable in that case to imagine someone having a conversation with him that helped him understand that future considerations needed to be brought into his decision making process, and that those considerations might modify, however slightly, the way he deployed his pitching resources.

What truly scares me is that now it seems he is taking the future into account when making these decisions, and that those considerations are actually driving his usage patterns. "I'm trying to get Woody to the point of greatness where he can close his own game out." I want Wood, Prior and Zambrano to get to that point, too, but I think Dusty's methods do more damage than good.

Thanks to James of Just North of Wrigley Field for the suggestion to bring this bit out here.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:49 AM


Friday, April 23, 2004

Game Notes 16: Chicago, Mr. Maddux; Mr. Maddux, Chicago

We all got a chance to see the Greg Maddux we'd been waiting for today, and boy, was it fun to watch. The Professor has reached the point in his career where he needs to be spot on with his control in order to get the job done, and except for a couple exceptions, he was on target all day.

I realized after his last outing that to get an idea of what you were in for, all you had to do was watch where the catcher set up and where the ball actually went. If Mad Dog hits the glove consistently, it's going to be a good day. This isn't the case with someone like Kerry Wood. Although you'd like to see Wood have his best possible control, particularly with his fastball, he relies much more on his stuff, and his good days tend to come when his breaking pitches are sharp.

Maddux relies almost entirely on a combination of changing speeds and pinpoint pitch placement, and so it was with high levels of glee that I noted how little Paul Bako's glove moved through the first inning. Here was the man we had waited for, and while the third inning got a bit sticky, he did what he came to do today, and that's cause for celebration.

Another reason for dancing in the streets is the continued alien possession of Corey Patterson by a being that can control the strike zone. His discipline didn't result in a hit, but it did bring about two (two!) walks, the first of which found him trotting home with Moises Alou after Mo had parked his seventh dinger of the year.

Joe Borowski came away with the save, but he continued to just look off. I've said this before, but I'm not concerned with his velocity loss. Plenty of pitchers have made the adjustment after losing some steam, and if everything was right, I think Joe would too. Yet, once again, there was no there there, as his pitches didn't pop and seemed to just float from his hand. His first three pitches to Jason Phillips were sliders, and the one decent one was book ended by two floaters, the last of which nearly wound up in the bleachers. I have a hard time believing that something isn't wrong, but until I hear otherwise, I'll hope he can pull out of it.

These are my favorite type of games. Crisply played (game time was 2:22), and despite the close score, never so tight as to be nerve wracking due to the Cubs' excellent mound work. Here's to more of these contests throughout the year, with results just like today's.

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Posted by Derek @ 6:56 PM


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Game Notes 15: Sorry, We're Out of Kingdoms, But We've Got A Fiefdom, a Viscounty, and a Couple of Petty Duchies

Note on the sidebar how many pitches the Cubs saw per plate appearance last night. You're not hallucinating, it indeed says that the club saw 4.48 balls every time at bat. Again, let me say that this is not a predictor of success on an individual game basis (an example from last night, the Astros saw 3.90 PIT/PA to the Cardinals 3.59 PIT/PA, but still lost 12-6. As I said when I introduced this feature, sometimes in a single game a low PIT/PA means a team is impatient, and sometimes it means the pitcher they're facing is meat.), yet it is still heartening to see from a team that is not, and shall not be notable for its patience.

Another point of interest; up until last night, the Cubs had 149 hits, and of those, 76 were for extra bases. That's 51% of all the team's base knocks going for two bags or more. That, my friends, is unlikely to continue, which is just one more reason to be pleased by the club's ability last night to string together hits and walks to score, smacking only 5 of 15 safeties for multiple bases, and not one of them a homer.

The handling of Josh Fogg was virtuoso, starting with a nine pitch walk from Todd Walker, and ending on a long double from Derrek Lee. When Fogg left the game, he had coughed up two walks, two doubles, a single and a free base resulting from a Craig Wilson error. Even with the defensive hiccup, the Cubs were Itzhak Pearlman to Fogg's Stradivarius, and if anything, the fact that no one had been retired by the time Lee sent the ball screaming for mercy into the gap may have reduced the Cubs' offensive output in the inning by hastening Fogg's departure. It's a counter-intuitive statement, and probably blatantly false, but poor Mr. Fogg was so bad that leaving him in there to face Gonzo and Barrett might have resulted in something considerably worse than a couple of singles.

As if there wasn't enough good offensive news, the night also featured Patterson and Gonzo going to the opposite field for extra bases. Both of these men are exponentially better at the dish when they are willing to send outside pitches the other way where they belong, and they have a fine example to learn from in Sammy Sosa if they're only willing to take heed of the lessons to be learned through simple observation. Keep watching fellas, you can only benefit.

A final bit of happiness was the solid outing, made to look excellent by the super twitchy Pirates lineup, from Sergio Mitre. Although he deserved it before now, this start marked Mitre's first foray into the vaunted "winning pitcher" territory, and that's just nice to see. Even though I'm no fan of the pitcher win as a stat, I'd imagine that there's still a large degree of mystique attached to it for the players themselves, so that the earning of one's first Major League Win would be a significant event, even if your offense had done enough work to make the victory earnable through five continuous innings of consciousness. Congrats, Sergio.

Two things about tonight's contest: First, I fully expect to see the Cubs' string of games with massive run totals to end, thanks to the underrated Kip Wells. He's been very good the last two years, excellent to start this season, and owned the Cubs over the last three years, going 3-0 over 8 starts, and posting a ridiculous 2.05 ERA in 52.2 innings. Second, this means the Cubs will be relying on the arm of Kerry Wood to give them a shot at the series sweep.

I hope I'm wrong about what we can expect after Wood's last outing, especially since I don't think Dusty will respond to positive or negative reinforcement regarding the usage patterns he applies to those he considers "aces" or "horses." For Baker, a bad outing just means Wood has more to learn to get to the next level, and a good one means he's made progress. Either way, next time he has 110 pitches after eight innings, he's going out for the ninth, so we may as well hope for the best.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:34 PM


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Game Notes 13 & 14: That's Two Kingdoms Coming Right Up. Would You Like Fries With That?

When I think of the things I could have offered my Kingdom for - $1 billion, world peace, a full night of sleep - you'd think I'd be a little disturbed at the relatively paltry return on investment. Yet big, obvious Cub victories may be the exception rather than the rule this season, so I'm extremely satisfied. I observed these games in fits and starts - or rather, in between fits and starts - so I'll just toss out a few random observations.

  • He may have only gone 1 for 5, but Corey Patterson's work on Monday was a step in the right direction, seeing 25 pitches combined in his turns at the plate. He didn't consolidate his gains yesterday, but I'll take what little bit of encouragement I can get. Also, this is purely anecdotal, but when he rushes an at bat, a disproportionate number of those encounters seem to end with weak pop-ups or shallow flies. I don't know that there's meaning there, other than the fact that I probably remember those plate appearances more vividly because first or second pitch pop outs are so frustrating to watch, but I'll try to watch more closely for particular types of pitches, swings or situations to see if there's anything to that. I welcome any observations from you good people on this.

  • Todd Walker is still a lousy defender, but I'm becoming addicted to his bat (keep your comments to yourself, please). He didn't get a hit on Monday, but he walked three times. Three times! Of course, you won't see that from him every day, as his plate discipline has been average at best over his career, but that's still a big step up from what Grudz brings in that respect (Walker takes about 19 more free passes over 500 at bats based on their career numbers). Add in his big power advantage (Grudz' park adjusted career Isolated Slugging is .104, Walker's is .142), and the extra offense he brings to a lineup that is likely to score 10 runs one day and 2 the next starts to look mighty tasty,

    That said, I still would advocate a sort of defensive platoon, with Grudz getting the nod when Zambrano and Maddux (should he ever throw another grounder) are on the mound, and Walker starting the rest of the time when there's a right hander pitching for the opposition (Grudz should start against all opposing lefties). I don't envision Dusty ever thinking that way, but that's what I'd do.

  • I've heard some moderate concern expressed over Derrek Lee's slow start, but bear in mind that he's actually performing much better than he usually does at this time of year. Over his first 14 games as a Cub, he's hitting .250/.373/.458, and while that's not the production we're paying him for, his early monthly splits from 2001-2003 should make everyone thankful we're getting what we've got (April .223/.326/.415; May .246/.315/.432). Also remember that the most difficult part of the Cubs' schedule is the month of June, and that's where Lee has hit .304/.412/.593 over the last three years. Yummy.

  • Kudos to Matt Clement for turning things around after a rough spring and first regular outing, and even more kudos to Carlos Zambrano for being the best pitcher on the staff so far. The contributions of these two have made the early struggles of Maddux and the lack of Mark Prior much easier to bear. If these two can continue on this path once Maddux is back to form (look at how last year started if you doubt the likelihood), and Prior is back period, it will go a long way toward making the division winnable.

  • With the monster starts of Alou (.368/.419/.842!) and Ramirez (.367/.391/.783!), it's easy to miss the return to form of one Samuel Peralta Sosa. Besides the .304/.409/.679 line in his first 14 games, Sosa just looks better at the plate. There wasn't one time last year when I could watch an at bat and say "there's a man who looks comfortable." He was chasing stuff he hadn't gone after in years, trying to pull every single pitch.

    At the time, I gave no credence to the theory that he was a little spooked from the helmet shattering head shot he took in Pittsburgh, but now I'm not so sure. In retrospect, I can see his tendency to attempt to put everything in left field as a symptom of an unwillingness to get out over the plate and drive the ball to right, a reflexive self-preservation instinct that I can't blame him for. That's all gone now, as he's hitting to all fields with great power, and laying off those low and outside balls he flailed at so much last year. The real Sammy's back, and the rest of the league should quell in fear.

These have been fun games, but don't get too used to them, folks. Alou and Ramirez will return to earth, and the club will go back to relying on good work from the pitchers to keep them in the hunt. However, until then, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Posted by Derek @ 11:31 AM


Monday, April 19, 2004

Game Notes 12: My Kingdom For A Blowout

I swear, one day I'll write a cohesive piece again; taking a single idea, laying out a comprehensive argument, then wrapping it up and tying a bow on top. Those days will come again, but for now, just figuring out how to turn my computer on is a major step, so fragmented thoughts held loosely together by the literary adhesive known as the "bullet point" are likely to be the staple around here for a while.

  • While I'm thinking of it, the numbers in the "Game Notes" titles refer to the number of the game, not the number of Game Notes I've written. I know it could be clearer, but anything else I think of is clunky, and boy do I hate clunky. Anyway, now that my conscience is relieved for the day...

  • The Cubs are currently fifth in the NL in total runs scored, and fourth in runs per game. This can be attributed almost entirely to the ridiculous home run binge that's occurred during the current homestand. In the last six games, our boys in blue have launched 15 long balls, and 22 doubles to boot. Their slugging percentage in Wrigley so far is .642, with their team hitting line resembling those of an individual superstar at .321/.385/.642. Of course, Cub opponents haven't fared much worse, posting a .304/.396/.530 line, and actually outscoring the Cubs 45-43.

    We've had an excellent anecdotal demonstration over the last three days of what we can expect offensively from this club. When conditions and pitching matchups are favorable for extra base hits, this team will score plenty of runs. However, if all the stars haven't aligned - there's rough weather, a pitcher with a great sinker, or just a good pitcher in general - this offense will sputter. This team doesn't get on base enough to have consistent, sustained rallies, so if they can't leave the yard, they won't cross the plate.

  • One moment, Corey Patterson is the stupidest player on the planet, the next he does something positive that I never expected. Case(s) in point: 4th inning, men on second and third with one out, Patterson has a chance to drive in a run with a fly ball, but instead of waiting for a pitch he can drive, he swings at the first thing he sees and pops out to second. In the 5th, he has a man at second with two outs, and he swings at the first pitch yet again, this time grounding out to third. This sort of thing drives me nuts, which means I'm going to be certifiable by the end of the season.

    Those were horrible at bats, and when Corey came up in the 10th, he had seen 10 pitches in five plate appearances, swinging at 7 of them. That's downright Randall Simonesque. But then came the tenth inning when, facing Danny Graves, he looks at three straight pitches, working the count to 2-1, then on the fourth pitch, ropes a double to the opposite field! Those are the sort of at bats Corey needs to have every time up, and if he can figure out how to do that, he'll light this league up like the product testing lab of a neon sign factory.

  • This is a comment left over from the last few games, but I'm throwing it in here while I think of it. I'd been poo-pooing concerns over the defensive prowess, or lack thereof, of Michael Barrett, mostly because I hadn't seen much of him and didn't have any reliable information to go on. Now that I've seen him, though, I've got my concerns.

    My biggest worry is what I'll refer to as Lazy Trunk Syndrome. When a pitch moves outside the area a catcher expects it to be in, a good defender will move his entire body to make sure his trunk is in position to block the ball should he miss it with his glove. Barrett, more often than not, doesn't do this. He tries to catch a great majority of these balls with his mitt alone, leaving his trunk stuck behind the plate where it doesn't do him any good.

    This appears to be a consistent issue for him, and at 28 years old, it may be too late to correct the problem. Making things worse is the wild nature of many members of the pitching staff, both starters and relievers. Wood, Clement, Zambrano, and Farnsworth are probably the most difficult pitchers to handle, and it's an open question whether Barrett is up to the task. If his bat stays hot, this if forgivable, but if not, we'll all be reminiscing wistful about Damian Miller.

  • A lot of ink has been spilled on the woes of Joe Borowski, but I'll still throw my two cents in. I don't know what the cause is, but there's something missing from his pitches. I'm not talking about velocity, although that's certainly vanished, but rather there's a crispness that's disappeared. In the past, all his pitches had what I can only refer to as snap. That's gone now, and more than the lack of giddyap, this absent sharpness is the root of the problem.

Well, my baby girl comes home today, so I'll likely be entering my period of sporadic blogging in earnest. I'll do my best to put interesting stuff together as often as possible, but again, I ask your indulgence while I figure out how this all goes together. Thanks for your understanding, and as a sendoff, I'll throw up the most ridiculously adorable picture I've got, and promise that it'll be the last time I impose such things upon you. Enjoy!

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Posted by Derek @ 8:31 AM


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Game Notes 11: Stupid Golden Rule

I know that over the course of 162 games, exciting late wins and heartbreaking late losses will tend to even out, but I'd like to lobby for a respectful distance between the two. One day after a thrilling ninth inning victory at home, a team shouldn't have to suffer the opposite fate to the same opponent. It just isn't right.

It doesn't matter what I think, though, as the Reds, who were down a run going into the ninth, fought and clawed to score twice in the top of the frame, eking out a series evening victory.

With the wind blowing in most of the game, this was a day for pitchers, and that's what I'd like to spend some time on today. Kerry Wood threw well enough in the first eight innings to allow only one run, and as we all know, performing at that level earns you dubious rewards from Dusty Baker. In Wood's case, it was an opportunity to pitch the ninth.

My issue isn't with Wood's performance to that point (although there were quite a few outs in the early going that would have been extra base hits without the wind), it's with the fact that he had thrown 111 pitches up to that point. Don't worry, I'm not going to blather on about Kerry's future and how Dusty's damaging him by sending him back out there, or how the pitch count showed he was too tired to be able to finish the game effectively. Not that those aren't valid points, I'm just not going to spend the time bolstering them. Others have done it before, and while I agree I don't feel the need to rehash it. Besides, that's not where my concern lies.

I'm going to start by asking you to grant me one thing: that we can safely say, knowing how Wood throws, that with 111 pitches already under his belt, getting three more outs would take him over 120. Does that work for you? Good, because here we go.

IP/G H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 ERA
Player 1 6.19 7.51 1.70 4.85 10.78 4.00
Player 2 6.84 5.93 0.66 3.95 11.65 2.77

Any doubts about who's more valuable? Of course, Player 1 is plenty solid, but he has a problem with control and giving up home runs, and that's never a good combination. So, even though his hit rate is low, his ERA is still right at 4.00. Player 2, on the other hand, is looking like a Hall of Famer. He has some of the same control issues as Player 1, but not to the same degree, and the lower hit rate and much lower home run rate make the walks far less significant. Also, if Player 2 kept up that K/9 and pitched 1000 innings, his rate would be the highest in the history of the game for someone with at least that many frames thrown.

Who are these fine gentlemen? If you haven't guessed already, Player 1 is Kerry Wood v.2003 in the twelve regular season starts he made after throwing 120 pitches or more in the previous outing. Player 2 is Kerry Wood v.2003 in his other 20 starts. Sure, it's a small sample size, but it's definitely food for thought. The more appearances you can have from Player 2, the better your team will be.

Of course, Kerry isn't guaranteed a bad outing next time out just because he threw 131 pitches today, just like he wouldn't be guaranteed a good start if he was taken out after the eighth. However, judging from last year's results, those last twenty pitches have made Wood much less likely to have a high quality turn on Thursday, and that's worth worrying about.

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Posted by Derek @ 8:54 PM


Friday, April 16, 2004

Game Notes 10: Defeating the Red Menace

Boys and girls, ladies and gents, puppies and kitties, it's good to be back. We'll see how long I can keep it up, but I'm in this thing today. Since I've been out so long, I'll go with the long notes format.

    Top of the 1st

  • It's Mitre vs. Harang today, and it should be interesting to see how many balls fly out of the park for the Cubs, as it's nearly 80 degrees, the wind is blowing out today, and Harang is a homer machine (11 in 76.1 IP between Oakland and Cincinnati last season). By contrast, Mitre is extremely stingy with the longball over his minor league career, giving up only 13 in his last 314.1 minor league innings.

  • Right away, we see where the tradeoff is when Grudz is on the shelf. As good as Walker is with the bat against right-handers, he just can't get to those grounders that require much lateral movement. I'm not sure Grudz could have made the play either, as the ball was in a funky spot, but I'm fairly sure he would have gotten a glove on it and given himself the chance.

  • Haven't I seen this before? Mitre on the mound in the first inning, first and third with no one out? Run scores on a wild pitch/passed ball? I hope the rest of his outing mirrors the one in Atlanta.

  • When I said I wanted this outing to mirror the one in Atlanta I didn't mean the one from last year!

  • Getting out of that with a mere two runs allowed is great, but it'll only matter if Sergio can settle down and pitch the way he did from the second inning forward in his last start. The Cubs will score today, but obviously, they need to be able to shut the Reds down as well. The thing to notice from this inning, is how the bottom third of the Reds' order is going to be easy pickings today.

    Bottom of the 1st

  • Nice at bat by Patterson. He spits on the first three pitches, then gets a fastball, inner half, just a little above the knee and drives it up the line for a hustle double. I don't need Corey to walk 80 times, I just need him to have at bats like this one.

  • Bases loaded, one out, and a white-hot A-Ram coming to the dish. Will I regret writing this once the at bat is over? Stay tuned!

  • No sir, I'm very happy with my choice, as Aramis singles home the Cubs first run of the day, which brings Derrek Lee to the plate in an identical situation. Unfortunately, D-Lee hits into the twin killing to end it. The only ball in the air for the Cubs was Alou's bloop single. The boys will have to do better than that if they want to score the big runs today.

    Top of the 2nd

  • A nice, easy inning for Mitre, and a great illustration of why he has to keep the ball down to succeed. Aaron Harang is obviously lousy at the plate, yet when Mitre got the ball up to him, he was able to hit it hard the other way and nearly get himself a double. It went foul, but if someone who's a bad hitter for a pitcher can make good contact when your stuff is up in the zone, you need to get that ball low.

    Bottom of the 2nd

  • Boy, I like seeing Barrett approaching an at bat like that. He had some turns in Atlanta where he was swinging at nearly everything, especially if it was early, so making Harang throw him a strike looks a lot better. Of course, when he turns a sacrifice bunt into a double play because of his bone-headed baserunning, the good PA becomes less significant.

    Top of the 3rd

  • In case you thought otherwise, there is no reason why anyone should not run on Moises Alou. Sean Casey was only a of couple steps past the third base bag when Mo let the ball go, and he still beat the throw by a mile. Perhaps if Casey was forced to play with crutches it would be advisable to hold him up, but beyond debilitating physical conditions, Cub opponents have no reason

  • Data point number two in this game for why Todd Walker is a lousy second baseman. It's not very often that you see an infielder dive themselves into worse position to field a ball, but that's exactly what he did, flopping forward just before the ball could go into his glove, and bouncing it off his elbow. Yeech!

    Bottom of the 3rd

  • Now that's redemption. Here I spend two bullet points berating two player's defense, and both men come through in the bottom of the inning, Walker with a single, and Alou with a mammoth homer to drive him in. Next inning, I'll be talking smack about the entire team just to see what happens.

  • Here come the fireworks, folks. Ramirez ties the game with yet another home run, and it looks like everyone is a lot more comfortable facing Harang the second time through the order. We may be seeing the beginning of some super fun stuff today.

  • Three run innings where the victimized pitcher strikes out the side don't come along every day, especially with a guy like Harang who just barely strikes out 6 per 9 innings over his career. If the Cubs can make more contact, they can put this thing out of reach in a hurry.

    Top of the 4th

  • Apparently, D'Angelo Jimenez has dug a grove between where the first and second baseman set up, because that's the second time today he's put it in that spot. Get the grounds crew up, we've got some work to do!

  • How about that! Sergio lets some men get on base, but for the first time today, none of them score. Let's have a few more of those scoreless innings, boys!

    Bottom of the 4th

  • That was quick! I swear, I just went to get a drink and use the restroom, and there's an entire half inning gone. Unfortunately, that's going to happen quite a lot this year.

    Top of the 5th

  • When a pitcher is struggling like Mitre was today, getting five frames with fewer runs than innings pitched is a victory. It wasn't a good performance from Sergio, but it was a gutty one.

    Bottom of the 5th

  • I don't even know where to begin here, so I'm just going to start typing. Corey Patterson needs bunting lessons. I hope Ryan Freel has good insurance. Very smart hustle play by Todd Walker, advancing to second on the super crappy bunt by Patterson, followed closely by an incredibly stupid play, trying to score from second after Sosa flied out to center. That's the second time today the Cubs have made the third out with an ill-timed brain cramp. If that doesn't make you nuts, you're a better person than I am.

    Top of the 6th

  • Mike Wuertz picks up where he left off yesterday, and then some. One more outing like that, and he's printed his ticket to Iowa when Remlinger comes off the DL. Of course, the other candidate for demotion when Kenny Rogers is ready to pitch again, Todd Wellemeyer, didn't help his case to stick around by giving up a double to Ryan Freel, then walking Corky Miller to score the Reds' ninth run. Miller's career line: .238/.323/.394, so you can see why Todd would be careful with him. Guh.

    Bottom of the 7th

  • I've never seen someone bat out of order before, and I'm not sure if I actually did just now. Dusty sure thinks he indicated a double switch to the umpires, but that doesn't seem to be what the men in blue have on their cards, so Ramon Martinez' double is erased from the books, and he'll be the first out of the inning. It's a shame that some of the people in the bleachers can't keep from acting stupid when something doesn't go their way. The situation could be the umpires' fault, but even so, throwing things on the field only makes you a jackass.

  • That's better. I know it's early, and the Small Sample Size Police are going to knock on my door for even suggesting it, but if the first part of this season is any indication, we're looking at a kid in Aramis Ramirez who has finally figured things out. That'll be a pretty nice return in exchange for Bobby Hill and a pitcher who isn't likely to see the majors.

    Bottom of the 8th

  • While I'm definitely in the camp that says there is no sustainable skill called "clutch," that doesn't mean Todd Hollandsworth hasn't been clutch so far this year. I have no idea what's gotten into him, but I sure hope he's sharing with everyone else.

  • Today's game has made me wonder, what's the all time record for most "Todds" on one team?

Fast Forward To the End

Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in life, tradeoffs for the greater good. Today, mine was foregoing the ninth inning to spend an hour with my daughter in the hospital. I heard the end of the game on the radio driving down, and while I would have liked to have witnessed it, I came out so far ahead in the deal that it isn't even funny.

But enough of the schmoopie bits. That was one heckuva ballgame, kids, and while I'd question whether the Cubs deserved the win based on their quality of play, part of having a great season is winning some of those games you should have lost. That's what our boys did today, and I'm pleased as I could be.

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Posted by Derek @ 8:35 PM


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Holy Crap, I'm a Daddy!

Some of you may have noticed that I've been strangely silent the last couple of days (which figures, because I've suddenly received a ton more visitors due to a surprising but flattering link in an article on; and a hearty welcome to all who came through there, I might add!), and while I'm sorry to have been missing in action, I hope the headline begins to explain it. But I should be more clear, so here's the scoop:

Good News

On April 12, 2004, Ella Isabelle Smart came into the world, weighing in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and measuring 19 and one half inches from head to toe. Not only did she come out on the day of the Cubs' home opener, but apparently was unwilling to miss a moment of the action, as she appeared at 1:05 PM CDT, approximately 15 minutes before the first pitch. I can't begin to tell you how cool I think that is.

Bad News

Unfortunately, Ella was unable to catch any of the game, as she had a day all too similar to her beloved team, and while I will spare you the details, suffice to say the delivery was rough and caused her some ill effects. Luckily, nothing was permanent, and while my wife Kris and I will have to wait until Monday to bring her home with us due to Ella's need to complete a seven day course of antibiotics, she is now, and will later be, a happy healthy baby girl.

The Consequences

I'm hoping you all will bear with me for a while. This blog will continue, although I expect posting to be sporadic for a bit, as I will be both time stretched and sleep deprived. I have no schedule or timetable, so just check back like you would normally, and hopefully I won't disappoint too often. I thank you in advance for your understanding.

I don't normally get into personal stuff in this space, but since this event will affect things here, and it's the single best thing to ever happen in my life, I felt it merited an entry. Despite the early setbacks we experienced, this is truly a blessing, and I thank you for taking a moment to share it with me. I'll be back soon with more Cubs content. My best to you all.

UPDATE:Here's a link to a few pictures of herself. I won't post any on here, as I refuse to subject others to unbearable cuteness against their will.

UPDATE:The above link should work now, as I've gotten enough brain together to put the album on a "public" setting, rather than private. Enjoy!

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Posted by Derek @ 8:20 PM


Sunday, April 11, 2004

Game Notes 6: Taking The Braves To The Wood-Shed

I made a plea at the end of the game notes from last evening's contest for a "good outing from Wood and a shelling of Ortiz," and while the big run totals didn't come until after Russ left, the spirit of my request was honored by the baseball gods. The Cubs got an outstanding outing from Kerry Wood and finally put a game well out of reach in a 10-2 victory, sealing the series with the Braves, and bringing their overall record back to the .500 mark.

I wound up just taking notes today, so I've tossed them in here for your perusal.

  • Straight fastball, waist high, inner half to Corey Patterson = Bad Idea.

  • The slider that Wood used to strike out Larry in the third inning should be illegal. Seriously, that's just not fair.

  • Back to that third inning: If you're wondering what might separate Kerry Wood v.2004 from the other incarnations, this was an instructive frame. Men on first and third, nobody out, after a walk and a sharp single, with the heart of the Braves order coming up. Previous years would have seen at least one run score, maybe three or four, as Kerry got mad at himself and made mistakes because of it. Today, he struck out the side. Like a Dickensian orphan, I say, "More, please."

  • I know it's not a part of this game, but Adam Dunn just went deep again. That's four in six games, all solo shots. When Austin Kearns figures it out, and he will, the league had better hope Dunn has cooled off, or he's going to knock in a boatload of runs.

  • Fourth inning: When I said, "More please," I didn't necessarily mean right away, Kerry. Nevertheless, the six straight K's are muy impresionante.

  • Seven in a row, and that's where the streak ends here in the fifth, with a lineout by Mark DeRosa to right. Perhaps the most impressive part of the streak was that all seven men struck out swinging, and from what I could tell, not one of them had any idea what they were swinging at. Just awesome.

  • Sixth inning: Wood has retired the side on a double play off the bat of Andruw Jones, and he's gotten this far on 87 pitches. Not Maddux-like, to be sure, but when you consider it took 54 to get through the first three frames, there's a lot to like in the way he's brought it around today.

  • Ah, yes, the broken-bat-flare-over-the-infield play, expertly executed by Todd Walker. Barrett did a nice job of understanding that no one would catch it, and made his way home with ease.

  • I just saw Corey Patterson hit a grounder the other way. I also saw a funny bit by Carrot Top, a secure version of Microsoft Windows, and the Great Gazoo, so if I were you, I'd verify independently before spreading the word.

  • Some trouble for Wood here in the seventh, as two consecutive doubles score the first run for the Braves. Luckily, David Wise helps things along by swinging at ball four a couple of times, the last one resulting in a strikeout. Kerry managed to make Adam LaRoche look silly on three pitches, and DeRosa hit the first ball he saw to Corey Patterson to seal it. That should be it for Wood, as he's thrown 105, now, but it was a fine performance.

  • Boy, Moises Alou looks lousy right now. He just doesn't seem like he knows what he wants to do up there. In stark contrast, Aramis Ramirez has looked like the real deal in this series, filling the gaps time and again. Those two facts might lead some folks to the conclusion that Alou should spend some time in the six or seven spot of the order, while Ramirez and Lee move up a slot. Too bad one of those folks isn't Dusty Baker.

  • I always like to see a guy respond when the man ahead of him is intentionally walked. Michael Barrett did exactly that, as he stroked a hanging slider over the left field wall after Todd Hollandsworth was given the IBB in front of him. "Are you sure you want to pitch to me? Okay. It's your funeral." Bam!

  • This strikes me as an overly strict adherence to team roles. With a seven run lead, and a game tomorrow, do you really need to use your best reliever, LaTroy Hawkins, to pitch the eighth? Didn't think so. This is when you bring in Andy Freakin' Pratt, Dusty.

  • Wow! Even Gonzo gets into the act, taking the ball below his knees deep.

  • Strike what I said about Alou earlier, as he launches a letter high pitch into the stands before Gonzalez can catch his breath in the dugout.

  • Now A-Ram gets robbed of the team's third consecutive round-tripper by Andruw Jones. Will Cunnane is now officially "taking one for the team." In fact, the way Cunnane is working out there today, I would think about lobbying the league to have any offensive numbers compiled during his time on the mound cut in half in the interest of statistical viability.

  • The most surprising part of this offensive outburst was the lack of statements by the announcing crew to the effect of "save some for tomorrow," or, "don't use it all in one place." Breaking the four-run barrier for the first time in five games will do that to you.

That's all for me. Tomorrow brings the team back to Chicago, where Greg Maddux will play in front of the home crowd as a Cub for the first time since 1992, as they raise the NL Central Division title flag. That should be good stuff.

Thanks for stopping by, and if you're celebrating a holiday today, I hope you have a good one!

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Posted by Derek @ 3:36 PM


This Is Not What Calvin Klein Intended

I'm obsessed. So are you, if I might boldly use your visit to infer a personal character trait. In fact, it's very likely that we share an obsession about baseball in general, or the Cubs in particular. However, I've added a layer of detail recently, and if you've been reading along the last couple of days, you may have noticed. I've become fixated on the number of pitches Cub hitters see in a plate appearance.

I understand that on a micro level there is little predictive value in this trivial bit of statistical flotsam. Just because a team sees more pitches in a particular game doesn't mean they'll score more runs. Take D-Back/Cardinal tilt from the other night. Casey Daigle threw 49 pitches to 16 Cardinals, which means that on average, St. Louis hitters were only seeing 3.06 pitches per at bat. That's a pretty lousy number. However, since those early swings resulted in 8 runs in 2.2 innings on 10 hits, 5 of which were home runs, the itchy trigger fingers can be forgiven. Sometimes, hitters swing early because the pitcher is meat.

Even on the macro level, pitches seen per plate appearance may not directly correlate to runs scored (if someone else has seen a study, please let me know), but as a blunt tool, it can certainly show which teams are appropriately situated to prosper offensively. That's what concerns me about this current Cubs squad, that in their trips to the dish they fail to position themselves for success.

As a result, I've decided to do the only thing a poor blogger such as myself can. I will relentlessly track it for the entire season and post the results on the sidebar. Here's how it will work, or at least, how I envision it working. On days following a Cubs game, I will post a new set of figures which will consist of the PIT/PA from the game itself, the Cubs' PIT/PA for the season, the National League average PIT/PA, and the Cubs' rank in PIT/PA versus the rest of the NL. There will, of course, be the occasional interruptions for unavoidable things like vacations and the like, but my intention is to catch up when I am back online, and I anticipate few instances where this will be an issue.

A word of warning about this endeavor. While I would feel very secure about the general conclusions that one can draw from these numbers I'll be posting, I'd be wary of preaching the figures themselves as gospel. The stats will be complied manually in an Excel spreadsheet by yours truly, and in addition to the human error that will naturally arise from that aspect of the exercise, I've already noticed discrepancies between sources regarding pitch counts. That being said, even at this early juncture we're talking about 41 games of data and more than 12,000 pitches used to create the league average numbers, so most discrepancies should be statistically insignificant. Anyway, consider yourself warned.

I'm not sure that I have a goal in mind, other than to give vent to my frustration. At this point, I would consider any actual knowledge gained from the undertaking a happy accident. So, I hope you'll take it all with a grain of salt and indulge me my little fetish. After all, it worked for CK.

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Posted by Derek @ 7:07 AM


Game Notes 5: Opportunities Lost

Of course, there were plenty of offensive issues last night, and despite my belief that the lack of production is as much to blame for the ensuing debacle as anything else, I'm not going to spend time on that here. This time around there were two decisions that I really had an issue with, and by gum, I'm going after them.

Issue #1: Using Andy Pratt in the 8th with a man on and a one run lead against two of the best hitters in the Braves lineup.

If there's one thing we can glean from his minor league performance, and from what we've seen in the early portion of his tenure with the Cubs, it's that Pratt has control problems. He's shown them throughout his career, he showed them in game one, and he showed them last night.

I understand why Dusty took Sergio Mitre out of the game. Despite his wonderful performance to that point, he had already thrown 96 pitches, and Chipper Jones has owned him in his career thus far. I also understand why a lefty was brought in to face Jones. Larry has always been less effective from the right side, so it makes sense to turn him around in critical situations. However, when you have Kent Mercker available - no control artist himself, I admit, but still more effective than Pratt - yet choose to go with the shaky youngster, I have no choice but to shake my head and ask why.

Issue #2: Throwing, quite literally, 13 straight pitches on the outer half to Julio Franco.

I can think of no one in the Major Leagues more identified with hitting the ball the other way than Julio Franco. It's all he's ever done, and it's all he ever tries to do every time he steps to the plate. He even swings a big 36 ounce bat [Insert Favorite Big Bat Joke Here], which I can only assume is meant to help him stay back and drive pitches to right. Why, then, with a man like Kyle Farnsworth on the mound who can hurl the ball in the high nineties, would you not try to throw Franco something on the inner half?

Anyone in the buildings across the street who happened to look into our living room window during this at bat would have wondered why that man in the dirty old baseball cap kept yelling and gesturing so vehemently to his television set. When Franco hit the inevitable double to right, they would have wondered what the couch did to deserve such a beating.

I've said this before in one form or other, but let me reiterate that I have no problem with occasional failures to execute. These guys are all human, and while it might be frustrating to watch someone unable to accomplish their goal, I can live with that if they're trying to do the right thing. Hence, my problem during this at bat, when the obviously right thing to do was avoided repeatedly, and with unholy prejudice.

Perhaps the biggest shame of the night was how these unfortunate issues ruined a fantastic start by Sergio Mitre. Other than a rough patch in the first inning, he was on top of his game all night, going right after hitters and inducing ground ball after ground ball. When you see that type of performance from this kid, you begin to understand why Jim Hendry seems to be attached to him.

The problem is, he's young, and as far as we can tell from his work last year and in the spring, a little inconsistent. Obviously, the Cubs can't count on this sort of start from him every time, so when this outing is placed in the context of his role as Surrogate-Prior, the lack of ability to identify the appropriate course of action, and the way the Cubs shot themselves in the foot when they had a chance to capitalize on what could be a uniquely excellent performance, becomes exponentially more disturbing.

Hopefully, you won't find me spewing this sort of invective on a regular basis. Both because I hope the Cubs can manage not to make these kinds of errors too often, and because I would like to handle it better and avoid popping a blood vessel. In any case, let's hope a good outing from Wood and a shelling of Ortiz can get this team back on track today.

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Posted by Derek @ 6:40 AM


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Game Notes: Survivor: Atlanta - or - Todd Hollandsworth Is My New Best Friend

I don't know about you, but after Joe Borowski's second frightening save of the year, sealing a victory for the Cubs in what can only be described as a standoff at high noon - or in this case, midnight - to see who would stop blowing their offensive opportunities first, I just had to go to bed and sleep the whole thing off. After some much needed rest and some time to think, here's what I've come away with:

  • It was good to finally see the sort of pitching performance we became all too accustomed to last season. Carlos Zambrano was sharp as he could be, giving up only two hits and walking three, while striking out seven over seven innings. The only run came on a sinker that got up and in on Andrew Jones, and he deposited it in the left field bleachers. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Big Z was left out longer than any other pitcher so far this year (109 pitches), but he looked strong and solid doing it, so I won't get nutty about it.

  • Had Todd Hollandsworth not come through in the ninth inning with his game tying homer off John Smoltz, I would have been surprisingly pleased with the Cubs' offensive effort, or I should say, as pleased as one can be after a shutout. However, if victory had not been achieved in the extra frames, I would have had the same feeling I've had the last two days. Here's what I mean:

    Innings PIT/PA PIT/PA Ratio First Pitch Swings/PA
    1-7 114/30 3.80 6/30
    8-15 117/34 3.44 13/34
    All 231/64 3.61 19/64

    Despite the lack of results, the Cub offense was doing the things necessary to be in a position to succeed in the first seven innings. The two big early opportunities were in the 2nd with men on 1st and 2nd with no one out, and in the 6th with the bases loaded and one out. Both times, Alex Gonzalez came to the plate, and both times he popped out. Frustrating to be sure, but both appearances were seven pitch affairs, and in both cases, Gonzalez got a pitch to hit and just missed it.

    I can live with the team getting itself in a position to win and failing, but what really gets me upset is when the club doesn't give itself the opportunity in the first place. That's what they have done the last two days, and it's what they did in the final eight innings last night. Had the result been different, the smoke from my ears would have summoned the fire department.

  • Anyone looking for reasons to bemoan the Juan Cruz trade found plenty to cry about last night. Cruz threw like Cub fans always hoped he would, and made the Cub offense look horrible doing it. He certainly pitched head and shoulders above Andy Pratt, who threw a shaky two-thirds of an inning. The open question, as was always the case in his tenure in Chicago, is how often can you count on that type of performance? If Leo Mazzone can bring him around and get similar work to last night more often than not, then Jim Hendry got robbed blind. However, that 'if' is still as large as Cruz' potential, and if Mazzone can find the answer to this riddle, more power to him.

As tightly pitched as last night's contest was, things could get as loose as Juan Cruz' uniform top tonight (geez, can't they make one that fits him?!?), as young question mark Sergio Mitre faces multiple retread, Jaret Wright. Fasten your seatbelts, Cub fans, tonight could be a bumpy ride!

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Posted by Derek @ 8:57 AM


Friday, April 09, 2004

Game Notes: First Pitch Swing Mix

I don't ask for a lot. A healthy, loving family, the company of good friends, a roof over my head. You know, the basics. However, I'd like to add something, though not at the expense of the above. I want the Cubs to see more pitches.

I'm not asking for the world, here. I'd never say, for example, that I wanted the club to lead the league in walks. That would be like a little girl asking for a pony for Christmas, then specifying that the pony must be a unicorn. It's just not possible, and while I realize that the composition of the offense is not conducive to high levels of free passes, I don't think wishing for a couple of hitter's counts is too much to ask. Here are a two teams and their pitch per plate appearance breakdowns for their first three games.

Team A Team B
P/PA P/PA Ratio P/PA P/PA Ratio
Game 1 144/40 3.40 153/41 3.73
Game 2 125/34 3.68 141/37 3.81
Game 3 112/36 3.11 190/40 4.75
Total 381/110 3.46 484/118 4.10

Team A is, of course, your Chicago Cubs, doing their best England/pendulum imitations. For a little salt in the wound, yesterday's game (game 3 on the table) also featured the Cubs swinging at the first pitch in 16 out of 36 plate appearances, and for even more gory detail, take a look at Alex Ciepley's breakdown of pitches seen on outs over at the Cub Reporter.

Team B? Who else, but the current front runners in the NL Central, the Seattle Brewers. Before anyone says, "Yeah, but the Brewers were hitting against the Cardinals' pitching," let me point out that the Reds allowed 89 more runs than the oft derided Redbird staff in 2003, and there's no reason to believe they will do much better this season. The Cubs had a chance to eat this team's starters alive, and they failed miserably.

As a lone bright spot from yesterday's debacle, witness the fine performance turned in by one Samuel Peralta Sosa. It wasn't just that he went 3-4 with 2 doubles and a home run, it was how he did it that was important.

Sammy spent much of last season trying to pull everything, an affliction that most of the team suffered from then and now. However, yesterday saw him work with what he was given, taking the two doubles strong to the right center field gap, and pulling the one ball he got on the inner half into the seats.

Alex Gonzalez, in particular, should be taking notes. He has reverted to the form that saw him post a .193/.282/.375 line after the 2003 All-Star break, trying to pull every single pitch no matter how far outside. If it hasn't happened already, someone needs to sit Gonzo down and tell him that he won't see a hittable pitch on the inner half all year, and that he needs to act accordingly. If he's not willing to go the other way, he will be a detriment to the team, no matter how good his glove is.

But enough of the doom and gloom. Tonight we see Horacio Ramirez, a lefty who gets smacked around by right-handers to the tune of a .278/.347/.463 line, and who the Cubs devoured whole last season, scoring 7 runs off of him in 3.2 innings. He may be just what this team needs to break things open.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:55 AM


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Game Notes: Post-Maddux Hangover Version

Have you ever been watching a game that was scoreless after one inning, and after that single blank frame, found yourself certain of the outcome?

That was exactly my experience last night, as I watched the Cubs go down in the top half on nine pitches from Paul Wilson, while the bottom half featured Greg Maddux plunking two guys in the same inning for the first time in his career. From then on, I knew the night would be featuring Shaky Greg and the Hackinators, and boy, was I right.

Wilson is exactly the type of slow-tossing, outer-half-living, junk-baller that the Cubs' free-swinging, pull-happy, fastball-loving lineup doesn't know what to do with, and the seven shutout innings he threw just goes to prove the point. The only offensive bright spot was Derrek Lee's first Cub hit, which came in the form of an opposite field home run in the ninth against Danny Graves. It was just nice to see someone go the other way, and with a little power to boot (yes, I know, Grudz hit the ball to right, but what choice does he have, really?).

As for The Professor, he wasn't horrible. His issue for the night was control, although he was missing more in the zone than out of it, hence the two dingers he coughed up. It looked eerily like some of the outings he had in the first half last year, but let's hope he can turn it around a little more quickly this season.

Bullpen: solid again. Mike Wuertz got lucky on a ball that Javier Valentin just killed, but other than that, he and Andy Pratt were plenty good.

You have to lose sometime, and we may as well get the first one out of the way early. Let's hope the Cubs can handle Jose Acevedo today, who has a chance to be the Reds' best pitcher this year, and that Matt Clement can put his lousy spring behind him. Batter up!

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Posted by Derek @ 9:29 AM


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bonus Coverage - Maddux Re-Debut Version

As I spend the day staving off wave after wave of hyperventilation brought on by anticipation of this evening's All American Tribute to Prodigality, it seems as good a time as any to go over some of last night's events.

  • The NL Central has one team sitting atop it, and that team is the Milwaukee Brewers. I was going to do some time consuming, but fun, poking around on's cool standings search to find out when the Brewers were last in first, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cheated and asked the Elias Sports Bureau. The answer isn't surprising. This is the first time Beer Town USA has ever led the NL Central all by themselves, and it's the first time they've singularly led any division since they were on top of the AL Central on May 9, 1995. The Cubs have them beat in the long term, but for recent history, that's futility.

  • In a similar story, the Detroit Tigers, a team bent in 2003 on becoming baseball's bloodless version of Custer at Little Big Horn, have begun this season 2-0, the first time they have accomplished that nominally impressive feat in 18 years. Like their hops-addled NL Central cousins, the Stripy Cats should enjoy this success while it lasts, but if nothing else, it serves notice that neither team will be lying down for anyone.

  • For all the talk about Andy Pettitte being the benefactor of a more accomplished Houston defense, they sure didn't do him any favors last night. Among the lowlights was Lance Berkman running circles around a fly ball that became a double, Jeff Kent non-spearing a ball into center field, and a Brad Ausmus passed ball that scored Ray Durham.

    Despite the fielding follies and a night when Pettitte was not at his best, this was a game the Astros should have won. They left 16 men on base, and had every pitcher they faced in some sort of trouble, only to let them off the hook having scored little, or not at all. Fifteen hits, five walks, and two hit batsmen and you only score 5 runs? Geez, you'd think they were the Cubs.

  • What I had read about Kaz Matsui coming out of the spring indicated that he was not likely to generate much power. The reports said that his weight was always forward, that his hips tended to go early, and his swing had a downward chop; all indications that he would keep his bat back, slap the ball on the ground and use his speed to get on base. Well, Mini-Mats put the kibosh on that theory for at least one night, launching the first pitch he saw 429 feet to dead center at Wrigley Field.

    I happened to be watching the game as I waited for the start of Giants/Astros, and from what I could see, the scouting reports weren't far off. His weight looked forward (although I would have loved one of those side views of his swing you always see on ESPN when they're trying to make a point about how fundamentally sound a guy's stroke, just to see if he's leaning into the pitch as much as it seems), and I think his hips went early, but the difference was a pretty sizeable uppercut on his swing.

    I remember speculation that Ichiro! purposefully looked weak in his first spring training to attempt to get a competitive advantage at the beginning of the year, and I have to wonder if a similar ruse has been used by his countryman. If we get to year's end and the little fella has 20 or more homers, I think we were had.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Maddux Era Redux begins at 6:10 PM Central Time. Grab a beverage, grab a seat, watch the game - it'll be a treat.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:51 AM


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Derek And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Have I mentioned that I hate this day? Let me be clear: I am not referring to April 6, 2004, in the specific. Actually, there's lots to like about this particular turn of the calendar. It's been a beautiful day so far (being near sixty in Chicago in April is always positive), I've got some fantastic homemade mac 'n cheese waiting at home, and the Cubs won yesterday. That's all good stuff, and I'll take that when offered any time.

Rather, I'm alluding to the yawning 24-30 hour chasm that opens every year between the Cubs' first and second game of the season. Sure there's other baseball today, and I'll probably watch the Giants vs Astros tilt this evening, but after all the anticipation of the offseason - after spending five months working myself into a lather evocative of an early 70's Irish Spring commercial - when I'm finally handed the fix I've been waiting for all winter only to have it immediately yanked away like I'm a three year-old chewing on a toy that's been freshly dipped in arsenic and lead-based paint....well....I don't like it.

To want something so badly, then get it, then be forced to wait again just seems unfair. I know there are reasons, I just can't think of any; not that it would be easier if I could. I'm so far beyond logic right now, you could inform me that if the Cubs played today there would be swarms of locusts, deadly plagues, and all-consuming fires and my only response would be to get a mosquito net, hazmat suit, and a bucket of water and say "Play Ball!"

But I'll survive just fine, and really, it's only the griping of a spoiled child - I got to watch my team win yesterday, and now I want to watch them win today, dammit! Tomorrow begins a streak of six consecutive days of Cubs baseball, followed immediately by fifteen more. Remembering that will get me to tomorrow night. That, and the thought of Greg Maddux taking the mound in Cubbie blue once again on a cool Wednesday evening in the Queen City.

So, Gentlemen, start your engines and screw the brakes, because after today, it's full speed ahead!

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Posted by Derek @ 4:41 PM


Monday, April 05, 2004

One Down, One Hundred Sixty-One To Go

So much for the "new and improved" Kerry Wood. It was a prototypical "Bad Kerry" Sundae, with 5 innings of 95 pitch flavored ice cream, 4 earned runs of hot fudge, and a wild pitch third strike for a cherry on top. In past years, the rest of the team would dig into this culinary abomination with the zest of Cartman's fat farm flunkies, gorging themselves into sedentary oblivion while their opponents ran unmolested around the bases.

That was then, but this time around, the Cubs sent the sundae back and got a nice lean bullpen steak with a side of run support, overcoming Wood's subpar outing to beat the Reds 7-4. Here are some things I noticed or enjoyed in handy bullet point format:

  • Corey Patterson shows power and the same game! I've said it before, and I will say it over and over until even I want me to shut up: Patterson is the key to this offense. Obviously, everyone else - particularly Sosa, Alou, Ramirez, and Lee - have to contribute, but those guys are relatively known quantities. We've yet to see what Corey will do over a full season, and if he can put it all together, he has the talent to lift the offense to a higher level. The question, of course, is whether he has the skills. So on a day like today when he puts it all together, you'll forgive me if my enthusiasm is unseemly.

  • I know it's early and Wood was supposed to be on a pitch count, but the fact that Dusty went to the bullpen after five innings and got four solid performances is very encouraging. Here's to hoping the positive reinforcement will last all season.

  • I didn't get to witness all of his at bats (stupid work!), but in the two I did see, Derrek Lee looked completely out of sorts today. I don't see reason for concern, just a man who wants very much to impress his new employers.

    Do you remember I Dream of Jeannie? Every week there would be a problem, and Barbara Eden would want to help Larry Hagman solve it. Except, she would try so hard to make it better that she'd actually make things worse. Then Larry Hagman would yell at her, and she would cry and beg forgiveness, but Hagman would be stern and tell her to get back in her bottle, which I never thought was very nice, I mean, after all, she was only trying to help. But then she'd figure out a way to help anyway, everything would work out, and they'd do whatever it is they did when they weren't on camera (I'll let you handle your own image).

    Well, after three lousy at bats, including two strikeouts, Lee got a walk in the eighth to keep the inning alive, and scored one of two insurance runs. He was lousy at the plate for nearly the entire game, but in the end, despite it all, he found a way to help. Just like Jeannie.

I'll take a win any way I can get it, even if there's a little luck involved (by the way, thanks Adam Dunn!). However, what really interests me is a good ol' fashioned country butt kicking. Come Wednesday, I'm done with luck. I want to see the Cubs wield their whoopin' sticks.

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Posted by Derek @ 10:25 PM


Sunday, April 04, 2004

Sneaky, Sneaky!

It doesn't show up on any transaction wires that I can find, but buried in a Sun-Times piece on Aramis Ramirez is news that, in an apparent effort to acquire every jackstraw infielder on the open market, the Cubs signed Benji Gil to a minor league deal on Friday.

Gil plays fine defense at second and short, but like Damian Jackson and Jose Macias, he can't hit a lick. Yet, I'm not going to waste time on fit of grape crushing, here. Instead, this is an opportunity to compare what Jim Hendry has done in acquiring these players to what Bill Bavasi did Saturday in his trade for scrub club member, Jolbert Cabrera. Let's start by taking a look at what each man has done over their careers.

Career PA's Career Line
Macias 1395 .255/.302/.378
Jackson 2027 .246/.325/.359
Gil 1767 .237/.283/.358
Cabrera 1014 .253/.303/.353

Those career batting lines make me think about adding backup infielders to my theory on backup catchers. If there's an outlier, it's Gil, who still remains similar enough to pick up a mere 20 points of batting average and actually become Macias. The point is, they're all very comparable hitters, capable of analogous performance in the field (although, to be fair, Jackson isn't as defensively talented, and Gil doesn't play the outfield). I don't think it's a stretch to say they are players of approximately equal value. So, having marginally established that point, let's see how each player was acquired.

Acquired By
Macias Trade (Expos)
Jackson Free Agency
Gil Free Agency
Cabrera Trade (Dodgers)

Jackson and Gil were lying around, freely available, so the Cubs signed them to minor league deals as injury insurance and sent them down to Iowa. That's how things should be done. Yet, both the Hendry and Bavasi chose to trade for one of these guys, Macias for the Cubs, and Cabrera for the Mariners. Trading for this type of player is never a good idea, but we can at least see who was dealt in each case to determine who overvalued this skillset more.

Acquired For 2003 Team 2003 IP 2003 H 2003 BB 2003 SO 2003 ERA
Macias Wilton Chavez AAA Iowa 140 144 51 113 4.24
Cabrera Aaron Looper

Ryan Ketchner
AAA Tacoma

High A Inland Empire






In looking at last year's stats, I see a huge disparity in the value of what each team gave up to get their utility man. But don't believe me. Listen to an expert. In his 2004 Prospect Book, John Sickels rates Ketchner a B- and notes that "Double-A will challenge him, but...he's got a decent chance to make it." Looper rates a C, and while mentioning he's too old to be a prospect in the true sense of the word, Sickels says "he's pitched well the last couple of years, and has sufficient command to be a very useful middle reliever." What about Chavez, you ask? He doesn't make the book.

I may not find the procurement of these types of players aesthetically pleasing, but if you're going to grab this sort, Hendry's doing it the right way. Jolmian Gilcias and his ilk should be acquired as freely available talent, or in exchange for organizational filler. Nothing more valuable should change hands. Using a young pitcher with some upside or a decent middle relief candidate, let alone both, to bring in a less than mediocre utility man is an egregious misallocation of resources, made all the worse in Bavasi's case by the fact that he could have signed Jackson or Gil himself if he'd just made a phone call.

When I cry for blood after hearing the Cubs have signed a Scrappy Crappy Utility Man to a minor league deal, it's part fear that the S.C.U.M. will get significant playing time, and part annoyance that guys like Scott McClain aren't given the shot I believe they've earned. However, this is nothing compared to the way Bill Bavasi continues to be beaten and robbed on the side of the road, smiling stupidly to himself, thinking how the guys stealing his car and cash are getting a raw deal.

I may not always agree with the players Jim Hendry values, but I've yet to see him get taken. If I can't have full philosophical agreement, I'll gladly take my concurrence in actuarial form.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:56 PM


Friday, April 02, 2004

Dr. Strangeglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Glendon Rusch

Yesterday's news that the Cubs had signed Glendon Rusch to a minor league contract elicited a reaction from me that would have been described by our President as "nuculer." Yes, I became a Weapon of Mass Derision, and now with a night's sleep between myself and the offending event, I figure I owe it to Glendon to examine the issue with at least a soupcon of objectivity.

In my rush (rusch?) to denounce, I referred to the new kid as "Shawn Estes' Evil Twin." But is he really (his twin, I mean)? Maybe it would help to look at a few comparable years from each pitcher's career. Since Rusch was 28 last year, let's look at his age 25-28 seasons as compared to Estes 25-28 seasons.

First, Mr. Estes, whose 25-28 seasons were from 1998-2001

Age IP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB ERA
25 149.1 9.04 0.84 4.82 8.20 1.70 5.06
26 203 9.27 0.93 4.97 7.05 1.42 4.92
27 190.1 9.17 0.52 5.11 6.43 1.26 4.26
28 159 8.55 0.62 4.36 6.17 1.42 4.02

Now, Mr. Rusch, whose 25-28 seasons were from 2000-2003.

Age IP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB ERA
25 190.2 9.25 0.85 2.08 7.41 3.57 4.01
26 179 10.86 1.16 2.16 7.84 3.63 4.63
27 210.2 9.70 1.28 3.25 5.98 1.84 4.70
28 123.1 12.48 0.80 3.28 6.79 2.07 6.42

One of the first things I'm struck by is how these two are not terribly similar. My characterization in my last post appears quite unfair in light of the above. Argue all you want about relative value, but how they get there is not alike.

The only thing that kept Estes from being terrible all the time was his stinginess with the home run and his decent hit rates. His strikeout rate dropped precipitously over those four years (it has since leveled off), and his walk rates were just painful (and climbing back up over the last two years). In fact, what made him so horrid in 2003 were his career high hit and home run rates, at 10.76 and 1.18, respectively. Estes has consistently walked a ton of men, and it's impossible not to get killed when you become hittable, like he did last year.

What served as career highs for Estes in hit and home run rates in 2003 were par for the course for Rusch. The difference, at least in his age 25 and 26 seasons, was his control. A walk rate around two per nine is awfully nice, and Rusch managed to strike some guys out as well to keep his SO/BB ratio over three and a half. Kerry Wood needed to give up 25% fewer free passes to get in that territory, and that was while striking out 11.35 men per nine innings.

Rusch's trouble the last two years has been the erosion of his control and his strikeout rates, and even though he got some of his strikeout ability back last year, he had such a ridiculous hit rate that it didn't matter.

This is where I start to back off of yesterday's statements a bit. While I'd like to see Rusch get his walk rate back down, the fact that his strikeout and home run rates improved last year is encouraging. Also bracing, is how he performed in the limited duty he had upon his return from demotion in the second half. Over 39 innings, he had 9.69 H/9, 0.46 HR/9, 2.08 BB/9, and 7.62 SO/9 with a 3.23 ERA.

These are not Hall of Fame numbers, the sample size is limited, and most of those innings were out of the bullpen. However, there is justification to be found in taking a flyer on a guy like this by giving him a minor league deal, as the Cubs did. Should Mitre falter, Rusch should serve as a passable insurance policy until The Franchise is ready to return.

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Posted by Derek @ 12:54 PM