Monthly archives: February 2006
Reading is Fun-damental
The Cubs signed Brian Boehringer to a minor league contract over the weekend in an attempt to add some insurance and minor league depth in the event it becomes necessary to switch out bullpen parts later in the year due to injuries or poor performance. At least, that's what he'd be used for on a team not run by Johnny B.
The bullpen currently shakes out with either three or four men being sure bets depending on who you believe, the agreed upon gentlemen of leisure being Dempster, Eyre, and Howry, with the supposed fourth being Scott Williamson (who I'd have to believe is a pretty sure thing). That leaves three spots (and, yes, there's no doubt in my mind that Dusty will go with a 12-man staff) for some combination of Todd Wellemeyer, Michael Wuertz, Will Ohman, Roberto Novoa, and now, Boehringer.
I'd think that Wuertz and Ohman, while not certainties, are the nearest to such a thing in that group, Wuertz because he's really been rather good most of the time, and Ohman because he also had a decent year last season, plus, I can't believe the club would break camp without a second lefty - not because it's actually necessary, but because I think they believe it is. That leaves a battle between Wellemeyer (out of options and a walk machine of late), Novoa (sometimes good, sometimes maddeningly inconsistent), and Boehringer (see above).
I think the club looked at the likelihood that Wellemeyer wouldn't make the club, leaving them compelled to deal him, and Novoa wouldn't be able to earn Dusty's trust while being better served by a more consistent workload in Iowa, and figured they'd best bring someone aboard who could be that worst pitcher on the team, safely transforming mere potential blowouts into full-fledged laughers in an inning or less.
Enter Mr. Boehringer, who with his personal history and love of literature should make the Wrigley Field bullpen a font of enlightened thought and intelligent discourse. Let us all welcome this new addition, The Librarian, and hope that he's much, much better than we have any right to expect.
Remember how maddening it was to see Mike Remlinger getting killed by nearly every lefty he'd face? Well, now that he's battling for a spot on the Braves roster, it seems Rem finally figured out it was an issue that needed correcting.
Beyond noting that 40 seems a little old to be toying with a new pitch, I was going to say something snarky about how Rem was used while in Chicago, but I looked at the breakdown of his batters faced, and his misuse wasn't as egregious as I remembered.
During his last three years under Cox (Retrosheet doesn't have splits for handedness until the 2000 season), he faced righties 70.4% of the time. While under Baker, it was 61.6%, and while he did, indeed, face more lefties in Chicago, one can at least see in that ratio that Baker appears to have had a glimmer of understanding about his strengths and weaknesses, which is about seventeen glimmers more than I would have credited him with before looking at the numbers.
The Logic of Hackery
One of the issues I, and a lot of others, have with Juan Pierre is the fact that he doesn't walk a lot, thus making his OBP - the thing that drives his offensive value - subject to the relatively capricious whims of batting average. But today in the Daily Herald, he has an interesting quote on that subject buried in the obligatory puff piece.
It's an interesting idea, and one that has some merit, at least when thinking about it in the abstract. Here's a guy who has no power, so there's no need to be careful with him from that perspective, and he doesn't strike out a lot, so there's not as much to be gained by trying to whiff him with stuff off the plate. It, therefore, makes some sense that pitchers would be more likely to come right at him, since the lowest risk method they'd have of getting an out would be from a ball in play.
Now, I don't think it's that simple, as there's a "chicken and egg" idea looming in the background, and the answer is way more complicated than "pitchers control walks," or "hitters control walks." It's a symbiotic relationship with huge complexities, not a simple "input A produces output B" scenario.
Besides, it's not like Pierre sees a lot of pitches - the 3.69 he saw per at bat last year was his career high by a wide margin, and even that would only put him in the Jacque Jones patience class - so one has to wonder how many "pitcher's pitches" he's putting into play early in the count simply because he doesn't think the guy will walk him anyway.
After all, if the hitter can't hurt you with the longball, you as the pitcher can afford to get behind in the count early if your attempt to make him swing at your pitch fails, which is where I think Pierre's logic breaks down - they don't have to be careful, but they can afford to get cute. So, yes, Juan, they want you to swing, but that doesn't mean it's a good pitch to hit, and really, just because they're trying to make you swing the bat doesn't mean you have to oblige them.
Mike Kiley did a Spring Training piece on Michael Barrett's defense yesterday, and unlike most dispatches from Mesa, the opening caught my eye:
Well, well, it looks like we've got a budding stat-head on our hands. Not that it sounds like he's got a real methodology in place, but it's interesting that he's even thinking in these terms. In fact, he goes on later to talk about, of all things, catcher ERA.
It's not that I don't expect players to pay attention to their numbers, but of all things for a catcher to keep an eye on, catcher ERA seems...well...odd. I suppose it makes some sense, in that they don't have much else to lean on statistically to measure things like game-calling skills, but to be honest, I didn't think anyone noticed catcher ERA, let alone an actual catcher. I guess I'll just put that in my "learn something new every day" box.
"Concerns" about Mark Prior have begun to surface already, with reports here, here, here, and here about his relatively slow pace at the start of the spring, and the illness in December that's linked to his being behind schedule.
Here's the thing: this sort of report is exactly what gets bloggers as a species in trouble. Either we write about how this is a sign of disaster to come, or we take the insistence of mere caution from the players and coaches at face value and write it off as nothing to worry about, and in both cases it's simple enough to cast off the expressed opinions as paranoid mania or head-in-the-sand, Kool-Aid drinking.
The extra issue in this particular case is that there's reasonable cause to be in either camp. Prior hasn't been completely healthy and on-schedule during the Spring since 2003, and the club has been notoriously close-lipped and dodgy in their discussions of player health over the last couple seasons. However, in past instances the club has never put a date on Prior's or any truly injured pitcher's return, and they've already said that The Franchise would get into a Cactus League game on March 5th or 6th.
So, I guess I'm showing my true colors (sickly, bright, yellow) and coming out on the side of equivocation, here. I can understand how a guy can be laid up for two weeks during a time when he would normally have started his preparations for the season and come into camp in need of catching up, yet I can also see why, past history being what it is, folks might start to get antsy at yet another delay for Prior at the start of a season.
In other words, my head says it's no big deal, but despite its rational intervention, it can't stop my stomach from reflexively churning. Get me a couple of solid, workman-like Spring starts and I'm all better, but until then, I'll be the same ol' mess o' nerves.
UPDATE: To add to our collective breathlessness and frayed nerves, our fellow Toastmaster, Will Carroll, reports in UTK today (sub. required) that according to the source that tipped him early and accurately on Prior's Achilles issues, The Franchise is now experiencing shoulder problems. I will pause for a moment, whilst you all cry.
You! Are! The Blogger!
All week, pitchers and catchers have been reporting to Major League training camps, marking not only the start of Spring Training, but the official opening of what I call, "The Season of Rumination" - the time of year when, for lack of concrete subject matter, baseball bloggers turn introspective and write at length on the coming Spring and all its concomitant metaphors.
Much like mini-camps held in previous weeks, some have already begun this endeavor in earnest, myself included, but it is in the coming days that the yeoman's work will truly be done. Some of you may feel left out of this orgy of poeticals, feeling that, perhaps, any attempts at expressing the sentiments of the season would leave you embarrassed - that your efforts might not be up to public exposure - or that it's simply too much trouble and effort to bother.
Which is why I have created this simple, easy to use form that will allow you to make your very own Paean to Spring. Simply choose the phrase that most closely matches your personal taste from the dropdown menus provided, and when you reach the end - Voila! - you'll have assembled your very own Ode du Printemps!
So what are you waiting for! Pick some phrases, have some fun, and most of all, enjoy the Spring!
As recently as , things were looking up in and its environs. After a brutal series of days filled with wind and snow, cold and darkness, there was a glorious five day stretch filled with brightness and warmth (at least in a relative sense) that not only melted the winter's accumulated snowfall, but served to thaw this baseball fan's near-frozen .
Temperatures rose as the time until men were to meet and play over oceans of grass fell away like a on a soft, vernal breeze. Walking outside was transformed from an act of necessity to one of pure pleasure. Layers were shed, and as the city's sidewalks filled with those freed from their prisons of goose down, one could smell the in the air.
It was early, we knew that, but on these days when by all rights we should still be tightly gripped by the Old Man's frigid fist, it's impossible not to think defiant thoughts of . "Spring!" As one mind we transmitted the word, as if the intensity of our combined mental efforts would make what was temporary permanent, bringing the final push that sent the Old Man to his .
That's gone now. This morning was gloomy and chill. It is jarring. Disconcerting. And despite continuing to creep nearer our object of desire - sans thought, sans effort, always moving forward - it seems farther now than ever; the perception of time's passing stretched from inches into feet and feet into fathoms by .
Yet closer still it comes, and thank for small mercies. Those men will meet, and they will play, and more men will follow upon them. Together, they will signal an end and a beginning, both of them welcome as an old friend. Time marches on, and the days will come and go until our long wait is through. It will all be over soon, but how I wish it were !
The root text above was based on a horrid, turgid piece of prose that can be viewed in its entirety here. Should any of you recognize its author on the street, the recommended course of action would be to him. That is all.
While mention of Sammy Sosa's likely retirement is all over the place today, I'd rather focus on two other pieces of news, one fun, and one a little sad.
First, the fun news, which is that former Cub Opening Day hero, Tuffy Rhodes, has returned to the U.S. after a prolific career in Japan and secured a minor league deal and invite to Spring Training from the Cincinnati Reds. Now, he has little chance of making the roster, and at 37, he's likely too old to contribute much, but that doesn't make the story any less happy, and I for one hope he gets one more chance to perform on the big stage before he hangs them up.
Which brings us to the less happy news that Brooks Kieschnick - the ultimate "swing" man - has decided to call it quits. He was very effective, both as a pitcher and a pinch hitter, for Milwaukee during the first half of the 2004 campaign, before a shoulder injury mid-season caused him to miss time, and apparently, lose his stuff.
It's not so much the retirement of Kieschnick himself that I find sad - although he always seemed like the type of fun-loving guy you wanted on your team, simply enjoying the game for its own sake - as it is the idea of what he did. Not only is it valuable from a tactical standpoint to have a reliever who can be reasonably effective as both pitcher and hitter, it's just plain fun to watch as a fan, and unfortunately, his heir apparent isn't in sight.
So best of luck to Tuffy and Brooks. May you each find some fun and happiness in the year to come.
A Little Gift
I was flipping around various channels last night on the lookout for something of interest, a search which quickly devolved into a willingness to stare at anything that didn't instantly cause my eyes to melt, when I happened upon the strangest of things: a baseball game.
Of course, it wasn't live - it hadn't even been played during this calendar year - but my goodness, it was baseball. Not only that, it was Cub baseball, a rebroadcast by Comcast SportsNet of the May 28th game against Colorado - otherwise known as the Day After The Shot Heard 'Round Mark Prior's Elbow.
It was fun to find, not just for the simple fact that it was baseball in February (baseball in February!), but it happened to be a game where I was unable to witness the decisive sixth inning, having been relegated to listening on a rental car radio (I'd recently hit a building with my own auto - don't ask) in the parking lot of the Lincoln Park Zoo (again - don't ask).
In fact, I was so lucky that I found the game about two pitches before Todd Walker led off the sixth inning of the tied game with his only hit of the day - a triple off the base of the wall in right center, that was only a triple because Preston Wilson and Dustin Mohr had backed so far off the ivy in anticipation of a monster carom, that Walker was a good third of the way around second by the time one of them was able to release a throw back to the infield. It was a good recognition play by Walker, which is about the only way a guy with his speed is going to get a three-bag in that ballpark without a ball getting kicked around for an hour.
Next up was The Magnificent Lee, and his at bat was a clear reminder of what made last year different from all the rest. After fouling off the first pitch from Byung-Hyun Kim with a cut for the ages, he nearly sent pitch number two through the tall screen in left for his second homer of the day.
What made that result so indicative of his season was the offering he drilled - a sinker fairly low and nearly off the plate inside. It was a pitch many other players would either do nothing with, or miss entirely, and it's precisely the type of ball that Lee had issues with during the previous eight years of his career. Fixing that hole made all the difference - not just fixing it, but making it into a powerful weapon - and it'll be fun to see how well Derrek adjusts to the league's awareness that it's no longer an automatic out zone.
The next batter was Jeromy Burnitz, and even now I cringed. Not because he was a horror show last year - he wasn't - but rather because of the lineup construction. I don't care about the perceived value of having an alternating lefty/righty pattern in your lineup, splitting up your two best hitters - Lee and Ramirez - to gain an isolated tactical edge is foolishness. I only hope such abject silliness doesn't carry over to 2006.
Back to the at bat, it was awfully familiar. Like I said, Burnitz wasn't dreadful, but all too often in 2005 one would see the exact pattern on display in this contest:
Burnitz eventually singled to center, and after that Aramis Ramirez missed the first pitch, let the second one go for a ball, then hit a towering shot to left to make the Cub lead 5-1. If Burnitz got on base enough, that could have been a pattern all year long, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.
That ended the scoring. The rest of the game was non-descript, other than a moment in the eighth where, after Corey Patterson had led off with a single, then stolen second and advanced to third on Todd Greene's throwing error, Jason DuBois (remember him?) struck out, and Michael Barrett then popped out on the first offering he saw. Couldn't get the run home from third, even the second time around.
It wasn't a lot of baseball, and it wasn't a classic game, but there's nothing to warm the heart of a near-frozen baseball fan like a glimpse of that thing he's so anxious to see. Soon, my friends, the day is nigh, and we shall all rejoice in Spring.
Now that everyone's signed, sealed, and delivered, it seems like an appropriate time to do a quick update of what the payroll looks like. Bear in mind this is an approximation cobbled together with the help of the ever useful Hardball Dollars, various press reports, and estimations based on the league minimum salary.
I am looking only at the most likely prospective members of the 25-man roster, although I've put 27 on this list due to uncertainty on the pitching staff and certain known monetary guarantees to players who won't join the team until later in the season. I'm also assuming that Mr. Grissom will make the roster, and have made a WAG about what his compensation will look like. So, then, the numbers.
Again, I don't know what the club's final payroll target is, and I've obviously not hit every detail, but if I had to guess I'd say there's actually some decent sized room left for a mid-season acquisition. Of course, to matter, there'd have to be cause for one...
UPDATE: Don't know how I missed this before, but CubsNet.com has this sort of chart already set up and is not only updating regularly, but doing so using more science than I would. In fact, I've already fixed an issue with Scott Williamson's salary. My suggestion? For Cubs payroll questions, check with CubsNet.com going forward.
The Cubs finished their prescribed offseason business today, signing Carlos Zambrano to a one-year, $6.5M deal.
Blah blah blah rapeteta, the non-hearing arb streak continues, blah blah blah rapeteta.
My hope is that this is a precursor to a longer term deal, but even if not, the fact that it's done is a positive in itself. Now, thank goodness, we can all concentrate on the unspeakable boredom the coming weeks promise.
When Boredom Attacks
As Mr. Belth notes some Bronx related wishcasting today, we here in Cubland got our own brand of the beast this morning, as both Barry Rozner in the Daily Herald and Dave van Dyck in the Tribune fill a couple column inches with speculation about the Cubs' second base situation. First, Mr. Rozner:
If there are any teams on the North Side of Chicago looking for a second baseman, Washington still has two, and one of them is Jose Vidro, who says he wants to play 160 games this year.
Well, last I heard, the Schaumburg Flyers were all set at the keystone, but.... oh.... gotcha.... literary device.
The point remains the same, as the last I heard, the Cubs had the Nationals thoroughly whipped when it came to the overstocking of middle infield positions with three second basemen. On the same roster!
Granted, they've been trying to trade one of them since President Ford was stumbling over Chevy Chase who had tripped over a chalk line on his way to an SNL mock-up of the Oval Office restroom, and they'd prefer to use the other two as super-subs, but that doesn't mean Vidro is on his way. I don't think Rozner implied that he was, either, just that I think the situation is far more complicated than "Nationals have extra, Cubs have need."
Which brings us to van Dyck's piece, which does attempt to bring some complication to the scenario, even if only for unintentional comic effect, by daring to utter the moniker of He Who Must Not Be Named.
The image that came to mind when I read this was that of (and I warn you, this is not visually pleasant) a pimple on the face of Jim Bowden being squeezed by Sosa, and when the explosive moment of release arrived, what should pop out, and directly into the lap of a sleeping Jim Hendry, but Alfonso Soriano.
If nothing else, it's interesting to note that two men, working independently, both spilled ink on the same problematic situation, thinking that the same team might hold the solution, yet managed to come up with nearly divergent results. Which should tell us all we need to know about the ratio of information to speculation.
Yesterday, faithful reader Todd S. sent me an email reminding me (as sadly, I needed it) that Baseball Prospectus just put this season's PECOTA cards up (subscription required for all cards, except catchers and members of the White Sox).
He also sent along a few quick calculations of the NL Central's projected VORP numbers which have inspired me to see if I can sort through what's out there to come up with some team comparison's, and perhaps even some breakdowns of what happens when certain players receive playing time over certain other players (and you know who you are...).
However, since I've been out of practice for a few days, and I'm still trying to figure out if I've got the chops to sort through the numbers and do what I'd like to do (reconciling playing time issues can be a real bear on a team level, in particular), I thought I'd pass along some observations I had while perusing some of the Cubs' cards.
I'll quit for now, but there's a lot to be gleaned from studying these puppies, so you'd best believe there's more to come before the offseason's through.
I haven't done anything with bullets for a while, and Fridays just seem so right for such beasts. Ready! Aim! Fire!
And Then There Was One
It looked like the Cubs' Magical Mystical Hearing Free Streak was going to come to an end tomorrow with the club and Will Ohman going toe to toe in Florida, but not only did they avoid such an unsavory confrontation by reaching agreement with Ohman today, they managed to obviate the need for a Juan Pierre hearing as well, leaving only Carlos Zambrano to be dealt with.
The piece on Cubs.com doesn't give financial terms as I'm writing this (although I imagine the link will be updated with that information later), but Rotoworld.com has Ohman coming in at $610K, and Pierre at $5.75M, Juan's being the exact halfway point between the two submitted figures, and Will's leaning closer to the $500K the team offered rather than the $775K he requested.
Some might find the Cubs' willingness to go to a hearing over such a small amount of money in Ohman's case to be a little strange, but articles in the Sun-Times and Daily Herald this morning actually shed some light on the subject, the gist of which being that while Ohman performed very well last year, a great deal of the service time he accumulated to be at the point where he could go to arb in the first place was spent on the DL.
In other words, while Ohman technically has the service time and is therefore entitled to something more, giving him over twice the salary of someone like Michael Wuertz, who has both stayed healthy and thrown nearly twice as many Major League innings in a shorter window of opportunity, seems kinda unfair.
You know what? I'll buy it. Hendry and Co. have been nothing if not generous toward the bullpen and bench guys (see: Perez, Neifi! or Blanco, Henry or Eyre, Scott or Dempster, Ryan or Howry, Bobby or Macias, Jose or Mabry, John, etc, etc, etc.), so I doubt they'd engage in this kind of brinksmanship over $30K or so (I'm assuming here that an early offer to split the difference gets the job done).
I have to believe the primary motivator was some iteration of the principle of fairness I outlined above, and while I'm happy the parties never reached the confrontational stage of the process, as far as I'm concerned, the club had good reason to stick to its guns.
Now, if the team can get a nice, tasty, long term deal done with Big Z, I'll be as happy as I can get with the current state of things. Not that I'll actually be happy, mind you.
All Hail February!
I hate waiting.
I'm wired for impatience, and when there's something I'm looking forward to - I mean, really looking forward to - you can bet that it'll be the background noise for my day, nearly every moment at least partially devoted to whatever happens to be the current object of my obsession ("No! Really?" you say, "A gentleman who spends an inordinate amount of his personal time writing about his favorite baseball team for no worldly compensation has a touch of the idée fixe? Pshaw!").
Here's an illustration: when I've made an online purchase, something that I've had my eye on for a while, once I've learned that it's shipped I'm unable to keep myself from repeatedly pasting the tracking number into the shipper's tracking system multiple times a day, at least hourly, hoping to learn that the item has made some sort of progress. And that, sadly, is me exercising restraint.
And it's not just the act of checking up, it's the ceaseless thoughts, and the work - oh, the work! - in keeping myself from checking and checking and checking again. "I'll only check once an hour," I'll tell myself, but rather than fully focusing on something else for that hour, some part of me is always looking at the clock. "Can I check yet? No? Crap!................How about now?"
I could alternately describe it as a chronic brain itch. An unremitting irritant that works to diffuse my every thought and deed, so that the struggle isn't just to keep from engaging in repetitive, fruitless action, but to simply gain a foothold in the world outside of this drive for resolution, to summon enough concentration to function above the level of a cat with his nip.
I despise being in that state. It is relentless static as I strive to function, and not in a "white noise" kind of way. It's more like getting a horrible song stuck in your head (which I have an issue with too, particularly now that there's a fairly constant flow of toddler music in my home. "Hakuna Matata," anyone?), but rather than doing the sane thing and working to be rid of it, you keep playing it over and over again in the vain hope that this time - Finally! This time! - it will transform into that thing you always hoped it would be.
This behavior pattern extends easily into the baseball world, and it's at its absolute worst in the months immediately following the season's conclusion when the possibility of deals and trades is as pervasive as the air. You can smell the possibilities, and it's often too much for me to take. To say that I slip into a state of near catatonia would be only the slightest of exaggerations.
I suppose if one were bent on spinning this positively a case could be made that there's a certain charming optimism involved, that what the minute to minute refreshing of various internet baseball sites declares is not your clear lack of self-control, but rather an undying enthusiasm and hopefulness. After all, when one clicks on that button, isn't it fair to say that there is at least a small degree of hope, of faith, that this time it will be different?
If there's a throughline for the things that really drive me to distraction, it's that their date of resolution is an open question. I can't know exactly when the package will arrive or when a big deal will go down, but I have a compelling need to find out at the earliest moment possible. I don't know why it should make a difference if I learn of the Jacque Jones signing at 6:30 rather than 8:30, but for some reason it does.
Which is a large reason why I'm so happy the calendar has turned to February. Pitchers and catchers will report to Mesa two weeks from today, and they'll begin working out two weeks from tomorrow. Finally, there is a solid date within reach, an immutable, scheduled time that I can look forward to, rather than an indeterminate point of dubious satisfaction.
It is a time when, at last, the scales of my mental health are tipped back toward a degree of sanity. It's the official beginning of Spring, as far as I'm concerned, and while it's also the onset of nearly two months of pure anticipation, it's a far more pleasant period, if only because it's strictly defined.
So here's to you, February! Harbinger of Spring, bringer of Rationality! You are the glimmer of hope so long absent from our dark, winter days, and you've come not a moment too soon. Thank you so much for finally arriving, and if it's not too much trouble, see if April can't hurry along.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com