Monthly archives: March 2004
Position Report: Third Base
2003: Aramis Ramirez (63 G), Mark Bellhorn (42 G), Ramon Martinez (37 G),
Christian:The only major leaguer ever named after a Musketeer settled in upon his arrival last year, forestalling the eventuality of crowning Mr. Post-Santo #100 at Wrigley Field's hot corner. With the amount of ink that's been spilled about this guy, discussing whether he'll ever amount to anything, it's instructive to note that he won't turn 26 until the middle of the season. Of course, it's also instructive to note that among his Baseball-Reference.com similar batters lurk such washouts as Fernando Tatis, Russ Davis, and the immortal Ray Jablonski. Those are not names that inspire confidence.
Those looking for positive signs should go back to the whole age thing, and also to some different names that show up on his PECOTA comps: Larry Parrish, Tony Perez, and George Scott. Of course, all three of those guys were off third base by age 29. Maybe A-Ram's future is on the other side of the diamond; if it is, it's also on another team, because he'd have to put up George Brett numbers to displace Derrek Lee.
Both PECOTA and ZIPS foresee Ramirez inching his way back to the numbers he flashed in his first full-time season, and I think that, if he flirts with 30 homers and a .500 SLG, Cubs fans will be deliriously happy.
Alex: I'm pretty optimistic on Ramirez, and am looking forward to seeing what he'll do over the course of a full season. Like Lee, he should benefit from Wrigley -- especially when facing lefties (think Pettitte), since he regularly smacks balls to left against southpaws. Speaking of Lee, could there be any player more excited about the Cubs' acquisition of Rodan than Ramirez? With his huge stretch and soft hands, Lee's presence alone will likely lower Aramis's error totals.
I do have to admit, though, that I can't quite figure out Ramirez's approach at the plate. His batting stance reminds me of a drunken bar patron who's just gotten off his stool, swaying slightly while trying to stand upright. Watching him over the last half of the season, he strikes me as a player who has a decent batting eye, but who hasn't parlayed that eye into a patient approach at the plate: he ranked 3rd lowest in the NL last year in pitches taken per at-bat. I remember reading somewhere that Ramirez was known as a patient type in the minors, so maybe that part of his game is still coming. If it ever does, he won't just be the best Cubs third sacker since Santo, he'll also be capable of putting up a couple Santo-like seasons with the bat.
Ramirez: PECOTA 276/334/481, ZIPS 282/340/478
Position Report: Second Base
2003: Mark Grudzielanek (121 G), Ramon Martinez (42 G), Tony Womack (14 G),
Christian: Grudzielanek performed better than anyone could have expected last year, putting up the second-best offensive stats of his career. I can't foresee a situation in which he duplicates those numbers now, at age 34. More likely he reverts to the mean, settling around 275/315/370 and continuing to play a passable defense.
Given how weak the Cubs offense was last year, losing that much offense from secondbase is gonna hurt. Luckily, the Cubs have hedged their bets a bit by bringing in Todd Walker, whose career-worst SLG (.428) last year is just short of Grudz' career best (.436 in 1999). Walker is a butcher in the field, which is troubling, but I hope that Dusty Baker will understand the need to punt a bit of D in exchange for some baserunners.
I hope, but I don't anticipate. For better or worse, Grudz earned his starting job for this season and Dusty isn't the kind of guy who would take that away from him unless he really stinks up the joint. Look for Walker to play occasionally (1-2 games a week) at second and possibly spell Moises Alou in left field. Alongside Todd Hollandsworth, he'll be a decent lefty bat off the bench and a guy who Cubs fans can point to and scream, "WHY ISN'T HE PLAYING???" every few days.
Alex: If Dusty doesn't care to use Grudzielanek and Walker in an offensive platoon, maybe the Gods of Sandberg will implant the idea of a defensive platoon in his noggin. Grudzielanek isn't a great fielder; he's league average. But that makes him notably better than his keystone Doppelganger. Let's break out a chart:
Rate2 is a defensive rate stat, which shows you how many runs a fielder saves or allows at his position per 100 games -- so, looking at the above chart, Grudz last year saved 2 runs above average with his glove per 100 games, while Walker allowed 16 more runs than average per 100 games. Add up the totals for the past three years, multiply it by a 162-game schedule, and it comes out that Grudzielanek has been about 13 runs better than Walker each season with the glove, or a little over one win.Rate2
This isn't an overwhelming margin, but the little things might count in this division. The Cubs should consider throwing Walker and his better bat onto the field whenever Prior and Wood are on the mound, since that pair's absurdly high strikeout rates -- and resulting low percentage of balls in play -- limit the damage a poor fielder can do. Similarly, the Cubs' relief core, with its own high k-rates, should make it more tenable for Dusty to make not a defensive late-inning substitution, but an offensive one, letting Walker slip onto the field when the Cubs are close in the late going. Grudzielanek, on the other hand, could be defensive caddy to Zambrano and Maddux, two extreme groundball pitchers. Hey, it's not Jose Vidro, or even Michael Young, but it's something.
Grudzielanek: PECOTA 273/321/379, ZIPS 285/333/394
Baked and Toasted
Jim Baker is far and away my favorite writer over at ESPN.com, though he's perhaps less well-known than luminaries Rob Neyer and Pyotr Gammons, Esq., in part because you have to pay to read Baker's stuff every day. I find him well worth the bucks I spend on my ESPN Insider subscription, and encourage those who like to open their day with a dose of humorous, intelligent baseball writing to sign up. And no, I have no ties to ESPN.com or Baker, I just think he's cool.
At any rate, yesterday Baker casually wondered (subscription required) in his column if the Yankees' imposing middle of its lineup (Rodriguez, Giambi, Sheffield) was the best in baseball history. Always the brown-noser, I quickly wrote up an email and dashed it off to Mr. Baker-boy. I even found a way to work in the Cubs to make it relevant to TCR. The letter follows:
So, I was thinking about your question, "Can you suggest a 3-4-5 combo in baseball history that has the potency of Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield?" And I immediately thought, "Well, yes!"
Baseball Prospectus (BP) has a neat little stat called "MLVr", which they define as:
MLVr is a rate-based version of Marginal Lineup Value (MLV), a measure of offensive production created by David Tate and further developed by Keith Woolner. MLV is an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. MLVr is approximately equal to MLV per game. The league average MLVr is zero (0.000).
If you have an MLVr rate of, say, .250, it means you're adding an additional quarter of a run per game to your team's box score more than a regular scrub would. To make it even more basic, just think, "The higher the number, the better!"
BP projects the following 2004 MLVr for the Yankees' thunderous threesome:
2004 YANKEES MLVrThis is a nice little number, and likely one of the most productive middle of the orders this year. But historically great? Probably not. Check this out:
2001 GIANTS MLVrThere was no real fifth hitter in the 2001 Giants lineup, so I chose Snow, who hit in that spot often enough. Plus, I like names that evoke thoughts of precipitation. As you can see, basically anyone could fill the Giants' number five spot, since Bonds by himself had a higher rate of production than that expected from the Yanks' big three. Hard to fathom, maybe, but there you go.
And if you're willing to eschew the number 5 spot altogether in the '01 Giants, and include Rich Aurilia (.398 MLVr) instead, you get a whopping total of 1.629, or about double what the Yankees can expect.
For poops and snickers -- and since I'm a Cubs fan and like to croon self-centeredly about my team -- I thought I'd take a look at the 2001 Cubs and see if Sammy's monster season had an effect similar to Bonds' on the Cubs' order.
2001 CUBS MLVrHere we go again! The 2001 Cubs' 3-4-5 handily outperformed the projected results from this year's New York team. Both Sosa and Bonds had seasons for the ages in 2001, supplying huge amounts of production to the middle of their teams' lineups. Will the '04 Yankees be an intimidating heart of the order? Sure, but it will take more than just the status quo from their three great sluggers to make them one of history's best: someone will have to step up and deliver a season above and beyond what can be expected.
Position Report: Catcher
Here's the first of our around-the-diamond scouting reports on the 2004 Cubs. We're shooting for two a day, in order to cover every position, the five starters, the bullpen, and the bench before the season is too old.
2003: Damian Miller (114 G), Paul Bako (69 G), Josh Paul (3 G)
Christian: The Cubs brought Damian Miller in last year to start at catcher. Miller has led a charmed life behind the plate; after a few years catching The Big Unit and Curt Schilling in Arizona, he came over to catch Wood and Prior, and has now moved on to handle the A's staff. It's impossible to know whether Miller's reputation behind the plate is a cause or an effect of the great pitchers he's caught, but whatever it is it's good for him, since he can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. His one year in Chicago saw him post career lows in almost every offensive category, leading the Cubs to ship him out for Michael Barrett, who looks like a younger version of Miller without the sterling defensive reputation.
Finally given a chance to catch every day in Montreal in 2001 after shuttling between catcher and third base, Barrett responded with a Neifi-riffic 250/289/367 line. He improved a bit the next year, but 2003 saw a regression that Cubs fans hope was caused more by a hip injury than by a general lack of talent. Barrett is still young enough (27) to improve, but if the Cubs fall short of the playoffs this year, a serious lack of offense behind the plate could be one of the reasons why.
Paul Bako will serve as backup again this year, reuniting with Greg Maddux, for whom he served as a personal catcher during part of Maddux's "I Don't Like Javy" phase.
Alex: I was hoping that the Cubs would acquire Barrett before the 2003 season, but it turned out to be a moot point: offensively, at least, the Cubs got a Barrettish performance from Damian Miller: Miller's 2003 OPS (.680) was two points above Barrett's (.678). As Christian notes, this is notably down from his solid year prior in which he hit 263/332/418. A return to that kind of production would be a welcome boon to the lower part of the Cubs' order, and would give the Cubs the best non-Kendall catcher in the division. Which isn't saying gosh darn much, of course.
Barrett: PECOTA 247/311/393, ZIPS 248/315/384
TCR reader and Cub enthusiast Helen Simmins-McMillin recently dropped me a line fresh from a week watching the Cubs in Mesa, and I thought her thoughts were well worth passing on. In her own words:
"My husband and I just got back from six days in Mesa, and five Cubs games in a row. Here's what I can tell you after watching the team from Sunday through Thursday:
Scott McClain should fill the Macias hole -- he made a couple of nice defensive plays, and even his (few) unproductive at bats were good ones -- solid contact, fouling off lots of pitches and such. He ran the bases well, too. If he's sent down, we've still got a nice core of competent players at Iowa that can be used for trades or injury covering. I even feel pretty good about the players some folks are complaining about -- in years past we've had benches filled with the types we're sending down to Iowa. The fact that they're not on the 25-man roster is a good sign to me. (Though I admit I don't know how their spring performance will relate to their in-season work.)
The pitching staff performed as expected, though I didn't see a lot of innings out of anyone. Maddux was a real joy to watch, even making a couple of very nice defensive plays. Hawkins was used as a closer twice and was less than spectacular both times we saw him pitch. Kerry Wood rocked on a very hot day. (Both Sunday and Thursday our car thermometer was over 100 when we left the park.) Cubs pitchers seem to be paying a bit more attention to defense early on this year as compared to last, thank goodness.
The Cubs were hitting the ball well. Whether this is normal in Spring Training or not I don't know, as this was our first trip. Baserunning still appears to be an issue, with runners being sent at some inexplicable times, and errors by our starters bit us hard against the Angels. Good news though: Wendell Kim consistently held runners instead of waving them around second and third. Maybe someone said something..."
A big thanks to Helen for sending us her interesting observations.
Baseball Prospectus runs a regular column, called "The Week In Quotes", where they assemble the most notable quotables. The Cubs are regularly featured, thanks to the verbal feats of manager Dusty Baker, but I think it's worth sticking up the most notable Cubs quotes every week.
High School Curriculum
"Chemistry is very important. I remember a few years ago when I was with the Giants, a guy told me there was no such thing as chemistry. I said, 'Well, there is no such thing as chemistry when you don't have any.' But for those that have it, it means a lot."
"Dusty and I give [chemistry] a lot of thought in the off-season. It's not just talent. We try to get as many guys as we can that we feel are winning-type players. As Dusty does such a marvelous job of blending the guys over a 162-game schedule, that's important."
"Last year I was so far into the season, I think things were running their course where I wasn't just trying to get ready and alter things. I think I was in a groove with my mechanics and everything. This year, it's different because I never found a groove mechanically. We don't want to alter anything to cause any other problems anywhere else and I think that's the main concern."
"Throwing 100 doesn't hurt, but Kerry Wood has an excellent curveball, and he's throwing a slider. Mark Prior has the ability to locate the fastball, and he has a very good curveball. Carlos Zambrano throws hard but has tremendous movement. He doesn't have to use that many off-speed pitches because his fastball sinks so much, he gets a lot of ground balls or swings and misses. The velocity stands out, but these guys have other weapons."
"On ESPN I saw [baseball analyst] Harold Reynolds didn't even know the Cubs had a closer. Didn't he say the Cubs are going to try a closer by committee? I don't get any recognition as it is, so I guess I shouldn't expect any. Whatever. The only thing that bothers me is that a lot of times, it always seems to be a question."
"I don't care about him."
The Other Stuff
"Sergio could climb up the ladder. He's already high up the ladder. This guy has worked hard. If everybody worked as hard as he did in the spring, everybody would be in great, great shape."
"People tell me, 'We hate the Cubs, but we like you.' I can go in a bar and, I hope they're kidding, but they say, 'If you're not with the Sox, you've got to get out of here.' I did see quite a few fights in the stands. More people say, 'I don't care if you win any games, just beat the Sox every time.'"
"I use a smaller glove because sometimes you can get lazy with a first baseman's glove. You don't have to bend down as far (with the big glove). I use a smaller glove to make me more fundamentally sound. It's like a third baseman's glove. It just makes me use the correct technique."
And like your dentist armed with drill and saw, I come bearing ill tidings. Mark Prior's Achilles will keep him out for a bit, Juan Cruz has been traded for a fermenting pile of cold sesame noodles, and even resident scrub Jose Macias will be sidelined for about a month with a torn meniscus.
On the (hopefully) brighter side of things, this is my first bit of web scrawl on my new home, The Cub Reporter. Christian has graciously asked me to lend a hand in co-authoring this space, and, well, I'm humbled and eager to join in the fun. For you few, proud few, band of brothers, who have seen my regular blather over at ball talk, you can expect more of the same over here.
And for the masses who have no clue who I am, I'll include here a snippet from my first blog entry last fall, by way of introduction:
I am gay, and I am a baseball fan. I like guys, and I like the Cubs. These things are not mutually exclusive, but it is rare indeed when my worlds intersect. Games 2-4 of the NLCS was such an instance. Vacationing in southern Maine, I went out to the boy bars in Ogunquit each night. While most patrons were busy ogling the soft porn on the TV monitors (or the live soft porn on the dance floor), I was glued to the one monitor in the room tuned to the Cubs-Marlins series.
As I emphasized at ball talk, my writing is rarely about being gay, or about gay baseball players, or about who I think is a hottie. It's about baseball and, specifically, my Cubbies. That'll probably be even more true at The Cub Reporter, where my focus will be blue and pinstriped. That said, I will continue to discuss issues of sexuality in sports when relevant and when interesting, though it is to-be-determined where in the All-Baseball network those pieces will fit.
ball talk will cease to be updated, but some of my longer or more popular pieces will be moved over to TCR, if for no other reason than ease of reference. Old links to stuff on ball talk will still work indefinitely, and the home page will stand as is for a little while, eventually automatically redirecting viewers to this site.
We're making it up here as we go along. There will be some collaborative bits between Christian and me, but mostly we'll be doing a lot of random, wild posting on all things Cub. Enjoy the ride, and keep the comments and feedback flowing. I know I'm going to have fun.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com