Monthly archives: August 2004
I'm thigh-deep in last-minute planning for my Maine roadtrip. Fore Street, Street & Company, Natasha's... I've never spent time in Portland, so how am I to know which is the best restaurant to choose for Sunday dinner? So many choices, so few days, so little moulah. You can probably guess what kind of traveller I am; obsessive in the planning, paralyzed in the execution.
Last night's game (of course) wasn't on my Extra Innings package, so I just casually had MLB's Gameday up in the background while figuring out what to do on a Friday night in New Harbor. Gameday has its flaws (The balls and strikes are manually put in to reflect the umpire's calls, rather than where the ball actually crossed the plate. Of course, I guess it would be problematic if baseball's official website were disagreeing with the umps on pitch location.), but I certainly think it is the best of the real-time game trackers out there. I long ago made the switch from ESPN and CBS's products, and am finding myself using ESPN.com and it's horrifying video and Java toys less and less with each passing month.
It looked like vintage Maddux on my computer screen. Not a lot of pitches, not a lot of strikeouts, no walks, and no runs. Maddux has been utterly reliable in the past couple months, and his season ERA of 3.70 is as high as it is primarily due to a wretched April.
As I type this, the Cubs are about to step up against the Expos' stopper, Livan Hernandez. I'd give even odds on Livan pitching a complete game, given his penchant for going all nine and the Cubs' for swinging at the first pitch. John Kruk went on and on about tonight's game was a must win for the Cubs, the biggest threat to Chicago's health since Mrs. O'Leary's cow stepped foot in the city. Sure, it would be better to win than lose, but it isn't the end of all things if they don't. Then again, it was John Kruk, so I probably should have been paying more attention to my travel notes and less to Baseball Tonight while he was offering his opinions.
After over a week of warm fuzzies from the Cubs, fans got a dose of the cold pricklies over the weekend. The Cubs fell back into a three-way tie for the Wild Card by losing the last three games of their series with Houston.
Uncharacteristically, the pitching was the problem. The starting pitching was shaky, and the bullpen wasn't much better, though Cubs fans will be relieved of Kyle Farnsworth's antics for a few weeks. Talk about a dumbass. Kyle was actually putting together a solid season until August strolled along, when he decided to have the mother of all meltdowns.
Here at home, I'm spending the next couple days avoiding the delegates and protesters who've invaded my island. Not to get all political on you, but I'm less than pleased with the takeover; the RNC isn't exactly my crowd, and I'll betcha they aren't reserving too many warm fuzzies to send my way, either.
At any rate, you may have noticed that Christian is absent these days. He's on vacation, though the good news is that he's swinging through the city in a couple days and he and I get our first face time. That may come as a surprise to some readers, but Christian and I have never met.
I'm actually heading to Maine for a short vacation towards the end of the week, and I doubt I'll get a chance to check in while away. Both your hosts will be away, but Christian and I have lined up some great guest columns to keep things fresh.
The Cubs begin a three-game series in Montreal tonight, facing the Expos for the first time this year. The Cubs are catching the Expos at their most vulnerable -- Vidro and Johnson are out with injuries, and even ex-Cubs Francis Beltran and Alex Gonzalez are likely to miss the series.
For all you crazy-insane weekend commenter people. Keep up the chatter.
The Cubs can only keep doing their job and winning, but it sure would be nice if someone would beat the Giants and Padres, too. I think the Mets are something like 0-72 this year against teams that are challenging the Cubs in the standings.
Astros at Cubs
A win today would guarantee that the Cubs win the season series with Houston. These aren't your '90s Cubs, nor your '90s Astros, either.
Over the past seven games, the Cubs have six wins and one loss. During this stretch—arguably the hottest the team's been this year—they've outscored their opponents 61-29.
The scores in the six wins:
The score in the one loss:
It bears repeating: Good teams don't necessarily win one- and two-run games. Good teams win blowouts. I know, I know, this is starting to seem like "Alex's Little Obsession", but I too often hear cries in the media and elsewhere that losing close games are somehow a reflection of a ballclub's character, and I think it's all just a bunch of phooey.
Through yesterday's game, the Cubs are an unlucky 13-22 in one-run games. Sometimes a really bad bullpen can be partially to blame for a poor performance in close ballgames, but since the Cubs have a slightly better than average bullpen, I don't know that this is a good argument. Sometimes a horrid bench can contribute to losses in close games, and while the Cubs' bench is certainly below average, it also isn't responsible for a nine-game deficit in one-run games.
When the difference is five or more runs, however, the Cubs dominate -- putting up an astounding 22-8 record in games with a big run differential. This is a how a good team operates: it gets excellent pitching performances while scoring runs in bunches.
The Cubs have been getting a lot of good pitching performances of late (and are still second in MLB with a 3.73 staff ERA), and are starting to score those bundles of runs. It's a good team—make that a very good team—and one that enters today's Brewers series wrapup with a one-game lead in the Wild Card race.
Brewers (55-67) at Cubs (67-56)
I have a sore throat, so I'm going to shut up now.
Cubs (65-55) at Astros (60-60)
Remember when we were looking forward to Houston series filled with marquee matchups? Clemens-Maddux, Prior-Pettitte, Miller-Zambrano? Pettitte is now out for the season, Clemens will likely miss a start, and a suspension to Wood means we get a weekend filled with Munro, Rusch, and Backe. Sunday will see a good matchup, though, as Wood returns to face Oswalt.
As unfathomable as it seems, here are the standings among the top dogs in the NL Central:
Chicago has underperformed a bit, Houston's been a huge disappointment, and the Cards have outdone expectations. And even though in the end it is no solace, Baseball Prospectus's third-order standings—a measure of how each team would normally be expected to fare given its offensive and pitching performances—shows a closer race (results before yesterday's games):TEAM W L GB
In fact, the Cubs' third-order record is the second-best in the National League, and the third-best in all of baseball (behind the Yanks and Cards).TEAM W L GB
While this doesn't mean squat in the actual standings, it does offer a glimmer of hope for the team down the stretch. If the Cubs are actually as good as BP's stats indicate, their record for the remainder of the season may better reflect their run differential. It's another reason to like the Cubs' chances in the Wild Card race.
Key head-to-head matchups:
Alou vs. Miceli: 5-16, 313/333/688, 3 2B, 1 HR
Bagwell vs. Dempster: 11-29, 379/538/724, 3 HR, 9 BB
Note: Jeff Bagwell got a cortisone shot yesterday and was unavailable last night. No word yet on whether he'll play tonight.
In a night when Paul Hamm pulls perhaps the greatest comeback in men's Olympic gymnastic history, the Cubs did a little coming-back of their own. I was, again, primarily watching the Olympics last night, but I "fortuitously" turned to watch the Cubs right before both game-tying Branyan homers. I felt immediately guilty (by changing the channel to watch, I of course had affected the outcome of the at-bats), so I didn't watch any more of the game until extra innings, when Corey Patterson once again tried to shush his critics on The Cub Reporter with a game-winning homer.
It wasn't all good, though. Somewhere, in some hotel in Milwaukee, I imagine Matt Clement up last night drafting the following letter to his teammates:
Did I forget to send someone on a card on their birthday? Did I leave some dishes in the sink? Did I forget to put the toilet seat down?
What ever it is I did, I'm awful sorry.
I've tried my best this season, but it seems that we always find a way to screw up the games I start. Even I find a way to screw up the games I start: last night I had one of my better outings of the year, but I throw one mistake pitch and Pow! Three-run homer. No one else had a chance the whole night.
Until, of course, I turned it over to the bullpen. Even when we get the only guy in the 'pen going good—Remmie—he manages to blow my lead. I won't even go into the fact that the opposition's rally began in the eighth (of course) when there were two outs (of course) and our pitcher was ahead in the count 0-2 (of course).
Bitching aside, guys, I don't know what else I should be doing here. In June I had a 2.75 ERA, and I K'd 43 in 39 and 1/3 innings. I won one game (yippee!) and lost three. In July I had a 3.29 ERA, and I K'd over a batter per inning again. But again I only won one game (yippee!) while losing four games. Sure, I'm not perfect, but Shawn Estes is 13-4 this year, despite having a 5.59 ERA. Yeah, he's in Colorado, but he's Shawn Estes. Shawn Estes sucks.
Dusty, I'm getting the feeling you don't like me so much either. Now, I don't mind going up against a team's best pitcher, but why do I always have to go up against a team's best pitcher? I mean, this year I've faced:
This is even leaving out Mark Redman, Kelvim Escobar, and Matt Morris, all of whom—granted—I'm better than. But can't I every once in a while draw, say, Shawn Estes? I betcha he wouldn't have 13 wins if I were facing him every time out.
But I don't want to complain too much here. You guys are swell, even if I know this is probably my last run with the team -- you got that Dempster dude, plus those whippersnappers Guzman and Brownlie in the minors. So I'm gonna bring my resume to the free agent mart. You know, a lot of those GMs look first at that win column. Can you give a guy a hand here, help me wrack up a few "W"s in the last few weeks of the season?
With the Wild Card on the line, you might even find that those wins help us all out.
P.S. Thanks Corey!
There are only two sporting events that make me as nervous-nauseous-freaky as watching the Cubs in critical games: Olympic Women's Figure Skating and Women's Gymnastics. (If I hadn't outed myself before, I certainly would have just now.) So I traded my Cubbish craziness—and it certainly helps that Extra Innings once again didn't carry the Cubs game, thanks—for some uneven bar mania. I couldn't believe the U.S. team left Courtney McCool off all the apparatuses, and was a little bummed to see the team finish with a silver, but at least we didn't have to listen to that sick skeezball John Tesh go on about "little girls floating through the night, little girls tumbling in our dreams", a la 1996.
It's a good thing that I have the Olympics and its Yurchenkos entries, straddled Shaposhnikovas, and double-twisting Khorkinas to distract me. The Eastern Europeans aren't the only ones to have sporting maneuvers named after them; the Cubs are quickly catching up.
A Sammy Swinging Release
A Twisting Farnsworth
A Diving Grudciaparralek
An Alou Two-Second Set
A Hibernating Bear Routine
It's been a frustrating week and a half, to say the least. Yeah, the Cubs could use one more bullpen arm, but there really isn't much else to be done to improve this team. I could trot out the run differentials and one-run unlucky losses as proof in the puddin' that the Cubs are actually not only more talented than their opposition but actually have been performing better than the other guys and just can't catch a break, but what's the point? The Cubs refuse to run away with the Wild Card, content to let two mediocre teams pass them by. If they keep up this uninspired play, I won't even have to worry about being crazy-rattled-freakish come October.
Dodgers at Cubs
"You don't like it to happen. On the field I had [Garciaparra] coming across the bag. I came in here and looked at the replay. I wanted to know if I had it right. I don't know what it was. He absolutely got me."
Thanks a lot, Brucie. I'm pretty tempted to run out a string of references to Austin Power with Fat Bastard jokes, but I'll refrain. It was a typical day for Matt Clement, who escaped without giving up a run despite pitching rather poorly. The bullpen blows it, the umpire blows it, and the Cubs lose yet another of Mattie's outings. It just makes a man sick.
Guest Column: Bryan Smith Looks at Hendry
Bryan Smith, who as an All-Baseball labelmate runs Wait 'Til Next Year, is doing a two-part series analyzing GM Jim Hendry's trades since he took over running the show. The first part is here, the second part is over at his site. Many thanks to Bryan for providing this to us at TCR. And hey, he quotes me in his article! How very meta...
This is a two-part article evaluating Jim Hendry as a trader. Here at TCR, I will evaluate the Major League moves that Hendry has made, covering the minor league players at ‘Wait ‘Til Next Year’.
"It’s a different era in Cubs baseball. When opportunity knocks, the Cubs are making moves that improve the team. Grudzielanek, Karros, Lofton, Ramirez, Walker, Barrett, Lee, Hawkins, Maddux, and now, Garciaparra. The amount of talent that Hendry has brought into the club in the past year and half, and the wisdom he’s shown in letting pieces like Karros, Simon, and Lofton go once they’ve done their part, is staggering."
Days before developing the idea for this article, I told a friend Jim Hendry was one of baseball’s top five GMs. The other four? Scheurholtz, Beane, Sabean and Cashman. This is extremely high praise for Hendry, still working in his second full season of work. Alex’s above quote, coupled with Jay Jaffe’s recent Yankee breakdown on Prospectus, led me to wonder how good ‘Hendry the Dealer’ is.
Jim Hendry was officially named General Manager on July 5, 2002, interestingly enough the same day that Bruce Kimm was named Don Baylor’s successor. Let’s just say that one worked out, and the other…not so much. After spending two months dumping veterans, the Tribune Company’s focus was centered on a comeback 2003. And come back the Cubs did, winning the NL Central en route to one helluva playoff run. Ever since, Hendry has remained a buyer, and Nomar’s deal was his 20th as the GM.
Below are the 19 previous trades that Hendry has made, in which at least one named player was traded to each team. Before reading the list I tried to name all of them, landing 12. Try it. The list, starting with the most recent:
1. Acquired Andrew Shipman, PTBNL from Boston Red Sox for Jimmy Anderson (7/2/04)
A lot of the players that Hendry trade fall into certain categories. First, he often trades minor leaguers he once acquired, as evidenced by Chad Hermanson, Travis Anderson and Mike Nannini. Second, the Cubs are quick to trade veterans that don’t have a future with the club, like Darren Lewis, Todd Hundley, Jose Hernandez, and most recently, Alex Gonzalez. Like many GMs, Hendry is happy to trade from his surplus, like the deals of Matt Bruback or Wilton Chavez. Last, and perhaps the most concerning, is the obvious role Dusty Baker plays on the trade market.
There have been numerous examples in Hendry’s past that indicate that Baker’s approval is a necessity for young Cubs. Mark Bellhorn was traded because Dusty didn’t trust him at the hot corner, the same with Bobby Hill at second a month later. While I will get more into the Derrek Lee trade later, it is safe to say Cub fans were a bit concerned on how quick the Cubs pulled the trigger on Big Choi. This spring, we saw Juan Cruz dealt off the ‘Baker hit list’. And most recently, we’ve seen the separate trades of Felix Sanchez, Brendan Harris and Francis Beltran, all of whom didn’t make great first impressions. For better or worse, this is simply the price we pay for having Baker.
To assess how well the Cubs did in these trades, I have chosen to use the Bill James creation Win Shares. If you’re not familiar with the statistic, I would recommend this article, written by the Hardball Times WS keeper, Studes. Basically, Win Shares are a complicated stat where each ‘share’ represents 1/3 of a win. Below are the Win Shares of all the veterans the Cubs have dealt or acquired. The right column contains the Win Shares of all the Hendry acquisitions during their stint with the Cubs. As for the left column, this has the players Hendry traded away, with their Win Shares after leaving the Cubs, but while under the same contract status they left with.
The difference between the two, 58 win shares, represents a total of 19.3 extra wins. It should be noted that after their contracts ran out, both Tom Gordon and Bill Mueller had some very successful seasons. But the Cubs weren’t planning on recruiting either player, so getting anything for them is respectable. In fact, for Gordon, the Cubs landed a few pieces in Travis Anderson and Mike Nannini that would help in later trades.NAME WS NAME WS
What I found shocking from this chart was that Mark Bellhorn is currently Hendry’s worst trade. This is the key example of what scares me the most of the Cubs front office: Dusty Baker. His presence as a manager is daunting, so much so that it obviously prohibits Jim Hendry for building a team on his intuitions. Baker must start accepting young players for what they are, raw talents, rather than expected an already-polished gem. Furthermore, Jim Hendry has to shy away from being intimidated by his manager, as it seems his executive decisions have built not one (2003), but two (2004) championship contenders.
Another shocking fact, in my mind, is that Damian Miller is currently outperforming new Cub fans favorite, Michael Barrett. While Barrett’s offensive numbers are a little superior, Miller has two extra Win Shares on defense. I think Miller was a bit underappreciated by Cub fans last season, who were so quick to applaud a pitching staff that surely was getting some help from behind the plate. But what the Hell is up with his offensive breakout? Well, it could likely be attributed to a LD% (Line Drive %) of .228. This leads all Athletic players, and as Studes has proved, is the least volatile of the batted ball types.
In addition to the above table, I will offer to Hendry critics a few "What If" scenarios. By my count, the Cubs have seven players that could be filled by older players, if not for the team’s wheeling and dealing. I asked myself, how many Win Shares would be gained/lost if we had kept Bill Mueller? Bellhorn? Choi? Damian Miller? Tom Gordon? Juan Cruz? To do so, I have compared those players to Aramis Ramirez, Todd Walker, Derrek Lee, Michael Barrett, LaTroy Hawkins, and Glendon Rusch, respectively. This just includes 2004 Win Shares, fittingly ignoring good 2003 seasons by Mueller and Gordon.
After the 58 Win Shares above, I was shocked to see the Cubs only gained four here. The Walker/Bellhorn spread is much worse than I would have thought, especially given Walker’s near-AS play in the first half. While many have complained of the Juan Cruz trade, it gave Glendon Rusch a spot, and we landed a good 2B prospect that I will talk about in part two. The Mueller/Ramirez spread is favored in the Cubs direction because Bill missed significant time. If you factored in Kevin Youkilis’ five win shares, the spread drops to 5, and the overall total -1.BATTLE WS + or -
In reality, the only move I regret is losing Tom Gordon, who has gone on to be such a force in the White Sox and Yankees’ bullpens. Re-signing him after the 2002 season would have saved a lot of stress that Antonio Alfonseca and LaTroy Hawkins have brought over the last two seasons. Aramis’ power is much more appreciated than Mueller’s solid play, and the injury this year may have been catastrophic. But, I guess we had our hot corner catastrophes last year, didn’t we Lenny Harris?
Finally, I want to talk about the Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi trade. In the comments of Ruz’s post on the Lee trade last November, it seemed Ruz, Mannytrillo and myself were two of the loudest proponents of the trade. The opposite side said the trade was "horrible", with one saying, "...when Hee Seop Choi becomes Jim Thome with a glove Hendry/Baker will have some serious egg on their face." While Choi proponents were likely bragging after April, Lee has turned it on since then, inching over Choi in the most recent Win Share updates. Choi still looks like a platoon player, while Lee will be a prime-time Cub until after the 2006 season. Oh yeah, and by then, Brian Dopirak should be just about ready.
Overall, I hope to have proven that Hendry has done nothing but help this team. The most telling table is the first one, showing a 58 Win Shares difference between who we have traded, and who we have acquired. Never afraid to make a deal, Hendry should be given the Executive of the Year Award in 2004, after the Cubs make the playoffs.
Obviously, minor leaguers factor into this situation as well, and I will tackle them at my site. I won’t be available for comments much this weekend, but will answer any questions if e-mailed at email@example.com.
There are these ads up on the New York City subway lines for a dermatologist who goes by the name "Dr. Z". The ads are ugly, and the before-after shots are pretty humorous (in one photo it doesn't look like Dr. Z helped the person's skin as much as changed their gender), but just the name "Dr. Z" always makes me think of Zambrano. It would be a fitting nickname for him, especially considering the great performance he gave last night.
I don't have any more time at the moment to write up my thoughts on yesterday's game, but I wanted to stick up a quick note so people can comment on this afternoon's series wrap. It sure would be nice to enter a series with the red-hot Dodgers with a three-game lead in the Wild Card race, as opposed to the slim margin of one.
Last night's game was a bummer. Five solo home runs, some flys that gave the heart a flutter in the ninth, and a miserable performance by Mark Prior.
Bruce Froemming was a bit jerky behind the plate, not calling some close ones (and doing an absurd "you're out" wave on strike two to Todd Walker), but that isn't really a good excuse. I'm not someone who can sit in my living room and tell you if something looks wrong with a pitcher -- if his mechanics are off, if it's the curve that's the issue -- but my impression of Prior isn't one of a pitcher who is suffering through a physical injury, but a pitcher who is struggling to be as mentally sharp on the mound as he once was.
I say this as someone who has a healthy case of the doubts when anyone starts to project character or psychological issues on a player when they are struggling on the field. Most of the time I think those arguments are bogus or, at best, undefendable. Just as I know I can't pick apart the finer points of Prior's mechanics, I sure as heck can't get inside his head.
And yet, this is my outsider-among-outsiders impression. Prior, last year, seemed to not only have a physical edge on his opposition, but a mental one as well. He was a chess Grandmaster, a Bobby Fischer type who not only knew the moves but also possessed a killer instinct.
Indulge me for a minute on the Fischer comparison, even if just because I find the now-despicable Bobby a fascinating character in our history. Here's how a great biographical piece on Fischer described his play when he broke onto the chess scene:
What was astounding wasn't simply that a gawky thirteen-year-old kid in blue jeans was suddenly winning chess tournaments. It was the way he was winning. He didn't just beat people--he humiliated them. The thing he relished most was watching his opponents squirm. "I like the moment when I break a man's ego," he once said, during a Dick Cavett interview.
Now, I'm not saying Prior has reached (or will reach) this level of domination as a pitcher, but there was an inkling of it at times last year. A runner gets on base? No matter, Prior would more times than not step it up and shut down the opposition. Going up against Maddux in your first postseason game? No problem, complete game victory. Only in dreaded Game Six of the NLCS did we see Prior unravel.
As a kid, I played chess, and while I was certainly no great shakes, I could hold my own against my peers. It didn't matter how old the competition was or how experienced... if we were comparable players and the game was tight at the end, I felt I would win. I don't know how to describe it, but there was an extra boost of concentration -- a moment of clarity -- that made me believe that I was about to outplay my opponent down the stretch. It didn't always work out, but it often enough did.
I gave up chess when I decided it was an uncool smudge on an already uncool youngster's profile. When I tried playing again a couple years back, I was amazed that I had just lost it. The moves still came to me, but I couldn't close the deal. I was tentative, defensive, and ever-hopeful for a draw.
This is my impression of Prior right now; a guy with all the stuff who's momentarily lost his ability to play a good endgame. When he didn't get that called third strike against Klesko, it was checkmate and all downhill from there. I could continue my comparison to Fischer here, relating how Bobby went off the deep end after becoming World Champion and reemerged years later a shadow of the former player, but I don't think the comparison from this point is at all apt. I just think Prior's lost his groove, but hopefully for just a bit. The Cubs could use his killer instinct in the season's final months.
Padres at Cubs
Who knew this would be such a big series? The Padres come into Wrigley having let the Cubs slip by them in the Wild Card chase. The Cubs swept at San Diego earlier in the year, and have favorable matchups in the first two games of the series (Hitchcock is starting just his second game of the year). Matt Clement, of course, gets the short straw in Peavy, who has turned into one of the league's best pitchers this year.
After a bit, another edition of Cubs Quotes. Thanks to J.R. Tomkinson for emailing me a few gems a while back.
"I need Corey's speed up there. [Mark Grudzielanek's] not going real good yet. I didn't want [Derrek Lee] way down in the seventh spot. I wanted Corey where we could use his speed. Corey's getting better, he's bunting more. I think eventually Corey could be like a Lou Brock guy. He's a guy with power, and a guy who can run and can hit with a higher average. It puts pressure on the pitcher to watch him."
"It's something temporary. It could be permanent. I'll see how sharp Nomar is and how he fits. It's like a new guy coming to school. I've been in that situation before. You come to a new school, take the quarterback's job that he's had for years and end up with his girlfriend."
"Dusty told me before the game, he said, 'Be yourself, be aggressive in the strike zone,' and that's what I tried to do."
"They didn't pitch me any differently. I think pitchers would rather walk you than give up a base hit. A couple of times I was 3-2, and [Randy Wolf] threw me a breaking ball."
"All he has to do is keep breathing. He'll get to 300."
"He weighed 180 pounds soaking wet [when he came up]. He had this little baby face. You'd never think that on Sunday, he'd be going for his 300th win."
"Whatever it was, it didn't work too good."
"I think he'll be OK financially without doing that"
"Obviously, you'd love to do it at home. I'd like to see us win the next four days before that. I just want to continue to pitch well. If you win, you win, and if not you get ready to pitch five days later."
"It's not fair to the rest of the guys. I would've loved to go out there, and maybe try not to walk somebody and hope they hit it at somebody but that's not right. It's not fair to the rest of the guys or the team or the city. It's not the way you're supposed to play the game. I knew I was finished after six."
It was a total team effort, and that's the way it should be," he added. "This is more a sense of relief than anything. I feel great. To win 300, you obviously need lots of help. You're only as good as the guys behind you, and today is a perfect example."
"You can't put your own personal achievements ahead of the team, obviously. You do what you can to give your team the best chance to win. That's it. If you do that, you can sleep good at night."
The Sky Is Falling...
"They have a responsibility. You don't want anyone injured or killed... I don't care who they are, what company they are, nobody has a right to be as arrogant as they are."
"We understand our primary responsibility is to provide a safe environment for our fans -- a responsibility we take very seriously. We are confident the steps we are employing will ensure as high a level of safety as is possible."
"There's not a whole bunch I can say about that. That's not in my department or jurisdiction, No. 1. And No. 2, I'm not an engineering man."
"Yeah, 'Hard Hat Day' for the rest of the year."
"Maybe we can go to Comiskey."
... Or Maybe Not
"He's a great player. His accomplishments and his ability speak for themselves. He's a tremendous, tremendous player and I think he's capable of giving us a huge shot in the arm here down the stretch."
"When you have a player of that stature, you're really subject totally to what [Red Sox general manager] Theo Epstein decides to do and whether he wants to move him or not. I can't remember who made the first call. I didn't know for sure if he would ever move him."
"The ovation I got, that stuff you don't forget. It stays in your heart."
"It was a surreal feeling. The fans were cheering when I walked out to stretch. It was hard not to take it all in and stay focused for the game at the same time. I'm excited that we won today."
"He has a great arm. I didn't realize his arm was that good. He's throwing off of one foot in the hole, and he has a lot of steam on it. You see why he's a superstar. He does it on both ends, with the bat and on defense."
"I just told him I'm not going to give you my number for a month and a half. You're going to have to think about staying here for a while. And he said he would. That was probably the biggest piece of the negotiations."
"He said, 'Are you going to consider Chicago after this?' I said, 'You know what? I am definitely going to consider it afterward, but we'll address that when the season is over. Let's get to the postseason and then get to our goal of winning the World Series.'"
Dusty's Bizarre World of Aging
"I'm a firm believer that as a guy gets older it takes him longer to get his rhythm and his act together. It's like as you get older, it takes you longer to get loose in the morning."
"I'm a firm believer that as a guy gets older, the more he gets his act together. He can jump out of bed and go out and play."
"It's great. I'm driving a stealth bomber onto the field. I'm under the radar. We've got unbelievably exciting things happening in this organization."
"I saw the gun up there when I struck out the last hitter, (Lyle) Overbay, and I saw '98.' I said if I combine 98 with hitting my spots, this game will be tough for them."
"People always worry about me. I know how to make adjustments at the plate. When I'm healthy I can produce. Maybe you can put that in the paper and those people can leave me alone now."
I was one start too early with my 300 words for Maddux, it appears. Though it wasn't a particularly great start this time around, it got the job done. Maddux has now won 4 straight decisions, with a 2.31 ERA over his last five starts.
A couple days ago Jay Mariotti had an interesting column regarding Maddux. He suggests that while the Cubs' future success this season will be measured from the moment of the trade for Garciaparra, the most important charge in the season has been the recent resurgence of Maddux on the mound.
[L]et's not have amnesia about who saved the season. Garciaparra was merely a glimmer in Hendry's eye last month when the ballclub swirled in turmoil. I seem to recall a bucking-bull rant by LaTroy Hawkins, a petulant Carlos Zambrano exacting revenge on Jim Edmonds' bones, a pouting Sammy Sosa telling the home fans not to boo and a nervy Moises Alou ripping into broadcasters Chip Caray and Steve Stone. The Cubs were Tropical Storm Dusty, ready to blow Wrigleyville into a million pieces and fade away.
I don't know all about the "poise and leadership" bit, but I do know that those back-to-back complete games were a huge lift, and that Maddux hasn't been pitching like a fifth starter for a while now. He needs just four more wins over the next two months to record his record seventeenth straight season with at least fifteen wins, and I have to think he has a good chance of getting it.
As far as yesterday's game goes, I missed it. I was late getting home, and then the games were blacked out on both my Extra Innings package and MLB.tv! And while everyone is going on and on about how appropriate it is that Maddux just stayed in the lockerroom after the victory, not coming out onto the field, I would have been pretty bummed had I been in attendance. Take a curtain call, Greg!
The Cubs send Wood out for the series win tonight, and I know I'll be able to catch some of the game, courtesy of the blather of Joe Morgan and great play-by-play of Jon Miller. Depending on the result of today's Padres-Pirates game, the Cubs -- with a win tonight -- could begin to open up their wild card lead.
Can A Guy Catch A Break?
Matt Clement, who must lose every hand of poker, arrive home from the grocery store with all his eggs broken, and watch as the gal behind him in line at the gas station wins 1,000 bucks on the scratch-off lottery card he could have bought, will now have to face Cy Young fave Jason Schmidt in tonight's game. Schmidt was moved up from his originally scheduled Saturday start. Seriously, can Clement, who may have been the best pitcher on the staff this year (and is an actual Cy Young candidate himself, though no voter will look past his win-loss column), catch a break?
Guest Column: Lineup Ideas
Loyal TCR Reader Scott de Brestian has taken a great in-depth look at the Cubs' lineup. He was kind enough to pass along his thoughts and I'm posting them up here for your reading pleasure. Discuss his ideas and observations in the comments!
Recently, Eric Van posted a very interesting analysis of the Red Sox hitters on the Sons of Sam Horn discussion board in the aftermath of the Big Trade (See the Massive Batting Order Analysis thread). Since Dusty has tried about 1,325 different lineups this season, and has said that the Nomar trade brought to mind about 15 more, I decided to shamelessly plagiarize his techniques to look at the Cubs. Using Eric Van’s sabermetric tools, I will try and construct the ideal Cubs lineup. Any mathematical or interpretive errors are, of course, my own.
First thing Eric Van does is look at everybody’s RC/27 (That’s Runs Created per 27 outs for those who may be wondering). Eric corrects for park effects but that is a bit beyond my skills. I don't think the results would change that much. I give the results for the last four years for the Cubs and two averages. One is simply the average of the last four years, the second is a three-year weighted average (3*2004+2*2003+1*2001)/6. This tells us who the best and worst hitters are. Eric also focuses on RHP but I didn’t bother with splits.
RUNS CREATED / 27
Bako - His decline is pretty precipitous.
Barrett - Having a career year. His weighted average is probably closer to his true level, but still not bad.
Nomar - I see no decline here. If he’s healthy, he’s still good. This table omits his pre-2001 numbers, of course, when he was godlike.
Grudz - Up, down, up, down, up, down.
Ramirez - Hitting the snot out of the ball as we all know. We might expect a modest decline given his career numbers.
Patterson - The fact that he is going down while everyone else is going up makes him look worse than he is.
Sammy - Still the man.
Next, we look at who makes the fewest outs. We look at effective OBP: OBP minus CS (caught stealing). Top-of-the-order guys:
Nobody really stands out here - but we've known all along that the Cubs lack a real leadoff man. What this does tell us is that there isn't a lot of difference between batting Grudzielanek and Walker at the top of the order. Also, Patterson may be the worst choice of the everyday players who aren't catchers. Better hope he can alter his approach at the plate.
Now, let’s look at the table-setters using Eric Van’s T-stat (Effective OBP-HR). These are guys who get on base and advance runners, but are not the power guys. Like Eric, I have measured this relative to league average. Above 1.00 means you are better than average, below 1.00 that you are worse.
TABLE SETTERS (T-STAT)
You can see how dependent the Cubs are on the home run by how few of their players are above average (check the Red Sox figures for comparison). It’s not surprising to see Nomar and Lee near the top, but Grudzielanek and Martinez are a bit unexpected.
Finally, we see who is best at knocking in the runners. The formula here is pretty complicated: (H+ .75* 2B + 1.23 * (3B + HR))/Outs Made. In short, if you hit lots of doubles and homers you do well here. Again, this is relative to league average.
Surprisingly, Sosa is not at the top of the list, although if you look at the year-by-year stats it’s pretty obvious that he is usually the best choice for emptying the bases. The Cubs as a whole do pretty well in this category.
Here is a summary of how each player ranks in these four categories:
Constructing the Lineup:
Given the above information, we can work on constructing the ideal line-up. When Grudz is playing, it is fairly easy:
GrudzielanekIf Sosa won't bat 5th, flip him and Alou and let Ramirez bat him in.
What about when Walker plays? I'd like to throw out this for discussion:
LeeAgain, if Sosa wants to bat 4th, stick Walker between Ramirez and Patterson.
Finally, when Nomar is out, what do we do? Let's assume Walker is playing:
The Big Market Team
Before the 2003 season, I remember reading the following comment under Sammy Sosa's stats in Baseball Prospectus 2003 and thinking, ruefully, "how true this is".
Even with fewer than 40 home runs, Sammy's a considerable asset. He'll still take his walks, and although he's starting to lumber around in right, he isn't running gingerly on the bases. He's aging much more gracefully than Dawson did, basically. Don't worry about the cost: Sammy's a core media asset for Tribune broadcasting. The question is whether they've essentially wasted another great player's career without building a real team around him.It was that last line that stung; the Cubs had entered the season with a few championship-caliber parts (Sosa and Wood, and well-founded suspicions that Prior was going to work out well) but enough holes that you had to feel it wasn't going to be enough. Choi and Hill were going to need some time to develop. Clement was coming off a great year, but it was his first great year, and it wasn't known if it was just a fluke. Zambrano and Cruz were unknown quantities, just as Corey Patterson hadn't really shown much yet.
While the young core of the Cubs was promising last year, it seemed that Prospectus was right: Sammy's last years were bound to be spent with a team that was being rebuilt through its young players. There was talent, but there weren't enough pieces around him to make a difference.
Fast forward to July last year, and the holes in the team were obvious; Patterson was out for the rest of the season, the catchers weren't hitting, Sean Estes was garbage, and third base had been a huge disaster. Content to keep the catchers intact and let the Cubs ride their front four starters, Jim Hendry went out and did something that has rarely happened in my Cubs lifetime: he filled the other holes with players who made sense for the team. He got a young, slugging third baseman in Aramis Ramirez who the Cubs could hang onto for a few years. Kenny Lofton was also added -- an effective, if aging, center fielder whose services wouldn't be required past this season, a necessity with a rehabbing Patterson in the wings.
The trade with Pittsburgh was something Cubs fans weren't used to. In the midst of a pennant race, we got folks like Matt Karchner and David Weathers, Luis Salazar and Felix Heredia. Sure, there was the acquisition of Fred McGriff, but Freddy Baseball was about 127 years old, and while a decent enough hitter, didn't make a ton of sense for the Cubs long-term. Rick Sutcliffe, of course, was an acquisition that worked out famously well, but I really don't know if anyone believed he was going to be that good down the stretch. Aramis Ramirez was the type of player I had always hoped the Cubs would acquire; a talented, young hitter that could be a force in the lineup for years.
Last summer's deals signaled a new type of Cubs management; the Cubs were suddenly acting like a big market team, acquiring talent and taking on salary when it made sense to do so. It continued this offseason, when Hendry bravely shipped off Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee, knowing that Lee helped the team more now, during this clubs' window of opportunity. He signed Kerry Wood and Lee to extensions, guaranteeing they'll be Cubs through their primes, then capped it off with a bit of nostalgia wrapped in an aging but effective Greg Maddux.
But Jim Hendry's latest move takes the cake. Acquiring Kenny Lofton is one thing, but since when do the Cubs acquire the biggest name at the deadline? What crack is Hendry smoking? Nomar? It was almost inconceivable.
It's a different era in Cubs baseball. When opportunity knocks, the Cubs are making moves that improve the team. Grudzielanek, Karros, Lofton, Ramirez, Walker, Barrett, Lee, Hawkins, Maddux, and now, Garciaparra. The amount of talent that Hendry has brought into the club in the past year and half, and the wisdom he's shown in letting pieces like Karros, Simon, and Lofton go once they've done their part, is staggering.
A year and a half after Prospectus wrote that the Cubs were failing to put a good team around their superstar, Sammy is now arguably the third or fourth best hitter in his own lineup. He's still the most dangerous power source, but both Ramirez and Lee have contributed more to the offense so far this year, and Nomar is no slouch at the plate himself.
The Wild Card isn't clinched, the postseason is no guarantee, and it may be years before we know for sure that the Cubs "won" their trades from the past few years. But there's no denying that this organization, under Hendry, is now playing a different ballgame. That we can now dream our usual Cubbish dreams of snatching a prize player and have that dream actualized is a sign that, no matter the outcome of this year's race, the future of the franchise looks rosy.
300 Words For Greg Maddux
Gregory, Alan, Maddux, Professor, Mad, Dog.
Drafted, 1984, Second, Round, Number, 31, Rookie, 1986, September, Third, Debut, Dick, Pole, Crafts, Pitching, Style, Midsummer, Classic, 1988, Ace, 1989, Will, Clark, (ouch), Twenty, Wins, Eleven, Losses, 1992, Free, Agent, Larry, Himes, Jose, Guzman, (yipes), Atlanta, Braves, Absurd, ERAs, 1.56, 1994, 1.63, 1995, World, Series, Seventy-Eight, Pitch, Complete, Game, Against, Chicago, 1997, Kerry, Wood, Hands, First, Loss, To, Cubs, 1998, Winningist, Pitcher, 1990s, Just, Missed, All, Century, Team, Seventy-Two, One-Third, Innings, No, Walks, 2001, Return, Home, 2004.
Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove, Gold, Glove.
Impeccable, Command, Pinpoint, Control, Impossible, Circle, Changeup, Two, Seam, Darting, Fastball, Slider, Cut, Fastball, Split, Fingered, Fastball, Sinker, Curve, Changes, Speeds, Groundball, Machine, Wonderful, Mechanics, Superbe, Defense, (Almost), Never, Hurt, Completely, Reliable, Utterly, Dependable, Astoundingly, Consistent, Always, Watching, Vast, Knowledge, Detail, Oriented, Perfectly, Calculated, Master, Craftsman, Student, Teacher.
Outside, Corner, Inside, Corner, Just, Off, The, Plate, Down, And, Away.
Practical, Jokester, Goofy, Smile, Droopy, Eyes, Tongue, Wags, Quiet, Unassuming, (Supposedly), Good, In, The, Clubhouse, Definitely, Good, On, The, Field.
Strange, Catchers, Charlie, O'Brien, Eddie, Perez, Henry, Blanco, Paul, Bako.
Born, April, 14th, 1966, San, Angelo, Texas, Throws, Right, Bats, Right, Six, Feet, Tall, 185, Pounds, Favorite, Son, Las, Vegas, Valley, High, School, Coach, Rusty, Medar, Brother, Mike, Pitching, Coach, Brewers, Wife, Cathy, Daughter, Amanda, Paige, Son, Chase, Alan, Avid, Golfer, Nintendo, Fan.
592, Games, Started, 105, Complete, Games, 34, Shutouts, 4104, Innings, Pitched, 2868, Strikeouts, 1.13, WHIP, 2.93, Career, ERA, .627, OPS, Allowed, Cy, Young, All, Star, Hall, Of, Fame.
First, Chance, 300, Upstaged, Nomar, Garciaparra, Trade. Just, Perfect.
Good, Luck, Break, A, Leg, Wish, You, Well, Great, Job, Hope, You, Dominate, Today, You're, The, Man, We, Love, You, Congratulations.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com