Monthly archives: October 2004
Slam 'em Sammy
Sammy Sosa just can't get out of the news. Yesterday he resumed moaning to the press about how he's been treated by the Cubs. This time around, it has to do with Baker's (wise) decision to drop Sammy down in the order.
"I'm not a sixth batter. I'm a cleanup hitter or third because I've earned that right with almost 600 career home runs."
By this logic, of course, Hank Aaron could unretire at this moment and bat third for the Cubs next year. Or better yet, Jim Hendry could exhume Babe Ruth's bones and stick him in the cleanup spot.
As recently as, say, Friday, I really thought that Sosa was going to be back with the Cubs next year. I'm no longer as confident. It's become apparent that he wants no part of the team, and with clubs like the Mets actually expressing interest, I think there is a good chance he will be gone next year.
I'm not of the camp that says you should trade Sosa just to get rid of him. I think you should trade Sosa if you can get good value back, or at least the financial flexibility to allow you to sign a guy like Carlos Beltran.
Many people will argue that he's become a "distraction" or a "cancer", but I would argue that Sosa has been a distraction for much of his career, and it hasn't affected his teammates' on-field performance to this point. I'd also argue that Sosa himself has faced plenty of off-the-field tempests in his career, and he's not been the type of athlete that lets those issues affect how he performs on the field.
When Sosa is physically hurt, his production goes down. But when his problems are salary disputes, or arguments with the manager over stealing more bases, or criticism over his defense, it generally doesn't show up on the score card.
My hunch is that Sammy will have a fine year next year--nothing close to 2001, mind you--but much closer to 2002 than 2004. I'm just no longer sure that season will take place with the Cubs.
Dempster's option is picked up
Guys, we wanted walks on the offense, not on the pitching staff.
Miles to go
Take a quick gander at Bruce Miles' latest at the Daily Herald. He takes a look at Boston and sees just what's missing in the Cubs: OBP.
It's refreshing to see thinking like Miles' appearing in the mainstream press, and especially moreso in the Chicago media.
The 26th Man
Baseball is a game of traditions, and the Cubs and their fans tend to cling especially hard to theirs. Ivy on the brick, organ music in the stands -- even traditions that should have died off, such as Harry Caray's choral directing of "Take Me Out...", have been maintained in their own (often painful) ways.
Steve Stone has become one of those great traditions. Since his early bumpy days with Caray in the booth, through his careful guidance of a fading Harry in the icon's last years, to his continued excellence with Harry's grandson Chip, Stone has been as much a fixture at Wrigley as Sandberg's flawless throws to first or Sammy's first inning sprints to right. Despite a contentious year in the booth and the departure of his broadcast partner, Stone was expected back next year. Yesterday, he informed Cubs fans that he's resigned.
I came to Chicago on the high road with my credibility and integrity. Thirty years later, I choose to leave the same way.Stone has always been such an enjoyable fixture in the Cubs booth in part because of what he wasn't. He's not a slick personality draped in cliches; rather, Stone is honest, sarcastic, and insightful. He always has the appearance of a mischievous kid in the booth, with a sly smile and sometimes bubbly giggle. His voice wasn't that of a great media broadcaster--he sounds like your boss at work or your 5th grade history teacher. His manner wasn't what was important, though. Stone was no flash, all substance.
I'm pretty bummed he's gone. Great players and great teams will always make the fans watch, but Stone gave you a reason to watch the Cubs in all the years the team played poorly. He was a great educator for Cubs fans, and his in-game predictions often left a viewer with the impression that Stone had scripted the game beforehand, and we were just watching the players act out his musings.
How Stone was treated by players and management this past year infuriates me, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone among Cubs fans in this sentiment. A lot of my fury falls on players like Moises Alou and Kent Mercker (both of whom, ironically, are unlikely to be back next year), who should have been concentrating more on learning the fundamentals of baserunning or throwing strikes than complaining about WGN's coverage of them.
Another decent chunk of my ire is thrown at Dusty Baker, who failed to handle an obvious distraction within the clubhouse. Could you imagine Joe Torre standing idly by while one his players fought publicly with the guys in the YES booth?
And finally, I'm irritated at Jim Hendry and even Stone himself, for escalating the problems to the point where it apparently became untenable for Stone to continue his work with the team.
Where will Stone land? There are already speculations that he'll end up broadcasting for another team (such as the D-Backs or, gulp, White Sox), and he also has expressed some interest in working in a front office. I hope he stays on TV, because I'd like to be able to switch over for a few innings some evening and listen to his take on the game. I'll miss him too much not to.
"No" on the Options
I've already given my opinions on Alou's situation. He had a great 2004 season, but the Cubs will do well to let him leave the team on that high note.
Grudzielanek's solid play with the Cubs came as a surprise: he was initially slotted in to be a bench player who helped Bobby Hill develop and get comfortable in the bigs. A long oh-fer streak by Hill in spring training, along with Dusty's general impatience with young position players, gave the starting job to Grudzielanek. He responded well, and his offensive contributions in 2003 were no small part in helping the Cubs to the postseason.
Congratulations to the Red Sox and their fans. This Cubs fan finds some consolation in knowing that at least one team was able to put old demons to rest this year. That this end was accomplished while delivering a genuine butt-whipping to the Cardinals is an added perk.
Baseball, always in need of a storyline of the downtrodden, will now set its sights clearly on the city of Chicago. 1908. 1917. These are the saddest of possible words.
In actuality, the pain I've felt in following the Cubs is no different from that of many of my peers. If I were born a fan of the Indians, or Astros, or Mariners, or Rangers, I would not have witnessed a World Series victory in my lifetime, either. For many fans my age, the highs and lows provided by the teams we follow are equivalent. The only thing that may differentiate my sadness from fans of the other teams is that I share mine with my father, who, growing up years ago in Chicago, has spent seven decades of his life waiting for a Cubbie victory.
During game two of this series, the broadcasting crew interviewed an older woman in the stands at Fenway. She was an old school, die-hard Red Sox fan, bundled up and busy with her score card. There have been many scenes of rowdy college students or young bar hoppers whooping it up in the afterglow of the Sox victory, but I'm most happy for that lady in the stands and her spiritual kin in Red Sox Nation. Hats off to you.
The "tentative" schedule for the Cubs' 2005 season is up. A brief look-see gave me the impression that the Cubs have a powderpuff April, brutal June, and a mixed bag in September. There are no especially long road trips.
I personally think it'll be a great year to be a New Yorker and a Cubs fan. The Cubs visit the City for six games. Three against the Mets, as always, and a bonus 'round against the Yanks. I'm looking forward to a battle of the Alex's during that stretch.
In addition, I might check out the right-coast games against the Phils and the Washington Grays. I think the "Grays" is the one and only acceptable name for the new Washington team (well, the "Greys" would be okay, too), so I'm sticking to callin' them that.
Skip to m' Alou
Good riddance, goodbye!
After three years manning left field, it looks like Moises Alou will say his farewells to the Cubbie faithful. The Trib's reported that the Cubs will decline Alou's $11.5M option sometime this week. There is a "small chance" that he'll come back, but I don't see the Cubs going that route. The Tribune article says the team want to "add more speed" in the outfield (which is cool if the burner can also get on base), and Alou doesn't really fit that profile.
Alou's spent his career with several different teams, but I remember him most vividly from his time with the Astros. He was the guy who I feared most in their lineup. He always seemed to kill the Cubs, pulling doubles off that silly wall they have in left field in Houston.
I thought the Cubs overpaid for Alou when they signed him, but I was still pretty excited. Part of my happiness came from knowing Alou could no longer smash hits off the Cubs, but I was also thrilled to have a guy in the lineup behind Sammy who had just hit .330 with about 30 homers and 30 doubles.
Alou's first season was just awful. Left field is usually reserved for one of your most productive hitters, but Alou missed 30 games and hit just 275/337/419 when he did play. Both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage were exactly league average. It was a huge decline and a huge disappointment.
As I mentioned before this season began, the best thing about his 2003 season was his health. He was always in the lineup that year, and improved on his rookie Cubs campaign with a line of .280/.357/.462. Still not worth the money he was getting, but at least now he was above average.
In my preseason look at Alou, I mentioned that "a true cleanup hitter [Alou] is not." Well, funny boy decided to play a little trick on ol' Alex and make him eat his words. Alou had a great year this season out of the number four spot with the Cubs, setting career highs in both doubles (36) and home runs (39). With the sudden decline of Sosa, Alou really helped carry the Cubs offense all this year.
Unfortunately, Alou's power resurgence was served to Cubs fans along with some Fine Whine. I remember being surprised when Alou was all feisty in the fall of 2003 during that famed St. Louis five-game set. Alou ranted and raved at the umpires, and I remember thinking, "Wow, I rarely see Alou get this upset." Well, it was all downhill from there. He is the primary reason that, while I was happy with a lot that this Cubs team accomplished, I never found them all that likeable.
Alou's production next year will be hard to replace. Barring a Beltran coup, a Magglio find, or a DuBois surprise, the Cubs will take a hit at that position. It still justifies letting him walk, though. Chances are he'll revert to his 2003 line--or worse, 2002--and the Cubs simply can't afford to pay a player $11.5M for those services. Actually, the Cubs shouldn't pay 6 million for Alou either. It's a chance for the Cubs to either make a splash or let a youngster fill the role while applying the money elsewhere.
You've got your guys in the lineup, your pitching staff, and the bench warmers. The New York Boston War of 2004 provided a brief glimpse into how a good bench can help provide you with a small edge. Boston used theirs effectively, running out baserunners, platoon players, and defensive specialists. Meanwhile, Joe Torre forgot he had a bench. Sometimes benches are overemphasized, but there's no reason to have a crappy one. The Cubs' bench could use some improvement.
At any rate, the situation is this: Bako made $865K last year, and now he's a free agent. The Cubs have a decision to make, but I'll invoke Nancy Reagan on this one: Just Say No.
Will DuBois be given a shot at a starting role on the club? If by "shot", you mean 3 games or so in Spring Training before his manager writes him off, sure. It should be noted that ZiPS sees DuBois putting up a line of 272/345/500 next year, much better than Alou (265/329/462) and about the same as Sosa (255/346/518). As with all projections, there are grains of salt at play here, but I think it's clear that Jason should be considered for a starting role.
If nothing else, it seems extraordinarily likely he'll be given a role as a right-handed bat off the bench. He can play both outfield corners and first base -- none of them well, which sounds a lot like a few other guys on this list.
Macias made $750K last year, and the Cubs maintain the rights to him for next year. He's also arbitration eligible, and you'd think he'd have a shot, somehow, of pushing $1M if he goes to court. It will be an interesting test of the front office to see if they're blinded by Macias' "versatility" and Dusty's clear loyalty to the dude. Hopefully they'll do the right thing and non-tender him.
Look, these things happen. You are lucky when they happen to you when your team is in a pennant race. But these things do not continue to happen. Lighting, meet bottle. Now go toss yourself into the sea.
I'm mortified that he's going to be re-signed this year to fill a Macias-Martinez role on the team. Perez is an excellent fielder, but his offensive detriments cannot be overstated. According to Lee Sinins' Runs Created Above Average, Neifi Perez is the fifth-worse offensive player since 1950 (2000 PA min). He will take the title of Worst Hitter, Last 50 Years, sometime around May of next year.
He is awful, awful, awful. And if he's a Cub next year, there will be much gnashing of teeth.
I am a Cubs fan. I've pledged allegiance to Chicago, for better or worse—though mostly, it seems, for worse. Every year the Cubs don't make the postseason, however, I find myself inevitably drawn to one of the remaining teams. I root fanatically for them, almost as if they were wearing Cubbie blue pinstripes. Almost.
In 2001, I was pulling for the Diamondbacks. If ever there was a year where I would have let down my Yankee-hatin' guard, I suppose this would have been it. 9/11 had just devastated the city (and nation) where I lived, the Bronxers were managing some improbable and inspiring late-inning comebacks, and I suppose I could have been forgiven for cheering my hometown team just once. But no dice. I remember jumping up and down, screaming joyfully when Luis Gonzalez got that dinky hit past Jeter.
2002 surprised me. I was fairly indifferent about the NL teams but was avidly rooting for the Contraction Baby Twins to shove one up Bud's derriere by winning the Series. The Anaheims snuffed out that candle, but I was still okay with them, mostly because they'd embarrassed the Yankees in round one. I fully expected to be rooting for the Angels against the Giants, but from pitch one in the World Series I realized I sided with San Francisco. I was pissed when they lost.
2003? Well, my rooting interests in that postseason are pretty obvious. And let's just say I wanted—somehow, someway—both the Yankees and Marlins to lose the Series in incredibly painful ways.
This year, I knew who I'd be rooting for in the postseason before the first game. If not the Cubs, then Go Sox Go. The sweep in Anaheim was wunnerful, the first three games against the Yanks were disheartening, and the last three have been inspiring.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I can let myself dream big dreams right now, and hope that the Red Sox will win tonight's Game Seven. I still think the Yankees will win (you can drag the Cubs out of the postseason, but you can't drag the doom out of the Cubs fan), but I'm no longer an impartial observer. I'm invested big-time. My eyes caught only slivers of pitches in the final innings of the game yesternight: that's the view when you're bent over, nauseous, peeking through hands that are covering your face.
Even if the Sox lose Game Seven, it'll have been an impressive postseason for them. Buster Olney, in his live analysis last night, said, "If the Red Sox lose, this will rank second to Buckner, just ahead of Grady-gate, in all-time Boston heartbreaks." This sentiment has been echoed throughout news reports: The Great Boston Tease.
I just don't see this at all. What's heartbreaking is to blow a three-games-to-love lead, not to come storming back from such long odds to force one final showdown. If the Red Sox lose, it will be Custer's Last Stand (well, without the tinge of a Lieutenant Colonel's stupidity), not a Buckner ground ball.
It may be little consolation to the die-hard faithful in New England, but win or lose Boston has already provided its fans with a bundle of feel-goods this series. I, by allowing my baseball allegiances to be borrowed for a few weeks, have shared in the feel-goods. We're getting paid for overtime in New York, and I just want one more win for the visitors.
WTNY: Cubs Winter, Part II
Bryan (or BrYan, as he'll remind you from time to time) at Wait 'Til Next Year is back with a peek at some more of the Cubs prospects playing ball this winter. Today's group includes some of the bigger name prospects in the Cubs system. A potential Alou replacement, a strike-em-out lefty, and a home run king get looked over, so head on over and learn what the young 'uns are up to.
Status: Pitching Staff
I took a quick glance at the status of the Cubs' starting position player the other day, and here's a look at the pitching staff.
A Few Quick Notes
All of these topics are covered by the Trib, but I thought I'd give everyone a chance to discuss them in the comments.
Steve Stone returns
Pat Hughes isn't joining Stonie
The Cubs will walk the walk
Discuss amongst yourselves.
In his latest edition of Ask BA for Baseball America, Jim Callis provides an update on some of the players the Cubs drafted but were unable to sign:
The Cubs wanted to sign fifth-rounder Adrian Ortiz, a Puerto Rican high school outfielder, but lost him to Pepperdine. Most of the other players they've lost the rights to were late-round gambles who slipped in the draft because of signability and/or disappointing performances in the spring. This group includes Massachusetts prep righthander Ryan Moore (13th round, now at Maryland), Georgia Tech righty Micah Owings (19th, now at Tulane), Baylor lefty Trey Taylor (20th), Miami high school shortstop Walter Diaz (22nd, now at Miami), Gonzaga outfielder Jeff Culpepper (24th), Texas prep righty Kenn Kasparek (41st, now at Texas) and Eastern Oklahoma State JC lefty Adam Daniels (43rd, now at Oklahoma State).Ortiz is the one major loss, as he's the only player the Cubs really expected to sign. Callis mentions that the Cubs still had a strong draft, and even have nine draft-and-follow players (who will be attending community colleges) that the Cubs will have a chance to sign later next spring.
I still don't like the Cubs' top choice, Grant Johnson, a righty who has a history of labrum problems (not a good injury!), but then again I'm not a prospect guy, know jack about scouting, and base this entirely on the theory that it isn't a good idea to draft damaged goods. I am excited to see how both Mark Reed (an offense-first catcher and brother of Seattle uberprospect Jeremy) and former Stanford outfielder Sam Fuld (an on-base guy) perform in the system.
When We Were Kings
So most every morning I check ESPN.com's "site lines" to take a look at the headlines about the Cubs in the major media across the continent. Usually there are a few stories (rarely do the competing newspapers have an even marginally different perspective on the topic of the day, which is always a disappointment), but today there was only one:
The Associated Press's story of the Cubs' firing of third base coach Wendell Kim contains the following nugget:
The Cubs scored most of their runs on homers, and often struggled to manufacture runs in close games.
This is likely to be the refrain this offseason when discussing the Cubs' offense. The Cubs don't manufacture enough runs. The Cubs don't have enough speed guys. The Cubs don't move runners along enough. You win one-run games by playing small ball. I'm even fully prepared to hear the following ludicrous statement: The Cubs hit too many home runs.
It's all hogwash, and don't you believe it for a second. The Cubs' offense was too one-sided, relying primarily on the home run as its offensive weapon. The home runs themselves were not the problem, however. The Cubs hit 235 home runs this year, a monster number, and fans could only wish they'd hit this many every year. The home run is the most devastating play in a batter's repertoire: one swing, one run.
The problem isn't the Cubs' small ball skills. Stolen bases are fine if done at a good success rate, but they're vastly overrated. Bunting runners over often reduces your chances of scoring a run, not the other way around. No, the problem facing the Cubs this offseason is a simple one: they don't get on base.
This isn't news, by the way. Good teams have known the value of getting on base for decades and decades. Branch Rickey, 50 years ago, said in a Life Magazine article, "Batting average is only a partial means of determining a man's effectiveness on offense. It neglects a major factor, the base on balls... Actually, walks are extremely important." Earl Weaver would have liked the Cubs' power, but would have been irritated that more guys weren't getting on in front of the boppers. Whitey Herzog has been horribly miscast as a speed-first guy, when he cared just as much about getting guys on the bases -- he spent virtually his entire tenure in St. Louis trying to get Vince Coleman to take a walk.
If you want to see how good offenses work, you're going to have three mighty good examples in the Championship Series this week. St. Louis and especially Boston and New York score runs in bunches in large part because they're always putting guys on base (Houston isn't bad either -- especially the first half of the lineup, and most especially Lance Berkman). Watch how virtually every Boston batter works the count to their favor, fouling off tough pitches, taking bad ones, creaming mistakes. And yeah, if they don't see something they like, they're fine taking that free pass from the pitcher.
It can make for slowly paced--almost boring--innings, but it is also a lethal attack. The top eight team OBPs this year were, in order: Red Sox, Giants, Yankees, Indians, Phils, Rockies, Orioles, and Cardinals. Six of those eight teams were also in the top eight in runs scored (the Phils and Rockies were 9th and 11th, respectively). You want to score runs, you get on base. Writing that a team needs to manufacture more runs just means you're not paying attention.
According to reports on ESPN.com, the Diamondbacks are seriously considering hiring Mark Grace as their manager. One of the strangest things about being a Cubs fan over the past few years has been the de-Cubification of Grace: he was such a fixture at first base for such a long time, but since he's left it seems he's been forgotten rather quickly. Of course, dissing the city that loved you during a World Series celebration helps people forget a bit faster.
Grace has zippo professional managerial experience, but hey, the D-Backs are a team that don't seem to care about that sort of thing. My question for you is: do you think Grace would make a good manager?
My take: while you never know until you actually see how a person manages, I think he would make, at best, an uninspired manager. I've listened to a few of his broadcasts this season, and he seems quite content to rattle off cliche after cliche about the game. "Boy, that's a nice feat" when Brenneman comments that someone or another had 100 rbi's. "You gotta have those character guys", "He gave himself up and that's as good as a home run in the clubhouse" -- these are the types of comments you're likely to hear from Gracie during a game. I rarely found his comments useful or well thought out, and I imagine he would be a "by-the-book" type of manager that would never question why he was "supposed" to bring in such-and-such a reliever or pinch hit in certain situations.
I could be totally wrong. Maybe he'd be a tactical genius who was great with the guys in the clubhouse. I'm certainly curious to see how he'd perform; I'm just glad we won't be displaying his managerial prowess with the Cubs.
Status: Starting Eight
I'm enjoying watching the playoff action from my comfortable perch in Eliminated Early Central. I've been hanging around all week with my buds, the Giants and Padres, and have recently been joined by the Twins, Dodgers, Angels. I'm really hoping the Astros swing by later today.
While I wonder if Phil Garner can somehow figure out a way to blow game five against Atlanta, here's a quick look at the current status of the everyday guys on the Cubs.
In any case, it seems highly likely that Barrett, a favorite of Hendry's, will be back next year. He may even be signed to a multi-year contract.
Todd Walker: Walker is a free agent. If he is re-signed, he will—unlike this year—be designated the starting second baseman.
Season-End Edition: Battle Royale
cubs v. expectations
"I think we all expected it; it started in spring training. The expectations came out and all the polls of where we were supposed to finish before the first day of camp. The expectations and pressure have been there. It comes with the job. We expect to be there, and everyone else is going to expect us to be there. But I don't think it had an effect."
"With this team, it's just hard to believe that we're not going to be in the playoffs. I think everyone in this room understands and feels if we were able to make it [into the playoffs] that we could have won it all."
"This team was just as good as all the teams I've been on in the past in Atlanta with the exception that we didn't win as many games. That might sound stupid to say but that's the way it is. This team was legit."
"Did Florida choke? Did Philly choke? Does that make everybody who didn't win a choker?... I've never had a team that's described as 'choked.' So I'm not going to have one now."
cubs v. broadcasters
"You want the truth? You can't handle the truth. Let me tell you something, guys, the truth of this situation is an extremely talented bunch of guys who want to look at all directions except where they should really look, and ... make excuses for what happened. At the end of the day, boys, you don't tell me how rough the water is, you bring in the ship. The best eight go on, the other teams go home. This team should have won the wild-card by six, seven games. No doubt about it."
"If you want to put it delicately, you can say [Dusty Baker] managed a bad game. I thought he managed a very bad baseball game."
"When you have the job that Steve has, you're entitled to your opinion. We all know that this game is very easy to second-guess and we all realize that the farther we sit from the field, the easier the game looks."
"I've know Stone since the 70s. We had talked about the situation before about the team and him. I thought it was done. We talked about it and then shook hands as men. I didn't know where he was coming from in the postgame interview thing."
"No one, myself included, would ever expect Steve to not speak his truthful thoughts as a game analyst, whether it's game strategies, managerial moves, player mistakes, front-office decisions."
cubs v. sosa
"I felt that even if [Sosa] wasn't playing today, obviously he should have been here in uniform and be with his teammates."
"I didn't know [Sammy Sosa] was going to leave. No, I didn't give him permission to leave."
"It's inexcusable not to be dressed for the game. He needed permission from the manager or myself to leave, and he didn't have it from either one."
"Yeah, I'd want [Sosa] back. He's got to go to work this winter and just get in tip-top, tip-top shape mentally and physically. It's a big year for him next year. So I assume he'll have a very good year, especially since it's his option year."
"I'm tired of being blamed by Dusty Baker for all the failures of this club."
"Have you ever heard me blame Sammy for anything? Where can this emotion be coming from, or where can his comments be coming from? You never heard me say anything blaming Sammy for anything."
"I can't figure out where he figured out I blamed him for whatever. I've done nothing but cover the guy. Boy, this is some year."
"In this position, I will always do what I feel is in the best interest of the Chicago Cubs. That would be inclusive for all players or personnel."
cubs v. world
"To tell you the truth, I think [the umpires] are after me."
"I think [Alou] had a little merit there."
"Honestly, I think the umpires are not anti-anybody. I don't think they'd hold it against a ballclub. They've been through a lot of stuff with other ballclubs, too."
"I've always been outspoken. But when I was in Houston, they always talked to Bagwell and Biggio, and in Florida they talked to Sheffield and Bonilla and everybody else. If I [homered] twice, I got an interview. But here there is so much media, they want to hear from everybody and I've gotten a chance to make a fool out of myself."
"Sometimes I get in trouble, because I'm a person who always says what he feels. And you media guys love to hear that from anybody. Sometimes they want to bury you for what you say. I have to be more careful about what I say now."
cubs v. skillz
"Sometimes in Spring Training, you're just going through things. We have to spend more time with [baserunning] and emphasize it more and make it more prevalent in the front of your brain. Sometimes when you've been doing things for so long, you take it that you know how to do these things."
"If I knew [why the Cubs can't get a big hit], it wouldn't keep happening. Sometimes you've got the wrong guy at the plate. Sometimes it's a matter of wanting to do it so badly you don't get a good pitch to hit. Sometimes it's a matter of being calm and cool and figuring out what you need."
"Yeah, you need on-base percentage guys to put the pitcher in the stretch. I don't agree with going up there looking for a walk unless the game situation dictates it. This isn't Little League."
"The whole thing boils down to that half of on-base percentage is getting a good pitch to hit. Most of the times when guys are striking out, a bad pitch has been swung at during the course of that at-bat."
see ya next year
"As far as [next year's] payroll and budget, that's on Jim. Heck, if he followed my wish list, the payroll would be $200 million."
"Without tampering, there are quite a few guys that express interest. They say they'd like to play here or play for me. Let's try to come up with the best solution we can without having a 30 or 40 percent turnover in personnel every year."
"This is definitely a place I'd seriously consider. I love Wrigley, I love the city, I love the fans. The fans have been great and opened their arms as much as my teammates. Do I know what's going to happen or what's going on? That I can't foresee."
Root, Root, Root
The Cubs' playoff expectations were dashed, but baseball is still being played. The postseason starts today, and it's time to choose sides. Do you root for Athens or Troy? The Hulk or Superman? The tiger or the polar bear?
One man's guide to who he's rooting for, and why:
Dodgers versus Cardinals
Lovin' the Dodgers
Hatin' the Dodgers
Lovin' the Cardinals
Hatin' the Cardinals
Astros versus Braves
Lovin' the Astros
Hatin' the Astros
Lovin' the Braves
Hatin' the Braves
Twins versus Yankees
Lovin' the Twins
Hatin' the Twins
Lovin' the Yankees
Hatin' the Yankees
Red Sox versus Angels
Lovin' the Red Sox
Hatin' the Red Sox
Lovin' the Angels
Hatin' the Angels
Down in D.C.
I was given a reprieve from self-pity this weekend with a trip to the Baseball As America exhibit down in D.C. It was the last weekend of the exhibit at the Museum of Natural History there, so a pride of us baseball groupies--including Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Steven Goldman--all went down to crash with Chris Kahrl and check out the exhibit.
There was a decent amount of Cub memories to be seen at the museum. Sandberg's glove was in a display of the evolution of equipment (There was no explanation why Sandberg was chosen for the display, any ideas?), a chair from Wrigley was against one wall, and Harry Caray belted "Take Me Out" over the loudspeaker in the section about the fans. I thought the coolest thing there, though, was a letter from (then-Senator) John F. Kennedy to Jackie Robinson. It's apparently a continuation of an earlier discussion between the two on the topic of racial discrimination. Kennedy pitches his beliefs to Robinson again, and adds a touch humor:
I have said this on many occasions in the past and will of course continue to say it. I have called for an end to all discrimination -- in voting, in education, in housing, in employment, in the administration of justice, and in public facilities including lunch counters. I have also spoken in favor of the right of peaceful protest, saying that the recent demonstrations have been in the American tradition of people standing up for their rights, even if the new way of standing up for one's rights is to sit down.
Other highlights at the exhibit included a display of bats fashioned after those several famous hitters used -- Rod Carew's handle was thinner than a nickel, one of us observed -- and one of the famed Honus Wagner tobacco cards. The real fun stuff on the trip, though, was the time spent with my travel mates. Baseball was the hot topic, but it wasn't the only topic. All of the talented writers I got to spend the weekend with aren't just talented baseball writers; they're talented thinkers and engaging people to be around.
I was consoled on Friday night for being foolish enough to be devoted to the Cubs, though condolences quickly turned to Kahrl (an A's fan) as the weekend went on. At least Jay, Cliff, and Steven, fans of the Yankees (and Jay of the Dodgers), have their teams still in it.
I figure we've got 4 months or so to lament what went wrong and propose ways to fix the ship, and I'm sure I'll jump right into that discussion soon enough. Until then, though, I'll be back in a bit with a guide to my rooting interests in the upcoming playoffs.
How Dusty Failed
(Note: this column goes out under Alex's byline, but Christian wrote the second half of it.)
[Alex:] The number one culprit in yesterday's loss was the offense, which failed Mark Prior in a way only Randy Johnson can sympathize with. Dusty Baker, however, did his best in extra-innings to make the task of winning more difficult for his team. Here's why.
Goodwin, of course, promptly strikes out.
Then comes the most idiotic part of the game. I'll let asking Patterson to sacrifice slide, since Corey has been no better than a pitcher at the plate this month anyhow. But when Patterson fails and there is now one out and Macias still on first, Nomar Garciaparra tries to sacrifice Macias to second. Nomar enters the game with four sacrifice hits in his entire career. This number is so low because he has a lifetime OPS of .919, the highest OPS of anyone in the Cubs' lineup. Nomar grumbled something or another after the game that it was his idea to bunt, but to me it seemed like he was trying to cover someone else's tracks. It should have been made clear to him that the Cubs needed a big hit at that moment, not an advancement of the runner in exchange for the out.
I'll ask James Click, one of the wise souls over at Baseball Prospectus, to take over from here. James clarified the math in an email:
While I don't like analyzing individual decisions like this, considering how often managers go to matchup sheets, let me offer my own.
Well guess what. Nomar "successfully" sacrifices Macias to second, Aramis walks, and it all doesn't work out as Alou flies out to end the game.
It isn't that the Cubs would have won the game had Baker not made bad decision after bad decision in extra innings. It's that Baker consistently went against the odds, making it all that much harder for his team to win. The Cubs must have known when they hired him that Dusty never has been a good in-game manager, though having Barry Bonds around for a decade helps to cover a lot of failings. The thing of it is, Dusty's shortcomings are supposed to be compensated for by his ability to motivate players and create positive attitudes. He is a "winner" who gets the best out of his players.
So I ask you, as we watch a "motivated" Cubs team collapse on the verge of securing the Wild Card and listen as the Cubs adopt a new attitude characterized by in-your-face arguments and whimpering whines, has the trade-off in in-game management skills really paid off?
[Christian:] If, as has been reported, it was Nomar's idea to bunt, then that seals the question of "should the Cubs bring Nomar back next year" for me. I don't want a player on my team who, with four career sacrifice bunts, thinks that the twelfth inning, with a man on first and one out is the right time to try to lay one down.
(Note -- the next seven paragraphs veer very sharply into theoretical territory. If you're not interested in that, check back in where I say "Given the fact.")
By every measure, it was a bad choice. Lots of people have done lots of studies about how many runs you can expect to score in a specific situation, what the chances of scoring at least one run are, etc. Let's look at three of them:
1. Net Expected Run Values: By going back through previous play-by-play data, we can determine how many runs can be expected to score based on the 24 possible baserunner/out combinations. Depending on what set of data you use, the numbers change slightly, but they are always approximately the same.
With a runner on first and one out, the expected run value for the inning is 0.544 runs. With a runner on second and two out, the expected run value for the inning is 0.347 runs. So even a successful sacrifice bunt decreases the expected run value by 36%.
2. Tangotiger, one of the shining stars of mathematical baseball analysis, has examined the 24 baserunner/out combinations from a couple of different perspectives. One is called "Win Expectancy". Check the website for more info, but basically it's the chance a team has of winning, based on the 24 baserunner/out combinations and the inning of the game. With a runner on first and one out, down by one run, the WE of the home team in the bottom of the ninth (or beyond) 20.8%. With a runner on second and two out, the WE is 14.3%. So, a successful bunt in this situation lowers the chance of winning by 6.5%.
3. Another way to look at this situation is "what are the chances of scoring one or more runs from this point forward"? This is the only way of looking at this where a successful bunt in that situation doesn't hurt the team's chances. The chances of scoring exactly one run with a runner on first and one out is 12.3%, while the chances of scoring exactly one run with a runner on second and two out is 14.7%. So, a successful bunt increases the chance of tying the game slightly, by 2.4%.
But. While the chance of scoring exactly one run goes up, the chance of scoring one or more runs goes down, from 28.4% to 22.2%, a 6.2% drop. Playing for one run in that situation makes a little bit of sense, I guess, but it increasing your chances of tying the game, at the expense of your chances of winning the game, is not good strategy.
The aforementioned James Click had a long, well-researched series published on Baseball Prospectus where he took an in-depth look at sacrificing, in order to determine when (and by whom) it was a good strategic decision. In part three, he endeavored to find out how bad of a hitter you have to be in order for a sacrifice to be a good choice. What he found was that, with a runner on first and one out, anybody better than 199/224/174 is better off swinging away. He said, "Only pitchers should sacrifice a man from first to second in any circumstances. Even then, certain pitchers who are decent hitters should swing away." He also said "When the probability of scoring at least one run is paramount (late in a close game, in a low run-scoring environment, or facing a dominating pitcher, etc)...only pitchers should sacrifice a man from first. Given that a pitcher would likely rarely be batting in this situation where runs are at a premium, this situation is likely to never occur. " Nomar is way, way, waaay too good of a hitter to be bunting in this situation.
Given the fact that Nomar and Dusty have both said Nomar was bunting on his own, I'm willing to give Dusty a pass on what turned out to be the worst decision of the game. The other faults that Alex outlined, however, fall squarely on Dusty's shoulders.
The suspect history of Dusty Baker as a manager in the post-season, and in post-season type regular season games, is well-documented. When I wrote my pro/con article (I know, I keep going back to it -- I had no idea it would turn out to be such a touchstone) about Baker's hiring in November, 2002, I said the following:
For Cubs fans, the prospect of even having to think about who to DH in the World Series is hard to fathom. Seriously, Dusty may not be the best in-game manager, but for the most part that only becomes an issue in the playoffs, and just like millions of other Cubs fans, Iíd love the opportunity to second-guess Bakerís decisions in a Cubs playoff game...Iím not too worried about this, at least for the next few years. If Baker does what everyone hoped he can, the Cubs will face a dilemma come Ď05 or so ó do they stick with the manager who got them to the playoffs, or ditch him for someone who is a better in-game tactician? I hope thatís a decision theyíll need to make."I don't know if I've ever been so wrong and so right in the same paragraph before. I really didn't think Baker would have the Cubs contending in his first and second seasons at the helm. What I expected was that, by now, the Cubs would have a foundation in place that would allow them to contend in 2005 and beyond. That he has done what he has done (gotten the Cubs to the playoffs one year and to the brink of them the next) is a tremendous achievement. He also deserves credit for apparently changing the attitude of the team. I don't actually like the attitude he appears to have instilled in the players, but I will certainly admit that it is different than the "lovable loser" mentality that seemed to dog them in the past.
Given that he has done what he has done, though, the time frame I laid out turns out to be prescient. The Cubs have cast their lot with a guy who can motivate the hell out of his players, but his game decisions fall apart under scrutiny. In addition, he seems to carry an air of inflexibility that hamstrings him. There's another manager in the game today who often gets labelled as a bad tactician -- Bobby Cox. Perhaps not coincidentally, Cox has presided over a decade of high-talent teams that seem to have a hard time taking the final step. One area in which Baker and Cox differ, however, is that Cox adapts his managerial style to fit the players he has, rather than trying to shoehorn players into a particular paradigm. He's won his division with good hitting and good pitching; he won it with great pitching and mediocre hitting; and he's won it with mediocre pitching and great hitting. Whatever team John Schuerholz has given him, he's found a way to make them win. In eight years of watching Dusty Baker manager, I haven't seen in him a willingness to adapt his style to that of his players. After that long, I don't think he's going to suddenly start doing it, either.
So it's dilemma time for the Cubs. Actually, let me re-phrase that -- it's dilemma time for Cubs fans. Dusty isn't going anywhere. He has two years left on his contract, and he has led the Cubs to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in thirty years (and, rending of garments aside, there's still a chance he'll lead them to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in nearly a century). Plenty of people in Cub Fan Nation are saying things like, "well, he might not make smart decisions, but he's changed the way things are done in Chicago, and it's worth overlooking the game management problems."
I disagree. For the entire time I've been a Cubs fan, my hopes for the team have been the same: to see them win a World Series. It has been a vain hope for a very long time, but it's been the ultimate goal just the same. To celebrate Baker because he's changed the Cubs from a team which can't get close to that goal to a team that can get close but can't seal the deal is a fool's errand. I'm not gonna throw my weight behind a guy just because he's taught the Cubs how to lose a different way.
For the last two years, it has been Dusty's world, and we've just been living in it. I understand that, and I understand that it isn't suddenly going to become someone else's world. But there's room for disagreement in Dusty's world, despite what Dusty thinks. I mean, if there isn't, what the hell is the point of doing what we're doing here?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com