Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: August 2006


Cubs Reduce Surplus Punctuation
2006-08-20 13:32
by Derek Smart

It is rare that I meet seemingly innocuous happenings with glee, for after all, what matter, if I may make an example, does the trade of an all-leather-no-stick reserve middle infielder make when considering the grand scheme? However, when the dealt individual has been such a symbol of the organization's perverse misunderstanding of what makes a good baseball player, and when said deal manages to net a return that represents what could one day be a player of some actual utility, one's feelings can get away from one.

Such is the case today, as the disturbingly overvalued Neifi! was sent to, of all places, Detroit, for A-ball catcher, Chris Robinson. That Perez was dealt at all is surprising enough, but that he brought back someone who could conceivably see time in the Majors within the next five years, and perhaps even be of some use, is nothing short of miraculous.

I hesitate to say this signals a sudden shift in the organization's evaluative process. First, I'd imagine that, for whatever reason, the Tigers were the ones starting the discussions (I've seen nothing to make me believe the Cubs fail to retain their odd glove-love with Sir Bang), and second, if the team wants to bring Wade Miller up to the big club - which, agree with it or not, they certainly seem intent on - space needs to be made on the forty-man, and the cynic in me thinks that roster real estate was more of a motivation than any realization, like "Goodness, gracious! We've committed $2.5M to a defensive replacement next year!"

Still, whether a taste of things to come, or simply a lunatic's fleeting moment of lucidity, it is a moment to be savored by all who would call themselves Cub fans. By all accounts, Neifi! is a very nice man, but this team doesn't need good fellas, it needs good players, and that is one thing, nice as he is, that Neifi! simply is not.

Coming to Grips
2006-08-03 07:01
by Derek Smart

It has to be difficult for any athlete, especially an elite one, to get their head around the necessity for change that their bodies present them as they grow older or recover from catastrophic injury. In the case of Kerry Wood, who has decided to forgo surgery on his partially torn rotator cuff, it looks like he's done so, at least for the short term.

"I'm probably not going to be coming back as a starter," Wood said Wednesday. "I need to go out and pitch and I need to get some innings. I need to be healthy. Probably the best way to do that for me is to limit the innings, limit the pitches until I'm comfortable and positive I can make 34, 35 starts with 110 pitches every fifth day. Coming off another season of rehab, I don't know if I can do that right now."

This is exactly the sort of scenario where, with an incentive laden contract, Wood could do a Major League team, even the Cubs, a world of good, not to mention making it far easier for him to not only get employed, but stay on the field while doing so. In fact, being the admitted Kerry Wood fanboy that I am, it's exactly the way I'd like to see him return to the club next year.

Who knows if that will get done - personally, I'd feel no shock to see him test the waters, particularly to see if either of the Texas clubs might bite - but it at least gives me a little hope, unfounded in reality though it may be, that my jersey with the big '34' could be back in style next year.

2006-08-02 04:29
by Derek Smart

Losing streaks all have to end sometime, and the Cubs wrapped up two last night, the five-game job they had against Arizona dating back to last season, and the career-long shnide of Rich Hill, winning the game in extremely convincing, powerful fashion. It's been rare of late that this team has been fun to watch, but last night was one of those times. Here's to more of that, please.

  • The really striking thing about Rich Hill's outing (besides the extremely friendly calls he got) was how he absolutely lived up in the zone, and often slightly out of the zone, with his fastball. That, and the way the Diamondbacks continually swung through the beasts or popped them up. He spent much of the game looking like a power pitcher, which I wouldn't expect, but then all those AAA strikeouts had to come from somewhere.

    He also did a good job of mixing in his wicked curve ball, and in fact, what really seemed to make the breaker effective was the way Hill and Barrett used it as a true compliment to his fastball, as keeping the heat up made the action of the curve - starting higher before it dipped out sight - that much more deceptive. It was flat-out good work, and I imagine, no small relief for Hill to finally have a game in the Bigs where he didn't look completely overmatched.

  • Cesar! acquitted himself well in his first game, rapping two hits, including a first inning double off a tomahawked fastball up and in, and flashing his strong arm on an easy double-play in the second. Give me that or something like it once or twice a week, and I'll get okay with this a lot quicker.

  • Seeing Eric Byrnes go after John Mabry's third inning double got me to thinking: if Byrnes were a Cub, how many games would he play in Wrigley before he, quite literally, shattered his skull on the outfield wall. It makes me wonder how much the Cubs now, or historically, have factored in a player's style when considering acquiring them to play the pasture.

    If they haven't, they certainly should, because while high effort guys like Byrnes are great fun to watch, I'd think the risk they incur with that style, still pretty high in a ballpark with the standard padded walls, becomes exponentially greater when there's nothing between them and a pile of bricks but an overgrown salad.

  • Even after all the replays, I couldn't tell you whether Matt Murton's home run really left the yard or not. I think there's a decent chance that it did, that it ricocheted off the hand of the fan who was reaching for the ball with his hat (the footage shown after the break of the guy shaking his hand saying, "That f***ing hurt" sure made me think so), but I wouldn't want to bet anything more valuable than my John Koronka rookie card on it.

    By the way, does anyone else think it's ironic that the year they put a yellow stripe on the basket's outermost edge to highlight the point where fly balls become dingers is the year when there's a rash of missed home run calls?

  • I tell you what, if Michael Barrett was a stock, and I owned a bunch of shares, I'd think real hard about selling, and fast. Not that I want the Cubs to deal him now (at this point he wouldn't clear waivers anyway), or that I would have wanted him dealt yesterday, rather that he's been so ridiculously good at the plate the last two months, there's no way for him to keep up the pace.

    In case you haven't looked lately, Barrett hit a robust .392/.458/.549 in June, but upped the ante in July, creaming the ball to the tune of a .386/.446/.639 line. For some perspective, look at Derrek Lee's line from last year - .335/.418/.662 - and ask yourself if Barrett isn't due for a correction. I mention this, not because I'm trying to be a wet blanket on one of the few bright spots of the season, but because I want to issue a word of caution.

    I would expect Jim Hendry to look at extending Barrett's contract this offseason, 2007 being the final year of what has turned out to be a very reasonable deal, and my fear is that the last two months could be looked at, not necessarily as an expected norm, but perhaps as less of an aberration than it truly is. I understand that my fears may be unfounded, that they could be an overreaction inspired by a year of ill-considered moves, but dammit, they made me this way, and they'll just have to live with the consequences.

  • David Cassidy is deeply, deeply creepy. And apparently, immune to musical segues.

  • I think I get what Jim Hendry sees in Jacque Jones. It's that, when he connects with a ball, really connects, whether it's a shot over the wall, or a drive up the middle, it really is beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact. For a former scout like Hendry, he must look at that and just sigh like a teenage girl with the latest issue of Tiger Beat. I guess my problem is I can't forget all the Reader's Digest moments in between.

2006-08-01 13:17
by Derek Smart

A new day is upon us, the first full day of the second post-Maddux era, and so it is time to take a good, hard look at the deal that sent him away and the gentleman that will be donning blue pinstripes in his stead.

My initial reaction to hearing of the deal - meaning that I'd heard Maddux went to the Dodgers without mention of other players involved - was actually excitement, for much as I might have enjoyed The Professor's return to Chicago, there's no doubt it was best for him and best for the organization that he spend the remainder of the season in the warm embrace of a potential playoff team, while the Cubs reaped in future talent the benefit of the prefix "Future Hall of Famer."

And that, of course, is where things started to go wrong.

What the Cubs acquired instead of talent that could theoretically help them next time they're good - which, for the record, I'll say is extremely unlikely to be next year, or even the year to follow - was a younger clone of a man already on their roster, another exclamation point to add to the pile. Yes, apparently, the looming shadow of Neifi!'s 2007 free agency threatened to leave the team devoid of defensive wizards with wiffle bats, so when presented with the opportunity to acquire some additional declarative punctuation, Jim Hendry jumped at the chance.

Or, perhaps I'm being unfair to this newest member of the fold. Perhaps this imposition of labels before a moment spent in uniform is a kneejerk reaction of the worst kind. Perhaps I should simply give the plan a chance to take shape. Or perhaps you should watch as I spin you tale of whiffs and woes. Let's compare the two men's first 2634 at bats or so (that being the number Izturis has in his career to date).


Neifi!'s numbers take him through nearly all of his age 27 baseball and occur entirely within the confines of Planet Coors, while Izturis will turn 27 in February, and has spent his entire career in Los Angeles' more difficult hitting environment. In other words, looking at this early work in each of their careers, it's not unreasonable to say that, at least offensively, they're the same guy, which also makes it reasonable to assume that, going forward, we can expect from Mr. Izturis something very similar to what Neifi! has done since that point in his career. Which is what exactly?


Oh, yeah.

This is what he's done since April 7, 2001 (many thanks for this information to the wonder that is the Baseball Musings Day By Day Database), which is mere months from his trade from Colorado to Kansas City. Bear in mind also that this includes the ridiculous stretches of production from Neifi!'s early days in Chicago. Compare it to Izturis' career line in the previous table, and you've got a similarity too eerie to ignore. Yet, still, I hear the cries:

"Defense!" shouteth the contrarians, "You say nothing of his defense!"

Fine. I'll say something about it now.

Career RATE2
Career Fielding %
Career Range Factor
Career Zone Rating
UZR Runs 2000-2003
Fans Scouting Report 2005

UZR 2000-2003 and Fans' Scouting Report 2005, both taken from Tangotiger's fabulous site, and RATE2 comes from Baseball Prospectus

Everything above is based on their work at shortstop (although, the Fans' Scouting Report is supposed to leave position out of the equation), and I even threw in the proverbial kitchen sink of defensive metrics - fielding percentage. I'd say the results are inconclusive, but in looking at everything, my gut is that Izturis is the superior defender, based more on the UZR and scouting report results than anything else. Still, there's no massive gap here, no cavernous crevasse to make me think that these two are anything other than twins from a performance perspective.

As I've said before, I have nothing personal against Neifi!, and similarly, I have nothing against Cesar!, particularly since he's only just arriving. And the truth is, I might enjoy the aesthetics of his glove work enough to excuse the lack thereof with the bat.

No, my issue is with the men who would value these players at levels so far beyond their actual worth. My issue is with the man who, when given the choice between a prospect or two and a proven mediocrity, will go with the mediocrity every time. In fact, would rather not make the deal for the prospects in the first place.

I wish Cesar! a ton of luck, and truly, I'll root for him to succeed and turn that exclamation point from derisive symbol to a well earned tribute. But if the man who brought him to town ever gets the axe, I won't cry a single tear.

With Gravest Apologies to Score Bard
2006-08-01 09:43
by Derek Smart

While it's true he, indeed, is a geezer
Mr. Maddux, for crowds, is a pleaser
And with that in mind
I think you will find
He's worth more than one little Cesar!