February 2009

Brad Snyder smacked a grand slam home run and Bobby Scales batted twice and drove in three runs with two singles to highlight a nine-run 7th, as the Cubs shutout the White Sox 13-0 before an all-time record crowd of 13,010 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park this afternoon in hot & sunny Mesa, Arizona.  

box score

Aaron Heilman goes for the Cubs, Jeff Marquez for the White Sox.

Corey Koskie signed a minor league deal and will join the Cubs after Team Canada is eliminated from the WBC. The Cubs have been searching for someone that could play third base and spell Aramis Ramirez on occasion, and with his left-handedness he seems like the perfect fit if the game hasn't passed him by.

Perhaps you have run into "word clouds," a visual device that represents how frequently different words appear in a text.  As a historian I love it, as I can do fun things like compare Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance speech with McCain's from the Republican National Convention.

That's useful stuff.  I can show word clouds like those to my students, and ask them what the clouds do (and do not) reveal.

But who cares about utility.  Let's use some word clouds to navel-gaze, and check out our favorite baseball-related websites.

 

- Joe Posnanski writes about the case for Andre Dawson and the Hall of Fame.

3. The idea that a lack of walks is the ONLY reason Dawson has not been
elected to the Hall of Fame does not ring true for me. If Dawson had
3,000 hits, he would be in the Hall of Fame. He does not. If Dawson had
500 homers, he would be in the Hall of Fame. He does not. If Dawson had
managed to stay in center field for more than seven years — that is if
his knees had not gone out on him — he would be in the Hall of Fame.
His knees did go out (and I think he won four pretty suspect Gold
Gloves in right field). If Dawson had hit .300 instead of .279 for his
career, he would be in the Hall of Fame, and probably if he hit .290.
If Dawson had driven in 100 RBIs 10 times instead of four, score 100
runs 10 times instead of two … on and on.

- Fangraphs takes a quick tour of the Cubs prospects and Alex Eisenberg finishes his top 15 list.

- Spot the current Cub coach in this clip.  Question is, how does a die-hard Tigers fan not know who he's talking with at the bar?

- We won an award. Thank you, thank you very much...I'd like to thank God for giving me the strength to write about this insufferable franchise on a nearly daily basis. And the Angel Fan Wife for putting up with her insufferable husband while he follows this insufferable team. Oh yeah, and thanks to the rest of the writers which you all actually come here to read.

-  Starting to switch back over to the in-season look around the site. The schedule and weather are back on the left sidebar and game results are back as well at the top right.

Enjoy the weekend!

 

Micah Hoffpauir hit a three-run homer and reached base three times, Mike Fontenot drove in four runs with a two-run homer and a two-run triple, and Sam Fuld smacked a solo home run, scored two runs, and threw a runner out at the plate, as the Cubs thrashed the Texas Rangers 10-4 at Surprise Stadium today.

box score

Ted Lilly will start for the Cubs before heading off to Team USA. The Rangers will start Scott Feldman.

Lineup from Muskat:

 SS Ryan Theriot, CF Reed Johnson, 1B Micah Hoffpauir, DH Jason Dubois,
C Geovany Soto, 2B Mike Fontenot, LF Doug Deeds, 3B Luis Rivas, RF So
Taguchi.

Jake Fox slammed a three-run homer and Joey Gathright had three hits, a walk, an RBI, a run scored, and a stolen base (and made a nice running catch in right-centerfield as well), as the Cubs defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 7-4 in Cactus League action at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in sunny Mesa, Arizona this afternoon, before another smallish crowd (6,711).

box score

 Yovanni Gallardo vs. Sean Marshall to start the game at HoHoKam Park.

Lineup from Muskat:

CF Joey Gathright, 2B Aaron Miles, RF Milton Bradley, 3B Aramis
Ramirez, LF Micah Hoffpauir, 1B Jake Fox, C Paul Bako, SS Darwin Barney
and P Sean Marshall.

Micah Hoffpauir crushed a grand slam in the bottom of the 5th, turning a two-run Cubs deficit into a two-run Cub lead, as the Cubs defeated the Dodgers 5-3 in the Cactus League opener for both clubs at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in sunny and warm Mesa, Arizona 

box score  

Baseball Prospectus had the Cubs running away with the NL Central a few weeks back. CHONE projections1 thinks it will be a tight race with the St. Louis Cardinals. They have the Cubs at 88 wins, just five ahead of the Cardinals, six ahead of the Reds and seven ahead of the Brewers.

Furthermore, they've got the Cubs listed 10th in their power rankings, fourth in the NL behind the Phillies, Mets and Braves.

I think we can infer two things from this new information. First, the Cubs aren't quite the locks to win the NL Central that some of us have led ourselves to believe. Second, that Sean Smith who runs the CHONE projections is a Cub-hater2. I think that's irrefutable. I even think I found a picture of him


1 - Is it pronounced Shawn? If so, I would have just called it the FIGGINS projections.

2 - Disclaimer: Sarcasm.

Minor League Camp doesn't open for another couple of weeks, but here are the projected Cubs Minor League Camp rosters for the five squads (141 players) at Minor League Camp and also the DSL Cubs Reserve Lists (two teams - 70 players).

The Cactus League season begins with its newest member, the Los Angeles Dodgers strolling into HoHoKam Park. Jeff Samardzija and Mitch Atkins are set to go for the Cubs. The Dodgers will trot out Claudio Vargas to start the game.

Feel the excitement!


Lineups from Sullivan:

Dodgers: Pierre LF, Ausmus C, Ethier RF, Loney 1B, Blake 3B, Kemp CF, DeWitt 2B, Young DH, Abreu SS
Cubs: Soriano LF, Theriot SS, Lee 1B, Hoffpauir DH, Soto C, Fontenot 2B, Johnson CF, Robnett RF, Scales 3B

 

The World Baseball Classic Rosters were announced and eight Cubs will be involved with the event - five from the major league squad. (Drumroll please)

  • Carlos Marmol (Dominican Republic)  (See Update below)
  • Carlos Zambrano (Venezuela) (See Update #2)
  • Kosukue Fukudome (Japan)
  • Geovany Soto (Puerto Rico)
  • Ted Lilly (USA)
  • *Vince Perkins (Canada) 
  • **Alex Maestri (Italy)
  • **Hung-wen Chen (Chinese Taipei)

* Non-Roster Invitee, ** Minor League System

So the story from yesterday turns out true about Zambrano and looks like Carlos Marmol had a last minute change of heart. Say hello to your 2009 closer - Kevin Gregg!

UPDATE: Either Muskat is doing her usual bang-up job or some things are still up in the air. Her story doesn't mention Marmol or Zambrano at all. Soto is set to DH in the first game for Puerto Rico and catch Jonathan Sanchez in their third game. Also, under the Cubs headlines on that story is the "Cubs' Marmol opts to skip Classic for D.R." article and it looks like the rosters no longer have Marmol on them, but Zambrano still is listed. Not so fast Kevin Gregg - hahahaha!!

UPDATE #2:  Zambrano said he's not pitching in the WBC. He is set to go Monday for the Cubs in Cactus League play. The Venezuelan teams attempt at the Jedi Mind Trick seems to have failed. 

"Carlos, it says right here that you're pitching for the team. You will pitch in the WBC. Look, it's been printed on the web."

"No, I'm not"

(Waves hand) "Yes, you will."

"No, I'm not, and stop waving your fucking hand around."

The Cubs moved their Spring Training operation a half-mile north up Center Street from Fitch Park to HoHoKam Park today, and as was the case each of the previous two years, Manager Lou Piniella once again eschewed the ubiquitous and traditional intrasquad game most MLB clubs play the day before Cactus League and Grapefruit League games commence. Lou just does not like to play any more games than necessary during Spring Training, even if it's an informal seven-inning intrasquad game.

Hat tip to Bleacher Nation for the find, but it appears that Carlos Zambrano has duped us all. Official rosters are set to be announced tomorrow but SI.com has the scoop on Team Venezuela.


Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs will stand in for Santana on the mound while sluggers Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers will lead Venezuela's offense, according to the line-up released on Monday by Edwin Zerpa, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Federation.

In addition to Santana, Anibal Sanchez, Angel Guzman, Maicer Izturis and Renyel Pinto will not be participating, mostly because their respective Major League teams would not clear them. Others did not want to risk injuries.

Zambrano was not originally expected to join the line-up, but the Cubs decided to clear him.

No good will come of this.

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager has made some questionable moves in the past - *cough* Juan Pierre *cough* - but you have to admire his creativity with contracts. The latest such deal is for Orlando Hudson and today we get the details via MLBTR and Tony Jackson of the L.A. Daily News. Ultimately it boils down to $3M in guaranteed money this year, $380K in bonus money that has been deferred WITHOUT INTEREST until an unspecified time and up to $5M in incentive bonuses, some of which are also deferred without interest if they are reached.

Early on in the offseason, I hypothesized that the Cubs would get in on Hudson, but there was never much more than a whisper and that came late in the offseason. When the Cubs dealt Mark DeRosa to the Indians, I think it was clear that they didn't have $5M or more for a second basemen this season. The days and weeks dragged on and by February Hudson was going to take whatever he could get and that seems to be $3 to $8M, much of it not due until some ambigous future date. The Dodgers did have to give up their first round pick next year for the privilege of having Hudson turn double plays for them next year and at number 17, that's a pretty steep price. The Dodgers though did get a second round and supplemental pick when the Braves signed Derek Lowe, so not as big as a loss as it could have become for them.

The question though is if Hudson would have made the Cubs better?

Holy Moses! Wood K's 20, Parts Red Sea


W - Wood (3-2), History. Fastballs over the outside corner.  Generous outside corners.

L - Reynolds (2-3), any losers who didn't see this game live because they were out in the rain and cold shooting a bad round of golf.  Trying to come up with an adequate term for that freaky breaking pitch of Wood's.

Box Score, Photos, Standings

 

Things to Take from This Game

1. Wood Strikes Out 20, Two Batters Reach in Complete Game Shutout

From the first few pitches of the game it was clear that Wood had a potentially history-making fastball and breaking stuff working today.  Wood K'd his first five,and gave up his only hit on a grounder by Gutierrez off of Orie's glove.  This won't make me the most popular guy around here, but yeah, it was a hit.  It also was a play that Orie probably makes more often than not.  Tough luck for everyone involved. The only other runner came on a curveball that got away from Wood and beaned Biggio.  The performance is every bit as dominating as the box score will indicate.  Almost without exception, the Astros looked completely helpless.

2. Cubs scratch out 2 runs against Reynolds

Reynolds threw a complete game gem, himself, with 10 Ks and 1 ER in 8 innings.  The Cubs' scores came on a Grace "double" in the second, on an incredibly generous ruling where third-baseman Howell got completely devoured by a bouncer.  Grace then advanced to third as left-fielder Dave Clark throws away the potential play at second base.  Oh Henry! drove him in with a sac fly to Alou in deep center field.  They added another for good measure in the eighth; Morandini and Grace singled, with Morandini scoring on an attempted 5-4-3 double play that was too slowly turned and resulted in a fielder's choice.

3.  Greatest Game Ever?

A traditional recap can not adequatly contextualize this game.  The central question at this moment, just minutes after witnessing this gem, is not "what do we take from this game?" but "where will this game place among the all-time great games ever pitched?"  Larson's perfect game came in a far more important context.  Haddix's perfect game through 12 innings kept more hitters off base for longer.  Clemens has two 20-K games to his record, but as I thumb through the pages of my favorite baseball encyclopedia, I see that Clemens gave up five hits in his 1996 gem, and a run on three hits in 1986.  The 1996 Tigers and 1986 Mariners, furthermore, were no 1998 Astros.  IS this the greatest game ever?  If only we had some sort of pitcher's in-game dominance statistic, and a place that compiled every statistic from every game ever played.  Then we might have a more objective idea of where this game ranks on the list of all-time great pitching performances.  In the meantime, here's hoping that Wood's career is as successful and distinguished as the Rocket's.

4.  Looking to the Future...  All the way to the Year... 2000...

This has to portend well for the Cubs.  If Wood can stay healthy and anchor a rotation with Trachsel, and another talented young arm like Geremi Gonzalez or Terry Adams or Telemaco emerges as a compliment, we could have a dominant rotation for a decade to come.  We just need Wood's health to hold, and though we know he was worked hard in high school, he seems to be a very well built young man, and hopefully can keep his strength up.  The Cubs winning a world series may be about as likely as a black president or a second Great Depression, but Wood may have the arm to get us there.

The if-this-is-his-rookie-year, just-imagine-the-things-to-come details, below.

Tags: 

Game Chat

TV: DVD Set | Itunes | Mlb.com

Game Time: 9 PM CST

SP Shane Reynolds SP Kerry Wood
  2-2, 
4.33 ERA, 32K, 14 BB, 43.2 IP
  2-2, 5.89 ERA, 25K, 12 BB, 18.1 IP
       
2B Craig Biggio CF *Brant Brown
RF Derrek Bell 2B *Mickey Morandini
1B Jeff Bagwell RF Sammy Sosa
3B *Jack Howell 1B *Mark Grace
CF Moises Alou LF *Henry Rodriguez
LF *Dave Clark SS Jeff Blauser
SS Ricky Guiterrez C *Sandy Martinez
C Brad Ausmus 3B Kevin Orie
P Shane Reynolds P Kerry Wood

 

Kid K takes the mound today and will try and prevent the first place Astros from sweeping the series after Mark Clark's 7th inning meltdown last night. He'll also try to find some consistency after a string of good start, bad start in his first four games and lower that 5.89 ERA.

Riggleman changes up the lineup a bit, giving Martinez and Orie the starts today with the night game last night. I mean, it's just one game, what could possibly happen? Blauser is spared a benching despite the the 3-week slump he's currently making us witness. Sammy Sosa's offseason training regiment has paid off well to this point , a nearly 1.000 OPS to this point and now the home runs are coming in bunches.

Go Cubs!

 

Join us for a little pre-preseason debachuary tonight and a final farewell to Kid K in parachat. Plus the Oscars are tonight, so we can pull double duty talking about the red carpet (ZOMG, did you see what Kate Winselt was wearing?)

You have three viewing options, either you own the Chicago Cubs DVD set, Itunes for $2(search for Kerry Wood or a series called Baseball's Best) or Mlb.com(It's the Houston broadcast and you have to register and possibly been a past owner of MLB.tv). Game time is 9pm CST. With no commercials it shouldn't run more than two hours I believe and Transmission should be doing a parachat recap for tomorrow. Maybe this time we can get Kevin Orie to make the play.

Some quick notes from Mesa after the jump...

Twelve Cubs pitchers threw "live" BP at Fitch Park this morning, as Spring Training entered Phase Two.

- Everyone's favorite topic...lineups!!!

On days when switch hitter Aaron Miles plays second base and Kosuke Fukudome plays center field, Piniella said he likes this lineup: Soriano, Miles, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, Fukudome, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot. That's a right-switch-right-switch-right-left-right-right alignment.

Armchair managers commence bitching! Between rumors of 400 AB's and now batting second,  Aaron Miles has all the makings of being the new ¡Neifi! It's like no one in the Cubs organization has noticed that his likely unrepeatable .343 BABIP last season accounted for nearly all of his .753 OPS "success".

Spring training is nothing if not repetitive story lines, but Cubs manager Lou Piniella is once again hinting that he'd like to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers.

Piniella admitted he doesn't have a set number of days off for
players. That won't be an issue until the regular season starts. Right
now, the Cubs have other matters to resolve. While thinking out loud,
Piniella said he'd like to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers if
possible. The team isn't sure how to slot some players -- newcomer
Aaron Miles, for example. Piniella wants to see them on the field, and
the Cubs will have 39 spring games to evaluate the team.

It's not going to happen, it never does...but that won't stop me from taking a look at what the team might look like. And it's exponentially more interesting than where Alfonso Soriano might bat this year (hint: leadoff).

With kudos to Craig Calcaterra ("ShysterBall") over at The Hardball Times, who suggested giving the Facebook game, "25 Random Things About Me," a baseball twist, I offer my list of 25:(updated: mine now added, below Cubnut's, below the fold. - Trans)

1.) I attended my first Cubs game in 1968--Cubs v. Giants, Fergie Jenkins v. Ray Sadecki. I still have the scorecard and thanks to the miracle of Retrosheet have been able to confirm that I did a pretty decent job of keeping score for a 7-year-old.

2.) The first Cub baseball card I ever turned up in a Topps package was a 1968 Rob Gardner and yes, it was eventually thrown in the trash by my mother, along with all of my other precious cards.

3.) About three years ago, I bought a replacement Rob Gardner card on eBay. Take that, Mom!

In case Cubs history isn't your thing, there's a prospect post below this as well for today.


I've hinted at it enough over the last few months, but I suppose I'm ready to now to unleash it upon the world. Wiklifield (thanks to Cubnut for the name) has been my main project and passion this offseason and the goal is simple, if not ambitious -  a community project to capture the entire history, culture and atmosphere of the Chicago Cubs. And I truly mean entire...

Players, coaches, songs, books, movies, Wrigleyville bars, rooftops, blogs, TCR memes, brain-cell killing articles, minor leagues, major leagues, you
name it, I would love to have it in there eventually.  It's going to take years to accomplish and hopefully a lot of help from Cubs fans across the Internet, but I think it could be something special for Cubs fans to lose themselves in a few hours at a time. A few examples of similar projects include the Ultimate Mets Database, Sons of Sam Horn Wiki and the Baseball Reference Bullpen.

To achieve this massive goal, it's obvious that I couldn't do it myself,
nor the writers of TCR, so hence the open wiki interface that allows
anyone to contribute.
Now as you start looking through the site, you may start asking where's
this bit of info or why hasn't this been included. Well first, let me say back off...I've been doing it mostly by myself. Second, that's the
beauty of a wiki, if you don't see something just go ahead and add it. Of course that can also be its downfall as
the information can easily be corrupted, but more on that later.

Before I get to the nuts and bolts on how you can contribute, let me demonstrate a few examples of what I'm hoping to capture. Let's start with the entry for the Cleveland Indians.  My idea for these major league franchise pages is to include every way that the teams have interacted with the Cubs. The main sections as you'll see are head-to-head record, all transactions between the two franchises (including any rumors), and finally thanks to Baseball Reference and their multi-franchise player finder, players that have played for both teams. I've started pages for the current 30 franchises and some have been done already. I also needed to give a big shout out to reader homerzzz, who has volunteered a tremendous amount of his own time helping me take the retrosheet transaction files and converting them into something we can use on Wiklifield. 

For the third year running, I go through the various prospect lists. I've also started compiling them at Wiklifield.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Josh Vitters, 3B

Four-Star Prospects
2. Jeff Samardzjia,RHP

3. Jose Ceda, RHP

Three-Star Prospects
4. Hak-Ju Lee, SS
5. Andrew Cashner, RHP
6. Tyler Colvin, OF
7. Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
Two-Star Prospects
9. Welington Castilo, C

10. Donald Veal, LHP

11. Micah Hoffpauir, 1B

Just Missing: Matt Cerda, INF; Jay Jackson, RHP; Logan Watkins, INF

Sleeper: Kyler Burke

What They Say: The Cubs are a very tough team to rank. That said, the top three prospects on my initial snapshot never moved, and you see them exactly where they started. Everything after that is a bit of a mess however, as one could jumble up the players ranked fourth through eleventh in any order and make some kind of reasonable argument for all.

We do love our guest columns since we all get to take the day off from writing. Today, it's the ever cantankerous Real Neal taking on The Fielding Bible System.

The other day I bought The Hardball Times 2009 Baseball Annual. I haven’t finished yet, but as of so far, I would say save your money.

In it, though, there is an article about titled “Fielding Breeds Winning” by a certain John Dewan, which goes into some detail about how the Fielding Bibles’ Plus/Minus system helps determine which teams have a real shot at the title. I’ve argued in the comments about inherent flaws in the Plus/Minus system, but there are a lot of people, famous baseball statistical analysts who think it’s the greatest thing since high socks. My main point of contention with it, is that we know that people are biased when it comes to evaluating fielding, based on some of the ridiculous Golden Glove awards handed out, yet we go from our 500 person sample size for those awards to 3 people sample sizes for the Plus/Minus system, and somehow conclude that the latter is more accurate. Really quickly, the system looks at all plays and says for each one – if any fielder in the majors missed a play you made, you get a Plus, and if you missed a play that any fielder made, you get a Minus. Add up your Pluses and your minues and you get Plus/Minus score for the season.

Well, you might be thinking, isn’t this article supposed to be about a Chicago baseball team, and preferably the Cubs, since that’s who I come here to read about? Well, yeah, it is about the Cubs, because according to this system, the Plus/Minus system, the 2008 Cubs were living on borrowed time.

Something you can find it in this same Annual or at various other baseball statistic sites around the net is a stat called Defensive Efficiency Rating. It’s the reverse of BABIP (batting average on balls in play). How often do PA’s which don’t end in walks, Home Runs or strike outs get turned into an out. The 2008 Cubs, Jim Edmonds and all, lead the league and did it pretty easily with a .706 DER, that’s six tenths of a percent ahead of second place Milwaukee. Which, I think we as the fans, and definitely the pitching staff would agree is a good thing. But here’s the rub. The highly touted Plus/Minus system ranked the Cubs as the leagues’ 13th best team, at minus 27 plays. So an ‘average’ defensive team would have given up 27 hits less than the Cubs. Only the Reds, Rockies and Pirates managed worse team totals.

Now, if you take the highly touted Plus/Minus system for its word, that leads to my titular problem. It is possible, in theory, that the Cubs could have turned balls into outs at a higher rate than all of their competition merely by the virtue of good luck. Yes, they had the best rate, but they were merely fortunate that of the roughly 5600 times hitters were kept in the park by the Cubs staff, many of those balls were hit softly or right to Cubs defenders. If they had such good luck in 2008, then odds are they’ll regress to average luck in 2009, and have some ERA problems. 5600 is a pretty big number, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Usually if you’re going to give up a batted ball, the best kind is a ground ball. The second best kind is a fly ball that stays in the park, and the worst thing to do is give up line drives. During one of our many off-season debates, Rob G dug up the fact that Marmol gave up very few line drives in 2008, which accounted for some of his luck with BABIP (which remember, is essentially the same thing as DER). So maybe it wasn’t the Cubs fielders, but maybe their pitchers gave up fewer line drives than other staffs (staves?) and their position players and DER were merely happy beneficiaries of this skill. That would certainly explain at least a large part of the gap between the two measures.

Line Drives - Cubs 20% League Average 20.7% the best being 19% and the worst being 22%. The Cubs were roughly middle of the pack.

Well, fly balls are not as bad, but they can be bad, how did the Cubs and their diving-for-balls-that-Carlos-Beltran-gets-to-in-a-jog pitching staff do? 39%. League average is 35.2%.

So we can see that the Cubs staff gave up a little fewer line drives, and a pretty good chunk more fly balls than the average NL team. With my amazing math skills I can now conclude, without serious number crunching that the Boys in Blue gave up fewer of the best outcome (groundballs) than the average pitching staff.

But there still is those three guys with their tapes of the games, and their computer screens and they say the Cubs fielders were no good.

Well, maybe the Cubs advance scouts and coaches were just really good at determining where the fielders should set up, you might say. And that may be true, but the Plus/Minus system goes by fielding zones, so if the right fielder is told to stand on the foul line, and a screecher is hit right to him (which he catches), he gets a +, just like some poor schmuck who had to make a diving grab and slam into the wall. So, that cannot be it. That can explain the good DER score, but it cannot explain away the bad Plus/Minus score.

At this point, I am starting to call ‘bullshit’. But maybe it’s true. Maybe even with a sample size of 5600 plays, the Cubs pitchers just happened to have a knack of getting the hitter to hit it at the fielders. (Totally different study, but if there are league and park factors to determine how good leagues are and how easy parks are to hit in, then why aren’t there any factors to determine if different teams are better at hitting away from fielders). I’ve got 5600 plays, and I’ve got three guys with a VHS and a laptop. Call it intuition, but I am going to lean towards the 5600 plays.

But still, it’s nagging me. Luck, I know it exists. Can it exist for that many plays? Or could it be that my suspicion about the dubious likelihood of the Fielding Bible reviewers being able to be objective is valid.

We know that with Golden Gloves, the voters (MLB players and coaches) have problems being objective. They’re heavily influenced by an occasional flashy play, and more bizarrely, hitting prowess. Why are these guys, professional players and former professional players more likely to be biased than the three guys with the VHS machine? The answer is of course simple, they’re not. The Fielding Bible Plus/Minus system tries to be objective. They make the people chart very narrowly where a ball is hit, and they enter how hard it is hit. The ‘where’ part bothers me a little, because different cameras can be positioned slightly different at each ballpark, and a play that looks like a zone 3Z at Wrigley, could be recorded as a 3X at Busch. The inherent objectiveness of how hard the ball is hit bothers me a lot more. Some guy may decide it takes a 75 MPH line drive to be a hard hit ball, while another guy evaluating a different team may set his ‘hard’ line at 90 MPH. Then take the fact that these guys know that Albert Pujols is a supreme player and that Rafael Palmeiro is a Gold Glove deserving first basemen, and that when they dive to make a play, it must have been a hard hit ball.

Let’s say, just for kicks that reputation plays a part in the Plus/Minus system just like it does in the flawed Gold Glove evaluations. How can that be shown?

In statistics there is something called the ‘Variance’. Essentially it gives us a number that describes the change from one set of numbers to the next. If you believe that team fielding is relatively constant from one year to the next, then it stands to reason that a fielding rating system which has a lower variance, will ‘feel’ more accurate than a system with a higher variance. The Hardball Times Baseball Annual, again courtesy of the guys over at The Fielding Bible, give the Plus/Minus team rankings for 2007 and 2008. The average variance between teams’ rankings (1 to 30) for those seasons is about 118.

118! That’s it? No, obviously something is needed to compare it to. By referring to Baseball Prospectus you can find the DER for 2007 and 2008. The Variance for those two years is about 109, or less than the Plus/Minus. The variance for 2006 to 2007 for DER is also less, at 86. Those aren’t really huge differences, but they’re what I have freely available.

I really wasn’t comfortable with the three guys and their VCR’s overcoming the 5600 data points that DER gives me. But now, to believe the Plus/Minus system, I’ve got to ignore some 500,000 data points (all plays from 2006 to 2008). This isn’t by any means conclusive proof that Plus/Minus system is bad, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Then there’s the final kicker. How did the Cubs do in 2006? At DER 4th, in MLB. In 2007, they were 2nd, and they were 2nd again last year. So breathe easy Cubs fans and Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs can field noticeably better than The Fielding Bible can guestimate fielding prowess, and you can be pretty confident they’ll carry that forward into 2009.

Rich Harden was all the news yesterday even though there was nothing new going on. Harden was newsworthy because he's starting the spring camp with long toss rather than work off the mound like the other pitchers. He's been on an off-season strengthening program for an achy-breaky shoulder that everyone in Cubs camp is still struggling to label. It's kind of like having a family member with a psychiatric diagnosis in the 1950's. Nobody wants to label the poor fella because of the stigma and gossip. Sun-Times beat reporter Gordon Wittenmyer, in his blog, was irked that once again there was misinformation delivered this off-season regarding what the diagnosis of Harden's shoulder issues are.

Can anybody tell me what the advantage is in omitting those details and being vague about these things? It's not like the Cubs have to protect the information for the purposes of shopping Harden or for any on-the-field competitive reasons (scouts have eyes).

I've covered three other teams in my career, and the ones that were most up front about these kinds of things had the fewest headaches with the way the information got out. And the fans stayed well informed, without the yo-yo effect.

I was meaning to write a nice update of spring training storylines like Rob has done in the post below, but I'm too busy reading rejection letters from Universities being chased by spurned Valentines to scour the globe for the informative content that you, the reader deserve.

Then I remembered that it's spring training, and the stories write themselves.

So here are your Mad Libs that need filling in.  The story itself is below the fold.  (No peeking until you've entered your words!)

 

1. A Cubs Player

2. A number

3. A celebrity

4. A food

5.  A gerund (a verb + ing) 

6.  A noun

7. A Cubs Player

8.  A body part

9.  A medical procedure

10.  A number

11.  A roster position

12. A Cubs Player

13. An adjective

14.  A Cubs Player

15.  An Adjective

16.  A player from another baseball team

17.  A sports reporter

18.  A retired player

19.  An adjective

20.  A roster position

21.  A feature of Wrigley Field

22. +  23.  Two corporations

24.  An occupation

25 + 26.  Two Celebrities

27.  A tragedy

28.  A Cubs Player

29.  A noun.

- Bruce Miles and the beat writers are back in business with the start of spring training. Miles says Geovany Soto has come to camp in great shape, Z is sporting a 'stache and will not pitch for Venezuela in the WBC. He also says that Z is holding off on laser eye surgery due to an infection and some odd eye geometry on his behalf. There appears to be some video at the Trib of Z and the Cubs in Arizona on the sidebar, but I can't get it to load.

- Fangraphs takes a look at the best outfield arms and comes to the shocking revelation that Alfonso Soriano is good and Juan Pierre is not. 

- An interview with the Phils former GM, Pat Gillick, gives some insight on the Cubs corner outfielder pursuit this winter.


--On whether the Phillies may have overpaid for Ibanez (three years, $31.5 million), given the one-year, $6 million deal that Bobby Abreu
just signed with the Angels: "The Cubs were after [Ibanez] pretty
thick. Lou [Piniella] and he had a good relationship, so I think Lou
was plugging pretty hard for him. I don't think [the Phillies could've
waited]. The Cubs were searching for left-hand hitting. My opinion is I
would prefer Ibanez to Milton Bradley, just from an
injury standpoint. Milton Bradley to me is an American League player, a
DH/part-time outfielder. He's not a day-in, day-out player in the
National League."

From Tracy Ringolsby... 

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa began lobbying last fall for the release of second baseman Adam Kennedy, wanting to keep Aaron Miles instead. Now he winds up with neither, the front office letting Miles go back in December, and then this week giving in on Kennedy and his $4 million salary when it became apparent there was no trade market for Kennedy.

We've been meaning to do this most of the offseason, but I think we've finally settled on a date. So Sunday, February 22nd at 9PM CST, we're going to gather in Parachat and watch the Kerry Wood 20K game. We know a lot of you own the Chicago Cubs DVD set and that's what most of us will be watching. I believe they showed the game on MLB Network recently, so maybe you Tivo'd it. Considering we normally have people watching from various different feeds during the season, we'll figure out how to sync it up to everyone's satsifaction. If you don't have access to the game and want to partake in the festivities, drop a note in the comments and I think we can work out something.

So come join us and get your Parachat fix on, Transmission will be doing one of his game recaps. I believe it's Oscar night as well, so that should give us some good material as well.

UPDATE: One of our dear readers points out that you can purchase the game from Itunes for about $2.

More fun after the jump...

Oriole-turned-Cub-turned-Mariner Garrett Olson talks about what it was like to hear he was Chicago-bound in the deal that sent Felix Pie to the O's.

From the Fresno Bee:

"Going to the Cubs, I had talked to the GM, talked to the pitching coach, a few other guys in the office. You definitely get excited for that. The thing is everybody knows the story about Chicago: haven't won a World Series in 100 years, and playing at Wrigley [Field], that's kind of like an icon in baseball. The opportunity developing in front of you is exciting."

Now Olson is with the Mariners, who have only gone 31 years without winning a World Series.

(Note: seems that we have reached the point in this country where it is physically impossible for someone from outside Chicago to say the word "Cubs" without saying the words "100 years" in the same sentence.)

Baseball Prospectus updated their team depth chart with new PECOTA information and the Cubs are hands down the class of the simulated National League Central. The Cubs come out with 96 wins and an easy division crown with the Brewers being their closest competition at 83 wins. That's also the best record in the NL and second best in the league behind the 98 imaginary wins that Boston has under their belt.

Replacement Level Yankees blog ran some of their own predictions using The Hardball Times  projections back in early January and came up with 91.5 wins for the Cubs. That half win is going to be tough.

It's probably a good time to point out that PECOTA had the Indians winning 92 games last year and Tigers 90, although it did predict the Rays for 90 wins to its credit. I can't seem to find the full 2008 NL Predictions, but it did land the top two spots in the NL Central last year and had 89 wins for the Cubs. I believe it nailed two division winners (Angels and Cubs) and four playoff teams (had Dodgers and Red Sox as the wild card) overall in 2008.

So congrats to the 2009 Cubs - NL Paper Champions!


UPDATE: It appears the Brewers are going to sign Braden Looper which should throw the whole PECOTA system off its axis(/dripping sarcasm). Also, Rosenthal says Rich Aurilia took a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants and the article is worded to indicate that he may have had a similar offer by the Cubs and Phillies.

Jake Peavy's not a Cub yet and now it appears Ricketts is keeping the Cubs from signing Orlando Hudson.

It's amazing that a player of this caliber remains unsigned, but lining
up are the Cubs, White Sox, and Dodgers. A few Cubs organizational
people really want Hudson, but the impending transfer of ownership from
the Chicago Tribune to Tom Ricketts may hinder GM Jim Hendry's ability to do anything until it's complete.

Just kidding about the headline of course, but I do hope no one took the Cubs aren't going to be affected by the Tribune's bankruptcy case to heart. The article also includes some quotes from Rich Hill.

In other news, it seems I was off about Henry Blanco being displeased about his playing time, that is if you are to believe Carrie Muskat.

Blanco was the perfect teammate. He was a terrific mentor to Geovany
Soto, who gave the veteran much of the credit for his success after he
won the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Blanco also
didn't complain about his limited playing time. One reason for the
switch is because Bako gives the Cubs another left-handed bat. The
team's other backup-catcher option is Koyie Hill, a switch-hitter, who
is back after suffering a horrific hand injury.

A good time to point out this nugget that Cubnut uncovered.

Paul Bako's lifetime batting line against RHP: 2015 PA's, .240 / .317 / .321 / 638 OPS
Henry Blanco's lifetime batting line against RHP: 1708 PA's, .222 / .281 / .352 / 633 OPS

Some interesting storylines developing this weekend.

Alex Rodriguez, Donald Fehr and Bud Selig are going to have some splainin' to do with Sports Illustrated breaking a blockbuster HERE regarding ARod testing positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003 while with Texas. In fact, it's not just ARod but 104 players in total are on this list, which led to MLB adopting a random testing program for steroids in 2004. More than 5% of players tested were showing positive results in what was hoped to be proof that steroid use was nothing more than a rare situation. When the games biggest stars get pantsed as cheaters, in this case as defined by ARod turning his talents into $25-30 million/year contracts, the steroid era stain just keeps on spreading. Kind of like that pink spot in "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back".

When approached by an SI reporter on Thursday at a gym in Miami, Rodriguez declined to discuss his 2003 test results. "You'll have to talk to the union," said Rodriguez, the Yankees' third baseman since his trade to New York in February 2004. When asked if there was an explanation for his positive test, he said, "I'm not saying anything."

Primobolan, which is also known by the chemical name methenolone, is an injected or orally administered drug that is more expensive than most steroids.  According to a search of FDA records, Primobolan is not an approved prescription drug in the United States, nor was it in 2003.

Rodriguez finished the 2003 season by winning his third straight league home run title (with 47) and the first of his three MVP awards.

Because more than 5% of big leaguers had tested positive in 2003, baseball instituted a mandatory random-testing program, with penalties, in '04.

Truth or Consequences? This is the Katie Couric Interview with ARod after the Mitchell Report was released last year where he flat out denies using PED's. Here are three blunt questions he was asked in that interview:

Q: For the record, have you ever done steroids, Human Growth Hormone or any other PED's?
Q: Have you ever been tempted to use any of those things?
Q: Who do you think has the real HR record, Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds?


Bruce Levine
was on vacation (at the Dunes in Vegas) for his regular ESPN radio
"Talkin' Baseball" show. Jonathan Hood substituted and Len Kasper was
interviewed. Len did say they will have 9 Cub games on TV this spring starting with two from Las Vegas begining March 4th. ESPN-1000's website now has downloadable archives
to Levine's weekly show for those who need a "BRUUCE" fix.

The Waddle and
Silvy show, daytimes (locally in Chicago) on ESPN-1000 radio has a similar site that has archives.
Their show from Feb 4th has an interview with Steve Stone who typically
is critical of the Cubs (this time for trading DeRosa and not signing
Blanco).

In a separate interview (same show) they talk to Todd Hollandsworth who will
now be doing the pre/post game duties for the Cubs on Comcast Sports
Network. Hollandsworth should be a nice addition, replacing Dan Plesac who has moved on to the new MLB network. Hollandsworth had been a weekly feature on David Kaplan's WGN radio Sports Central show, which essentially turned into a test run for him getting the CSN job. Color me a big fan of Plesac's work and the new MLB network which just added Bob Costas to their talent pool this week.

Rock on Len. Roll on Bruce.

Free agent Ben Sheets is hurt and has a torn flexor tendon origin at the elbow. The injury happened last August, he tried to play thru the injury and his last Brewer appearance was 2.1 IP against the Cubs on Sept 27th. Missing the playoffs after 8 seasons as the Brewer ace plus being in a free agent year must have been nearly as painful as his elbow. Yet circumstances of impending free agency may have created some controversy as to who is responsible to pay for treatment of Sheets elbow malady. After all, if Sheets was still under contract with the Brewers and if they thought his injury needed surgery,  wouldn't he have already undergone the surgery that is now proposed for him? The Brewers did offer Sheets arbitration, which he declined and no surgical decision was made as his season ended nor at the time he declined arbitration. This implies that the Brewers medical staff didn't think his elbow needed surgery and would heal with rest. So in looking for a new employer, the Texas Rangers were readying a 2 year deal when Sheets physical exam (functionally a second opinion) set off alarms.

From the above article:

Talks between the Rangers and Sheets reached an impasse within the past several days, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. The two sides were close to agreement on a two-year deal, according to a major-league source, but they already had concerns regarding the right-handers' checkered health history. It is believed that the physical examination revealed the tear and caused the Rangers to scotch the deal.

The surgery, to repair Sheets' partially torn flexor tendon, is expected to be performed by noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. Sheets' agent, Casey Close, could not be reached for comment, but sources say that he maintains Milwaukee should pay for the surgery since the injury stems from his time with the Brewers. While that dispute is resolved, Sheets now hopes to have the surgery next week, sources say.

Brewers assistant GM, Gord Ash in an mlb.com article added:

We're working our way through all of the details and we don't know the answer yet," Ash said. "Major League Baseball has regulations related to workers' comp and there are procedures and protocols that have to be respected. We're working our way through those so I can't give you much insight other than that.

I always wondered if pro baseball players who get injured are covered under workman's compensation? 

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