Guest Column

I was intrigued by the recent ESPN article that proclaimed the 1968 Los Angeles Dodgers draft to be the best ever. The Dodgers picks that year were exceptional. All told across the various January and June drafts, the Dodgers drafted and signed EIGHT players that would go on to have successful major league careers. They are listed below with their career WAR according to Baseball Reference:

It seemed a lot of you liked it when WISCGRAD did a brief rundown of the 2013 draft and how the draftees are doing so far, so WISCGRAD just went ahead and did the 2012 draft as well. What a guy...

Sweet Lou brings us a guest column on what the Cubs may do at first base in 2012

It will be interesting to see who will be playing first base for the Cubs in 2012. There was talk in recent weeks that the Cubs had an interest in Albert Pujols, but that obviously didn’t materialize. Now that Pujols is headed to California, who might the Cubs turn to to fill the void at first base?

Reader dcf (he of the Ron Santo for the Hall pieces from a few years back) stops by with a guest column on the Lee-Ramirez-Zambrano years

The August 18th trade of Derrek Lee to the Braves for three minor league pitching prospects represents not only the end of an era, but also the end (and to some extent the failure) of a long term strategy. For some time, the Cubs have built their team around three core players, Lee, Zambranoand Ramirez, allocating a large percentage of their available salary dollars to these players in long term contracts. This strategy has not yielded the results anyone would have hoped for.

Please feel free to add or make up your own.

Here's my attempt:

Reader Real Neal breaks down the first round of the draft in a variety of ways to see if there's an optimal strategy and how have the Cubs done relative to their drafting position.


Two topics are always
in hot debate this time of the year, when it comes to the MLB draft.
How have the Cubs done, and who should they pick?

With that in mind, I am
taking a look at 10 years worth of first round picks to try and help
answer those questions. I am only looking at the top 30 picks each
year (yeah I know the Cubs draft 31st), just to simplify
things. The 10 year range I used was ’96 to ’05. It’s just
too early to tell what is going to happen with highschoolers only
drafted three years ago. I used WARP3, even though Baseball
Prospectus has got something a bit wonky going on with their WARP3
scores for 2009, which seem exaggerated. I figured since the
majority of these players are still playing, though, that the slight
wobble could sort of build in a little projection.

To start off with, here
is some general charts, which should be self explanatory.

There was a brief discussion in the comments earlier this week about general manager Jim Hendry's liberal use of the no-trade clause. Reader WISCGRAD did the legwork to see if indeed Hendry hands them out like a lollipop after leaving the doctor's office or if it's line with other ballclubs.

No-trade clauses in player contracts are controversial. On the one hand, they are often necessary to attract or keep high-value free agents. On the other hand, towards the end of player’s career a team may wish to trade a player whose skills have declined, but are unable to do so. No-trade clauses can range from full – where the player must approve any trade during the length of the contract – to limited – where the player has no-trade rights for a specified period of time or to specific teams. Making the issue more complicated, the current collective bargaining agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball automatically grants a player full no-trade rights if he has 10 or more years of major league service time and has been with his current team for 5 or more years. The following table lists all players with no-trade rights for the entire 2009 season. This excludes those players who recently signed as free agents and cannot be traded until June. The information was taken from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and each player was coded for the type of no-trade that applies to the 2009 season only. As one can see, with only a few exceptions, these are the cream of the crop of major league players (ed note - it's important to remember that the details of no-trade provisions or even their existence are not always made public and the information on Cot's Baseball Contracts should not be considered 100% reliable, but more as a good guide).

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.

Dying Cub Fan, the author of the three-part series on Ron Santo's Hall of Fame merits, returns with a look at the flaws of the Veteran Committee vote.

From Ron Santo’s standpoint, it’s hard to see how the 2008 Veterans Committee voting could have gone any worse, particularly when you compare the results to the voting results announced in February 2007. Due mostly to rules changes, there were 18 fewer ballots cast in 2008 than in 2007. Santo’s vote total this year decreased by 18 votes, perhaps not entirely a coincidence. In 2007, 25 electors that returned ballots did not vote for Santo. In 2008, the same number of ballots did not vote for Santo, again perhaps not entirely a coincidence. From 2007 to 2008, Santo went from being five votes short to being nine votes short, and his voting percentage dropped from 69.5% in 2007 to 60.9% in 2008.

On Monday December 8th, the Baseball
Hall of Fame will
the voting results of the Veterans Committee
In a three part series, guest columnist and reader, “Dying Cub Fan”
takes a look at the candidacy of former Cubs third basemen, Ron
Santo. We ran this piece two years ago, but it's lost in Internet limbo
and well, Santo deserves it, so we're running it again. Plus,
the voting process has changed this year, as there are only 10 players for the committee to consider, so here's hoping this is the year.  You can join the revolution on Facebook as well.



In 1964, third
basemen won the MVP award in both the American League and the
National League. Brooks
won in the AL, playing for an Oriole team
that won 97 games and finished third, and Ken
won in the NL, playing for the Cardinals, who
won 93 games and the pennant. The Cubs won 76 games and finished
8th. Santo had a better year than either Robinson or Boyer and
finished 8th in MVP balloting. 6

On Monday December 8th, the Baseball
Hall of Fame will
the voting results of the Veterans Committee
  In a three part series, guest columnist and reader, “Dying Cub Fan”
takes a look at the candidacy of former Cubs third basemen, Ron
Santo. We ran this piece two years ago, but it's lost in Internet limbo and well, Santo deserves it, so we're running it again. Plus,
the voting process has changed this year, as there are only 10 players for the committee to consider, so here's hoping this is the year.

Sox Nation: In your opinion, who’s the best player not in the

Bill James: Ron Santo”

Interview with Bill James on RedSoxNation.Net,

has a meritorious case for election to the
Baseball Hall of Fame. There are currently thirteen third basemen2
in the Hall of Fame: Frank
“Home Run” Baker
, Wade
, George
, Jimmy
, Ray
, Judy
, George
, Freddy
, Eddie
, Brooks
, Mike
, Pie
and Jud
(who was inducted in 2006). When compared to
the ten major league third basemen currently in the Hall of Fame
(leaving aside, for purposes of this discussion, the three Negro
League players, Johnson, Dandridge and Wilson), Santo’s offensive
numbers fit squarely in the middle of that group. The offensive
numbers demonstrate that Santo was better than five of the major
league third basemen currently in the Hall of Fame. The numbers
indicate that Schmidt, Mathews, Brett, Baker and Boggs (in roughly
that order) were better than Santo. Santo has a clear edge on
everyone else.

During his
career Ron Santo was a nine-time All-Star. He finished in the top
ten in MVP voting four times. He had the fifth highest RBI total of
all major league players during the 1960s (topped only by Willie
, Hank
, Harmon
and Frank
). During that period no player in the
National League drew more walks. 3 He won five
consecutive Gold Gloves at third base, and led NL third basemen in
putouts, assists, chances and double plays in many seasons. He was
among the league leaders in on base percentage and slugging
percentage throughout the 1960s; he finished in the top 10 in both
categories in his league in every season from 1964 through 1967. He
hit more home runs in his career than any third baseman currently in
the Hall of Fame other than Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews. He
combined power and defense to a degree that was unprecedented for
third basemen. He coupled that with an ability to draw walks that
added value in a manner that has often gone unappreciated.

Joe Aiello from The View From The Bleachers has graciously written a piece for us taking a look at how the Cubs fared in the Arizona Fall League.


I am admittedly stealing this idea from Brew Crew Ball, but if you're not stealing, you're not really trying. Let's take a look, now that the fall league is over, at how our representatives performed and see what we can glean from it, if anything.


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