Cubs Now!
Friday, April 30, 2004

Well, that sucked. The Cubs lost a very, very winnable game tonight. Put aside the three homeruns that were foul by a matter of feet. Put aside the crappy play in the outfield that allowed a run to score. Put aside the wild throw to first that brought the ultimate scrub, Tony Womack, to third. Even put aside the four f-ing walks in the ninth. The Cubs still should have won that game.

Bunts don't produce wins. Hit and runs don't get you wins. Stolen bases don't win you games. They just don't. They might get you praise from Joe Morgan and other morans, but these plays take you out of the opportunity to score runs. Gonzales gets thrown out trying to steal, and Barrett ropes a double. That's a run. A lead off walk. Gonzales bunts to the catcher for a 2-6-3 DP. The next two batters single. There's at least one.

Don't tell me that you have to be agressive to win. Get a guy on base, sting a couple of hits together, score runs. That was just a painful game to lose.

On a separate note, I've always wanted to like Chip. He's in a tough position. He got the job because of his name. He seems like an affable guy. But he's just not good at what he does. In the ninth, with two on and nobody out, Scott Rolen lays down a bunt. There's a play at first, and Rolen goes outside the base path and is called out. There's a bit of argument by the Cards. Obviously, this seems to be a key call by the ump. Chip doesn't seem to think it matters: "it doesn't really matter whether he's out or not because the Cubs are going to walk the next batter anyway." My jaw dropped. There's no difference between 2nd and 3rd and one out and the bases loaded with none out??? Well, Hawkins then intentionally walks the next guy and walks the weak hitting catcher (how do you spell Matheeney? I'm too lazy to look it up right now). Terrible, terrible, terrible.

Thursday, April 29, 2004
  Night Off

So, I've been thinking a lot about what the Cubs should do about Matt Clement next year. Clement is a free agent after this season. The Cubs are committed to Wood, Prior, and Maddux for next year. Zambrano is a very cheap player who is an outstanding young pitcher, and there is no reason to think he won't be a Cub for the foreseeable future. I'm really excited about Angel Guzman. I saw him pitch last spring training, and he is excellent. That makes five starters.

So what about Matt? I haven't put my arms around it, and neither have the Cubs. Clement wants to remain a Cub. He's pitched very well so far this year. The Cubs are pretty clearly counting on him for the entire year. There's little chance that Guzman would be called up in July or August if the Cubs are in it and the starting staff is doing what they are expected to do. Too much pressure for a young pitcher in the heat of a pennant race. That pretty much counts out a midseason trade with Matt.

It seems likely that the Cubs will ride him out for the year and allow him to go as a free agent. Maybe the Cubs will get a draft choice for him, but I don't think it's likely that he'll be with the Cubs next season nor that he'll be traded mid-season. 
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
  One out three ain't...

Well...it's not good. But it's not atrocious. Tonight's win salvages a bad series from being a terrible series. It also illustrates the limitations of conventional statistics, like wins for pitchers. Who deserved the win tonight? The starter who went six innings and gave up two runs? The reliever who gave up a bloop single? The closer who gave up a walk and a long fly out to end the game? Or the guy who gave up the tying run on a jack to right in just one inning pitched? Well, the win goes to the guy who pitched the worst tonight, LaTroy Hawkins. Whenever you hear someone criticized for his record (i.e. Kerry Wood has never won more than 14 games), it is worth remembering tonight because it demonstrates that the Win/Loss record doesn't mean that much.

Alex Gonzales cements his reputation as the guy who gets the clutch homerun. The woman who sits next to me at the game loves Alex. I think he blows. Most of her love has to do with the fact that Alex charmed her at the Cubs Convention. But she always talks about Alex's game winning homeruns. She has a point. Alex has won more games in the 9th inning with homeruns over the last 3 years than any other Cub (I didn't do the research, but I know that was true last year and only Alex and Alou have done it this year). But what does that mean? Does Alex not concentrate for all the rest of his at bats? How can someone hit so many homeruns in the Ninth and suck the rest of the time? I'd like to give this up to luck but luck evens out (or if you'd rather, players regress to the mean). Alex hits a lot of his homeruns at clutch situations. I'd still rather have someone who is good over the course of the season, but he seems to be a statistical outlier as someone who hits a disproportionate number of game winning homeruns. If someone can show me that I'm just being silly about Alex, please do. I want to be convinced. Otherwise, give the guy his due and admit that, for some unknown reason, Alex hits key homeruns. 
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
  Tough Series

This D-Backs series is going to be pretty tough. There's no shame in getting shut down by the Big Unit, as the Cubs were last night. I thought maybe a righty heavy lineup would cause him problems but he was mixing speeds and locations very well. Carlos didn't pitch well and never seemed to get into a groove last night. But it's just one game.

Tonight and tomorrow, the Cubs are throwing there question marks up there in Mitre and Maddux. Both are coming off of very good starts, but the Cubs face a very strong pitcher in Brandon Webb. Webb keeps the ball down and rarely gives up the long ball. Webb isn't mentioned as an elite pitcher, but he had a tremendous year last year.

Anyway, this is a good test for the Cubs. If the Cubs take 2 out of 3, it will be a very positive development. 
Monday, April 26, 2004
  Baseball Experiences

Over the weekend, I traveled to Detroit for some wedding planning. Fortunately, I got out of what could have been an excruciating afternoon of shoe shopping and makeup. Instead, I went with my future father-in-law to Comerica Park. It was a nice day and the Tigers won with a walk-off homerun by one of my favorite ex-Cubs, Rondell White. The announced crowd was 20,000+, but that must have been tickets sold because there couldn't have been more than 13,000 people there (in fairness, the game was at the same time as the draft and a Red Wings game. Detroit is the only city in America where hockey is the number one sport).

I love going to baseball games. I don't care where or who is playing, I love sitting at a ball game, drinking beer and watching baseball. That said, Cubs games are far and away the best experience in baseball. There are more comfortable parks than Wrigley and the food's not great, but it's just so much more fun than any other park.

Why? Because you're not blasted with noise in between every batter and every pitch. The Cubs actually believe that baseball and the experience at the park sells itself. You don't get some hip-hop explosion after announcing Carlos Pena at bat. You get an organ song that is some pun on the player's last name. If you need noise, go to an NBA game. The Cell is the same way. I don't need "Big Pimping" blasted just because Frank Thomas is at bat. The game is entertaining enough.  

That's all I can really say about the Cubs current six game winning streak. The Cubs have played well on every front. The defense has played errorless ball, the pitchers have a 0.83 ERA, and the Cubs have averaged 6.5 runs per game. While the Mets and Pirates are not the Marlins and Astros, they are still big league teams, and the Cubs have completely outclassed them.

Matt Clement has pitched extremely well over his last three starts: 3-0, 20.1 IP 26Ks, 0.9ERA and just 8 hits. That's just incredibly solid. Perhaps this is the year that Matt will lose his inconsistency tag.

Carlos Zambrano has not had a bad appearance this year. He faces the Diamondbacks tonight. The Snakes throw Randy Johnson against the Cubs. Randy has looked very human, going 1-2 with a 4.08 ERA. His outing against San Diego, though, shows that he can still go out and completely shut down an offense. The Cubs, though, have their power from the right side, so I like their chances.

I don't expect the Cubs to play this well the entire year, but it has been fun to watch a great week of baseball. 
Thursday, April 22, 2004
  Rain Out

The Cubs were rained out. So to satisfy my baseball fix, I reread the chapter in Moneyball about the 2002 amateur draft. If you've read it, you know that the A's draft is presented as a monumental and revolutionary experiment.

I noticed that the A's wanted to draft Khalil Greene, but he ended up with the Padres (the A's also wanted Bobby Brownlie, but Scott Boras scared them off). Greene's doing well with the Padres, so I wanted to see how the rest of the A's draft are doing.

The A's first draft choice was Nick Swisher. Nick Swisher is listed on the roster of the AAA Sacramento Rivercats (love the minor league monickers, by the way), but it appears he's on the disabled list. Swisher's minor league statistics are very good, but not spectacular.

The A's next choice was Joe Blanton. Blanton is also in with the Rivercats, and has been impressive in three starts, 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA. The White Sox are probably feeling pretty stupid right about now sending Wright out every fifth game when they could have had Blanton.

The A's then drafted John McCurdy. I saw him play in Kane County last year, and he made an error. John McCurdy is hitting .196 with just 3 walks against 13Ks for the AA Midland RockHounds. McCurdy has also made 7 errors in just 14 games. McCurdy was described as "an ugly-looking fielder" who was to become the next Jeff Kent. Well, at least half of that appears right.

Next, the A's drafted Benjamin Fritz, a pitcher for the RockHounds who's pitching decently, but not great (3.71 ERA).

Finally, the A's drafted their prize, Jeremy Brown. Reading Moneyball, you just can't believe how stupid everyone else is for ignoring Jeremy Brown. He's destined to be an On-Base machine, but is ignored because of his weight. Well, Brown's batting a hefty .152 with 7 BB in 14 games for the same RockHounds.

Meanwhile, Prince Fielder, who was ridiculed mercilessly in the book, is progressing quite nicely for the Brewers. He was Baseball America's 2003 minor league player of the year. He is struggling this year, however, in AA, but that's just in 20 AB.

Why'd I bother doing this, you might ask? Well, there's nothing Cubs related to write about and reading Moneyball, you get the impression that the A's know everything about how a guy's going to turn out and everyone else is just blind. Well, the A's 2002 draft doesn't seem to be any more impressive than anyone else's. The one guy that seems certain to do well in the majors is Joe Blanton, but Blanton wasn't some hidden gem. The A's got lucky with him when the White Sox passed him over. Moreover, with the A's insistence on drafting college players, they need these guys to get to the majors quicker than other teams. It's still early for this draft class, but I'm not convinced that Michael Lewis's tale tells all.

Update The Futility Infielder had some thoughts and a look at the 2003 statistics at the A's draft in February. I think it will be interesting to watch these players. When someone says that they know something you don't and is smug about it, schadenfreude comes into play. I think that explains why most inside baseball people scoff at the A's, and root against them. 
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
  Nice Game, Nice Start

Yeah, that's right. Nice start. The Cubs are in first after 15 games, with a winning percentage of .600. Not good enough for you? Then get a grip. The Cubs offense has looked extremely impressive and that continued tonight with eight first inning runs. If you watched the game and heard that rain was on its way, you probably were like me and didn't object to the Cubs swinging early in the next four innings. After that, the Cubs cruised and continued to pour it on.

To demonstrate the absurdity of any reliance on early season stats, look at Corey Patterson's numbers after a superb 5 for 6 night. Corey's batting average jumped from a pedestrian .255 to an impressive .311. His OBP went from .281 to .344 with an OPS of .934. Does this mean that he was having a terrible season and is now having a great season?

My concern with the absence of Mark Prior was that Mitre would not only lose his starts but would be shelled early and use up the bullpen. Instead, he's pitched very well in his three starts. In fact, he's pitched as well as (if not better than) Kerry Wood or Matt Clement. He's also gone 5 or more innings in every start without giving up a homerun and could have gone longer tonight had it been close. If Prior returns in three or four weeks and Mitre continues to pitch close to how he's pitching over that time, the Cubs will not have missed Prior too much.

You can't expect the Cubs offense to continue this tear, but you can't expect Maddux to be this bad for much long either. It's early. The Cubs are in first and have a very solid record. Let's hope they can continue on pace for 97 wins for the rest of the season.

Correction: I deleted a sentence that said the Cubs were 1-2 in Mitre's starts when in fact they are 2-1. 
  Magic Words

"Back when Baker played, he said they could have "good arguments" with the umpires.

"As long as you didn't say a couple magic words, you were going to remain in the game," Baker said. "The fans used to love it and some of the umpires did. The whole thing has changed."

Reported on Cubs.com
Those who have seen Bull Durham know one of those words.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A while back, I wondered if Barry Bonds was so good that it could end up being counter-productive. The thesis of that argument is that at some point in a scale of greatness, the batter will not see another hitable pitch, whereas a slightly less productive hitter will see pitches and will be more productive on average than a walk per plate appearance.

Bonds has to be nearing ever closer to that point, hitting a homerun for the seventh consecutive game. Bonds won NL Player of the week after hitting .733 with 6 HR's and 13 RBI's last week. His on base percentage was .812 (11 for 15 batting with 6 walks) and his slugging percentage was 2.238, for an OPS of 3.050. Bonds added to that total tonight, hitting a homerun in his only at bat to go along with 3 BB.

His numbers are little league numbers. There is no one even remotely close to him in offensive ability. The steroids can't explain most of what he's doing. He's a jerk, but he's also the greatest ball player since at least Mays and probably since Ruth.
UPDATE: I corrected the link above. 
  Cubs Cruise

No, not the over-priced evening on Lake Michigan. Rather, a very easy, relaxing 9-1 whooping of Mr. Vogelsong and the Pirates.

Carlos Zambrano was throwing a lot of ground balls and was very much in command, allowing 1 ER, 7 hits, and just two walks over eight innings. That's three straight outings of six or more innings allowing just one run per start. What has made Zambrano effective this year is that he has only walked six batters in 21 innings and allowed only one homerun. Remember that during Zambrano's last outing against Cincinnatti, the wind was blowing out a gale (allowing Michael Barrett to hit two wind blown dongs). He has been far and away the Cubs most impressive starter this early season, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA.

Moises Alou continues his tear, going 3 for 4 with 2 doubles. Over the last seven games, Moises is 16-30, which I believe is .533, with 5 homeruns, 5 doubles, and a triple (slugging about 1.260). He's looking like the '98 Moises right now.

A nice solid, convincing win, the kind we had been expecting. 
  Gammons Reports, You Decide

Peter Gammons reported on Baseball Tonight that Larry Rothssssschild told him that Mark Prior pitched very well on Tuesday and would pitch a simulated game sometime within the week. Now, no one else had this story despite the fact that I heard Rothschild on sports radio and didn't hear anything about that. Gammons reported that Prior would likely pitch two simulated games and then he'd return sometime in mid-May. My guess is that Prior would have one or two starts in West Tennessee prior to his return.

As the bohunk in Sixteen Candles might say, "I guess those people who were expecting Tommy John surgery are feeling a bit stupid, eh Padre?" 
  Interesting Look at Stats

How is a team that scores nearly six runs a game, with a team OPS of .906, only one game above five hundred? Crappy pitching is the best explanation.

But the pitching hasn't been that crappy. Except for one statistic. They're in the top half in the Majors in hits allowed. The home runs are up, but some of that can be explained by the wind over the weekend. In fact, the Cubs lead the leagues in strikeouts. But the problem boils down to walks, walks and more walks. 68 walks plus 9 HBP equals 77 free baserunners. That compares to the Cubs 50 free baserunners. For purposes of OBP, these free baserunners make up for the 26 more hits the Cubs have than allowed. So if at some point Maddux, Wellemeyer, Clement and Wood can get some semblence of control and if Mr. Pratt doesn't sniff the fresh Chicago air the rest of the year, the Cubs will get more than their share of wins. 
Monday, April 19, 2004
  Nice Calm Win

After three straight one run games won in the last at bat, the Cubs cruised to an 8-1 victory today. Leading the way was A-Ram with a homerun and a triple and Derrick Lee with a grand slam.

Clement struggled in the first inning, walking three and allowing a double, but allowing only one run. He righted the ship and pitched 6 1/3 solid innings.

I was at the game Saturday. I didn't have a pitch count on Kerry, but he was throwing in the mid-90's in the eighth, so I couldn't really complain about leaving him in. As it turns out, he had thrown about 110 pitches through 8. I don't think that it's unreasonable to send him out for the ninth. From my seats, it looked as if both pitches were strikes, but I couldn't really tell.

As I've said before, the people in the bleachers are largely insufferable guys in their early to mid-twenties. They acted like morons on both Friday and Saturday. I don't even think that their actions had anything to do with caring about the game. Instead, they got an excuse to act like jerks, and they followed through. These guys aren't the bleacher bums from years of yore. They're drunk men in from Schaumburg who want to associate themselves with the past.

As an aside, a faithful reader bought my seats for Sunday. Tickets are hard to come by but if you're interested, let me know and I'll put you on my list. 
Friday, April 16, 2004
  Early Season Classic

Today's game was incredible. It had everything you like about baseball (except good pitching). Players arguing balls and strikes, a crappy umpire screwing your team, Dusty getting kicked out, and a tremendous come back. CB Bucknor is a terrible, terrible umpire. Sean Casey got kicked out on a terrible call by this guy. He then had a completely inconsistent strike zone the rest of the day. Of course, the worst was his failure to note the double switch which cost Ramon Martinez a double.

The Sloth said he thought the team lacked fire. After today, I don't think you can make that criticism. Moises had a great day. E-Ramis had a great game as well. E-Ram played great defense and hit the piss out of everything. His error was Walker's fault. I hope that this game gets replayed on Fox soon because it was the most fun listening to a game I've had in a long time.

Also, if you haven't been sneaking Andy Dolan at work, it's time you do so.  
  Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett seems like an odd duck. First, was his whining about how he wasn't clicking with the pitching staff. Today, he sounds like a little kid. "I'm a little overwhelmed right now. I didn't feel I hit either one of those balls hard enough to go out. To be able to catch [Carlos] Zambrano is a tremendous honor, much less to hit two home runs in the same game."

First of all, you didn't hit either of those balls hard enough to go out. They were completely windblown. Second, you're older than Zambrano, you've been in the majors for a longer time, and you shouldn't be overwhelmed. You're a professional ball player, for heavens sake. Now strap on a pair, and keep hitting. Act like you belong, and don't worry if the cool kids don't like you. 

Why don't they put up 01 for the first two numbers? If it has been 59 years since the Cubs last made the World Series (2004 - 1945=59) and 96 years since they won (2004 - 1908=96), then it has been 1 year since the Cubs won the division (2004-2003=1). Am I wrong?

Update: Sign from last year:

  Another Beautiful Day

Again, it's a beautiful day in Chicago. The wind is out of the south (at least it was when I was walking to the train), so the wind will be blowing out to left. Hopefully, Sergio Mitre was watching Carlos. Wrigley played like Coors yesterday and will again. Sergio is a groundball pitcher, so I like the Cubs' chances. 
Thursday, April 15, 2004
  A Day in the Bleachers

Spent the day in the bleachers. Who could work on a day like this? So I mosied on down and scalped a ticket and sat in the first row of the second tier of bleachers. Sitting there is like watching pitches on TV but you can see the entire field, of course.

Sitting in the bleachers is like a sociological experiment. You learn that men between the age of 20 and 25 are insufferable. You also learn that women reach their peak at the exact same time. Women's fashion has reached a new...well, low. As in low cut. Saw more ass crack than at a plumbers convention.

As to the game, Carlos Zambrano pitched very well. This was a terrible day to pitch, by the way. The wind was absolutely howling out. I don't know how the Cubs homeruns looked on TV, but only (maybe) Aramis's three run first inning shot was legitimate. Moises' homerun was pretty much a joke. By the way, what happened with Mondesi on Corey's "drive" to left?

Other thoughts: Todd Walker is a solid leadoff guy. He worked the count beautifully, drawing two walks. One of those walks was the result of a series of foul balls to the screens. Nicely done. Corey drew a walk, but made up for that by jumping on a first pitch to ground into a double play.

I've been thinking about the Cubs lineup. I think that it is very, very dependant on the home run. The Cubs have seven guys who have a legitimate chance to hit 20+ homeruns (and that does include Alex S. Gonzales and Michael Barrett). The Cubs are going to struggle at cold home games (with the wind blowing in from the north), but can really shine on days like today.  
  Bad Journalism

I wish I could be a sportswriter and make money for just writing whatever the hell I want. That's my reaction whenever I read a Jay Mariotti column. Today's column is a case in point. Based on Prior's staement that "the Marlins were without Beckett for about half the season, and they came back and still won the World Series," Jumpin' Jay concludes that Prior will be out "a half season. Which takes us to the All-Star break..."

Notice, there is nothing in Jay's own "reporting" which supports this conclusion. One throw away line that the Marlins won with Beckett hurt leads to a page long speculation. Jay makes his Sun Times colleague, Mike Kiley, look good. Kiley himself will print his own speculation as reporting, but at least with this story, Kiley talked with Jim Hendry to get some sort of a time table--early to mid May.

There's no point in writing about the Prior story. It's boring, and it just invites people to make things up. It will play out eventually. 
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
  Pitcher Abuse, Part Two

I see that Will Carrol has written a book on pitcher abuse. I can't imagine that I'll spend the coin on this, but I'd like to read it nonetheless. I still haven't heard a reasonable explanation for why elite pitchers in days of yore were able to pitch so many innings and so many complete games without their arms falling off and yet if a pitcher throws 220 innings now, there's howling from all corners. Maybe a lot of prime pitchers never became household names because of early injuries, and I'm looking at a self-selecting source. However, rather than just accept that, I'd like to see something that demonstrates it.  
  Pollyanna Proof

How indicative is eight or nine games? Unless you're on crack, you'd have to admit that it tells next to nothing. Put aside the 1984 Tigers first 40 games, and I can't think of a team that ran away and hid. Does anyone think that the Tigers, Reds and Padres are going to win their division? Maybe the Pads, but come on. Anyone think that the Mariners, D'Backs and Phillies are going to suck all year?

I did an informal W-L for each series before the year. I thought the Cubs would be 5-4 after the Pirates series (2 of 3 from the Reds, 1 of 3 from the Braves, and 2 of three from the Pirates). Well, a win tomorrow gets them there. Get off the ledge and let things play out. 
  Good Win

Well, any win is a good win. But maybe the win will stop some of the "woe is me--the sky's falling" talk. LaTroy Hawkins is looking very, very tough in the early going. Good Matt showed up at Wrigley today. The Cubs pitchers are still walking too many people, but I'll let it slide today given the dominating win.

Corey's approach is a different story. Four strike outs in five at bats is really poor. It didn't matter today, but you have to make contact with a guy on second and nobody out. On the other hand, strike outs at least raise your pitches per plate appearance rate!  
  Good Touch

Glad that WGN is not making Ron and Pat try to talk to the guest conductors this year. Though I'm sure we missed something from Ron asking the Carmel football team about its season for a half-inning. 
  Macias Activated; Pratt Sent Packing

The speculation is that Francis Beltran will be added to the team rather than Glendon Rusch. I thought the Cubs would want to have two lefties, but because Rusch is not on the 40 man roster, it's more likely that Beltran will be added.

Beltran had trouble with control this spring, but was said to have been dominant during winter ball. I think in spring the Cubs said that Mike Remlinger would be returning in late April, but I haven't seen anything on his return date recently. 
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
  Grudz on the Shelf

Well, the controversy of who should be playing second has been resolved for the next two weeks. Grudz had been looking good, getting on base at a good clip. The injury sounds like it will be healed within two weeks otherwise there's no reason to make the injury retroactive.

With Walker in the lineup, I'd move Corey back in the lineup so that the two lefties in the lineup won't be grouped together. Move Lee to the 2 hole, followed by Sammy, Alou, Patterson, and A Ram. I agree with others that the Cubs have looked sluggish at times. Shaking up the lineup might help, and Lee and Walker are good at getting on base. It's what I'd do anyway.  
  Walks, Walks, and Even More Walks

The Cubs pitchers have now issued 42 BB in just 65 innings pitched. What had kept the Cubs in ball games prior to yesterday's is that they weren't giving up a lot of hits. Yesterday's 11 BB and 17 hits was just a little too much to make the game close.

Prior to the game, I thought two or three runs would win the game. The wind was howling in and nothing was going to carry out of there. The Cubs offense performed as expected--poorly. The Pirates let the Cubs give them the game by being patient (or was it that the pitchers left them no choice but to be patient). I'm really surprised--and worried--about the number of bb the Cubs have given up so far.

Monday, April 12, 2004
  Well, I was there

That's about all I have to say that is positive about today's game. Maddux sucked. The lineup (Sammy excepted) sucked. The bullpen sucked. Even the Pirates sucked (was it four or five errors?).

That said, my previous comment that Pratt was the next Rick Ankiel is looking pretty much on the money. I take no joy out of that. But it's pretty tough when you pitch nine pitches, four balls, hit batsmen, four balls, and then you're yanked. The bus to Des Moines is warming up. On the other hand, the new guy is ... 
Sunday, April 11, 2004
  Walks, Walks, and More Walks

I was away for the weekend, but I managed to see most of the games. I'm thinking that Pratt should get his bus ticket for Iowa ready. 5 walks in 1 2/3 inning. Granted, one of them was an IBB, but that was probably the worst of the bunch. He could be the next Rick Ankiel.

As an introduction, if you haven't noticed the following, you will be annoyed with me for pointing it out because it will grate on your nerves from now on. I like Steve Stone. He's a very good color announcer who always knows the next move before it happens. However, he has a real annoying habit. He doesn't know that a pitch isn't real good, it's really good. When a hitter fouls off a bunch of pitches, that's a really good at bat. Steve uses the adjective "real" for the adverb really at least once an inning, and often can string together 5 or 6 when he's on a roll.

It's annoying, but not as annoying as the Chipper's "he'll be the first to tell you that..." to describe anyone who's struggling. Ah well, I missed them over the winter anyway. 
Thursday, April 08, 2004
  Opening Day

I'll be gone until Sunday, but drop me a line if you're going to opening day on Monday. I'll be enjoying a cold libation at Sports Corner, corner of Sheffield and Addison, prior to the game. Also, if you're interested in being informed of when I have extra tickets, e-mail me and I'll put you on the list. 
  Refusal to Adjust

It's really not that hard to understand. To win games, you need to work the count a little bit. Anyone watching last night's game would have come to that conclusion. Anyone but Dusty, I guess. Eight first pitches put into play today. Only one was a hit, and that was a "double" by Barrett that Adam Dunn did his gator arm imitation on.

The Cubs failed to draw a walk. They played poor fundamentals, i.e. striking out twice with a guy on second and nobody out. The weird foul ball by Kearns that Barrett lost and Clement ignored cost the Cubs two runs and the game.

I'll give the perfunctory "this is only one game; it's early in the season," but come on, make the adjustments after these last two games. 
  Unproductive Outs

The Cubs have had two situations today and one last night in which they had a runner on second with no one out. They failed to advance the runners all three times. It cost them a run last night and one today (Sammy bailed Patterson out when he doubled after Patterson struck out).

Look, I don't like sacrifice bunting, but the concept of productive outs, advanced by ESPN and the Elias Sports Bureau, has some value. Dave Pinto ridiculed them as a political statement by Elias. I think that he was being too defensive.

Productive outs should be limited to situations when there's a runner on second and no one out or a runner on third with less than two outs. In these situations, trying to drive the ball to right field makes sense. If you ground out to second and advance the runner to third, you've materially helped score a run because it won't require a hit to drive it in. Obviously, a hit is better than a ground out to second in these situations, but the point is that all outs are not created equally. A Gonz's strikeout could loom large today.

  Ugh, Day Two

I'm not too happy to have spent my lunch hour watching that schlock. The Cubs' offense again is non-existant, with hitter after hitter popping up on the first pitch. The Cubs gave the Reds two runs in the third when they allowed an Austin Kearns pop up in foul territory to fall harmlessly on the grass. Kearns turns around and smacks a double. Barrett followed up that gem with a passed ball.

Clement has struggled with his control and against left-handers. I hope a rally is in order, but the Cubs need to adjust their approach at the plate. 
Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The key to the game was Sammy's whiffing at two sliders in the dirt. Stoney's comment that those pitches were unhitable isn't too helpful. Yeah, they're unhitable because they were off the plate and in the dirt. Lay off 'em. D. Lee had a very good defensive ball game to go along with his home run. He saved an error by A. Ram, as well as one by Pratt. He also made a solid stop at first.

This was a very familiar game. The Cubs, against a soft tosser with questionable command of the strike zone, swing early in the count and try to pull everything. This was a game that Jim Riggleman would have said, "well, you've got to tip your hat to Paul Wilson." Well, you really don't. You have to approach the game with a modicum of a game plan. Work the count and hit to the opposite field. If that doesn't work, then you tip your cap to the guy.

Wilson struck out 6 Cubs compared to only 1 walk in 7 innings. I mean, come on, the guy's got a crappy K/BB and K/9. But, when you're swinging at the first pitch (even in the eighth inning!), it doesn't really matter.

The Cubs young bullpen guys pitched well, D. Lee broke through and it's only one game. Nonetheless, that wasn't a very fun game to watch (or to write about).  
  Maddux Out

Cubs do nothing with an Alou lead off double. Michael Wuertz in. Can't complain about Maddux's performance, except for the long ball and his problems with lefties in general. Wuertz goes 1-2-3 in the seventh. Even with a 50 minute rain delay, this game has moved along at brisk pace. 
  Workman Like Inning

Maddux gets out of the 6th, giving up a single to Casey and a walk to Dunn. Maddux has allowed 4 hits, 3 to the 3 Reds lefties along with 2 BB and 2 HBP. The Cubs offense has been dormant all night. Maddux line, unofficially (my pitch count is off, I guess): 6IP 4 hits 3 runs 2 BB 3K, 2HBP, 74 pitches. 
  Well, I was wrong

Maddux returns and gets out of the inning. 5IP 3 hits, 3 runs, 1 BB, 2K, 2HBP, 57 pitches. Maddux lines out to third to start the sixth. 
  Rain Delay

That's probably it for Maddux (he's up first in the sixth anyway, double swith for Barrett?). Unofficial final line: 4 2/3 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, 1 BB, 2 K, 2HBP, 54 pitches. Overall, not a terrible performance, but he definitely was struggling to locate his pitches against lefties in the first three innings. Dunn and Griffey's shots were long gone, but he pitched well to Jimenez in the fifth. 
  Good Half Inning

First 1-2-3 inning. 8 pitches. Retires 2 lefties. Cubs are doing nothing offensively and why is C. Pat running down 3 with Sosa up? Maddux's line: 4IP 3 ER 2 hits 1 BB, 2K, 2HBP, 44 pitches. 
  Griffey Jr. Blast to Center

Maddux continues his struggles with lefties in the third. A walk to Jimenez and a long homer by Griffey to center. Lefties are 2 for 3, both hits being home runs, 1 BB and 2 HBP. Righties are 0 for 8. Maddux's line: 3IP 3 ER, 2 hits, 1 BB, 2 K, 2HBP, 36 pitches. 
  Adam Dunn Homers

Maddux is struggling against lefties, plunking 2 and giving up a long dong to Dunn. 2 innings, 1 run, 1 hit, 1 K, 0BB, 2HBP, 21 pitches.
  Paul Bako, Personal Catcher

Well, Hendry's dream boy is sitting out tonight. Maddux used Bako when he was with Atlanta. Michael Barrett is reportedly thin-skinned and felt that he was not getting in a groove with pitchers. I wonder if this was Baker's call or if he deferred to Maddux. 
  Maddux "Effectively Wild"

Not your typical Maddux start. Maddux plunks Jimenez and Griffey Jr. in the first. The Cubs got a break with Jimenez being called out on a steal. He was pretty clearly safe. Maddux retired the three men he didn't hit with pitches. 1 inning, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 Ks, 12 pitches (2HBP) 
  The Return of Greg Maddux

Tonight is the return of Greg Maddux, back to the place he never should have left. Maddux got off to a terrible start last year, getting shelled his first 3 or 4 starts. The key, of course, will be whether he gets the outside corner from the ump. My predicted line:

6 1/3 IP, 3 hits, 1 ER, 5K, 0BB, 89 pitches

Cubs win 6-2.

We'll see.
  Presidential Tracking Poll

For those interested in keeping track of the presidential race horse, the Rassmussen poll is a good resource. It might not mean much at this point, but the ups and downs of the candidates have followed fairly closely to daily events. The trend seems to me that both candidates have 40% locked up. With positive news, Bush goes up; however, the events in Iraq this week seem to have really hurt Bush. 
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
  Pitching Abuse?

I hear a lot about fears that Kerry Wood and/or Mark Prior might pitch 215 IP this year. Oh my God! they might throw 110 pitches a game. Well, check out Fergie Jenkins stats from his prime with the Cubs:

1967 Chicago Cubs 20 13 2.80 38 38 20 --- 289.1 230 101 90 30 83 236
1968 Chicago Cubs 20 15 2.63 40 40 20 --- 308.0 255 96 90 26 65 260
1969 Chicago Cubs 21 15 3.21 43 42 23 --- 311.1 284 122 111 27 71 273
1970 Chicago Cubs 22 16 3.39 40 39 24 --- 313.0 265 128 118 30 60 274
1971 Chicago Cubs 24 13 2.77 39 39 30 --- 325.0 304 114 100 29 37 263
1972 Chicago Cubs 20 12 3.20 36 36 23 --- 289.1 253 111 103 32 62 184
1973 Chicago Cubs 14 16 3.89 38 38 7 --- 271.0 267 133 117 35 57 170

The man threw an average of 300 IP per year and considering that he threw an average of 22 complete games a year (and struck out a lot of batters), it's safe to assume he threw more than 110 pitches per game (by the way check out his K/BB ratio in 1971). [note--the number of CG was corrected due to my being unable to read the columns].

Juan Marichal?

1963 Giants 25 8 2.41 41 40 18 --- 321.1 259 102 86 27 61 248
1964 Giants 21 8 2.48 33 33 22 --- 269.0 241 89 74 18 52 206
1965 Giants 22 13 2.13 39 37 24 --- 295.1 224 78 70 27 46 240
1966 Giants 25 6 2.23 37 36 25 --- 307.1 228 88 76 32 36 222
1967 Giants 14 10 2.76 26 26 18 --- 202.1 195 79 62 20 42 166
1968 Giants 26 9 2.43 38 38 30 --- 326.0 295 106 88 21 46 218
1969 Giants 21 11 2.10 37 36 27 --- 299.2 244 90 70 15 54 205
1970 Giants 12 10 4.12 34 33 14 --- 242.2 269 128 111 28 48 123
1971 Giants 18 11 2.94 37 37 18 --- 279.0 244 113 91 27 56 159

Bob Gibson?

1961 Cardinals 13 12 3.24 35 27 10 --- 211.1 186 91 76 13 119 166
1962 Cardinals 15 13 2.85 32 30 15 --- 233.2 174 84 74 15 95 208
1963 Cardinals 18 9 3.39 36 33 14 --- 254.2 224 110 96 19 96 204
1964 Cardinals 19 12 3.01 40 36 17 --- 287.1 250 106 96 25 86 245
1965 Cardinals 20 12 3.07 38 36 20 --- 299.0 243 110 102 34 103 270
1966 Cardinals 21 12 2.44 35 35 20 --- 280.1 210 90 76 20 78 225
1967 Cardinals 13 7 2.98 24 24 10 --- 175.1 151 62 58 10 40 147
1968 Cardinals 22 9 1.12 34 34 28 --- 304.2 198 49 38 11 62 268
1969 Cardinals 20 13 2.18 35 35 28 --- 314.0 251 84 76 12 95 269
1970 Cardinals 23 7 3.12 34 34 23 --- 294.0 262 111 102 13 88 274
1971 Cardinals 16 13 3.04 31 31 20 --- 245.2 215 96 83 14 76 185
1972 Cardinals 19 11 2.46 34 34 23 --- 278.0 226 83 76 14 88 208
1973 Cardinals 12 10 2.77 25 25 13 --- 195.0 159 71 60 12 57 142

What does this mean? Well, I picked three elite, high strike out pitchers from the salad days of pitching (though Marichal's K/IP rate isn't real high, he struck out 200+ batters a year for six years). They threw a lot of pitches, pitched a lot of innings, and had long successful careers. I'd like to see something other than intuition that says that a pitcher should not throw more than 200 IP per season and 110 pitches per game. In fact, maybe great pitchers are great precisely because they can effectively pitch a lot of innings and throw a lot of pitches per game.
  Can Someone Be Too Good?

I got to thinking about this today: is Bonds so good that it actually hurts the team? That seems strange, but after watching him last night, I wonder if he's crossed over the threshold that walking him on nearly every at bat makes sense. Looking at his statistics over the last three seasons, I'm not sure that it doesn't. Now, I'm not advocating that Barry change his approach at the plate, expand the zone so as to avoid walks. Most of the close pitches he takes are down and away. Swinging at those pitches is a recipe for a bunch of pop ups or grounders to short.

But with the lineup the Giants have this year (look for Grissom to retreat to his career .733 OPS this year and A.J. Pierzysnki, while a good offensive catcher, is not enough), you can't let Bonds beat you.

Looking at Bonds OPS at plate appearances over the last three years in which he doesn't walk (BA plus Slg), it's over 1.100. He's hit about .345 and slugged about .800. Of course, a walk every time would be a 1.000 OPS. This is almost certainly too crude of a comparison, but it's useful for a thought experiment.

Suppose he hit .325 and slugged .725. He would probably be pitched to more, but would still draw over 100 walks. That's about 80 or 90 extra at bats where he gets to swing. Of course that means an extra 50-60 outs, but it also means an extra 7 or 8 HRs and 4 or 5 doubles. Would this hypothetical Bonds produce more runs than the real Bonds for his team? I'm not sure that it wouldn't.

It depends on the relative value of OBP and SLG. Some say that the marginal value of OBP is 3X as high as SLG. But it seems that that would depend on the strength of the lineup around a player. But again, Bonds is going to be trotting down to first a lot this year and I'm not sure that's irrational. 
  This Year's Ben Affleck

One of the things I found very annoying last year was that Ben Affleck appointed himself the spokesman for all things BoSox. If I was a Sox fan, I would have screamed every time he was on TV talking about what it means to be a Sox fan.

I can foresee this phenomenon being replicated with the Cubs this year. There are plenty of celebs who are Cubs fans. Tom Driesen doesn't quite have the cache to get on TV all over the place. The guy who has the same cache as Bennifer is Bill Murray, but he's too cool to be that moronic. My prediction is Jim Belushi. He's a loud-mouth who can get enough face time and play it up. I don't want him to be the face of Cubs fans. I'll be monitoring this situation as the season progresses. 
Monday, April 05, 2004
  Ah, baseball

It's great actually getting to watch baseball. We spend so much time thinking about it in the abstract, but it is so much fun to actually watch meaningful games. Sometimes stat nuts almost think things are pre-ordained before the season starts, but it's those moments where a manager makes a bad decision or a guy just comes through in the clutch that makes the game so much fun.

We had a good example of both tonight in the Giants/Astros game. Two outs, the top of the eigth and Michael Tucker singles to center. First and second, one out, Roy Oswalt's tiring and Bonds is coming to bat with the Giants down three. Jimmy Williams come to the mound, and Oswalt convinces him to let him stay in. Boom! Tie game. Grady Little revisted.

Bonds probably has been juiced, and he's undoubtedly a jerk, but he owns the batters box. Oswalt didn't come close to getting him out tonight. The rest of that lineup is pretty bad (Michael Tucker batting third!!). I've gotta believe Bonds is going to walk 200+ times (and certainly not just because Harold Reynolds said so). 
  One Last Observation

Joe Borowski's fastball didn't break 88 today according to the Fox Sports gun. After getting the first two out, Joe nibbled on the corners and walked two to bring the tying run up. This is a legitimate concern. Joe might not have the confidence to go right at guys with a subpar fastball. It didn't matter today, and hopefully, his fastball will get the 3 or 4 MPH as the season goes on, but this was one story that you could actually see watching the game. 
  Earned Runs?

Fox Sports and ESPN reported that Kerry Wood gave up 4 ER. Is that right? Look at the Reds third inning. One of those runs was a batter that reached on a dropped third strike. The second run in that inning scored on a one out fielder's choice. I always thought dropped third strikes were treated like an error. In figuring earned runs on an error, you assume an out on the error and the base runner that reaches is a non-entity. As such, those two runs would not be earned runs (because the fielder's choice would have been the third out). Any thoughts? 
  Weirdest Double Play

To end the eight inning, first and third with one out. A single to center by Moises Alou that holds up long enough to force Grudz to tag at third. Throw at home gets him, and Patterson is thrown out at third.

Corey Patterson draws a walk and hits a homer. I'm betting that Corey draws more walks than he hits homer, but it will be close. 
  Michael Barrett

Steve and Chip are calling the game in Chicago (ESPN is blacked out in Chicago). The overwhelming sense I'm getting is that Steve is not happy about Michael Barrett. He's very critical about Barrett's failure to block balls in the dirt (the dropped third strike) and to throw runners out. The sports media has been very down on Barrett--Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine. Peter Gammons reported that Hendry wanted Barrett so bad that the Cubs didn't even think about Pudge. I think we should withhold judgment on Barrett.

As to the game, Kerry had his "Kerry inning" in the third. You all know that inning--his control leaves him, his pitch count piles up, and you just hope to get out of it without too much damage. In fairness to Wood, Barrett's failure to knock down the third strike opened the gates a bit, but I'm thinking Wood's going no more than six innings today.

A half hour to go and I'm getting antsy. So here we go with my random predictions.

NL Central--Cubs
AL Central--Royals
NL East--Phils
AL East--BoSox
NL West--Arizona
AL West--Oakland
NL Wildcard--Braves
AL Wildcard--Yankees
NL Champs--Cubs
AL Champs--Oakland

World Series Champs--Cubs

NL MVP--Bonds
AL MVP--A. Rod
NL Cy Young--Kerry Wood
AL Cy Young--Tim Hudson
NL Rookie of the Year--Matsui
AL Rookie of the Year--Bobby Crosby

Random predictions

Bonds sets all time record for most walks in a season;
Sosa hits 50 HRs
D. Lee hits 40 HRs
Cubs win 94 games
Prior returns May 18 against the Giants and goes 16-4 with a 2.23 ERA.
Kerry Wood strikes out 253Ks
Surprise team--Braves--I think any team that loses Maddux, Sheffield, Lopez (as well as Vinny Castilla) counts as a surprise. I like the Braves lineup. I'd love to see a complete season from J.D. Drew. I think he's going to have a big year. Still, the Phils are going to win the East, but the Braves make the playoffs again.

I also think the Astros staff is not going to be as good as many think. Oswalt will have injury problems, Pettitte will be exposed as being a decent lefty, but nowhere near as good as his previous record indicates, and Clemens' age will catch up with him.

The Cardinals simply won't have enough pitching to hang with the Cubs. 
  Small Ball

Mike Kiley quotes Dusty this morning in Chicago's new fifty cent paper (anyone know that increase was coming?).

"I managed a little differently last April. ... You manage more for a low-scoring game because the balls don't carry as much at Wrigley and not that many go out. So you manage a little differently than later on in the year. That was because of the advice I got." Kiley notes that Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ryne Sandberg told Baker that.

Well, it's true that April games at Wrigley are cold and the wind blows in. But doesn't "manage[ing] more for a low-scoring game" sound about as self-fufilling a statement as you've ever heard? Look for a lotta bunts this April. Let's hope that the Cubs don't draw too many walks or Dusty won't be able to use his hit and run. 
  Like everyone reading this, I'm pretty pumped for today. The Cubs have announced their lineup, 1) Grudz 2) Patterson 3) Sosa 4) Alou 5) Ramirez 6) Lee 7) Gonz 8) Barrett 9) Wood. I don't understand why Lee is batting 6. I'd juggle 2 through 6, but it probably doesn't matter that much.

It's often said that pennants aren't won in April. Well, true enough (except for the '84 Tigers), but every game is worth the same. Looking at the schedule, a quick start is essential. In April, the Cubs have seven games against the Reds, six against the Pirates and three against the Mets. We've gotta fatten up now. From May 18 through July 4, the Cubs have a brutal schedule. 11 against the Stros, 9 against the Cards, 6 against the White Sox, 3 against the Angels, 3 against the As, and 3 against the Giants. So, the Cubs can't afford to simply "hang in there" until Prior gets back.  
Friday, April 02, 2004
  Spring Review

As we head into the regular season, I decided to look at the Cubs spring statistics . Spring stats are notoriously misleading because they only give a small sample size and are therefore statistically unreliable. Nonetheless, they can give an indication of trends.

One thing I haven't heard much about is Sammy's smokin' spring (.396/.475/.736). In fact, with the exception of Alou, the Cubs offensive numbers look really good (Hollandsworth, Lee, Patterson, Barrett each have solid OPS). Patterson actually drew 5 BB, one third as many as he had through 83 games last year.

The offense, along with Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Kyle Farnswroth's pitching performance is the good news. Kyle gave up just 1 BB vs. 13 Ks. The mystery man, Mike Wuertz, also had a great spring, 20 Ks to just 3 BB in 15 innings. Maddux also pitched well at times. But overall, the pitching was not that impressive. The number of BB allowed is way too high, especially from Matt Clement.

What to make of this? Maybe nothing. But I think there's an indication that Kerry Wood has put it all together and that Sammy has halted the decline evident over the last two years. With the Prior injury and the lack of confidence I have in Mitre, I think a key to the Cubs early season success is whether Clement gets rocked early. Clement's got to give us some innings early in the year or this bullpen is going to get worn out in a hurry. 
Thursday, April 01, 2004
  Shawn Estes--Comeback Player of the Year?

Um...no. Estes had been having a great spring. Then regression to the mean caught up with him. I listened to the first inning of the White Sox game this afternoon. It brought back memories of ol' Shawn. Willie Harris--BB; Jose Valentin--double; Mags--double; Big Frank--HBP; Carlos Lee--HR.

I remember seeing him pitch against the Sox last year. I think it was a Friday, and I was psyched to be there, scalped tickets, I believe. I was able to enjoy it for about 5 minutes as Shaw gave up 6 runs in one inning. I'm sure he'll do well at Coors this year, though. 
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