Tag Archive | "Chicago Cubs"

A Whole New Ball Game

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A Whole New Ball Game

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

Minor League Baseball in the Chicagoland area is nearing the start of the 2013 season. That can only mean that summer is approaching in the Windy City. However, wait a few minutes and that weather can change. In Illinois there are ten Minor League ball clubs representing different levels and leagues.

KaneCounty

A change for one minor league club, the Kane County Cougars, was a note worthy move here in Chicago. This past offseason the Cougars seemingly long overdue became an affiliation of the Chicago Cubs. The Kane County program has been around since 1991 and has been affiliated with four Major League clubs before finally becoming apart of the Cubs organization in early 2013.

Kane County is a Class A minor league team that is apart of the Midwest League. They are located in Geneva, Illinois about 35 miles west of Chicago. The Cougars are perennially among the league leaders in attendance throughout the Midwest League. They also have made 13 post season appearances in their 22 year history.

Minor League clubs are directly affiliated with a major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). The major league team may enter into a two or four year term with the minor league club. At the end of the term the two sides may renew a new term or the minor league team will be available to except a new PDC from a different organization. This year, the Cubs signed a two year PDC with the Cougars.

Major League organizations may decide their minor league affiliations for a number of reasons. They could be for geographic reasons, scouting, or organizational strategies. Attending Cougar games, it was always a common question asked as to why they were never apart of either Chicago professional team

In the past, Kane County has had major league talent step between the lines out in Geneva. Alumni members include: Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Andre Either, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, and Misty May’s husband Matt Treanor. Pitchers include: Andrew Bailey, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Houston Street, Ryan Dempster, and Trevor Cahill.

When Theo Epstein was brought on as President of the Chicago Cubs in 2011, one goal was to have an affiliated program in the backyard. The close proximity will be beneficial for many reasons. It will help with scouting and player development, call ups will be closer, and fans will now have access to the future prospects just a short drive away.

Fan interested will be more involved now being able to follow the future talent of the professional ball club. Currently, three of the top 10 Cubs prospects wear Cougar uniforms: Opening night starter Pierce Johnson, and infielders Dan Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario. For once, the Cubs have note worthy minor league talent and some of it will be showcased just a short drive away from the lights of Waveland and Sheffield.

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Theology

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Theology

Posted on 15 February 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

A little bit about me. I am 28, born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.  Growing up in Chicago, I have had the privilege of having two professional baseball teams right in my backyard to follow all season long. To set the record straight, I am a big supporter of the Chicago Cubs. (The finger pointing and laughing can begin.) Coming from a Cub family, they are the team I grew up with, and they are the team on my credit card. As a side note, it is so much fun using that thing at the South Side park for the in game hot dogs and drinks.

Cubs Wrigley Facelift Baseball

Obviously, I have never seen a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship. Putting it gently, it has been a really long time since they have won one. Instead of looking at 100 plus years without a title, Cub fans need to look at it like celebrating birthdays. We all reach that age where we just do not want to count the numbers anymore. But it will happen eventually, honest. The reason being quite simply is summed up by the word Theology.

I have a t-shirt that reads Theology: The field of study and analysis to build a world championship baseball team at Clark and Addison. It is in honor of the current Team President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. Mr. Epstein is entering his second season on the North Side. Season number one was not always the prettiest on the surface, but the way Theo works, you always have to look deeper. I have followed Theo since his early days in Boston. In the end, he brought the Red Sox two championships, and before he vanishes, he will raise a banner at the Friendly Confines as well, and that is not just crazy talk. Theo is a baseball Jedi ninja.

The 2012 Cub’s season was not the best. They flirted with setting the record for most losses in a season by a Cubs team, and if it were not for the Houston Astros, things could have been a lot worse. Sadly, the Astros are gone now. But the true season was never about wins and losses; it was about building a plan and foundation for the next few years. It was the start of a culture makeover. That type of talk is foreign around these parts. The Cubs have never really had a great farm system. Theo and his crew are changing that. They are using words like develop and growing talent. Jed Hoyer is a good General Manager. Dale Sveum is a good baseball guy, and on down the line the culture is changing.

While the Cubs the last two seasons have not signed the big time Free Agent, like an Albert Pujols, or Josh Hamilton they have made some ninja moves that are helping the process along. Last season they made a trade for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo will be a star, and has a great chance at starting the All-Star game this July. This year, they nearly had Anibal Sanchez, but instead signed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. Having a pitching background myself, Jackson has a make up about him that is solid. Yes, he will have a few stinkers but he will also have games that will make him look awesome. Jackson will be a phenomenal compliment to pitchers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

In addition, Ninja Theo made a great draft pick in outfielder Albert Almora and signed another young outfielder out of Cuba Jorge Soler. The two kids crushed the ball in their first year in the organization. The next division championship the Wrigley faithful will celebrate will have the starting outfield of Soler, Almora, and Brett Jackson which is very promising.

All of a sudden, the Cubs have actual young talent. The prospect list looks very good, and this will all compliment the arguable face of the team, shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro is a young Derek Jeter just scratching the surface of his prime. I just ask that he is in that Cubbie blue for the next decade or more.

I was at the 2012 Cubs Convention when Theo was first introduced. I got goose bumps hearing the overcrowded room chant Theo, Theo. While, Epstein has a history of making head scratching trades and signings, he also gives a city and Cub faithful a bounce in their step and belief. While the product on the field ultimately will decide wins and losses, changes are being made to the ballpark and surroundings as well. Wrigleyville has proposed renovations that will make it seem like the park is actually in the 21st century.

By no means will the Cubs be confused with the 1961 Yankees or even the 2004 Red Sox but they will be better. If healthy, they will be in the hunt for one of the 2013 wild card spots. On the horizon, if the plan continues on course they will be contending for much more. The future is promising on the North Side of Chicago. Theo Epstein is changing a culture one calculated move at a time. It is a very difficult thing to have, but Cub Nation needs to have a few more summers of patients and let Theo work his ninja magic.

Patience is a virtue, and it will pay off soon for the Friendly Confines. Spread the word, within the next few summers, Cub fans will have one heck of a birthday bash!

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The Rotation Crush; It’ll Be A Thing

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The Rotation Crush; It’ll Be A Thing

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Will Emerson

There are crushes, there are man-crushes, there are bro-mances, heck, I even have my advanced stat man-crush, Ben Zobrist! But I am going to add a new kind of crush to the list. A rotation crush! See, I was pouring over pitching stats, preparing for upcoming fantasy drafts, as I am want to do and came across the Chicago Cubs starting rotation and well, woah, mama! After just a quick glance I realized that, yes, I now had starting rotation  crush!

mgarza

Yep, the Cub rotation has me all starry-eyed. I may even plaster my bedroom walls with their pictures, posters and other assorted memorabilia,. Okay, I probably won’t  go to that much of an extreme. Probably. But, that is neither here nor there. The Cub rotation is my kind of rotation. Seems, like it has been a tad bit under the radar, but the Cubbies, in general, are actually well on their way to building themselves back up and into the real of respectability and it starts with their starting pitching. Garza, Jackson, Baker, Samardzija, Villanueva, Wood. Okay it does not sound overly intimidating or like a legitimate law firm, sure. Also, it’s not the Brave rotations of the 90s or the A’s of the early 2000′s. It’s not even the Phillies ace rotation of a couple seasons ago, for that matter. They are probably not going to adorn the cover of Sports Illustrated with a clever and catchy cpation next to them, any time soon, okay. But they are, unbeknownst to many, quite solid. I am not saying any of these picthers are gonna be winning the Cy Young Award in 2013, but in their starting picthing, the Cubs have a solid building block. Peruse these numbers from 2012 (2011 for Scott Baker since he missed all of 2012)

Matt Garza:              3.59 xFIP, 3.60 SIERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.33 K/9

Jeff Samardzija:      3.38 xFIP, 3.40 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.27 K/9

Edwin Jackson:       3.79 xFIP, 3.75 SIERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.97 K/9

Scott Baker:              3.61 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.22 K/9

Carlos Villanueva: 4.09 xFIP, 3.72 SIERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.76 K/9

Travis Wood:           4.62 xFIP, 4.41 SIERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.87 K/9

Well, I think you can quickly see why my inaugural rotation crush is for the 2013 Cubs. The advanced stas are very consistently above average for the most part. Sure, Wood is a bit of an outlier, but Travis Wood is just a pitcher I like. One of those pitchers I just like for no statistical or gut reason whatsoever. I have a similar unexplained affinity for Chris Volstad, but I am veering a bit off course, here. Back to the rotation crush. My guess is that Wood ends up coming out of the bullpen for the Cubbies, anyway, but who knows what could happen in Spring Training? Alright, focus. Roatation crush. Looking at these advanced stats, you have to feel the Cubs are going to be in a lot of their games and will not need to tax their bullpen all that much. Each one of these pitchers (okay, with the exception of Villanueva) have been high on my list for quite some time and are now all in one glorious rotation in Chicago! Again, though, let’s not start throwing these guys Cy Young votes just yet. While I can barely contain my excitement about this rotation, there are certainly some question marks hovering above it.

First off, you have Scott Baker. Now, I have liked Scotty Baker for awhile and I do like the move to the National League. The change of scenery should certainly do him well, even if he is moving to a more hitter friendly park. The concern though is that he did miss all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Missing a season of baseball, for any reason, especially an injury and super especially (yes I said super especially, deal with it) for an arm or shoulder injury, will make things somewhat difficult. At some point Baker should be at, or at least close to, his former self, but there is no telling when that may be. Word is he will be ready for the start of the regular season and early projections make it seem like most baseball prognosticators think he will be up on the bump looking like he has not skipped a beat. There is no guarantee on what Baker will provide, but it is definitely worth whatever small risk there is, for the Cubbies. But Baker, of course, is not the only question mark in this rotation.

“The Shark” , Jeff Samardzija had a very, very good season in 2012. There were a few bumps along the way, *cough* June *cough*, but he still finished the season with some very respectable numbers. Plus, you have to love a 44.6 ground ball rate coupled with a K/9 over nine! Trust me, you have to! That’s not a ton of fly balls, which is great if, like “the Shark”, you pitch a lot of games at Wrigley Field. The one main concern/question around Samardzija, is whether or not he can duplicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. Looking at the numbers, themselves, nothing really points to a regression in 2013. In fact, if anything, they point to a bit of an improvement. So what’s the problem? Well, if you buy into this sort of thing, it could be his inning total from 2012. His innings thrown in 2012 were the most he has thrown in any season of professional baseball. In fact, it almost double his 2011 innnings thrown, back when he was coming out of the bullpen. But hey, the numbers point to some improvement, so maybe the innnings thing will counter act the expected improvement and he will duplicate those 2012 numbers, in 2013. Did that make sense? No? Yeah, it seemed to make more sense in my head. Personally, I think Shark will be fine in 2013, but I could see that increased innings thing being a mild concern to some. Of course numbers and projections are great, but they are not the end all, be all. They cannot always tell the whole story, per se.

Any baseball fan who follows stats, especially advanced stats, knows that while these stats can be helpful and show patterns, point to regressions, etcetera, etcetera, and should help us predict future performance, this is not always the case. When you look at this Cub rotation and see those xFIP and SIERA numbers, it looks all fine and dandy, peachy keen. For whatever reason though, we know it is highly unlikely that each of these pitchers will have an ERA matching, or even close to, their xFIPs or SIERAs. At the very least you have to like your odds if you are Theo Epstein and company over there in the Cubs front office. I know I sure do! When you have a fifth starter with the potential to strike out close to nine batters per nine innings, well everything else should be cream cheese. So congratulations to the 2013 Chicago Cubs starting picthers for becoming my very first rotation crush! You should feel greatly honored. Well, enough out of me, I have to go track down a life-sized Jeff Samardzija cardboard cutout.

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Random, Possibly Intriguing, Mostly Useless Information

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Random, Possibly Intriguing, Mostly Useless Information

Posted on 19 September 2012 by Will Emerson

The Major League Baseball season is winding down and as I was thinking about what to write I was drawing a bit of a blank. So, as I often do when I am bored, I started looking through baseball statistics. Yeah, I’m a baseball nerd and I wholeheartedly admit and accept this. One of the things I love about baseball is that there are just so many stats. So many in fact that some of them are not really even that meaningful. So many that you can even bend stats to your will and make a player seem better or worse than another player by the way you use the stats. Or make him just seem worse than he is. For instance: Player A’s ERA has gone up almost 18% over last season and his WHIP is a little over 14% higher than last season. Yeah, well that seems bad as his number are worsening at a hihgish rate. Well, that player is Justin Verlander and the ERA has risen to 2.82 and the WHIP is up to 1.05. Still impressive numbers, wouldn’t ya say? That was rhetorical. So, hopefully you get the point here. Now I’m gonna save the blind player comparisons I know you all enjoy and love for another day. Instead, this article will feature some random stats and information that I found possibly intriguing. Oh yeah, and they may be mostly useless. Yeah, it was not just a clever title folks! So on with the show!

Pittsburgh Pirate Jose Tabata has the honor of being one of only two players this season that has been caught stealing ten or more times, but has also managed to be successful less often than not. As in he has has been caught stealing more than he has been successful at swiping bases. The other person to accomplish this at this point in the season, since I know you are wondering, is the Diamondbacks Willie Bloomquist. Another note here, the Pirates are the only team in baseball that have more than one player who has been caught stealing more than 10 times. The other player is some no-name fella by the name of McCutchen. In fact the Pirates have the worst stolen base success rate in the majors at 56.8%. Kind of strange that Pirates would be so bad at stealing, am I right? Jack Sparrow would be ashamed!

While we’re on the topic of stolen bases, Howie Kendrick has the pleasure of being the only player in the bigs thus far this season with double digit stolen bases that has also grounded into over 20 double plays. in fact only Miguel Cabrera has grounded into more double plays than Howie. Generally you would think a guy getting a fair amount of steals would be able to avoid double plays. Granted he does not have 20 or 30 steals or anything, he is at 12, but still. It looks like he has an outside shot at this elusive 20-20 mark, but don’t hold your breath. Maybe he needs to do a better job when he puts the ball on the ground, sort of like Austin Jackson.

A-Jax is hitting .380, best in the majors, when he puts the ball on the ground. This is almost 20 points higher than number two on that list. Maybe Jim Leyland should go all Lou Brown on Jackson and make him do pushups every time he puts the ball in the air, since keeping it on the ground is clearly getting the job done like nobody’s business! Of course this will not quite work for everyone.

Take Pirate Pedro Alvarez, for instance. He is hitting .381 when he gets the ball in the air, as opposed to a meager .208 when he puts it on the ground. When he hits line drives, he is hitting .741, for those of you scoring at home. Of course many power hitters are going to have similar numbers, I just guess none of those hitters are in the current Giants lineup.

Over the last 30 days the Giants have 13 home runs, one less than Adrian Beltre in that same time span. Now Beltre is having a great last 30 days, but the fact that nine hitters are within five home runs of the Giants in that time span, is not so spectacular from San Fran’s perspective. I mean it’s as if they’re facing Kris Medlen, superstar, every time out!

Medlen has been absolutely brilliant as a starter! Brilliant! In his eight starts he has only allowed more than one earned run on one occasion. In that start he allowed an eye-popping two earned runs. He also had a streak of 39 consecutive innings where he did not allow an earned run. Not quite in Hershiser range, but impressive nevertheless! Also impressive? The Reds rotation.

Something you don’t see much these days; the Reds rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake have started all but one game for the Reds this season. That’s right, ONE! Now that’s reliability folks! The Mets, on the other hand, have used 12 different starting pitchers this season. Not sure that Reds-like reliability would have helped Houston, however.

The Astros, aptly nicknamed the Disastros this season, are actually picking up the pace with an 8-7 start to September. Those 8 wins in the first two weeks of September, ties their win total for July and August….combined. For July and August they were 8-46, a paltry .148 winning percentage. If they played that pace over an entire 162 game season they would have won 24 games. Yikes! Expansion teams can do better than that! Maybe the ‘Stros need a guy like Tim Collins in their bullpen?

Little Timmy Collins has the honor of being the only relief pitchers in the majors this season with 90 or more strikeouts, and no saves. Only three other relievers who have not been their team’s regular closer for any sort of extended period of time this year have more than 80 strikeouts- David Hernandez (90), Steve Delabar (85) and Jason Grilli (84). All four pitchers have been very effective posting solid K/BB ratios. The same cannot be said for Ricky Romero however.

Romero has a league low K/BB rate, amongst qualifying starting pitchers, of 1.20 which is probably a major reason for his big fall off this season. Second worst K/BB rate in the majors? That would be his rotation mate Henderson Alvarez with a 1.22 rate. Which would probably help explain why the Jays starters have the worst K/BB ratio in the majors at 1.74. Of course Gavin Floyd sure made a valiant effort to catch these two in that category.

A bit in the past, but in July Gavin Floyd posted a K/BB rate of .44 for the month. Now this was over 25.2 innings, but that is still impressively awful. His K/9 that month was 2.81 and his BB/9 was 6.31. What is even more weird, or impressive depending on how you look at, is Floyd still managed a 2.45 ERA for that month. Go figure, right?

Alright, so I ran out of cheesy, barely good, segues, so this one is just out of left field I guess. The Bronx Bombers are, naturally, looking to head to the playoffs, but they haven’t come this far by tripling. See, no segue whatsoever! I have no shame. Anyways, Angel Pagan of the Giants has 13 triples on the season, one more than the entire Yankees team! All of them! Every single Yankee combined! Good work Angel!

Well, there you have it, some random, possibly intriguing, but useless information for you. I hope you enjoyed this little slice of baseball nerdery and don’t you worry, I will certainly find more, and better, obscure, quite random, possibly intriguing, mostly useless information for you for next time. Until then, good day and godspeed.

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Starlin Castro Chicago Cubs

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Watch: Starlin Castro Must Go

Posted on 20 August 2012 by Patrick Hayes

It’s really interesting writing this Stock Watch update each week. I start off with no clue of who I want to write about. After digging through the data and looking at a few different statistics, the story of what I want to write about lays itself out for me. Getting to this point is a test of patience and gets harder as the weeks progress, especially because the available players to write about dwindle. Adding to the difficulty is that all trade deadlines have passed, so I’m not even sure of the relevancy, but nonetheless, read on for your enjoyment!

Starlin Castro – SS, Chicago Cubs

Starlin  Castro Chicago Cubs

#3 on ESPNs 5×5 Player Rater for SSs

Starlin Castro just signed a hefty contract extension, to the tone of 7 years and $60 million in total. This alone is part of the reason why I’m selling Starlin from this point on. Watching the 9th inning of the game against the Reds yesterday afternoon led me to the other reason. Castro could have scored on a blooper in the outfielder which was booted to the wall but completely ignored the 3rd base coaches windmill motion and stopped, he would have scored easily. To me, from just that one play it was apparent that his head isn’t in the game (for whatever reason) and was enough for me to sell on him. This is a gut instinct pick.

Although holding one of the best names in baseball is a plus, the 2012 year been one of a bit of regression for Starlin Castro. His slash reads .280/.311/.428, down in all three from 2011. He is striking out at a rate north of 15% and is only walking just a clip above 4%. Not the type of numbers that are inspiring at all. He has hit his career high in HRs with 12 and should eclipse last years RBI total of 60 by the end of September. From a fantasy perspective his best asset is the amount of games he plays, and he should continue to get better over the next four years, as he is only 22. Man, the Cubs are bad.

My verdict: Sell immediately like a hot pancake

Erick Aybar – SS, Los Angeles

Erick  Aybar Los Angeles Angels

1# on ESPNs 5×5 Player Rater for SSs in the past 15 days

Erick Aaybar had just returned from a quick trip to the DL and has been on fire since. Eight multi-hit games since August 6th, in fact. While his year in a whole has been subpar compared to last, this recent hot streak is the perfect time to get on board. His last 14 days have him at a rate of .391/.471/.652 along with 3 HRs and 4 stolen bases.

Although the Angels have been struggling of late, and can’t get a lick of decent pitching, the offense has all the potential to explode at any second. Erick’s .295 BABIP is 10 points lower than his career average of .310, which indicates that the ball could be taking a few more bounces his way. Looking at his career numbers, August is typically his 2nd worst month, so he is bucking that trend as well. September and October see him at a pace of .290, which is just what we want as confidence when we buy him for the stretch run. I feel confident about this one.

Side note, Aybar has some of the best images I’ve seen when searching too. Hilarious.

My verdict: Buy now like a manager special at the grocery store

Desmond Jennings – OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Desmond  Jennings Tampa Bay Rays

 

16# on ESPNs 5×5 Player Rater for OFs in the last 15 days

Raise your hand if you were suckered into believing the hype on Desmond Jennings last year and ended up keeping him for 2012? My hand is waving hello. The entire year has been one of frustration for owners of Jennings and only lately have we witnessed some of the production we have been salivating for. Hitting .372/.426/.558 in the past 14 days is a breath of fresh air and a glimmer of hope that the production will remain throughout the remainder of the season.

I’m sure you have toyed with the thought of dropping him earlier in the year, especially while he was on the DL, but I have an inkling that the patience will pay off. The Rays are smoking hot right now and will be in the thick of the AL Wild Card race to the end. Desmond is still batting under .250 for the year, so don’t get too confident just yet. Expect another drought or two where the struggles resurface, which is why he is the ideal hold candidate right now. He’s close to becoming a buy but not quite yet.

My verdict: Hold while shaking your head at a frustrating year of aggravation and seeing him get dropped to 7th in the lineup at times.

Reactions and opinions are always welcomed. Find me on twitter: @pf_hayes

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