The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Rotation set

Dusty named Kerry Wood as the opening day starter yesterday, saying the rest of the rotation would most likely be Maddux, Prior, Clement, and Zambrano. Ever since the Maddux signing, the question of what order to throw these pitchers in has drawn plenty of attention. It doesn't much matter what order they pitch in of course, but its only natural that a rotation made up of such high-profile pitchers would make people curious.

Here are projections for our five pitchers from three of the leading projection systems out there (or at least the ones I have immediately available to me.) While there are some variations, the systems generally agree that Prior is the clear ace and Clement is the clear #5. Interestingly, the systems don't see a lot of difference between Wood, Zambrano, and Maddux. I've sorted the list by the average from all three systems, but as you can see the middle three could go in any order without anyone being too out of place.

What I find really interesting is the argument I've heard from Dusty and others that Maddux should go second in order to break up the power of Wood and Prior. First off, I've never seen evidence that a batter is going to find it easier to hit a 97 MPH fastball from Prior if he saw a few 99 MPH fastballs from Wood the day before. Second, and more importantly, what about Zambrano? Doesn't he throw at least as hard as Prior? Heck, even Clement is a power pitcher. Why is it more important to break up Prior and Wood than to break up say Wood and Zambrano?

There is one important factor to me when it comes to setting rotations, and that is separating your bad pitchers. Calling on the pen in the fifth inning on consecutive nights is never good. Hopefully though, with this rotation that won't be an issue.

Anyway, there's no harm in setting the rotation this way, I just found the frenzied debate and reasoning all a bit amusing. The better question is how does our rotation stack up against the competition. You'll have to come back in a day or two for the answer, but I'll give a tantalizing clue: the average of our five starters across all three projection systems is 3.46. Houston's is 3.73.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

Wrigley Field South, Half-Year Anniversary Party

Last October, I got to see our Cubs come into Turner Field and whip the Braves in front of tens of thousands of awfully loud Cub fans. The schedule makers have seen fit to return the Cubs to the Ted for the very first weekend of the season, this April 9, 10, and 11. I enjoyed tailgating before the playoff games so much that I'm definitely planning to do it again. Anyone who can make it down is welcome to share the good times with us. I will probably be out there before all three games, and two other CBA soldiers are already in (Joe from The View From The Bleachers and Chris from Yarbage Cub Review). I am going to let everyone handle their own tickets this time, but I'll provide the drinks and food. I'll post this a couple more times as the date grows closer. If you can make it down, drop me an email and let me know.

Speaking of Joe, he's got an exclusive interview with two of the big movers and shakers in the Cubs world. I was really impressed with not only how brilliantly and articulately they came across, but what genuinely wonderful people they seem to be. You owe it to yourself to read their amazing words.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

One blogger's lucky day

Yesterday opening day tickets went on sale for the Cincinnati Reds. As most of you know they open up against your defending National League Central Division Champs in their park. Despite having a terrible owner (who sold his shares in a bank for upwards of a billion dollars) whose big free agent acquisitions were Corey Lidle and John Van Der Wal, despite having to pay an extra $10 per opening day seat because the team knows it will sellout, and despite having no realistic shot at winning the division or the wild card, the wonderful fans of Cincinnati lined up starting Friday afternoon to get tickets.

One cannot claim that this is not a baseball town. It would be pretty fun to live here if they were doing well. Granted the best I want to see them do is contend for a wild card spot. Regardless, my chances of getting tickets were slim. Two seasons ago, I tried to get tickets to the opener and was denined. A steep charge and some e-bay later and I wound up going and seeing the Cubs drop the opener (last opener ever in Riverfront Stadium).

For those of you unfamiliar with the world of online ticket buying, there are two barriers to get through. First they stuff you in a virtual waiting room with counts down and tries to get you to the ticket buying screen every 30 seconds. Once you are in the screen to pick out your seats and quantity, you are not over the hump yet. You can submit your selections only to be told, "sorry our servers are busy and this cannot be processed." This means you basically get stuck in this middle step for eternity hitting submit over and over again. To make the process even more fun, I had my non-mouse hand on the phone hitting radial to the ticket office to try and get a ticket that way.

I moved into the virtual waiting room at about 8:55. I knew I would be placed on the sometimes never ending 30 second cycles at that point since seats did not officially open up until 9:00. At 9:00 sharp I started calling the ticket office only to be turned away with busy signals. I watched the countdown to the virtual waiting room count down 2-3 times. Then on the fourth time, I got lucky, I was into the seat selection window. Not wanting to get cute, I just selected best seats available for 2 and hit submit. Well, as you can gather from the headline, I got lucky and snagged two seats my first time. On top of that, they are pretty good seats - just beyond the first base dugout about 20 rows up. Tickets sold out in an amazing 16 minutes, so luck was smiling on me for sure.

Happy with my luck, I calmly filled out the information and waited for 10:00 as that is when tickets for all the other games went on sale. The Cubs only come to Cinci twice this season - the first and last home series of the season. Not what I wanted as a fan of the opposing team. Added to the mix is that the last Saturday is the retirement ceremony of the vastly overrated Joe Nuxhall and I was worried about getting seats. Turns out I was right, getting tickets for the remainder of the games was no easy task. I spent a lot of time hitting submit in the seat selection screen. In the end though, I managed to spend a good chunk of money and have seats to 5 of the 7 Cub games here this season. I bought the first series and the last Saturday and Sunday so far. I am banking on the fact that the Reds will struggle and the last Thursday and Friday games will be easy to buy later in the year. If they sell out, there is always eBay as well. Now, I have to get my game back in shape to go through the same exercise this week when games at Wrigley go on sale.

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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Maddux: Aging like a fine wine or whole milk?

Greg Maddux. Hall of Famer. Four-time Cy Young winner. Thirteen-time Gold Glove winner. Four-time ERA champ. Fifteen straight years in the top-ten in innings pitched. Fifteen straight years with fifteen wins. The resume is impeccable. If Greg Maddux pitches two or three seasons for us that look like his last fifteen, Cub fans are going to have a lot to be happy about. Unfortunately, we aren't getting Maddux circa 1994. Its the 38, 39, and 40 year-old version that we are counting on.

Greg Maddux is older than he has ever been... and now he is even older. Last year he posted a 3.96 ERA, his highest since a 5.61 with the Cubs in 1987. Every pitcher runs out of gas sooner or later, and the possibility exists that Maddux's time is up. The chart below shows the rates at which Greg Maddux has recorded each of the three true outcomes- homers, walk, and strikeouts- indexed to each season's NL average. A value greater than 100 indicates a rate higher than the average for all NL pitchers that year.

Chart showing Maddux's numbers will be here shortly

At his peak, Greg Maddux's success was primarily a product of his other-worldly homer and walk prevention. In his amazing 1994 season he allowed just 21% as many homers and less than half as many walks per batter faced as the average NL pitcher. He coupled that with a career-best K rate 35% above the NL average, and the result was a sparkling 1.56 ERA.

Since 1994, Maddux has maintained and even improved on his phenomenal control. Even in a high outlier like 2002, he still allowed just 61% of the walks of his peers. I don't see any reason for concern in those walk numbers. By contrast, Maddux's ability to prevent walks and homers has steadily declined since 1994. His strikeout rate has been down around 80% of the league's for each of the last two years, and a rebound seems unlikely. His homer rate has edged steadily upward over the last decade before spiking all the way up to league average last year.

There has been plenty of speculation in Atlanta that Maddux should age well. The opinion generally expressed is "even if he gets old and loses velocity, it won't matter since he never threw over 85 to begin with." I think these numbers should put that idea to rest. Maddux seems to be able to hit his spots about as well as ever, but with each passing year he seems to become increasingly hittable. There is no way to know for certain, but I am pessimistic about his chances of reversing this slide.

There is another issue surrounding Maddux's evolution as a pitcher. For most of his time in Atlanta, Maddux and his peers on the Braves pitching staff enjoyed phenomenal health and durability. In 2002 however, he began suffering back pain (or at least that back pain became bad enough that it impacted his time on the mound.) He went on the DL for the first time in his career, and ever since the status of his back has been an ongoing issue.

The chart above shows the average number of innings Maddux has gone per start over his career. He was amazingly over eight innings per start in 1994, and settled in right around 7.0 through 2001. The back trouble began in 2002, and he dropped to right around 6.0 for each of the last two seasons. If he is able to avoid further back pain he may be able to get that number back up, but I am skeptical. As Bill Simmons (sarcastically) or Scott Boras (manipulatively) might say, "Hey, its a good thing back problems aren't usually chronic, right?"

So what did we just get for our money? We got an all-time great starting pitcher in the decline phase of his career. We got a control pitcher who is probably going to be fairly hittable. We got a guy who was durable and efficient enough to pitch deep into games and rack up a ton of innings in the past, but whose durability is slipping. His numbers are still respectable- last year he led the league in BB/IP for the sixth time and his 3.91 ERA was 0.37 runs better than league average.

I expect Greg Maddux to be perhaps a slightly better than league average pitcher for the next two years. Will he be worth as much as $8M per year? I doubt his performance will, but with an established level of performance that ranks with the all-time greats in his past there is always a chance he'll pull another magical season out of the hat. Furthermore, his chase of his 300th win will likely draw some ratings and some ticket sales, so some portion of his salary should be recouped aside from what he adds to the win total. He isn't how I would have spent the money, but I think he will make us a better team and I will enjoy watching him pitch.

Fuzzy Bees 13, Savannah State 4
I am proud to say I survived my alma mater's fourth-ranked baseball team's frigid afternoon home opener at Russ Chandler stadium yesterday. Tech jumped on top in the bottom of the first and the visitors never threatened. The toughest part was when Tech brought on a new reliever to pitch the ninth. Jason Neighborgall came on and allowed three runs before getting out of the inning without ever allowing a ball in play. He walked four batters and threw three wild pitches, but escaped with two strikeouts and a game-ending caught stealing. Can I ask why you send the runner with two out in the ninth, needing nine runs to tie, and facing Nuke LaLoosh on the mound?

On a sidenote, I did have the good fortune of meeting my dream woman. She turned around to talk to us after overhearing one of my tired old family stories about Pete van Weiren talking my dad into staying in the 16th inning of a Braves game despite the fact that he was with my pregnant mother. She said that sounded like the kind of thing she would do, seeing as how she is a lifelong Cubs fan. She showed me the Cubs necklace she wears every day inscribed with 1989 (for the division title that year). I showed her the '88 Donruss baseball card I carry in my wallet for luck. She exclaimed "is that Mark Grace? He's my favorite player! I plan to name my first daughter Grace..." and I finished her sentence "... and my first son Mark!" Then her boyfriend showed up. The end.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Welcome home, Greg

According to the local rag, Greg Maddux is again going to be a Cub. The AJC article is cited by the Sun-Times while the Trib claims to have "sources" of their own. The deal looks to be three years at $24 million, but with an out clause if Maddux doesn't pitch a certain number of innings in 2005.

Signing Maddux is not how I would have spent my resources, but it indisputably makes the Cubs a better team on paper. I will take some time to warm up to Maddux, but assuming he pitches well it probably will be an easy process. I would certainly enjoy seeing him win #300 in a Cub uniform. I would also get a kick out of watching him match up with Roger Clemens a few times this summer. I only wish we could have enjoyed the peak of his Hall of Fame career instead of the beginning and end.

We'll be back later this evening with some analysis on what we might expect from our fancy new fifth starter.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Maddux in Pinstripes, but which ones?

WABC TV in New York and the Bergen Record are both reporting that the Yankees have made Maddux an offer. I see the Yankees as prohibitive favorites in their division even without Maddux, so its hard for me to believe they are really pursuing him. Perhaps its a Scott Boras red herring. Whether or not its real, I hope we don't blow the budget trying to outbid Fat George.

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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Lawrence Ritter passes away

The historian behind the best baseball book I have ever read, passed away earlier today at age 81. Lawrence Ritter drove all over the country recording interviews with turn of the century baseball players, and put it all in a book. I've never talked to anyone who had read it and didn't count it as a personal favorite.

If you haven't read "The Glory of Their Times," do yourself a favor and pick it up. Amazon has it in paperback for ten bucks, or you can pick it up at most any major bookstore. Another good choice is the four-CD set of four hours of highlights from the interviews. There's nothing quite like hearing great stories from the mouths of the players involved. I can personally testify that they made a 12 hour drive from Atlanta to Savannah to Panama City, FL last week go much easier that I had feared.

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Up and at 'em

Its time to roll out of bed from our winter slumber. As I write, says there are 3 days, 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 4 seconds until pitchers and catchers. This is the first year in ages that I am not counting the minutes as I wait anxiously for the big day. I guess I haven't been too thrilled with our offseason moves, and of course the disappointing end to last year's season is still in the back of my mind. I am sure I'll get excited once the news starts coming in, but for now I am just stuck in the doldrums.

Perhaps one of the reasons I am in a lousy mood is the constant stream of ticket offers I am getting in the mail. The one in front of me says "THE CHAMPS ARE BACK! ARE YOU?" Here's the thing- if you see someone in your database who A) doesn't live in Florida, B) has never bought tickets to any Marlins game before October 2003, C) didn't buy tickets to the NLDS or World Series, and D) did buy tickets for the NLCS, then you just may be wasting your money sending him your gloating propaganda. He might not be interested in Select-A-Seat at Joe Robbie (as though you can't select a seat from the 55,000 empty ones when you show up in the third inning this summer). He might not care about appearances by Marlins players and coaches. He might not want his picture taken with Billy the &^%#@$ Marlin.

Another good reason is the fact that it wouldn't be Spring Training if we weren't welcoming three or four of the top twenty players in baseball to their new homes in the Bronx. Gary Sheffield. Kevin Brown. Javier Vazquez. And... hmm... who would be good... all right, Alex Rodriguez. Compare that to Todd Walker, LaTroy Hawkins, Michael Barrett, and Derrek Lee. Sigh. The part I can't stop thinking about is the fact that they are talking about moving Rodriguez to third. If Derek Jeter is even a shadow of the team player people like to say he is, he'll find a way to gracefully step aside. Moving a deserving Gold Glove shortstop to third to preserve the ego of a rangeless Derek Jeter would be a mind-blowing absurdity. Of course, they'd be heavy favorites no matter how they throw that lineup out on the field, but that doesn't make it right.

Let me leave you with Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z and his take on everyone's favorite announcer. Apparently, Kid Cardinal is no better at football than he is at baseball:

JOE BUCK, CRIS COLLINSWORTH, and TROY AIKMAN, FOX -- I'd like to run what scientists call a "control" and see what the two analysts would be like without Joebaby. I'd bet they'd be terrific. Last year I wrote about how his cutesy stuff is merely an anchor that drags the show down, so I don't have to do a repeat. It's FOX's problem and they're going to have to deal with it without my help. I'll say this for Buck: He's OK on spotting the ball. Not great, OK. He'll also lead a discussion that will carry right through and past the live action. Shame on you, boys, for not putting a stop to it.

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Fun with telemarketers

I have a trait which my wife does not like all that much. I am somewhat polite and sometimes downright playful with telemarketers. I don't know why, but a good majority of the time I will actually let them talk some before giving them the hook. Usually, I will say something like I am not interested but good luck with your next call. She likes to say, "I am having" before they can say anything. The fun part of dealing with these people is just to let them talk and get out the whole script and then say you are not interested. I have also been known to have full on debates with people about the merits of refinancing my house making them want to hang up. Fun times.

Last night I had one of the stranger calls ever.

Caller: Hello, Mr Goodman, I am going to send you a no obligation credit card offer for a (whatever it was) with a 0% interest rate until November and a low fixed rate after that. You will have to do nothing if you don't like the offer, but we ask that you look over the information.

Me: Thank you sir, but I am happy with my current credit situation (and yes, I do talk this fake to these people) and am not interested.

Caller: I understand sir, but this is no obligation and we are not signing you up for anything, please look at our competitive offer and then make a decision

Me: No thank you, I am not interested.

Caller: But, sir, if someone called you up and said they would give me a $100 you would be interested, right?

Me: Well, sure I would, but you are offering me an application. I don't remember a $100 being mentioned

Caller: What I mean sir, is that the interest you would save would be like getting a $100

Me: OK, I get it, but of course I never carry credit card balances, so I would rather just have the $100 instead of the chance to save $100.

Caller: I understand sir, but...

Me: OK, lets go ahead and make this simple, if this call is being monitored your supervisor will be happy because you followed your little script, but I am not going to apply for your credit card, if I get an application I am going to rip in half and never pay it any mind, so you sir have a choice: you can either move on to your next call or you can waste some postage.

Caller: I don't mind wasting it correct that your address is...

Me: What does it matter what my address is?

Caller:So you get your application in the mail

Me:If you don't mind wasting postage, why do you care if my address is correct

Caller: Well, I just need to verify your address, get your birthday and security password to send out this application

Me:Well considering I don't want the card, there is no way I am going to divulge this, good luck on your next call....

I hung up there. Overall not a bad spell of messing with the guy. I am just surprised at how persistent he was.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Where have the value days gone?

Last season on a tip from a fan over at Cubstalk the wife and I went to a game at Wrigley and "traded up" our tickets when we arrived at the park. Apparently, some tickets, either via people turning them back in or tickets being reserved for team reasons and left unused, are sold only on the day of the game. They have a window in the park where you can take the tickets you have, get a better set and just pay the difference. Kara and I did this and wound up sitting 4 rows from the field right behind the plate.

To sweeten the pot a bit, we went on one of the "value" days. Day games during April, May and September have massively discounted tickets. In the end, I got those good seats for $36 (for both of us). I was very satisfied with the whole experience and decided to take some vacation day and try it again this season. I looked at the schedule and found that there are only 5 value days all of this season. The combination of the Cubs being on the road more than at home in April? May and the fact that 4 of the Cubs 10 weekend non holiday games during this period are night games (with one more being the home opener) have bumped out a good number of the value days for this season.

I was hoping to see an entire series at a discounted rate this season. It does not look like this will happen although I could get two of the Pittsburgh games. I should not complain though as I do live in Cincinnati and get to see the first three games of the 2004 season.

Thoughts on more night games

Besides the will he or won't he daily Maddux articles the other Cubs news of note is the plan to add additional night games to the schedule. I am conflicted on this issue. One side of me is all about baseball tradition and think that baseball in its purest form is day baseball at Wrigley Field. On the other side of the coin, they are not talking about 60 night games, so most games will still be under natural lighting. Also, and most selfishly, as a working stiff, I like the prospects of more weekday night games because that assures that I get to watch most of the games. Day baseball is great during the summer. Shoot, that is what got me hooked on the Cubs (and I am sure I am not the only one) in the first place. But, I also would like to see the majority of the action and night baseball assures this.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

One gone, one to go

Well, all of the Cub fans hoping to see IRod behind the plate next season were left to face the harsh reality yesterday as officially signed a 4 year $40 million contract with the lowly Tigers. I thought it was interesting and very smart of the Tigers to get a buyout on the contract if IRod spends over a certain number of days on the DL with a lower spine injury. They should have gone for it all and stipulated that he had to deliver pizzas if disabled, but I doubt that Boras would go for that sort of move.

Sports writers void of football to type about will be railing Rodriguez and Boras in print over the next couple of days for taking his money and running. A player taking more money to be on a crappy team does not bother me as much as it should. I guess in the end it is his choice to do whatever he wants. Personally I would want a chance to win,but far be from me to judge what someone else does. Tons of people thought he was foolish for signing with the Marlins last season and it worked out. Personally, I am happy not to face him this season because seeing any more RBI singles through the right side of the infield would make me vomit in my mouth.

Speaking or Mr. Boras he still has one big money client out on the free agent market just weeks before most pitchers and catchers report. I am sure we all know who I am talking about. In the Tribune today (reg required I think), there is an article about how Boras is trying to tout Maddux's ability to be a pitching coach in an attempt to get more money. Well, pitching coaches don't make all that money and neither do too many 38 year old six inning pitchers, so I doubt that combined they are worth what Boras is asking. I would love to have Maddux in the rotation, but facts are facts, this is not the same Greg Maddux of five or even three seasons ago. I would have to overspend on him in an attempt to keep up with Houston when I believe we already match up well with them.

Survivor All Stars

After the Super Bowl (or big game or NFL Championship game or whatever the NFL makes people call the most overhyped event of the year) the newest season of Survivor premiered. This time they are brining back some of the more famous players from the first seven seasons. I think they did a decent job with the choices although Jenna from the first season and Amber from the Outback don't bring much to the table. It would be interesting to see how many people turned them down for a chance to come back. There is no way that this was these eighteen people were the first choice. In the first episode Tina, the winner of the Outback, got booted and I imagine other winners will suffer a similar fate. It is a shame that this will be the opening voting criteria because I would like to see the game play out where a lot of successful strategies of winners butt heads, but in the end the other contestants just will not be able to give the money to the same people twice.

Where the heck do these people work

There are a couple of high celebrity court cases commencing at the moment. As I glance over the news coverage of Michael, Martha and Kobe I am shocked at the fringe of society that comes out to support the celebrities. I work during the day, I only have a limited number of vacation days a year, I am sure I would not like to waste some of these days to stand outside a courthouse and cheer for someone famous, or infamous, as they walk in. This just seems pointless and stupid to me.

Make sure to check out 24 tonight as it seems that Jack is about to get the virus although I am sure something will come up and get in his way.

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