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

Back from London, off to Wrigley


After a short trip overseas, I returned to the good ol' USA Wednesday evening. I took Thursday off work to recover from the jet lag, worked Friday, made it to Indiana Friday night, and then drove to Chicago to see the Cubs on Saturday. The wife and I made it back to Cincinnati this afternoon and are ready for a full work week.


I suppose I will take things in order. London was a good time although I wish I were there more than 3 days. I spent the first afternoon touring the South Banks region around Parliament and Big Ben. I saw a few other touristy places and capped the evening by riding in the big Ferris Wheel thing. At the top you can nearly see all of London - quite impressive.


Monday through Wednesday was full of meetings about my job - which I will not bore you with- and then drinking in the evening. Probably not the smartest thing to do when fighting jet lag, but when you work for a company called dunnhumby and Mr. Humby offers you a drink, I think you should take it. The highlight of the trip was winning a poker tournament on the last night.


This was my first time on a long plane ride and only second time outside the country (although I am not sure the Canadien side of the falls should count). I think I coped with jetlag as best as I could. Of course I finshed The DaVinci Code on the plane and had plenty of television options on British Airways to make the flight easy. The Code was a pretty good book for any interested. I do not read all that much fiction, but this one held my interest. I am by no means a literary scholar or critic, but I enjoyed it.


Before heading out for the weekend I saw Dr. Tightpants' implosion against the 'stros Friday afternoon. I am not sure what the answer is, but putting him on the DL seems like a good first step. Even if he had not kicked out a fan to hurt his knee I am sure he would have been shelved with a "sore shoulder" which is secret code for general ineffectiveness.


The drive to Chicago Saturday was as usual full of construction and lots of cars but we managed to get there in time to do some shopping. I bought one of the pure blue alternate jerseys. Most people hate these, but I have always liked the walking bear logo and it makes a fine addition to my jersey collection. I did see one fan with a custom jersey with "Bjork" on the back. Tempting as it was to spend the extra $50 on that, I went for a blank one. It was freaking cold yesterday, so I also bought a long sleeved T-shirt when added to the wife's purchase of a sweatshirt and and a hat made the trip quite costly. Oh well, I only go once a season and I believe you should pamper yourself every now and then.


Speaking of jerseys, and I was two sentences ago, the Cubs' wives were collecting cans for a food drive outside the stadium. The wives were all wearing jerseys with their husband's names on the back. Sounds pretty standard right? Well, Prior's wife was wearing one of the replica T-shirts with his name on it. All of the other wives had on the official jersey. I guess just like the rest of us the Prior's are trying to stretch their budgets.


Saturday's game was one the Cubs will kick themselves over if they miss the playoffs by one game. 4 of the 7 Astro runs were unearned and three on one play. All Carlos had to do was catch the ball from Lee and he escapes the inning. The Cubs did fight back from a 5-0 deficit to get the winning runner on in the 8th, but they just fell short. Overall it was an entertaining game to attend. Not a bad selection for my only regular season game this time although it would have been much better with a win.


The Wrigley experience would not be complete without a story of a drunken fan. Late in the game, the lights were on full steam due to the cloudy skies and the field was lit up even though it was only about 5:00. My wife asked me what they did before the lights were there. Obviously a question about when they started the games and if games were routinely postponed. The drunk guy in front of us turned around and said, "They used to just play during the day". Thanks Captain Obvious, anything else to share. The funniest part was my wife deadpanning back, "ohhh, they just used to play during the day" and having the guy look at her with a smile thinking he had saved the day.


Not much to say about today's game except I am still trying to figure out when that ball hit Berkman in the head. I am also trying to figure out why Chip Caray gets so darn excited when the opposition pulls closer to the Cubs. It is getting old.


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Saturday, August 28, 2004
 

Argh

The one time I compose my post in Blogger instead of notepad and its the one time Blogger eats it. Damn. Here's what I would have said, super-compressed:

I hate that those rooting against the US basketball team (especially the bigots) have smug smiles on their faces this morning. I am bummed that the Cubs lost, and I don't the think the numbers justify the same faith in the Doctor that they do in Hawkins (and I had a nice little chart to prove it). Finally, I hit runner-runner-runner for a straight flush on Party last night, my first straight flush ever.

Just think how much fun the thousand word version of that would have been to read!


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Darkest before dawn

The two-thirds of American sports fans who were rooting against the twelve guys wearing USA on their shirts must have some smug smiles on their face this morning, and that just makes me sick. I can't understand where any of them are coming from, but its the ones described here that make me the maddest. Don't kid yourself- they are out there. A certain fellow at work explained his hatred of our team to me by saying that it serves them right. After all said this prince among men, basketball has been played the wrong way ever since the UTEP-Kentucky game. Seriously. It blew my mind to hear someone refer to that game in a negative light... kind of like the time a colleague from Russia referred to the great 1972 men's basketball gold medal game and didn't mean it sarcastically.

Ah well, maybe they'll give Timmy some help next time. In other news, the Cubs win streak came to an abrupt end as Kerry and Kyle each were pounded by the Astros. I touched on it a couple weeks ago, but just to be clear I do not think the numbers justify faith in the Doctor the way they do faith in Hawkins. Opposing hitters have hit him around for a .327 average- higher than he should expect given the Cub defense, but not obscenely high. Statistically, he is simply walking more and striking out less. Chances are that's not just bad luck.

Anyway, after two disappointing losses, what do you think happened on the poker table? That's right, runner-runner-runner for my first ever straight flush! Its kind of silly to get so excited about certain cards beind randomly beind drawn from a virtual deck, but I still lept forward to screen-grab the image for posterity. Queen nine of spades in the hole, 8, 10, and Jack for the last three community cards. Of course, I still lost the tournament, but its the principle of the thing.


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Thursday, August 26, 2004
 

More Olympic fun

I just got done watching the 200M. If you missed it, the race was delayed several minutes by a rowdy crowd cheering for their disgraced sprinter Kostas Kenteris. It blows my mind how much garbage the media gave we Atlantans for what I think was a wonderful Olympic Games in 1996, especially in comparison to the kid glove treatment Greece has received. Here we have an Olympics where most events take place in front of disinterested crowds that fill 10% of the facility, and when folks do show up its to try to ruin the event for the athletes who didn't fake a motorcycle accident to get out of a drug test right before the Games. Awesome.

The best part was the Greek fans targeting the three American runners for the brunt of their abuse based on Greek newspaper claims that Kenteris dodged his drug test due to some American conspiracy. Fortunately, Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams, and Justin Gatlin just put their heads down, tuned out the Hellenic hyenas, and swept gold, silver, and bronze for the USA. What's more, they showed a heck of a lot more class than I would have after the race. All three elected to pass on the opportunity to criticise the fans' attempt to sabotage the race, instead just humbly saying they understood it was a difficult situation for the fans and that they were glad to be able to give a good race. My hat is off to them.


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Way to go, Mia!

Congratulations to Mia Hamm and the US Women's National Team for their exciting 2-1 overtime gold medal victory this afternoon. I think her "I love you, Nomar" in the post-game interview was my favorite part.

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Thursday

This was going to be a big fat "I told you so" post, where I quoted the harshest Corey-bashing I could find from my fellow CBAers over the first few months of this season. Then I was going to contrast that with the optimism and support that Corey was getting from yours truly. Then I was going to spend a thousand or so words wallowing in the glory due me for standing by our centerfielder through thick and thin, and heaping shame in the direction of everyone else.

Fortunately, I realized I am (just barely) more mature than that. So its on to random McLaughlin Group items!

Issue 1: LaTroy
A hot theory in sabremetric circles is that pitchers have little to no control over what happens when a ball is hit into play. They can control walks, strikeouts, and homers, but that's it. Read here if you want to know more. At any rate, the evidence indicates that pitchers BABIP (batting average allowed on balls in play) will tend towards the BABIP of the team. An aberration from this average is likely to be a fluke and not predictive going forward. With that in mind, let's look at Hawkins and his performance since taking the closer's role after Joe Bo's final meltdown, June 4th against the Pirates.

LaTroy Hawkins
SpanERAK%BB%HR%BABIP
Season2.8119.24.53.4.266
Thru 6/42.3318.93.33.3.219
Since 6/44.0819.87.03.5.371

Hawkins' strikeout rate has actually improved a bit. His walk rate is worse, but 7% is still quite good- for comparison, Clement and Zambrano are both up over 9%. His homer percentage is unchanged.

The Cubs as a team are allowing a .298 BABIP, third best in the National League. LaTroy was getting extraordinarily good defensive support in April and May (79 points better than average) and has been getting extraordinarily poor defensive support since (73 points worse than average). Going forward, I'd expect average defensive support and a solid ERA for Hawkins whether or not he remains in the closer role.

Issue 2: Hoops
I didn't see the game today, but we handled previously undefeated Spain 102-94 to advance to the semi-finals. Stephon, apparently responding to my criticism, set a US Olympic record with 31 points on 10/15 shooting and 6/9 from behind the arc. His explosion was necessary since more dubious officiating put that brute Tim Duncan on the bench for most of the game. The US was called for a whopping 27 fouls in the game, more than twice as many as Spain was whistled for until the Spaniards started intentionally fouling down the stretch.

I still don't think Stephon is the right player to be building this team around, but I've got to give him credit for his performance today. We are now on to the semifinals against the winner of Argentina/Greece. Go USA.

Issue 3: London is Calling II
About twelve hours after I read that Dennis was off to London, I got a call from a friend who had a $280 roundtrip to London on a one-day sale and wanted to put a trip together. Now four of us are headed to Europe for twelve days this January. Right now I am looking at spending 2-3 days in London and each of three other cities. I want great museums, food, and sights. Right now the front runners are Barcelona, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, Amerstdam, and Prague.

I am really looking forward to the trip. I am sure it will take some adjusting since I've never been out of the country, but its not like I'll be in some uncivilized backwater where there's no phone service or something. I've already got the Fulham game on 1/15 targeted, so here's hoping Brian McBride heads in a Bocanegra cross for me!

Issue 4: Predictions
  1. LaTroy Hawkins ERA from here on out will be 3.00.
  2. Sammy Sosa's OPS the rest of the way will be .900.
  3. The Cubs will win the wildcard by two games.
  4. I will have difficulty fitting all my new soccer jerseys in my suitcase on the morning of January 24th.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
 

Draft update

The Cubs drafted two Tech players this year, Micah Owings in the first and Eric Patterson in the eighth. Story from down here is that Eric Patterson is close to signing, but that Owings may not. In fact, he may spurn both the Cubs and Tech and instead transfer to some other school. What a disappointment for me- my favorite team drafts a top player from my alma mater but in the end neither one gets him. Sigh.

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Hit parade

The Cubs pounded out thirteen hits, leading to eight runs, leading to one win last night against Milwaukee. The team line that produced this offensive outburst was .361/.381/.500, proving that you can stomach a terrible .020 isolated OBP (less than half our annual rate, itself last in the league) if you hit .361. Tonight its Matt Clement (8-11, 3.21) against Chris Capuano (6-7, 4.34). Perhaps we could put up some decent fraction of yesterday's runs for him, so as to forestall the possibility of him flying into a homicidal rage after another 1-0 loss.

No time to write more, but let me throw out a quick basketball question. Let's say you had one guy- we'll call him Stephon- who played low-intensity defense and shot 20%, and another- we'll call him Lebron- who played high-intensity defense, moved without the ball, and shot nearly 70%. Which one would you give 33 minutes in a forty-minute game, and which one would you give five? If you are Larry Brown, you leave Marbury in the whole game, leave Lebron on the bench, and then blame the players when the media asks how you just lost to Lithuania. Grrr.


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Sunday, August 22, 2004
 

Longballs

The Cubs piled up eleven runs on Houston pitching today en route to taking the rubber game of the series 11-6. I was reading Al Yellon's recap, and he got me thinking about homers. I'd be failing in our mission to make this the world's nerdiest Cubs blog if I didn't run some numbers, so the schedule writeup I promised will just have to wait. I recorded the homers hit by each team in each playoff game since the wildcard era began. Here's what I found:

The first thing that caught my eye in Al's post is the Cubs record since the break when we homer (20-8, .714) and when we don't (0-8, .000). He wonder's aloud how other teams do in these circumstances. In my data set (postseason only remember), teams were 222-135 (.622) when they do homer and 73-160 (.313) when they don't. My gut feeling is that the differences here aren't too meaningful. We are talking about a discrepancy of just a couple of wins in either direction, certainly differences that could be sample size issues.

The next thing that jumped out at me was Al's statement that "homers don't win you playoff games or series." I understand his frustration with the Cubs homer-or-nothing offense, but this just doesn't hold water. The average homers hit by the winning team in playoff games is 1.35. The average number of homers hit by losing teams was 0.72- barely half the winners' average. The stats from the preceeding paragraph show teams that homer have nearly double the winning percentage of teams that don't. Teams that were outhomered went an ugly 53-154 (.256). The fact is that hitting homers is a huge part of winning postseason baseball games.

That said, Al may still have a point. These Cubs are not like the typical team in my survey. We rely on the homer, and don't score nearly as many runs as other teams in history that have hit close to the same number of them. As such I would expect our chances of winning without one to be lower than most other teams. The reason we are so bad at scoring runs relative to our homer total is simple:

"It's the OBP, stupid."
Dennis and I met in 1999 when he complimented me on an internet message board post in which I ripped the Cubs management for building a team without regard to on-base percentage. Here we are five years later, and its deja vu all over again.

Al pointed out the whopping home run pace this team is on- we're on track to break the league record of 249. Despite all the bombs, we are just sixth in the league in runs because we are a dreadful fourteenth in OBP. Furthermore (and I hate to go all Moneyball on you), its not hitting that's the problem- we are sixth in batting average with a .268. Its walks, plain and simple. Our isolated OBP (OBP-AVG) is .056- dead last in the National League. With all the homers we hit you would expect teams to pitch around our sluggers a bit, but even with that effect there we are- last. Behind Pittsburgh, Arizona, even Montreal.

So there you go. We've got a great starting rotation, a fair bullpen, and great power, but the one thing holding us back more than any other is an unwillingness to walk to first base. Don't hate the homers, hate the swing first ask questions later mentality that has hamstrung this organization for years. Hate the mindset that has pushed people like Bellhorn and Choi out the door while pounding a message of aggresiveness at all costs into the heads of those that remain.

Here's hoping we squeeze out a few more baserunners the rest of the way and turn the homers into runs and the runs into wins. Go Cubs.


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Saturday, August 21, 2004
 

London Calling


Over the course of the next 4-5 days, the Lounge will be in the sole hands of Mr. Lange - and he does not even know it yet. The company I work for is based in London, UK. I am getting the opportunity to see the mother ship live and in person for the first half of this week. I have never been to London or even outside the US (minus Canada which probably should not count), so I am looking forward to the trip. I am not looking forward to spending 9 or so hours on an airplane, but I suppose one does what he has to do.


I come back Wednesday night, rest on Thursday, and then leave for Indiana on Friday to eventually make my one and only trip to Wrigley Field on Saturday to see the Cubs play the Astros. Hopefully they will hand out a flogging like they did yesterday. The Cubs are 3-0 after the team meeting and Sammy moving down in the order. Hopefully that is the spark that sends them to the playoffs.


Both the Giants and the Padres won yesterday, so the boys remain one game behind the Giants in the loss column. Hopefully by the time I get back on US soil they will have gained the lead. back.


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Friday, August 20, 2004
 

Man bites dog

Its news when the Cub offense bails out the pitching staff, but that's just what happened yesterday afternoon. Greg Maddux fell behind 4-1 early, but the bats kept pounding away until the Cubs had a 9-6 win. Tom Goodwin had a very nice day in the leadoff slot, with a single, a double, and two walks in five plate appearances. Three three main power sources each homered, and Rem and Hawkins each pitched an inning without giving up an earned run. Basically, the whole team worked exactly like its supposed to. Wonders never cease.

This weekend the Cubs will visit Houston, San Diego hosts the Marlins, and San Francisco hosts the Mets. (Yes, I am scoreboard watching. Sue me.) The denizens of Enron Field have won four straight and have illusions of getting back in the wildcard race. It would be nice to win the series or even sweep, and put those hopes to rest. Their scheduled starters are Pete Munro (2-4, 4.24), Brandon Backe (1-1, 5.32), and Roy Oswalt (13-8, 3.44). Backe, the replacement for Andy Pettitte, was 6-5, 2.80 at Triple A New Orleans.

I am headed to the Red Cross with my Dad to donate platelets, then we are coming back here to go to war with this kudzu. I am talking chemical, biological, nuclear, scorched-earth, Agent Orange type warfare. If I make it out alive, I'll be back over the weekend with a schedule analysis the rest of the way.


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Thursday, August 19, 2004
 

ALOHA MEANS GOODBYE

As in Corey Patterson's two-run game-winner in the eleventh.

ALOHA MEANS HELLO

As in Brian Ching's right place, right time, right result last minute goal to steal a point in Kingston Jamaica tonight. (He's Hawaiian, you see.)

We had a little party tonight for a friend going away, so I am sadly not in shape to blog about these two spectacular finishes for my two favorite teams. Furthermore, I've got to be up in three hours to get to a work meeting that will take up my whole morning, so I may not get to talk about them until its so late everyone has moved on. How sad.

Ah well, at least I will have the memory of running laps around my living room couch, pumping my fist and yelling at the top of my lungs after Ching's goal to think about as I drift off here in a few minutes. Way to go Cubs, way to go USA. Woohoo!


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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
 

Go Team USA

One of the big stories of the Olympics so far has been the performance of the US men's basketball team. They have suffered two blowout losses at the hands of second-tier opponents- to Italy in a warmup game and to Puerto Rico in their first actual Olympic game. I didn't see either game, but I read plenty of discussion about the team. The consensus from just about everyone was that they are a lazy, selfish bunch more interested in trying to make a highlight reel play than in playing defense, hustling, and trying to win the game. I Tivo'd yesterday's game against Greece to see for myself. Here are my observations:

1- The team is poorly constructed- This has been a major tenet of the critics and I have to agree. The two most common critiques are the lack of zone-busting perimeter shooters and "role players" (guys who rebound, hustle for loose balls, and play defense.) The lack of outside shooters has been made even more glaring by the shooters we do have performing below their usual level.

Another problem with the roster is the lack of size down low. I haven't heard this point brought up, but watching the game yesterday we were pretty good with Duncan on the floor and lost without him. The roster lists just one guy as a center (Duncan), and even he is a PF/C type. Carlos Boozer (6'-9") is listed as a F/C. There are three other guys on the roster over 6'-9". Of the three, Odom is not a low post body and Okafor and Stoudemire have combined for eleven minutes over two games. I think this is the biggest area where the various players too gutless or selfish (in the bad way) to join this team have proved costly. Elton Brand, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O'Neil... any of these guys could have made a huge difference. Instead its Tim Duncan on an island.

2- This team wants to win- In the one warm-up game I did see, the US cruised to a 25-point win over Puerto Rico. Still, you could see the hot-dogging, the lack of hustle, and the All-Star mentality that the critics have derided. In yesterday's game, things had changed.

Lebron James entered the game in the first half and was immediately the highest energy guy on the floor. He was in his man's face on defense, throwing himself around after loose balls and steals, and getting out faster than any defender on the fast break. He wasn't the only one. Tim Duncan hustled throughout, as you might expect from him. Carlos Boozer made one shaky All-Star type pass, but immediately got back on defense, helped force a bad shot, and took down the defensive rebound. Lamar Odom was a huge presence down the stretch despite severe dehydration and a virus. He blocked several shots in the final minutes, scored a key bucket, and when Greece tried to cut the lead to two with eighteen seconds left he blocked the shot, grabbed the rebound, and sank two free throws to ice it.

I found the reactions of the US bench telling. When James was subbed off after entering the game like a house afire, the whole bench was jumping up and down as they greeted him. Everyone on the team was fired up by the displays of hustle and effort. They didn't look like a team of disinterested all-stars to me.

In fairness, I must admit that there were a couple players who do seem to still fit the stereotype. Stephon Marbury (a fellow Fuzzy Bee, I must admit) is hoisting up shots like its a celebrity game. Carmelo seems to be treating it the same way, albeit in limited minutes (he was 0-4 in five minutes of play yesterday). Stephon's probably beyond hope (he's never been much of a team player so why was he selected in the first place?), but perhaps Anthony can get his act together. Either way, I am not going to hold a couple bad attitudes against the other ten guys.

3- The officiating is <Walton>terrible</Walton>- I realize part of this is a difference between international refs and the ones in the NBA and college. Still, there were an inordinate number of bizarre calls going against the US players. It happened throughout the game, but the most glaring example was how they treated the US's best player. Duncan took over the game for a stretch in the third quarter, only to be sidelined by a fourth foul called on what looked like a clean block. He sat for several minutes, and as soon as he returned the refs blew a fifth foul on an offensive rebound where he made about as much contact as Lenny Harris facing Sandy Koufax.

What made it even more frustrating was the unwillingness of the announcing team to point out the dreadful calls. At one point a phantom rebounding foul was called on a made Greek shot, leading to a four point play. The US players reacted with shock at the whistle, but Doug Collins immediately jumped in praising the officials for supposedly catching Shawn Marion in the act. Of course, the call turned out to be on Stoudemire.

Another example came on a Greek fast break. Their player took it one-one at an American defender and scored. His task was made slightly easier by the fact that he picked up his dribble outside the three point line, took a step, did a ball fake, took three more steps, and laid it in. The announcers' reaction? Laughter, and a "he might have travelled, but its good and the score is...".

So to sum up: we have a team representing the United States of America. They are the most talented team in the tournament, but poor roster construction (not the players' fault), the difficulty of adjusting to the international game (not the players' fault), and some bizarre officiating (not the player's fault) have made it very difficult for them to win. The media is ridiculing them, US fans are ridiculing them, and opposing fans are ridiculing them. Everyone seems to be gleefully rooting for them to fail.

Despite all this, from what I saw yesterday, they are giving their all to win. An underdog, wearing USA on their shirt, striving to win with the support of precisely noone? Works for me. Go Team USA!


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Monday, August 16, 2004
 

Kudos

I want to give a big shoutout the the person(s) who broke into my house the other day. I discovered a few minutes ago that rather than fleeing after taking nothing as I had thought, you actually stole 75-80% of my baseball cap collection. Yes, I spent the last decade visiting parks and collecting caps, only to have you climb in through a window and help yourself. The best part is, it would be useless for me to try to replace them. Each hat was a memento of a visit to a park, so buying a new hat would be completely beside the point.

So way to go, nameless criminal. Hope you enjoy them.


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Implosion


I am not sure there is another way to describe what is happening in the Cubs bullpen at the moment. They gave up a 6 run ninth in Friday's game and then turned around and allowed a 5 run eighth yesterday to blow a game for Mark Prior. All told, the bullpen ERA for the Dodgers series was 11.4. Yikes that is above an airplane ERA.


I am not sure what they can do. Maybe there is an arm on the waiver wire worth picking up. It would be one of the saddest things in the history of the franchise if they scratch and claw through injuries, pick up players at the deadline, only to miss out on the playoffs because they do not have a bullpen.


It is quite likely that Prior and Wood will be treated with extra care down the stretch so the bullpen will be all that more important. They just seem to lack a killer instinct this season. Any time they are on the mound a huge cloud of doom hovers over the park. Numerous times yesterday a Cub hurler got 2 strikes on a batter and could not come up with the pitch to get them out.


The boo birds were out in full force at the ballpark yesterday. I am not a booer at parks because those guys are certainly better than I am plus I would hate to have someone boo me while I was doing my job. Not that programming a computer and crunching numbers is a spectator sport. But, the booing does serve notice to the changing feeling around Wrigley. No longer the ivy covered beer garden for yuppies the fans now expect to win and are very vocal when the team plays poorly.


When Nomar got traded one of the common themes I picked up from sports writers is that he would be happier in Chicago because fans don't expect to win. It might have been true in the lean years, but this statement is just garbage now. The Cubs were favored coming into the season and the fans expected a winner. All of those BS arguments about fans not wanting a winner and just enjoying the park are out the window at this point.


Of course, the Cubs are tied for the Wild Card at this point with the best team and the easiest schedule. They should be fine if the pen can find a way to get people out. Personally, I think they will make the playoffs and be a force in them. Just don't expect me to shrug it off if they fail.


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Sunday, August 15, 2004
 

The Doctor is ill

One of the best things about Dusty Baker as a manager is his willingness to stand by one of his players. The flipside of that tendancy is the danger of being unwilling or unable to identify and deal with a problem when it happens. Right now, Kyle Farnsworth is a problem.

From June 27 through August 1, Farnsworth dominated. He faced 72 hitters, striking out 32% of them. His ERA over that period was 0.53. Since then he has faced 23 batters, striking out just 4% (i.e. one batter). His ERA over the latter period is 21.00. Although its not much of a sample size, its been an extreme variation in performance. I'll leave it to the resident statistician to calculate confidence intervals, but its clear to me that Farnsworth is not the same pitcher and shows no signs of getting it back any time soon.

I want only the best for Kyle Farnsworth- partly his cool nickname that has spread all over the internet was coined by Dennis on this little old blog, partly because at his best he is the filthiest reliever we've got, but mostly just because he is a Cub and I like our players and our team and I want them to do well. Right now, the best thing for him and the team is to move him to a lower profile role and see if he can get the kinks worked out. I hope he can, because our bullpen is beginning to be a real Achilles heel.


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The only worthwhile thing to come out of Augusta...

... is I-20. All right, so its an old joke and may or may not be completely accurate, but like any joke there is at least a grain of truth to it. I don't play or follow golf, and excluding a certain golf course I don't think there is too much going on out there. Yesterday though, the local SABR chapter had an outing to an Augusta Greenjackets (get it, "Greenjackets"?) game. I am always willing to add a hat to my collection (one for each franchise I visit), so even though Augusta's colors are green, yellow, pink, and purple, I headed out yesterday for a cap and a game.

The stadium was actually pretty nice. Built in 1995, it had a touch of the retro-modern HOK thing going. The major drawback was the aluminum bleachers which lent themselves to a deafening stamping from the local children throughout the game. Augusta starter Jarrett Gardner went seven shutout innings, allowing just two singles and no walks. He's got an interesting line for the year: 123.1 IP, 81 K, 10 BB. Not many strikeouts but fantastic control, but he's right-handed. A finesse righty I guess.

Augusta got a run in the third on a walk and three consecutive Hagerstown errors. For a while it looked like Hagerstown's Jesse Floyd was going to be a Clementesque loser, but he gave up a long homer in the sixth for a legit 3-0 defeat. The best subplot of the game was a duel between Hagerstown's Jesse Schmidt and Augusta centerfielder Robert Evans. In the fourth, Schmidt hammered a line drive to the left-center gap and was robbed by a diving catch from Evans. In the seventh, Schmidt hit a little deeper in the same direction but found the glove of a diving Evans again. With two down in the ninth, Schmidt hit a long, high drive to right-center. This time Evans got under it but with the wall looming he short-armed his reach and let it fall of his glove for what the hometown scorer ruled a triple. Fortunately for Evans, the next batter grounded out to third to wrap it up.

Other than that, I don't have much to say about the Cubs. I missed Friday's game due to work and yesterday's due to the Augusta trip. If Prior can look as good today as Kerry looks in the boxscore from yesterday, I'll be one happy camper. Go Cubs.

Oh, and go see Garden State. Its written by, directed by, and stars Zack Braff of my seventh-greatest TV show of all-time. Its actually not much like Scrubs, but its awfully good in its own way. It will certainly be a DVD purchase when it comes out.


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Thursday, August 12, 2004
 

Maddux tidbit

I had to comment on this Tom Verducci mailbag. He repeats the old chestnut about Greg Maddux being somehow not that good in October. Unlike most of the people who make that argument he actually looks up the numbers that refute his case, but then goes on to ignore them. Check out the ERAs:

Maddux in the regular season2.89
Maddux in the postseason3.22
Maddux in the World Series2.09
Maddux in the regular season with Atlanta2.63
Maddux in postseason with Atlanta2.81

Where is the evidence that this guy has been lousy in October? Maddux has been better in the regular season- by an amount equivalent to a grand total of seven earned runs over 190 innings. Throw out the Cubs years (and a certain disastrous NLCS early in his career), and the margin drops to three earned runs over 182.2 innings. When you factor in the quality of offense he is facing in the postseason versus the regular season, I would venture to say he has actually pitched better in the postseason.

Verducci also argues that the Braves pitchers, Maddux specifically, have been outpitched by their opposing counterparts. First of all, the Braves have gone 60-56 in the postseason since '91 and 47-42 since Maddux arrived. If they were getting outpitched, it doesn't show up in the win/loss column. Second, he doesn't consider the possibility that given a Braves team built primarily on pitching, the Braves pitchers just might be facing tougher batters than their counterparts are. Third, the Braves won five pennants since '91. Their problem, insofar as they have had one, has been converting those into World Championships. That being the case, you would think Verducci would find Maddux's sterling 2.09 career World Series ERA instructive.

Finally, he says Maddux is no Smoltz in the postseason. Smoltz's career postseason ERA is 2.77. Huge difference. His career World Series ERA is 2.49, higher than Maddux's. But hey, why not look at other supposed postseason clutch performers? Guys like Andy Pettitte (4.30 postseason ERA) or Randy Johnson (3.08)? Nah, easier to just repeat the conventional wisdom and call it a day.

I was hoping this post would pass the rain delay, but apparently its still coming down. I guess it was just too easy to write. Picking on irrational arguments from CNN people is like shooting fish in a barrel, or maybe like taking Cam Bonifay to the cleaners on deadline day. Not that the Kruk network is much better, but you know what I mean. I suppose it could be worse- they could be writing Critc's Corner for the Trib.


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Good Times

Keepin' our head above water
Makin' a wave when we can

Big Z led the Cubs to a tidy 5-1 win over the Padres last night, gaining back the game the Cubs had ceded to San Diego the night before. It was a game where we seemed in control throughout. Corey was two for three with a walk, a steal, and a long two-run homer that put the Cubs on top for good. Of course, he followed up the steal by getting thrown out by THREE steps trying to steal third. I guess nobody's perfect.

Sammy had another good day, sprinting into second on a ball cut off in the gap, then moving to third and then home on consecutive sac flies by Aramis and Lee. The star of the game had to be Carlos, who had the Padres in the palm of his hand throughout. I didn't care for Dusty's decision to let him hit for himself leading off the seventh. He had a golden opportunity to both get his young starting pitcher out with 107 pitches thrown and lead off the inning with a hitter, but he chose to roll the dice and leave him in. It worked out, but I will say that I nearly swallowed my tounge when he ended up stretching out to try to beat the throw at first. I had visions of Jason Kendall dancing through my head.

Speaking of Kendall (who I once vowed to marry after he hit a key home run in the world series of my simulation league), he reached base five times in six trips as the Pirates helped us out with another walkoff win over the Giants last night. I can't believe the Dodgers didn't make a play for him at the deadline. Anyway, the lead is now two on San Diego, three on San Fran, and 3.5 over Philly. This afternoon looks like the toughest matchup of the series, as Matt "The Cooler" Clement (8-11, 3.29) takes on Jake Peavy (8-3, 2.16). Peavy has been very DIPS-lucky (DIPS ERA 3.24), but Matt has been somewhat as well (3.82). A win puts us three clear. Let's go Cubs.


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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
 

Dusty pulls odd lineup out of hat


Tuesday was a scheduled day of rest for Aramis Ramirez and his groin meaning Jose Macias and his curve ball flailing ways got the start. Macias' career OBP is .285 and his 2004 OBP is a robust .288 meaning that he is basically an awful player (or hitter). Where would most sane people bat an awful hitter (assuming he even has a job in the first place), eight, seventh, hell LaRussa would put him ninth.


Not, Dusty, he decided to put the black hole of offense in the two spot. To be sure, Patterson seems to be doing better lately (including a great AB against Hoffman in the ninth), but if a .325 OBP player is your leadoff man then the two spot just cannot be someone of Macias' skill. Todd Walker has a .371 OBP and he hit down in the lineup. Is it any surprise that the Cubs hit 5 solo homers last evening


The odd thing about the whole situation is that Dusty knows deep down that Macias is pretty terrible or he would not have pinch hit for him in the ninth with the game on the line. Speaking of the ninth, the Cubs gave it a good shot getting the tying and winning runs to the plate. A-Ram pinch hit and about took Hoffman out of the park just hitting the ball a little off the sweet spot of the bat. Ramon, pinch hitting for the Macias, worked the count 2-0 before lining out to left.


On the plus side, Nomar hit his first homer as a Cub and Prior did not blow a gasket Kerry Wood style upon leaving the game although no one would have blamed him. He did not have his good stuff last night, but the inability of the home plate umpire to call a curve ball for a strike did not help. He had Klesko struck out in the third inning but the call never came and then 4 Padre runs followed all with two outs.


The Cubs play another one under the Wrigley lights this evening trying to even the series and get their two game cushion back in the Wild Card race. I will probably not see any of it as I will be at the GABP watching the hometown nine take on the ol' Trolley Dodgers.


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Yee-hah

I woke up this morning and headed out to the driveway where a flat tire with a screw sticking out of it awaited me. A friend picked me up and took me to work, where I was unable to work on a pressing project for someone I like because I was shanghied into trying to clean up the mess of someone on vacation. Of course, they wouldn't let me throw out his stupid system and do it right, so I had to struggle through his garbage all day.

Then I came home and got raped in a few poker tournaments. KK loses to AJ, AQ loses to KQ, that sort of thing. From there it was off to softball where I gave up three homers to this mullet-wearing Keith-Hernandez looking jerk. (I call him a jerk because he hit home runs off me.) From there, I come home to find that Mark Prior has been shelled and the Cubs have lost. I check my email and head toward the bedroom, only to find my brand new home has been broken into. The perpetrator opened a window, took my pillow out of its case (?), and rifled through my baseball card drawers. The police cheerfully look for fingerprints, find nothing, reassure me that this rarely happens around here, and leave.

The final indignity is that I have nobody to talk to about this wondeful day so I spill my guts on the blog, thus pushing the column I am proud of off the top of the list. So please- do me a big favor and scroll down to the column about the Sosa article in today's Trib. Read it. Comment on it. Make me feel better. Unless of course someone breaks into my house and puts an ice pick through my skull before I wake up, in which case never mind.


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Tuesday, August 10, 2004
 

New standard for stupidity

Sometimes, people say incorrect things. Sometimes, they say downright stupid things. And sometimes, the Tribune Company pays someone to write things that are so mind-bogglingly wrong you think someone is trying to parody the good old Iraqi Information Minister. Let's break it down claim by claim.

Memo to Sammy Sosa: It's time to give it up, big guy.
He thinks Sosa should retire. Ok.
You're 35 years old but no longer the constellation-busting supernova of the late 1990s.
True enough, although since an overwhelming majority of position players aren't as good at 35 as they were in their late 20's its not exactly news.
Your skills have diminished to the point that you are nothing but the hole in the Cubs' scrumptious bagel of a lineup.
Say what? Sosa has a higher OPS than the Cub average for leadoff, second, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth lineup slots this year. Its higher than Grudzialanek's, Walker's, Barrett's, Patterson's, Alou's, and even Nomar Garciaparra's. And he's the hole?
Despite the occasional dinger, you have left more men stranded this season than Paris Hilton.
The occasional dinger? The Cubs lead the NL in HR/AB. Sosa leads the Cubs in HR/AB. He's the most frequent home run hitter on the most frequent home run hitting team.
Never that great a defender, you are now the Chevy Chase of the Cubs' outfield.
Sosa's fielding percentage is .987, fifth best among the nineteen qualifying right fielders in the majors. His zone rating is .921, first among the nineteen. If he's Chevy Chase, the other eighteen guys must be John Belushi.
Memo to Dusty Baker: If you insist on continuing to play Sosa, it's time to move your cleanup slugger down in the lineup as befits a man hitting only .223 since the All-Star break and only .143 in late innings of close games.
First, what kind of sample size is the 24 games since the All-Star game? Second, why ignore the eight homers and .511 slugging percentage since the break? Third, why is this article not about Grudzialanek, Patterson, or Barrett, all of whom have lower OPS's since the break? Fourth, why say he is hitting .143 close and late when its actually .186 (with a .512 slugging percentage)? Fifth, why quote close and late and ignore splits like runners in scoring position (1.055 OPS) or man on third with less than two out (1.198 OPS)?
How far down? With the production of Nomar Garciaparra added to the heavy lumber of Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, the eight hole would be a good place to start.
Sosa is out OPSing both Nomar's numbers for the year and as a Cub, but even letting that slide we are left with the arguement that because there are three hitters better than Sosa, seven hitters should hit above Sosa. Something doesn't add up there.
Except when Kerry Wood or Mark Prior are starting. Then No. 9 might be more fitting.
I suppose this is another witticism on par with the brilliant Paris Hilton jibe above, but just in case: Sosa's OPS is higher than that of Prior's and Wood's combined, with Rey Rey's OBP thrown in to boot.
Memo to Cubs fans:
Memo to Stephen Nidetz: Your byline says you are a reporter. Lame jokes and column gimmicks like couching everything you say as a "memo to" someone are usually the province of columnists. Of course, with arguements this disingenious, I don't suppose a little thing like journalistic standards is going to give your editor pause.
Stop booing Sosa every time he fails. He deserves better.
Finally, a good point. Too bad its sarcasm (I think).
He's a proud and stubborn man who doesn't recognize his bat is a tad slower and his body is a tad thicker.
Who says he doesn't realize it? And why (correctly) say he's a tad worse here when saying earlier that he was the worst player in the lineup?
And it only makes him more determined to stay where he is—to the detriment of his teammates.
Again, the third-best hitter on the team is killing his teammates. Obviously.
Sosa should be cheered when he comes to bat for all that he's meant to the franchise in the past. And if he fails, which he does more often than not these days, let the silence be defeaning.
I suppose that's literally true. Of course, there have been twelve seasons since 1903 in which a player has succeeded more than 50% of the time at the plate. If that's the standard by which we decide whether a player gets cheered, then its hurray for Barry Bonds and crickets for everybody else.

There's still several months to go, and you know Mariotti will make a run, but right now Mr. Stephen Nidetz has a huge lead in the race for the "Worst Piece of Cubs Journalism" award for 2004. There are plenty of people writing blogs you can find through the sidebar over there that do better work than the typical print journalist, but this one really takes the cake. Even the most opinionated Sosa-bashing bloggers I've seen at least try to maintain some tenuous hold on reality. The Trib should be ashamed.


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Trade analysis, part 2

The long-awaited conclusion has arrived, and it features a guest appearance by James L. Crockett of Just North of Wrigley Field. First, the pitchers:

Justin Jones
YearAgeLevelTeamIPERAK/9BB/9
200217ABoise5.01.807.25.4
200318ALansing71.02.2811.04.1
200419ALansing64.33.788.33.1

Jones is a big lefty with three strong pitches (fastball, curve, change). His eye-popping strikeout numbers, particularly last year, are enough to make anyone salivate. Teenage pitching prospects are as risky a commodity as there is in baseball, and to make matters worse Jones has had recurring bouts of shoulder tendonitis and an occasional "dead arm" phase. Jones has a lot of upside, but looks like a high-reward, very-high risk guy to me.

Francis Beltran
YearAgeLevelTeamIPERAK/9BB/9
199919AEugene28.08.369.04.5
200020AEugene43.22.6810.74.1
200020ALansing17.29.688.29.7
200121ADaytona95.15.006.83.8
200222AAWest Tenn41.22.599.34.1
200222MLBChicago12.07.508.312.0
200323AAAIowa48.22.966.13.5
200424MLBChicago35.04.6310.35.7

As you can see, Francis has been tortoising his way up the ladder over two millennia now. His strikeout numbers indicate the good stuff that so many pitchers in the Cub organization are said to have. The bugaboo has been control- his career high K/BB ratio was just 2.26 and that was back in 2002. For a guy who has had the advantage of pitching in relief for nearly his entire career, he's never shown the dominance you would like to see at lower levels. Another caveat is last year's bicep injury that shut him down from July through this year's spring training. Considering that the vast majority of standout major league relievers are converted starters, this doesn't look like the resume of a star pitcher to me.

James adds: I think it would be a major oversight not to mention his obscene penchant for home
runs, unless it was just this year, and his dominance over the Domincan Winter Leagues (MVP in Winter 2003/4). Honestly, it's the only way to justify the trade from anybody's perspective other than the Cubs and to convince myself I didn't wake up in a Bizarro World last Saturday.


Brendan Harris
YearAgeLevelTeamPAAVGOBPSLG
200121ALansing130.274.369.442
200222ADaytona468.329.391.532
200222AAWest Tenn55.321.345.547
200323AAWest Tenn486.280.356.425
200424AAAIowa271.311.353.531

Brendan Harris is probably the best chip the Cubs gave up in this deal. He had an outstanding year in 2002, pounding out a .923 OPS in Daytona and following that up with an .892 after a late-season promotion. He regressed a bit last year, but a lot of that came from a 40 point fall in batting average (a relatively volatile number). Give him another ten singles- just one more dying quail every two weeks- to get up to his lifetime average of .304 and that OPS jumps to nearly .950. He bounced back this year to near .900 at Iowa.

I see two drawbacks to Harris. First, he has yet to find a position. The Cubs have tried him all over the diamond and he was no more than adequate at any of them. Second, he's not exactly a spring chicken by prospect standards. The ceiling on position player making his major league splash 25 or older just isn't that high. He's low-risk, moderate reward.

James adds: Whether 24 is young or not, the Cubs don't have a lot of better infield options in the higher levels of their organization. Thankfully, the Cubs astutely traded Juan Cruz (aka Francis Beltran, the first) to Atlanta for Richard Lewis, who may have already passed Harris as far as ability to replace Walker or Grudzielanek at second next year for the Cubs.

Matt Murton
YearAgeLevelTeamPAAVGOBPSLG
200119NCAAGa. Tech175.385.434.615
200220NCAAGa. Tech286.344.427.536
200321NCAAGa. Tech281.301.388.524
200321ALowell216.286.375.397
200422ASarasota418.301.371.452

Finally, the lesser-known Fuzzy Bee that the Cubs acquired. Murton has a great reputation as a guy who loves the game. He was voluntarily keeping a "hitting notebook" on himself before the Red Sox began to mandate it, and Baseball Prospectus reported that he can be seen toting around a copy of Ted Williams' "The Science of Hitting." He's maintained his AVG and OBP while increasing his power even as he moved up a level this year. Scouts love his strength, and he has made a habit of winning home run derbies wherever he goes. He doesn't have great speed on the bases, but Richard Musterer of beesball.com told me in an email that he's better on the bases than you might think from his actual speed. He doesn't have a lot of range in the field and his arm probably limits him to left, but I think his power potential gives him a higher ceiling than Harris.

James adds: I don't know a lot about Murton, but what I know I like, including his .850 OPS since joining the Cubs system (small sample size be damned).

Summary
Murton and Harris are a draw. Murton is younger; Harris is closer to the majors. Murton has more power; Harris plays infield. Both are just acceptable with the glove. In essence, that leaves a promising teenage pitcher with arm problems and a minor league veteran reliever for one of baseball's best shortstops. I'd make that deal seven days a week and twice on Saturday. Jim Hendry just made it once, but that's enough.

James adds: It's like the Cubs went to their nearest Jewel-Osco and bought a Choice Prime Rib (Nomar) and got a sack of baking potatoes for nothing (Murton), and they got it with money they found on the streets. I don't mean to denigrate Jones, Beltran and Harris in that manner, but analogies are as analogies do.


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Monday, August 09, 2004
 

Dear Nomar,


Please do not be concerned about the performance of your new team during last night's game. See, these are the Cubs and for the last two seasons, they follow a pattern. Play well for an extended period of time then lay one gigantic egg and look like kids who were picked last for their Little League team. Usually the egg laying occurs on the first game of a series right after a travel day but last night was an exception.


I know you might be worried about dropped pop ups, throws into the outfield, lack of covering third base, unrelenting hacking at change ups, and other mistakes, but please do not let it tarnish your view of the team. The Cubs always come back from these games and play well. In fact, you still hold a two game cushion in the Wild Card. The sky is not falling.


Also, please do not worry about your new right fielder. True, his OBP is .346 at the moment which would be his lowest since 1997, but he usually finds one time during the season to get really hot. I think this would be a good time. Just keep getting on base and let him knock you in all August and September.


We hope you are enjoying your time with the Cubs thus far and will consider coming back next season to help defend the National League pennant.


One more example of why players like Baker


Baker is usually enemy number 1 on most blogs for his handling of the lineup, pitching staff, bullpen and other matters related to on the field managing. But, make no mistake, no one can argue with his track record in regards to handling players. He keeps private matters in the clubhouse and always backs his players to the media.


On Saturday afternoon another one of Baker's gestures led to Maddux's 300th win. It may sound strange but I am glad he had Rothschild check on Greg and pull him at the exact moment he did. To recap, the Cubs were up 3 runs and the first two Giants reached base in the bottom of the sixth.


Instead of having Greg try to gut out a few more batters and possibly put the win in major jeopardy, he just pulled him and set it up where Greg would most probably get the win but would definitely not get the loss. He set him up for success.


Contrast this to Larry Bowa in the game when Eric Milton took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Cubs. Milton has been a six inning pitcher all season. He gave up a bloop double to Barrett and was now emotionally and physically drained. Instead of just getting him out there and trusting the game to your closer, he left him in there to not only lose the win, but come one more Cubs hit away from losing the game.


Now, I know this is a small thing and most if not all pitchers would tell a manager to leave them in, but one of the most important things for a manager is put players in situations where they can succeed and be rewarded for that success. Baker did that for Maddux on Saturday and it led to baseball history.


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Cubs lose

But hey, at least nobody decided to black me out for this one.

Kerry struck out zero batters in seven innings tonight, the first time in his career he has failed to U-turn even a single opposing hitter. Its a rare occurance for an upper-tier strikeout pitcher, especially in a game where the pitcher is both uninjured and pitching well enough to last late into the game. For instance, Randy Johnson has struck out at least one hitter in every start since 1989, except for one in 2000 where he was chased in the third inning. Pedro's streak reaches back to a game in 1996 when he lasted just 1.1 against San Diego. Hopefully its just an abberation and he's back to his normal self by the next time out.

Also, in the seventh game of his Cub career, Nomar rested (he did pinch-hit in the eighth.) We knew that some extra rest was going to be required, so while its no fun to see him on the bench it is something that we will just have to deal with. As long as it doesn't end being more than once a week, I still think the trade is a net plus for the franchise.


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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Saturday, August 07, 2004
 

Thank you, FOX!

I am delighted to be receiving this riveting coverage of the historic Braves/Diamondbacks matchup this afternoon. I think its great that you not only are keeping Greg Maddux's attempt at a 300th win off the air in Atlanta, but also that you are using your blackout powers to make sure even those of us who have shelled out hundreds of dollars for the extra innings package can't see it either. Bravo, all of you.

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Friday, August 06, 2004
 

Selective memory


Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith have been the hosts of PTI this week in what can only be described as the worst half hour of television ever. Like most people in the era of sports talk radio they feel that logical points do not have to be made and the only requirement for debating is a loud voice. I guess some guys just like to yell.


Last night one of the toss up questions was whether Sammy Sosa was a better player than Reggie Jackson. Eating dinner, I looked at Kara and warned that a hatchet job was coming. See, Bayless does not like Sosa much. He was one of the harshest critics of the corked bat incident last season and always brings up steroids in regards to Sammy with nothing but monster numbers as evidence.


His justification for putting Jackson ahead of Sosa is that Reggie was Mr. October and come September and October, Sammy is "so-so". I decided to look at see if this was correct. True, Sammy's September OPS over the last three seasons in his worst at .850 (still above major league average, but that is not the point). To counteract this point, his October OPS in the same span is a Ruthian 1.815 albeit in a small sample size.


Sammy's postseason stats include another just over .800 OPS in only 60 odd plate appearances. Impressive is that he has drawn 13 walks in those plate appearances. True, Sammy has not torn the cover off the ball, but his OPS is only 80 points lower than Reggie's in the postseason. Add to the debate that Sammy has only played in three series and the argument becomes pretty silly. How can you make a comparison between players when one has hardly competed on the same level?


The problem with the whole thing comes down to what people remember. Reggie hit three homers in one World Series game, so he is forever branded as a great clutch hitter. If he went oh-fer in his remaining playoff at bats people would always remember that. Given that memory is fickle, I ask, what would have happened if the Cubs pulled out game 1 of last years NLCS. Sammy's game tying shot in the ninth would have become part of baseball legend. But, Guthrie served up a basket shot to Lowell and the Marlins prevailed. I guess the point is not to let your memory taint your perception. Sammy is doing just fine.


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More!

Prior throws six scoreless in Coors. Cubs sweep Rockies. Phillies sweep Padres to push the Cubs two games clear in the wildcard. Nomar Garciaparra is in pinstripes on my desktop, and not the evil kind. Could I have a few more months of this, please?

Apparently the super-cool mlb.com, boxscores still have some kinks to be worked out. I missed the game yesterday, so I tried to call up some highlight clips starting with Corey's walk. Instead I got the last half of a Becker commercial and the first half of the "Sammy gets a spicy taco" Pepsi commercial. Speaking of which, wouldn't that commercial make more sense if the Sox fan took the Pepsi so Sammy couldn't drink it? You and I know Pepsi is swill, but if the concept is that Pepsi tastes good and relieves your thirst then all the Sox fan did was get Sammy a taco leading to him getting to drink a Pepsi. I dunno, maybe its supposed to be an ironic commentary on the Sox trying to hurt the Cubs but instead giving us just what we need (thanks for the 534 homers by the way.) But I digress.

IPHRERBBSOHR
Prior (W, 3-2) 6.0 6 0 0 2 8 0

I would say that is a sight for sore eyes, but as mentioned above my eyes and everything else are feeling pretty good right now. From reports in Game Chatter at BTF it seems like his breaking stuff had some of the snap we have been accustomed to seeing in the past. I can personally vouch for the nastiness of his last pitch of the game, having seen Burnitz flail helplessly at it on ESPN News. I still think the odds of having Prior and Wood healthy for the playoffs are not very good, but I'm more optimistic about it now than I have been all season.

Matt Clement (who is not a Red Sock) will face Jason Schmidt tonight. The second best hitter in the San Francisco lineup is J. T. Snow. The fifth best hitter in our lineup is Nomar Garciaparra. If we can find a way to keep Bonds in check, I like our chances.


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Thursday, August 05, 2004
 

Nomar hatcheting continues

The Boston Globe has come up with a story that supposedly Nomar told the Red Sox one story and the public another this spring. I have no idea whether there is any validity to it, but I do know three things.

1- If this story is true, I am surprised that nobody in the Red Sox organization said a word about this to anyone until they shipped him out triggering the full-on media lynching.

2- If this story is true, I still don't really care. However he hurt it, he just needs to be as healthy as possible and in our lineup to make me happy.

3- Whether or not this story is true, Boston has lapped the field in the category of turning on its star athletes. They make Cub fans booing Sammy for having a .930 OPS look positively benevolent.


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I like winning

As foreshadowed by the MVP 2004 Cubs on my home computer, the Cubs last night won their third in a row with Nomar Garciaparra on the roster. I didn't catch much of the game since I mostly kept it on the Yankees game out of kindness to the Yankee fan at our poker game. It may have also had to do with the fact that the Yankees and Cubs were both losing, and in that scenario I tend to get more enjoyment out of the Junior Circuit game. As it turned out both teams came from behind to win, while the Yankee fan won our tournament and I picked up a single table SNG win on Party before going to bed, so in the end there was something for everyone.

I am generally pretty positive towards our players, to the point that I've on occasion been accused of head-in the sand homerism (and I don't think they were referring to the epic nature of the literature I post here.) That said, when it comes to actual verbal reactions to their performance in-game, I tend to be very, very harsh. I don't boo, but the people from poker can attest to the invective I've hurl the team's way through the TV. Last night it was the offense (one run in six Coors Field innings) that was drawing my anger. Fortunately, Sammy reacted well to my hate spew and launched a three-run game tying bomb in the seventh. From then on it was just a matter of time, as runs, runs, and more runs eventually were enough to overcome a shaky bullpen. Mark Prior against Jason Jennings tonight. I might start to get optimistic in spite of myself if Mark can look like Mark.

One final thing- I just pulled up the boxscore at mlb.com to double-check the inning of Sosa's blast. There I found every event in the boxscore hyperlinked. Clicking the link brought up video clips of said event. For instance, clicking on the "2" in Nomar's hit column brought up clips of his two hits, quickly and seamlessly to my desktop. How cool is that? I still miss the unique team sites, but I've got to admit that website is really showing some promise.


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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
 

Nomar receives standing O....In Colorado?!?!?


I realize Scott has already mentioned the Cubs victory last night, but I thought I would add some more points about the game. When Nomar came up to bat in the first inning the crowd erupted. I mean went nuts. Now, it is well known that Cubs' fans travel well and routinely take over visiting ball parks, but this just seemed different. The fans wanted their shot at selling Nomar on Cubdom and frankly Colorado sounded like Wrigley for a few seconds. Great moment all around.


The game was looked like it was going to be a classic Coors shootout as Wood got touched for 3 in the first and then Fassero saw those 3 and raised 2 more in the top of the second. That was the only scoring in the game though as Kerry Wood settled in to pitch 8 strong innings. The most impressive thing was his adjustment to the thin air. I remember Prior talking about throwing a different breaking ball in Colorado and he must have given some advice to Kerry. Wood could not locate his 12 to 6 yakker early and moved to more of a last breaking slider after that. It almost looked like a cutter.


In addition to the different curve, his heater seemed to have a little sink to it later in the game. I am starting to think that this Maddux guy is giving some pitching lessons. Wood needed only 110 pitches to get through 8 innings. Usually he is near 125 at this point. I don't think Wood is the only one getting tips either. Zambrano has developed a pretty nasty pitch that starts outside to right handers and cuts back over the corner.


Philadelphia helped the Cubs out last night by beating the Padres thus putting the Cubs in a tie for the fourth playoff spot. The Cubs are clearly the best team in this race and I think they will win it going away. We will let St. Louis get nice and comfortable before ruining their season by beating them in the LCS. Imagine a game 7 in St. Louis where the Cubs take the lead in the 13th on a Nomar homer and then have Carlos come in because the Cubs are out of pitchers and then get out of a bases loaded jam by throwing three fastballs by Edmonds to take the pennant. I know it sounds far fetched....but the Cardinals could win three games. Ok, maybe not.


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Rolling

The company softball team is finally playing up to potential, winning our last three games by a combined 82-18. I came home from tonight's game to find our Cubs starting to click as well, putting up a five-run inning and holding the Rockies down for the rest of the night. Works for me.

I've got the prospect write-up 75% done, but I am dead tired so its going to have to wait another day before I get it posted. In the meantime, can you guess who the only participant in the CBA Prediction contest to correctly predict we would trade for Nomar was? None other than my colleague Dennis Goodman. Should've gone to Vegas, Dennis.


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Monday, August 02, 2004
 

Miscommunication nearly scratched deal

Check out this tidbit on the big deal. Apparently someone was supposed to give the Twins another player, but in the last-minute chaos nobody knew which team it was. With time running out, the Twins let whoever it was off the hook.

Given the small price the Cubs seem to have paid, I would tend to think it was us who got away with an extra player. Gotta love it.


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Sunday, August 01, 2004
 

Good enough

It would have been nice if Maddux had mowed them down and made history while Nomar went about 5-6 in his first Cubs game, but in the end there is a W flying over Wrigley and that's what really matters. Greg came out after eighty-six pitches, just a half-inning before the Cub offense got rolling and propelled Kent Mercker to a win in Maddux's stead. Nomar contributed several fine defensive plays on some tough pop-ups and had an RBI single to cap the scoring in the seventh. He ripped a ball down the line on the first pitch he saw. I was thinking RBI double, but Bell got a glove on it so it was not to be.

All right, so we are 1-0 in the Nomar era. Eerily, that's the exact same record my MVP 2004 team had one game into their Nomar era (74-0 so far). We've got a day off tomorrow to sit back and enjoy the acquisition and the win, and then its off to Colorado. I'll try to get part two of the trade analysis up tonight. Nomar!


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A Rational Evaluation of the Trade, Part 1

After spending a large chunk of the last 18 hours hollering "NOMAHHH!" at people, I am now going to attempt to bring it down a notch and calmly take a look at the numbers. In Part 1, I am going to look at the three shortstops involved in the deal and see how they stack up. In Part 2, I am going to look at the prospects that changed hands.

YEAROBPSLGEQAMLVrSS#
1999.418.603.324+.4222
2000.434.599.342+.4751
2002.352.528.289+.2342
2003.345.524.286+.1704
2004.367.500.285+.1793

Let's start with Nomar's bat. I've left out his numbers from 2001 when he got only 91 plate appearances due to a poorly treated wrist injury. First impression is that this guy was a great hitter once, and remains a great hitter for a shortstop. The MLVr number is the park-adjusted number of runs he would add or subtract to an average lineup per game. The SS# is his rank among all big league shortstops. He has been one of the top four hitting shortstops every year in the past and again this year. Clearly, he is a quality hitter.

YEARHOMEROADPFvsLvsR
19991.0201.0451051.0531.026
2000.979.624101.825.816
2002.884.87598.898.875
20031.050.687105.946.844
2004.857.877103.781.887

Next we look at his splits. In 2000 and 2003 we see an alarming home/road split. Could it be that his stick is just a product of Fenway Park? Well, in the other three years listed he has basically no home/road split. Also, the park factors for Fenway are not as large as you might expect from reputation. I don't see a major reason for concern here. (Again, recall that the MLVr numbers from the first table are adjusted for park.) I also see no exploitable weakness against lefties or righties. Nomar is a good hitter against pitchers throwing with either hand.

NAME200220032004WA2004 RWA R
Gonzalez-.014-.099-.243-.157-14-9
Cabrera-.054+.062-.229-.103-13-6
Garciaparra+.234+.170.179+.1851011

On to a comparison. This chart shows the MLVr for the three shortstops in question for 2002-2004. The WA column is the weighted average between this year, two thirds of last year, and one third of 2002. The two final columns are the number of runs that the 2004 and WA MLVrs project out to over the 58 games we have remaining.

First thing that jumps out is that while Nomar has been consistently good, Gonzo and Cabrera have varied from mediocre to dreadful. Consider that the jump from Gonzo's 2004 to Nomar's is 43% larger than the jump from Rey Ordonez to Gonzo. If this year's numbers hold up, this trade has half-again as large an offensive impact as getting rid of Rey Rey did. Its all I can do to remain focused and not burst out with a NOMMMMAAAAHHHH!!! Oh rats, I just did.

The weighted average isn't quite as huge a difference, but its still large. I think its fair to say that 58 games of Nomar is worth somewhere between 20 and 25 runs over either of the two alternatives.

NAME200220032004WA
Gonzalez0+6-2+1
Cabrera+4+2+1+2
Garciaparra+1-3-10-6

Defensive statistics are notoriously shaky, but we've got to make do with what we've got. These numbers are adjusted fielding runs above average from Baseball Prospectus. I've broken them down to a per game average and then projected them out over the final 58 games. The big thing here is Nomar's ugly -10 this year. Even with a weighted average, it still pulls him down to a -6 overall. There are a couple reasons I think he is likely to do better than these numbers show. First, he has played just 37 games at short this year. That's an awfully tiny sample size to go by. Second, coming into this season he had a good reputation and solid performances statistically. Another measure, UZR, had him +4 fielding runs per season over the last three years. That's just one run worse than Gonzo and five worse than Cabrera. My opinion is that Nomar is probably the worst of the three shortstops defensively, but not by more than a couple runs between now and October.

Summary
Considering offense and defense from now through the end of the year, Nomar Garciaparra should be around twenty runs better than either Alex Gonzalez or Orlando Cabrera. The rule of thumb is that ten runs equals a win, but the impact on a team that creates a low-run scoring environment (due to good pitching and iffy hitting) like the Cubs is even greater. I think Nomar ought to be worth between two and three additional wins the rest of the way.

Now there are some caveats. Nomar has had problems with his wrist in the past and his Achilles tendon this year. He's not young (he turned 31 last week), and he has declined from his '99-'00 peak. He could get hurt, or the pitching staff could fall apart, or another wild card team could get hot, or a million other things, and we'd miss the playoffs and have nothing to show for what we gave up. The thing is, that's true of any deal. No trade or acquisition or move can guarantee the future. Its all about putting yourself in the best possible position to win, and Jim Hendry has done that in a huge way. For at least today, I am going to let myself forget that he employed Lenny Harris and Rey Ordonez and instead just share the love. Way to go, Jim!

Tonight I'll be back with Part 2, in which I try to evaluate the prospects that changed hands in the deal. Make sure to be watching WGN at 2:20 EDT as Greg goes for 300 and Nomar arrives at Wrigley. And one last thing...

NOMMAAAAAAHHH!!!


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NOMAR

What a day to be alive. Its so great I am going to reuse the headline. Heck, I might just use it for every post for the rest of the year. Now to be objective, this trade is not without risk. We gave up some pretty good talent for a guy with some injury history and no guarantees we will be playing in October. And yet...

Folks, this was a brilliant trade. An incredible, bold, genius, Katie-bar-the-doors-cause-the-Cubs-have-arrived kind of trade. We made an enormous upgrade at an essential position that was the weakest on our team. We didn't have to mortgage the future to make it happen, and we got cash and a good prospect thrown in on the deal. I am planning a thorough breakdown tomorrow morning when I wake up, but let me hit you with three fun little anecdotes before I go to bed.

1- In my MVP 2004 season, I got tired of Alex Gonzalez so I traded Greg Maddux and Andy Pratt for Nomar Garciaparra. I am 74-0 since the trade. Take it from me, he looks pretty darn good in Cub pinstripes.

2- Both Nomar and Murton hail from the trade school down the street. That may not seem like a compelling arguement to those of you who didn't attend said school, but this isn't your blog, is it?

3- At 4:30 or so, there was no news of an acquisition so I got my things together and headed out the door to a poker game. The phone rang as I headed out, so I answered and got Chris Yarborough on the other end. He told me what was going down, and we spend the next thirty minutes alternating between saying "we got Nomar!" in wondering tones and jumping up and down shrieking like eight year old girls. Somewhere in there it gradually became apparent that we not only had made the acquistion of the decade, but we did it without giving up Clement. There are just no words.

So anyway, I headed up to play poker. On the way, I decided that I was going to drink, act super loose, and pretend that I was so swept up in Nomar mania that I was drunk, crazy, and should be called by everyone at the table. It worked perfectly. On one hand, I announced that I was going to play it like Nomar. I said all these big things about Nomar and what a hero and a dominating force he was and how he would smash anyone who dared oppose him. I then looked at the cards... AA. I kid you not.

So naturally I throw all-in, and immediately launch into berating everyone at the table- "You don't DARE call Nomar! You don't have the stones!"- just trying to goad someone into calling. Everyone seemed to buy the drunk, loose, Nomar-crazed act, and everyone desperately wanted to call, but the best hand anyone had was 22 and he laid it down. Too bad.

Anyway, I ended up in the money but got busted out when a guy hit a 10% draw after I had him all-in. And you know what? I was bummed out for about five seconds. As I left, everyone in the room raised a glass to me and shouted "Nomar!" I responded with the loveliest reply imaginable: "Nomar."

Back in the am with the down low on the man and a look ahead to tommorow afternoon and what ought to be the funnest Cubs game ever.


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