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

Best Cubs Blog

View from the Bleachers is running their second annual best Cubs blog contest. Thanks to an overwhelming outpouring of ballot-box-stuffing support from friends and family, we were fortunate enough to win last year's contest. This year, I'll be voting for and another thing!. I was talking to my ex the other day, and she told me that when she wants to read about the Cubs she skips my site and heads straight to Al's. I'd be offended, but she's got a point. Al does a fantastic job with timely updates, in-depth personnel commentary, and stories from the bleachers that you just can't get anywhere else. Furthermore, he's agreed to be my bodyguard when we venture into Yankee Stadium next June. Among many great CBA sites, I think his was the best non corporate monolith site going this year. Vote for him or go out on your own, but take the time to vote either way.

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

I wish a merry Christmas to all Cub fans, NL readers, friends of the blog, and even my long-lost co-author. May we all receive the gift we want most this year.

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Northside Lounge brings Christmas to the people

You may recall a couple weeks ago when I solicited readers' help in finding Salerno Butter Cookies for the guy in the next cubicle. I got a few responses from people willing to help, and Hugh of Three Bed Two Bath ended up going to Chicago, buying the cookies, boxing them up, and sending them down to me. I gave them to Gary today and he seemed to be quite blown away by them. Thanks to those who offered to help and especially to Hugh for helping make someone's Christmas a bit more merry (and caloric)!

Christmas morning I'll be giving the second box Hugh sent me to my Chicago-born father. I am hoping they strike the same chord with him they do with Gary, at least enough that he'll shut up for five seconds about having gone to New Trier.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Cards gain Mulder

St. Louis traded young pitcher Danny Haren, bullpen ace Kiko Calero, and A-ball phenom Daric Barton to Oakland for Mark Mulder this weekend. Mulder is under contract for '05 and '06 at $6M and $6.75M, and isn't eligible for free agency until after the '07 season, making him a bargain if- and its a huge if- he is healthy. Each of the last two years Mulder has broken down towards the end of the season, and he finished last year in a two-month 7+ ERA tailspin. The trade rises or falls based on Mulder's health and the development of Barton and Haren. The former we'll know a lot more about by the end of April, and the latter in a year or four. Brian Gunn, formerly of Redbird Nation, has his take at Hardball Times.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Cards lose Renteria

The Boston Globe says the Sox have signed Renteria to a 4 year, $40M deal. Renteria is still fairly young (29, or even 28 if you believe the rumors), and if he hits like he did in 2003 he's worth that contract and then some. While this does presumably free up some money for the Cardinals, they've got to hate losing a solid middle infielder in his prime. Translation: woo-hoo!

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Closer (and I don't mean the title of a John Grogan album)

Both the Sun-Times and the Trib have Jim Hendry shooting down the ESPN rumor of Wood to closer. I certainly think that is good news. When Wood is healthy, he's much more valuable throwing seven innings every five days than he is throwing one inning every two days. When he isn't healthy, he shouldn't be on the mound at all.

Kiley's version goes on to mention four in-house candidates for the closer's job. Now this blog is on record as preferring an ace reliever who works in the highest leverage relief situations rather than a closer, but just for the sake of argument I'm going to take a look at these four guys and see who might be best suited for the job.

LaTroy Hawkins
Joe Borowski
Kyle Farnsworth
Ryan Dempster

LaTroy Hawkins has been a consistently excellent reliever over the last three years. Last year he gave up about five more homers than normal as his G/F ratio fell, but the rest of his peripherals remained excellent. Naysayers point to his nine blown saves, but I'm not buying it. Since his overall numbers remained good, you have to believe either A) he is unsuited for closing situations BUT bore down extra hard in the non-save situations to keep his overall numbers the same or B) he's just a good reliever who happened to have his few bad outings come in save situations. I think the latter is more likely and I would have no problem giving LaTroy another go at closer.

Obviously last year was a lost year for Joe Borowski thanks to cowardice on the part of Joe and/or the team doctors. If anyone had the courage to point out the obvious, maybe... well, anything could have happened. At any rate, lets ignore last year and look back to '02 and '03. We find an excellent relief pitcher. His homer prevention and strikeout rate are roughly the equal of LaTroy's while his control was worse but still respectable. If Borowski comes back at 100% (hardly a given after a rotator cuff injury), he'd be a fine choice for closer. If not (and it should be readily obvious if he isn't right) he should be reserved for low leverage situations until he gets right.

Dr. Tightpants has been a favorite of mine for years. With his electric stuff it seemed only a matter of time before he'd work out the kinks and become the dominant pitcher we hoped for. Looking inside the numbers (and going back an extra year to give him the benefit of the doubt), I was a bit surprised to see some consistency in the resume of this inconsistent pitcher. His strikeout rate has varied, but in a range from dominant to elite. His walk rate has been consistently poor, hardly varying at all the last three years. The major variance has been in the home runs he has allowed. He's always putting men on first, and when the ball is flying over the fence that means trouble. I see no reason to expect an improvement in his control, so barring a big G/F reduction the Doctor may never be what I thought he could be.

Finally we have Ryan Dempster. Its tougher to get a read on him since these numbers straddle an injury and a change in roles from starter to reliever. There are however some consistent trends. First, his strikeout rate is consistently good- never dominant, but good. His control however has been consistently poor, and even worse as a reliever last year. In fact, last year's decent overall numbers were almost entirely a product of a big increase in G/F (and the associated drop in homers allowed.) Its possible we are seeing a conversion to a Kolb-like pitcher who succeeds by getting loads of groundballs with sinkers and low fastballs. I'm personally not sold on that as a likely outcome, but its possible.

If I had my druthers, I'd use LaTroy Hawkins and a healthy Joe Borowski as a 1-2 punch for all high-leverage relief innings. Confining myself to the setup/closer system the Cubs are presumably going to use, I'd put Hawkins as the setup and a healthy Joe as the closer. In the event Joe isn't healthy, Hawkins would be my closer and I'd have to cobble some effective setup men out of the rest of the pen. If Dempster extends last year's ground ball success I'd work him into the mix. With Farnsworth, I hate to say it but unless he shows a dramatic improvement in control or G/F I don't think he's worth the risk in high leverage situations where we have another alternative.

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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Sexson to the Cubs?

Chris Yarbrough pointed out this story that has the Cubs supposedly after Richie Sexson out at the winter meetings. "But we've already got a first baseman," you might be saying. Ah, but the story is saying he would play left field.

Sexson does have some history in the outfield. He has played 109 games in left, albeit none since 2000. He did not commit an error in 149 chances, but had a range factor of 1.37 compared to league average of 1.75. Worse, his Zone Ratings were .741 and .817 in two partial seasons.

I presume any interest on the part of the Cubs springs primarily from his past success at Wrigley Field (career .995 OPS in 105 PA). That was the rationale expressed when the Cubs flirted with Richie in past seasons. Unfortunately, with Sexson's performance being A) not that much better than his career .877 OPS and B) produced in a very small sample size, I think there is a strong likelihood that he isnt actually any better in Wrigley than he would be anywhere else. I'm sure you can think of some examples that support this evaluation of things.

When healthy, Sexson's a darn good hitter and a borderline All-Star caliber player at first base. Coming off a serious shoulder injury and moving to a tougher position he hasn't played in five years, I think he's a huge risk that's not worth taking. Here's hoping this is just some writer's fantasy and not something Jim Hendry is seriously considering.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Good idea, Bad idea

Good Idea: Spending $10.5M to sign a near-HoF shortstop and an above average second baseman to one year commitments.

Bad Idea: Spending $10.5M per year to sign a journeyman starting pitcher and a 35-year old second baseman with a .681 career OPS to three and two year commitments respectively.

The Yankees still have the $250M to try to spend their way out of the grave these decisions dig for them, but as long as thats not an option for us I'll settle for smart signings like the ones we made yesterday. Stay smart, Jim. (Apologies to Tom Bodett.)

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Nomar stays

Its a one year deal. We can add shortstop to first and third base as positions where we can be reasonably confident in getting above average production next year. In an ideal world he would be healthy and display some of the range he showed in his younger years, but we need an .875 OPS and 130 games played at a minimum.

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Monday, December 06, 2004

All the news thats fit to print

On the Cubs front, Mike Kiley says the Cubs are set to sign Nomar and Walker by tomorrow. This would be a step in the right direction, but since its from Kiley's mouth I'm not counting my chickens just yet. If Nomar can stay healthy he's got great potential to be worth more than his ~$8M contract will cost us.

Also, one tidbit from the Savannah newspaper on the basketball game last night. An excerpt:

Dirty or not, there was still some bad blood between the teams after the game, as evidenced by Georgia guard Levi Stukes' critique of the Yellow Jackets.

"They weren't the best team tonight," Stukes said. "They just did some that things that we didn't do."

Those things included shooting, rebounding and defending. Tech (5-0) shot 20 percentage points better than the Bulldogs (1-3), held a 44-25 rebounding edge and limited Georgia to five field goals in the second half.

Sometimes I find I actually enjoy a little editorializing on a writer's part!

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Sunday, December 05, 2004


Its always nice to annihilate your archrival, so I enjoyed the heck out of Georgia Tech's 87-49 thrashing of U(sic)GA tonight. The rout capped an ACC sweep of six games against the SEC this weekend. The only real downside was Isma'il Muhammad not getting any real opportunities to introduce the world to the 540 dunk. All in good time. At any rate, here's hoping the Cubs can enjoy some laughers like this against our arch-rivals next year. To hell with Georgia!

Oh, and Hugh from Three Bed Two Bath is on a Salerno Butter Cookie quest this weekend in Chicago. The Christmas hopes and dreams of the guy in the next cubicle ride on his efforts. Remember Hugh: stay away from Castle Anthrax! You've got a mission and there's simply no time for that sort of thing.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Cool and not cool

America's best soccer writer (who sadly has to do college hoops to pay the bills) has this to say in his NCAA column today: Word out of Georgia Tech is mega-dunker Isma'il Muhammad is working on a 540 slam. That's right: one-and-a-half revolutions in the air. Apparently he's trying to keep it on the down-low until just the right moment. I think that throwing it down to cap a 30-0 run in the Georgia game Sunday would qualify as the right time, personally.
Not cool
I got beat down in the first Baseball Think Factory Online Poker Tournament tonight. I was talking trash with Aaron Gleeman early on. I thought it was safe since he was the short stack in the tournament at the time. Of course, he promptly went nuts, built a big stack, and survived an epic heads up battle to win the whole thing. Figures. Several Cubs fans played, including Tim Cramm (formerly of Eamus Catuli). Yes, he beat me too.
Not cool yet
I still need someone in Chicago to get me some Salerno Butter Cookies. Email me if you are willing and I'll send you a check for the cost.

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Need help from a Chicago resident

I have a coworker whose fondest memory of growing up in Chicago is something called Salerno Butter Cookies. I haven't had any success finding them on the internet, so I'd like to see if any of you folks in Chicago know where one can be found. If you think you would be willing to find them and ship them to me, send me an email and we'll work out the details. Thanks!

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