The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Saturday, February 19, 2005
2nd Annual CBA Predictions ContestIts time for the contest! Last year Rob Letterly of the Uncouth Sloth won it all. This year its open to readers and bloggers across the CBA. There is no cost to play and there will be cool Cubs prizes for the winner among the bloggers and for the winner among the readers. Any blogger who wants to invite their readers should do so publishing the questions and rules in their entirety or by linking to this page. Entries are not due until noon on opening day, so you may want to hang onto them until the end of spring training so you can see how things shake out. All entries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
THE RULES1- The contest is open to all CBA readers and bloggers. There are seperate divisions for each.
2- All responses must be emailed to email@example.com and received no later than noon CST on Opening Day, Monday April 4.
3- All entries must include the full name of the person entering.
4- All entries for the blogger division of the contest must include the name of the blog.
5- Any blogger whose blog goes dormant will have their entry moved to the readers division.
6- Once an entry response is received, it can be changed only by sending a complete new set of answers in an email that requests that the new answers replace the old answers.
7- All questions refer to events occuring between the first pitch and last play of the Cubs 2005 regular season.
8- Rookie eligibility follows the rules of the Rookie of the Year voting. If your choice is not-rookie eligible you will get no points.
9- Ties will be decided by closest entry to Q#1, then Q#2, then Q#3, proceeding as far down the list as neccesary.
10- Prizes for the winners of each division will be announced once I decide what they will be.
11-All decisions made by the contest organizer are final.
General1- How many games will the Cubs win? (30 points minus 2 for each game off)
2- What place will the Cubs finish in the Central? (5 points for correct answer)
3- How many runs will the Cubs score? (30 points minus 1 for each five runs off)
4- How many runs will the Cubs allow? (30 points minus 1 for each five runs off)
5- How many Cubs will make the All-Star game? (5 points for correct answer)
Offensive Leaders (5 points for correct answer)6- Who will lead the Cubs in batting average? (min 3.1 PA per game, hitless AB added as necessary)
7- Who will lead the Cubs in OBP? (min 3.1 PA per game, hitless AB added as necessary)
8- Who will lead the Cubs in SLG? (min 3.1 PA per game, hitless AB added as necessary)
9- Who will lead the Cubs in HR?
10- Who will lead the Cubs in runs?
11- Who will lead the Cubs in RBI?
12- Who will lead the Cubs in stolen bases?
13- Who will lead the Cubs in caught stealings?
14- Who will lead the Cubs in stolen base percentage (min 5 attempts)?
Pitching Leaders (5 points for correct answer)15- Who will lead the Cubs in IP?
16- Who will lead the Cubs in wins?
17- Who will lead the Cubs in losses?
18- Who will lead the Cubs in saves?
19- Who will lead the Cubs in holds?
20- Who will lead the Cubs in ERA (min 100 IP)?
21- Who will lead the Cubs in K?
22- Who will lead the Cubs in BB?
23- Who will lead the Cubs in CG?
Fielding Questions (5 points for correct answer)24- Who will lead the Cubs in outfield assists?
25- Who will lead the Cubs in fielding percentage among 2B, 3B, and SS? (min 150 total chances)
Bonus Questions (10 points for correct answer)26- Name a Cub that will make the All-Star team.
27- Name a Cub (majors or minors) that will be traded out of the organization.
28- Name a non-Cub (majors or minors) that will be traded into the organization.
29- Name the rookie that will get the most plate appearances for the Cubs.
30- Name the rookie that will throw the most innings for the Cubs.
Rescued!Ugueth Urbina's mother was rescued from kidnappers in Venezuela yesterday. That's the best news I've heard since Dennis was rescued from Venezuelan kidnappers enabling his return to posting a few weeks back!
Anyway, I claimed the CBA Prediction Contest would open on P&C Day, but it looks like it will be this weekend instead. Please forgive my procrastination, but rest assured that you are hardly the only parties I've ever procrastinated towards. Its not like I am singling you out.
I also want to point out the new text links on the left-hand side. We officially have an advertiser now, so I suppose that means we are one step closer to being corporate sell-outs. I'd ask you to go visit their site, but their primary goal is to improve their search engine placements. That's me, just a cog in the machine. Perhaps one day I can make the cover of Time magazine as though I were truely important, like an inanimate carbon rod.
Monday, February 14, 2005
PauseA dear family member of a dear friend passed away this weekend, and because far too much of my psyche is tied up in our baseball team it made me think of Ken Hubbs. Sunday was the 41st anniversary of the plane crash that killed Hubbs. You've probably heard the story of how Hubbs decided to face down his fear of flying on the team plane by taking flying lessons. Cruelly, it was during one of those lessons when his plane crashed in a snowstorm ending his life.
I'd like to say something profound and put life, and death, and everything all in perspective, but I don't even know what to think about losing someone much less what to say. I guess I'd just like to ask you to take a moment to remember my friend's aunt, and Ken Hubbs, and anyone else you've lost over the years. Do something good today. Do them proud.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
The 2005 Chicago CubsThe 2003 Cubs came closer to a pennant than any Cubs team since the last one to win one back in 1945. In the sixteen months since that season came to its all too abrupt end, the team has been almost completely remade. From the Trib:
After trading enigmatic reliever Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit on Wednesday, Hendry was left with only six players from the 2003 postseason roster.The urban renewal has picked up this offseason. Sosa, clubouse ego, corked bat user, and guy who walked out on the last game of the year, was traded to Baltimore. Moises Alou, who feuded with the team's broadcasters, signed with San Francisco as a free agent. Dr. Tightpants, who only intermittently lived up to his promise, was shipped to Detroit. With the exception of Corey Patterson, most everyone whose character has been blamed for the failure of last year's team to win it all has been taken out of the picture.
Many corners of the Cubs world see these moves as a good thing. Take a good team, subtract all the problems, and you've got a winner, right? That's what the Trib's Rick Morrissey thinks. Cubs fan Keith Voights summed up this point of view on a mailing list I read. I asked what reason we have to expect better results from this year's bunch. He responded:
Tell me how the two teams (last year and this year) stack up in terms of heart, and the answer will become obvious.There's just one problem. Baseball isn't about heart, at least not primarily. Its about talent, and ability, and performance. Its about strength, and timing, and accuracy. Sure, all else being equal, character helps. Sadly though, the fact of the matter is that having the most ability is simply far more important. If you don't have the most talent and ability, you don't have much of a shot.
The Mariners didn't fall apart last year because they suddenly lost heart, they fell apart because they got old and the sum of their roster's abilities decreased. Derek Jeter's Yankees didn't have more heart from '96 to 2000 than from '01 through '04- they simply weren't as good. Look down the list of Hall of Famers. Those aren't the guys with the most heart in baseball history, they are (by and large) the guys who had the most ability. Heck, I think its fair to say that the Hall of Famers are out-hearted virtually without exception by the men and women on this list, but there aren't any World Series winners made up of Medal of Honor winners.
So what does this mean for the 2005 Cubs? It means that its fine to clear out the guys you consider clubhouse cancers, head cases, or personality problems. Its just that you have to replace them with equal or greater talent, or else the team is just going to get worse. So let's take a look at the changes the Cubs have made.
Catcher: Michael Barret ('04 Barrett)Michael Barrett put up a career year in 2004. In his age-27 season, he posted career highs in SLG, OPS, OPS+, and PA. His SLG in particular was 81 points higher than his previous career best. I expect a small reversion to the mean. Verdict: Slight decline
First Base: Derrek Lee ('04 Lee)Lee is kind of the flipside of Barrett. Starting in 2000 at age 24, he posted OPS+s of 122, 113, 131, and 135. Last year was a significant drop to just 114. I expect a small reversion toward his personal mean performance. Verdict: Slight improvement
Second Base: Todd Walker ('04 Walker/Grudz)Walker had a good year with the bat beating his career average for OBP (+9 points) and SLG (+29). His OPS+ was the highest its been in six years. He is going to be 32 this year, and both age and established form point to a decline. Jerry Hairston may help share the load at second, but he's got a career .334 OBP and the highest SLG he's posted in four big league seasons of at least 250 PAs was last year's .397. Verdict: Slight decline
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez ('04 Ramirez)This was a real bright spot last year. Ramirez hit .318/.373/.578, crushing his career highs in all three categories. Furthermore, Ramirez won't turn 27 until later this year. Normally I'd forecast a return toward career norms, but due to his age lets be optimistic.Verdict: No change
Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra ('04 R. Martinez, Garciaparra, A. Gonzalez, R. Ordonez, N. Perez)On the surface, this looks like a big gain. There are several factors that mitigate the apparent improvement however. First, Nomar's defense last year was wretched. Earlier in his career he was actually very good defensively, but if he can't regain the form and range he showed in the past this is going to be a significant backwards step for the '05 Cubs. With the stick he can't help but improve over the pathetic performance of Rey, Neifi and the gang, but he is 31 now and five years removed from his last outstanding season with the bat. We should get a good offensive shortstop, but not a great one and not a particuarly good gloveman either. Verdict: Slight improvement
Left Field: Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Dubois (04: Moises Alou)Last year Moises Alou had a huge year, finishing with numbers just barely worse than Ramirez and head and shoulders better than anyone else on the team. Hollandsworth also had a great year- a .939 OPS albeit in only 167 PA. The trouble is he is 32 and far more likely to post numbers simillar to his career line of .279/.336/.447 than last year's .318/.392/.547. Dubois should help by saving Hollandsworth from facing lefties, but don't expect him to repeat last year's awesome 1.019 OPS at Iowa. In addition to going from AAA pitching to the majors, his past history (.825 OPS at West Tenn in '03) suggests '04 was a bit of a fluke. I actually think he is worthy of major league time and this is a great way to work him into the roster, but its folly to think Hollandbois is going to match what Alou gave us last year. Verdict: Moderate decline
Center Field: Corey Patterson ('04 Patterson)This is the one clear possibility for a breakthrough in '05. A torn ACL abruptly ended a very nice 2003 for Corey, and after a streaky 2004 Corey should be poised to get back to at least the level of '03. He's only 25, and if things go well I see this as a potential bright spot. Verdict: Moderate improvement
Right Field: Jeromy Burnitz ('04: Sosa)I've posted my thoughts on Burnitz earlier. He is likely to be a downgrade on even last year's Sammy-lite performance from Sosa. Furthermore, he's got virtually zero chance of a breakthrough season and a real chance to be a Ordonez-esque black hole. This is not a prototypical pennant-winning corner outfielder. Verdict: Moderate decline
Starting Pitching: MarK Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Glendon Rusch ('04: Maddux, Zambrano, Clement, Wood, Prior, Rusch)Here we can do some heads up comparisons. Maddux is a year older and presumably a year worse. Zambrano went 2.75 over 210 innings, and is unlikely to improve much if only because he was already so good. Prior and Wood will pitch 150 more inning between them if healthy, and Prior in particular should be more effective. Rusch was as good, maybe even a little better than Clement last year, but we shouldn't expect a repeat. Rusch is 30, and the lowest ERA of his career prior to last year's 3.47 was 2000's 4.01. So Maddux is a slight decline, the Clement/Rusch spot is a moderate decline, Zambrano is at best break even. A strong return from Prior and Wood offsets the declines and leaves us at break-even... assuming of course everyone is perfectly healthy. More likely one or more of these five miss significant time, and the starting pitching is down from last year. Verdict: Slight decline
Bullpen: LaTroy Hawkins, Joe Borowski, Ryan Dempster, Jon Leicester, Mike Remlinger, Todd Wellemeyer, Michael Weurtz, ??? (04: Hawkins, Dr. Tightpants, Mercker, Remlinger, Beltran)This is the hardest spot to forecast, due to the variance and small sample sizes involved with relievers. Hawkins had a very good year last year, some untimely blown saves on seeing-eye hits notwithstanding. Beyond him, the prospect of a healthy Joe Borowski is the only obvious candidate for a very strong year, and he's less than a year removed from a severe rotator cuff injury. Acknowledging that the pen is a big question mark, I just don't see much upside here. I'll be charitable though. Verdict: No change
So what do we have?
Maybe you think I've been too pessimistic in some of these evaluations. Maybe Barrett really has established a new level of performance. Maybe JoBo is completely healthy and back to his form of '02 and '03. Still, there are several clear decreases in talent (Clement to Rusch, both corner outfield spots), and precious few areas where any big improvement seems likely. I just don't see where anyone thinks this team is going to be better than last year's. This team is simply not as talented as last year's edition, which if you recall didn't earn any ticker-tape parades themselves.
Its all well and good to get rid of guys you see as problems in the clubhouse. Its fine to build a team full of guys the fans say they will like. In the long run though, I think all we Cubs fans want one thing- a terribly overdue pennant and even more overdue World's Championship. Taking an 88 or 89 win team and reducing its talent base to make it more likeable does nothing to further that goal. This isn't a bad team- if everything goes right we could win 90 games and steal a playoff spot again- but neither is it one of the best teams in baseball. I don't think this is the year.
Prediction: 84-78, Third place
Getting readyWell, I attempted to clean up the links section this morning. Thanks to the good folks at The Cubs Blog Army, I got most of it done by just ctrl-c, ctrl-v'ing my way through their page. If I missed your page, let me know and I'll try to correct it.
There are a few major things I feel I should point out. First, our Blogfather Jason Steffens has moved (again), this time to CubsNet.com. I don't know how much Jason will be posting there, but he's been the gold standard for Dennis and I to shoot for ever since he got us into this gig two years ago. I'm sure anything he does have time to put up will be worth your time.
Second, Al Yellon is going corporate, moving his Cubs writing to Bleed Cubbie Blue. It might not be fair of me to call all the networkers and consolidators corporate stooges, but since we remain independent and unaffiliated there isn't really anyone to stop me is there? In all seriousness, Al's stuff is always worth a read. He was the deserving winner of View From the Bleachers' Best Cubs Blog last year, and nobody does the live at Wrigley perspective better than him.
I'm posting a rather pessimistic look at the '05 Cubs shortly, and on P&C day Wednesday I'm posting the 2005 CBA Prediction Contest- this year open to both bloggers and readers. Look for both coming soon to a browser near you.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Pitchers and catchers in one weekAnd what better way to pass the time than the first game of the final stage of World Cup Qualifying? The US plays Trinidad & Tobago today at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2. T&T might not sound like the world's most formidable side, but road games are difficult no matter the opponent. They do have former Man U star Dwight Yorke, and the "assistance" of CONCAF president Jack Warner (a T&T native and as crooked as they come.) I'm not saying he would interfere in a fair outcome of a game or anything, but he did send a refereeing crew from our arch-rival Mexico to T&T for today's game. I hate to reference wrestling in consecutive posts, but sometimes Vince MacMahon is the only logical analogy to offer.
Here's a quick personal anecdote before I go. We had an ice storm a couple weeks ago, and in trying to clear my windshield I popped off one of the two wiper blades. No matter, I just put it back on. Flash forward to yesterday afternoon. I am driving home from work in the rain, and suddenly there is a loud *THWACK* as the driver's side blade comes loose from its moorings. It slides up the windshield, and I just barely roll the window down in time to catch it. Now I'm driving down the road in pouring rain and heavy traffic with no wiper blade. The obvious solution- reach out the window with the blade in my left hand and manually wipe the driver's side clean every few seconds. I covered the last mile to my house in this manner, presumably to much amusement on the part of my fellow drivers.
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Movie TimeI accompanied my sister and her Yankee fan boyfriend to see the minor-league Gwinnett Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League last night. Unforntunately, 11,355 people bought tickets before we could so we were turned away. How a low-minor league hockey team sells out an arena in suburban Atlanta is a mystery to me. Anyway, the end result was we went to see Million Dollar Baby instead.
SPOILERS for Million Dollar Baby aheadGenerally, I thought this was an excellent film. It has been protested and in fact intentionally spoiled by some folks who feel it has a moral viewpoint different than their own. While I don't see that the movie pronounces a judgement one way or the other on the actions of its characters, that's not what I want to talk about.
Instead, I want to question the accuracy of some of the things that happen in the ring. Don't get me wrong- a sports movie like say The Waterboy, or even a fantasy like Field of Dreams, can stretch the reality of the sport they portray without harming the film. In Million Dollar Baby however, nearly everything that happens for 150 minutes is shown very deliberately, methodically, and without fail realistically.
Then, about two hours in, Hillary Swank's character Maggie fights for the title. Her opponent, the "Blue Bear", is established as someone who "fights dirty." We've all seen Mike Tyson bite an ear and Andrew Golota throw low blows, so this seems reasonable so far. The fight begins, and Maggie seems to have the edge despite repeated illegal punches from the Blue Bear while the fighters are in the clinch. The referee is oblivious. At some point the Blue Bear waits till the referee's back is turned (when is a boxing referee's back ever turned") and cold cocks Maggie with an elbow smash to the temple. I haven't watched a ton of boxing, but I don't think elbows are common and I know they aren't legal. Finally the referee wakes up and threatens to take away a point. No penalty, just a warning.
The fight continues, and despite the illegal punishment Maggie seems to be taking control. This until she is knocked to a knee by another illegal punch, and then while on her knees hammered with a huge jab. Surely that would merit a DQ in any boxing match, but this ref instead just takes away that single point he was talking about earlier.
Now Maggie is a bruised, bloody mess. She has absorbed repeated illegal punches, an unprotected shot from an elbow, and a sucker punch while she was down. She fights a round. The bell rings. She heads toward the corner. The Blue Bear waits till Maggie has walked away and has her back turned, and decks her with a huge hook to the back of the head. Maggie collapses, breaks her neck on the chair she would have sat on between rounds, and the fight is over.
Now again, I am no boxing expert. Still, I am fairly certain Maggie would have won this fight via DQ by the time the elbow smash came up, and certainly when she gets decked while already on her knees. But the movie goes one step further- its made clear after the fight is over that she actually lost the fight! Not only was she not given the DQ win after the standard cheap clinch punches, the elbow, and the on-her-knees punch, but the shot to the back of the head five seconds after the bell that left her paralized from the neck down didn't merit a DQ either?!? Vince McMahon never ran such a crooked fight.
What I can't figure is why. Maggie could have suffered the consequences she suffers just as easily from a fair fight in which she simply gets beaten. This would have the advantage of not taking the easy way out by making the only person who can beat our heroine be a dirty cheater. Alternately, the champ could have thrown the crucial devastating punch out of the blue after a basically clean fight to that point, getting around the need for the referee to somehow allow the steady stream of cheating from the Blue Bear. I don't see a narrative reason to engage in such silliness after two hours of steady, solid realism. I still think its a very good movie, but it misses greatness by the margin of the farcical title fight.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Cubs to sign BurnitzKen Rosenthal of the Sporting News is reporting that the Cubs will sign Jeromy Burnitz if/when the Sosa deal becomes official tomorrow. The deal is for one-year at $5M with a mutual option for $6.5M for 2006.
Its hard to see the upside in this deal. Burnitz put up a .283 EQA last year (.270 is league average.) EQA is park adjusted, but its hard to not look at the whopping split between his home and road numbers (1.057 OPS at Coors, .775 elsewhere.) In 2003 he had a very good first half with the Mets but then went to Los Angeles where he was just dreadful- he posted a .252 OBP, lower than any single-season OBP of Rey Ordonez's entire career.
In 2002 Burnitz was mediocre for the Mets (.247 OPS). From 1997 through 2001, he had been a solid hitter who occasionally reached an all-star level. Of course, those days were gone 4-8 years ago.
The 2005 Burnitz is a 36 year-old corner outfielder who had old-player's skills when he entered the league in 1993. Despite 69 games in center for the Rockies last year, his fielding numbers have been consistently below average in both center and the corners for years. He hasn't had a substantially above-average year with the stick outside Denver since 1999. At best, we get an average hitting corner outfielder with no speed and not much of a glove. At worst, we get a gaping hole in the lineup and have to shell out $5M for the priveledge. Huff, Ordonez, Beltran, Drew... heck, even Moises Alou projects to be better and by a non-trivial amount.
This looks like the first real turkey of an off-season move by the Cubs this year. If Burnitz holds an option for next year at $6.5M, I'd bet the mortgage he'll be exercising it while we spend next winter wishing the Cubs budget had the money to solve the problems our lineup will still face.