The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Bon Voyage and Welcome BackIts been a little hectic the last week or so, but I couldn't let the DFA of Joe Borowski and the return of Kerry Wood pass without comment. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other. Borowski the reliever; Wood the starter. Borowski the 32nd round pick who bounced from Baltimore to Atlanta to the Bronx to the Mexican League to the Northern League before briefly seeming at home in the Friendly Confines; Wood the fourth overall pick who shot through the system before exploding on the scene in 1998. Borowski who went from obscurity to two years of excellence and apparently right back to obscurity; Wood who remains one of the games bigger stars despite not yet turning in the Cy Young campaign he seems made for.
Each has had performances that will live forever in the memories of Cub fans. I'll always remember leaving class, walking into the campus newspaper office, and checking my email to find it full of messages telling people to turn on WGN. I did so in time to catch the final inning and a half of the fabled 20K game. I still don't know if I am supposed to curse Kevin Orie for costing Kerry the no-hitter or thank him for allowing the twenty strikeouts. Likewise, I'll never forget who blew away Jim Edmonds to end the best Cubs game I've ever seen. Perhaps both men reached their apex right here in Atlanta, GA in October of that year. Wood, coming off two months of dominating pitching in which he willed the Cubs to the playoffs with a sub-2 ERA, delivered a two-hit, eleven strikeout performance over 7.1 to win Game 1 and came back with a five-hit, seven whiff outing to win Game Five and the series from the favored Braves. In each game, it was Joe Bo who took the mound in the ninth, striking out five of the seven Braves he faced to twice nail down the saves.
And now, Joe moves on while Kerry comes back. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Borowski catch on somewhere. He had an 11/1 K/BB ratio this year and his only problem was giving up the long ball. Before the injury he had two solid years of dominance from the pen. He's 34- not young but not quite dead yet either. Let's hope its with a team we never have to run into.
Meanwhile, Wood blew back into town with six sterling innings yesterday. I can't claim to be optimistic about his chances of dominating the second half of this season. He's been worked hard by everyone from his high school coach to Baylor to Baker. The injuries have cropped up over and over again, but when he's healthy he's been good and at times brilliant. If he's healthy and if he can dominate and if Prior and Zambrano stay strong and if Corey comes back to life and if Lee isn't saving his April for September this year and if Cedeno or Nomar can come back and save us from Dusty's Neifi-love...
...we might just have a shot at this thing yet.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Happy Birthday, Mark Grace!It's June 28th, the day the nation pauses to appreciate the career of the greatest baseball player, World Series hero, and class acts the game has ever known. He turns 41 today, and while we can't all go to the lengths the great Brad Wackerlin has to pay tribute, I'm happy to at least take a moment to say thanks.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Jerome Williams makes Cub debut tonightMaddux, Lee, Ramirez, and some timely defense helped stop the bleeding last night. Tonight it's Jerome Williams who gets a chance to don a Chicago Cubs uniform and help the cause. Let's take the opportunity to update the chart I posted when the trade was made a few weeks back:
Hallelujah! Jerome Williams figured it all out in Iowa and he's now ready to resume where he left off before last year's injury problems! Or, maybe not. The numbers above are misleading for a couple reasons. First, the gaudy ERA doesn't include a disproportionate number of unearned runs. Count them and you've got an ERA of 2.22 that jumps to an RA of 3.70. Second, the walk rate looks better, but throw in the two batters he hit and it jumps to a less flattering 7.2%. Third, his control looks worse still when you consider the whopping five wild pitches he threw in just four Iowa starts. Its a small sample size, but that's a phenomenal rate. Only two pitchers in the majors have higher rates, John Parrish and Byung-Hyun Kim.
I'm not saying Williams shouldn't be given the start. He has a promising track record, he's available, and we don't have a lot of other options right this minute. I'd just reccomend tempering your expectations a smidge before buying your J. Williams Cubs jersey.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Swing batter swing!I got an email yesterday from Friend of the Lounge Trent McBride asking about Corey's first pitch tendencies. He wrote:
(McCarver and Buck) cited the stat that (Patterson) has a big lead in across baseball- percent of AB swinging at
Sadly, the best data I have is from ESPN.com's splits, and while they give first pitch in play, after 1-0, and after 0-1, they don't break 0-1 down into called strikes and swinging strikes/fouls. Still, we can take a look and see what we find.
Corey's performance from 0-1 is up a bit from previous years while his performance from 1-0 is down a bit. When putting that first pitch in play though, a problem emerges. Patterson's OPS drops from .907 to a lowly .653, explaining pretty much his entire downturn this season.
Its hard to say why this might be happening, but there may be a clue to the change in Patterson's approach if we look at the breakdown of PAs of each type. Note how the FPIP rate has actually plummeted this year, from 39% to 18%, even as the 1-0 rate has jumped by roughly the same amount. Up until this year, Patterson's success was largely built on strong success when putting the first pitch in play. This year he has, either by choice or by inability to make contact, not been putting the first pitch in play and not hitting it with authority when he does put it in play.
Could it be that Corey would be better off hacking more than he has been this year? I hate to say it, but it just may be true.
Duncan vs HorryI'm a Hawks fan, but the Spurs have been my backup team for about fifteen years now so I enjoyed seeing their exciting overtime win in Detroit last night. As I'm sure you heard if you watched Sportscenter or opened a newspaper sports section today, the man getting most of the credit for the victory is Robert Horry. Horry, who in the regular season played the seventh most minutes per game of any Spur and was less than two MPG ahead of four other Spurs, scored 21 of San Antonio's final 35 points including several fourth quarter threes and an incredible jam over Rip Hamilton that led up to the game-winner. Everywhere you look this morning, the pundits are lining up to sing the praises of Big Shot Bob, basketball hero.
On the flipside, there is Tim Duncan. San Antonio's star player is taking his lumps this morning after going 1-7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and missing an uncontested tip-in at the buzzer that could have won it in regulation. The local paper says Horry bailed Duncan out. ESPN's Daily Dime went so far as to name Duncan Sunday's worst.
What is strange to me is that I don't see how an objective observer could conclude that Robert Horry had a better game than Tim Duncan last night. Granted, Duncan missed some key free throws, but he also scored 26 points, grabbed nineteen rebounds, and blocked a couple shots while committing just two turnovers and three personal fouls. Even in that subpar fourth quarter he grabbed huge rebounds and played excellent defense posession after posession. By contrast, Horry disappeared for just about three full quarters. ESPN's John Hollinger put it like this:
"In the first half, Horry looked completely overmatched. He played 15 minutes without scoring, missed all three shots and looked terrified every time he went to the basket. The other Spurs had played extremely well, but the game was tied at halftime largely because Horry was keeping Detroit in the game."
You might counter that Horry deserves credit for elevating his game in the clutch. He may not be as gifted a player as Duncan, but with the game on the line he found a higher gear while Duncan lost his. There's some truth to this- for instance, there's no excuse for consistently poor free throw shooting and Duncan should certainly be held accountable for not improving that aspect of his game. But I think there is even more truth to the flipside of that arguement, namely that if Horry is capable of playing at the elevated level he often shows in the clutch, why on earth doesn't he do it the rest of the time? Points scored and allowed count just as much early as they do late and if Horry had played like an all-star for the first three quarters the Spurs would've won by twenty points.
Tim Duncan, as gracious an athlete as you will ever hear, half-jokingly made the same point after the game. I'll patch together quotes from two different game stories, neither of which exactly matches what I heard Duncan say on TV but both of which get the general point across:
“He does it all season long. He doesn’t feel like playing. He doesn’t want to show up. Until you get to a big game — being Robert Horry must be nice. I’ll tell you what the deal with Rob is. Rob just hangs out, he doesn’t feel like playing until it's a big game, and doesn’t show up until the fourth quarter, when he decides to turn on the switch.”
I don't write this to bury Horry or absolve Duncan. Each player showed strengths and weaknesses last night and I'm mostly just glad their performances complimented each other enough that the Spurs managed to get the win. Still, one guy played 48 minutes at an MVP level but missed six free throws and a tip in (that he only had the opportunity to attempt thanks to his offensive rebound) while the other guy played twenty minutes at an MVP level and twenty where he looked like the basketball version of the Cubs bullpen. "Big Shot Bob Saves Chokin' Duncan" isn't how I'd sum that night up.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Happy times are... where, exactly?In the last week the Cubs have lost six out of seven, including a three-game sweep in the Bronx that let down an entire world full of Yankee haters. They were outscored by 7, 8, 10, 3, 7, and 3 in the six losses en route to giving back nearly all the ground gained in the 12-3 stretch that preceeded this downturn. Every single starting pitcher on the big league roster is now either injured or coming off an outing in which he was shelled. When I update the Playoff-o-meter tomorrow morning it will be in the twenties. Also, I totalled my car.
Still, there are seeds of hope that may yet germinate into beatiful flowers of rejoicing. Jerome Williams made four succesful starts for Iowa and will be handed the ball against Milwaukee on Tuesday. Mark Prior is maybe possibly supposedly just about ready to return. Freddy and his pals on the US Youth World Championship squad won their group over Egypt, Germany, and Argentina without conceding a goal, and are on to a sweet sixteen matchup with Italy Tuesday morning live on Fox Soccer Channel. I've got tickets to the third early screening of Serenity, Joss Whedon's new movie that won't be in wide release until September 30. And hey, at least when we got swept by the Yankees it wasn't the most monumental choke in baseball history.
What I am trying to say is "always look on the bright side of life." Come on now, whistle it with me. You'll feel better in no time.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
DownhillThe Cubs' afternoon was surely heading down a slippery slope from the moment I compared today's starting pitcher to my car in the comments.
Thanks for the two comments, two phone calls, the IM, and the three e-mails. Yes, I am 100% fine. I turned onto the on-ramp for the interstate, only it wasn't the on-ramp for the interstate, and the next thing you know I am hanging from my seatbelt upside down in a ditch. The car is a complete loss, no collision so I'm buying a new one out of pocket. I wisely made a series of big purchases lately, so I suppose I'm going on a budget again. Fortunately Blogger is free and net access is a necessity, so I'll still be posting away. Just a bit less travel and cut back on the DVDs.
Here's hoping the team lands right side up after today and keeps driving towards October. Let's go Cubs.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I flipped my car upside down, totalling it.
THE UGLYSeriously, did I mention the car?
Monday, June 13, 2005
Ask and ye shall receiveMOE commented on the Dempster post and said "Is it me or did Dempster look better with Blanco calling the pitches? More groundouts it seems."
Aw heck, lets find out. I went through the game logs and found that Dempster has pitched to Blanco six times, April 21 and 27, May 11 and 18, and June 5 and 11. Fortunately, he never pitched to Barrett and Blanco on the same day because that would have confused the heck out of my spreadsheet. Anyway, here's what I found:
There you have it: it's just MOE. Seriously though, these numbers probably don't mean a whole lot. We're dealing with a sample size of just 216 plate appearances (77 throwing to Blanco, 139 throwing to Barrett.) That's a pretty small number, particularly if we are looking for what is probably a fairly subtle effect of the catcher on the pitcher. This is evidenced by the fact that our numbers are heavily skewed by each appearance. For example, throw out Dempster's April 21 start against the Reds (5.1 IP, 6 ER, 8 GB, 2 FB) and the ERA advantage flip flops from Barrett to Blanco. Throw out his April 21 start against Pittsburgh (6.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 GB, 9 FB) and its the G/F ratio that flip flops.
So in summary, we can definitely say that Dempster is not getting more ground balls when pitching to Blanco, but there's not enough data to say that one catcher or the other is having any significant affect on Dempster's performance.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
Cubs rollApparently, I hate the Yankees more than the Cardinals. That's what I learned about myself when my gut reaction to the score updates on Yanks/Cards during yesterday's Cubs game was to root for the Cardinals to get back in it. After thinking about it for a second, reason prevailed and I began rooting for the Cardinals to lose and thus improve the Cubs playoff standing, but for a moment there when emotion reigned I was practically a Cardinals fan. Yikes.
More importantly, the Cubs held on for a 7-6 win over the Red Sox. Ryan Dempster used up every bit of the insurance the Cubs had gotten him in the eighth, allowing three hits and two runs and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate before coaxing a popup out of Trot Nixon to end it. The shaky performance prompted me to pull Dempster's numbers, and this is what I saw (rates as percentages of total batters faced):
At first glance, this doesn't look encouraging. Its nice that Dempster is eight for nine in save chances since becoming closer, but with K and HR rates only a bit better than league average and a below-average walk rate, I was ready to start building an ark in preparation for a flood of blown saves. Fortunately, before running to Home Depot I had the bright idea to break out his numbers as a starter and as a releiver:
Return your oversized orange lumber carts to their storage locations in the front of the store. Since moving to the pen, Dempster's walk rate has fallen to less than a third of what it was as a starter. It would be nice to maintain the fairly strong K-rate he showed as a starter, but even if not these are still the numbers of a fairly succesful pitcher. I'd like to see him continue to be handed the multi-run cushions we never seemed to be able to provide to LaTroy, but whatever the situation we should feel reasonably comfortable bringing Dempster in to it.
This is the first morning all year the Playoff-o-meter has had us over 50% likely to make the playoffs. Let's hope Wakefield's knuckler is nice and straight and we can continue to push it higher.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Cub spawn leads US over Argentina 1-0
It was quite the performance for the US. Argentina has won three of the last five World Youth Championships, and were heavy favorites with the oddsmakers coming into today's game. The oddsmakers apparently haven't seen the US play though, because I don't think this strong and at times dominating performance came as a surprise to most stateside observers. Our U-20s have as much skill, pace, and strength as anyone in the world, and they showed it in unmistakable fashion today. Freddy Adu, the youngest man on the field even here at a youth tournament, wowed the crowd with two jaw-dropping Maravich/Pele type moves and looked the most skilled player on either team throughout. Barrett had a number of searing runs in addition to finding the space to hammer home the only goal. Wynne looked like a man jumping against boys winning every header that came his way.
The work is not yet done for the US. Germany awaits on Tuesday, and just to make it interesting the game is being played in Holland just twenty minutes across the border from Deutschland. A win would clinch a spot in the next round. A tie or loss and it would come down to a match with Egypt on Saturday.
Who'd have thought that by 2006 we'd be at a point where we could end up in a soccer group of death and quite possibly be the best damn team in said group? The times they are a changin'.
Chicks dig the long ballAnd so do I, when its being hit by Greg Maddux, Todd Hollandsworth, and Jeromy Burnitz (twice.) With that kind of offensive support, Maddux might stick around for 400. Anyway, we've got favorable pitching matchups today and tomorrow as Zambrano faces Wade Miller today and Rusch takes on Tim Wakefield Sunday. Come to think of it, Maddux's bat speed might match Wakefield's pitch speed perfectly. Maybe Greg should play left Sunday.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Surge for SergioI've got a soft spot for Sergio after watching his major league debut with his wildly enthusiastic extended family sitting a couple rows behind me at Turner Field a couple years ago. That spot got a little softer today as he owned the Blue Jays, throwing seven scoreless and striking out six while allowing just a walk and two singles. Oh, and he drove in the game-winning run with a double off Toronto ace Roy Halladay. I am therefore awarding a twelve-pack of one of my very favorite Coke products, the sadly underappreciated Surge. Here's to you, Sergio!
We're off tomorrow before Greg Maddux faces Bronson Arroyo and the Boston Red Sox Friday afternoon at Wrigley. I don't need to tell you the press angle on this one because we're probably all going to be sick of it about... oh... actually, I'm already sick of it. Let's just move on.
Last, a quick plug- check out VFTB's press junket to catch the D-Jaxx this weekend. Joe got to pose questions to Felix Pie, Matt Murton, and Brandon Sing, among others. After years of cruising through softball questions from the MSM, these guys finally came face to face with a grueling interrogation from the CBA, and you can hear it all on glorious mp3 format. Enjoy.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Cubs draftThe Cubs have taken Mark Pawelek with the twentieth overall pick in today's first round of the draft. I know I had seen at least two mock drafts that had the Cubs taking him, so its not a surprise pick by any means. I've collected a few articles on him which I will link below. Several sources listed him as the top high school southpaw in the draft, but drafting high-school pitchers is a historically risky proposition. He was Baseball America's #17 prospect coming into the draft and they said he was quite possibly "the best Utah pitching product since Bruce Hurst." Hmm. He's also a Boras client and has signed with Arizona State.
As a high school pick, even a relatively polished one, Pawelek has a longer development path ahead of him which means more time for an injury or other derailment to occur. The good news is we live in a post-Moneyball era, where teams tend to shy away from high-school pitchers. A few years ago we might have been taking the fourth or fifth best high school lefty with the twentieth overall pick. Its far too early to make a predicition on Pawelek's career (I painfully remember how psyched I was about Luis Montanez, and Ty Griffin for that matter) so I am going to try to relax and wait and see. Check out Rob G.'s great draft series over at TCR for more on the Cubs' draft.
Edited to add:Several stories mentioned he was eager to sign and get to work on his goal of making the majors by age 20. Towards that end, he has already signed. Somebody should tell that Boras guy he needs to play hard to get occasionally.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
All-Stars and routsYesterday was a good sports day. The US whomped on the Ticos 3-0 last night in Utah. Kasey Keller proved he can still play out of his mind, and Lanny-cakes had a gorgeous goal, a hustle goal, and a gorgeous hustle play to nearly single-handedly create Brian McBride's goal. The US soccer community has been just hammering our golden boy Landon Donovan ever since he bailed out of his German pro team to come home to MLS and his girlfriend Bianca, mom, and sister (in no particular order.) Mama's boy, wuss, pansy, coward... the insults have been coming fast and furious. He doesn't help matters with a goal celebration that's been described as catching the Golden Snitch, a move that I fear is actually "pretending to catch an imaginary kiss blown from Bianca then putting it an imaginary pocket." I mean I'm no macho grunt grunt fella, but come on! Be a man! Show me a Y chromosome!
But the more I think about it, the less I care. The fact of the matter is, Landon Donovan owned the World Cup in 2002 with nothing more than MLS experience. He is usually one of the best couple players on the field for the national team, and not infrequently has games like last night where is the hands down Man of the Match (sorry Kasey). If he can keep playing at that level, I don't care if he goes home to Bianca and they braid each others hair all night. If that's what he needs to be happy, more power to him. I reserve the right to roll my eyes at the goal celebrations revolving around being whipped though.
Mid-summer classicThe first set of All-Star voting results came out this week, and they were a hot topic across the CBA. It seems Nomar is leading at short while Derrek Lee has about half the votes of one Grandpa Al Pujols. This brought on much consternation on the part of the CBA. How can Nomar be leading when he has played just fifteen games and put up a .405 OPS? How can Lee not be leading when he's outhitting Pujols, A-Rod, Bonds, Ruth, Teddy Ballgame, Josh Gibson, and anyone else you can think of?
Well I have an answer. I don't think All-Star rosters should be selected on the basis of a handful of games in April and May. To me, the All-Star first baseman in the National League should be whichever NL first baseman is the best baseball player. Looking at all available information, from their career records to their performance in the last year or two to their performance the first two months of this season, I think that man is the one that plays for the (gulp) Cardinals. Would I enjoy seeing Derrek Lee start at first? Certainly. Has every ballot I've cast had his (real or virtual) chad punched? Indeed. But I think at this point in time, Albert Pujols deserves the start. If Lee goes another twelve months at this pace and Pujols hits .950 OPS over that time my answer will change, but for now its got to be Pujols.
Shortstop is trickier. Its been a couple years since Garciaparra was playing consistently at a Hall of Fame level (as opposed to Pujols who has continuously been there since his debut in 2001). He hasn't played much this year, and when he has played he's been awful. That said, the competition is no great shakes either. Barmes? Itzuris? Eckstein? The Holy Trinity this is not. Remarkably, Neifi remains a legitimate candidate for "NL shortstop having the best 2005", but his track record coming in to this year was probably the worst of any of them. Given the variables, I think Neifi is the best choice (and so does Nomar) but I don't have a huge problem with someone voting for any of the guys listed above, including Mr. Hamm.
And now we've tied it back to soccer and whipped boyfriends/husbands. Its the circle of life, I tell you.
Thursday, June 02, 2005