Wednesday, April 26, 2006

FROM THE RED STATES

I last spoke to Chris at church on Sunday, and as per his norm, he assured me that the Cubs season was done, the Cubs have now won 3 straight without Derrek Lee in the lineup. Chris is my friend and even though he is a Cubs fan, I tried to encourage him, I tried to talk him in off the ledge, but he was adamant that the Cubs were screwed. Again I say, since that time the Cubs have won 3 straight. Which is why I must say I am surprised that I didn't see the "Cubs are going to the World Series" post on the blog. Chris is what we Cardinal fans commonly refer to Cub fans as a "ledgie." You know one minute there are out on the "ledge" and ready to throw themselves off, and then the Cubs win a few and all the sudden they are the greatest team of all time. So cheer up Chris, the Cubs season is far from over.

I think it is about time to give Maddux a whiz quiz. Let me get this straight, the guy goes from a over 4 ERA to below 1, in one off season. Especially when you consider he is 40 years old. Maddux is clearly one of the greatest pitchers of our time, and of all time, but come on. His fastball is about 4 or 5 mph faster than he has been in the past few years, supposedly as a result of his so-called "workout regiment" in the off season. Yeah it sounds like about the same workout regiment Barroid Bonds was going through about the time he turned 40 years old. This "workout" isn't sponsored by Balco is it. I thought something might be funny when I saw Maddux doing commercials for the "Whizzinator." Although I will confess three of his four starts have been against the Cardinals, and Dodgers, who have two of the most pathetic offenses in the NL, so let's hold off judgement until he pitches to a team with more than one player hitting over .300. However, the mysterious 5 extra mph on his fastball is suspicious.

At any rate, as I told Chris on Sunday, the Cubs just need to hang in there for a couple months, stay in the race and make their run down the stretch when they get everybody back. Their offense is definately much improved, and much better than the Cardinals. The Cardinals have only Pujols doing anything, which amazes me that teams still continue to pitch to him. As the season goes along, and we start playing series against other contenders, I look for Alberts walks to rise dramatically. Our pen is rounding into shape, as I suspected it would, 14 consecutive shutout innings is very impressive. We need another bat or two, but I definately don't see us or anyone for that matter running away with this division as the Cardinals have the past two years. Which might be a blessing considering the past two years the Cardinals haven't played a meaningfull game in two or three months before the playoffs. I think that hurts you come playoff time. I look for the NL Central to be an exciting race, and the wildcard is definately coming out of the Central again, with the West being a joke, and the Mets running away with the East, and the Braves being lucky to finish .500. Looking forward to it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

UH-OH

Lee's injury makes ya kinda wish for a run-producing RFer and more starting pitching, doesn't it?

At this point I'd be happy, no, make that ecstatic, if the Cubs are .500 by June 30 . . . There will be a drop in run production, which is at 5.4/game right now. A decent number, but aside from losing Lee's production, this will create a big hole in the line-up that cannot be filled by anyone. Either, at best, a .270/.330/.350 type platoon will be implimented at first or Walker will be moved over there and the production at second will be slightly less than those numbers. Plus, even if Ramirez gets hot (I don't see anyone really pitching around Walker or Barrett at this point) he'll be pitched around. And then there is the loss of Lee's defense, which is outstanding. With the current starting pitching every run is needed, except when Maddux is dealing.

There is only room for a little hope. This is found in the fact that Ramirez and Jones haven't produced much except for a few sprained butt references (.196/.288/.348 and .207/.273/.345, respectively) and they could start to produce (even though I don't expect Jones to contribute much more than .250/.320/.400, but I'd take that). Pierre can pick it up some as a table setter, raising his OBP into the .350s from his current Neifi-esque .295. Barrett and Walker are already producing a lot while Murton and Cedeno have been solid and fantastic offensively; and Wood/Prior/Miller might be well enough to start during Lee's extended leave, but how much they can deliver is still unknown.

A lot needs to happen to compensate for Lee's hiatus. Like I said: ecstatic if the Cubs are .500 by June 30.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

JUST HONK IT, DUSTY

I'm not sure if this is just an L.A. thing--I don't remember this being the case when I lived in/drove in/worked in Chicago-- but it seems that whenever fellow Angelinos drive through any sort of tunnel, they honk their car horns just for fun. Everything from beep-beep to the classic shave-and-a-hair-cut . . . two-bits honk. And I think I've even heard a scat or two from the artsy crowd--you know the type driving hybrids and other vehicles resembling toasters. It seems my 3 year-old son has picked up on this and now demands that we join in. I confess that I encourage it because he enjoys it, even though the Mrs. is (rightly) worried about honking enduced road-rage. So whenever we approach a tunnel or bridge, he starts commanding, "Just HONK it, daddy." "Just honk it." I'd like to co-opt his demand--not because Walker is a fellow honky--but because we need his offense in the line-up everyday.
Now, I should have said this over the weekend when I thought of it, but didn't have the time. And I'd like to thank Walker for bolstering my case--well, actually his case--with last night's performance, solid defense and great production. So let me just throw this out there and be as clear as possible: Todd Walker should start everyday.

No righty/lefty platoons. No let's get Hairston/Neifi some abs. No let's get some defense in there with a ground ball pitcher. Just play Walker. His offense more than makes up for any perceived defensive liability.

I'm not trying to cherry-pick stats and make a case, but I believe the following supports the Just Honk It argument for Walker . And I'm mostly thinking of Walker in comparison to Hairston, because--hopefully--Neifi will be used more to play SS or 3b . . . hopefully . . .

- Walker has proven himself to be a valuable offensive player for years. His VORP in '04 and '05 was 19.8 and 25.9 while Hairston's was 9.3 and 0.5. For comparison's sake, Neifi's VORP in those years was 8.6 and 6.6 for Chicago, but he had a -14.4 VORP for the Giants in '04 and -4.8 in '03.

- Walker gets on base more because he has a consistantly higher average than Hairston, even though they walk at about the same rate. And they both strike out at a relatively low rate as well, 12% of the time (From '01-'05: Walker had 309 K/2519 AB with 223 BB while Hairston had 228 K/1843 AB with 161 BB). Neifi strikes out at a lower rate than both (10%) but walks less than half as much (from '01-05: 232 K/2416 AB with 102 BB).

- Hairston has never proven he can thrive with more than 300 abs ('01: 532 ab/.233 avg; '02: 426 ab/.268 avg; '05: 380 ab/.261 avg). And he is 29, not a still-developoing 24 year old.

- Hairston appears to be more of a .260's hitter with a .320-.330 obp than the .303/.378 numbers he put up in his best year so far ('04: 287 ab), right before he came to Chicago.

-Walker's Career SLG: .443; Hairston's career SLG: .371.
- Walker can play everyday and be more than adequate at second defensively.

-The differential at 2b between Walker and Hairston is not what it is made out to be (although Hairston and Neifi are better defensively, with more range). Here is the comparison of Fielding Pct./Zone Rating from '01-'05:

Walker .984/.822 .989/.820 .975/.788 .981/.824 .985/.802
Hairston .976/.839 .982/.844 .980/.822 .983/.882 .973/.843

If the choices at 2b are Walker or Hairston, I'd start Hairston on the low end of once or twice a week. This would give him roughly 30-35 starts and about 140 PA plus pinch-hitting, late inning defensive substitutions, pinch-running and the always entertaining Dusty double switches. More importantly, by limiting Hairston's appearances and playing Walker, this would give the Cubs a very solid number two hitter ahead of Lee and Ramirez.

The good news is that Dusty isn't that far off from doing this in regard to Hairston. Hairston has 18 PA in the 12 games played this year. That translates to 243 PA for the season. A little higher than I'd like, but still keeping Walker in for the vast majority of the time. Hairston has also started 3 of 12 games, which would project to be about 40 for the year.

The problem is that Hairston isn't the only player in the mix with Walker. Neifi has one start at 2b and two at 3b. My concern is that Ramirez had a sprained butt during some of this time so Neifi might get a higher percentage of his time at 2b, unless he is the designated SS/3b replacement, which is preferable. And I have no clue how Bynum will be used, but I suspect he's the latest reincarnation of Augie Ojeda. Which means too many at-bats will be wasted on him. But hey, at least Walker hasn't been traded yet . . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Baseball Prospectus Radio

Baseball Prospectus is offering a downloadable (and podcasting) radio show at http://www.baseballprospectus.com/radio/

It's excellent listening. If you're interested in stats, their sabremetricians will keep you up to date with much more powerful measures than the standard AVG and ERA.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

RE-LEE-F

Well, Hendry's contract can be rescinded with a big "Psych!" from the Trib-brass, now that Lee has just been inked to a 5 year deal worth $65m [Actually, as Chuck over at Ivy Chat notes, the 5 year deal essentially includes a $5.4m raise this year ('06) and $13m over the next 4 ('07, '08, '09, 10)]. This is the right move, locking him up for the long term. But this is only what Hendry should have done; no monumental accomplishment like downing a box of Krispy Kremes during the 7th inning stretch. It isn't as if Lee indicated he wanted to stay--oh wait, he did. I'm not, however, a big fan of no trades clauses, which this contract apparently has. Better to bump up the salary slightly than be stuck with an oft-injured, low-producing, former stud that cannot be moved . . . Kerry Wood anyone?

Hendry has stumbled and bumbled this off season--with only his Enron-Christmas-Party type spending on the bullpen being somewhat redemptive. Although he had to do something there too. He sat on his hand (not hands because he had to hold the donut) while he watched Furcal, all the decent Right Fielders, and all quality starting pitchers being "snatched up" (a bone for the pre-mills out there and a chart for the uninitiated). We're left with Jackie "I hit once a week whether they need me or not" Jones and the personal injury firm of Miller, Prior, Wood and Labrum. Throw in doing everything in your power to alienate your only legitimate #2 hitter and offensively productive second baseman--the living, bearded quote machine--and that's the inept GM trifecta. Outstanding Jim, you almost did the bare minimum. Now let's hitch our wagon to Dusty for another couple of years too.

But, of course, I'm not bitter about any of this. Now where did I put those donuts?

Monday, April 10, 2006

What a Great Game!

As a Cubs fan, the most exciting part of the season is the first few weeks, when we still believe we have a chance at winning the division and attaining some level of playoff glory.

The rest of the season?

Well, not so much.

Inevitably (by early June), we end up like Jim Mora, referring to the playoffs only in the most exasperated of tones.

So forgive us for celebrating. This is, after all, our time of year.

Last night's game was so much fun, I even went downstairs and got my 2 1/2 year-old son out of bed to finish watching the last inning and a half with me (much to my wife's displeasure).

How about Michael Barrett hitting a game-saving/winning homerun in the 7th/8th innings two games in a row?! I was watching the interview with him after Saturday's heroics (which Camden was at btw), and he is a class act.

That it came against the Cardinals only made it that much nicer. How does that sweep taste Randy?

I don't want to stir up any unfounded optimism (the starting rotation remains a major cause for concern at this point), but if Wood and Prior can come back and contribute for the last 2/3 of the season - this may be a pretty dangerous team.

The offense is improved, and the bullpen is markedly better (if we could have only have had this bullpen in 2003). Walker continues to demonstrate why he needs to be the everyday starting 2nd baseman for this club - he is a solid and patient hitter who works pitchers long into counts and gets on base at an impressive rate.

It's also nice to see Jones finally get a hit or two - apparently the National League ballclub from Chicago needs a free swinging outfielder who strikes out a lot, and Jones has been filling that role admirably thus far.

I think the upcoming road trip at L.A. will be telling, especially since I am projecting the Dodgers to win the west this year and threaten for the pennant crown as well.

Monday, April 03, 2006

If the Season Only Ended Today

Well, we are off to the races!! 1st place and undefeated!! What a way to finish the season. If this were only the finish. :) But our only bonafide starting pitcher not on Medicare just started, so now what do we do for the next four days?