Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Reader Blog: Cubs v Cardinals

Outside of the Cardinals, the NL Central does appear winnable this year. If the Cubs can string a few wins together, they might be able to finagle 85 this year and take the division. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals are going to fail? Probably not, but it is possible.

Right now, the Cardinals are greatly outperforming their statistical indicators while the Cubs are slightly underperforming there's. This has more to do with St. Louis' 4 game lead over the Cubs than any major difference in quality.

St. L GP-13  RS-59  RA-40
Chi GP-13    RS-54   RA-64

So the Cardinals have outscored the Cubs by a small amount while crushing them in the ability to stop the other team from scoring. Makes sense, but consider this:

Cubs wOBA- .328
Cardinals wOBA-.325

So the Cubs have more run potential than the Cardinals on offense. It's early, but at worst these teams should be about tied in runs scored.

Cubs xFIP-3.83
Cardinals xFIP-3.77

The actual ERA's are hugely different but the fielding independent team ERA's are almost identical so far. The Cubs have seriously underperformed their xFIP.

These things have a tendency to work themselves out but as of right now, without looking at the glove work where I am sure the Cardinals have a slight advantage, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals are that much better than the Cubs.

It's a long season everyone. I predict that at some point this year, the Cubs will pass the Cardinals for first place if even for just a short time. It's too early to abadon hope.

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Reader Blog: Hendry's Free Agent Signings

Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.

Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.

That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.

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Reader Blog: Fire Jim Hendry

I've made no secret of my desire to see Cruller Jim Hendry given his walking papers. I've heard all the arguments in favor of his retention, and they don't hold water for me. Jim Hendry is a liability to the 2010 Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs should remove him. Hendry should be replaced with a general manager who has a better understanding of the market and of those player skills that more accurately correlate with wins.

Because this is my first blog post, I should share a little about myself. I'm a saber admirer, although I can't do the math myself. I believe a few basic concepts that originated with sabermetrics are so well established as to be taken as fact, and that MLB front offices are negligent if they ignore them. The high correlation between OBP and runs scored is one example.  

I will regularly refer to WAR in my posts. WAR stands for "wins above replacement." It's a handy tool for summarizing the total wins any single player contributes above a hypothetical 'replacement level' player. It's important to note that a replacement level player would be a well below average major leaguer. The replacement level player is basically any interchangeable AAA ballplayer. For any math masochists who are reading this, here's an excellent explanation of how a hitter's WAR is calculated: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/6/12/906943/war-lords-of-the-diamond-position. WAR is also a handy stat because it can be used to compare a player's individual contributions with his salary.We can then determine whether that player is providing surplus value relative to his salary, or if he is being paid more than he is worth.

I hope that you will agree that Jim Hendry has to go. He is not a good general manager and the roster he has assembled is not a contender, either this season or in the future. Thanks for reading.

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Reader Blog: Playing Nostradamus: Derrek Lee

I do not believe that the Cubs should give up on 2010 but I do think they need a contingency plan in case it looks like they are falling well behind in both the division and wildcard races. Looking forward to 2011 and beyond needs to be a priority for this team.

The first player they need to look at is Derrek Lee. Now at the moment, Lee is in the 5th year of a $65 million deal. He's done a pretty good job of earning that $13 million per year and is currently having a very nice season for the Cubs.

I like Lee and I suspect the Cubs' brass does also. So here is my take on what needs to be done:

1) Approach him about waiving his No Trade Clause
2) Insist a potential trading partner give up at least 2 Grade B or better prospects who are currently residing at the Double A level or higher.
3) If no trading partner exists, let Lee finish the season with the Cubs and offer him arbitration after the season.
4) When he struggles to find a taker at the price tage he has come to expect, offer him $8 Million(per year) for 2 years.

Derrek Lee is going to be 35 in September and even though he is a good hitter. Good hitters who can play first base adequately are a dime a dozen in the current major league environment. Adam LaRoche got a 1 year, 6 Mill contract this past offseason. I don't believe that as good a player as Lee is, he is that much better than LaRoche, especially when one considers that Lee is 5 years older. He is simply not going to find the free agent market amenible to what he may expect.

OTOH, if Lee leaves, he leaves, the Cubs need to have a backup plan and while one doesn't appear to exist on the team. There are always players like, well, like LaRoche who are available every year for around the same price we would offer Lee. such a player might not perform quite as well as Lee has but would probably cost half as much and could be let go at the end of the season. Lee would net the Cubs 2 draft picks if he is a Type A Free Agent and that would be almost the same as trading him.

All salary data is courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts

Reader Blog: Notes after a Frustrating Loss

Some notes after today's frustrating game:

1)Cubs are now 2-4 in 1 run games and 3-6 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs this year. It's frustrating but with a little luck, the Cubs would have a much better record.

2) Aramis' K rate is alarmingly high in the early going this year. Coming into today's game, He was striking out close to 35% of the time. His career K rate is only 15%. I'm hoping this isn't something that continues.

3)Geovany Soto is fine. I think the Cubs are hurting themselves by keeping him in the 8 hole. This is where you should place your worst hitter in the lineup (usually the pitcher). If you don't put the pitcher there, I can think of at least 2 or 3 players who would better suited for that spot over Soto.

4) Despite today's blown save, I am very happy about Marmol's control this year. After today's game, Marmol has walked just 2 betters in 6.2 innings. It's early but if he can keep his walk rate significantly below 4, he is likely to make the All Star team.

Reader Blog: Fontenot

It's early yet but Mike Fontenot seems to be doing fine at the plate. His batting average in the early going is .333. This is much closer to his 2008 batting average (.305) than his 2009 batting average (.236). That being said, there is reason for concern. You see, coming into the season, Fontenot's return to form was somewhat foretold by his still solid peripheral stats in 2009.

So far in 2010, his secondary skills have been much worse than they were in 2008 or 2009:

BB%:
2008: 12.0
2009: 8.4
2010: 6.9

ISO(Isolated Power):
2008: .210
2009: .141
2010: .037

BABIP
2008: .353
2009: .276
2010: .360

Fontenot's production thus far this season is almost totally a Batting average on balls in play myth. He needs to increase his walk rate and power or else his overall production is going to tank once he goes through his inevetable unlucky streak.

Reader Blog: Patience with Geovany

I have been reading all over the internet the frustration that Cub fans are having with Geo Soto. People have actually been suggesting releasing him and trading for a catcher (who????) or benching him in favor Koyie Hill.

I am a member of the Koyie Hill fan club but the fans need to show Soto some patience, for chrissakes! I mean, sure the guy had a low batting average last year but there are several reasons not to worry about that.

1) He was famously injured and fat for the whole season.

2) He hit into awful bad luck.

Soto's.246 BABIP in 2009 was inordinately low. If he simply lifted that number to a more ordinary .300, he would have hit much closer to his 2008 levels. His walk rate was actually *higher* in 2009 than it was in 2008. Every projection system thinks he'll get his batting average back to the .260 level or higher. So if he can stay healthy, he's going to be one of the top 5 or so offensive catchers in the NL this year. Given that he's being paid the minimum, it is ridiculously stupid beyond belief to release or bench him. My God people. Wait until the end of May to make a further judgment on Geo. He will hit.

Reader Blog: Piling on John Grabow

I wasn't here to express this at the time but I thought the signing of John Grabow to a 2 year contact for around 3 million per year was a complete waste of resources. You never give a multi-year contract of this amount to a mediocre middle reliever.

The problem with Grabow is that Hendry apparently didn't believe he was mediocre. This is because of Hendry's reliance on ERA as a main indicator. Here are Grabow's ERA's the last 4 years:

2006-4.13
2007-4.53
2008-2.64
2009-3.36

Looks like Grabow magically got better. But did he?

There are only 3 things a pitcher can do to keep runs off the board. He can strike out hitters, he can keep his walks low, or he can keep the ball in the ballpark.

Judging by those stats above, Grabow must have gotten better in one of those skills.

Was it strikeouts?

K rate last four years:

2006-8.53
2007-7.32
2008-7.34
2009-7.09

Nope. Grabow has missed fewer bats over time not more. He must have developed better control:

BB rate last four years:

2006-3.88
2007-3.31
2008-4.38
2009-4.98

Wow, he has become more wild, not less. This is amazing, he's striking out fewer batters without seeing his walk rate drop and still his ERA goes down?? How could that be. Oh, right what about the HR?

HR rate last four years:

2006-0.90
2007-1.05
2008-1.07
2009-0.62

Oh, so the HR rate DID go down in 2009. How'd that happen? Luck. It is almost a fact that all pitchers will allow around 10% of their flyballs for HR's. Grabow is not very much of a ground ball pitcher so he allows his share of flyballs but allowed just 5 HR of 87 flyballs in 2009.

On top of this, hitters only hit .279 on batted balls in play and only .251 in 2008, btw. He is not going to allow 2 run HR in the 8th every time out but really what we are looking at is the right handed version of Aaron Heilman. I hope I am wrong about Grabow but when you have a limited budget, you don't spend it on mediocrities who got lucky the last two years.

Reader Blog: Jair Jurrjens is overrated

Much the same as the rest of the Braves' pitching staff, Jair Jurrjens is overrated. The reason for this stems from a decent ERA in 2008 and an awesome ERA in 2009. But there isn't anything special here and there is no good reason why he should repeat his 2.60 ERA from 2009. Basically Jurrjens is a fastball/curve ball pitcher who mixes in a slider from time to time. He throws his heater about 91 MPH. Nothing special.

His K/BB ratio for his career in the majors is an unimpressive 1.97/1 and he K's just over the acceptable rate of 6 per 9 IP while having OK but not astouding control. He is a slight ground ball pitcher but whereas Tim Hudson posted a better than 3:1 Ground ball rate in 2009, Jurrjens was 1:1. But what Jurrjens really has going for him is luck.

In 2009, Jurrjens allowed a .273 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Most pitchers allow around .300 or so and while some do better than that consistently, you will not be able to see it as a "skill" until they are in the league for several years. Jurrjens also has seen his HR/FB rate be under 10% every year of his major league career. Once again, most pitchers have that number flatten out at the 10% rate. Last year, Jurrjens only allowed 6% of his flyballs to go for HR.

A normal HR rate and BABIP would have led Jurrjens to an ERA of 4.34 which is nearly a run and three quarters higher than his actual ERA.

All of this would be bad news enough for Jurrjens but to make matters worse, he was slowed in the Spring by a balky shoulder which is a huge red flag for a 24 year old pitcher coming off of his first 200+ inning season of his career.

What Jurrjens is, right now, IMO is an OK #3 or a very good #4. The Braves are starting him in their second game. After seeing Derek Lowe get ripped in the opener. Aren't the Braves supposed to have awesome pitching?

All stats courtesy of fangraphs , my favorite non Cubs baseball website.

Reader Blog: Trade Ryan Theriot

Much has been made this offseason and during spring training about the future of Ryan Theriot and Starlin Castro. I believe the answer of what to do about these players is obvious.

Ryan Theriot has been a very valuable player. He is average to above average defensively at an important position according to all fielding metrics. He also hits fairyly well for a shortstop. Tack onto that his salary which is now 2.6 Million. According to fangraphs, Theriot has been worth over 10 Million in real dollars each of the last two years. Even with another solid year, he's probably looking at a raise into the 4-6 Million range for 2011. That makes him a decent bargain for any team.

If the Cubs did not have a potential stud shortstup prospect, I'd call Theriot one of the best values on the team. However, with Starlin Castro breathing down his neck, Theriot is going to need to be moved. I don't like moving him to second base because of the presence of another decent below market player with a nice glove named Mike Fontenot.

Fontenot is making 1 million in 2010 and will probably see a raise bringing his salary to just under what Theriot is making now in 2011. Fontenot is a better hitter than Theriot, in my opinion, and is also 6 months younger. I think it would be bad idea to replace Fontenot with a worse hitting, more expensive Theriot in 2011.

That leaves the Cubs with one choice. Trade Ryan Theriot. This is not something they should do during the 2010 season. This year, the Cubs do not have any room for developmental players like Castro. But the 2011 team will and Castro will be that much better. The Castro of 2011 and 2012 will be paid next to nothing and will probably put up numbers not too dissimilar to what Theriot provides now. On top of that, Theriot, now 30, will be entering his decline years.

The fairly cheap, but productive Theriot should net the Cubs a Grade B hitting prospect sitting at Double A or higher plus a decent middle reliever. The Cubs save 2+ million and move on to their next move. They can do this without weakening the team.

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