Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Gamecast: June 16, 2010, Atheltics at Cubs (7:05 CT)

Ryan Dempster (4-5, 3.74) vs. Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.79)

Overview
Lou Piniella and the Cubs are finding new and interesting ways to lose games.  Most of these ways are screwing up in the most basic fundamentals of baseball.  The Cubs allowed four unearned runs last night, and despite most of their mishaps, were in it for the majority of the game.  However, a missed cutoff man here, and wild pitch there... letting your pitcher hit even though you are going to pull him, have a man in scoring position, and a very viable pinch hitter available... and the game fell apart.  As I was in attendance, all of my frustrations have been told to the players on the field last night, so I figure it would just be overkill to let it flow out in this forum.

Apparently the term "Moneyball" means a nickel and diming offense that gets on base on a great deal of flukey hits and a few lucky bounces/errors courtesy of the opposing team.  The Cubs found that out last night.  Tonight the A's will send out (twice) former White Sox farmhand Gio Gonzalez.  Gonzalez has had a year very much like the Cubs ballclub: flashes of brilliance, moments of implosion, and mediocre peripherals overall.  Gio tends to strike out a lot of batters, but he also walks a lot of batters.  When he walks batters, he gets flustered and hitters can get to him.  As a lefty, right-handers hit him better overall (.261 on the season), so I expect Lou to trot out the anti-lefty lineup and hope for the best.

Who's Hot:  Um... That Colvin fella hit a nice home run when it didn't matter.  I guess we can call that an injection of youth into the team.

Who's Not: The Cubs fundamentals.  Lou and Hendry need to have a pow-wow with Tom Emanski and get these kids playing "pickle" and "hot potato" stat to get their glovework going.  Or at least get this guy to get Big Z's mojo back.

Conclusion
We need a win.  Any way possible.  In the immortal words of Ron Stillenovich: "Just because some of us weren't born with a whole lot of natural talent doesn't mean that we can't contribute."

Errors cost Cubs (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Athletics 9)

Two errors each from two players cost the Cubs in two big innings for the A's.

In the fourth, Derrek Lee misplayed a Trevor Cahill (read: AL pitcher) forceout on one play, and followed that up with a missed catch error on the very next play. Admittedly, Carlos Zambrano had not looked good so far in that inning, allowing the first four batters in the inning to reach base. But Z did his best to get out of it as quickly as possible, and unfortunately Lee wasn't there -- something that doesn't happen often, to be sure.

Yes, Big Z is prone to the mental-lapse-induced blowout performance; sometimes he just loses it, and the other team all of a sudden gets eight or nine runs. But one of the man's best qualities is that he's capable of overcoming that and continuing to pitch through trouble. (Case in point: 2008 NLDS, Game 2. I will never forget that game, and neither should you when people start bitching about Z.)

After Zambrano toughed through six innings, the game was put away in the seventh via a rough appearance from Jeff Stevens, made worse by two errors in right field from Tyler Colvin.

A few Cubs reached base twice with a hit and a walk, but the only guy who really deserves kudos for his hitting is Tyler Colvin, who went 2-for-4 with a home run. His slugging percentage is now eight points over .600, and his OPS is up to .967.

Just so you know, here are the top six Cub hitters in terms of slugging:

Colvin, .608
Soriano, .541
Byrd, .536
Fukudome, .456
Soto, .453
Fontenot, .431

Interpret that as you will. And go Cubs!

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics @ Chicago Cubs, June 15-17 2010

Preview
I've got to admit it, I like Interleague play.  I like when we have series like this one, where teams you don't normally see come into Wrigley for a few games.  I went to Cubs/Blue Jays game a couple years ago, and it felt special.  It was a bad Blue Jays team, but hey, they don't show up at Wrigley often!  So I have to say, even though the Cubs are brutal, I'm excited for this series.  Cubs and A's.  The 2 teams I liked when I was young.  In fairness I only liked Oakland b/c of the Bash Brothers and because I was like 8 years old at the time.  I grew out of that phase, and quick.

Oakland, after spending time early in the season at the top, or near the top of their division, has scuffled of late, losing their last 3 against their rivals across the Bay, the San Francisco Giants.  They're still just 4 out at the start of play today, and are obviously still putting themselves as in the race, as they acquired Arizona 1B/OF Conor Jackson today.  One has to figure he'll be an option in LF for A's manager Bob Geren.  Late word out of Chicago has Jackson available tonight, even though he's not starting.

The Matchups
*Tonight: Big Z (2-4, 6.05) vs. Trevor Cahill (5-2, 2.91)
Cahill's one of Oakland's good young pitchers, and he's had QS his last 6 times out. He's a righty, and I feel like we're gonna struggle against him.  Z is Z.  This year - ya just don't know what we're gonna get out of him.  I can't imagine we win tonight.  And why are we insistant on starting Koyie Hill every night? 

*Tomorrow: Demp (4-5, 3.74) vs. Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.79)
Demp's been a HR machine this year - allowing 13 bombs in 13 starts.  Good news for him, the A's aren't much of a HR team.  Maybe he'll get lucky and the win will be blowing in tomorrow night.  Gio will be making his first start against the Cubs.  He's been pretty good this year, though his command has been a bit wobbly (roughly 4 BB/9).  He had a tough go of it last Friday night against the Giants as well.

*Thursday: First Inning Randy Wells (3-5, 5.15) vs. Dallas Braden (4-6, 3.95)
Interesting matchup here.  I personally think Wells is pitching for his rotation slot on Thursday.  If he flops again, there's a chance the team options him to Iowa, and someone else gets a turn.  I'd assume that guy would be Gorzo, but Jay Jackson at AAA Iowa is an interesting option.  Honestly, it should be Cashner, but we're all about taking our best starting pitching prospect and putting him in the pen, baby!  Great job Cubs!  Idiots.  Braden's best known for his love of the 2-oh-9 and his perfect game earlier this year..but he's been up and down all year.  I know - he's on my fantasy team.  By the time he starts Thursday, he'll be at 8 days between starts due to some left arm soreness, so it'll be worth watching to see if that continues.  He's allowed 11 hits in 2 of his last 3 starts, so this could be a high scoring affair.  Here's to hoping Wells figures his shit out.  I like the kid, honestly.

Conclusions
What conclusions can you have other than we need to win some damn games?  I dont care how, just win some damn games.  Score some runs, don't act like assholes in the field and give those runs away, and be better than those guys in green.  Not hard.  

Go Cubbies.  Keep the faith

-MW

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Gamecast: June 15, 2010, PT Barnum's Athletics at Cubs

Trevor Cahill (5-2, 2.91) vs. Big Z (2-4, 6.05)

Overview
Well kids, at least we got one against those pesky White Sox.  And in what fashion.  We may just spill our winning ways into the gulf of baseball and claim that BP Cup afterall.  I feel like I am beating a dead horse (not nearly as fun as a pinata due to the lack of candy) but the Cubs go as far as their offense.  The good news is, the A's are close to anemic in terms of offense as well. 

One sign of the A's desperation for a bat, they have traded for King Valley Fever (not as cool as Disco Fever), Conor Jackson to add to their OF rotation.  CoJack has had a hard time establishing exactly what type of player he is, batting anywhere from leadoff to cleanup... and hitting about .238 on the year.

Who's Hot
Marlon Byrd- 
Marlon seems to have his bat back after a brief hiatus.  Over his past 7, Byrd is batting .500 with 2 HR and an .889 SLG.  Gotta love it when he is going. 

Who's Not
John Grabow
- Well, he had a rehab start, meaning he's on track to make it to the club.  Bad news... he got lit up.  Badly.  Even minor leaguers are torching the guy. Can we get a do over on that contract?

Conclusion
On paper this should be a struggle to plate a run.  Maybe we can have a second pitcher flirt with a no-hitter tonight.  I'll be there working my magic and hoping I don't get poured on, so I'll keep you posted as best as my phone internet will allow me to.  And as I finish this it starts pouring...awesome.

The Waiver Test

Alex Rios has been mashing for the White Sox this year with a .317 average, 13 home runs, and 19 steals. You don't happen to remember how Chicago's AL team got him onto their roster, do you?

Rios was claimed off of waivers. That is, his former team -- the Toronto Blue Jays -- simply gave him away, for absolutely nothing in return.

Given Rios' recent performance at the time, it was thought that the Blue Jays were making a potentially shrewd move to eliminate some salary; Rios had six years left on a seven year, $70 million deal. At the same time, many in the media scoffed at the White Sox' gamble. That was a heckuvalot of salary to take on.

What does this have to do with the Cubs? Well, it appears the hot stove is truly beginning to heat up already. (Aside: what's with everyone writing about how the Cubs aren't sure about whether they have a shot at the playoffs or not, and won't entertain trade ideas until then? You're kidding, right?)

If this team does, as it should, enter full-on sell mode in the next few weeks, there are a few names you can expect to see pop up in all sorts of trade rumors: Lee, Nady, Lilly, etc. But here's my question for the trade-happy public:

If the entire Cubs roster were put on waivers tomorrow -- that is, offered up for zero in return -- how many players would be worth a roster spot to other teams?

I look forward to reviewing your answers in the comments.

Reader Blog: No-hit duel between Lilly and Floyd fits right in with MLB's 2010 theme: Pitching Rules

What a game that was on Sunday. A no-hitter through eight. Oh, and a no-hitter through 6.2.


You really have to tip your cap to Lilly, as he continues to mow down opposing hitters despite getting virtually no run support from the hitters in his own dugout. He has received two or fewer runs of support in nine of his ten starts, which is why he's 2-5 despite a solid 2.90 ERA. Lilly's getting even less run support than Roy Oswalt who demanded a trade because of the Astros' offensive ineptitude. It may not be long until Lilly, who will be a free agent at season's end, makes a similar request. His last five starts have looked like this:


L 2-1


W 1-0


L 3-2


L 3-2


W 1-0


It's difficult to pitch well knowing you're probably going to get just a run or two of support, but Lilly has been stellar. Watching the Cubs offense makes me want to rip my heart from my chest just to put an end to the agony, but fortunately Lilly just bears down even more.


This year it seems that the Cubs aren't the only team driving their fans nuts with a lack of hitting. Sunday's unique affair in which both starters went at least six innings with a no-hitter--the first time since 1997 that this has happened--was just another example of the dominant pitching that has been on display throughout the 2010 season. It seems like every week there's a new pitching accomplishment to talk about. To wit:


  • There have already been two perfect games this season, three if you count Armando Galarraga's. There had never before been more than one in a single season, and there was once a 54-year stretch with just two perfect games.  
  • There have been three total no-hitters (including the perfect games), four with Galarraga's. That puts MLB on pace for seven or eight. There were seven in 1991.  
  • Last season, 11 pitchers finished with an ERA under three, the second time since 2000 that the number was in double-digits. Right now, 25 pitchers are under 3.00.  
  • Ubaldo Jimenez, who tossed one of the aforementioned no-hitters, has a positively Bob Gibson-like 1.16 ERA. Cardinals rookie Jaime Garcia has a 1.49 ERA, and 21-year-old Stephen Strasburg has baffled hitters in his first two starts.  
  • Guys named Jonathon Niese and Mat Latos have thrown one-hitters, and there have been two more on top of that.  
  • The Cardinals and Mets played 19 innings before scratching a run across on April 19, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks needed 14 innings to break a scoreless tie on June 2.  







And it's not just a matter of individual impressive performances. Take a look at the league ERA over the last 10 years:


2010: 4.17


2009: 4.31


2008: 4.32


2007: 4.46


2006: 4.52


2005: 4.28


2004: 4.46


2003: 4.40


2002: 4.27


2001: 4.41


So what in the world is going on? Well, a lot of players and managers posit that it's simply the "ebb" part of a natural ebb and flow. While that's legitimate, it's of course impossible not to draw a connection between baseball's war on steroids and the war pitchers are waging on hitters in 2010. It's June 15 and the league's leading home run hitter has 19 long balls. Remember when Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in one month back in 1998? So yeah, things have changed a bit.


It's not just home runs, though. Ben Walker of the AP points out that home runs, runs and batting average are at their lowest rate since 1998. Troy Renck at the Denver Post suggests that one reason for the drop-off is that hitters are no longer ashamed of striking out, and that average hitters are swinging for the fences even if it means they might come up empty. A quick look at the numbers shows that strikeouts are indeed up a bit, though not much.


In the hitters' defense, it is still relatively early. Bats tend to heat up with the weather, so it wouldn't be surprising to see run totals go up with the temperature forecast. But for now, it's a pitcher's world and hitters are just living in it. Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that we're seeing more outs than balls out of the park, but I do foresee one problem: Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel are going to have one heck of a time choosing the pitchers for their All-Star rosters.

I've been a bad, bad man

I owe you guys an apology -- unlike every other writer on this blog, I have not even been remotely pulling my weight lately.

Without making excuses, I'll fill you in on what I've been up to...

On top of working first in a high school for returning adults seeking their diplomas (read: the people who couldn't hack it in a regular high school the first time around) I've started working for a government housing organization while doing digital work for a couple of news sources as I've been working on some non-baseball-related writing material.  Phew.  Try to say that in one breath.

In the meantime, I managed to lose access to my photobucket account (hence the recent absence of all images on the blog) and, while I've been keeping up with the Cubs, it's probably fair to say that they have been the fifth or sixth priority in my life.

While I can't promise that that's going to change -- I mean, c'mon Cubs, give me something to work with here! -- I'm going to be back to providing the basic images that makes this blog unique while posting as often as my busy little fingers will allow me to.

I know this season has been a bitter mixture of painful, frustrating, and boring, but we are on the brink of something big -- the exit of Lou and some of Hendry's worst mistakes.  And maybe Hendry himself.  Assuming Ricketts isn't a bleacher mark.  There's so much drama! 

In the coming months, as the Cubs continue their slide into mediocrity, we'll be looking at some of the more philosophical issues -- ie, stats vs. guts, who to trade and what to expect in return, and so-on.  I'll do my best to make my favorite arguments once more, whenever time permits it.  In the meantime, I can only thank the other guys on this site -- everybody has been pulling their weight admirably.  I'm happy that I'm no longer the guy who posts the most; I'm hardly cut out for it anyway.

So, if it's not "Go Cubs," then I guess I can say "Go Us."  Or something.  Because crap, they suck.

Carrie may be on to something here.


Watch me lift content from Carrie Muskat's mailbox (cited with a link, to be fair):

Q: I've heard a lot about D-Lee being traded to the Angels and it got me thinking: Who would be considered our first baseman of the future? I'd like to think I'm very familiar with the Cubs top prospects and I haven't heard a first baseman mentioned among them. -- Chris C., Naperville, IL

A: Maybe it's Tyler Colvin. He played first in high school and at Clemson, and could take over. This is the last year of Lee's contract with the Cubs. He does have a first base mitt.

So that's interesting.

The levels of regret - not all regret is as bad as others

In this weekend's Tribune, there was an article about the "Third founder of Apple".  Really?  There was a third founder of Apple, just like there was a fifth Beatle?  Seems that there was; he was the 'business guru' part of the deal, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  You know the Steves; this third guy was in the garage, too, but he got sick of the Steves always turning on and letting their minds wander into fancy thoughts.  This third guy even designed the first Apple logo; but finally he got sick of all the talk about mice and pointing and clicking and let the Steves buy him out for $800.  Now, this guy lives simply, on Social Security, and he says sure, he has 'regrets' because of course, the Steves are now richer than God.  But, as the article explained, not all regrets have to be negative.  He did what he thought was right at the time; all the knowledge he had at his disposal was that the Steves were a couple of burnouts, and that they were just gonna run through whatever little they had, and that would be the end of it.


If he had to do it over again, he'd make the same decision, because he went with what his gut said was right, and that is all he could do.  For every Apple success story, there are thousands of other guys who get together for a few weeks, burn through their savings, and have nothing to show for it but a sack of empty beercans.  So he doesn't let his 'regret' eat him up.


A couple of things got me thinking: the first being that we may now possibly have the oxymoron for 2010 - "Positive Regret", to go along with "negative success", one of my favorites (/eyes roll) from the past decade.


The second thing has to do with decisions; specifically sports decisions; even more specifically baseball decisions; well, let's get down to it - trading decisions, particularly those involving the Cubs.  Those of you that know me know that I do exist somewhere on the near side of the ol' Autistic Spectrum, and that I love me some categorizations.  Some kids played with Hot Wheels; I sorted them in boxes by color; then make and model. 


Today I am going to sort some of the Cubs' trades over the years, in terms of regret levels, from positive regret (yo, don't let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha) to total Brock-for-Broglio-esque misery.


LEVEL 0: No Regret Whatsoever - total lopsided trades in our favor; ones that might be considered Level 4 or 5 by the other guys.  DeJesus-for-Bowa, with Sandberg thrown in.  Bobby Hill-for-Aramis Ramirez. 


LEVEL 1: Regret as a form of blessed release - Turd Hundley-for-Grudz&Karros in 2003; Sosa-for-Hairston&Font in 2004; Bradley-for-Silva last winter. God help me, these are the trades that feel like curing cancer - chemo that works!


LEVEL 2: Meh-gret: most trades fall into meh-gret: a recent example would be Kevin Hart-for-Grabow and Gorzellany.  What-ever...(NOTE: please do not confuse the trade for Grabow with the subsequent 2-year-contract for Grabow.  That's a whole 'nother topic).  This includes the vast majority of trades that don't work out well for either side.


LEVEL 3: Regret for some; Meh-gret for others: the DeRosa trade falls into this category.  We give up something of value, and whether or not we get like value back, there will be some who will be disappointed for a long time.  In the case of DeRosa, some 'fans' are still pointing to his departure as the crack in the windshield that broke up the 2008 juggernaut, as it were.  Others, such as myself, while admitting that we gave up some measure of value, aren't going to lose a nugget of sleep over it.  There haven't been many other recent Level 3's, unless of course you're one of the ten people left on Earth who still feel Jake Fox can play ball. 


LEVEL 4: Now we're starting to feel the sting; giving up on a major league impact player.  Garland-for-Karchner.  Raffy Palmiero (AND Jamie Moyer!)-for-Wild Thing.  Bill Madlock-for-Steve Ontiveros. Dontrelle Willis (as a throw-in!)-for-Clement & Alfonseca.  You might even throw in Joe Carter-for-Sutcliffe.  I would, you might not.  Carter-for-Sut might be a Level 3 in your world, because 1984 simply does not happen without Sut.  I understand that, and 1984 Chicago might mean more to any franchise than any other season in MLB history where a pennant was NOT won.


But it was pretty clear that Carter was the real deal, he did not immediately impress upon his first callup, we traded him off, and he then spent the next 12 years or so just KILLING fools.


But even considering the regretful nature of Level 4, there is:


LEVEL 5: Brock-for-Broglio.  Letting Maddux walk in 1993, which is not in itself a trade, except in effect, it was when the "Maddux Money" was then given to Jose Guzman and Candy Maldonado.  Letting a Hall-Of-Fame talent go is inexcusible under any circumstances.  These are trades that just kill a franchise, and just EAT into your sleep.


Now then.  Take a good hard look at your team today.  I have recently come out here, myself and others, to accurately note that the offense for the Cubs sucks on toast, and what's more, outside of a couple of guys with large expiring contracts, and of course our "beloved prospects", we had nothing to offer in trade to improve matters any. 


Now and again, someone like Phil Rogers will wonder out loud (in the paper) if there was any possibilities about someone like Fukudome being sent in a 3-way trade with Boston and perhaps Texas.  You may think that Phil Rogers realizes what he does for a living, that if he publishes his idle thoughts, that there will be people who make the implication that there may be some substance behind them. I actually do not think so; I don't think Phil thinks that far ahead.


But back to our trade prospects now in 2010.  I don't think we are going to be able to get rid of Fukudome, or Ramirez, or Lee, or Soriano, or Zambrano.  Someone may try Lilly (especially after last night) or perhaps Nady.  Neither one will bring much.  Neither will the rest of the rabble: the Cajun boys; Tracy and Baker; the 10 or so feeble bullpen arms we've shuffled in and out so far this year; Three-Finger Hill.  Any trades containing any of them falls under Meh-gret.


But what about Castro?  Cashner?  Colvin?  Josh Vitters?  What about Marmol and Soto?  Could we possibly bring in a decent-hitting infielder, at any position, for one or more of them?  Is it as easy as that?


This is the main point of today's column: any trade has risk.  We could, hypothetically, trade Castro, Colvin, and Cashner for Albert Pujols today, and quite possibly once he puts on a Cub uniform, Pujols forgets how to swing a bat for the rest of his natural life.  If that happened, there would be regret.  The question is, how much?


Look at each one of our prospects.  Are they certain future Hall-of-Famers?  Are they certain impact big-leaguers?  Are they even certain major-league contributors?  How much regret would we feel if one or more of our so-called top prospects were dealt, in an attempt to make something out of this offense the next couple of years?


My take?  I don't feel I am watching certain Greatness when I see Colvin, Castro, Cashner and Soto play.  Marmol?  Heh heh, God only knows.  He has a unique gift - it may stay with him 10 more years, or it may leave him tomorrow.  I wouldn't mess with him right now. 


The rest of them?  Aren't going to cost me any sleep, ever.

Lucky Lilly

A couple of weeks ago a fellow writer here mentioned that Ted Lilly was "unlucky". I was confused at the time but realized he was talking about Ted Lilly's won/loss record.

So let me be the first one to say this. A pitcher's individual won/loss record in a single season is the most meaningless stat used by people. It's as simple as this, a pitcher's job is to limit his walks and flyballs (which tend to lead to HR) while striking out as many batters as possible. He is expected to do this job for as many innings as possible.

If things go right for him, he'll end up with a good won/loss record and ERA but effectively, he isn't really responsible for that. After he releases the ball, his job is over. No pitcher is responsible, by himself, for a team winning or losing.

So I've learned to ignore wins and losses. I only notice Carlos Silva's won/loss record because everyone talks about it. Last night on ESPN they also, like my co writer, couldn't stop talking about Lilly's won/loss record so now I'm acutely aware of how unlucky he is supposed to be.

Ted Lilly has been easily the luckiest pitcher on the Cubs. The 3 things that have nothing to do with a pitcher's "skills" but affect his ERA are his strand rate (usually around 70%), his Batting Average allowed on Balls In Play (BABIP usually around .300) and his HR per fly ball (usually around 10%).

Lilly has allowed more balls in play than normal this year because his K rate is down. His fly ball rate, always high is higher than ever this year. But his ERA is only 2.90 because he is stranding close to 80% of all runners and has allowed a BABIP of only .219 and a HR/FB of only 7.8%. That is a recipe for an ERA that is nearly two runs lower than his xFIP which only looks at things ability to K people, keep your BB down as well as fly ball rate.

Statistically, Lilly is going to get worse, much worse this season unless he can get K rate up to a more usable 7 or so K's per 9 and maybe lift his ground ball rate a little. He isn't going to keep this up.

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