Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Statisticals

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/managed/grota/drupal/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

Stats are a thing - not just the only thing

Goatfriend Kevin Kaduk from Yahoo’s Big League Stew does an admirable job all year covering the National Pastime, and today he pours the Steak Sauce on the meat, with his mention of recently retired Morgan Ensberg’s comments about sabermetrics.


 


Duk and Ensberg touch upon one of my favorite topics, you know the one, where statistics can explain much about the game, but not everything.  Yes, stats can give you a macro picture of why games are won and lost.  Certainly, you can look at Micah Hoffpauir’s line for 2009 to see that he sometimes got a big hit, but most of the time, did not.  His average and OPS are quite low, as are his RBI for someone with that many at-bats, most if not all of them nestled into productive slots in the batting order.


 


But stats do not explain everything.  Yes, Milton Bradley posted an anemic RBI and batting average with RISP.  But if you were a man from Mars, just landed here and looked at Bradley’s average and OPS, you might think he was fairly productive.  Oh, but winning is all about WHEN you get the hits, WHERE you place the bunt, HOW your body language spoke to hitters as you stood on the mound.  Sabermetrics do not and cannot explain any of that, nor should they.


 


Stats are fine things to help us keep score.  They help the casual fan follow the game, they are useful for endlessly entertaining weenies involved in fantasy games, and they can explain performance macro-trends for executives.  But there is no real way to unlock the secret to life using stats alone, and to unequivocally state there is, is simply wrong.

Kosuke Fukudome - the best player ever, or only the best Cub?


I was browsing through the Desipio forums last night when I noticed an on-going debate about the craptacularness of Milton Bradley. Pretty much everybody involved was arguing against a participant named Dave B, who feels that Bradley is not living up to his expectations, and furthermore suggested that Kosuke Fukudome has also been an epic disappointment. This resulted in another forum participant to ask why they'd "get on" Fukudome, who's "been great this year."

I like Kosuke myself, and am particularly happy that he's turned things around after an attrocious June. But has he been "great?" I posted his line (before last night's 3 for 3 effort) -- .271 AVG, .387 OBP, .846 OPS, 10 homers, 44 RBI, 6 steals in 14 attempts, .171 AVG v. LHP, and described his performance as being "better than bad but way, way less than 'great.'" That's when the shit-storm happened.

One guy called Pre told me I was "cherry picking his stats" -- apparently unaware that I mentioned both his positives and negatives -- and I responded by saying that I thought Fooky is good, but he has had no success hitting lefties and I don't know if his production so far can really justify his 8-figure contract. Pre's response was to criticize me because he knew I would "back-track" on my original comment and a request that I would "f**k off and die." Stay classy, Pre.

At that point the discussion kind of devolved into how I was a clearly-wrong piece of crap, it's not Kosuke's fault that he hasn't scored or driven in many runs (can't expect a leadoff guy to do the latter, although the majority of his at bats this season come from 3rd in the lineup or later) -- after all, (and I agree with this) Babe Ruth at his peak would probably have struggled to drive in 100 or score 100 in this cesspool of an offense. On top of that, I was told that if Fukudome had 15-20 major league seasons just like this one he would be one of the all-time greats and Hall of Fame worthy. (My fault on that one for suggesting he wouldn't have a chance.)

The proof in Fukudome's greatness comes, apparently, from his numbers in the Runs Created statistic. If Fukudome had a career of seasons just like this one, he would land up there amongst greats like George Brett and Al Kaline.

Runs Created, incidentally, is antiquated according to Fangraphs. They've developed a better means of tracking that stat, called wRC. wRC "is total runs created based of wOBA. It is calculated as (((wOBA – lgwOBA) / wOBAScale) + (lgR/PA)) * PA." Lost already? No worries - wOBA is defined by FanGraphs as the following: "created by Tom Tango, (wOBA) is a version of linear weights that has been weighted to fit an OBP scale. The weights have been properly adjusted by season and for the minor leagues by season and by league."

Above all other things, I have learned, wOBA and wRC should apparently be the best way to determine a player's offensive success. And Fukudome's wRC this year is presently on pace to be 86.6. If he could maintain that rate for 18 seasons, he would -- by the standards of wRC -- be amongst some true giants and some Hall of Fame hitters. When we consider that Fukudome is, generally speaking, seen as being a very good defensive center fielder as well, then it becomes obvious that his standard statistics -- a .277 AVG as of today, 11 homeruns, 27 doubles, 5 triples, a near-.400 OBP and a mid .800's OPS -- do not tell the full story.  Fukudome hasn't merely been good this year, he's been great. As have, apparently, the 68 players who've put up higher wRC's than Fooky this season, including 6 guys who also spend their time in center field.

Comparatively, Fukudome is on pace to have a similar wRC to Sammy Sosa, the 1993, 1996, and 1997 editions, and he's on pace to barely surpass the finest season ever had by that offensive juggernaut, Rob Deer. If only Rob could have duplicated his 1987 season 15 to 20 times, then we'd all get to debate the merits of whether or not he should be voted into the Hall of Fame. (We would find him lacking, though, because unlike Fukudome he doesn't have that nearly-Gold-Glove-caliber defensive talent.)

Anyway, I don't want to be a semantics guy, but I do believe there's a significant difference between a player being good and great. Fukudome -- for all our protests when he is unable to so much as hit his own face with an open palm slap -- has been good this year, and at times he's been very good.  I was wrong to say that he was merely "better than bad."  Still, as Rob wrote earlier, I think many of us had higher expectations about the kind of production he'd deliver. If this is Fukudome's finest season as a Cub, I think many fans will be left feeling disappointed. But still, don't be too critical of him folks. And certainly don't focus on his faults. If you do, ChuckDickens might think you're dense -- and you'd be lucky to get off that easy.

"I was watching a television program before, with a kind of roving moderator who spoke to a seated panel of young women who were having some sort of problem with their boyfriends - apparently, because the boyfriends had all slept with the girlfriends' mothers. And they brought the boyfriends out, and they fought, right there on television. Toby, tell me: these people don't vote, do they?"
-Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, asking questions about individuals extremely similar to those who post on Desipio

Some Kudos for Colin

In case you are not aware, our very own Colin whips out his big rig (his computer) and performs exemplary analyses from time to time on The Hardball Times.  In his latest episode, he builds us a multiple linear regression model WITHOUT constants to model free agent paydays based on gate receipts, media revenues, etc. 

Now, you may or may not care about how clubs derive free agent value, or any of the other topics they tackle over there at THT.  But if you did, it's amazing how a little uppergraduate-level college mathematics can be applied to explain most phenomena in the baseball world.

Naturally, these principles can then be used to project future performance, and more of us tend to start paying attention.  I've gone around a few times with Colin out here - because there ain't no good way to measure a player's intenergy with an economic modelling package - but just like I wouldn't appreciate him telling ME how to root for the Cubs, I'm not going to tell HIM to pack the damn laptop up and just down a Bud Light and a Fontanini beef, instead.

But I gotta tell ya, some of the commenters on his post?  I hope to God that them guys are livin' in huge mansions, drivin' fast cars, and boppin' starlets - because otherwise, I can't even imagine why you'd ever be THAT serious?

Also noticed that, in his credits, he doesn't mention GROTA.  THT must be ASHAMED about us...or maybe he himself is...Eye-wink

What have we learned about the Cubs the past couple of days?

  • Theriot, Fontenot, Ramirez, Gathright and Hoffpauir can hit;
  • Gaudin gave up a monstrous homer in the first inning of his start
  • Samardzija gave up three runs in his start
  • David Patton, Angel Guzman, and Rocky Roquet cannot hold leads
  • So Taguchi sucks

So, in other words, we haven't learned a thing we didn't already know.


Let's start the season already!!!

Blowing it up: the final DeRo comparison, from me anyway

While I realize that some of us want to have a DeRosa lovefest, I'm playing the realist today on this, Christmas Eve.  (To prove my point: Jesus wasn't actually born on Dec 25.)  However, between paragraphs I will have tidbits called DeRo Facts to help stem the tide of resistance from those who would fluff him if they could.

Mark DeRosa could have been an MMA champion, but he instead chose to devote his time to saving the lives of sick puppies and kittens.

Fact: Mark DeRosa had a career year in 2008.  In the past few days, one or three people have repeatedly said that I've been ignoring certain statistics or facts when arguing about DeRosa, but I haven't read much acknowledgment on their part about this piece of truth.  At the age of 33 (Fact: players tend to do worse at the age of 34 than they did at the age of 33, or 32, or 31), he hit .285 with 21 homeruns - 8 more than his previous best.  He drove in a career high 87 RBI.  He had a career high .857 OPS - a full 87 points better than his career average.  His numbers put him among the best second basemen out there, at least offensively.

Mark DeRosa was expelled from the NASA astronaut program because they refused to let him get to the moon on a starship powered by his immense, unmeasurable willpower.  He called them "pussies" and they kicked him out.

DeRosa also played 38 games in right last year, 32 of which were as a starter.  He's played 150 games in RF in total in his career, incidentally.  It is of my opinion that DeRosa would probably be somewhat below average as a right fielder over the span of a full season because I doubt he has the arm you'd want from that position.  Regardless, some people who know more than me about defense say he'd be above average.

Mark DeRosa has single-handedly ended the regime of four communist dictators in various South American countries.  He fights for democracy. He fights ... for freedom.

Regardless, DeRosa as a regular right fielder does not strike me as being a wise option.  We've battled back and forth about it for a few days now, but I'll summarize it.  He won't have an OPS of .857 next year.  He won't hit 21 homeruns.  Having lost the surprising offensive bat of Jim Edmonds, and considering the likely return to average of Theriot and DeRo, I've been arguing for a while that the Cubs need to pick up some extra offensive oomph, preferrably in RF, and preferably a left-handed bat to make up for the imbalance of the Cubs lineup.  I base this argument on the fact that the Cubs failed miserably in the playoffs - and while the playoffs are a big crapshoot, I would not be satisfied with the Cubs if they sat on their laurels and didn't find a way to improve before the start of the 2009 season.  After all, in baseball those who sit on their laurels rarely get to stand up, if you get my meaning.  The Cubs need a good hitting outfielder, and most importantly they need a good hitting #3 hitter who can allow for Derrek Lee to move down the lineup.  Mark DeRosa is not that guy.

Mark DeRosa has a reputation Europe-wide of being a gentle, fulfilling lover.  He reportedly has 10 love-children in every country in the EU, who he hopes will one day spark a new baseball league that will take that continent by storm.

Therefore, the Cubs need to sign a guy or trade for a guy.  As for DeRosa, I feel that he either needs to stay at second base or be dealt, paving the way for a Fontenot who will put up comparable production but as an inexpensive lefty.  But under no - zero - circumstances should DeRosa start in right field next year, and this has been the crux of the argument.  It was spurned by a comparison of DeRo and Adam Dunn, but if I haven't made it clear by now I will try again: Adam Dunn is not my first choice as a Cub, but I'd still choose him over DeRosa all day long if the Cubs could find a place for him in the outfield.

Mark DeRosa with one hand tied behind his back could kick Adam Dunn's mammoth ass in about 3 seconds flat.

If DeRosa could duplicate his '08 numbers, it'd be acceptable.  The problem is that the Cubs would still have not replaced the surprising numbers of Jim Edmonds/Reed Johnson in center field - unless Fontenot went buck wild and Babe Ruth'd the ball all year long.  Again, my concern here is finding a better #3 hitter, balancing the lineup, and helping the Cubs improve in order to increase - even if only minutely - their chances of winning a World Series.

Mark DeRosa doesn't win the World Series.  If it's lucky, and with a lot of hard work and team play, the World Series may win Mark DeRosa.

Anyway, that's my philosophy on DeRo.  Use him where he's strong - second base.  Upgrade in the outfield.  But to back up my measly opinion with cold, hard statistics...

Mark DeRosa doesn't need statistics.  Statistics need ... well, you get it.

DeRo played 38 games in RF last year where he had an RF of 2.43 (although range factor is a questionable stat according to some).  There were 44 players in baseball who played more games in RF than DeRosa, and 56 who played at least 30 there.

Of those 56 players, 53 had more assists than DeRo.  (Remember how I said he's played 150 games there in his career?  He's had 6 assists ... 25 of the 56 had at least that many, some in as few as 60-or-so games.  But hey - only 7 had a better RF than DeRosa's 2.43, although his career RF is 2.26, and 26 of those 53 beat that last year.  (BTW, in 82 career games in RF - 33 started - Dunn has a RF of 4.07, which tells you just how ridiculous a stat it is, and he has 5 assists, just one fewer than DeRosa despite playing 828 fewer innings over their careers.  He also has 5 errors out there to DeRo's 1, so I guess you can theoretically tack 4 runs onto Dunn's tally, even though we don't know for sure if those errors turned into runs.)

For the record, I'm going to make this comparison 3 different ways.  First, among all qualified right fielders in 2008, DeRosa would have been 9th in OPS, tied for 8th in HR, 13th in AVG, and 4th in OBP.  That would be out of 22 "qualified" right fielders, making DeRosa slightly above the middle of the pack in terms of his production last year during Fact: a career year performance for DeRo.

Second, among right fielders including the guys who didn't quite make it to the necessary plate appearances, DeRosa would have been around 13th in terms of OPS, depending on where you draw the line for "qualification."  He would have been tied for 9th in HR, he would have been rougly 19th in AVG, and 11th in OBP.

Third, among all guys who played in RF as often as he did, DeRosa would have been 15th in OPS, incidentally.  Here's a list of guys who out OPS'd him:

Guys with a better OPS: Jayson Werth .861 (*note: 418 at bats), Elijah Dukes .864 (*note: 276 at bats), Xavier Nady .867, Maglio Ordonez .869, Brad Hawpe (*note: 488 at bats) .879, Jermaine Dye .855, Andre Ethier .885, Vlad Guerrero .886, Nick Markakis .897, Adam Dunn .889, Josh Hamilton .901, J.D. Drew .927 (*note: 368 at bats), Sin-Soo Shoo .946 (*note: 317 at bats), Ryan Ludwick .966

And none of that takes into account how many guys outslugged him as well - a stat that is only important because my main thesis is that the Cubs need a new #3 hitter if they want to improve their chances of winning the World Series in 2009.

So, my working theory here is that DeRosa will not match that production next season.  All the odds are against him - his age, his 3-year-splits, his career averages, all of them.  That doesn't mean that DeRosa is a piece of crap or anything, it just means that as Cub fans, we need to be fair and reasonable and accept him for his limitations. So, leave him at second base where he'd be just fine with a .280 AVG, 12 homers, and an OBP of .345 or so.

But put him in RF next year with those numbers, and I seriously doubt he'd be responsible for a net gain of +20, as Maddog is hypothetically suggesting.*  If the Cubs were looking for that kind of production in right, then they might as well leave Fukudome out there.

(*I know you just threw that number out there as an example, Maddog, not as what you are actually expecting)

But what they need is increased production.  That's just not in DeRo's bag for 2009.  So, with all of that said, and explained to ridiculous detail, I'll summarize by outlining the following:

1. This conversation started out with somebody suggesting Dunn in RF, then with somebody else saying that DeRo might be a better option for a variety of reasons, and then it spiraled downward.

2. I would not advocate Adam Dunn in RF, but yes, I would take him there over DeRosa any day, unless the Cubs managed to make a serious upgrade at another position.  If the Cubs were to seriously upgrade in CF, or SS, or even 2B - and by "serious" I mean a net gain of 10 to 20 homeruns and lots of points on the OPS - then DeRosa would be a fine choice to play RF next year.  Otherwise, the offense will be worse and the Cubs will be worse and you don't make a team *worse* if you want to do better.

3. To Maddog - if DeRosa was even just likely to duplicate last year's numbers, I'd happily settle for him in RF next year even over Dunn.  But it's not likely at all, in fact it's probably very unlikely.  But I'll ask nicely - please don't accuse me of obscuring the argument, or ignoring statistics or opinions strongly based in fact when you haven't once acknowledged that DeRo's likely production will be drastically down next year.  I find it very frustrating.

And that's where I'll leave it.  Have a good Christmas Eve, everybody, and thanks for participating in the most heated December Argument of recent memory.... ya Cub marks!

Oh, why the heck not. DeRosa vs. Dunn

Only with Cub fans is this debate even possible, but here we are, measuring journeyman Mark DeRosa with mammoth power hitter Adam Dunn.

In case you don't follow the GROTA ShoutBox, a debate has been ensuing in which certain readers have been taking an interesting approach in marking out to Mark DeRosa.

A brief summary of the debate - I have been arguing for a month or so now that DeRosa would be an inadequate right fielder.  Contrary to what some argue, I don't think he has the arm to be a plus defense right fielder - but that pales in comparison with DeRosa's likelihood of being one of the worst-hitting right fielders in baseball next year.  It's not that he'll be a bad hitter by any means.  It's just that if he matches his career average, or even his 3-year-splits, he'll be in the bottom half offensively of all right fielders next year.

This becomes problematic because the Cubs are likely to see a decline in overall offensive production, and I'm advocating that, rather than passively allow for that to happen, Jim Hendry should try to stem the proverbial tide by picking up another bat to play right field.  Besides, even at his career averages, DeRosa is a plus hitter amongst second baseman.  Unless the Cubs are going to acquire a stud to replace his bat at the two-bag, making up for the poorer production of DeRo as a right fielder, I'd rather see the team go for a big bat.

One Goat Reader - well, lots actually - suggested that the booming production of Adam Dunn would look nice in the Cubs lineup.  The guy bats lefty, he hits the ball a mile, and he's a career .286 hitter at Wrigley Field.

Some people - in particular Nick V and miltie - take the stance that Dunn gets his hits when nobody is on base.  Actually, here's where this debate falls harder into the general argument of the value of RBI.

You've got guys like Joe Carter, who was an RBI machine throughout his career.  He drove in 100 or more 10 times in his career, despite being a .259 hitter.  Then, there are guys like Adam Dunn, who might hit 40 homeruns and drive in 101 RBI - a low total for so many homers.  So, here's the question that has really sprung the debate - if Dunn can't drive in more than 100 RBI, does that mean he can't hit with men on base?  Does that mean he's not productive the way the Cubs need?

The problem with Dunn in general is that he doesn't get many hits in general.  He's a .250 hitter at best.  But when he hits the ball, he mashes it.  And even when he doesn't hit the ball, he still has a 40% chance of not making an out.

The comparison here is between Dunn and DeRosa, because "Dunn's #'s with RISP do not seem to better than DeRosa's" - the inference here is that you might as well start DeRo in right and stick him wherever Dunn would bat.

Here's what it boils down to.  Dunn in the past 3 seasons had 693 at bats in which one or more runner was on base.  DeRosa - who doesn't even bat in the "sweet spot" of the lineup like Dunn actually had more - 726.  Although in terms of overall plate appearances, it was Dunn 861, DeRosa 819, but Adam walked way more than Mark in that time-span.

Regardless, despite having 33 fewer at bats, and 54 fewer hits, Dunn drove in 20 more RBI over a 3 year span with runners on in front of him.  DeRosa's overall average was .300, to Dunn's .237, but Dunn was still the more productive batter in terms of RBI - an apparently important figure to Nick V. and miltie.

Ultimately, the ability to "hit with runners on" or "hit in the clutch" does not exist, except for David Ortiz for a 3-or-so-year span in Boston.  The stats don't lie - over the span of a career, a hitter will often come very close to matching his career average whether he has runners on or not.  But regardless of whether or not a guy is batting .300 or .250 - or even .237 - he'll drive in way more runs when he's batting behind a Ricky Henderson and a Mark Grace, rather than a Corey Patterson and a Neifi Perez.  It has little to do with the batter and everything to do with the situation.

But I will allow for this - while I don't believe in "clutch" hitting, I do believe in anti-clutch.  The myth of the player who can always get the big hit is overrated, but the reality of the player who loses himself and under-produces in important situations is a harsh reality.  Just ask 2004 Corey Patterson and Aug-Sept 2004 Sammy Sosa.  But don't ask the guy who hit 53 of his last 120 homeruns with runners on base, because the Cubs would be guaranteed to score more runs if he was around.

So.  What can we conclude from all of this?  1) Dunn rakes.  2) He and DeRo are different types of players.  3) The Cubs would be offensively superior with Dunn in right. 4) RBI totals are a product of opportunities, not skill.  While it's true that the guy with superior ability will aways be more likely to drive in more RBI, the guy who'll drive in the most runs is the one with the most opportunities.  And 5) the fact that we're comparing Dunn to DeRo is Cub markdom at its worst.  The two just don't compare.  There's nothing wrong with appreciating DeRosa, he's a fine #2 hitter and a good second baseman, but why are we working ourselves into a mark lather over the guy?  I just don't get it.

Slowly beating the horse to death - Mark DeRosa and Right Field

A couple of times today, I referred to an article I wrote toward the end of November about why starting Mark DeRosa in RF is not a brilliant plan.  I won't rehash the entire article, but I'll point out again a few figures for you folks so you can see my standpoint.

First and foremost, Mark DeRosa is not a viable option in RF next year for two primary reasons.  1) Defensively he'd probably be below average in RF (to be fair, Colin thinks he'd be average, or maybe even slightly plus) and B) Offensively he'd be below average compared with the league.

Consider the following three lines as evidence:

Mark DeRosa:

2008  AVG - .285 AVG, 30 2B, 3 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .376 OBP .857 OPS
Career AVG - .279 AVG, 27 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 64 RBI, .348 OBP, .770 OPS
MLB 08 AVG - .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS

The third line represents the overall production, by average, of every RFer in baseball last year.  DeRosa was actually on par, if not slightly better than average in 2008, although his numbers would have placed him as the 14th-or-so best right fielder in 2008.

In other words, DeRosa's career year puts him as an average starting right fielder with below average defensive tools.  Does anybody really think he'll match his career year numbers in 2009?

Contrast that with DeRosa's career average and the average output of a second baseman in baseball:

Him - .279 AVG, 27 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 64 RBI, .348 OBP, .770 OPS
Them - .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS

Here, DeRosa's likely output next year puts him slightly better than average compared with the league's second basemen.

Basically what I'm getting at is this: the Cubs don't need to turn a strength into a weakness.  They need to turn their weakness in right field into a strength.  Moving DeRosa to right field doesn't fix their offensive holes, it just shifts them around a little.  After all, they will no longer have the 3rd best production in CF, which is what the Cubs had last year.

In other words, last year, the Cubs looked like this offensively: they were above average at 5 positions, average at 2, and below average at 1

Moving DeRosa to RF and starting Fontenot - or Hudson - at 2B won't improve that figure.  They will be a weaker team offensively when last year's biggest failings were the offense in October.  So, I'll say it again, and again, and again.  Mark DeRosa is not a good option to play right field in 2009.

Production Lines of the Apocalypse

A question that keeps getting asked in one form or another this off season is "just how good would DeRosa be as the everyday right fielder?"  There are very specific ways of looking at it, and very broad ones.  Because nothing beats Thanksgiving like heavy reading on a fringe Cubs blog, and since my preference is to post this large body of work on the day in which the least amount of people are likely to read it, I thought I'd take a look at the Cubs position players and how they compare to the league averages.  However, to justify this beast of a post later on, I will link back to it with great regularity.

First and foremost, let's talk about our concept of League Average. In this incredibly boring article, we will be comparing the Cubs position players against the League Average at their position between wiping tears of shame from our cheeks because of the great sadness we feel at having absolutely nothing better to do.  Call it dedication.

Offensively in 2008, it's pretty safe to say that the Cubs were better than league average.  I mean, they were awesome.  Compare them with all of Major League Baseball:

League: .264 AVG, 300 2B, 30 3B, 163 HR, 753 R, .333 OBP, .749 OPS
Cubs: .278 AVG, 329 2B, 21 3B, 184 HR, 855 R, .354 OBP, .797 OPS

It's obvious that the Cubs were above average overall.  That would also be a strikingly obvious reason as to why they won 97 games last year.  But let's take it one step further and break it down by position:

At catcher:

League: .255 AVG, 31 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 74 RBI, .324 OBP, .713 OPS
Cubs: .284 AVG, 37 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 93 RBI, .353 OBP, .836 OPS
Overall OPS: 2nd in MLB

In other words, the Cubs were at a decisive offensive plus at catcher in '08.  Taking it a step further, it's probably not debatable to say that the Cubs were above average defensively at catcher, too.

At first base:

League: .271 AVG, 35 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 98 RBI, .352 OBP, .816 OPS
Cubs: .296 AVG, 47 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR, 97 RBI, .365 OBP, .845 OPS
Overall OPS: 12th in MLB

While Derrek wasn't one of the worst first basemen in the game, it's pretty safe to say he's no longer among the baseball elite.  Furthermore, defensively Lee was off his game in '08.  He might be an average defender, but he's probably not above average.

At second base:

League: .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS
Cubs: .300 AVG, 39 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .378 OBP, .836 OPS
Overall OPS: 4th in MLB

The DeRosa-Fontenot Duo dramatically outperformed the league average in '08 although DeRo falls a little short of being considered one of the elite at his position.  Defensively, the Cubs are probably average-at-best at second base, and possibly just a little below average.

At third base:

League: .265 AVG, 35 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 86 RBI, .335 OBP, .771 OPS
Cubs: .283 AVG, 48 2B, 1 3B, 32 HR, 129 RBI, .372 OBP, .891 OPS
Overall OPS: 3rd in MLB

Aramis Ramirez and his bat is incredibly important to the Cubs.  Defensively, he's average, if not slightly above average.  A-Ram is an elite third baseman and is tremendously valuable to the Cubs offense at this point.  He should be the #3 hitter next year.

At shortstop:

League: .275 AVG, 34 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 63 RBI, .326 OBP, .714 OPS
Cubs: .303 AVG, 26 2B, 4 2B, 2 HR, 53 RBI, .379 OBP, .744 OPS
Overall OPS: 11th in MLB

Ryan Theriot pretty well falls into the "average" range.  And for the point I'm building toward, his numbers would for the most part be "below average" if he played at second base.  Theriot outhit many of baseball's shortstops and he outwalked them, but he was out-slugged and out-defended - in fact, Theriot would fall onto the "below average" side of the defensive coin.  If he lands next year somewhere between his '07 and '08 numbers, he probably won't hurt the team, but he won't be a real asset, either.

At left field:

League: .269 AVG, 34 2B, 4 3B, 22 HR, 86 RBI, .343 OBP, .785 OPS
Cubs: .282 AVG, 43 2B, 2 3B, 35 HR, 109 RBI, .348 OBP, .856 OPS
Overall OPS: 8th in MLB

These numbers are actually a little low for the Cubs.  If Soriano stays healthy over a full season - and he's bound to sooner or later - then left field becomes an even bigger asset for Chicago.  Defensively, Soriano is plus and minus.  He has a plus arm and will lead the league in assists if he doesn't get hurt, but he's got a minus glove that leads to errors and heartbreak.  The Cubs are above average at left field with a healthy Sori.

At center field:

League: .267 AVG, 33 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 77 RBI, .333 OBP, .752 OPS
Cubs: .290 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 23 HR, 101 RBI, .374 OBP, .858 OPS
Overall OPS: 3rd in MLB

Strange how center field has become a home for more homerun hitters these days.  On average, your center fielder is expected to yield more offensive bounty than your catcher, second baseman, and shortstop.  It's also strange just how much of a positive CF was for the Cubs in '08.  Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds made for strange bedfellows and delivered unto the Cubs the Secret Ingredient to their recipe of success, even though they were defensively below average.  CF is unlikely to be a position of strength for the Cubs in '09, depending heavily on the sophomore season of Kosuke Fukudome.

At right field:

League: .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS
Cubs: .250 AVG, 30 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 71 RBI, .350 OBP, .731 OPS
Overall OPS: 26th in MLB

Ah, at last, the one position in which the Cubs were decisively below average.  Fukudome started out with a singing bat, but he ended the year with a howling fanbase - even though he has above average defensive skills.

So, what's the point of this?  Well, I'm going to reiterate a few key figures for you:

Consider the following:

League: .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS
Cubs: .303 AVG, 26 2B, 4 2B, 2 HR, 53 RBI, .379 OBP, .744 OPS

This is what happens if the Cubs move Theriot to second base - if we're lucky.  Theriot as a second baseman hits fewer doubles, fewer homers, drives in way fewer RBI, and has a below-average OPS.

League: .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS
Cubs: .300 AVG, 39 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .378 OBP, .836 OPS

This is what happens if we're lucky if the Cubs move DeRosa to right field permanently.  The Cubs almost turn a minus into a plus.  But what if, rather than bat .285 with 21 HR, 87 RBI, and an OPS of .857, DeRosa reverts to his career averages of .279 with 13 homeruns, 64 RBI, and an OPS of .770?  The Cubs would remain below average offensively in RF, and they'd now also be below average defensively.

League: .267 AVG, 33 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 77 RBI, .333 OBP, .752 OPS
Cubs: .250 AVG, 30 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 71 RBI, .350 OBP, .731 OPS

This is how Fukudome compares to the rest of the league's CFers.  Overall, it's close enough that he'd almost fall into the "average" range, but not quite.  The Cubs would still be losing a lot of offense from 2008.

In other words, if the Cubs sign Furcal, move Theriot to second base, and put DeRosa in RF, they go from this figure:

Above Average: 5, Average: 2, Below Average: 1

to this figure:

Above Average: 4, Average: 1, Below Average: 3

That's not the direction you want your team to head in if they are interested in staying competitive.

Therefore, I'm going to suggest that if Theriot starts on the Cubs next year, he should do it as a shortstop.  I'm going to suggest that if DeRosa starts on the Cubs next year, he should do it as a second baseman.  And if the Cubs want to improve offensively, then they really need to hope for the following things to happen

  • An entirely healthy season by Soriano - as the cleanup hitter
  • A Fukuseason to remember
  • A Geovany Soto immune to the sophomore slump
  • A new right fielder who hits that damn ball real good

The Cubs cannot, nor should they count on Theriot to put up similar-or-better numbers (which isn't to say that he'd be a disappointment if "only" ended up playing near his career averages), nor can the Cubs count on DeRosa to shatter all expectations again (which doesn't mean he'll be a disappointment if he only bats .280 and hits 13 or 14 homeruns).  It's just that they need to look elsewhere to find next year's offensive surprises, simple as that.

As fans, we need to recognize that the abilities of our team's players have limitations, and we're only setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect consecutive seasons of miracles.  Jim Hendry doesn't need to - nor will he - blow up the roster to fix what's wrong with the team, but shifting a couple of guys around and giving more starting time to the journeyman backup infielder who had huge numbers won't cut it either.  The Cubs need to find a way to get a Bradley, or acquire some lefty bats via trade.  Otherwise, they're at risk of headed from Very Good to Very Average.

A few numbers to keep you occupied (and happy)

As we wait anxiously for Jason Marquis to dominate Ben Sheets in a Hall of Fame (snicker) match-up, I thought I'd mention a few fun facts that you might not be aware of right now.

First: with a 91-58 record, the Cubs are percentage points away from having the best record in all of baseball. They only trail the 92-58 Los Anaheim Angels. One key difference between the two teams: the combined winning percentage of non-Angel teams in the AL west is .447. The combined winning percentage of non-Cub teams in the NL Central is .496. And that's obviously because of the craptacular Reds and Pirates.

With 12 (or 13) games remaining this year, if the Cubs went 0-for-the-season, the Brewers would have to go 8-3 just to tie them for the division.

At this point, I think we should refrain from even really talking about it, but the Cubs would need to go 9-4 against a pretty tough schedule to ... well, you know. ::cough::win100::cough::

Predictions:

One thing I've learned is that baseball is not surprisingly predictable, but it is predictably surprising. With that in mind, I'm going to lay out the next month for you.

1. The Cubs will finish the year 99-61. Why? This is a great tease for Cub fans who will debate for years if they could have/should have won 100. But, ultimately, it won't matter.

2. The first round opponents will be the Dodgers. Why? Because LA have played good, hard baseball against the Cubs all year long and it will be a scary series. Especially since Manny Ramirez has been a force of nature since he was acquired from Boston.

3. Second round team - the Mets. Why? New York has a storied history with the Cubs and it will drive Ron Santo to the brink of panic.

4. World Series opponent - Tampa Bay Rays. Now I'm really reaching, but with home field advantage, it is only fitting that the Cubs would play a team that swept them.

I could very well be wrong about all of these, but I suspect I won't be. Obviously, only time will tell. But, all that said, I now feel very confident that this Cubs team has the ability to go all the way. I hope you do, too.

What would it take for the Cubs to miss the playoffs?

Having shattered our wildest expectations, the Cubs look to exit the month of August with at least the same number of wins that they had all of last season.  Point of fact, thanks in part to this ridiculously awesome 7 game winning streak, the Cubs have not only the best record in all of baseball but they are widely seen as being one of the most complete teams in the game. 

The thing is, I'm a Cub fan.  In my time, I've seen them thrashed in three separate post seasons.  I've seen them collapse and narrowly miss the playoffs twice.  I've seen their best, most talented, most promising players get hurt, often in freaky, bizarre ways.  And on more than one occassion, they've broken my heart.  I'm a Cub fan.  Failure is a part of my language.  Disappointment is not an expectation, it's an eventuality.  Even in this moment, a part of me thinks "what would it take for them to miss the playoffs?"  Because I am curious, but not because I expect it to happen - I don't even really think it's possible - I'm going to crunch the numbers.

The Cubs are 85-50.  They have the best record in all of baseball, but obviously the point of this exercise is to look specifically at the National League.  They now have 27 games remaining.  While it's possible, I suppose, that the Cubs could go 0-27 and break all of our hearts, I'm going to argue for the sake of this article that, over the next 27 games, they will return to earth and match the worst record of any stretch this season.  For the record, that 27 game stretch looks to have spanned from June 15th through til July 19th, when the Cubs went 12-15.  A month of mediocre baseball, folks.  Ignoring that the Cubs were down Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Kerry Wood during portions of that stretch, it could happen again.

That would put the Cubs at 97-65 to finish the season.  Just a quick aside - let's say they lose tomorrow and then play .500 ball for their remaining 26 games, then the Cubs would be 13-14 and would finish 98-64.  Anywho.

The second best record in the NL belongs to the Brewers, who are 78-56.  They are the likely Wild Card team.  Let's say that the Brewers go on an epic run that lands them in first place, ahead of the 97 win Cubs.  They would have to go 20-8 in their remaining 28 games this season to achieve that.  Hey, it's possible, right?

After the Brewers, the next best teams in the NL are the Mets, Phillies, and Cardinals.  The Mets are currently 75-60, the Phillies are 73-62, and the Cardinals are 74-61.

Let's say that the Mets win their division with 98 wins.  To achieve that, they would need to go 23-4.  The Phillies and Cardinals also play great baseball and win 97 for a three-way Wild Card tie.  Philadelphia would need to go 24-2, and St. Louis would need to go 23-3.

By the way, the Phillies play the Mets 3 more times this season, and they also battle the Brewers for 4 more games.  The Mets also play the Brewers 3 times and they host the Cubs for 4 at the tail end of the season.  The Cardinals play the Cubs 6 times, the Brewers play the Cubs 6 times as well.   Here's where you will get dizzy.

The Brewers could only afford to lose 8 times.
The Mets 4 times.
The Cardinals 3 times.
The Phillies 2 times.

For the Phillies to win their 97 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and take 1 from the Mets while winning every other game.

For the Cardinals to win their 97 games, they would have to  at the very least split their final 6 games with the Cubs and win every other game remaining.

For the Mets to win their 98 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and the Cubs, which would afford them room to lose 2 more games in September.

For the Brewers to win their 98 games and still allow for the Cardinals and Phillies room to beat the Cubs, then they would only be able to afford a single loss in the month of September after having been swept by the Phillies and Mets.

Still With Me?

Okay, so maybe that's a lot of mumbo jumbo, but here's what it comes down to.  All of this is based on the argument that the Cubs are unlikely to play worse than their poorest spell of games this season.  It's baseball, not math, there is no certain outcome until the last out is recorded (sorry Rob, your wife is right).  The Cubs could lose more than 15 of their remaining games.  The Brewers could win enough games to take the central division title.  The Cardinals may be able to also overtake the floundering Cubs.  But just go back and look at these projections.  It's all very, very bloody unlikely.  

Point of fact, maybe disappointment is an eventuality with the Cubs.  But whatever disappointment is to come, it won't get here until after Game 162.  Although the older readers who know better will disgustedly shake their heads, and despite the fact that Tempting Fate remains a crime punishable by hanging in 15 states including Illinois, I'm going to announce right here and now that the Cubs are playoff bound.  The Brewers can cancel Christmas, the kitchen's closed, it's over.

I will say again that we will almost certainly see one final slide into mediocrity, but these guys are too good to stay there.  For all my life, I've complained about how the Cubs have never won anything without leaving us in suspense until the final moments.  It's been a long time since we've been able to just sit back and enjoy the beautiful thing of watching good Cubs baseball.

Finally, at long last, the Cubs have given us the chance to enjoy it.  So, let's do that.   And, sure, if you want to keep an alert eye on the sky in order to keep the other shoe at bay, then that is your perogative and I won't say I can blame you.  But don't blame me for promoting the contrary here on this blog.  I was recently described by somebody as a guy who has taken the job of convincing people that the Cubs will win the World Series (see the blog title).  I think that's fair.  And if ever there was a year for the unbelievable to happen ...

...well, you know where I'm going with this.  

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award