Archive for the ‘Chicago Cubs’ category

The Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant Reach a Record Deal

March 10, 2017

Well, isn’t this interesting?  The Cubs have just given Kris Bryant a record $1.05 million contract for a pre-arbitration player, beating the record deal the Angels gave Mike “Clark Kent” Trout before the 2013 season by $50,000.

It was a fairly obvious move — the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years and Bryant won the Senior Circuit’s MVP Award, so a record-setting contract was obviously called for.  Even so, the Cubbies only gave Bryant enough to be able to say he broke the record.

The Cubs’ decision to keep Bryant in the minors a lot longer than his  performance in the minors said was the time for his call-up, so the team could hold onto his rights for the 2021 season, was pretty bush and penny-wise and pound-foolish, at least in my opinion.  Everybody in MLB knew what the Cubs were doing, and Bryant would be crazy not to stick it to the Cubs every chance he gets from now until he signs his first free agent contract.

Still, it’s worked out well for the Cubs so far.  They weren’t going to win in 2015 even with another eight games from Bryant, and they won the very next year, when the team was clearly better than the 2015 squad.

The Cubs pretty much had to give Bryant the current record-setting deal, because that’s what his 2016  performance and the World Series win required.  They gave him only exactly as much as the standard of the industry required and no more, because they know that Bryant and his agent Scott Boras aren’t going to think that an extra $300,000 for the 2017 season a fair trade for reaching free agency a year later.

In this sense, things are as they should be.  Yes, the Cubs screwed Bryant, but this way Bryant has to continue to develop the way everyone hopes he will (except maybe Cardinals’ fans) and the Cubs win another World Series in the next five years.  Then the Cubs will have pretty much no choice but to give Bryant a record-setting free agent deal.  Even the most money-ball of money-ball organizations has to know that Cubs’ fans would be unbelievably disappointed if the team trades the next Mike Schmidt and Ron Santo rolled into one, particularly now that MLB teams all know how much power-hitting, slick fielding 3Bman are really worth.

Right now, one has to think that the only things standing between Bryant and record-setting free agent contract is a freak injury or that his big size (6’5″, 230 lbs) leads to wear-and-tear injuries in 2020 or 2021.

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

Colby Rasmus on a One-Year Deal?

December 31, 2016

There was an article today on mlbtraderumors.com about the San Francisco Giants’ remaining needs this off-season.  It has me thinking that Colby Rasmus could be an excellent sign for left field if the price is right.

I feel better about Giants’ current options at 3B (Eduardo Nunez and Connor Gallaspie as a platoon with Kelby Tomlinson and either Ehire Adrianza or Jimmy Rollins as the other back-up possibilities) than I do about the team’s third, fourth and fifth outfielders being Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.

I don’t hate any of these three — I’m confident that Jarrett Parker will be a major league back-up outfielder in 2017, and Hernandez could become the next Glegor Blanco or Andres Torres — but it’s hard for me to imagine that the Giants will go into the 2017 with three mostly LFers who have this little major league experience.  I also can’t see the Gints thinking that Michael Morse who will be 35 next season and hasn’t played since last April is a realistic veteran option.

Thus, Colby Rasmus, who might come very cheap off a season in which he hit only .206.  His 2016 OPS (.641) is more than 100 basis points lower than his career OPS (.744), so he’s a great bounce-back candidate at age 30, particularly given that he still runs pretty well.

Rasmus also plays good D in LF, which would be valuable with a CF in Denard Span who doesn’t cover a lot of ground anymore.

As for right-handed relievers, the Giants did sign one player this off-season which hasn’t received much attention, since it was a minor league deal.  However, this guy has up-side.

The Giants signed Neil Ramirez, who will be 28 next May.  He is a former 1st round draft pick who had a terrific 2014 season for the Cubs, when he had a 1.44 ERA in 50 relief appearances with a pitching line of 43.1 IP,  29 hits, two HRs and 17 walks allowed and 53 Ks.  He had shoulder and left abdominal injuries in 2015, and in brief stints with three different major league teams this past season he had trouble throwing strikes.  However, he was very effective in 16 appearances and 20.1 IP at AAA Rochester at the end of the 2016 season.

Ramirez definitely has up-side if he’s healthy in 2017, and he could be the next in a long line of effective (at least in the short term) right-handed relievers the Giants have signed  to minor league deals in the last two decades.

World Series Notes

November 3, 2016

What a great game!  In theory, I was routing for the Cubs, but without a dog in the fight I reverted to my usual no-dog-in-the-fight mindset: I found myself rooting for individual players in individual situations based on my own personal prejudices.  In other words, I was rooting for the guys I like against the guys I don’t like, or at least like less, and I was rooting for my own hunches to be proven true.

For example, I’m a fan of Rajai Davis based on personal history, so I was thrilled about his big home run.  A former 38th round draft pick, the SF Giants acquired Davis for what was basically a pure salary dump of Matt Morris‘ contract back in 1997.  I expected little from Davis and was very pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be a useful piece in what was otherwise a dreary season.

Through his own hard work, Rajai turned himself into a legitimate major league regular, and I couldn’t be happier for him.  It’s easy to root for guys who no one ever expected anything from but who turn out to be something.

For all the talk about what great managers Terry Francona and Joe Madden are, their performance in the World Series didn’t impress me and was arguably cowardly, or at least overly safe.  There is obviously a lot more to managing than in-game decision-making and roster management, but Game 7 was pretty much a testament to which manager had overworked his best pitchers too much.  25 players get you to the post-season, and you get to pick your 25 for each post-season series, so there is pretty much no excuse for not using every player on that 25 roster to your advantage.

I also didn’t like Francona’s decision to pitch around Anthony Rizzo to face Ben Zobrist in the top of the 10th inning.  No matter what the past history of the individual match-ups suggested (and they had to be very small data sets given the players involved), Zobrist struck me as the player on the Cubs’ line-up with the single best likelihood of a productive at-bat in that scenario.  I also thought that putting Rizzo on base could mean a critical second run, and this time I turned out to be entirely right.

Managers have the least secure jobs in major league baseball, and it puts a lot of pressure on managers, even the best ones, to make safe decisions that won’t be second-guessed to the nth degree if they don’t go as hoped.  Of course, precisely because managers’ continuing tenure is based solely on results is the very reason why this strategy/tendency is so self-defeating.  If you are judged solely on results, you have to make the decision that is most likely to get the win, no matter how much it goes against conventional wisdom or what the sportswriters think is inside baseball.

I will admit that my own opinion that Francona in particular, but also Madden with Aroldis Chapman, overworking their best pitchers would likely blow up in their faces was based on my own subjective observations.  I remember all too well how Dusty Baker rode his excellent bullpen horses as hard as he possibly could and how they just didn’t quite get him to the finish line in the 2002 World Series.

Even assuming that you go into the World Series with fewer pitchers on the 25-man roster than you carry during the regular season, you have to find a way to steal outs here and there with the bottom of your World Series bullpen so your race horses don’t run out of gas.  Madden “stole” two crucial bottom of the tenth outs with Carl Edwards, Jr. (I hope that Senior is still around and proud of his son tonight), which was a gutsy and ultimately successful move.

I also have to say that the Giants’ World Series victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014, after 32 long years of personal disappointment and suffering (I became a die-hard fan in 1978), have given me a certain equanimity that I wouldn’t possess otherwise.  I enjoyed the shots of Cubs and Indians fans looking miserable each time the game turned against their squad.  I’ve been there, brothers and sisters, but now that the Giants have won a few, I will likely never experience that level of misery ever again.

In fact, if the Giants never win another World Series again in my life time, I will still have 2010, 2012 and 2014.  It will be so much easier to see the glass as half full going forward.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.

Excited about a Cubs-Indians World Series

October 24, 2016

Well, I am certainly excited about the prospect of a Cubs-Indians World Series.  I will be routing for the Cubs, even though they beat my Giants, because I have family in Chicago who are Cubs fans.  However, I won’t be particularly disappointed if the Tribe wins, since in either event a team that hasn’t won a World Series in more than 65 years will be the winner.

The Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians are among the oldest teams in baseball never to have played each other in the World Series, and there is something appealing to me about a all-Midwest World Series since they don’t happen very often.  One party that is probably not very happy about this match-up, though, is Fox Sports, since they typically prefer having at least one of the teams from one of the coasts due to better ratings.

We will see what the ratings turn out to be.  Chicago is a big market, and there is a lot of drama in this match-up giving that one of two long-time losers has to win at last.  The Cubs are reportedly heavy favorites, but as I’ve said and written many times, anything can happen in a short series.  It very often comes down to which team gets lucky enough to have more of its players get hot at the right time.

My Favorite Baseball Trivia Question

October 16, 2016

Years ago, before the internet, there was something called sports trivia, where the cognoscenti of each particular sport showed off the depth of their obscure knowledge by asking questions that where nearly impossible to answer because of the passage of time.  Today, Javier Baez stole home plate for the first time by a Cubs player in the World Series since Jimmy Slagle did it in the 4th game of the 1907 World Series.

Anyway, that reminds me of my all-time favorite baseball trivia question back in the day when you could utterly stump someone with a really good one:  Whose passed ball on a strikeout pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning allowed the Cubs to tie the score at 3-3 in the first game of the 1907 World Series?  The game ended in a draw on account of darkness.  The Cubs went on to sweep the series in the next four games.

The Answer:  Charles “Boss” Schmidt.  (There isn’t much point in holding back a response to build up the attention, since you could go to baseball reference or wikipedia and find the answer in less time than would take to read a few hundred more words.)

Schmidt was one of the great goats of the early years of the World Series, but he his almost entirely forgotten today.  Schmidt played in all three Detroit Tigers’ World Series appearances from 1907-1909, but unfortunately the Tigers lost all three.  He had a long career in baseball, though, playing until his age 43 season.

For what it’s worth, Schmidt’s misplay was treated as an error in 1907, but would be considered a passed ball today.